By Matthew Asher
"Oh what could have been!"
Mike Smith was officially fired on Monday by Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who showed that he's not content with resting on the laurels of the success of previous seasons. For the second straight season the Falcons finished the regular season with a losing record and are in line for another top 10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. It's time for the highs and lows of the 2014 Atlanta Falcons campaign.
Julio Jones Gets an A
Atlanta's top two receivers continue to show why they are some of the better receivers in the league. Jones finishes the season with 104 catches, 1,593 yards, averaging 15.3 yards per catch and six touchdowns. Of those 104 receptions, 76 went for first downs. Jones had the third-most catches and receiving yards of anyone this season. He also had the second-best yards per catch average as well as the second most receptions resulting in first downs. The future is bright for this young wide receiver. Whoever the new coach ends up being will have a chance to make Ryan to Jones this generation's Montana to Rice.
Matt Ryan Gets a B
The good news about Ryan this season is the stats he put up this year are an improvement from last year's showing. The bad news is that these stats still aren't close to the career highs he's previously set. Still, it's in the right direction. This year Ryan completed 66.1 percent of his throws for 4,694 yards, averaging 293.4 yards a game, 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and was sacked 31 times for a passer rating of 93.9. On the ground Ryan ran 29 times for 145 yards. He fumbled five times, lost two of them and did not record a rushing touchdown this season.
Atlanta's Offensive Line Gets a C
The main reason the Falcons selected Jake Matthews with their first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft is they wanted to protect their franchise quarterback better. The problem was all the injuries the O-line was hit with this season. Center Joe Hawley and tackle Lamar Holmes were placed on the IR list in September. In October, Peter Konz became the second Falcons center to be added to the IR list meaning the Falcons had an undrafted rookie as their starting center for the rest of the season. By the end of the season, Sam Baker and Mike Johnson joined their fellow linesmen, meaning Atlanta had to construct a brand-new O-line midway during the season. With all that in consideration, they didn't do a bad job, as they did protect Ryan better this season than last year. Of course, they still need a lot of improvement.
Atlanta's Inability to Win Close Games gets a D
Five times this season the outcome of a Falcons game was decided by a touchdown or less. Two of those games Atlanta won: A 37-34 OT win in Week 1 against NOLA and a Week 11 win over Carolina where the Falcons blocked the final field goal attempt. Three games the Falcons lost, including two where they blew the lead in the fourth quarter. If the Falcons want to be in the playoffs, they need to win those close ones, even one more of those three loses would have sent Atlanta to the postseason this year.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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