Stick a fork in them, they’re done. The Atlanta Falcons have been to postseason in the last three consecutive years, but they will not be making it a fourth.
For any optimists keeping the faith with a 2-5 Falcons outfit heading into Week 9, you may want to reconsider now that it’s done. After falling to the Carolina Panthers in what was effectively as good as two losses, given the divisional consequences, the Falcons find themselves at an unassailable 2-6 as we reach the midpoint of the 2013 season. The Panthers rise to 5-3, having won four games in a row, though it is looking increasingly likely that the NFC South will produce only one playoff candidate, given the strength of the North and West divisions in the conference.
The Falcons, however, can lean on the injury excuse more than others. Wide receiver Julio Jones led the NFL in receiving yards before his season ended prematurely, whilst Steven Jackson was supposed to be the missing piece of the offensive puzzle after his summer move from St. Louis Rams, though his maiden season has also stuttered and stalled. The offensive onus was then placed on the shoulders of veteran receiver Roddy White, who, although he noticeably lost a step, was still capable of leading an offense that he had done so many times before. Just as luck would have it, White suffered his own injury woes and has missed the last three games as the saga rumbles on.
Matt Ryan must have felt like the little boy that Santa Claus forgot, as his favorite toys were taken away from him, whilst noticing that the field in front of him was substantially thin. Third string receiver Harry Douglas‘ rise to overnight sensation came with an air of inevitability, though he has averaged over 100 yards per game since the Falcons’ bye to at least prove that there is life after White in Atlanta.
Never for the want of trying, Ryan persevered with the ball in the air, and at one stage of the game, had completed 12-of-16 pass attempts with his Falcons down by just a single score. It would appear that without the presence of Jones on offense, the Falcons do not have the character to chase a game; Ryan tossed two interceptions deep into the second half, the last of which was returned for a touchdown to extend the Panthers’ lead to 21 points and kill the game as a contest. Ryan’s final figures of 219 passing yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions were his worst of the 2013 season so far.
Mike Smith‘s Falcons may have been toppled five times this season prior to this latest defeat, though they have always been within a score having not lost by more than eight points thus far. The divisional humbling at the hands of the Panthers came at three times that amount, a 24-point margin that also saw the highest points total conceded by the Falcons this season.
The second-half capitulation was a metaphor for the Falcons’ season, as they gave up the ghost and accepted defeat on the back of problems that were largely self-made. That, of course, is not taking anything away from the Cam Newton-inspired Panthers, but it was the first time this season that the Falcons had rolled over in defeat. There was an air of acceptance and grim realization in the manner of defeat that this game, much like their season, was over by the half-way point.