The Falcons now have filmed more commercials devoted to bouncing back from the Super Bowl than points scored against the Patriots this season. New England dismantled them, 23-7, at Gillette Stadium in a rematch that fell flat thanks to Atlanta’s no-show. The Falcons suffered their third straight loss, and they at one point went more than five quarters without scoring. Some solace? The Falcons won’t be blowing any Super Bowl leads this season, because their latest defeat makes it impossible to envision their return.
The game mattered more to Atlanta than New England. It revealed a little about the Patriots and a lot about the Falcons. And what it revealed about the Falcons was this: They’re damaged.
The Falcons insisted all week that Sunday night would just be another game. That was, of course, ridiculous. In the aftermath of their Super Bowl collapse, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones filmed commercials revolving around the theme of rebounding from 28-3. Football players train their entire lives to play in the Super Bowl, so one assumes they’d remember suffering the most devastating loss in the history of the sport the next time they faced the opponent who handed it to them.
That the Falcons were treating this game differently showed. They went for it on fourth and seven from midfield late in the first quarter in a scoreless game and on fourth and six in nearly the same spot at the end of the half. (Matt Ryan rolled right out of the pocket and scrambled for a first down on the first. On the second, he missed on a corner route to Mohamed Sanu, and the Patriots capitalized with a touchdown just before halftime.)
Atlanta played like a team that knew it was lying to itself. Its offense, which vanished as it blew a 17-0 lead at home against the Dolphins last week, had a chance to regroup against the defense giving up more yards than any in the league. The Patriots had allowed at least 300 yards passing to every quarterback they’d faced. The Falcons didn’t score until less than five minutes remained in the fourth quarter, and Matt Ryan passed for 233 yards.
The Patriots’ offense ran the ball down their throats, and Tom Brady converted on third downs whenever he pleased. New England negated Atlanta’s tremendous defensive speed by plowing straight at its undersized front seven. The Patriots played the exact game Coach Bill Belichick wanted to play, and the Falcons couldn’t do anything about.
Atlanta’s impotence and humiliating dearth of confidence surfaced most acutely in the fourth quarter, when the Falcons faced third and goal from just inside the 1, down 20-0. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called a pass play, and Ryan’s attempt to Jones fell incomplete. On fourth down, the Falcons ran a jet sweep to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel that lost yardage. It was bizarre play-calling and feckless execution.
Atlanta returned 10 offensive starters from a team that scored more points than all but seven in NFL history. Suddenly, the Falcons have scored seven points in six quarters. Last year, Ryan went from a pretty good quarterback to the NFL MVP, so he is experiencing expected regression. The Falcons also replaced Kyle Shanahan, now coaching the 49ers, with Sarkisian. On the “Sunday Night Football” postgame show, Tony Dungy pointed to a lack of imagination and creativity in Atlanta’s offense, and a failure to mix formations and personnel. They miss Shanahan, and Ryan is closer to the quarterback he was his entire career before last season.
While Sunday’s thumping meant more to Atlanta, it also said something about the Patriots. Why do we all waste our time, on a near-annual basis, breaking down the Patriots’ flaws? They are going to figure them out, fix them and become a Super Bowl contender. New England’s defense was awful for the first third of the season. And yet here they are, at 5-2, in position to hold the league’s best record if the Eagles lose Monday night.
One thing the Patriots have going for them is that competence elsewhere in the NFL is in short supply. The Falcons threatened to become the eighth team on Sunday that failed to score an offensive touchdown. They would have joined the Cardinals, Colts, Bears, Panthers, Browns, Titans and Broncos. What’s truly gross is two of those teams won and one ended the day in first place.
The NFL’s mediocrity also allows the Falcons an opportunity to regroup. But after Sunday night, there is no reason to think the Falcons have recovered from last year’s Super Bowl. Their deficiencies could be seen clearly, through even the thickest fog.
>>> Carson Palmer’s season is probably over, and so might be his tenure with the Arizona Cardinals, if not his career. Palmer, 37, broke his left arm in Arizona’s 33-0 loss in London to the Los Angeles Rams. He’ll miss at least eight weeks, which means he couldn’t return until the end of a Cardinals season that seems to be headed nowhere. “It’s a real gut punch to lose your best offensive player,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
The Cardinals are 3-4 and have been outscored by 72 points, second-worst margin in the NFL. Sunday’s loss looked like surrender, Dan Bickley writes. Despite the promising start Adrian Peterson has had for Arizona, it seems unlikely the Cardinals would have any reason to activate Palmer if he returns ahead of schedule or in time for Week 17.
The Cardinals can opt out of Palmer’s deal after this season while taking only a $6.6 million dead cap hit. Arizona has missed chances in the draft to plan for their post-Palmer future — that’s how Drew Stanton came to be quarterbacking Sunday, with Blaine Gabbert inactive. They may have no choice but to do something at quarterback this offseason.
Coach Bruce Arians said the Cardinals will not change their quarterback depth chart. If you’re keeping score, Gabbert was benched for Colin Kaepernick last season.
>>> They nearly notched their first victory, but the Browns had their worst Sunday yet, Mark Maske writes. Offensive tackle Joe Thomas, a paragon of durability, left their 12-9 overtime loss to the Titans with an injured triceps. Thomas had played 10,363 consecutive snaps. The Browns also switched quarterbacks again, after renaming rookie DeShone Kizer the starter at midweek, one week after benching him. Not that the reminder is necessary, but Cleveland traded out of the spots where Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson were taken in the draft.
>>> The Packers are doomed without Aaron Rodgers, Maske writes. At the very least, it will take the offense a few weeks to adjust. Rodgers plays like no other quarterback in the NFL, with his ability to escape, create time and improvise, and that’s without mentioning his incredible release and accuracy. One week, then, may be too soon to judge Brett Hundley. But he cannot make passes such as his final interception, an ill-advised prayer down the middle of the field that Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro picked off easily.
>>> Matt Moore showed why the Dolphins should have started the season with him as their starter after the training camp injury to Ryan Tannehill. Moore led the Dolphins to a 31-28 victory over the New York Jets, erasing a 28-14 deficit in the fourth quarter. Moore completed 13 of 21 passes for 188 yards after Jay Cutler went down with a chest injury. Moore, who won the final three games last year to lead the Dolphins into the playoffs, is one of the better backups in the league. The 4-2 Dolphins may be better off with Moore than Cutler.
>>> The Seahawks continue to overcome their shortcomings and internal turmoil, Maske writes. Seattle’s offensive line remains disastrous, but their defense is a storm and Russell Wilson’s dual-threat ability puts so much pressure on defenses that they can grind out enough scores. They’ve won three in a row and they have a win over the first-place Rams, who at 5-2 are just a half-game ahead of them.
>>> The Colts’ offensive line still stinks, and T.Y. Hilton called his teammates out, Mike Wells reports. It’ll be a miracle if Coach Chuck Pagano survives the season without being fired.
>>> It’s bleak in Denver after the Broncos lost, 21-0, to the Chargers. Mark Kizsla says Trevor Siemian’s job should be in jeopardy. The Broncos look like they’re falling apart.
Read more from The Post: