Michael Turner carried the ball 10 times for 100 yards, but his first-quarter fumble was one of three Falcons turnovers (AP).
The Falcons' Super Bowl dreams ended last season in embarrassing fashion, their defense shredded and their offense silent in a 48-21 playoff loss to the Packers. Eight months later, the Falcons didn't start off 2011 much better.
Atlanta turned it over three times, allowed nearly 400 yards of total offense and was demolished by the Bears Sunday, 30-12.
At the NFL Draft in April, Atlanta traded five picks -- it's first-, second- and fourth-rounders in 2011 and its first- and fourth-rounders in 2012 -- to move up to No. 6 overall and select Julio Jones. It was a move indicative of a team believing it was very, very close, maybe just a piece away, from being a Super Bowl club.
There are still 15 games left in the regular season to turn things around, but with a Week 1 face plant following that playoff flop, the Falcons find themselves suddenly looking for answers.
Making that search more difficult is that it is hard to pinpoint where everything is going wrong. Just like in that playoff loss to Green Bay, Atlanta's offense was error-prone and sloppy Sunday in Chicago. And just like the loss to the Packers, the defense could do no right -- Jay Cutler threw for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns, right in the neighborhood of Aaron Rodgers' 366-yard, three-TD postseason showing.
The Packers went on to win the Super Bowl after that January rout, and the Bears looked every bit the defending NFC North champs Sunday, so it's not as if Atlanta got run out of the building by the Bengals and Panthers.
But the Falcons consider themselves an elite team. Elite teams should not struggle this badly to simply stay competitive in its own conference.
There's no time to regroup, either. The Falcons host Philadelphia in Week 2, then travel to Tampa Bay in Week 3. Another visit from the Packers looms in Week 5, a trip to Detroit in Week 7, the Texans and two games vs. the Saints in the second half of the season.
Atlanta has to be better than this. On paper, this is one of the NFL's best offenses -- Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Jones, Tony Gonzalez -- and yet, it produced two field goals Sunday, with Atlanta's other TD coming on an interception return. Couple that subpar performance with another defensive meltdown and the Falcons didn't have a chance in the Windy City.
At some point, you have to wonder if the Falcons' confidence level is far below the expectations they've set for themselves. You've heard of the "Super Bowl hangover"? This might be a playoff embarrassment hangover.
When Green Bay rolled Atlanta on the Falcons' home field in the playoffs, we could, to some extent, just pin it on the Packers' playoff buzzsaw. Green Bay got hot at the right time and clobbered everyone in its path.
Maybe this is just the residual effect. Despite all this time passing, maybe the Falcons left that January day wondering where they really stand in the NFL's pecking order. They certainly didn't play like a team loaded up on moxie Sunday. The Falcons will have ample opportunity to put all this in the past and right the ship in 2011. But it'll take a complete 180 from what they've shown their last two times out.