(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.
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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