By Cedric Williams
The Atlanta Falcons 2015 season was a roller coaster ride right from the start, as the club began the year with a thrilling victory over Chip Kelly’s highly-touted Philadelphia Eagles in the first Monday Night Football game of the year. The Falcons then rode the wave of that win to four more victories to begin the season 5-0.READ MORE: Investigation After A Deputy-Involved Crash Happened In Dunedin
Folks all around the league were impressed. The team that won only six games in 2014 and just four games in 2013, had already won each of its first five games in 2015, which many thought made it a sure bet that Atlanta would be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The fun only lasted through the early part of October though, as the Falcons lost seven of their next eight contests, including an embarrassing 38-0 defeat in Charlotte to the Carolina Panthers. That one loss migh have been Atlanta’s worst single-game performance of the last decade, prompting quarterback Matt Ryan to say at the time, “That was about as bad as we can play.”
Head coach Dan Quinn clearly felt the same as he called the team’s performance that day “unacceptable.”
The Falcons finished the year by winning two of their final three games, including a December 27 rematch with Carolina, which proved to be the Panthers’ only loss of the season.
Six-Game Losing Streak Sank The Whole Season
Coming into the season, not many considered Atlanta a playoff contender. But once the Falcons began the year 5-0 and 6-1, it sure seemed like the team was headed for the playoffs. But then November came, and the Falcons lost six games in a row to go from playoff contender to playoff pretender.
Teams like Carolina, Arizona, Seattle, Washington and Minnesota continued to improve all year, which made it nearly impossible for the Falcons to overcome such an unprecedented slide. And it happened so quickly, that even once Atlanta righted its ship and won two in a row at the end of December, it was too little, too late, as the NFC wild-card spots were already locked up before the Falcons could get back into the race.
WR Julio Jones Had A Historic Season As The Leader Of The Falcon Offense
Atlanta’s easy MVP for this season was wide receiver Julio Jones, who turned in one of the best pass-catching seasons ever in NFL history. The fifth-year vet from the University of Alabama finished the year as the NFL leader in catches (136) and receiving yards (1,871), putting him No. 2 on the list in both categories for a single-season.
Only Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison, whose 143 catches in 2002, and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, who had 1,964 yards in 2012, had better single-season numbers than Jones did for the Falcons this season.
“The competitor that he is, I think when you’re around him you get a sense for that, what it feels like every day, day in, day out,” Quinn said of Jones on Sunday. “Man, my respect for him as a competitor is through the roof. All the ways that he comes to bat for the team, (his) blocking, catching, and big plays. He’s a really unique player, from the size and speed standpoint, but he’s even more unique as a competitor.”
WR Roddy White Might Not Be Back Next YearREAD MORE: Attorneys Rush To Block Demolition Of Arrive Perimeter Apt. Building Following Explosion
Just last week, veteran receiver Roddy White said he wanted to be “a Falcon forever” and end his career in Atlanta. But on Monday, as the Falcon players gathered to clear out their lockers and head off into the offseason, White told ESPN that he “wasn’t interested in taking a pay cut” in order to stay with the team.
And with the salary cap being what it is, that might be the only way the Falcons can afford to get the aging wideout on their roster.
White is signed through 2017, and is due $4.25 million next season. But he would count for more than $6 million against the salary cap. And the Falcons don’t seem interested in taking that kind of cap hit for a player who found himself in a reduced role with the team for most of the season.
Questions Loom As Falcons Head Into 2016
After Atlanta ended its season at 8-8 with a second loss to the rival Saints on Sunday, the club will head into the offseason with a number of questions that might not be answered until months from now.
First off, will general manager Thomas Dimitroff be brought back for another season?
Questions about the depth, or lack thereof, on the roster have been lingering over the team ever since the Falcons lost the 2013 NFC Championship game to the San Francisco 49ers.
Secondly, will Roddy White be back?
The veteran receiver probably counts more against the salary cap than what the Falcons would like, especially with the club clearly needing to make improvements on its defense. But when the Falcons needed White to come up big as a reliable No. 2 receiving option behind Julio Jones, White delivered. And he’s a very popular player in the locker room, which might be enough just by itself to make keeping White around worth it.
And finally, who will the Falcons take in the draft next spring?
Atlanta will pick 17th in the first round, which means the Falcons could be in prime position to pick up a playmaking receiver, who could replace White. Or Atlanta could go after a stud defensive player to help shore up some of the holes opponents found in their D this year.
Most likely, none of these questions will be answered soon. Which means the offseason will be full of much intrigue for Falcon players, coaches, fans, and even team executives — none of whom can be completely sure they’ll even be with the team next year.
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Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a full-time reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the NFL, as well as college and high school sports for the St. Louis American, Patch.com, and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at email@example.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.