7:17 PM ET
- Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer Close
- Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
- Also worked at Chicago Sun-Times, Fresno Bee
- Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002
All Coleman could control was how he performed with nothing except pride on the line. His 5-9 Atlanta Falcons were officially eliminated from the playoffs Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Miami Dolphins. Yet despite the Falcons' losing record, Coleman played with sense of purpose, as if something was on the line during a 40-14 win over the Cardinals. Perhaps he was playing for his future.
Coleman's career-high 145 rushing yards and on 11 carries, including a career-long 65-yard sprint and a 43-yard touchdown run, came in the midst of an important evaluation period. It was just the second time Coleman has rushed for 100 yards this season and the Falcons averaged a league-low 81.2 rushing yards per game entering the day. Maybe Coleman, now in his fourth year, didn't do enough to catapult into consideration as the team's primary back of the future, but his explosive burst through the gaping holes gave the Falcons something to ponder.
"I mean, he's an amazing running back," wide receiver Julio Jones said of Coleman. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves, but he's one of the best backs in the league, by far. His speed, his vision, everything about him."
The Falcons have a well-documented decision to make regarding how they want to proceed at running back. Two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman, who has missed most of the season following groin surgery, is likely to remain the No. 1 guy — when healthy — with four years and $24.75 million left on his contract. It seems unlikely Freeman will return this season, although coach Dan Quinn didn't it rule it out, with Freeman eligible to return off injured reserve next Sunday.
Coleman, now in the final year of a deal that pays him $791,268 this season, could generate interest in free agency if he doesn't take a bargain offer from the Falcons first. The Falcons also have rookie Ito Smith, who has shown flashes and will make $570,000 in 2019.
Jones hopes Coleman, who has rushed for 704 yards this season, gets re-signed.
"Yeah, I'd like to see Tevin [back]," Jones said. "But, you know, I don't make those decisions."
The Falcons have a variety of decisions to weigh leading into 2019, and Coleman isn't the only player trying to make a strong impression before this season concludes. Defensive end Vic Beasley Jr., the eighth-overall pick in 2015, has been widely criticized for his lack of production after posting a league-high 15.5 sacks in 2016. But Beasley, who hopes to secure a long-term contract with his contract expiring, has shown flashes in recent weeks. He deflected two Josh Rosen passes in Sunday's win. Teammate Deion Jones intercepted one of those tips and returned it 41 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown. Beasley also had one of the Falcons' season-high seven sacks.
"Every game, my goal is to make a statement, to show the team, coaches, fans what I'm capable of," Beasley said. "With it being the end of the year, and our season hasn't gone the way [we] wanted it to go, that makes it even more of a challenge for us."
There were others who deserved high marks. Defensive end Bruce Irvin, who was released by Oakland before signing with his hometown Falcons, had 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and three quarterback hits as he tries to secure at least another year with the team. Wide receiver Justin Hardy, in the last year of his deal, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ryan.
Nickel back Brian Poole, set to become a restricted free agent, had six tackles, a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery, and a tackle for loss. Steven Means, who is on his fourth different team and on a one-year deal, started the game and registered a sack and a tackle for loss.
"I feel like I've been trying to prove myself for a while now," Means said.
Not to be forgotten was defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, the Falcons most consistent disruptive force this season. Jarrett had a team-high seven tackles, two sacks, two tackles for losses, two quarterback hits and a forced fumbles. Jarrett is in the final year of his deal and continues to show why he's more than worthy of a long-term extension, something the Falcons initially said they would address at the start of the season.
We'll see what other Falcons pass the evaluation process next week at Carolina.