If you can win four seasons running and make the playoffs three times in four, you’re not far off. You’re not a team without talent or an organization without savvy. You are, as they say, in the mix.
The trouble with the Falcons is that, three times in four Januarys, they’ve played their worst game of that season (or very near) at the moment it mattered most and the watching world was paying rapt attention. Three times in four seasons they were eliminated by a team with a lesser record.
The Falcons have become, to invoke the British term, the NFL’s nearly men. They’ve almost made it. (Had the Falcons beaten Green Bay here in January 2011, they’d have won the Super Bowl.) They’ve gotten close enough to make you – well, maybe not you, but me for sure – think this time would be different, and to date it hasn’t been.
The offseason just past marked this franchise’s first real period of recalibration since Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and Michael Turner arrived in 2008. A staff of four years’ standing underwent major upheaval, and the message has been both sent and received: No longer will “nearly” be good enough.
The exhibition part of this massive season is about to begin, and I’m here at Ye Olde Dome to monitor developments. I’d be happy if you tagged along. And I thank you, as ever, in advance.
By Mark Bradley