Bill Shanks

Falcons must erase the past and move forward

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan got some help from a fellow NFL quarterback during talks about his contract extension
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan got some help from a fellow NFL quarterback during talks about his contract extension AP

The Atlanta Falcons play the New England Patriots on Sunday. That shouldn’t be a big deal, right? But it is, and it likely will always be a big deal when these two teams share the field.

We are eight-plus months removed from the nightmare in Houston that saw the Falcons lose the biggest lead in the history of the world. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but it was a pretty big lead that was lost. The scoreboard read 28-3 Falcons with just more than 17 minutes left in the game when the Patriots shocked the world.

Have you gotten over it? Longtime Falcons fans likely never will get over it. The loss to the Patriots made "the Dallas Game" of 1981 seem like nothing. That had been the benchmark for Falcons losses, but nothing will ever compare to what happened in Houston.

It’s a new season now. The Falcons are 3-2, and the Patriots are a half-game better at 4-2. Last season’s ending should have nothing to do with what Atlanta does in Foxboro on Sunday night, right?

It shouldn’t, but unfortunately, the loss seems to be lingering. The Falcons lost that huge lead to the Patriots being outscored 31-7 in the second half and the overtime. Amazingly, the second half blues have continued into this season.

The only game out of the five played so far Atlanta has outscored the opponent in the second half was in week one against Chicago. The Falcons were up by 10 in that game and were lucky enough to hang on and win by six points.

In Detroit, the Falcons were up by 14, and only a miracle at the end bailed them out for a four-point win. They were up by 24 on Green Bay and won by 11. They led the Bills by three and then faltered at the end to lose by six. And then against the worst scoring offense in the NFL, the Falcons squandered a 17-0 lead to Miami and lost 20-17.

Atlanta has been outscored 72-40 in the second half this season. So that means in Atlanta’s past six games, they’ve been outscored 103-47 in the second half.

The Falcons have tried to tell us all year they have moved past the Super Bowl collapse. The second-half issues this season show us the therapy sessions have not yet worked. The Pollyanna approach of head coach Dan Quinn might not be working as well as he would hope.

Plus, there’s the troubling numbers of last year’s NFL MVP, Matt Ryan. Atlanta’s quarterback has six touchdown passes and six interceptions. Ryan had seven picks all last season. His completion percentage is at its lowest in six years, and Ryan is nowhere near the stat leaders at his position.

Could it be the new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, just needing more time to get the offense on track? Last year, the Falcons led the NFL scoring 33.8 points per game. This season, they are 12th scoring 24.2 points per game. That better improve or the Falcons will not get a return trip to the Super Bowl.

Maybe this concern is wiped away with a Sunday night win for the Falcons in New England. The Patriots have a leaky defense, allowing a NFL third-worst 26.5 points per game. New England’s opponents have had 26 passing plays of 20 yards or more. That should trigger the Ryan-to-Julio Jones combination to make big plays and cause significant damage.

There’s that Tom Brady guy, who will never leave. The Falcons could help themselves by putting Brady on the ground a time or two. Atlanta’s pass rush is another area needing improvement compared to last year.

Perhaps an impressive win against the champions will put the Falcons back on track. But if Sunday’s game brings back old memories, the Falcons may dig themselves into a deep hole in late October.

Listen to "The Bill Shanks Show" from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on "Middle Georgia’s ESPN" – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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