ARLINGTON, Tex. – Arthur Smith pulled quarterback Matt Ryan early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game at Dallas. While the Falcons quarterback wasn't at his best, he wasn't pulled for poor play.
The Falcons head coach thought it was time for a line change. Josh Rosen entered the game. Wayne Gallman started regularly toting the rock with Cordarrelle Patterson on the sideline. Frank Darby and others who don't play much got some snaps.
That decision came from a cost-benefit analysis, weighing the infinitesimal odds of coming back to the beat the Cowboys versus being as fresh as relatively possible to play the Patriots on Thursday night. Option B was the obvious choice.
It was an appropriate time to look toward the future.
"We realized there were not enough possessions left in the game to go win," Smith said after a 43-3 loss at AT&T Stadium. "We knew we had to get ready to go play on Thursday, so that's why a lot of those decisions were made."
Ah, Thursday Night Football. It's an unavoidable challenge that's difficult to prepare for even under ideal circumstances. Just getting the body and mind ready for another fight takes some time. Three days between games is normally pushing it.
The Falcons openly welcome the challenge after what happened here in Texas. It'll force them to compartmentalize the recent past and focus on a game against New England at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that's nearly upon us.
"I feel like it's a good time [to play on Thursday night," defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "We'll be able to get back on the field fast and try to get back to .500 and position ourselves for postseason play. We have to focus on the right now and flush this one. We can't let it beat us twice."
That's as essential as anything the Falcons do all season. The Patriots are rolling. Anything less than their best will result in two games lost in a five-day span. Moving forward can't happen if the Falcons are mentally stuck in Dallas, unable to let go of a game where almost nothing went right.
That's why the Falcons should crumple up this box score and launch a turnaround, fade-away jumper into the waste basket. It's not relevant to what must happen next. The result's just a plus-one in the loss column, nothing more, if the Falcons can quarantine it fast enough.
Ryan says to resist the urge, however, to pull up the game tape, slide left on the iPad and hit delete.
This game, as 'ugly' as it was -- that's how Ryan described it -- still contains coachable moments.
"You definitely take a look at what we did today and the corrections that we have to make," Ryan said. "I always think there are good learning opportunities from days like today. They're wasted if you don't learn from them. I'll look at it and make sure we're making the corrections we need to make."
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys during Week 10 of 2021.
That'll happen fast. Ryan also said he'll peek at Patriots tape on the plane home from Dallas, an act he would've done following a win or loss. Getting the full squad to do so will be key for the Falcons, who have entered a true crossroads moment.
An excellent response to this loss, resulting in quality play against New England on short rest, will keep the Falcons right in the thick of things the NFC. A loss would create the wrong kind of distance, something these Falcons don't want after their recent success.
"We're in the hunt," linebacker Foye Oluokun said. "Last year, we weren't. The fact that we're here and we're feeling [so upset] about this loss is because of how we're going this year. We're going to keep fighting. …
"We want to play meaningful football. I haven't been in this position. I want to play relevant games and stay in the hunt."
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
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Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.