Atlanta Falcons First Takes: Why the Vikings game changes nothing

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Devonta Freeman
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Devonta Freeman /

The Minnesota Vikings got the better of the Atlanta Falcons in a match-up of the NFC’s elite on Sunday. This week’s Falcons First Takes tells us why our opinion of the Dirty Birds should not change.

Tossing records aside, this past Sunday’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings played like a match-up between two of the best teams in the NFC. It was a tightly contested affair with neither team being able to pull away from the other.

Unfortunately, the Falcons came up on the wrong side of the win column in week 13 as they fell to 7-5 following the loss. And just like that, the dark horse pick to make some noise in January no longer appears to be the popular choice anymore.

But ask yourself this–why does a close loss to one of the best teams in the NFL change that opinion?

One possession games are virtually toss-ups in the National Football League. In other words, both teams are good enough to come out with a victory in those situations, but often times luck plays a part in the ultimate outcome.

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So having said that, judging the Falcons on this game and ignoring all the good they’ve accomplished in the last three weeks is the very definition of a fair weather fan. In this week’s Falcons First Takes, you’ll see that the Dirty Birds haven’t changed their feathers, so here’s why you shouldn’t change yours.

Why the Vikings game changes nothing

If you had to ask me what the 2017 Atlanta Falcons’ biggest issue has been this year, I’d say, without a doubt, self-inflicted wounds. Sure, they’ve had other deficiencies like a poor run defense, too few takeaways, or an inexperienced play caller, but nothing has held them back more than themselves.

The Minnesota Vikings game was no exception.

Most people see an offense that managed only nine points and think the offense did nothing right. But that is where context comes into play.

On four separate drives in the game, the Falcons had a 1st and 10 from the Vikings’ 23, 24, 33, and 36 yard line. Not once did they enter the red zone on those possessions.

And here comes the context.

    • Drive #1 – 1st and 10 from the MIN 24 – A questionable holding call on Falcons left guard Ben Garland negates a Devonta Freeman (Atlanta running back) six-yard run leading to a 1st and 17.
    • Drive #3 – 1st and 10 from the MIN 23 – Devonta Freeman drops what would have been a first down reception and Falcons tight end Austin Hooper followed that play up with a false start.
    • Drive #5 – 1st and 10 from the MIN 36 – Falcons Matt Ryan‘s pass to an open Mohamed Sanu was too low on 3rd and 3 for the receiver to bring in, forcing the Falcons to settle for their third field goal of the game.
    • Drive #8 – 1st and 10 from the MIN 33 – Atlanta had a favorable match-up with wide receiver Julio Jones in the slot on 2nd and 10, but Ryan was off with his throw. The Falcons came up empty on this possession as kicker Matt Bryant missed his first kick of 40 yards this season.

In order to get in these positions, the offense must have done something right. However, critics see that Matt Ryan threw for only 173 passing yards and want to focus their attention there. (Where were they when Ryan threw for only 20 yards more versus Seattle, I ask?)

Doing so, though, completely ignores a rushing attack that ran for 102 yards, averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and had a 45% run success rate. To do that against a defense that came in allowing only 75.5 yards per game is a very impressive feat.

If Matt Bryant makes that last kick and one of the previous three field goal drives ends in a touchdown, Dirty Bird Nation would be singing a completely different tune today. The reality is that didn’t happen and the Falcons are forced to deal with the consequences. Thanks to a couple of ugly losses earlier in the season, Atlanta’s margin for error is virtually zero.

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But the Falcons demonstrated in the previous three games that they can turn it on in a moment’s notice. For that, they deserve the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.