It's finally over! The 2013 Super Bowl hopeful season that turned into a now 4-12 nightmare is finally complete. It ended in what was another horrendously appropriate finale to a season of close losses and sloppy play that were once again the difference between a loss and a win.
Down 21-20 after a strong defensive stand, the Falcons had the ball at around midfield with just under a minute left in the fourth quarter. But when QB Matt Ryan was about to complete a patented 4th quarter comeback, those around him once again, let him down.
Ryan tried to change the play at the line when he saw something in the coverage he wanted to exploit. Instead, for some reason, Center Joe Hawley thought Ryan was asking for the ball and snapped it about 20-30 yards past Ryan way back into Falcons territory. The Falcons recovered, but with no time outs left and around 20 seconds on the clock, the Falcons didn't have enough time to move the ball up the field to attempt a last second field goal.
Time would run out, and the Falcons dropped their seventh single digit game of the year, losing 21-20 to Carolina.
The Falcons came out swinging though, with some extra added emotion of the impending retirement of Tony Gonzalez, the tone was set. The Falcons weren't rolling over to the team who came in at 11-4. Marching down the field with a patented Dirk Koetter opening drive to score 7-0, the Falcons spread the ball out, passing the majority of this drive. Tony Gonzalez had a couple of receptions in vintage Gonzalez form. The drive ended with a Jason Snelling touchdown.
The Falcons did not let the Panthers score in the first quarter. They shut down the running game and flustered Cam Newton with a diverse variety of blitzes. While Newton was only sacked once, the Falcons were in his face constantly in the first half. At one point in the second quarter, Newton was only 1/8 for eight yards. He only finished going 15/27 for 149 yards, and was more of a force on the ground.
The Panthers only really got back in the game via miscommunication between Harry Douglas and Matt Ryan. After the Falcons recovered a fumble, Ryan threw his fourth pick six of the year when he thought Douglas was running an out and Douglas thought he was running a post, or some other longer route. Ryan threw the ball as if Douglas was running an out and Melvin White intercepted the ball, and only had to run eight yards for the score.
Then a phantom call of pass interference against Robert Alford on what should have been a drive stopping play, resulted in the Panthers next touchdown to take the lead.
Newton and the Panthers offense adjusted to Nolan's defense, and Newton began to kill the Falcons on the ground. The Falcons attempted to QB spy Newton with Paul Worrilow, but for the most part, Newton was able to beat it. He finished with 12 carries for 72 yards.
The Falcons were able to run with the Panthers all the way to the end, but instead of keeping up the pressure on Newton, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan stopped blitzing for some reason. Despite the fact that he wasn't all that accurate, he was given way too much time in the second half to make the plays with his arm in the second half that he couldn't in the first.
The second half went back and forth as the Panthers and Falcons traded touchdowns in the third quarter. The Falcons touchdown came via an incredible deep bomb to a healthy Roddy White to take the lead before the Panthers would get the lead back on a Greg Olsen touchdown. The Falcons added a field goal before the aforementioned collapse of Joe Hawley occurred.
Tony Gonzalez finished with 4 catches for 57 yards in his final game and got a roaring reception when he was introduced before the game. He also got one at the halftime ceremony held in his honor. Gonzalez will go down as the greatest tight end in the history of the game. He finished his career with 1,321 receptions, 15,071 yards and 111 touchdowns. He leads every single tight end who has ever played in the NFL in each of these categories.
The Falcons offense, while effective early, did stall out some against the Panthers absolutely brutal defense. Ryan was sacked nine times, but was hit far more. Ryan was on his back on nearly every passing play, and took arguably the worst beating of the season and maybe his career.
It raised the concern of this offensive line even more, and if Thomas Dimitroff hasn't gotten the message about drafting Jake Matthews, the offensive lineman from Texas A&M in the first round of the draft if he's available, hopefully this game delivered that message. The offensive line, which has easily been the worst part of this Falcons team did nothing to improve its standing heading into the offseason.
The Falcons finished 4-12 for the first time since the 2007 season, and it's the worst record they've posted in the Smith/Dimitroff/Ryan era. While the Falcons have been more competitive against the NFC's top teams recently, which has been a welcome sign, there are so many things the Falcons must improve on in the offseason.
The offensive line showed why today that they are on the top of the list in terms of needing improvement.
Or a complete overhaul.
Stay tuned to Falcons 101 for coverage in the offseason. Thank you all for your support this year!
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