The Falcons began their 2018 season the same way they ended 2017: by failing to get into the endzone. After four quarters at MetLife Stadium, the New York Jets defeated the Falcons in a 17-0 shutout.
Rest assured, these Falcons were not the home game-Super Bowl hopefuls. The offense played just one series, going three-and-out thanks to a couple of penalties. The starting defense also only played one series, boasting a three-and-out of their own in the game’s gleaning silver lining.
In short, the sky is not falling. This roster is far superior to the one we saw get kicked around in the first game of the 2013 preseason and called “soft” by the Cincinnati Bengals. Falcons fans may remember that game fondly as Paul Worrilow’s preseason breakout, or the first game in a dark three-year stretch that saw the team win ten games over two seasons, followed by a 5-0 team that sputtered to 8-8. You know, the good ol’ days.
The Falcons didn’t have a bad three year stretch, or even a bad 2013 season, because they lost a preseason game. They went through that stretch because they were soft. The Bengals were correct. A year after blowing two big leads in home playoff games, every team in the league knew they could win bully the Planet Fitness Falcons.
Five years later, things have changed. Notice the Jets aren’t calling any Falcons players soft. The Planet Fitness Falcons pump iron with Navy Seals now. This isn’t a team with aging stars like Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Steven Jackson masking a horrific offensive line and a defense full of question marks.
The 2013 Falcons are long gone. So are the 2017 Falcons, and every team in between. The “soft” label is gone, too. So should be preseason hysteria.
The 2018 Falcons are a young team still on the rise (up); one that needs stronger performances from their depth players, but one on the rise nonetheless. They may not have shown how tough they are against the Jets, but there were a few positives.
The biggest positive has to be a lack of any major injuries occurring. After watching the Redskins lose rookie running back Derrius Guice to a torn ACL, teams around the league are once again on edge waiting for the injury bug to bite them next.
The Falcons have been lucky enough to remain relatively healthy in the Matt Ryan era, especially in preseason. (Writer’s note: I knocked on wood as I wrote that last sentence, so don’t blame me if anything happens.) That luck continued against the Jets, with a finger injury to reserve lineman Jamil Douglas being the lone addition to the injury sheet.
In terms of play, safety Demontae Kazee lit up the stat sheet with eleven tackles, receiving praise from head coach Dan Quinn after the game. Kazee showed enough promise to deserve consideration for an increased role in the Falcons defensive rotation. Although Keanu Neal and the recently re-signed Ricardo Allen comprise one of the league’s better safety duos, Kazee’s hustle and constant proximity to ball carriers helped make him a standout performer during Friday night’s game.
Though Matt Schaub failed to lead the team to a score in five possessions, he didn’t miss a pass on nine attempts and received no help from the running game. While Schaub is no Nick Foles, he’s a lock to remain Matt Ryan’s backup if he can keep getting the ball to his receivers over the next three games.
One of the receivers Schaub might be throwing to is Devin Gray, an undrafted rookie from Cincinnati, who led the team in with 83 yards on four catches. Those numbers were buoyed by a thirty-yard, Julio Jones-esque grab that might have been a touchdown if it weren’t severely underthrown by Kurt Benkert, another undrafted rookie. Benkert managed to put a 27-yard sideline pass on the money to fellow undrafted rookie Dante Bird.
If it seems like you’re seeing the words “undrafted rookie” a bit often, it’s because the Falcons gave playing time to thirty-three different rookies. All but four players on the entire team received in-game action. This coaching staff is taking a look at everyone.
Beyond that, there wasn’t much to be excited about. The team committed too many penalties, ran for too few yards on the ground, and put zero points on the board. There are no trophies in the preseason, but there are roster spots, and the underdogs on this team need to fight harder in order to win them.
The Falcons will take on the Chiefs this Friday in Atlanta, where the first-team should receive more time to give fans a taste of what 2018 could be like. Hopefully, that means cheers inside of Mercedez-Benz Stadium for the home team into February.