The Falcons wanted to close this 2021 campaign out on a high note, even with the playoffs no longer in play.
That didn't happen.
The Falcons were on the wrong end of a lopsided result, falling 30-20 to the rival New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
While the Saints won, they were still eliminated from playoff contention with a 49ers victory over the L.A. Rams.
It's hard to glean many positives from this game as an individual entity, outside Younghoe Koo's steadiness kicking field goals. There were plenty of positives and clear signs of progress during this season, but they were rarely evident in this one.
The game ends the season on a difficult note. Now the Falcons must go about fixing issues that plagued them in this game and others in a 7-10 campaign.
Let's go over three gut reactions from Sunday's result:
Full focus shifts to offseason moves
Falcons fans have been asking questions about this upcoming offseason for weeks now. Just check recent Bair Mails for proof. The team, however, pushed hard for the postseason until they were formally eliminated following a loss to Buffalo. Then they worked hard to set up a plan to beat the Saints.
Now that's all over. The Falcons know who they're going to play in 2022. They have some high NFL draft slots worked out. They know how many are entering free agency and how much money they have to spend. They've identified areas of need after watching this team work over 17 seasons.
Now they have to go about the business of improving where they can, to make strides in the short- and long-term. It'll be an exciting time for the Falcons and their fans, with hope that general manager Terry Fontenot, head coach Arthur Smith and the front office can help improve the roster and make the franchise more competitive against top teams.
Offensive struggles continue
The Falcons weren't able to generate much of anything on offense against the Saints. That isn't a new thing. The Falcons have scored more than 20 points just twice since they last played New Orleans, and that was back in Week 9. They simply don't have enough assets to generate the steady production required to stay with teams in playoff contention.
Matt Ryan is regularly under pressure, without the time required to work the ball down the field with regularity. Pass catchers have been thinned all season, with Russell Gage and Kyle Pitts the most consistent options. The run game was up and down during the season's second half.
The Falcons finally got in the end zone late in third quarter on a 19-yard run from Qadree Ollison, but the Falcons were down three scores by that point.
While the Falcons didn't do enough to come out on top of this one, they also didn't do enough to help Kyle Pitts break the NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie tight end. He was in striking distance entering this game and was active despite suffering a hamstring injury last week, but never got into the offensive flow.
Matt Ryan also snapped a run of 4,000-yard campaigns that lasted 10 years and came to an end in 2021. He needed 248 yards coming into the contest and wasn't able to get there.
Huge first-half setback
The Falcons struggled to do anything well in the first half, owning a three-score deficit heading into the halftime break. They got beat soundly in most every metric, including time of possession, rushing yards and first downs. They turned the ball over twice in the first two quarters. They never made it to the red zone in the first two quarters.
The Falcons fell behind, as we learned during the second half, to insurmountable levels. It was as bad a stretch as they've had all year. It played a major part in closing out the season on a sour note, eliminating the chance to mount a legitimate comeback.
The Falcons fell too far down during a first half to forget and weren't able to recover.
Call for questions
Let's fill up the mailbag with this result fresh in your minds. Submit your questions right here for inclusion in Monday's Bair Mail.
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
Break down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success with Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Terrin Waack. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.
Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.