After the first five weeks of the NFL season Dan Quinn's head coaching career could not have asked for a better start. At 5-0 his Atlanta Falcons team were flying atop the NFC and had everybody predicting a potential playoff challenge should they maintain the early momentum. However, with just one win in their last six and the team on the brink of falling outside the NFC Wildcard field, their season is now on life support.
Prio to their present slump, Kyle Shanahan was coordinating an offensive juggernaut that looked set to dominate both in the air and on the ground. While the league was already well aware of top receiver Julio Jones, the emergence of Devonta Freeman at running back had everyone fearing the Falcons early. The second-year pro lead the league in total rushing yards and touchdowns through the first eight weeks and had all the attributes of an elite ball-runner. That was until an ill-timed Week 10 concussion ruled him out of action for at least two games.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was in formidable form as well. The three-time Pro Bowler was clutch when it mattered most and was responsible for some significant fourth quarter drives earlier in the season. But after accompanying 8 TDs with 8 INTs in his last five matches, it seems this once-impressive Falcons franchise have well and truly had their wings clipped.
Whether it's top players like O'Brien Schofield and Paul Worrilow (to name a few) amongst the defensive line who have failed to negate opposing offenses effectively, or their own predictable attack that features no legitimate second and third receiver threats (sorry Roddy White), things need to change. And this was reiterated by the players-only team meeting held after last week's loss to the Vikings.
As a result, this week's matchup against Tampa Bay is a must-win. The Buccaneers are 5-6 and look a huge improvement over last season. While Jameis Winston looks on track to break NFL rookie season records, Doug Martin has already rushed for over 1000 yards. Should Dan Quinn's team fail to win away at the Raymond James Stadium this Sunday, consider their once-bright season all but over. Bill Belichich often said that the NFL season starts after Thanksgiving. With a do or die encounter looming, let's hope the Falcons can turn it around.