The Falcons can make the Super Bowl: Do they know that?

"Stand aside, striped lackey! I'm bound for glory!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"Stand aside, striped stripling! I'm bound for glory!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The bye week arrives at a propitious time. The Falcons are 5-2, owners of the NFC’s best record. (The Giants would likewise be 5-2 if they beat Dallas tonight.) They’ve done good work. They’re capable of better.

The bye week brings time to refocus and recalibrate. Everything the Falcons believed about themselves when they reported to training camp has been borne out: They are indeed a massively gifted team. We saw as much Sunday when the Bengals brought a bunch of brand-name players — Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson, Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Adam “Pacman” Jones — to the Dome. The Falcons built a three-touchdown lead, tossed it away and then surged backed ahead by two touchdowns.

And therein we bore witness to both the Falcons’ inherent potential and their one liability. They’re good enough to beat anybody, but sometimes they don’t seem to grasp how good they can be. Oh, they talk about it. They pay lip service. But I’m not yet sure that there pulses within this team the rock-solid belief — as opposed to the suspicion — that its manifest destiny is the Super Bowl.

New England bears that belief. Pittsburgh, too. But those teams have been there and won it all, and the Falcons have graced the game with the Roman numerals only once, and that was four coaches ago. The Falcons are 25-14 under Mike Smith but haven’t yet won a playoff game, losing at Phoenix in January 2009 as a road favorite. And for all the fine players imported by Thomas Dimitroff — Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Mike Peterson, Dunta Robinson — not one of them wears a Super Bowl ring.

And that’s really the only flaw I see. This offense is capable of great things. This defense is getting better as it goes. (Yeah, Palmer threw for 412 yards Sunday, but that can happen when a team gets that far behind.) My issue with the Falcons isn’t what they can do but in how often they do it. They played wall-to-wall in the signature overtime victory in New Orleans. They got away with a half-effort against San Francisco. They didn’t get away with it in Philadelphia.

To me, the game that still resonates was the opener in Pittsburgh. The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger and still carried themselves as if they expected to invent some way to win, which they did in overtime. The Falcons messed around and managed not to score a touchdown. Yes, the Steelers can play some D, but still … no TDs for the offense of Turner and Gonzalez and Roddy White and Matt Ryan? Seriously?

What needs to happen over the bye week is that these Falcons look both without and within. Check around the NFC and they won’t find one team with more talent. Those touted most in preseason — Dallas, Minnesota, Green Bay and New Orleans — have all wobbled. The Falcons have climbed to 5-2 and have already played their most difficult road games. They’re not just playing to win the NFC South; they’re playing for the No. 1 seed.

And that’s the reason for the look within. The Falcons have to say, “We’re doing this.” Not: “We can do this.” They already know, or at least have reason to suspect, they can. The test now is simply to do. No more slack Sundays. No more sluggish starts with a blocked punt thrown in. Only big-time professional football from here on, the kind the Steelers and the Patriots play as a matter of course.

This doesn’t mean the Falcons can’t lose another game. They probably will. (Baltimore at the Dome on Thursday night — tough duty.) What it means is that the belief/expectation needs to grow within the complex at 4400 Falcon Parkway that this is now the home office of a fully expectant champion.

Mike Smith has a Super Bowl ring from his days as a Baltimore assistant. He should pass it around and let his men assess its size and importance. Because these Falcons could all be wearing such a ring very soon. Their sin would be in waiting too long to grasp what’s at stake. This team is good enough to be playing in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 6, 2011. It absolutely is.

279 comments Add your comment

elvisaintdead

October 25th, 2010
9:09 am

MB, lay off the booze before posting. helps me, too.

ATLien

October 25th, 2010
9:14 am

very nice, MB. But I hope they don’t know it… sometimes ignorance is bliss (not to mention it keeps the focus on just the next game and keeps the pressure down)

lee

October 25th, 2010
9:16 am

any of you overpaid bozo’s have anything clever to say about deangelo hall today??? anybody??

hejustwenthome

October 25th, 2010
9:18 am

Wow, 1-2 against teams with winning records (easily should be 0-3), and they can make the Super Bowl? NFC is awful.

Senoramigo

October 25th, 2010
9:20 am

The falcons are one short, speedy slot guy from being a top 5 offense. Roddy White looks like a superstar!

Reid Adair

October 25th, 2010
9:21 am

Well said, Mark. I don’t know if a team can truly “know” something like that, though, until they have experienced it the first time. I doubt New England or Pittsburgh “knew” it before they went for the first time (with semblances of their current rosters).

TR

October 25th, 2010
9:25 am

If you think the NFC is awful hejustwenthome, take a gander at the AFC. Atrocious!

ATLien

October 25th, 2010
9:26 am

hejustwenthome: In case you didn’t realize, one team goes from the NFC. Therefore, by your logic, it’s even easier for the Falcons to go to SB since all they have to do is win an “awful” conference.

Falcons All Day

October 25th, 2010
9:27 am

@ lee
Why would we or the MB have anything to clever say about D hall? We know hes good, there is just something wrong going on between his ears.

ATLien

October 25th, 2010
9:27 am

I”m just glad to moron went all “First” on us!!!

ATLien

October 25th, 2010
9:28 am

“no” moron, that is

Jason

October 25th, 2010
9:28 am

Lee – I’m not overpaid, but the only thing you need to remember about DeAngelo’s performance is that it came against the Bears, a team that can’t protect their quarterback. Oh, and it also helps that the Bears’ quarterback is prone to interceptions and dumb plays.

It’s telling enough that DeAngelo hasn’t put stats like that up against anyone of significance. 4 INTs is a great game, but it doesn’t suddenly validate Hall’s career or put him on the road to Canton.

ATLien

October 25th, 2010
9:28 am

Lee has been waiting 2 years for that comment…

Falcons All Day

October 25th, 2010
9:30 am

Jason

October 25th, 2010
9:34 am

Well, no offense to Lee, but my gosh, if one game were all that mattered, then Kenny Britt is the greatest receiver in the history of the NFL…

WCJ

October 25th, 2010
9:36 am

MB, what team in the NFC stands in the way of the Falcons getting to the Super Bowl from your point of view?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley and ajc sports editor, Ron Smith . Ron Smith said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC: The Atlanta #Falcons can reach the Super Bowl, but do they know that? http://bit.ly/aqUzin [...]

Falcons All Day

October 25th, 2010
9:41 am

I believe the falcons can go 8-1 the rest of the way. Im only worried about is the Ravens. We will have to play a really good D on 4 days rest. As the weeks go by the Saints are becoming less of a threat.

The Grinch

October 25th, 2010
9:43 am

Not mentioned is that this team was without Weatherspoon, Robinson or DeCoud (and Coleman is a significant downgrade at safety) yesterday. Michael Jenkins has also been out all but one game. We were also raped by the officials on that early fuble recovery for a touchdown. After the bye if we’re at full strength and the confidence is high, good things will happen. This team doesn’t lose games the old fashioned Falcons way.

gdg73

October 25th, 2010
9:44 am

The NFC is there for the taking. The defense didn’t look that good in the second half. Much of that can be attributed to the team playing without 3 key starters (Robinson, Weatherspoon, and Decoud). Just look how good this offense is when Roddy is the go-to guy. He loosens up the opposing defense with his playmaking ability. Go to him early and often and watch this offense take off. I believe Mike Smith got up close and personal with Mularkey after last week’s offensive debacle. Even Roddy said on Sirius last night that they made a conserted effort to push the ball downfield. Me and other fans have been calling for Mularkey to lose the conservative playcalling and do just that. It finally sunk in and we put of almost 40 points. Get healthy during the bye week and continue to feed Roddy when we come back in two weeks. That along with solid defense will guarantee us the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage.

Josey Wales

October 25th, 2010
9:44 am

Has anyone seen “SeenThisB4″? Saints dismantled AT HOME by CLEVELAND. Yes, we have seen that Saints team B4.

Josey Wales

October 25th, 2010
9:46 am

Maybe the local media panel will now vote to enter DeAngelo Hall into our Ring of “Honor”.

norman

October 25th, 2010
9:55 am

Whoa, Bradley- First you predict UGA to beat Florida. Now, you are saying the Falcons are going to the Super Bowl! I can’t wait for your next prediction. The Braves are going to the World Series next year?

Arno

October 25th, 2010
9:56 am

16 – 1 at the dome is a pretty good identity.

Josh

October 25th, 2010
9:56 am

This team is finding ways to win NFL football games. If the offense plays the way we did today for the rest of the year and the D can get healthy and back to the form of weeks 1-5, then its going to be trouble for the rest of the NFC. We should get DR and Spoon back after the bye. Those 2 additions have made all the difference and it has showed the last 2 weeks.

I know its a little early but give us home field advantage in the playoffs, and we can be playing in the big dance.

[...] The Falcons can reach the Super Bowl, but do they know that? | Mark BradleyAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)This team is finding ways to win NFL football games. If the offense plays the way we did today for the rest of the year and the D can get healthy and back … [...]

AtlByrdsfan

October 25th, 2010
10:01 am

I was at game… Flying high in the rafters of the Dome, felt a little nauseated during the 3rd quarter on-slaught, but left a winner (the team)… That’s the life of a Falcons fan but I’ll take a ‘W’ anyday.

Roddy is beasting…! Unbelievable 1st TD catch… He was coming our way and I saw that Roddy didn’t look for the ball until the last 15 yards of it being in the air. Great agility in turning, locating the ball and making a wonderful bobbling catch. (It’s the reason I believe he bobbled the ball anyway.) Honorable mention… was the catch he pulled off his shoe tops plays before he fumbled, ARGH! Roddy must have deserved the raise he held out for last year; I would agree.

DEFEND THE DOME!!!!

hejustwenthome

October 25th, 2010
10:05 am

AFC awful, really? Pittsburgh, Jets, Ravens, Colts, Pats, easily better than any NFC team at the moment.

Don

October 25th, 2010
10:05 am

I am waiting for a Bradley 8 reason why the falcons won’t squander this lead any day now.

FrontRow

October 25th, 2010
10:10 am

4-4 on the road, 8-0 at home gets you in the tournament. The Ravens don’t scare me; they almost lost to an 0-fer team.

Falcons need 2 more on the road but the next 2 are at home….DEFEND THE DOME!

Kelvin

October 25th, 2010
10:12 am

Mark, I have been saying since the end of last season that the Falcons are going to the Super Bowl this year. This is a very good team. Some of the fans are slow to embrace this team because some of them ( a small but loud minority) are still stuck on Vick and refuse to embrace the White QB. That’s unfortunate, because Ryan is getting better each season and I think by the time his career is done he will have won multiple Super Bowl titles for the Falcons.

Crimedog

October 25th, 2010
10:12 am

The Falcons certainly have a better chance than the Crimedogs winning the SEC East.

hejustwenthome

October 25th, 2010
10:14 am

I’d still put Philly and GB ahead of ATL at this point. Watch out for the Redskins late in the season, McNabb and Shanahan will only get better.
Falcons are doing what they need to do to put themselves in a good position, but they need to go on the road against a top opponent and win. And don’t give me the Saints game, look at what Cleveland did to them yesterday. I’m just not sold on them after the Philly game. Lose close OK, but get blown out and your the best in the NFC?
But I will say this – Roddy White is one of the best receivers in the league if not the best. Where would the Falcons be without him.

lanier

October 25th, 2010
10:16 am

Dumbist blog ive ever read. There has got to be something better

Hammer This!

October 25th, 2010
10:20 am

Been reading the dictionary again, Mark? propitious

Athens Mike

October 25th, 2010
10:20 am

@Lee,

If you are referring to MB as overpaid, then you don’t know much about the newspaperin’ business.

Are you kidding?

October 25th, 2010
10:22 am

Lee are you trying to imply that we should have kept hall, and he is the top corner in the league? No one is arguing his talent, athletically he is one of the best players in the NFL. It is his mental game that is the problem; can you say NUT CASE!

PMC

October 25th, 2010
10:24 am

Man… Mark. Can we go one win without talking about the freaking superbowl?

Can they sure? They are as good as anyone in the NFC all around game to game. They STILL haven’t executed really well throughout a full game except for the Arizona win.

Yesterday was a great start for the offense can they build on that in the bye week? Can they get healthy on defense? This defense can stop the run, but they still tackle poorly at times and they can get absolutely torched in thier zone coverage if they don’t have everyone healthy. The pass rush is still very spotty. They have made strides this year already no doubt but let’s win the division first before talking about the game that comes at the end of the tournament.

I hope they can continue getting the ball to Roddy like they did yesterday. They are going to have to throw the ball to set up the run.

Johnny3Steps

October 25th, 2010
10:25 am

IF Matt Ryan and Turner take charge from now on………..we could make it. But I have seen no consistency yet in those two,so I would not get my pom poms out yet.

Ted M

October 25th, 2010
10:26 am

Finally they looked good. They haven’t looked good since week 2 against Arizona. That’s a long time.

Lets hope they keep it up.

Wanda

October 25th, 2010
10:27 am

FALCON’S SUPER BOWL BOUND!!!!!!

PMC

October 25th, 2010
10:28 am

I’m disapointed with the Philly loss but not crushed. I don’t think for a second that the Falcons can’t play them again and beat them in the playoffs especially if they can get home field advantage. That’s what the Falcons are playing for right now. Home field. They really need to keep winning and lock it down to have the best chance.

Dave

October 25th, 2010
10:29 am

@lanier – comment posting 101 – if you are going to call something “the dumbist”, you should really make sure you don’t make one of the “dumbest” spelling mistakes ever.

FrontRow

October 25th, 2010
10:30 am

Fans at the stadium need to learn a little more about backing the team:

1. Don’t do the wave when your team has the ball. Kudos to the AJC for not publishing a picture of that like they did after the AZ game.

2. The turnstiles are crowded at 12:55. Forego the last tailgate beer and get your tail in your seat.

3. Plenty of opportunity to get a beer in the 2nd quarter. There is no excuse for the stadium being half empty on the opening kickoff and during the (entire) 3rd quarter.

Naysayers want to point out the team’s shortcomings. The team is fine – the hometown fans are – at times – pathetic. If you want to stand in line and badmouth the team then just stay home or go to the mall with your wife.

Double Zero Eight

October 25th, 2010
10:30 am

They won’t make it unless the secondary improves. Kolb looked like a pro bowler and Palmer threw for over 400 yards. They will lose in the second round of the playoffs without considerable improvement in the secondary.

waynester

October 25th, 2010
10:30 am

MB and Kelvin
Wow, you guys are upbeat and positive–and I hope you’re right–but this team still has some major vulnerabilities. They’d better not start thinking they’re “all that” but follow Smith’s mantra of staying “humble but hungry”. We saw what the other kind of thinking got us in Philly. The coaches’ jobs just got a lot harder–trying to keep everybody grounded and out of trouble over the break. Don’t sleep on some of our future opponents, either. It’s not just the Ravens that we have to beware–Tampa is playing well, GB is still a force to be reckoned with and even Carolina plays good at home. I am convinced that we have the team to beat all our remaining regular-season foes IF we stay focused. C’mon Coaches…let’s fine tune this thing over the next 2 weeks and come out firing on all cylinders for a change!

Reality Bites

October 25th, 2010
10:31 am

As of right now, 32 teams can reach the SuperBowl, but do YOU know that?

Are you kidding?

October 25th, 2010
10:33 am

I agree that defensive injuries made this game closer than it should have been.

Did Arthur have a stern talking to Mularkey or what? Play-action on first down, unbelievable.

I believe that Coach Smith is the key to the rest of the season. He must walk the line between keeping the team excited and confident, and having a case of the Cowboys.

Impressive display by Roddy and the entire offense. Now they need to come back from the bye and play Tampa like they have something to lose.

Reality Bites

October 25th, 2010
10:35 am

Right now 32 teams can reach the Super Bowl, but do YOU know that?

One Nation Under educated

October 25th, 2010
10:35 am

Falcon Super Bowl, UGA beats Fla? Wow, Mark, the only pander bigger than that is the one in the Atl zoo. Sorry, but the big teams (Philly, Giants, etc) man-handle the small built teams like the Falcons. And its back to reality for the dogs. But we can dream for 5 days, I guess.