By Matthew Asher
The big question that will surround the Atlanta Falcons until the 2015 season begins will be, “What if?” A promising start to a season was derailed thanks to injuries and the inability to win close games. For the second straight season, the Atlanta Falcons are posting a losing record, this time a 6-10 record and will likely have the 10th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Going into the game, Atlanta was a perfect 5-0 against NFC South opponents. They had already beaten the Panthers in Carolina this season. However, the Panthers made the Falcons pay dearly for all their mistakes as it looks like Mike Smith may have just coached his last game for the Falcons.
Roddy White Gets a B+
Looking at the game from a purely statistical point of view, White is the only player who really did anything worthwhile without turning the ball over to negate the positives he had produced. White finished the game with eight catches for 104 yards. Nobody else on the team had more than five catches or gained more than 58 receiving yards. The one reason Roddy doesn’t get an A is because he didn’t record a touchdown reception. For the second straight season, White will finish with less than 81 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards, something he had done from 2007-2012.
Atlanta’s Run Defense Gets an F
The good new for Atlanta’s defense was them limiting Cam Newton to just 114 passing yards and one touchdown. The bad news is basically everything else because Newton didn’t need to beat the Falcons through the air this game. Cam ran the ball six times and led his team with 51 rushing yards to go along with a rushing touchdown as well. The Panthers ran the ball 35 times for 194 yards, an average of 5.5 yards per carry, and got 11 of their 17 first downs on the ground. It’s no wonder Newton only threw the ball 16 times and just needed 10 completions to keep Atlanta at bay.
Atlanta’s Red Zone Offense Gets a D-
The Falcons were held without a touchdown for the first time this season. Twice this game Atlanta had the ball inside the Red Zone but both times they were denied touchdowns. The first one was in the second quarter as kicker Matt Bryant kicked a 21-yard field goal, Atlanta’s only points of the game, since the Falcons couldn’t get into the end zone. Given that Atlanta had scored 20 or more points in their last five straight games, this was definitely a surprise for the Falcons faithful.
Matt Ryan Gets an F
Ryan finished the game going 29-47 for 260 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Ryan was constantly under pressure as he was sacked six times for a loss of 35 yards. Both interceptions were returned for touchdowns. The first one took place in the second quarter when strong safety Roman Harper took Ryan’s interception 31 yards to put the Panthers up 17-3. The second interception was in the fourth quarter when free safety Tre Boston returned an 81-yard interception for a touchdown, putting the final nail in the coffin of Atlanta’s 2014 season.
And so ends yet another frustrating season for the Falcons. With a high draft pick, Atlanta has a good chance to address their issues in the pass rushing department. This will probably be the last time Mike Smith coaches for the Falcons and it’s also possible the entire coaching staff (including the GM) may be replaced before next season. Here’s hoping 2015 is more like 2012 than 2013 or 2014. #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.