NFL draft LIVE: Playoff hangover driving Dimitroff, Falcons

The look on faces of Arthur Blank and Thomas Dimitroff haven't changed too much since playoff loss. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The looks on the faces of owner Arthur Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff haven't changed too much since the playoff loss to Green Bay. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(This will be updated after the Falcons draft tonight. Want to chat about the draft? We can use the comments section.)

About three months ago,  Thomas Dimitroff made a really bad decision. He went to the Super Bowl without his team.

“It was one of the few times I sat in the stadium to watch the game,” the Falcons’ general manager said.  “I realized about 10 minutes into the game that it was a huge mistake.”

So what did he do?

“Honestly, I left at halftime.”

He left his friends at the stadium in Dallas and went back to the hotel. The wounds were still fresh from the Falcons’ playoff humiliation against Green Bay. As Dimitroff was preparing for Thursday night’s NFL draft, they still haven’t completely scabbed over.

The Dimitroff-Mike Smith regime has posted an unprecedented three straight winning seasons with the Falcons. By when a team goes from having the second-best record in the league (13-3) to a 48-21 beatdown on its home field – even if it is to the eventual Super Bowl champions – it leaves a mark.

Dimitroff and Smith have raised the bar like no previous general manager-coach tandem in Falcons history. Now they’re going to be judged on the elevated expectation level – by fans, by the media, by the team’s owner, Arthur Blank, who admitte a few months ago he also was still affected by the loss.

Here's Dimitroff in happier times, celebrating with quarterback Matt Ryan after the regular season victory over the Packers. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Happier times: Dimitroff celebrating with Matt Ryan after the regular season victory over the Packers. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

All offseasons are important to NFL teams. But Dimitroff recognizes the special challenges he faces this spring. Whereas the regular season last year proved how far the Falcons have come, the playoff game showed how far they have to go.

He referred to atmosphere in the front office as “healthy agitation.” That’s good. It conveys a sense of dissatisfaction.

One awful afternoon doesn’t completely nullify the 16 game-days that preceded it. But it at least makes you miserable for while. That hangover will exist until the Falcons get back to the playoffs, because 0-2 (postseason record) will start to get looked at as much as 33-15 (regular season results).

Dimitroff had attended Super Bowls in previous years but they came when he worked for the New England Patriots, who were in the game. “I’ve had the good fortune to sit and watch the game when our team was playing,” he said. “It was an exhilarating experience.”

This time, it was closer to nauseating. Dimitroff has used the word “explosive” a lot this offseason, related to his goals for the draft and free agency. The team needs that element on both sides of the ball. But Dimitroff and everybody associated with the Falcons possibly also need that to help them exorcise the memory of the last game.

“With expectations ramped up as they were in 2010, obviously the cut was that much deeper,” he said. “As an organization, when you put your heart and soul into something, it’s that much more difficult to step off when there’s an abrupt end, like the kind of defeat we had with Green Bay.

“Am I over it? Personally? Probably not completely. But that’s what adds to some of my drive at this year’s draft.”

Dimitroff said he didn’t want to leave the impression that “anybody here has their dauber down.”

“The healthy agitation most of us carry will benefit us in the future,” he said. “We will benefit from that because we have a gnawing drive to prove something. This is a persevering organization.”

Dimitroff’s resume suggests there’s no reason to doubt the Falcons will take the next step. But until they do, don’t expect Dimitroff to go back to a Super Bowl.

By Jeff Schultz

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Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

373 comments Add your comment

Cobb Dawg

April 28th, 2011
2:41 pm

I think it’s good he’s still feeling the wound. Good to know we’ve got a guy in charge who internalizes like that.

Cobb Dawg

April 28th, 2011
2:41 pm

And first. (Couldn’t resist.)

buckhead benny

April 28th, 2011
2:45 pm

Just draft real achievers from good conferences that are nasty, mean, and play pissed off with something to prove- No more OL from Dimitroff- seems to be his only weakness gauging by his draft picks-

RDUCK

April 28th, 2011
2:49 pm

Good to hear that the plyoff loss is still in the back of their mind. We need fuel for the fire for this coming season and I can’t help but think that using that as motivation will only help keep the sense of urgency going for them…

UGABugKiller

April 28th, 2011
2:51 pm

Unless Mike Smith is going to hand over far more offensive control to Matt Ryan, then it doesn’t matter a whit who Dimitroff drafts, this team won’t go anywhere playing not to lose on both sides of the ball.

Here’s the deal: You can play not to lose on one side of the ball and win the Super Bowl as long as you’re willing to be super aggressive on the OTHER side of the ball.

The last two Super Bowl winners proved that it’s best to be aggressive on both sides, but the Colts won a Super Bowl with a super aggressive offense and a play not to lose read and react defense much like Smith prefers.

The Ravens, Pats, Bucs, Steelers, and Giants have won Super Bowls this millennium using super aggressive defenses but play not to lose, move the chains offenses (yes, people forget the Pats in 01 were not the same as the Pats in 03, 04).

So, either Mike Smith can change his defensive philosophy, and allow BVG to run the defense as he would probably prefer, a lot more aggressively, or he can take more of the offense out of Mularkey’s hands, and allow Ryan to run the Falcons offense as he would prefer, like Manning runs the Colts’ offense.

Facts are facts: the Falcons move the ball far better and scored at a higher percentage with Matt Ryan, NOT Mike Mularkey calling the plays from the no-huddle.

Since Smith is unlikely to change his play not to lose defensive philosophy (which is a shame, as watching read and react zone coverage defenses is nerve-wracking for fans, especially with all of these aggressive defenses popping up in the NFL)…

… so that means Smith MUST cut Ryan loose and let him be much more aggressive on offense.

Because the Falcons could go out and draft AJ Green, and it wouldn’t matter a lick if Smith continues to chain Ryan to his play not to lose offense.

gdawginkalamazoo

April 28th, 2011
2:55 pm

I wonder if Justin Houston will be a high draft pick or if he now knows they test for that kind of stuff.

Supes

April 28th, 2011
2:57 pm

The Falcons are one of the 10 teams that NFL Network is showing the “war room” camera view during the draft…

Herschel Talker

April 28th, 2011
2:58 pm

FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!! FIRE MARK RICHT!!!

**Frederick(Bailey)Douglass**

April 28th, 2011
3:01 pm

Well it outta be. That playoff loss exposed the Falcons…missing key pieces at the #2 WR position (see Jenkins slip), depth in the secondary (none of the current Falcons should wear #21) and defensive line/linebacker postions (couldn’t tackle #12 in a rugby game). I like the word “explosive”…opposite of “dull”, “run of the mill” and “average”. Sadly, even at 13-3…a two-thirds of the Falcons are NOT explosive.

T.D., do something tonight to change that.

Ryno

April 28th, 2011
3:05 pm

Agitation is healthy but it could lead to a feeling of desperation!

Let’s home our GM doesn’t reach for a player out of a feeling of desperation. If you pick and miss, it could set you back for some time. :(

JSS

April 28th, 2011
3:05 pm

Enter your comments here

The Dogkiller Returns

April 28th, 2011
3:08 pm

They’re still mad about that ass-kicking? Good! So am I!

Now build us a defense that KILLS first and never makes excuses!

JSS

April 28th, 2011
3:10 pm

I did that intentionally (left it blank) because BugKillers’ whining about the Falcons play calling and the amount of control allowed Matt Ryan is just two faced! Ryan was running the offense (two minute drill) when he threw the second most bone headed pass in playoff history. Only Brian Sipes game killer was dumber!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 28th, 2011
3:12 pm

i’m still pissed about the playoff lose….time for payback. need to go DE 1st round, then WR, CB, OL, and LB in later rounds. not sure if i like these rumors about falcons moving up and trading draft picks to grab aj green.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 28th, 2011
3:13 pm

GTT

April 28th, 2011
3:19 pm

Best JSS comment ever.

Sleeze

April 28th, 2011
3:27 pm

Dimitroff should be fired!

UGABugKiller

April 28th, 2011
3:27 pm

JSS, once again, you speak of what you don’t know.

That Pick-6 at the end of the half was a CALLED PLAY from Mike Mularkey.

I can’t even say good try, because you’re just ignorant.

Sleeze

April 28th, 2011
3:28 pm

Sleeze

April 28th, 2011
3:29 pm

EDimitroff is good enoughn to go with the best player available at #27, and fill your needs as best you can later on in the draft. It will be interesting to see how Falcons handle free agency AFTER the draft this year.

Too tough

April 28th, 2011
3:30 pm

H#ll, I still feel it too! Lets kick some a## this coming season and go on ahead and WIN the Super Bowl! Go FALCONS! (Draft SEC players, Mark Ingram, AJ, Julio, Farley, etc./…

UGABugKiller

April 28th, 2011
3:31 pm

To whit, anytime Ryan is running the no-huddle, he never called that play of running to the wrong side and throwing across his body.

But MULARKEY called that play no less than four times last year. Once, it beat Baltimore. The last time, it resulted in the pick-6 at the half in the playoff loss.

I don’t think Ryan would ever call a play where he runs to his left to throw across his body.

JSS

April 28th, 2011
3:35 pm

He came to the line, he saw the defense… Does he not have the ability to audible out of the play?

Dawgfan79

April 28th, 2011
3:35 pm

Torrey Smith………..welcome to Atlanta young man !

I’d be fine with B Harris or D Sherrod too.

Get a bonafide DE in free agency.

Super Bowl in 2012 here we come !

Larry

April 28th, 2011
3:39 pm

UGABugKiller

Your first post…spot on!

As for JSS, it is hard to imagine that out of a million sperm he was the fastest one to the egg.

PaulieOldschool

April 28th, 2011
3:40 pm

I have no idea what “dauber” is, but I like the fire in the belly that the Big Three (the Comrade, the Coach, and the Owner) have all exhibited following the Green Bay debacle. I always said you learn more from defeat that victory. Victory just feels a whole helluva lot better. I trust these guys to get it right, maybe not this year, but we haven’t taken step back and that’s advancement as far as I’m concerned. RISE UP!

GeoffDawg

April 28th, 2011
3:43 pm

The only word “explosive” describes about that playoff loss is the diarrhea the Falcons put out on the field. If anybody can get them over the hump to the next level, it’s TD and MS.

LSeay81

April 28th, 2011
3:45 pm

Okay…Its one thing to act like you know everything, but then to just post something ridiculous…is well…ridiculous. To say the Falcons were not explosive is clearly someone only entertained by ground and pound SEC football. We had more last minute wins last year than any other team. The Ravens game? Not explosive? Beating those Taints in New Orleans? Beating Green Bay during the season at the last minute? Not explosive?? I had to watch that on a delay over the web in the Philippines and almost lost my mind as we ran that one in? We need help to finish this team and TD is the guy to do it. This team brings all the excitement you can want in a football team that, until that playoff game, brought it into the 4Q….

The Real Falcon

April 28th, 2011
3:47 pm

Clayborn: has the ability to be a very good starting defensive end in a 3-4 or 4-3 front and can play some defensive tackle in passing situations. Smart, instinctual player, especially against the run. Doesn’t stay blocked long and can stop the running game right at him. Uses his hands and power to take a direct route to the quarterback. Doesn’t possess elite quickness or top-end speed which limits his big-play ability rushing the passer, away from him in the running game, and in space. Clayborn could draw interest from several clubs due to his versatility. Probable first round pick.

GeoffDawg

April 28th, 2011
3:48 pm

Regarding the draft: I’m now hoping that Justin Houston will still be there after the first round pick.

Also, would love to move up for Julio Jones if he somehow falls out of the top 10. Otherwise, take advantage of the depth at DE and stay put.

JSS

April 28th, 2011
3:49 pm

@ Larry…
What’s up Himmler?

@ BugKiller…
Your boy screwed the pooch! You are just less than man not to admit that he did it… That he walked to the line after a timeout and surveyed the defense and STILL made that pass is criminal! Somebody convene a Grand Jury!

Peyton Manning is man enough to admit “he screwed the pooch!” But nooooooooooooooooooo, not the defender of Matthew Ryan… I guess all of that film study and those QB meeting just aren’t sinking in properly?

CT Falcons Fan

April 28th, 2011
3:50 pm

While the three consecutive winning seasons is unprecedented, this franchise has been in a similar situation before. Leeman Bennett made the playoffs in 3 out of 6 years (including actually winning a playoff game, as well as being the #1 seed), and was canned after the 3rd playoff appearance (the loss to Minnesota in the ‘82 playoffs) because the team couldn’t go to the next level. Similar team in that they had a highly drafted QB (Bartkowski) and other pieces (Andrews, Jenkins, Jackson) to build around, but an inconsistent defense. Of course, fast forward two decades to the Dan Reeves era, and you have a team in the early 2000s that was on the verge until Vick got hurt. My point is this: I wonder how long Blank gives the Smith/Dimitroff regime. I remember feeling like both Bennett and Reeves should’ve been given one more year (as Henning was in ‘86). I think this regime gets two more seasons to show progress (a playoff win and NFC title game appearance at a minimum).

The Grinch

April 28th, 2011
3:52 pm

Read the last Tuesday Morning QB on ESPN to get a pretty good opinion on that play (Easterbrook called it the worst play call of the season by any team and devoted a couple of paragraphs to it). Mularkey REALLY screwed that one up. Ryan compounded it by not calling an audible, but given the circumstances he was thrust into I have more faith that Ryan will learn from it and do better next time than I do Mularkey improving as a coordinator. At this point he is what he is, and that’s mediocre and predictable. Ryan’s still learning but has the brain to do it. I’d rather him make a couple of bad decisions now and be great later than watch Mularkey gradually turn him into Trent Dilfer.

JSS

April 28th, 2011
3:55 pm

Bobby Walden

April 28th, 2011
3:55 pm

The Falcons are a loser franchise. You’t think their 4 fans would be accustomed to it by now. Get set for major recidivism in 2011. And R-fur Blank can build his own new stadium with his own filthy lucre.

newkid

April 28th, 2011
3:58 pm

Sounds encouraging TD. Just don’t follow Rick Sund’s script. Rick Sund and the BASG get embarrassed by the Magic in the 2010 playoffs, and what does he do? Re-signs JJ to the richest off-season contract of all the free agents, trades away his pick at top of the 2nd round, then trades away his 1st round pick at the trade deadline. Go figure.

falconsrelax

April 28th, 2011
4:01 pm

Falcons got to calm down. In TD I trust….he knows what hes doing. 3 years ago we were the laughing stock. Now look at us, top organization in the league and winning season never seen before from us. Im happy, draft is just another step. Colts fans were saying the same stuff…peyton got demolished in the playoffs 40-0. Peyton didn’t win his first playoff game until 6 seasons in. Cant expect a SB every year. TD is building something special in ATL. He will do the right thing in the draft

The Grinch

April 28th, 2011
4:04 pm

Here’s the pertinent part (sorry for the length):

Sour Coaching of the Divisionals: Green Bay ahead 21-14, the host Falcons had the ball on the Packers’ 35 with 10 seconds remaining till intermission, out of timeouts. One reason for Atlanta’s string of successes in close games is that the Falcons have Matt Bryant, a strong-legged place-kicker who entered the contest 8-for-11 beyond 40 yards. The game is in a dome, which presents ideal kicking conditions. So let Bryant launch a kick. If it’s 21-17 at the half, Atlanta is in good shape, especially considering the fourth quarter is the Falcons’ best quarter.

That can’t be the offense about to run an extra play! With no timeouts, the play must go either to the sideline or to the end zone, anything else ends the half. Green Bay knows this! Calling cadence, Matt Ryan looked up and saw two Green Bay safeties standing on the goal line — meaning no hope of throwing into the end zone. He saw both Green Bay cornerbacks on the outside shoulders of their receivers, meaning no hope of throwing to the sideline. Because the Falcons had no timeouts, he couldn’t cancel the play and wave for the kicking team. Because it was a 52-yarder from the current spot, Ryan couldn’t take a delay-of-game penalty, which would’ve made the kick a 57-yarder. If he had this play to do over, surely Ryan would have snapped and thrown the ball away, stopping the clock to allow a 52-yard try. He didn’t think of that and instead ran the play the coaches radioed in, a quick out. Undrafted corner Tramon Williams — who made the 2010 TMQ All-Unwanted All-Pros — knew what was coming, cut in front of the receiver and returned the interception 70 yards for a touchdown with no time showing. Down 28-14 at the half, Atlanta was broken.

[+] EnlargeFalcons Cheerleader
AP Photo/John BazemoreOnly the cheerleaders performed as expected for Atlanta.

Green Bay knew exactly where the pass would go! The reason corners don’t cut in front of outs all the time is that they must defend the many other patterns the receiver might run. In this case, Williams didn’t have to honor any other pattern: he was certain the play would be an out. What a botched call by Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey! Perhaps Mularkey didn’t have his head in the game because he had spent part of the Falcons’ bye week interviewing for the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching vacancy. The Falcons didn’t show any formation or playcalling variation on offense, either. Mularkey was too busy, perhaps, with his résumé to compose an original game plan.

Who will be more successful in the NFL?

April 28th, 2011
4:06 pm

`
With 1,317 votes so far,

Tim Tebow leads Cam Newton 30% to 24%.
.

Avant23

April 28th, 2011
4:08 pm

falconsrelax——I agree. Let TD do his thing. He may not make the most glamorous picks in the world, but that’s not what wins championships. I trust his judgment

The Grinch

April 28th, 2011
4:12 pm

I trust TD too. He knows what he’s doing, and I expect whatever we miss out on in the draft will be acquired in free agency (I expect there will be a period of it, however brief). No way TD and Blank don’t make the extra push this year.

As for Tebow leading in votes…the baptists must be out in force today. I don’t care for Cam but he’s got a WAY better chance of NFL success than Tebow.

M10

April 28th, 2011
4:16 pm

I see no reason not to try to get one of the top 2 receivers in this draft.Our receiving corps need an upgrade at the # 2 slot.I think there going to be agressive on a free agent DE and take the best LB,DE or CB with the 27 pk if they dont trade up.

UGABugKiller

April 28th, 2011
4:17 pm

JSS,

See, here is where you and I really break.

I don’t believe Mike Smith lets Ryan have the power to change the play in that situation. Smith is as much as a control freak as ANY head coach, but unlike Belichick or Sean Payton, Smith is a play not to lose guy.

SMITH wanted the route at the sideline, not over the middle. BELIEVE that. And only an idiot like Mularkey calls for the QB to roll to the wrong side to make the throw across his body.

So no, I don’t believe Ryan was given permission by either his head coach or OC to change that play call.

THAT’S what I mean when I say if the Falcons ever want to win, they NEED to let Ryan loose. It’s a verifiable fact that the team moves the ball FAR better with Ryan, NOT Mularkey (or Smith) calling the plays.

2007

April 28th, 2011
4:30 pm

Thomas Dimitroff was a great hire for the Falcons,

but the last Super Bowl for the Patriots was lost

with one “explosive” play by the Giants.

ueeediot

April 28th, 2011
4:35 pm

Cam Newton comes into the league with Carolina and has a steep hill to climb playing against teams in the NFC south.
Cam will either immediately rise to the level of the competition, or will be exposed as having a work ethic similar to MV7.

I think Carolina makes a big mistake drafting him and should be building their defense, but they need to put butts in seats and Cam will do that.

The QB with the best chance to succeed is Blaine Gabbert IF he is selected by Arizona. Playing in the worst division in the NFC (and the NFL) will give Blaine a huge step up.

realfalconfan

April 28th, 2011
4:39 pm

T.D. ,I share the hangover of that loss!But i also know this team will learn and grow from the loss.I hope we can sign norwood and if healthy J.NORWOOD is a very explosive player,if we can’t resign him i hope we can replace his playmaking ability.GOOD LUCK FALCONS!GO TEAM.

JSS

April 28th, 2011
4:40 pm

You’re crazy, go back and read his (Smith’s) interviews with your protector D. Orlando Ledbetter), he has “full control in the 2 minute or no huddle offense.” He changed the play in the Ravens game that put them in the position to win that game. Ryan is supposedly so smart, you don’t make that throw.

Painful Truth...

April 28th, 2011
4:41 pm

Ok…lets stop pretending…This guy has been average at best when it comes to draft pics, and this fan base continues to show why folks around teh country laugh at us when it comes to sports…No one cares how good the regular season was if your QB is 0-2 with 2 funbles, 4 picks in teh playoffs… Success should be judged by the end results not just the regular season… Ask the folks in Clevland about that..They will tell youhow tired it was when the Cavs had teh best record adn got dumped in the playoffs…ATL is the only place thats ok with being ok…I am embarressed by my town… :(

MacDog

April 28th, 2011
4:43 pm

Do whatever you have to do to get AJ Green! He’s the next Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. Imagine having a potent running game, with having Roddy White, AJ Green, and Tony Gonzalez. We may score 40 points a game.

Trojan

April 28th, 2011
4:43 pm

Tebow may lead in the voting but Cam made more money his last year in college!