Thursday Night Football Preview

Atlanta vs. Carolina? Yikes.

Jim Rome
October 29, 2020 - 9:17 am
Todd Gurley

USA Today

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You don’t need me to tell you that this has been truly the most bizarre year ever in sports. We went months without any sports at all.  We were relegated to betting on the weather.  It was that bad. Then suddenly, it was as if they all came back at once and there was a stretch where it seemed like every night there was some combination of NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, MLB postseason, and NFL football. Until last night.

Because without Game 7, there was nothing. Suddenly, we went from being overloaded with must-win games to no games. I even texted the flight deck saying, the hell are we supposed to do tonight: there’s nothing to bet on. Errrrr, where do we go for our entertainment tonight, big head, there are no games! So, in the weirdest year ever, last night was definitely one of the weirder nights. But fear not, the sun came up, and football is back tonight.

And not just any football, but Atlanta Falcons football!! A brand of football onto its own.  Because nobody can do it like these guys? And if anyone belongs in primetime, on the big stage, under the bright lights, it’s the Falcons, the NFL’s most legendary train wreck ever. You never know exactly what you’re going to get with them; only that it’s going to be awesome. Well awesome for us, and horrific for them. Because if there’s way to come from ahead and choke, they’ll find it. They’ve proven that time and time again. And they have great opportunity to do so tonight at Carolina.

Matt Ryan v. Teddy Bridgewater. Robby Anderson vs. the Falcons secondary. Both teams versus the weather.

And I know what you’re thinking you’re looking to clap back on me:  – a Thursday night game with a one-win team, what are you fired up about v. smack and why are you trying to convince me I should be too? It’s seems pretty freaking self-evident, but if you still need help, I’m here to give it to you.  

Because tonight’s game isn’t about the Falcons vs. the Panthers, it’s about the Falcons versus themselves. The Falcons versus history. The Falcons versus the laws of science.

Because the Falcons are an amazing team. If you just look at their record, you see a 1-6 team.  But when I look at that team, I see one of the most compelling, mesmerizing crews ever. 

Take a look at the teams with the worst record in the NFL.

Cincinnati: they’ve got one win, but they’ve got a hell of a quarterback. If you told me they were 4-3 instead of 1-5-1, I’d believe you.

Houston: a mess.

Minnesota: Who knows?

The Jags: pretty forgettable.

The Giants: garbage.

The Jets: hot garbage.

And that brings us back to the Falcons. Alanda.

Four of their losses have been by one score. They could easily be 5-2 instead of 1-6. In fact, it would’ve been easier to be 5-2 than 1-6. Because two of their losses have been by one point. And a number of them have been flat out impossible.

Let’s go back to Week 2. Atlanta at Dallas. Mike McCarthy’s home debut and the Cowboys were, shocker, a complete and total mess. They fumbled three times in the first half. The Falcons were up 15 with five minutes to go. And then all hell broke loose.

The Falcons gave up a touchdown to make it 39-30. They got the ball back, gained 12 yards, and punted. They gave up another touchdown to make it 39-37. And then they went legend trying to recover the onside kick. And by going legend I mean, standing there, doing nothing and allowing Dallas to jump on the ball

And sure enough, Dallas kicked a field goal as time expired to win 40-39. Afterwards, head coach Dan Quinn said: "It's tough to put a loss like that in place. I told the team there has to be a lesson in the pain of that loss. We'll work into that as we put in preparation for next week, but definitely that one stings."

It did sting. And the lesson in that loss was…find a new way to lose.

Because one week later, against the Bears, Atlanta was up 16 with less than seven minutes to go. They’d chased Mitchell Trubisky from the game and Nick Foles came in to throw for not one, not two, but three touchdowns in the final six and a half minutes for yet another legendary loss for the Falcons.

Afterwards, Quinn said: "These last two weeks have been nothing short of crushing.”

And in doing so, Atlanta became the first team in NFL history to lose back-to-back games where they had 15 point leads in the fourth quarters.

And I don’t want to gloss over that. The NFL has been playing football for a long time. There have been a lot of games played. There have been a lot of really bad teams that have played, but none of them have pulled that off.

Because you can’t just be bad to blow back-to-back 15 point leads in the fourth quarter. You have to be just good enough to get up by 15 and then bad enough to choke. That is a nearly impossible combo to pull off. You have to be good enough to be beating the hell out of a team for three quarters and then be big enough chokers to just completely shut down in the final quarter. And these guys can do just that. In fact, have done just that.  Hell, they do it all the time. So what makes them so special? Why is Alanda! The only franchise that has it in them to pull this off.

Because they have an offense that has weapons like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley. You have to have an offense gifted enough to create explosive plays. And then you have to have a defense gifted at giving up explosive plays. And the Falcons are just that. They lead the league in explosive plays given up per game and yards per pass play given up per game. 

After the Bears loss, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr said "It doesn't get no worse than this. We probably found the two worst ways you can lose a football game."

Nothing but respect, D. Because I’m sure it felt that way at the time. I’m sure you were thinking, there is no possible way to lose a game that would be worse than not jumping on an onside kick and by having the Bears offense light us up, but you did.

And I hate to break it to you, Dante, but you and the fellas found a worse way to lose. I’ll get to that in a minute, because the Falcons chased the Bears loss with a couple of more traditional losses – getting cracked at Lambeau by the Packers and getting handled by the Panthers at home.

After the Carolina loss, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff were fired. And then something really remarkable happened – the Falcons went up to Minnesota and won. But they didn’t just win, they destroyed the Vikings. They were up 23-0 in the third quarter and 40-15 in the fourth. It was such a huge lead that even they couldn’t blow it.

You see a game like that and you think, maybe these guys have flipped the switch. Maybe they’ve really turned it around. And then came this past Sunday’s game against Detroit.

Remember when Dante Fowler Jr said the Falcons “probably found the two worst ways you can lose a football game”? Yeah, well he was wrong. Because on Sunday they managed to lose by winning. Todd Gurley took a lot of heat when he accidentally scored with 64 seconds left.

That was bad. And it gets even worse when you hear the NFL Films version of it and you hear Matt Ryan talking to the team during that drive.

“Don’t score. Don’t score. Get the first. Get down.” Right. So you want me to burst through the line and score then? Got it. I’m your man.

And sure enough, Gurley does go ahead and score. Matt Ryan literally told him THREE TIMES: DON’T SCORE.  DON’T SCORE. GET DOWN. And Gurley scores anyway!   And he was pissed at himself after the game. But again, and this is the best part about these Falcons, it’s never just one thing. It’s never just one guy screwing up, it’s an entire implosion. Because the Falcons didn’t lose the game when Gurley scored, they lost the game when their defense let the Lions march down the field in 64 seconds without any time outs.

That is truly amazing. The simplest thing that could’ve happened when Matt Ryan told the offense not to score, was that they didn’t score, they kicked the field goal, and won the game. The most complicated thing that could happen was Gurley either forgetting his instructions from two seconds earlier, or losing his balance and falling into the end zone, you decide,,,but then having  the defense choke on itself and give up a 75-yard touchdown drive over eight plays in 64 seconds.

So that brings me to tonight’s game and the million dollar question – how will the Falcons lose tonight? What new way will we see? We’ve seen the onside kick, choking to Nick Foles, and scoring when they didn’t want to score, what trick do these magicians have up their sleeves now? I can’t wait. Don’t let me down guys.

I don’t want some mail-it--in, 10 point loss in bad weather. Make history tonight. Make me proud. And most of all, don’t anything stupid like I don’t know, win this game. I know you’re trying to get this thing turned around: and you’ve actually been playing a little harder for Raheem Morris: I know this. And I don’t like it. So stop doing it; and remember who you are: the alanda fail clowns!