Well, the Falcons lost the game on Sunday, but I think that was as expected. Philadelphia is a quality VETERAN team, used to winning, who had an extra week to prepare and was playing at home. At this point in the Falcons rebuilding process, it would have been a huge surprise if they won the game. We did learn a few things, though:
- Matt Ryan is still a rookie, but he is certainly progressing. Philadelphia presented many of the same challenges as the first two teams we lost to, Carolina and Tampa Bay. They were all on the road, and they all possess respected, capable defensive coordinators who like to blitz from a number of different angles and positions and put tremendous physical and mental pressure on a quarterback. This makes it especially difficult on a rookie, who is probably seeing many of these defenses for the first time, and especially at this speed. Ryan was noticeably more comfortable this time around. The INT in the end zone was poor...very underthrown. Other than that, I think he played pretty well in adverse conditions.
- Speaking of adverse conditions...the offensive line is NOTICEABLY weaker when Sam Baker does not play. Not sure what that says more about...the impressive impact that Baker has made as a rookie, or the otherwise mediocrity of this o-line. As a comparison, UGA is now on their 4th left tackle this season, and they are probably playing better as a unit than they have all year, while the Falcons O-line performance is considerably weakened when they lose their rookie left tackle. Hmm.....
- Roddy White is a legitimate big-time wide receiver. That's not anything we learned last week, I just like pointing out that the Falcons FINALLY have a legitimate big-time wide receiver.
- Keith Brooking, on the other hand, is one of the more overrated players in the NFL. Again, not anything new we learned, just something I felt like pointing out. This guy racks up more tackles 7-8 yards downfield than anybody since Junior Seau, and I don't think he could consistently cover ME at tight end. Plus, he's a Techie...enough said.
- The officiating in that game was horrid on both sides. We'll get to the "muffed punt" controversy in a minute, but the personal foul that Philly picked up for a supposed late hit on Ryan was brutal. I guess it was called a late hit...they called it a personal foul, but the guy had his arms wrapped around Ryan by the time he released the ball and then just fell on him. The defender would have had to defy the laws of physics in order for anything else to happen. He didn't hit him high, didn't hit him late...I guess he just hit him too hard. After all, that's what Hines Ward has been fined three times for this season...blocking too effectively. The Powers That Be are sissifying this sport, and it's disgusting.
- Now to the "muffed punt" - yes, the officials blew the call, but what in the world was Adam Jennings doing? Either field the punt or GET OUT OF THE WAY. Otherwise, you are just asking for trouble, and that's what he got. In real-time, I thought the ball touched him, too, so I can't really blame the refs...it was a tough call that they got wrong. But if Jennings had done what he was supposed to do, it wouldn't have been an issue. This guy is horrendous as a punt returner, and I really wish Thomas Brown wasn't injured so that we could see what he can do.
One more thing on that play...the TV announcers were blaming Coach Smith for not having a timeout left with which to challenge the play....ridiculous. He used his timeouts perfectly, and was about to get the ball back with 2:15 left on the clock, decent field position, and the 2:00 warning coming up to stop the clock. There was no way for him to PLAN on the refs blowing a call in that 15 second interval before it became an automatic booth review.
Overall, a tough loss, but not an unexpected one. If we can take care of business in Oakland, we hit the midway point 5-3, and I think ALL Falcons fans will take that...I know I would.