Despite another bad loss, the Falcons hang around in playoff hunt

The Atlanta Falcons remaining in the thick of the NFC South picture has to be a source of torment for the team’s fans. Two weeks ago they were 6-6 and alone atop the division. Following an ugly 9-7 loss to the formerly 1-12 Carolina Panthers, Atlanta is now 6-8 and a full game behind the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It was a wet, ugly, and empty afternoon in Charlotte–a less than four-hour drive from Atlanta–on Sunday. Tickets were selling for as low as $0.45. A free ticket would have been too expensive to sit outside, in the rain, and watch these two teams play terrible football.

The Falcons managed only one drive that did not end in a turnover or punt. Desmond Ridder threw for 152 yards — 56 of which came from a completion to Jonnu Smith late in the second quarter. They gained a total of 204 yards on the day. In the second half, the Falcons’ offense did not score a point and totaled 67 yards.

They also turned the ball over on their final two drives of the game. Then, to put the final stench on an extra-large turd sundae, the Falcons ended the game by allowing arguably the worst offense in the league to march down the field on a 17-play, 90-yard drive that sucked the last seven and a half minutes off the clock. The Panthers kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.

For consecutive weeks, the Falcons have been pounded by a division rival. They put together a helluva comeback effort against the Buccaneers in Week 14, scoring a combined 15 points on their first two drives of the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for them, they allowed the Bucs to score after both the touchdowns. Yes, that hail mary being caught short of the end zone was funny Falcons folly, but the better team won that game.

Tampa is not a special team, but Carolina is putting up a season worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. A pick the franchise will not have, because it was traded to the Chicago Bears. The Panthers have lost by double digits seven times this season. If there was ever a week for the Falcons to use to keep pace for a division title, it was Week 15.

Instead, the Panthers improved to 2-12. This is the type of loss that can drive a stake into the heart of a season for a team, except for the fact that the Falcons can’t lose enough to eliminate themselves from playoff contention. Their last regular-season three games are against the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, and Saints. Falcons fans should not feel confident about the team’s prospects, but the season is far from over.

For at least one more week, the Falcons will be fighting for their playoff lives. Another week in which the Falcons can drag their fans through the muck of faint postseason hope by virtue of playing in the worst division in the NFL.

One more opportunity to keep a season going that would be better off being mercifully extinguished.

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