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Falcons Look For Any Semblance of Playoff Hopes After Unfathomable Loss to Panthers

I don't think I had any more confidence going into a game this season for the Falcons to win than I did on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. I figured since Atlanta won by 14 points in Week 1 against the Panthers, they could put up a similar performance against a very weak division rival. Well, like many other Falcons fans and football experts, I was wrong. Atlanta would display a lame excuse for an NFL offense and lose to the last-place Carolina Panthers 9-7. The disgusting loss brought out a riot among Falcons/NFL fans alike, calling to fire Arthur Smith. Although he still has his job, he decided to make a change at quarterback (again), giving Taylor Heinicke the starting nod over Desmond Ridder. Atlanta drops to 6-8 on the season and third place in the NFC South, while their playoff chances are now under 40 percent.

A Change At QB Once More

After Ridder's performance on Sunday where he would continue his trend of "embarrassing" turnovers, the faith in him remaining the Falcons starter started to dissipate. Ridder would end up completing 12 out of his 20 attempts, throwing a touchdown and a very embarrassing interception. To keep the vibes good, here is the only touchdown the Falcons scored on Sunday.

Now, switching back to the more depressing tone, the interception by Ridder was the icing on the cake for him to no longer be the starter in Atlanta. The turnover would occur at 7:44 in the 4th quarter at the Panthers 18-yard line. It would appear that Ridder was trying to make a play in a place where the Falcons couldn't afford the risk. The game was tied, and this drive would be Atlanta's last drive of the game. If Ridder would have just thrown this ball away or HIT THE WIDE OPEN DRAKE LONDON. Atlanta would then have at least one more chance to score or give the ball to one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL for a chip-shot field goal.

(There's just no excuse for this)

(How wide open Drake London was)

In Arthur Smith's post-game press conference, he was asked about the QB situation and responded by saying, "Nothing is ever set in stone." Today (Tuesday), Smith would confirm that Heinicke will make the start on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. I won't get too in-depth on Heinicke now, as I'll have more on him in the preview for Sunday. But, Heinickie has appeared in 3 games for the Falcons (starting 2) in which he has thrown just three touchdowns and one interception. This decision becomes out of the desperation of Arthur Smith's job security (more on him below) and in hopes he can save the Falcons playoff chances. Ridder has been too inconsistent and can't be trusted in these last three games where Atlanta needs to win out. With these decisions, it's hard to see a future in which Desmond Ridder is Atlanta's franchise quarterback.

The Dirty Bird Defense Still Has Been Impressive

Although this season has been clouded by an underperforming offense, this defense deserves immense credit. This defense has also battled through injuries from Grady Jarrett and Troy Anderson early on in the season and still is top 10 in both points and yards, thanks to tremendous performances from Jessie Bates, A.J. Terrell, Nate Landman, and Kaden Elliss. Also, the coaching from Ryan Nielsen has been spectacular as well. This man deserves much credit for the Falcons' defense. I've been thinking, imagine if Matt Ryan had a defense like this one for even half of his career, it seems I'm not the only one who thought this either.

Arthur Smith, Time To Pack Your Bags

To start, I never want to see someone fired, nor would I ever hope for someone's downfall. For the last two years, I've loved the coaching of Arthur Smith. He came to a team ready to move on from Matt Ryan, had a lackluster defense, a massive amount of dead cap space, and still had the lingering "blown lead" stereotype attached to the team. I love(d) his outside zone scheme out of pistol. It's different, and when it does work, it can absolutely embarrass opposing defenses. However, there are two reasons why I've joined the "Fire Arthur Smith" train.

First, the inability to produce a high-powered offense with the skill players on offense. Sure, you can throw the blame on who is behind the center, but still, it comes back to the head coach/play-caller (both Arthur Smith) on how players are used and putting them in the best position to succeed. Smith has shown he has not been able to do that as the Falcons' offense has yet to score over 30 points in a game this season and only ranks 26th in points this season. I cannot fathom there is an offense that consists of Drake London, Kyle Pitts, Bijan Robinson, and Tyler Allgeier, and can't be a top-15 offense in the NFL.

Secondly, how the QB situation has been handled. Smith decided to go with Ridder at the beginning of the season, just based on his performance in the final games of last season, training camp, and the one appearance he had in the pre-season. I'm not saying Smith was wrong for doing so, as I wanted Ridder to work out as the Falcons starter, and be the next franchise quarterback. But, that now will likely not happen. Ridder was then benched in the middle of the season for Heinicke, sat for a game and a half, and then was brought back in the fourth quarter against Arizona where Heinicke suffered an injury. Smith would then name Ridder the starter for the rest of the season and said he doesn't want to play "musical chairs" with the quarterbacks. I agree that Ridder should be benched for the last three games for the reasons I stated above, but Smith has stated he has had a lot of confidence in Ridder throughout the season and has gone back and forth between starting and benching him.

Even though it seemed that Smith may not have had a job on Monday, the Falcons head coach still has his office and still may keep his position next season because it seems like the playoffs weren't even the expectation this season...(read the whole tweet below).

There is not a single reality where I can agree with Arthur Blank saying that the playoffs were never a requirement for Smith to keep his job. Again, this team has so much talent on the offense, has one of the best defenses in the NFL, and plays in the worst division in the league. No reason, the Falcons shouldn’t make the playoffs, this would be six straight years without a plus .500 record and six straight years without a playoff appearance.

Atlanta will welcome the Colts for the final home game of the season. The Colts are red hot, with only one loss in their last six games, currently at the top of the AFC South. The preview may come a little earlier due to the holiday weekend. Be sure to look out for it right here on ThirdDownThursdays! Enjoy the holidays, and remember there are still three Falcon games left...

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