Football is back! Well, kind of. If you believe that an NFL football game is where the starters only play for two to three possessions followed by the second and third stringers competing for the rest of the three quarters to fulfill the final roster spots then yes, football is certainly back.
The Atlanta Falcons held their first preseason game at home in the Georgia Dome against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team who is finally on the rebound after years of off the field distractions that interfered with their performance.
Though the Falcons 2013 motto seems to be Super Bowl or bust, the team did not perform at the level of play that most fans were expecting. However, it was the very first game of the preseason and there was a lot to learn from last night’s game. Here is everything you actually need to know.
The season-ending injury to offensive tackle Mike Johnson is going to hurt more than people expected: After last night’s sloppy performance by the Falcons’ offensive line many are questioning whether the front office should have worked harder to retain right tackle Tyson Clabo’s contract. The offensive line’s performance was so poor that three-time pro bowler Steven Jackson only had eight yards on five carries. When asked about the O-line’s performance after the game and if he was searching for other answers, Head Coach Mike Smith stated, “We’re going to evaluate this tape and we’ve got to make that decision, but we’re not going to evaluate it on only one game”.
Lastly, the only other major takeaway from the Falcons’ offensive sets was how unprepared backup quarterback Dominic Davis was to lead the team down the field. Davis was 0/5 through his first two series complimented by a horrible decision that led to an interception. He did manage to put up a touchdown drive in the third quarter but to say his performance was disappointing is putting it nicely.
Going into the game, the Falcons’ defense was the area that posed the most questions as to how it would perform after all the changes made in the offseason. Most notably, the play of sophomore lineman Jonathan Massaquoi showed tremendous growth after his rookie season and a sense of leadership that was desperately needed. Massaquoi led a young group of backups that caused the doubters to have a little faith in the Falcons’ defensive line again. These young linemen combined for six tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hits. Massaquoi spoke after the game about his new leadership position saying, “For us, as sophomores and juniors, Cliff and I, Travian, myself and other guys that come in, it’s a responsibility. You have to be ready and know that at any moment, this isn’t like last year. There isn’t a guy in front of you, you are the next guy”.
Who the heck is Paul Worrilow? Thursday night one name kept being repeated over and over and it was none other than undrafted University of Delaware walk-on alum Paul Worrilow. The rookie linebacker wrapped up the night with a team-high eleven tackles, one for a loss and also had one stop on special teams. When asked about his unexpected high performance the rookie said, “I felt like I was doing a good job getting to the ball. It’s always exciting when you get a chance to have an impact on the game. That’s everybody’s goal going in, to affect the game through your assignments”. While Worrilow’s performance certainly catapulted him into the starting linebacker conversations, he’s going to need a lot more than one decent game to prove his ready for the big leagues.
Finally, Brian Banks can say he has played an NFL game. The feel-good story of the NFL this season, exonerated Brian Banks finally played a professional football game after eleven years out of the game. While it is still a long-shot for the current third string linebacker, Banks didn’t let that affect his moment in the spotlight when he went in near the end of the fourth quarter and racked up two tackles. When asked about this moment, Banks answered, ”It was out of control. Just running out there, the flames, the cheers and the crowd, it was emotional, it really was. I wasn’t nervous at all. I wasn’t over-excited or anything, but just running out of that tunnel, I mean the adrenaline that comes with that is just indescribably. It’s better than any roller-coaster ride you can ever get on…Then just to be on the sideline and to hear all the veterans tell you, ‘Man when your turn comes, when they call your number just play’. Just the support and love from everybody is more than I can ask for.”
While Banks knows he may be a long shot for a spot on the roster, he does not let this shake his confidence. “Do I have to make it?” Banks asked. “I don’t feel like I have to, but I want to- not just for myself but for my family, for the people who’ve supported me and believed in me. For people who’ve lost hope in their own [life]. If I can be some kind of vessel, to show people that no matter the hard time you experienced, you can still succeed, I want to put out that positive energy to never quit and never give up.”
Brian Banks and the rest of the rookies have three preseason games left to prove their worth while the rest of the starters have three games to step up their game after last night’s sluggish performance. There are still a lot of questions to be answered and the next opportunity to watch things unfold will be Thursday August 15th against the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens.