Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori 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. Inside Tori's Notebook is sponsored by Microsoft Surface.
TRYING TO HOLD ONTO THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT -- Let's be honest here. (Can we be honest here? I'd like to think we can be.)
You don't want to read about the Falcons 17-9 loss to Baltimore on Christmas Eve. Truth be told, I don't want to write about it, either. I don't want to rehash it. With Christmas having come and gone before I've been able to sit down and write up this notebook, there was no part of me that wanted to write about the loss. So, I'm not going to.
I'm going to push it forward. I feel like I have to.
The Falcons are officially out of playoff contention with the loss against the Ravens coupled with the subsequent wins of all other NFC South teams over Christmas weekend. They sit at 5-10. They've lost six of their last seven games. In their last four games, they haven't scored more than 20 points.
At this point, I don't truly feel like I have any more questions for the Falcons. I feel like I have a good grasp on what their strengths and weaknesses are as a team. I know what makes them tick. I know what their pitfalls are. I also feel like - outside of the continued evaluation of Desmond Ridder - there is little mystery around this team at this point in time in the season.
They have two games left, both at home. They play the Cardinals next Sunday and host Tampa Bay in the final week of the 2022 season.
Arthur Smith has said a few times over the last month of the season that the Falcons "have to get over the hump." They have to win and they have to make progress, he said in Baltimore. Again: "We have to get over the hump," but even Smith knows he sounds like a broken record when he says that. He said so.
So, if you're the Falcons, what is left to play for?
I know there are a number of you who are reading that question and screaming in answer: "Nothing! NOTHING! Keep moving up the 2023 Draft order!"
Fans can afford to think that way, but coaches and players can't.
Why? Because it's their futures in the league still on the line. With that being said, though, we have to break down the answer to the above question into two specific schools of thought.
What do the Falcons have to play for? Evaluations and pride. Let'e break this down further.
I've written this a few times and I'll write it once more: The 2022 Falcons team was one that was pieced together with a bunch of players in the early days of their rookie deals and mid-level veteran free agents on short-term deals. With this organization taking a bunch of dead money on the chin in 2022 in order to be in a significantly better monetary situation in 2023, it tied their hands. They couldn't afford to give away draft capital in any trade scenario. Then, they just couldn't afford certain salaries, period.
So, the reality for a lot of players on this team right now is that their spot on this team isn't safe, nor is it guaranteed. They need promising film to showcase potential for other teams to pick up on because the turnover for this organization is going to continue to be notable. A handful of players are going to hit the market as free agents whether their contract ends or they are cut. They need the recent reps these final two games of the season provide. From a personal standpoint, these will-be free agent will want to land somewhere, right? If they play poorly in their last chance to make an impression on offseason evaluators? That's not going to bode well for them.
Then, there are the Falcons rookies, who are all still very much working for longevity in Atlanta. The Falcons still need to see more of Ridder. They still need to monitor Troy Andersen and Arnold Ebiketie's progress. Guys like these three are fighting for starting jobs in 2023. Can Tyler Allgeier be your featured back in 2023? What type of help does Drake London need in the wide receiver room? You're still learning about these rookies and their futures with the team even in the final two games of the season, when nothing is truly on the line. They're still playing for that future even though 2022 comes to a close.
I think it goes without saying that Grady Jarrett would love nothing more than to beat the Buccaneers at home to close out the season, especially if it could ruin a potential playoff berth. Even if it doesn't, though, there's a pride factor at play.
The Falcons felt slighted when they faced Tampa Bay early in the season. I don't need to recount what happened then. You probably don't need a refresher. But you don't think that moment plays in the back of Jarrett's head with the Bucs coming to town to end the season?
Well, even if he's not, pride is still a factor in how the Falcons move forward into 2022's end.
I go back to this quote from Jarrett, himself, after the loss to Baltimore:
"You can't let circumstances dictate the effort and the want-to and the will and the passion that you play with," Jarrett said. "If that's a determining factor in how hard you're going to go, that's not the right person for us. You have to go out and put your best foot forward."
That's pride. And if pride isn't the foundation of the mindset the Falcons have in the last two games of the season, then what even is there in this position?
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens during Week 16.