Early Bird Report: What is the path ahead for the Falcons? 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes an evaluation of the 2018 season for Atlanta and how the Falcons can move forward.

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With the Falcons now officially eliminated from the postseason, Danny Heifetz of The Ringer has taken a big-picture look at the team’s 2018 season.

He covers what went right for Atlanta, what went wrong and how it could proceed forward in hopes of re-asserting itself as one of the league’s contenders.

“For stretches this season, Atlanta’s offense under coordinator Steve Sarkisian was almost as good as its 2016 offense under Kyle Shanahan,” Heifetz writes of what went write in 2018. “Julio Jones leads the league in receiving yards (1,511) and is just the fifth receiver in NFL history with three seasons to have more than 1,500 receiving yards. He also has learned how to get into the end zone, with six touchdowns in his last seven games after getting zero scores in his first seven. Fellow Alabama alum Calvin Ridley has looked like a more than capable sidekick in his first season, and the duo will be one of the best receiving combos in the NFL when both are healthy. Tight end Austin Hooper put up career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Best of all, the Patriots are now the ones blowing games they were all but guaranteed to win. Take that, Brady.”

That’s about as rosy as Heifetz gets in his evaluation of the season, and there’s plenty of negatives for him to point out.

If you’d like to read the rest of his piece for The Ringer, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

AJC: Falcons need fast fixes before window closes

Atlanta seems like a team in position to rebound from this season. Given the number of injuries that occurred and the blend of young and veteran talent returning, it’s not hard envisioning things getting turned around. But that won’t happen on its own. The Falcons will need to fix the holes they do have on the roster fairly quickly if they want to extend their window, writes Michael Cunningham for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“More important is that when it’s time for Quinn and Dimitroff to assess this season, they resist the human urge to blame their failures on bad luck,” Cunningham writes. “They’ll need to honestly evaluate the roster they’ve built. They’ll have to admit to their mistakes and, best they can, mitigate the damage those errors caused while also not overreacting to small samples.” 

To read the rest of Cunningham’s piece, click here.

ESPN: Coleman’s career day gives Falcons something to ponder

The Falcons have been searching for a dominant ground attack all season long, and Tevin Coleman helped them find one on Sunday.

Coleman carried the ball 11 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. The fourth-year back had another 44-yard touchdown run nullified in the fourth quarter, which would have made his number’s for the afternoon astronomical.

Atlanta’s success wasn’t all due to Coleman, the Falcons’ offensive line blocked better than it has for much of the season, but it was certainly an eye-catching afternoon for a player whose contract is up after this season.

As ESPN’s Vaughn McClure writes, Coleman’s career afternoon has given Atlanta something to think about.

"Yeah, I'd like to see Tevin [back]," Julio Jones said after the game, per McClure. "But, you know, I don't make those decisions."

To read the rest of McClure’s piece, click here.

AJC: Irvin starting to fit in on Falcons’ defense

It took a couple of weeks but Bruce Irvin is starting to make an impact for the Falcons’ defense. The veteran pass rusher finished with three tackles, 1.5 sacks, a tackles for a loss and three hits on the quarterback. Irvin’s ability to generate pressure helped the Falcons finish with a season-high seven sacks. In a piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, D. Orlando Ledbetter detailed how Irvin is beginning to fit in.

“It was good,” Irvin told Ledbetter of his performance. “We’ve been trying to really get on that the last couple of weeks so it’s really good to be able to make some plays out there and have everybody contribute and have everybody get a sack.”

To read the rest of Ledbetter’s report, click here.

AJC: Falcons were fun again and that counts for something

This season hasn’t been the most fun for the Falcons or their fans, but Sunday’s game certainly was. Atlanta played well across the board in its 40-14 victory against the Arizona Cardinals, looking like the team we expected entering this season. The AJC’s Michael Cunningham noticed the excitement in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday and wrote about it in his post-game column.

“In one hour on Sunday the Falcons were more fun than they’d been during the previous five weeks,” Quinn said. “The Falcons smiled and danced along with their fans. Coach Dan Quinn, morose on the sideline for so long, had some of those fist-pumping frenzies we’d seen frequently during better times.”

To read the rest of Cunningham’s column, click here

NFL.com: What we learned from Sunday’s games

Post-game takeaways are always much more enjoyable after a win than a loss. There’s been plenty of negatives this season, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday. That gave NFL.com’s Marc Sessler something positive to write about after the Falcons’ blowout win.

“This long-hamstrung Falcons offense finally woke from its slumber against the horrifyingly lost Cardinals,” Sessler writes. “Atlanta (5-9) found a heartbeat in the backfield when Tevin Coleman (145 yards on the ground) ripped off a 65-yard gallop to set up an early field goal before burying the Cardinals with a 43-yard scoring burst midway through the third frame. Coleman also had a 44-yard touchdown romp called back by penalty. Through the air, Matt Ryan leaned on Julio Jones, who managed 82 yards off six grabs but also spent time on the sideline with a rib injury. It was discouraging to see Atlanta settle for field goals on a pair of drives that ended at Arizona's 14- and 7-yard line, but those kicks also helped forge a 26-7 halftime lead against a Cardinals (3-11) team missing the DNA to forge a comeback.”

To read more takeaways from Sunday’s action, click here.

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