Remember the season opener a year ago, when it became so clear so early that every move had worked? The general manager who rebuilt the roster. The coach who chose a different path than his predecessor and convinced his players they really weren’t a sub-standard life form. The quarterback who played like some flawless lab creation.
It happened again Sunday.
This is the part where we caution: It’s only one game. Even Mike Smith, the coach, felt compelled to say, “It’s Week 1 of a long journey.”
But it looks like everything worked again. The second-year moves by second-year general manager Thomas Dimitroff leave some sense of clairvoyance. The Falcons look better than good, better than last year, almost certainly better than we expected. They won their opener, 19-7, and it wasn’t nearly that close. Two missed field goals and a botched extra point — OK, Jason Elam: not so perfect – prevented an assumed seven points. Miami was shut out until the final 3:22.
This game had 26-0 written all over it.
“Until the first kickoff and the first regular season game – and I stress, regular season game – you can’t truly have an indication of what your team is about,” Dimitroff said. “It’s a good feeling when you know all of the hard work that goes into the evaluation of players by coach Smith and I and the whole personnel staff, and you see guys produce effectively. It’s encouraging.”
It’s more than that. For a franchise that has taken too many steps back after too few steps forward, this was a glowing statement on the future.
Tony Gonzalez in; Ben Hartsock out –
that one figured to work out. But could the new tight end have made a more dramatic entrance? Five catches for 73 yards, including one for a 20-yard touchdown and a finger-tip grab at the Miami one to set up the Falcons’ first score.
Mike Peterson in; Keith Brooking out – that one figured to work out. But is this the same Peterson whom Jacksonville practically drop-kicked out of town? He forced a fumble – separating the Dolphins’ Anthony Fasano from the ball and his senses — to set up a field goal in the first quarter and intercepted a Chad Pennington pass to set up a touchdown in the third.
Brian Williams, waiver pickup last week: a fumble recovery. Curtis Lofton and Kroy Biermann, selections from Dimitroff’s first draft: each with a forced fumble. Biermamn also had two sacks, as did John Abraham.
You looked for a few positive signs in the opener. The Falcons gave you a cross between ballet and a wrecking ball.
One win. Only one win. But think about this: They dominated despite seeing Michael Turner and the running game relatively stuffed, and Matt Ryan — despite finishing with solid numbers — actually misfire a few times to open receivers. What happens when everything clicks?
“I wouldn’t want to be a defensive coordinator trying to come up with a game plan,” center Todd McClure said.
Gonzalez was a little more direct: “If teams want to stack the box against us to stop the run, that’s fine. We should hurt them.”
There was no shortage of panic over the defense. Veterans were cut loose after last season and the team, while clearly younger and faster, looked lost in exhibitions. Exhibitions or not, there seemed no way to rationalize how the No. 1 unit played at times. “You just look at the guys we have on paper,” Peterson said. “Some teams look good in practice and some look good in pre-season. It’s just a matter of [carrying] it over when it counts.”
One win. Only one win. But it appears every move worked again. And afterward, nobody in the locker room looked surprised, nobody made any grand proclamations, nobody spouted off about their stats. An impressive start to the journey.