The Falcons tell us how that just making the playoffs isn’t good enough any more. So you wonder why they played one of their worst games ever under coach Mike Smith — Monday’s 45-16 loss at New Orleans — the night after they had clinched a postseason berth?
But let’s move on. The Falcons play their final regular season game against Tampa Bay Sunday. The game may or may not their impact playoff seeding and match-up. Nobody’s expecting an overly festive atmosphere in the Georgia Dome for the season’s final home game. (The only way the Falcons could host another game would be as a No. 5 seed if they faced No. 6 Detroit for the NFC championship. Not likely.)
For all of the regular season success under Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and quarterback Matt Ryan, the team has whiffed in the postseason. They’re 42-21 in four regular seasons, but 0-2 so far in the postseason.
So what qualifies as success this season? Here are the choices:
• Achievement: Making the playoffs. Breakdown: The Falcons are there for the third time in four years, which is unprecedented in franchise history. But the bar was supposed to be raised. Conclusion: Not good enough.
• Achievement: Win one game: Breakdown: This would be an improvement over the last two years. It would mean the Falcons had beaten New Orleans, New York, Dallas or San Francisco. There are varying degrees of difficulty in those games. But what should be kept in mind is: What was the expectation level before the season? Conclusion: Better, but still not good enough.
• Achievement: Win two games: Breakdown: This could be as difficult as beating the NFC’s two best teams, New Orleans and Green Bay, on the road. The easier end of the spectrum would be finishing as a No. 5 seed and Detroit upsetting New Orleans, which would mean the Falcons would need to only defeat the NFC East champion (New York or Dallas) and San Francisco. Still, it would be impressive. Conclusion: Winning two road playoff games, regardless of the opponents, would qualify as success.
• Achievement: Get to the Super Bowl: Breakdown: For this to happen, the Falcons would need to be far more physical and consistent than they’ve been this season. There has been no indication that is going to happen, but we’ve seen strange postseason developments before. Conclusion: Definitely something worth celebrating.
• Achievement: Win the Super Bowl: Breakdown: Honestly, if the Falcons can winning three NFC road playoff games, beating New England, Pittsburgh or any AFC opponent on a neutral field wouldn’t seem as daunting. Conclusion: Duh.
Those are my thoughts. What are yours? What do you believe qualifies as a successful season?
The poll is up and the floor is yours.
By Jeff Schultz