By Matthew Asher
Say what you will about the 2013 Atlanta Falcons 4-12 record, one thing you can’t say is that they phoned in any of the games this season.
If you were looking for one game that summarized the Atlanta Falcons 2013 season, this would be the game. Atlanta kept the game close but was unable to come away with a victory, allowing the Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South title for the first time in five seasons.
Atlanta’s defense gets an A
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton did not have an easy game against Atlanta. The Falcons limited Newton to just 15 completions for 149 yards and recorded one interception and a forced fumble. Coming into the game, Carolina averaged 192.9 passing yards each game.
They also did a good job containing Newton and the rest of the Panthers running attack. Carolina averaged 126.1 yards on the ground coming into the game. They finished with 134 yards. Not a bad day for Atlanta as far as yardage is concerned.
Matt Ryan’s interception gets a D
This was Tony Gonzalez’s final game as an NFL player and Atlanta did everything they could to send Gonzalez off with one final victory. It certainly looked like the Dirty Birds would do just that as they became the first team this season to score a touchdown on their first drive of the game against Carolina. Ryan finished the game a respectable 28 of 40 for 280 yards and two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 95.8.
Ryan’s only mistake ended up being a costly one. Two plays after Atlanta forced a DeAngelo Williams fumble inside Atlanta’s five-yard line, Ryan threw an interception which Melvin White returned eight yards for a touchdown. Those were the first points Carolina was able to score after being shut out in the first quarter.
Atlanta’s pass protection gets an F
One of the big issues with the Falcons all season has been their inability to protect quarterback Matt Ryan. This was probably the worst game of Ryan’s career, not just the season, when it came to protecting him.
Ryan was sacked a total of nine times by five different Panthers in the game. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy led the team with four sacks. Getting a good left tackle or guard should be Atlanta’s top priority for the 2014 NFL Draft because they can ill afford to lose Matty Ice if he’s sacked this many times next season.
The season overall
So ends the most frustrating year for the Atlanta Falcons in the Matt Ryan era. There were a lot of key injuries to starting players and a lot of close games that Atlanta was unable to convert into victories like they were able to last season.
With the 2013 season now in the books, I would like to first say thank you to Tony Gonzalez. I’m sorry the Falcons weren’t able to get you that elusive Super Bowl ring or even appearance, but you will go down in the history books as probably one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game. To all the Falcons faithful, thank you for tuning in each week. Even though more games ended in frustration, this season should be considered a speed bump instead of a setback. #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.