Atlanta Falcons Fans: Calm Down, It's All Going To Be Alright
To the fans who have maintained some semblance of rationality and calm in the wake of the Atlanta Falcons' 48-21 playoff mauling at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, you are in the clear.
This is for those who have seemingly gone off the deep end after Saturday's disaster.
In the aftermath of the game, I've sifted through several blog posts and media outlets, reading what writers had to say as well as looking into the emotional health of the fans. It's always tough to lose, and to do so in such embarrassing fashion on the biggest stage of the season is heartbreaking.
I will admit that the totality of the situation didn't even sink in for me until the next morning. I was in shell shock immediately following the "contest."
Still, even after the disappointment fully set in and I proceeded to walk around the house staring at the floor for a few hours, I was still thankful for the season the Falcons had given me.
It was fun, it was exciting and it gave me something to look forward to every week, which is really why I watch sports.
In reading some of the comments posted by fans both here on Bleacher Report as well as on some of the other major brands, I noticed many fans felt the same way as me.
Yeah, the loss sucked, but I'd rather have been in the playoffs and gotten killed there than be pondering whom the Falcons should take with the No. 1 overall pick.
I also noticed a large chunk of fans who have apparently fallen into a deep psychosis as a result of the weekend's traumatizing experience.
I've seen just about everything suggested, from "Get Rid of Mike Smith" to "Trade Matt Ryan."
Some Atlanta Falcons fans seem to have lost their minds.
Why would anyone want to get rid of the head coach and quarterback that dug this team out from six feet under in 2008?
People do realize that Ryan is in just his third year, right? And that he's further ahead of most guys at that position for his age? Fans haven't lost faith in him already, have they? Why do I even need to have this discussion?
Ryan has been looked at as a possible cross between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He has Manning's preparation skills and smarts, and Brady's drive, fire and late-game heroics.
In Manning's first three years, he threw a combined 58 interceptions. Ryan has thrown 34.
True, Ryan wasn't asked to throw as often as Manning in his first two seasons, but in 2010 Ryan attempted the exact same number of throws as Manning in his third year, completed exactly the same amount and threw six less interceptions.
And what about the comparison to Brady?
In Brady's first three years as a starter, he never once had a quarterback rating over 90, which Ryan did this year. Brady threw more combined interceptions and only three more touchdowns. Brady also fumbled significantly more often than Ryan.
Mr. Patriot did win two Super Bowls in that stretch, but he also had much better teams around him.
Now people are saying Aaron Rodgers is the new standard, and that Ryan will never be at that level. Yes, Rodgers severely outplayed Ryan in the playoffs, and also put up better overall numbers than him during the season, but Ryan also holds a 2-1 record against Green Bay's signal-caller.
Of course, the only one that really matters is the one loss in the playoffs, but let's not get carried away here.
Rodgers is two years older than Ryan and had the benefit of sitting on the bench and absorbing the game behind Brett Favre for the first three years of his career.
He was not thrust into the role of franchise savior nearly as quickly as Ryan, and knows more nuances of the game due to his time as a student at the pro level.
It's safe to say that Ryan is the goods and should be with the Falcons for many years to come.
Now onto the coaching staff.
How exactly does an owner rightfully go about firing a head coach that has had as much instant success as Smith? Wouldn't it be completely absurd? Are people sober when they write these things?
I'm not even going to bother going into a detailed explanation of why Smith should stay. It's too easy and his resume speaks for itself.
Let's take a look at the coordinators.
For all we know, Mike Mularkey will be gone anyway. He was supposed to meet with the Denver Broncos about their head coaching vacancy before canceling the meeting, and maybe Oakland would like to give him a look.
Smart money would be on him staying, though.
Mularkey has been criticized for his sometimes-predictable play-calling, and his unwillingness, at times, to take the shackles off Ryan.
Please understand—coaches are just like players. They look at what they did right and what they did wrong throughout the course of a season, then try to increase their strengths and improve their weaknesses.
For the team as a whole, Saturday's game was a learning experience, and that goes for the coaches as well.
As Ryan progresses, Mularkey will get more aggressive with his play calls and the complaints will go away.
Defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder has received the most heat for the postseason debacle, and rightfully so being that his defense gave up 40-plus points.
Is it really his fault that his players missed tackles, though?
There were definitely times when he didn't send any extra pressure Rodgers' way, and it was obvious that Atlanta's secondary was no match for Green Bay's receivers.
When Van Gorder did send some heat at Rodgers, however, Atlanta defenders routinely whiffed and allowed the quarterback to break free and find someone down the field.
How exactly is that Van Gorder's fault? What exactly was he supposed to do?
Is the team now supposed to get rid of John Abraham, Atlanta's sack leader, and William Moore, who was tied with Brent Grimes for a team-high five interceptions?
Yes, Van Gorder made some bad calls, but he also made the right ones several times and his players did not come through for him. He was not the one committing costly penalties near the end zone, after all.
It was a combination effort, and all parties will grow as a result of the experience.
My point here is this: Atlanta needs to stay the course with this team. They got beat, and beat bad, while putting on their worst performance of the season at the most terrible time imaginable.
People, it happens. It's part of sports. It's hard to get to the top, and teams often go through demoralizing losses like this before breaking through.
It's all part of the process.
There are surely some areas where the team needs to get better, and there are players out there who can help. I'll have more on that in the coming days and weeks.
There is still plenty of hope for 2011 and beyond. The team is young at its core and the current group of players and coaches has vastly exceeded the expectations most had of them when they first came together in 2008.
Step back from the ledge, Falcons fans. Take a breath and think about how far this franchise has come in just three seasons.
Be grateful and be supportive. We wouldn't tolerate players simply giving up after a tough loss, why should it be any different for us?
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