The Falcons might have five games left on their schedule, but their season ended on Sunday.
Following back-to-back road wins over the Saints and Panthers the previous two weeks, there was a flicker of hope for the Falcons, even if their chances were at less than 1 percent heading into Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That flicker was blown out by the Bucs in the form of an ugly 35-22 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. So, too, were the Falcons’ chances at a winning record in 2019.
While the Falcons have not been officially eliminated at the time of this writing, it could become reality in a matter of hours. After the Saints knocked off the Panthers 34-31 in New Orleans, the Falcons’ fate could be sealed if the Packers beat the 49ers on Sunday night.
Let’s be honest here. It’s really a matter of when, not if anymore.
And while it was totally unrealistic to think that a 3-7 team would actually run the table to finish 9-7 and somehow have a minuscule chance at squeaking into the postseason dance, there were some who were entertaining the thought mainly because of the way these Falcons completely dominated the New Orleans and Carolina in back-to-back weeks.
What showed up on Sunday looked more like the Falcons who had dropped six straight games.
The Falcons’ offensive lined played one of its worst games of the season. Matt Ryan was sacked a season-high six times and picked off once. The running game was non-existent, too, tallying just 57 yards on 19 totes.
While the defense managed to force Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston into throwing a pair of picks – his league-leading 19th and 20th interceptions – they didn’t totally cash in on them; they could only muster a touchdown on one of the two extra possessions.
Speaking of the defense, remember that 10-quarter streak without surrendering a touchdown? It looked like it was heading for 11 after Desmond Trufant picked off Winston on the Bucs’ game-opening drive.
But on Tampa’s next possession, Winston connected with Chris Godwin for a 71-yard touchdown down the middle to put the Bucs ahead, 7-3. It was the first of seven catches for Godwin, who torched the Falcons 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Winston, who completed 18 of 28 pass attempts for 313 yards and three touchdowns, wasn’t sacked at all by the Falcons, and he was hit just one time. That’s significant because in their two lopsided wins over the Saints and Panthers, Atlanta amassed 11 sacks.
Again, this unit looked more like the Falcons prior to bye week who had just seven total sacks in the first eight games of the season.
For the last two weeks, everyone – including myself – was saying that this was the team we expected to see all along.
Well, for eight games – half a season – these 3-8 Falcons have not looked like a playoff-bound team. And it’s not like those eight defeats were even close; the Falcons have been outscored 265-163 in their losses.
So as exciting as those wins over the Saints and Panthers were, the Falcons we all watched Sunday against the Bucs looked more like the team that won just once in its first eight games. And that team is sitting in last place of the NFC South sporting a 3-8 record with five games to go.
When summing up the game afterwards, Trufant said the Bucs “took it today from us.”
They did, along with any hope of salvaging the 2019 season.