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Inside Tori's Notebook: Struggling to make sense of Falcons after loss to Carolina

Kaden Elliss: "We have to find a way to stay together and use that sting to motivate us." 

Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori McElhaney re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened and why it's notable.


AT A LOSS -- What is happening?

These are the three words I wrote down in my notebook immediately following Desmond Ridder's interception that set up the Panthers' game-winning drive in Sunday's 9-7 defeat. I wrote it down because my mind truly couldn't comprehend at the time that the Falcons were giving in a one-win Carolina team the chance to beat them without ever scoring a touchdown.

The question of, "What is happening?" can be a reaction to the Falcons' second turnover in just as many drives to end the game. But it can also be a question that relates to the bigger picture, too. That question being: "What is happening to the Falcons' season?"

In eight days' time, the Falcons went from the top of the NFC South with a chance to separate themselves from the pack to -- two losses later -- a team quickly falling behind. And here's the thing: I don't know what to say about it any more. I know you don't want to hear excuses. I don't want to write them. I know you don't want to see the stats. You probably already know them.

Personally, I don't want to belabor a point, either.

Last week I spent 800 words contemplating the notion that the 2023 Atlanta Falcons are not what I expected them to be. I could write 800 more words on that topic but I've already burned myself out of using the word "expectations," recently preceded by the word, "unmet."

So, what is left to say?

I wish I had more for you than, "I don't know."

At this point in the season, the Falcons are who they are. You can't talk about the 2023 Falcons without talking about turnovers and inconsistencies in both the play of the quarterback and the offensive production as a whole. You can't discuss the 6-8 record without pointing out that the Falcons have given up fourth-quarter, game-winning drives in their last four losses.

You can't talk about expectations without talking about reality.

And the reality is that the Falcons are 6-8. In the last two years, they finished the season 7-10. They have three games left in the 2023 regular season, so there's a chance that 7-10 end-of-season record could happen for the third consecutive year.

Because of salary cap constraints in 2021 and 2022, 7-10 was understandable, welcomed even considering the way these previous rosters had been pieced together. A 7-10 record in 2023, though, feels different. It doesn't win you a divisional crown (unless something crazy happens). It doesn't get you to the postseason (unless everything else implodes). It doesn't make you notable.

Maybe 7-10 gets you a top-10 draft pick. Maybe it's No. 8 overall for the third year in a row. Maybe you can leverage that pick, or personnel, to build things up in Atlanta. Maybe... Maybe... Maybe...

This wasn't supposed to be the year of, "maybes." It was supposed to be a year of progress, notable improvements and wins. More wins.

Sure, you needed to see what you had in Desmond Ridder, but you gave him as good a situation as he could get as a young quarterback: Surrounded by three first-round draft skill players, one of the highest-paid offensive lines in the league and two proven bruisers at running back. Then, you pump resources into this defense. You bring in one of the most productive and respected safeties in the league, an edge rusher en route to 100 career sacks and, oh yeah, you had some solid talent returning, too.

So, no. This wasn't a year of maybes. This was a year to go out and show your work, work that took two years of patience and cap maneuvering to build. Instead, if the Falcons go 1-2 in their final three games of the season, they'll be no different than they were last year or the year before.

And if that comes to pass? What would be left to say, then?

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers during Week 15.

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