It’s painful to reminisce about the 2015 Atlanta Falcons season, but in doing so, we can appreciate the journey to Super Bowl 51 so much more.
I’ll begin by admitting this article doesn’t happen if the Atlanta Falcons weren’t heading to Super Bowl 51. It may be painful to reminisce, but looking back makes me appreciate the 2016-17 Falcons so much more. It’s amazing how far they come in just one season.
Things were bad for the Atlanta Falcons over the 2015 season. So bad that Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn needed to be fired and Matt Ryan benched. Well, that’s what many fans thought at least. It always fascinates me how neurotic Falcons’ fans can be in a season, but I understand. In all fairness, the start to the 2015 season got the hopes up of so many.
From 5-0 to Armageddon
I remember the enthusiasm within the city of Atlanta at the time. The Falcons were 4-0 with the Washington Redskins next on the schedule. The offense was completely in sync. Devonta Freeman scored seven touchdowns in the previous two games. Dan Quinn seemed poised for a big playoff run in his rookie season as a head coach. The first half of that October 11th game against Washington was a sign of what was to come. Atlanta still won the game, but the Falcons barely held it together. It didn’t take much longer for the team to fall apart.
Fans were once again ‘snake-bitten’ as the Falcons went on to win only one game over the next eight weeks. Beyond frustrated, many fans demanded the team hit the rest button. “Bench Matt Ryan r fire Dan Quinn. A nuff is enough!!!!”, a man named Ralph Richardson posted to the Falcons’ official Facebook page.
Fans Were Done With Matt Ryan
For all we know, 2016 may have been a ‘make it or break it’ season for Matt Ryan. The Falcons’ now-All Pro quarterback certainly struggled in his first season running Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Ryan’s footwork was terrible and he forced too many throws, especially in the red zone. Something else to remember is Ryan was hit, a lot. Going back to 2012, the Falcons’ quarterback still ranks near the top of the NFL in quarterbacks hit.
2015 Was Really Just a Transitional Season
One of my favorite articles to now reflect on came from Luke Kerr-Dineen of USAToday.com. Kerr-Dineen hit the nail on the head with his analysis of the Falcons on November 29, 2015:
"“Despite the Falcons’ hot start, this was always going to be a transitional year. Dan Quinn looks like a good coach who has done some much-needed work on the defensive side of the ball,” Kerr-Dineen wrote. “The team’s 5-0 start was more the result of a series of fortunate breaks and good scheduling, and its subsequent 1-5 run is nothing more than a regression to the mean.”"
It’s impressive Kerr-Dineen called it back then as I couldn’t have said it any better myself a full season later. I’ve often wondered if fans would’ve been more patient with the 2015 Falcons had they not started 5-0. Expectations became very bloated for a first year head coach and new offensive and defensive systems. An 8-8 record for a team in transition is certainly nothing to gripe about.
Things have thankfully fallen into place for the Atlanta Falcons and it hasn’t been by accident. Dimitroff went out and secured the necessary offensive upgrades. Young and talented players have learned on the job to become a formidable defensive unit. A lot of hard work from coaches and players also went into the Falcons turnaround. If things stay the course, it’ll all pay off with a win in Super Bowl 51.