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Falcons playoff push comes too late

27 December 2015: Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) celebrates with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank following the Atlanta Falcons 20-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)
Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

From the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers perfect season came to an end on Sunday in Atlanta’s 20-13 home victory at the Georgia Dome. At 8-7, the Falcons still had a very slim chance of making a push for a wild card spot. However, the Minnesota Vikings thrashing of the New York Giants Sunday night officially eliminated Atlanta from the postseason for the third straight year.

With a home meeting with division rival New Orleans on the schedule for the season finale, the Falcons have a chance to finish 9-7,¬†which would be their first winning season since 2012 when they reached the NFC Championship game. Going 4-12 in 2013 and 6-10 a season ago under head coach Mike Smith certainly didn’t do this current group led by first-year head coach Dan Quinn any favors.

After losing to the dominant Panthers two weeks ago 38-0 in Carolina, Atlanta turned it around by holding star quarterback Cam Newton to just 142 passing yards, no passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. In fact, the Falcons are just the fifth team over the past 20 years to do just that, beat a team in the second meeting after losing by 38 points to them. The New York Jets last did it in 2010 over the New England Patriots.

The Falcons season had such a bright opening to it with a 5-0 start, winning by a combined 50 points in those games. But things started to go haywire. Atlanta lost in New Orleans, barely squeaked by a weak Tennessee team, 10-7, and then proceeded to drop six straight games, three at home and three on the road. When the Falcons beat Jacksonville last week, it seemed to be too little too late for Quinn’s group. Then, when they dethroned the Panthers this week, it was not only a surprise, but it really opened people’s eyes in terms of what this group can do when focused on the task at hand.

Wide receiver Julio Jones gives his up-and-down quarterback, Matt Ryan, a chance every week. He’s proven that all season, and on Sunday against Carolina he generated a team-high nine receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown. Jones hauled in a Ryan pass into double coverage in the third quarter and then proceeded to record a 70-yard score putting his team up 14-10.

Perhaps things will come together for the Falcons next season. I mean, remember, they have a first-time coach in Dan Quinn and a new offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan. On top of that, the defense has many moving parts, and the offense has battled through tough injuries.

Excuses shouldn’t be made for what has taken place for this crazy Falcons season, but one thing is for sure, they had their chance. When teams can’t take advantage of chances especially after starting so well on the year, then that’s what separates the contenders from the pretenders. Atlanta is a pretender, but could be a contender once again in 2016.

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