I have made comments in these articles in the past about the suffering I endure as a Cowboys fan. While that suffering is genuine, there are a handful of fanbases who I do not envy. The Browns, of course, have been terrible almost my entire life. The Jets are definitely a long-suffering fanbase. But out of all of these, envy the fans of the Falcons the least.
The pain of the Falcons’ fans is one of whiplash. Let’s go back in time to 2016. Matt Ryan, playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, led an MVP campaign. The Falcons’ offense lit up the league with one of its best rosters. They defeated the Packers in the NFC Championship Game and headed to Houston with the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl in mind.
Little did they know that they were merely the final chapter of Tom Brady’s revenge tour.
Brady had missed the first four games of the season serving a suspension for “Deflategate.” This was a punishment that he, the Patriots and anyone who paid attention to the case, felt was a witch-hunt. He returned in week 5 and punished the NFL by eviscerating everyone in his path, until meeting the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
What happened next is infamous. The Falcons came out on fire and smothered the Patriots for almost three quarters. Midway through the third quarter the Falcons were up 28-3. Then the Patriots rallied and scored 25 unanswered points, forcing overtime. The Patriots won the toss, marched down the field and scored a touchdown on the first possession. Tom Brady forced Roger Goodell, the man who suspended him, to hand him the Lombardi trophy. For the Patriots, it was glorious.
For the Falcons, it was the greatest collapse in Super Bowl history. Little did they know the worst was yet to come. Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan left in the offseason to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He was replaced by Steve Sarkisian, who struggled to fill Shanahan’s shoes. The Falcons weren’t the same but still ended 2017 at 10-6 and even won a playoff game.
2018 brought their downfall, as in the first few weeks the Falcons lost multiple key defensive peices. The offensive line struggled to pass-protect. They fell behind in every game, struggled to stay balanced, and Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohammed Sanu did what they could, but it wasn’t enough to save the Falcons. They finished 2018 at 7-9.
2019 was more of the same; the defensive was absolutely terrible, the offensive line was subpar and Matt Ryan and his receivers did what they could, but it just wasn’t enough. The Falcons again finished the season 7-9. Sarkisian was fired and many believed that Head Coach Dan Quinn should have been too.
But Quinn remained, and 2020 started rather terribly too. They were blown out by the Seahawks in Week 1. Then in Week 2, they jumped to a lead against the Cowboys. The Falcons led 20-0 at the end of the first quarter, 29-10 at half, 29-24 going into the fourth, 39-30 with five minutes left in the game, 39-37 with less than two minutes left and still lost.
Their defense gave up 40 points to the Cowboys, their special teams forgot the onside kick rules. The Cowboys, like the Patriots a few years ago, held the lead for 0 seconds and still won. I was at that game. When I went to the concession stand at halftime, I saw Falcons fans cheering with each other: “Rise Up! Let’s go baby!”
When Greg Zuerlein hit the game-winning field goal and I left the stadium, I saw those same fans. They were more than defeated. They were deflated. Amid all the cheers and shouts of the hoard of Cowboys fans around me I still heard a voice a few steps behind me, “I HATE BEING A FALCONS FAN!” It was clear, the ghost of 28-3 and Super Bowl LI still hung over this franchise.
The next week they blew another lead against the Bears. The week after that they lost to the Packers. The week after that they lost to the Panthers, who were missing their best player. It was a disaster. The Falcons were 0-5 and Quinn was fired. Since then they’ve gone 2-1 and now sit at 2-6.
The Falcons are in purgatory, in every aspect of the word. They’re not good enough to compete for a title but they haven’t yet been mathematically eliminated. Last Thursday against the Carolina Panthers the defense finally showed some signs of life and made a fourth quarter stop. The biggest question however, lies with Jones and Ryan. The duo has been carrying Atlanta for years. But now they’re older and don’t have many years left. They’re still productive but too expensive to trade away.
The Falcons are currently playing with an interim head coach, facing an uphill battle. They aren’t quite good enough to win, but also are not able to blow it up and rebuild. I honestly can’t give a prediction for what the next few years will hold for the Atlanta Falcons. Yet I cannot wait to see how it turns out.