Can any NFL franchise want a new year to arrive more than the Atlanta Falcons? Can any franchise more need to put 2020 behind it?
This question is asked after watching the Falcons lose their eighth game of this horrific season after leading by six or more points, this time falling 17-14 at Kansas City after leading the Chiefs 14-10 at the two-minute warning and 7-0 at the start.
Of course, the Chiefs took the lead for good only after the Falcons dropped an interception in the end zone that would have all but guaranteed victory. Then, with a chance to tie in the final seconds, Atlanta kicker Younghoe Koo, who had made 27 straight field-goal attempts on his way to being named to the Pro Bowl a few days ago, shanked a 39-yard try to the right to deny his teammates a chance to win in overtime.
What are the odds of that? What are the odds any NFL team could blow three second-half leads of at least 15 points and lose all three, as the Falcons have this season? What are the odds they could choke away all but certain victories by failing to so much as to attempt to recover an opponent's desperation onside kick — which allowed the Dallas Cowboys to make the winning field goal — and by scoring a touchdown they were trying not to score, which gave the Detroit Lions time to score one on the final play to win the game?
Bizarre? That doesn't begin to describe the bulk of Atlanta's 11 losses against four wins heading into next Sunday's finale at Tampa Bay. The reality is that the Falcons, for all their struggles, aren't so much horrible as they are haunted.
Haunted by that 28-3 lead they blew against the New England Patriots at Super Bowl LI in February 2017, which is likely to remain the greatest blown lead in the title game's history. Haunted by so many meltdowns in recent years similar to this season's collapses, the Falcons having become the poster children for how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Perhaps even haunted by the city's entire sports history, which is highlighted by the baseball Braves' 1995 World Series crown, but brought down by almost every other professional sports memory. And that is made so much worse when viewed against the Falcons' current season, which has enough near-misses to make perennial Daytime Emmy runner-up Susan Lucci blush. (And even she finally won the award.)
That's also the problem with how to fix Atlanta's NFL franchise, which will hire both a new coach and a new general manager sometime in the next four or five weeks, having given the boot to both former coach Dan Quinn and former GM Thomas Dimitroff in October.
Because the record aside, the collapses notwithstanding, the Falcons never seem that far from turning it around, from becoming the team, especially on offense, that their talent says they should be. After all, when healthy, name a better receiving corps in the entire NFL than Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and tight end Hayden Hurst. That's just it — you can't.
And if quarterback Matt Ryan is never going to win a footrace, he remains one of the better passers in the NFL, currently standing third in yards this season with one game to go. He has engineered 38 comeback wins in his pro career, including 30 fourth-quarter rallies. No wonder he earned the nickname Matty Ice at Boston College.
But his luck has pretty much run ice cold of late. Too many late interceptions and fumbles and incompletions. Too little heroics come the crunch.
It's as if all the disappointments and all the punishment in the pocket due to an unreliable offensive line have made Ryan hesitant and uncertain when certainty is needed most. It's understandable, but you have to wonder if for the Falcons to turn this thing around — a third straight losing season guaranteed — it may be time to turn Ryan loose.
Especially since some veteran team for which the biggest weakness is not having an accurate quarterback — New England, anyone? — would surely make a respectable trade with the Falcons.
Then there's Jones. A certain Pro Football Hall of Famer whenever he calls it quits, he nonetheless seems to be injured as often as he is healthy. When he's at full speed, Julio's still one of the top seven or eight receivers in the NFL, but it's harder to count on that these days.
Again, some of this will be determined by who becomes the next coach and the next GM. What offense they prefer and how much potential they see in the current roster.
And even if they lose next weekend to the Buccaneers, a 4-12 record will almost assuredly leave them shy of any serious ability to draft Clemson's Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State's Justin Fields, both former Georgia high school stars who would become an instant marketing monster in the Big Peach.
Regarding Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, as accurate as he is, you probably have a much younger, but similarly unathletic Ryan. Great arm. Slow feet. A moderate risk in today's run-pass-option game where quarterbacks with nimble feet are preferred.
It's easy to look at the record and say the Falcons are a complete mess. But seven of the 11 losses are by five or fewer points. Which begs the question we always seem to be asking of Atlanta sports teams: If you're ultimately going to lose anyway, why can't you make it less painful for your fans?