An afternoon at the Falcons’ bedside last Sunday wasn’t as depressing as you may have been led to believe. First place, where were you, those who failed to fit their bottoms into all those vacant red seats? The sight was unnerving at first, but even moreso when at halftime they were still vacant. Surely not that many fans could have gone to the toilet at the same time? And stayed that long?
What depressed me was that so much of the blame was directed at Matt Ryan when, in fact, it was the defense that lost to Denver, not the offense. And it may have escaped your attention that the Broncos were playing at less than full strength. For the first time—maybe since Chuck Bednarik—they fielded a
two-way player in their lineup. Spencer Larsen was the starting fullback AND a starting linebacker. On offense he was mainly a blocker. On defense he was in on seven tackles. He was a sixth-round rookie choice blocking for a 7th-round rookie draft choice, Peyton Hillis. Larsen was happy with his work. “I knew my job,” he said. “I was out there to run into people.” He’s a University of Arizona kid, a throwback to the old days of high-top shoes and leather helmets. The running back he blocked for –Hillis— was the fullback, moved over to fill in for the injured Selvin Young, Denver’s leading rusher. Hillis, out of Arkansas, was a working bee lost among all the glitter surrounding Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Solid, anything but flashy, the Broncos’ leading rusher in the Georgia Dome.
Mike Smith, the Falcons’ snow-capped coach, was a departure from his predecessors. He accepted defeat with grace. He complimented the Broncos rather blame his own employees. “They had the better team,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of things to clean up. You’ve got to win the third downs.”
It was puzzling that the Falcons came out throwing on their first series, which netted six yards. Throughout the game, their offensive plan was built on patience, which wasn’t bad, but once they got a lead, they needed a knockout punch, not more patience. But feed on this: Nobody was moaning. Nobody was groaning. Nobody was casting blame. It was, as Smith said, “part of the process.”
The “process” moves forward.