FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes an early reaction to the Falcons' 2018 season as a whole and Julio Jones' optimism for the future.
With the 2018 season officially in the books, there are undoubtedly going to be times over the coming weeks and months to wonder what went wrong and what could have been differently.
It's easy to gloss over them at this point in the year, but ESPN's Vaughn McClure writes that it was the early injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball that hurt the Falcons' hopes for 2018.
"Season grade: Below-average -- The Falcons were picked as Super Bowl contenders entering the season yet finished with their first losing season in four years under coach Dan Quinn," McClure writes. "No one wanted to use it as an excuse, but injuries crippled the team, particularly on defense. Starting safeties Keanu Neal (ACL) and Ricardo Allen (Achilles) both suffered season-ending injuries, and Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones missed 10 games after foot surgery.
"And on offense, the loss of two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman (groin) significantly affected the run game, with the Falcons sorely missing Freeman's toughness and elusive ability. Most figured the Falcons still had enough offensive firepower with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, tight end Austin Hooper, and rookie Calvin Ridley. The offense, however, couldn't shoulder the load despite Ryan and Jones playing at a Pro Bowl level."
To read the rest of McClure's reaction to the Falcons' 2018 season, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
AJC: Julio Jones: 'We have the team. We have the coaches.'
Despite the down year in Atlanta, wide receiver Julio Jones has remained optimistic about the future of the franchise. When asked throughout the year about any possible changes, Jones has remained insistent that the group is in place to have success. He did not waver from that stance following Sunday's win against the Buccaneers.
"We have to get guys back healthy," Jones said. "We had a lot of injuries and things like that. That's about it... We have the team. We have the coaches. We just have to have our guys on the field out there playing for us. This is it."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote more about Jones' optimism, which you can read here.
AJC: Falcons show they have a lot to work on and a lot to work with
Entering the 2018 season, the Falcons were seen as having one of the NFL's most talented rosters and gearing up for a third-straight run at the postseason. Although that didn't happen and this fall highlighted some areas in need of attention, The AJC's Michael Cunningham believes the Falcons still have plenty to work with.
"The comeback in this game, and the dominate victory at Carolina, showed that the Falcons still have plenty of talent," Cunningham writes. "They have more good skill players than most. In a passing league, the Falcons can throw with the best of them."
To read the rest of Cunningham's column, click here.
ESPN: Dirk Koetter out as Bucs coach
As ESPN's Jenna Laine wrote late Sunday night, the Buccaneers announced that coach Dirk Koetter has been relieved of his duties following a 5-11 record in his third season as the team's head coach. The news came after Tampa Bay's 34-32 loss to the Falcons on Sunday. Koetter had a 19-29 record as the Buccaneer's head coach during his time there.
To read the rest of Laine's report, click here.