With a chance to put some window dressing on a non-playoff season, the Falcons found a way to hand New Orleans a win Sunday. Or throw them a win, to be more accurate. Matt Ryan’s interception with 1:42 left set up a 30-yard field goal by Saints kicker Kai Forbath, giving New Orleans a 20-17 win over the Falcons in the season finale. The Falcons, who had already been eliminated from the playoffs, finished 8-8 after starting 5-0.
Here’s a link to my full column on MyAJC.com.
Below are my three “short takes”on the game.
1. Microcosm of the season: The final game and the final loss was like many others for the Falcons’ this season: a solid performance by the defense and an underperforming offense and a turnover or two making the difference in a loss. The final blow: Matt Ryan’s short toss over the middle intended for Devonta Freeman was picked off by Saints safety Jamarca Sanford at the Falcons’ 25-yard-line with 1:42 left, setting up the game-winning field goal. It was a typical mixture of good, bad and worse. Freeman: 81 yards rushing but a fumble in the end zone. Ryan: 334 yards passing and two touchdowns but the game-deciding interception. Julio Jones: nine catches for 149 yards but zero touchdowns. Does this all get fixed with the firing of Kyle Shanahan? Don’t assume that. The firing I mean (continued).
2. Decisions, decisions: Shanahan and general manager Thomas Dimitroff both have been under fire from fans and some members of the media. For what it’s worth, it wouldn’t surprise me if neither was fired. Ryan said if it was up to him, Shanahan would be brought back. (Comments in the column.) Blank was evasive after the game but said no decisions have been made yet. (Comments in the column.) If Blank chooses to bring back Dimitroff and doesn’t ask coach Dan Quinn to fire Shanahan, it would not be surprising to see some low-level changes made, whether on the coaching staff, in the personnel department or both. Blank is as much about perceptions as he is the bottom line. So if feels he needs to fire assistant coaches and/or scouts to affirm publicly that he wasn’t satisfied with the Falcons’ season, he will do so. Expect any changes that take place to happen soon.
3. Roddy White’s farewell? He had a reduced role in Shanahan’s offense for most of the season but frequently made big catches when needed (notwithstanding a sideline drop for a potential big gain in Saints’ territory in the third quarter). In 14 games last season, White was targeted 125 times and made 80 catches for 921 yards and seven touchdowns. In 16 games this season, he was targeted 70 times and made 43 catches for 506 yards and one touchdown. He remains a popular player — chants of “Roddy, Roddy,” echoed in every game he made a catch — but it’s no better than 50-50 that the team brings him back next season at the age of 34. White has two years left on his contract with base salaries of $2.75 million and $3 million and roster bonuses of $1.5 million each season. Restructuring his deal — by lengthening the deal and moving some money into the form of a signing bonus — would not significantly reduce his salary cap number but that’s not to say it couldn’t happen. White reiterated after the game he wants to come back and added, “I expect to be a Falcon.”
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