Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/31/12
When can a loss be better for a professional football team than a win? Most NFL players and coaches likely would say never. Unless, somewhere during the loss a new team star who was on the trading block is discovered.Which still translates to pretty much never.As I watched the Atlanta Falcons lose 22-17 at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the last regular season game, I tried to look at both the good and bad for Atlanta in it's third loss of the season.Going in, the Falcons had already earned everything they could as far as playoff placement and home-field advantage was concerned. So, I was curious about how head coach Mike Smith would handle his personnel in what many would consider a meaningless last game of the season.My thinking was that if the Falcons had come out red hot and built a big lead in the first half, most of the starters would have been sitting after the first possession of the third quarter. After the poor first half showing, pulling the first-string would have sent a bad message. The fact that coach Smith left many starters in for the entire game was a decision I agree completely with.Still, after the game it started. The expected comments from the talking heads complaining that Smith took unnecessary risks with his star players in a meaningless game.Already, there are opinions written about how the two injured starters - cornerback Dunta Robinson and defensive end John Abraham - could be less than 100 percent in the Falcons' first playoff game in two weeks.  For the coach, it is always a no-win proposition with the media in these cases. Rest your best players in this type game and they speculate whether the team will be sharp in the playoffs. Play the game to win and the talk is about the risk you take on a meaningless game.Coach Smith handled it the way he thought best for his team moving into the playoffs. A bold decision that I applaud him for.There is no such thing as a meaningless game in the NFL. If the Falcons had won yesterday, it would have been 14 out of 16 total and 8-0 at home this year. To my knowledge, no other Falcons team has ever done that.In addition, the team played better overall in the second half of the game. They even had an opportunity to win in the final three minutes.Something you would not have thought possible, judging by how they played early. So, even in a loss, the team ended the game on the up-swing.Overall, the defensive results were up and down during the game. They gave up too many 3rd-down plays in the first half, yet played well overall in the second.The defense also gave up more big plays than you would expect. Of Tampa's 144 yards rushing, 40 yards and a TD came on one play and 76 of their 222 total passing yards came on three others.The offense got back on track in every area over a poor first half. They ended the game playing well, even if they didn't drive down and win it.Some other opportunities for learning and improvement to take from this loss include:Being in a struggle with a team they had already beaten this year should serve as a very good reminder to this team and their fan-base. This is the NFL. A league where any team can beat you on any given Sunday.Losing their first game at home of the year should supply a much needed wake up call. Again, in this league, home-field is nice, but not necessarily always an advantage.Having the starters stay out there and win or lose the ball game eliminates any players thinking that playing the second unit is why they lost. No second-teamers messed up crutch here.There is no doubt the Falcons were playing to win - and they got beat - by a team that didn't make the tournament. A little humility going into playoff practices can serve as a wake up call for all.In the Falcons' three most recent playoff appearances, they have been eliminated, the last two embarrassingly so. Leading up to each of those games, the coaching staff played it pretty much how the book says to.This time, coach Smith chose to go a different direction. Only time will tell if his decision about how to play a so-called meaningless last game was a good one. Still, Good or bad, it was a gutsy call.Atlanta is fortunate to have a head coach who has the intestinal fortitude to try another approach to win. He is hungry for their first playoff win in his other-wise successful tenure. The Falcons are also fortunate to have ownership and a GM smart enough to let a good coach do things his way. Who knows how difficult it was internally for the Falcons players to get up for the Tampa game? They knew going in their playoff hopes could not benefit or be hurt.By the same token, the Falcons responded extremely well after their loss to Carolina. In their next game, they gave the New York Giants a 34-0 beat down like they had not received in 20 years.If you are a Falcons fan, there are many more positive aspects to the season ending loss to the Buccaneers than to any other loss in their 45-year history.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: ‘Tsunami’ of trades could be coming this NFL offseason

Paul Heyman says Brock Lesnar could still return to UFC

Cashman: Yankees still ‘not on equal footing’ with Red Sox

Report: Jets not willing to let Kirk Cousins name his price

2018 Winter Olympics finally reaches 1 million in attendance

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Rick Carlisle addresses Mavericks' sexual harassment scandal

Lamoureux wins gold medal with beautiful shootout goal

Derek Jeter: Marlins will ‘do their part’ to help Florida heal after mass shooting

Lindsey Vonn unable to pull off miracle in slalom, does not medal in combined

Gregg Popovich does not expect Kawhi Leonard to return this season

Drew Brees reportedly to demand less than Jimmy Garoppolo on new deal

Negro Leaguers every baseball fan should know

MLB's top 10 first basemen for 2018

Faltering Blackhawks face tough decisions at deadline

NBA's entertaining tournament proposal wouldn't fix tanking

One weakness each contender must fix before NBA Playoffs

Ten breakout stars of the 2018 Winter Olympics

The greatest barrier-breaking African-American moments in MLB history

25 best MLB players under 25

A.J. McCarron might be the best consolation prize in free agency

MLB's top 10 second basemen for 2018

Offseason needs for every NFL team

MLB's top 10 starting pitchers for 2018

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

25 best MLB players under 25

The 'Red Sox finally get their guy' quiz

MLB's top 10 first basemen for 2018

Faltering Blackhawks face tough decisions at deadline

Offseason needs for every NFL team

MLB's top 10 second basemen for 2018

The 'All muscle hamsters go to heaven' quiz

A.J. McCarron might be the best consolation prize in free agency

The 'James gang walks away with a win' quiz

Negro Leaguers every baseball fan should know

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker