Tampa Bay at Atlanta: The Falcons' Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 17
Atlanta ended the regular season on a down note after an overall poor performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Not only did the Falcons lose the game, they also may have lost two key starters to injuries.
This was another game in which the Falcons left many wondering whether or not they are truly championship contenders or merely a good team with a manageable schedule.
Let’s get right to the winners and losers for the Falcons from the game.
Loser: First-half Performance
If the Falcons truly came into the game with the approach to win the game, it didn’t show.
It wasn’t only that they trailed 13-3 at the half, but that they looked completely disinterested in competing during the first 30 minutes.
The offense couldn’t get anything going due to very poor pass protection.
Matt Ryan was sacked twice in the half while facing constant pressure.
The defense did a good job keeping Tampa Bay out of the end zone, but it couldn’t get off the field in key situations and got no legitimate pressure on Josh Freeman.
The Falcons simply were not ready to play when the game started.
Winner: Second-half Performance
We may never know exactly what head coach Mike Smith said at halftime. Nonetheless, the Falcons played much better in the second half and showed some necessary resolve after being so handily outplayed in the first half.
First and foremost, the team simply played better and appeared to play much harder.
Pass protection was much improved, which led directly to the offense’s improvement.
Aside from a key missed tackle allowing Tampa Bay to score a late third-quarter touchdown, the defense played great football throughout the half.
Loser: Thomas DeCoud
It’s tough to single out a player for one play, but sometimes one play can be defining.
At the time, the Falcons had just scored their first touchdown, cut Tampa Bay’s lead to six and had garnered momentum.
Unfortunately, as Martin stumbled through the hole, DeCoud failed to wrap him on contact. Martin spun off the collision, scampering 40 yards for the touchdown.
All the hard work the Falcons had put into getting back into the game was wiped out.
With the spark it created for Tampa Bay and the pressure it placed on the Falcons, DeCoud's missed tackle sealed Atlanta's fate.
Winner: John Abraham
John Abraham played hard from the start of the game until his unfortunate ankle injury.
His overall numbers don’t tell the story, though Abraham did have two pass deflections and one of the two quarterback hits registered by the defense.
Abraham was relentless every snap he played and was around the football at the conclusion of most plays.
If Abe’s teammates had matched his approach from the start, they may very well have experienced a different result.
Dunta Robinson and Abraham suffered injuries in the game that resulted in their not returning to the game, and Asante Samuel once again aggravated his second-half-of-the-season-long shoulder ailment though he was able to complete the game.
Without question, the Robinson and Abraham injuries are of utmost concern, as both are stalwarts at their respective positions.
Atlanta certainly has more depth at corner than it does at defensive end, and it could be argued that the Falcons will not progress past their first game without Abraham, but the Falcons need both to reach their goal of competing for a league championship.
Winner: Mike Smith
Smith stated all week that the Falcons were going to play this game to win.
Due to the fact that the starters played the entire game, despite the aforementioned key injuries, Smith stayed the course and stuck with his plan.
There is no doubt that he will be second-guessed and questioned throughout the next few days (if not weeks) about his decision to leave the starters in.
Something tells me Smith is comfortable with that fact.
He has not hidden his belief that he needed to change the team’s approach to playoff preparation, and it is clear he felt they needed to play the game as normal.
If Robinson or Abraham are out for any playoff game time, the backlash will be harsh.
Nonetheless, Smith is in the position to make these calls, and his adherence to the plan he gave the players may very well go a long way toward helping the Falcons in their playoff progression.