It’s not quite a “must-win” — last I checked, only Georgia has those — but Sunday night is mighty big for the folks headquartered in Flowery Branch. The Falcons spent the offseason trying to get past the egregious playoff loss to Green Bay, and now there’s another egregious loss to, ahem, process. And here, bang on cue, comes Michael Vick and his Dream Team.
In the attempt to explain how a No. 1 seed could lose 48-21 on its home field, some have suggested that the 2010 Falcons hadn’t beaten anybody en route to 13-3. Not true. They beat the Saints in the Superdome. They beat Tampa Bay, which finished 10-6, here and there. They beat the Ravens. Heck, they even beat the Packers. But the egg laid that Saturday night in January was of such dinosaurian magnitude as to make everything that came before seem suspect if not phony.
And then: 30-12 on Opening Day in Chicago, the offense managing zero touchdowns. To lose again wouldn’t ruin the Falcons’ season — the pros do play 16 games, let’s recall — but it would give wings to the notion that the Falcons, for all their purported talent, aren’t quite as good as we’d like to think. (I include myself in this. I picked them to go 12-4, but I didn’t have them losing to the Bears. I did, however, have them losing to Philadelphia.)
There’s no reason this shouldn’t be a championship-level team. It doesn’t have all the pieces — with free agency and the salary cap, no NFL team does — but it has just about as many as anybody else. What I questioned last season, and question still, is whether an organization that hasn’t won a Super Bowl can rightly see winning a Super Bowl as its manifest destiny. (I know, I know: There’s a first time for everything or else the Saints wouldn’t have seized the Lombardi Trophy two seasons ago.)
But hear me out. Of the big names on this roster, not one has been part of a Super Bowl victory. Matt Ryan and Roddy White and Curtis Lofton and Brent Grimes haven’t played in any other organization. Tony Gonzalez came from Kansas City, which hasn’t won a Super Bowl since Hank Stram and his offense of the ’70s. John Abraham came from the Jets, who haven’t won one since Joe Willie Namath. Michael Turner came from San Diego and Dunta Robinson from Houston and Ray Edwards from Minnesota, and those franchises have never worn an NFL crown.
Indeed, there are but two men on this roster who’ve been part of a Super Bowl winner — backup quarterback Chris Redman, who was a rookie when Baltimore won in 2000, and newly signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who was with the Colts when they won in 2006. Fifty-three Falcons, two rings.
And sometimes I wonder if that’s the only flaw in Thomas Dimitroff’s grand design. He has a ring from his days as a New England scout, and Mike Smith won a ring as a Baltimore assistant, but I wonder if there’s enough championship wisdom among players.
When Rick Sund arrived as the Hawks’ general manager, he and I had an extended conversation about the need, when a young team reaches a high level, to go add a James Posey. (Part of the Heat’s 2006 NBA title run, Posey had just helped the Celtics to the 2008 championship.) While stipulating that basketball and football are fundamentally different games, I wonder if it’s time — past time, even — for Dimitroff to find his James Posey.
The Falcons have become such a smooth-running operation that, when egregious losses occur, the knee-jerk response is to say things run too smoothly. I’m not sure this is true — the speak-no-evil Smith we hear in news conferences bears little resemblance to the impassioned Smitty on display behind closed doors — but it would be shame for a team of such precise design and surpassing talent not to realize how close it is to the big prize.
Beating Philly in Week 2 won’t give the Falcons a bye into Super Bowl XLVI. It would, however, hand the Falcons a compelling reason to believe. They could use one of those right about now.
By Mark Bradley