By Matthew Asher
This has certainly been a disappointing NFL season if you’re a fan of the Atlanta Falcons. Finishing last season tied for the best record in the NFL at 13-3 and one scoring drive shy of reaching the Super Bowl, it seemed like this would be the year that Atlanta would return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999.
Alas, thanks to a boatload of injuries to key members of the team, as well as the inability to win close games this season like they did last season, the Falcons have one of the worst records in the NFL and have assured themselves a losing record for the first time since Mike Smith took over as head coach.
But not all is lost. With Thanksgiving being this week, it’s time to look back at some of the positive things that have happened to Atlanta this season. Hopefully this will make the members of the Falcons Nation realize that this season is more of a speed bump rather than the end of the road regarding the future of their team.
The Emergence of Harry Douglas
Yes, it took the injuries of Pro Bowlers Roddy White and Julio Jones for Harry Douglas to finally get attention, but so far the results have been very promising. Douglas leads the Falcons with 60 receptions and 833 receiving yards. He’s already having a career year, and at this pace, he’s going to finish with about 90 receptions and more than 1,200 receiving yards, both stats would more than double his previous career highs set back in 2011.
With Roddy White continuously being injured this season, there are two main possibilities for the Falcons receiving corps next season. White is already in his 30s, the Falcons may want to release or trade him for a few extra draft picks. The other possibility is keeping White and dealing Douglas to another team. Either way, Atlanta still has two very good wide receivers and a chance to draft some good players to help out Matt Ryan.
The Health of Matt Ryan
There’s a good chance that Atlanta’s first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft will be an offensive lineman to protect their franchise quarterback. Despite being sacked 24 times in 11 games, Ryan has yet to be injured. He’s allowed the Falcons to stay in the majority of the games this season until the end of the game. It’s scary to think, but without Ryan, Atlanta might have an even worse record than the 2-9 they currently have.
It’s been a down year for Ryan, but not by too much. He’s still on pace to complete 67 percent of his passes for 4,600 yards and 26 touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 90.0. Sure, it’s not a new career-best like he set last season, but when you consider the offensive weapons Ryan hasn’t been able to rely on this season, it’s certainly not a terrible stat line.
A High First-Round Draft Pick in 2014
Yes, the Falcons are out of the NFL Playoffs for this season. But just look at the Kansas City Chiefs: last season they finished with the worst record in the league. They used their top pick on a lineman to protect their quarterback this season, and it wasn’t until more than half the season had been completed until they suffered their first loss.
It’s always rough to look at this season as what might have been, but it’s time to look forward to next year and all the potential it holds. So with that in mind, I hope all of the Falcons faithful are thankful of what the future holds for this organization. #RiseUp
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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.