The easiest way to describe the first 42 seasons for the Atlanta Falcons would be to say the organization was unstable. Any fan of the team that has been around for a long period of time could tell you about the roller coaster of emotion the team has had. For 42 years, the team never put together back-to-back winning seasons, and that stretched back to the inaugural season for Atlanta in 1966. That is a long time to never sustain any sort of relevancy. To all of the fans delight, all of that changed once the teams present owner, Arthur Blank, decided to start bringing in the staff he has today. The personnel he brought in ended up being the best idea that he has presented as Falcons owner.
Mr. Blank consulted with now-team President and CEO, Rich McKay, and brought in then Scouting Director for the New England Patriots, Thomas Dimitroff. Blank and McKay also decided on bringing in a relatively unknown coach, Mike Smith, to be their new head coach. Together, the new brain trust began forming the roster we see today through smart, strategic drafting and free agent signings. These are some of the biggest names to thank when throwing out accolades for turning this franchise around.
The front office and coaching staff together formed the organization that would ultimately snap the 42-year-long roller coaster ride that the team had become. They brought that ride to a grinding halt. Within the first two years, this new group had taken over they posted the franchise’s first consecutive winning seasons. Speak with those same long-standing fans, and you would most likely hear the word miracle thrown around a time or two. After 47 up and down seasons, we quickly find ourselves in what might be the golden age of the franchise.
So, what should we expect from the team looking forward? Well to answer that I think we need to take a look back. After posting back to back winning seasons in 2008 and 2009, the team started to see the media pick up on the new found trend of the Atlanta Falcons. So we will start our look back on the 2010 season and go forward from there. We will see what the media had to say before the season began and then what ended up happening after all the dust had settled from the post seasons.
Atlanta Falcons 2010:
The 2010 season was the genesis of a new viewpoint for this team. Here is the 2010 season preview for the Falcons as told by ESPN http://espn.go.com/nfl/preview10/team/_/name/atl. To sum it up, the team had some high expectations for the season. The worst any of the analysts had the team going at was second in the division. The only real concern that was expressed was if the team could generate a pass rush or not. Matt Ryan was looked at as being ready to break out and Michael Turner was expected to run over defenses once again.
Now lets go to the 2010 season in review. Here is the Wikipedia summary of the season http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Atlanta_Falcons_season. As most fans know, the team did go to the playoffs, but ended up losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. It was a painful loss to watch as Aaron Rodgers picked apart the Falcons secondary in their own building.
Atlanta Falcons 2011:
The 2011 season was another hopeful season for fans and the media were once again have good feelings about how the team would end up. Here is the same group from ESPN before the 2011 season http://espn.go.com/nfl/preview11/team/_/name/atl. The analysts once again have positive things to say about Matt Ryan, and also were applauding the Julio Jones acquisition. The group says a lot of good things about the team, but again asks the question of where the pass rush is going to come from. None of the analysts predicted the team would finish worse than second in the division.
Let’s see what happened at the end of the season with a summary from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Atlanta_Falcons_season. The team again made the post season finishing second in the division and getting the fifth seed in the playoffs. They ended up being one and done in a hellish twisted Falcons version of the Twilight Zone, and being beaten to the eventual Super Bowl champs in the New York Giants. This game was the tipping point for the front office and within days of the loss they started making moves, starting with the coaching staff.
Atlanta Falcons 2012:
2012 was maybe the most anticipated year in recent memory. The team made new additions at both coordinator slots and each seemed to be the breath of fresh air the fans needed. Lets take a look at what ESPN had to say about the team before the season http://espn.go.com/nfl/preview12/team/_/name/atl. Oddly enough, the analysts were mostly dead on in hindsight. They brought up the fact that the team was aging and were wondering if it might be a factor for the upcoming year. They did ask the question of where is the pass rush going to some from again, and also noted that the offense should see a whole new look. I have to admit that Adam Schefter might want this preview to disappear from existence. He predicted the team would finish third, and noted that he didn’t think they would have a good regular season record because the team hadn’t won a playoff game with the current unit. Maybe this year Schefter can keep in mind that selectively forgetting the previous four years’ regular season records and only bringing up the four losses in the post season, to predict a regular season record, may not be a good idea.
Lets see what happened at the end of last year. Here is the Wikipedia summary http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Atlanta_Falcons_season. To Schefter’s dismay, the team did not finish third in the division. The team finished first, and not only made the post season, but won their first playoff game with the current regime. The changes on both offense and defense seemed to be in the right direction and the front office once again looked like complete geniuses.
Now, what did hindsight teach us? Well, for starters, there has been a glaring question season after season that the team just doesn’t seem able to answer. Where is the pass rush going to come from? I hate to say it, but after years of asking and not getting much in the way of results, I don’t have much in the way of high hopes this season. What the team has given us is the ability to recognize the talent it has at the beginning of the season and capitalizing on it. Matt Ryan has been looked on as one of the big reasons for the teams success and it doesn’t look like the rise of his abilities has reached its peak. Lastly, Michael Turner was the cornerstone for the team until he couldn’t hold the weight of the structure anymore.
Now to get to the real meat and potatoes. What does all of this “soul searching” tell us about this upcoming season? What it means is the Atlanta Falcons have been viewed as a playoff-caliber team for the past three years at least. This also means the NFL will be hosting the worlds largest Falcon hunt in 2013. Nobody will be surprised by an over achieving Atlanta Falcons team anymore. The playoff monkey excuse will not be thrown around nearly as much. The team will be viewed largely as not a team who might win the division, but as team who probably will win the division. The fans will be expecting a repeat high powered offense. The media and other teams will be expecting much the same. Everybody will be watching these Falcons with a close eye making it impossible to “fly under the radar”. This kind of success is what all the fans wanted but it puts the team in uncharted waters. The front office, the coaches, and the players all are preparing for the season with their usual one game at a time approach, but this season, other teams are going to be the ones who will be waiting and watching.
For the first 47 years, this franchise was the epitome of what the Falcons were supposed to stand for. Falcons fly high above the fray and watch. Then, with a highly calculated strike, a Falcon will go for the kill. This year, other teams will be keeping an eye towards the sky and not leaving the Falcons out of mind for an instant. What can the Falcons do to help their chances on Sunday? That is a question only the team can answer, but I have hunch it has to do with watching a little closer and striking with a little more calculation than before. It is not like the team has had a lack of success, but this team just aspires to fly higher than before.