By Matthew Asher
One year ago the Atlanta Falcons were the toast of the NFC: they had the best record in the league and were one scoring drive shy of playing in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999. Yesterday’s 21-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers marked the end of a frustrating 2013 NFL season for the Dirty Birds.
In the offseason it appeared as though Atlanta was moving in the right direction: they signed free agents Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora and locked up Matt Ryan to a long-term deal. That’s about the time when everything started to go wrong for the Dirty Birds.
Matt Ryan’s passing gets an A
It may seem tough to believe, but even with all the injuries the Falcons suffered on their offense, Matty Ice’s stats didn’t really suffer that much. He finished the season completing 67.4 percent of his throws for 4,515 passing yards, both rank second only to last year’s efforts.
Tony Gonzalez gets an A
When news first broke that Gonzalez would be returning for one final season, it seemed like destiny that Atlanta would finally get him that elusive Super Bowl appearance and Lombardi Trophy after 17 long seasons of work. It was not to be. Still, Gonzalez had an impressive season. He finished his career pulling down 83 catches this season, the 18th most in the league. Only New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham had more receptions as a tight end, with 86.
Tony finishes his career with 1,325 receptions, 15,127 receiving yards and 111 touchdowns, all NFL records for a tight end. Enjoy your retirement Tony. Canton, Ohio will be calling you the instant you are eligible for the Hall of Fame in five years.
The Injuries get a D-
Injuries are one of those X Factors a team has no real control over. The injury bug certainly bit the Falcons hard this season as former Pro-Bowl players on both sides of the ball were knocked out of games and many for the entire season. If Julio Jones, Kroy Biermann, Sean Weatherspoon and all the other Falcons had not been out for a majority of the season, who knows how different the Falcons final record would have looked.
Atlanta’s pass protection gets an F
Ryan was sacked a total of 44 times, including nine coming in the final week. Only Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco were sacked more this season. Neither of those teams made the playoffs.
The previous sack record for Ryan in a season was 28, last year as well. If Atlanta is going to improve in 2014, upgrading their offensive linemen or having the backs and tight ends block better needs to be the top priority during the offseason.
The Falcons finish the season 4-12, third in their division and appear to be in line for the number seven overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. With a little luck and some smart decision making, 2013 will be seen only as a hitch in Atlanta’s quest to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history rather than a season to expect for the team for years to come.
Again, I want to thank everyone who read these posts this season. I look forward to covering the Dirty Birds again in 2014. Hopefully with much better results next year. #RiseUp
For more Falcons news and updates, visit Falcons Central.
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.