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Falcons’ fortunes change in 11 seconds


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Falcons’ fortunes change in 11 seconds

By Mark Bradley | Monday, October 13, 2008, 02:53 PM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Eleven seconds changed everything. Eleven seconds took us from seeing the Falcons as we thought they’d be to assessing them for what they’ve become, and what they’ve become is a team with:

• The leading candidate for offensive rookie of the year;

• A strong candidate for coach of the year;

• A should-be lock for executive of the year.

What they’ve become is a franchise that, in the course of 11 seconds, distanced itself from an inglorious past and took real strides into the future. In those 11 seconds these Falcons began to validate everything that has happened these past 10 months, and the key thing was that one smallish rookie general manager made one humongous choice.

Said Thomas Dimitroff: “It’s funny, but I was just thinking: ‘Can you imagine if we’d been watching Matt throw one of these games for somebody else?’ “

Today we can’t, but there was a time when the loudest voices insisted the Falcons had to draft Glenn Dorsey or be relegated to that special circle of oblivion occupied by the Trail Blazers, who took Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, or our own Hawks, who didn’t grab Chris Paul. What those voices never grasped was that this is the NFL, where everything starts with the quarterback.

As Jimmy Johnson once said of Troy Aikman, “He’s the guy who can sink the 8-ball on the break.” The Falcons have been favored in only one game but have won four times because they have a quarterback who has that game-changing capacity.

As well as the Falcons played Sunday, they’d have lost if the rookie hadn’t made the one throw he had to make. Had Ryan taken four steps (as opposed to five) in dropping back, Michael Jenkins wouldn’t have gained the requisite yardage. Had Ryan flinched, time would have expired. Instead he delivered on cue in the face of a rush and loosed as pretty a ball as any quarterback has ever thrown at such a pressurized moment.

“As a former defensive coordinator,” Smith said, “I know how it is to have to defense a quarterback. I know how many sleepless nights you have.”

Ryan gives the Falcons a chance in every game now, a chance they wouldn’t have had if they’d opted for a defensive tackle. This much-lampooned offensive line didn’t yield a sack against the ravenous Bears, and who could have imagined that? Said Dimitroff: “There’s a nice unity between the offensive line and Matt.”

It all starts with Ryan, but it’s not just Ryan. Dimitroff again: “Any successful team I’ve ever been around and any successful team Mike Smith has ever been around has been built around the team concept. It’s not just big plays being made by one player.”

On the day of the most dramatic escape of Arthur Blank’s ownership, the reference was pointed. Before Sunday, the most exhilarating victory under Blank was the overtime game against Minnesota, in which Michael Vick gained 173 yards rushing and 173 passing. But that was one player making all the plays. Now it’s Ryan throwing and Roddy White catching and Michael Turner rumbling and even Jamaal Anderson sacking.

This isn’t to say Dimitroff’s team is fully formed. But these Falcons have already won more than many outlets projected, and they’re getting better as they go. “In any process, you don’t know how long it’s going to take,” Smith said. And then: “We have accelerated some of our milestones.”

Sunday was the biggest yet, bigger even than winning at Lambeau Field. Eleven seconds to show what coaching means and what a quarterback can do. Eleven seconds to turn 3-3 into 4-2 and to have a team whose watchword is “process” begin to ponder another powerful word, one that also begins with a “p.”

Playoffs.

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