The Atlanta Falcons’ season came down to one play as they attempted a comeback win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round. Down 15-10 with just a minute left, Atlanta faced fourth-and-2 at the Eagles’ 2-yard line. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian needed to dial up a perfect play against an Eagles defense that stymied Matt Ryan all afternoon.
The play he chose was ... odd, to say the least.
With the game on the line, the Falcons ran a play with the fullback split out wide and the receivers cluttered on one side of the end zone. With almost no room to work with, Ryan could only throw up a prayer to Julio Jones that went unanswered.
After the game, Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins said that the defense knew what the Falcons were running all along.
Listening to #Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins talk about the final play of the game is fun:— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) January 14, 2018
"We were able to recognize that (the play) pretty much before they even came out of the huddle." pic.twitter.com/HEgdN6sUYE
Sarkisian has taken criticism all year for his playcalling being bland, predictable, and downright weird at times. It’s particularly notable to see an opposing player bury the play selection after the fact.
Head coach Dan Quinn defended Sarkisian, saying that the goal was to put the game in the hands of his two best players (Ryan and Jones). From the Falcons’ website:
“Damn right,” Quinn said after the game when asked if he felt confident in Ryan on that fourth down. “Yeah, absolutely. We’re giving our shots to Matt and Julio to go for it to win the game. We didn’t get the job done, but 100 out of 100 we’re going to try to put the ball in those two guys’ hands to try to go win it.”
“You oftentimes get man-to-man in those scenarios,” Quinn said. “So, as a former defensive coordinator, I recognize that’s a play that people do employ. We were looking for that opportunity and that matchup on that specific play. That’s what we thought was going to be the best play called for that time.”
That’s perfectly reasonable logic, especially in crunch time of a playoff game. Still, it was a flawed play design that arguably didn’t put Ryan and Jones in the best position to win the game. Perhaps things would be different if Jones hadn’t slipped on his route, but we’ll never know. And now Falcons fans have to spend the next eight months stewing about this game — losing to an Eagles team that started Nick Foles and getting shut out in the second half is not going to sit well.
Either way, the Falcons head into the offseason on a sour note, going from NFC champions to knocked out of the second round one year later. The offense took a step back under Sarkisian’s watch, and he’s sure to face more criticism if Quinn retains him for 2018. But even with those problems, the Falcons have plenty of raw talent and a young defense on the rise. It’s easy to see them back in playoff contention next season.