CHICAGO – So, yeah, the bar got set just a little high a year ago. But who’s fault is that?
In 2016, the Falcons spit out points like a Pez dispenser does treats. They put up nearly 34 points a game, got their determinedly nondescript quarterback named a MVP and flirted with history before settling for the seventh greatest output ever in the NFL.
So, what happens when this mighty juggernaut with its now statuesque quarterback at the helm arrives at 2017?
Well, a small back (5-foot-6) from an even smaller school (North Carolina A&T) gained more yards for the Bears (66) than all the Falcons runners combined. The name’s Tarik Cohen.
The Falcons couldn’t get the piece of art that is Julio Jones fully out of its crate, giving some fantasy league owners the hives. Jones can sleepwalk his way to four catches for 66 yards.
Their offensive line showed some cracks in the stucco.
And the prolific scoring, where was the prolific scoring? We’re not exactly starting the petition yet to bring back the next available Shanahan to coordinate the Falcons offense, but when they leave a game with only 23 on the scoreboard, that’s like Springsteen leaving the stage after just tuning his guitar.
We want the points to pile up as high as an elephant’s eye. We have an insatiable sweet tooth for points. One quarter without a touchdown is like 15 minutes without oxygen. This is not our fault. The Falcons made us this way.
Instead, this Sunday we’ll just have to accept the consolation of season-opening victory on the road that was just this side of stodgy.
To which Ryan offered no apology. “We won the game (23-17) and at the end of the day that’s why we prepare all week is to come away with a win. Can we play better? Absolutely. Are we going to try to work on that? For sure. But we’ll take a win any day.”
This was a victory sealed not by some rainbow pass, not with a shifty Devonta Freeman breakaway, but rather by a goal line stand by that somewhat lesser business partner, the defense.
Anytime an NFL opponent looks at four opportunities to score from just five yards out and doesn’t, that is somewhat remarkable. When a game ends on a sack – this by defensive end Brooks Reed – there is drama, certainly. Just not the kind that for which the Falcons are semi-famous.
A pause here to salute a desperate stand, made only after the Bears drove the first 77 yards of that possession with disconcerting ease.
“Usually situations like that when a team drives it all the way down the field is doesn’t end well,” Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said. “But we made sure we talked to each other, made sure everybody was on the same page. We defend every inch.”
“In our room we talk about protecting every blade of grass and that’s what it came down to,” his fellow linebacker Deion Jones.
But face it, talking about stopping Bears quarterback Mike Glennon is not exactly as exhilarating as enthusing about some great exploit of Matt Ryan and friends.
Ryan’s usual 300-yard passing day (321) largely was the result of a play that was part oversight, part sandlot improv. Go deep Austin Hooper and maybe the Bears will forget you exist. It worked, shockingly. Hooper might as well have been in quarantine for as alone as he was at midfield. All Ryan had to do was stay upright long enough to find him and – throw in a nifty stiff-arm by Hooper – the Falcons had an 88-yard scoring play.
Otherwise, the first real trial of new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was rather beige. And it was marked by a rather stunning inability to run the ball.
“We knew (the running game) would be a challenge, they’re stout and they’re square,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of the Bears defense. “We didn’t anticipate that much of a challenge, we thought we’d get it going eventually. Today, we didn’t have the space we thought we’d have.”
If any of this sounds counter to the football truism that any win is a good win, then blame the Falcons. Because now their fans get to be choosy – some wins are better than others.
They have made us scoring snobs, which can be worse than a wine snob.
Substance without the sizzle of an outpouring of offense is just so bourgeois.