Have you ever woken up from a heavy night at the bar and found a random girl’s phone number written on a scrap of paper in your pocket? I am dating myself here, as anyone under 30 has never been out drinking without a smartphone, but anyhow, you call the girl up and she sounds hot enough over the phone so you arrange to hook up for dinner.
You arrive to the restaurant for your pseudo-blind date and realize that yes indeed, perhaps you should have passed on those last three shots of Jägermeister.
This is how Atlanta Falcons fans feel 10 weeks into the season as clearly all pre-season Super Bowl aspirations were viewed with the assistance of beer goggles.
One Year Ago
The Falcons had just lost their first game of the 2012 campaign in a tight 31-27 contest against the Saints at the Superdome. The loss dropped the team to (8-1). Atlanta went on to finish the season with a stellar (13-3) record and enjoyed a first round bye and home field advantage in the playoffs.
Heading into the post-season critics pointed at Atlanta’s cruisey schedule and predicted that they wouldn’t go deep into the playoffs. They were seen as an incomplete team, despite their successes in the win column. Funnily enough, however, nobody seemed to notice that four other playoff teams had easier schedules (49ers, Packers, Patriots, Texans).
At any rate, the Falcons beat the Seahawks on a last second field goal in the divisional round to advance to the NFC Championship where they blew a 17-0 lead to the 49ers and had their Super Bowl hopes dashed in a 28-24 defeat.
The Final Piece Of The Puzzle Is Added
During the off-season much ado was made about the free agent signing of Steven Jackson who had rushed for 1,000+ yards in 8 straight seasons for the Rams.
The bruising back was meant to be the final piece to the puzzle that would push the Falcons over the top and into the big dance. A consistent rushing threat would be the perfect complement to Matt Ryan and the high-flying Falcon offense that boasted perhaps the best 1-2 WR tandem in Julio Jones and Roddy White, with the additional threat of future Hall-of-Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
What A Difference A Year Makes
Last Sunday Atlanta was manhandled 33-10 by Seattle in the much anticipated playoff rematch. But let’s face it, most all of the hype and excitement leading up to the game had fizzled long before the Seahawks returned to the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons were (2-6) heading into kick-off, and the only reason anyone gave them any chance at all was because the Seahawks were coming off a trio of underperforming close wins against far inferior teams.
So What Went Wrong In Atlanta?
It’s easy to play the injury card as Sean Weatherspoon and Asante Samuel have missed significant playing time on the defensive side of the ball, and offensive playmakers Roddy White and Steven Jackson have been on and off the field. To add more fuel to the fire, star receiver Julio Jones was lost for the season.
But championship caliber teams don’t tank to (2-7) because they’re missing a few key players. Championship teams find a way to win and have a next-man-up culture in the locker room that keeps the club competitive no matter who’s on the field.
This is the NFL, with many of the world’s biggest, fastest, and strongest men beating the crap out of each other week in and week out. Every team loses players to injury, so this excuse only carries so much weight.
One thing is for certain. Other than striking first-round gold with Julio Jones, the Falcons draft success has been pretty abysmal over the past few seasons. In a league where the average career is 3.3 seasons, it is imperative that teams constantly cycle in young blood and get new players up to speed and NFL ready.
Additionally, salary cap restrictions prohibit teams from stockpiling too much of their talent for too long. You’ve got to be looking to improve each and every season, no matter how good you are, because in the NFL the difference between first and worst is just a few bad front-office decisions away. While Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez have been difference makers, we are starting to see the aftermath of giving away so many quality draft picks for two position players.
The real question that we need to be asking ourselves about the Falcons at this point is not whether or not they can turn this season around (clearly the answer is no), but how far down the rabbit hole will they flounder? Is this the end of Mike Smith’s success in Atlanta, or will the Falcons rebound in 2014 and return to contention?