It seems hard to imagine the Atlanta Falcons and their fans have much to be thankful for related to a 2-9 record. But it’s always worth looking for the positive, even in the worst of times.
We came up with 10 things the Falcons should be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day. We didn’t add Jadeveon Clowney to the list because the Falcons aren’t assured of the No. 1 overall draft pick just yet.
10. Home games: The Falcons enter Sunday’s matchup against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto 0-5 on the road this season. Their only two wins came in the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome: against the St. Louis Rams and the now-improved Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Could you imagine the Falcons being winless at this point of the season after going 13-3 a year ago?
9. Matt Bryant’s leg: True, he missed a key 52-yard field goal last week against the Saints, but Bryant has converted 17 of 19 field goals this year. The Falcons’ red zone woes have aided Bryant’s cause and created shorter attempts, but it still helps to have a guy who has 15-career game-winning field goals.
8. Dr. Robert Anderson: He is the North Carolina specialist responsible for getting Julio Jones back to form after Jones suffered a season-ending right foot injury. Anderson repaired Jones’ same foot after NFL combine in 2011 and Jones went on to make the Pro Bowl in 2012. The Falcons fully expect Jones to recover again this time. They sorely need him moving forward.
7. The 2014 schedule: There’s always next year, and that’s the approach the Falcons have to take. Facing the AFC North and NFC North next season should be a relief, considering the Falcons have had to contend with the powerful NFC West this season. Not to mention the Falcons could finish last in the NFC South, meaning they would face the last-place teams from the NFC West (St. Louis?) and NFC East (Washington?) in ’14.
6. Desmond Trufant’s emergence: The rookie cornerback continues to display why the Falcons selected him in the first round. He made some tremendous plays in the second half of last week’s Saints game. Trufant’s 13 passes defensed are second in the league among rookies behind Kansas City’s Marcus Cooper (14). And Trufant hasn’t hit the rookie wall.
5. Undrafted rookies: Speaking of rookies, where would the defense be without linebacker Paul Worrilow, the undrafted tackling machine out of Delaware? And fellow undrafted linebacker Joplo Bartu has started eight games. Not to mention both linebackers came cheap, as undrafted players. Five undrafted rookies are now on the 53-man roster, with emerging receiver Darius Johnson, promising offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder, and newly promoted offensive tackle Terren Jones joining Worrilow and Bartu.
4. Harry Douglas' confidence: No one should overlook Douglas’ performance with Jones out for the season and Roddy White hobbled by injuries. Douglas leads the team with 60 catches and is 167 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season. The confident veteran said no one should be surprised by his performance. We’re not anymore.
3. Mike Smith's leadership: Say what you want about the Falcons head coach, but he’s kept a calm demeanor through a horrific season. Irritated fans have called for his head, but owner Arthur Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff assured Smith is going nowhere. How soon folks forget that Smith made the Falcons the only NFC team with five straight winning campaigns over the last five years. Not to mention he guided his team to the NFC Championship Game a year ago. He deserves a pass.
2. Matt Ryan’s health: Sacks allowed doesn’t tell the true story about how many times Ryan has been hit. He’s been on the ground in pain numerous occasions yet brushed it off as no big deal. Considering how Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler have missed time with significant injuries, the Falcons had better be thankful their $100-million investment hasn’t missed any games this season. Now, they have to go get him better protection this offseason.
1. Tony Gonzalez’s presence: Falcons fans are witnessing greatness for the last time. The veteran tight end is set to retire at season’s end, and he’ll leave quite a legacy behind. As important as his on-field production has been the example Gonzalez has set in the locker room in terms of professionalism and work ethic. And now, Gonzalez is playing through the pain of a toe injury despite the Falcons being eliminated from playoff contention. Gonzalez is a true pro and a one-of-kind player headed to the Hall of Fame. He is irreplaceable.