Call me a heretic, but I do still wonder about these Falcons

Maybe you found this amusing. I thought it a bit much. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Maybe you found this amusing. I thought it a bit much. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A few words of preemptive self-defense: I picked the Falcons to go 12-4 and win the NFC South; I undershot slightly on the first part — they finished the regular season 13-3 — but was correct on the latter. I also picked them to play for the NFC title, which I think will happen. I’m just not sure they’ll win the NFC title.

The loss to New Orleans bothered me a lot. Super Bowl appearances are often prefaced by big-time December victories, and on Dec. 27 the Falcons flubbed their chance. Many among you will say, “What’s the big deal? They’d already beaten the Saints once and only lost by a field goal the second time.” The big deal, I submit, was in the meek way the Falcons performed.

The Saints controlled the game. They outgained the home side by 153 yards and had nine more first downs. (Factoid: Four of Atlanta’s 14 first downs came on penalties.) By the time the Falcons made their second first down, they trailed 10-0. They allowed a visitor to enter the Georgia Dome and steal a march.

The twin pillars of  general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s grand design — and it has been grand — are “urgency” and “consistency.” The Falcons were the essence of neither that night. They rushed for 75 yards, and 26 came off Matt Ryan scrambles. They controlled neither line of scrimmage. They weren’t the hitter but the hittee.

In hindsight it has become locally fashionable to say the game meant more to the Saints than to the Falcons, who six days later would convert a second chance to clinch the division against Carolina, but that’s just wrong. The Falcons saw that Monday night game as the capstone of a shining regular season. Dimitroff himself was so antsy he left his Buckhead home that day to sequester himself in the team’s downtown hotel and apply his managerial game face.

True, the Falcons did grab a late lead on Chauncey Davis’ interception of Drew Brees’ silly flip — the Saints made two turnovers that night, same as the Falcons — but even that catalytic moment proved a fizzle. A subsequent interception by John Abraham brought the chance to clinch the game, and the Falcons managed only one first down. After New Orleans drove 90 yards to retake the lead, the Falcons gained 20 yards on a Ryan scramble but wound up punting inside the final three minutes. They wouldn’t run another play.

And now you’re saying, “Lighten up, Bradley. That night was an anomaly.” Er, no. The Falcons sustained similar losses in Pittsburgh on Opening Day and in Philadelphia in October. Both times the Falcons’ running game got stuffed, and both times the Falcons lost. Yes, they lost only three times and all three were against top-shelf competition, but that’s the point: In the playoffs, you’re only going to face the upper crust. (Seattle excluded, and the Seahawks won’t be around long.)

Will the Falcons reach the Super Bowl?

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My question about the Falcons all season hasn’t been their talent — on paper, this is a Super Bowl team — but their sense of self. Even after 13-3, I’m not sure the Falcons view the Lombardi Trophy as their manifest destiny, and the Gatorade baptisms of coach Mike Smith and owner Arthur Blank on Sunday only deepened my doubt. Can you imagine the Patriots giving Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft the same treatment after any regular-season victory, let alone one over the NFL’s worst team?

The Falcons are the NFC’s No. 1 seed on merit. They’ve been, in the main, consistent and attentive to detail. They’ve won games they might easily have lost. But after each of their losses I came away thinking they hadn’t just been outplayed but outfought. The first two were early and on the road, but the third was late and here. And that, frankly, was distressing.

Seven Falcons were named to the Pro Bowl, which tells us all we need to know about this team’s potential. That not one of the seven has played in a Super Bowl is the great imponderable. Full credit to these Birds for putting themselves in Position A to make a run to Arlington, Texas, but a different brand of football is now required. It’s time for even more urgency. It’s time, ahem, to Rise Up.

By Mark Bradley

366 comments Add your comment

rawdawg

January 5th, 2011
12:04 pm

rusty

January 5th, 2011
12:04 pm

bigdon

January 5th, 2011
12:06 pm

First! whatever that means to you idiots other than you don’t have a job and are sitting there waiting to tpye FIRST1111 Get a life. What does this mean?

Mark Bradley

January 5th, 2011
12:08 pm

rawdawg and rusty in a photo finish, but rawdawg wins the roses. And the kudos.

oh, well

January 5th, 2011
12:08 pm

Bradley,

my god, man. That’s 2 articles(sic) today, and 2 VERY negative headlines and stories about teams the people of Atlanta love.

Cheer up, Mark.

I REALLY feel the ajc needs to evaluate you and Schultz’s negative spins on EVERYTHING. The Braves sign a VERY good bat, and you bash it. The Falcons are the #1 seed in the NFC and you bash it.

MOVE AWAY!!!!!! We the people of the great State of Georgia are sick of hearing your negativity.

Carry on.

Mark Bradley

January 5th, 2011
12:09 pm

Come on, bigdon. Life’s too short.

aFan

January 5th, 2011
12:11 pm

Take it easy bigdon, Third place is not bad and I like how you posted two min after lol.

Frank Lane

January 5th, 2011
12:13 pm

I don’t think the Falcons have greatness in them this year.

Sonny Clusters

January 5th, 2011
12:14 pm

We agree about that Gatroade dumping being a bit premature. We remember the Braves dancing around everytime they finished first in the division and then losing to the wild card in five or six. Gatorade dumping should be reserved for something special. Clusters was always getting Gatorade poured on us for great plays and we was always saying, “hold that for when we are state championship.” Lo and behold, we got Gatorade all over us when we became state championship. Still, we was never wearing a suit like that one Arthur Blank had on. We was wondering what Mr Blank is going to do with that suit?

Paul H

January 5th, 2011
12:14 pm

Nonetheless – the Falcons are 20-2 at home and have faced and defeated top shelf competition during the stretch. The Falcons have what it takes to get it done and they will!

Daniel Weiss

January 5th, 2011
12:15 pm

Mark, I’m sure you would prefer us to play the Whitehurst led Seattle Seahawks to the Drew Brees led Saints. But which team do you think we match up better against between the Packers and Saints in the divisional round?

Mr. Phil

January 5th, 2011
12:15 pm

Failed to dominate either line of scrimmage? What game were you watching Bradley. I would say that if they did anything right that game, it was the defensive line domination. You know just when I have gotten into a flow of reading your column, you gotta go say something so insane. You do this everytime. I can’t keep going down this road with you. It’s over. I won’t be reading your cpoolumn for at least two weeks.

NoFriendOfGeaux

January 5th, 2011
12:16 pm

True that Mark. I feel the same way you do and I have all year. One need only look at the AJC poll as to who is going to the Superbowl to see that over 75% of respondents say the Falcons…even over the Patriots. You aren’t being negative you are being realistic. Thanks for speaking your mind and, unfortunately the truth!

NYfalcon

January 5th, 2011
12:17 pm

I agree with most of what you say Bradley, but let us not overlook that the defense arrived to the dome against that monday night. I can’t tell you which stadium the offense went to.

Jeremy Knipe

January 5th, 2011
12:17 pm

For the record, I would’ve typed first had I been first and I am at work filming a television show. Also, Am I may be the only seeing Seattle upset New Orleans but it’s going to happen.

Sean

January 5th, 2011
12:17 pm

Bradley often goes for the approach that looks negative, but more times than not, it ends up being right. Until this city’s teams gives us a reason to believe championships are a foregone conclusion once we qualify for a postseason, why should we talk like that?

Jeremy Knipe

January 5th, 2011
12:17 pm

Erase that AM from the sentence.

PreyDawg

January 5th, 2011
12:19 pm

This is terrible Mark. This is not the time or place for realism. How often have we had this kind of fun in this time of year in this fan base. You should join us. We dont need more wet blankets.

Plus, you are wrong.

falkor

January 5th, 2011
12:19 pm

Nothing wrong with a little self doubt, but there is no denying the gameplan against NO was extrememly vanilla, and I am not worried about facing them again.

WR

January 5th, 2011
12:20 pm

Mark, not to make excuses here BUT, NE is a regular contender, the Falcons and their gatorade bath your talking about are not, but they appear to be headed in that direction. A great regular season by NE does not signify greatness in that organization, but for Atlanta it does, as of right now. Sure the Falcons missed according to what fans want at the time, we want to beat the Saints badly and prove to the world how great the Falcons are, we lost, if the Falcons win the Superbowl who even will remember that lost. But for supposed journalist such as yourself, if the Falcons lose or for that matter don’t make it to the Superbowl, it gives you the I told you premise to report on, kind of like you bashing reporters from SI, ESPN, and wheresoever, but hey at least you sat yourself up to be in a win-win, grow a pair and take a stand, thats what the good reporters do. Believe or don’t believe, being skeptical I could understand, but nitpicking for a franchise not known for success is a joke. Funny how in the media world Atlanta fans are not seen as the most supportive fans, kinda of sounds like the media experts only acknowledge the thoughts of Atlanta’s so-called media experts, so do alot of fans, but not the true ones. Can you say bandwagon Mark, it should be common to you at this point.

wxwax

January 5th, 2011
12:21 pm

Please, please, please pick the Falcons to lose, Mark!

It will give me peace of mind that you’ve jinxed their opponents!

Chop Buster

January 5th, 2011
12:21 pm

I can’t argue with any of the points you’ve made. This team has moments of going into a lull and I don’t think you can blame the coaching staff for that. Some of the plays on the Monday night game–on offense and defense–were questionable calls. It’s like we have 15 plays scripted and when N.O. stopped this core plays we had no answer. We have other playmakers on this team besides Turner, White & Gonzalez, but they all seemed to be absent. My fear is we’ve won 13 games but all it takes is one loss in the playoffs to be one and done. Hopefully, they do go back to the drawing board and fix the mistakes they’ve been committing recently. Now is the time to step up and show everyone how bad you truly want that SB ring. Go Falcons!!!

Falcons Fan80

January 5th, 2011
12:21 pm

Bradley every playoff team has a loss they would like to erase.Even the mighty Patriots got hammered by the Browns.Quit nitpicking and get on the bandwagon!!!

Falconfever

January 5th, 2011
12:22 pm

Good article, MB…. as a long time fan I must admit to a little nervousness and then I remember the miracle at the Metrodome more than a decade ago and believe it can happen to us too…… On to Arlington!

Robert Barron

January 5th, 2011
12:22 pm

Good job Mark. You should be the Fed Chairman: Let some air out of the balloon so it won’t pop.

Germn

January 5th, 2011
12:22 pm

This 2010 team resembles the 01 Pats.

Larry

January 5th, 2011
12:24 pm

Mark,

I am a 20+ year season ticket holder, Atlanta native, and lifelong fan of the Falcons. I mention this because I want to make sure everyone knows that I am emotionally and financially invested in this team.

However…I agree with your apprehension.

There are reasons for so many expert doubters out there in TV land, and when honest, I must admit I have an element of doubt too has this team would handle a well coached Saints, Patriots or Pittsburgh in the playoffs. It could be because of the many near games end collapses and super close victories this season, ti could be because of the utterly ridiculous play calling at times by MM and the dumb decision of Coach Smith to punt of 4th and 6 with under 3 minutes and hoping to get the ball back from Drew Brees.

Whatever it is, there is an element of doubt in me that fears another heartbreak by either a dumb play call, poor anticipation by our coaches of the other teams game plan, or something else. I actually fear this more that any poor player performance as clearly what New Orleans did to minimize the impact of Turner, White, and Gonzalez the last game was as predictable as the sun coming up tomorrow morning. Yet, we were totally unprepared to counter this and just kept on plugging away.

We have to remember that our Head Coach is learning how to be a good decision maker in the playoffs too. Let’s hope his education, intelligence and decision making accelerates.

Even though many here will blast your honesty, thanks for the courage to be honest.

Hankie Aron

January 5th, 2011
12:25 pm

Mark- You had to pick a side. I do think you get more page views with this opinion though, right?

Cath

January 5th, 2011
12:26 pm

Yeah, I have to agree with…uh, Mr. Phil. The defense played their butts off against the Saints-I don’t know where you were, Mark, but from where I watched, the defense kept that game close. I will admit that Ryan didn’t seem to have his stuff. A totally lackluster offensive that night. And yeah, I’m concerned. They SHOULD have won. The fact that the Falcons didn’t beat the Saints-at HOME-when they had opportunities, makes me nervous. Very nervous for the playoffs.

Erik

January 5th, 2011
12:27 pm

Bigdon, Lighten up dude!!

Stop kidding yourself folks…They’re NOT going to the Superbowl.

NYfalcon

January 5th, 2011
12:27 pm

Falconfever….NO needed a miracle. I would like respectability.

Peter

January 5th, 2011
12:27 pm

It’s a lot easier to say “I told you so” if we don’t win the Super Bowl than it is to predict victory and say, “I knew we had something special from the start” when we win.

We didn’t control either line of scrimmage? Hittee? The Falcons haven’t brought pressure into the backfield like that all year.

Safe, negative, weak article. Why even post it?

PreyDawg

January 5th, 2011
12:28 pm

Again I am shocked that you are the reporter coming up with this. WR already made the correct point about the New England comparison. Apples and Oranges. they have contended for years. We are new at this.

But the part I find shocking from you is, you “get it” about what this franchise has been through more than any reporter out there. So now you totally discount that???

Doesnt it make sense that every once in a while that a team which has so valiantly fought its way off the mat with a 7 count might occasionally look around and say….GULP?

They wont do that again. Exhibit A is the Gatorade bath. The Gatorade bath purged Monday night. You are looking at it 180 degrees out of phase.

These guys were LIT UP in the locker room and focused at the same time.

I know you will be man enough to come back here and eat your crow when we wear the ring….and yes….I said we.

teamguy

January 5th, 2011
12:28 pm

Mr. Bradley, I somewhat share your doubts about this team. For one thing, I hear a lot about the Falcons being a power-running team, and frankly don’t agree. Every now and again Turner will run someone over, but more often than not he gets pushed backward. Secondly, I question whether the GA Dome equals a true homefield advantage. When that Monday night game started, it was loud and everyone on their feet. A few minutes into the game, it was relatively quiet. How many false starts have been created by the crowd noise this year? Not many, I’m sure. Then there’s the matter of this past Sunday. .we clinch the division, homefield thoughout the playoffs, yet nearly half the crowd was gone by the middle of the fourth quarter. Not much advantage there that I can see.

falkor

January 5th, 2011
12:28 pm

This team is very, very good; deserving of a number 1 seed; and has as good a chance as any NFC team of reaching the football.
Simple doesn’t sell, but simple is usually accurate!

chichi

January 5th, 2011
12:29 pm

NoFriendOfGeaux I agree with your assesment of Bradleys article WHAT GAME WHERE YOU WATCHING BRADLEY! If anything our D kept us in that game when our offense had sputtered. Really Bradley is an idiot the Saints lost there last three games before they won a superbowl and got blown out by Dallas that year in one of those games and lost to TB this year. A loss at the end of the year has no bearing on what we will do in the playoffs any of these teams minus the Seahawks can knock each other out. AJC get rid of Bradley he’s a retard, you dont gotta be a homer Bradley , at least watch the games before you right about them.

falkor

January 5th, 2011
12:30 pm

make that “reaching the superbowl”
duh

Et Tu?

January 5th, 2011
12:31 pm

The more I watch football, the greater the impression I get that coaching seems to be the deciding factor. If Smitty and crew can come up with the correct schemes, I think the Falcons have the personnel to execute said scheme and go deep into the playoffs.

NYfalcon

January 5th, 2011
12:32 pm

Since my first one didn’t post, I must make this point: The defense actually showed up monday night against the miracle Saints. As far as the offense I thought Greg Knapp had snuck back into the box with his playbook.

Big Al

January 5th, 2011
12:34 pm

Mark,
First off, I think the Falcons should have given Smith and Blank a gatorade bath after beating the Panthers. It clinched the best record in the NFC, homefield throughout the playoffs and the division championship. That is the first of each under the Smith/Dimitroff regime and should be celebrated as such, especially with a well deserved bye week looming. Comparing us to the Pats right now is pointless.

Second, we lost to a good Saints team in a close game. If we beat them, we would have to win 12 in a row to win the Super Bowl. Almost impossible. Sometimes a loss is a good thing, a source of regained focus (think ‘07 Pats). And you talk about big wins in December as a catalyst to a Super Bowl…… do you not remember the Saints crummy December last year before they won last years Super Bowl (1-3 I think)? This article is a waste.

Ramblinwreck83

January 5th, 2011
12:36 pm

Bradley,

You can throw away that loss to the Steelers b/c it was on opening day and in Pittsburgh but, the Eagles do scare me. The Saints aren’t as scary b/c Breese has been pretty average this year with his 22 INTs. The Falcons had about everything go wrong in that game except Davis’ pick 6. I glad they got that loss over with so they should be re-focused. Also, what’s wrong with dunking the head coach and owner. It’s a special thing to be a No.1 seed. Something the falcons hardly ever do. Your reference to Bill B. and Kraft don’t hold water. Do you remember when they weren’t the patriots they are today. Besides Bill B. is a grumpy person.

Mr. Accountability

January 5th, 2011
12:38 pm

“There is just something SPECIAL about these 2007 Falcons.”

- Mark Bradley

August 2007

Chop Buster

January 5th, 2011
12:39 pm

Mark, I can’t argue with anything you’ve said. Frankly, it concerns me that we have periodic lapses and seem to disappear in games–or become very conservative. That was all fine during the regular season, but we all know what happens with one loss in the playoffs. I hope Smitty is getting the team to clean up the poor tackling, lack of offensive creativeness, and going to the bend but don’t break defense after attacking three-fourths of the game. Afterall, we didn’t go 13-3, win the division and gain HF advantage throughout the playoffs to have let down now. Time to RISE UP Falcons!!!

Finch

January 5th, 2011
12:40 pm

The only teams in the NFC playoffs that the Falcons have not beaten this season are the Eagles and the Bears. I think they can take the Bears…little run game and erratic Quarterback. The Eagles loss was the only blowout this season, but the Falcons got caugt off guard with their game plan and fell far behind early. I don’t think they will be surprised twice. That said, they’re probably at least 50/50 to win the NFC. I think the bye week is huge because any opponent other than the Bears will be coming off a grueling stretch. Love to see the Saints come back to the Dome after a West coast playoff game and the loss to the Bucs.

Herschel Talker

January 5th, 2011
12:41 pm

MB:

Well said. I’m cautiously optimistic, but the offense was too timid in that NO, and that is concerning.

Can you please do a writeup on that farce of a press conference in Athens. It’s time you start lighting up Mark Richt like you do Paul Hewitt. We need some real leadership in Athens, and we need you to champion the cause.

HT

Ignernt

January 5th, 2011
12:44 pm

The fact that Atlanta was outgained by 153 and 9 first downs goes to show that either the Falcons defense came up with stops when they needed to, since it was only a three point loss. Or, Mark, are you now subscribing to the Trent Dilfer “Falcons Got Spanked by the Saints” school of thought?

jon

January 5th, 2011
12:44 pm

I’m already nervous! I don’t see the saints losing and i do see green bay shutting down mr.vick. Aaron Rodgers scares the hell out of me!

Boom Dizzle

January 5th, 2011
12:45 pm

Way to be a wet blanket Mark! This team has been getting disrespected all year considering they have been the # 1 seed the majority of year.

At one point in the season, it seemed like all of these anointed teams like Green Bay, Baltimore, etc were supposed to come in a stomp us and just about every time they left with a big fat L.

MaxxFalcon

January 5th, 2011
12:47 pm

Mark- The Saints needed that game more than we did, and it showed. We made some uncharacteristic mistakes and some bad turnovers, including Turner’s goal line fumble and McClure’s non-snap fumble, we missed sacks and dropped INTs and still had a chance to win that game. We peobably would not beat the Saints 3/3 times, so I’m glad that we lost that game, otherwise I don’t know if we’d beat them again if we saw them. It’s our turn for revenge, we will beat them if we see them again when it really counts. I’m not worried about the Falcons at all, everyone is doubting us, I think our Offense will be fine when it is all on the line and our Defense has turned into a force to be reckoned with, playing their best football as a unit, which is a very encouraging sign going into the playoffs. The Dome will be rocking like we’ve never seen before, and it will be very difficult for anyone to go in there and beat us

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