Falcons must learn from their first loss

sports@macon.comNovember 13, 2012 

It was easy to believe the Atlanta Falcons were not good enough to go undefeated and that sooner or later a loss might be for the greater good.

But the loss Sunday in New Orleans was still hard to accept. The Falcons only needed one lousy yard to score the go-ahead touchdown, and they couldn’t get it done.

Against the arch-rival. The enemy.

The fact they lost to the Saints because they couldn’t run the ball effectively nor stop the run is somewhat ironic. The two things Mike Smith wanted to do more than anything when he took the job four-plus years ago is now an Achilles’ heel.

Now that the loss is out of the way, so to speak, you have to hope it simply makes the team mad. There was a sign of frustration Monday, when center Todd McClure and tackle Tyson Clabo took up for the offensive line, which has been blamed for the lackluster running game.

Good. Let them be mad. They should be mad for not getting one lousy yard when they needed it the most.

Atlanta shouldn’t have won the game Sunday. The Falcons blew an early 10-point lead on the road against a team that has had its number and a team that is slowly getting better as the season moves along. If they had gotten that one, lousy yard and actually won, you probably would have thought they slipped into New Orleans and took something they shouldn’t have.

That’s what good teams do, and that’s what Atlanta had done so far this year. You could argue the Falcons could have lost the games against Carolina and Oakland, and Atlanta teams from previous years probably would have lost. This team seemed different, however, and that’s what made a more positive outcome Sunday very plausible.

But the Falcons couldn’t get that one lousy yard at the end of the game. And if you can’t get one lousy yard, you deserve to lose.

The running game is non-existent right now. Part of it is because the passing game is so dangerous. When you have a quarterback like Matt Ryan and targets like Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, it’s tempting to just line up and pass all day long.

We found out Sunday, however, how an offense that is too one-dimensional can be an issue. When a defense knows what’s coming, the defense has a better chance to make something bad happen.

There are a few reasons the running game has become an issue. First, Michael Turner is 30 years old, and we know what happens to running backs when they turn 30. He has lost a step, and he looks more like a fullback than a tailback. Turner can still be successful, but the consistency is no longer there.

New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter does different things, and that requires a different kind of running back. Plus, the offensive line is just better at protecting Ryan, which is important, compared to opening holes for Turner or anyone else to run through.

The Falcons have somehow, someway got to figure out what to do to make this work. They’ve got to be creative, because defenses they’ll face when they make the playoffs are only going to get tougher and will be determined to stop the run.

The defense has missed linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, and he could back Sunday against Arizona. The release of defensive end Ray Edwards on Monday night might also help. Edwards seemed like a perfect complement to John Abraham, but he just wasn’t.

It was obvious a loss was going to give the Falcons a chance to not worry about going undefeated and perhaps learn from what made them lose to avoid it down the road. But since they lost to the rival and had this type of loss, the anger and frustration and perhaps even the embarrassment could help in the long run.

The Falcons must have a solid game this week against the Cardinals. They’ve got to bounce back against a team they should beat and take care of business.

Part of what this team is doing now is to prepare for January. How they handle this first loss might determine how late into the winter they play this season.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.

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