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Atlanta Falcons preview: Team wants more than just another winning record


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ATLANTA — Mike Smith believes the foundation for the 2010 version of the Atlanta Falcons was set in the closing weeks of last season.

The Falcons, coming off an 11-5 playoff season in Smith’s first year as head coach, were 6-7 and already out of the playoff hunt when they put together three straight wins to close the season.

The stretch included road wins at the New York Jets and Tampa Bay. The win over the Buccaneers on Jan. 3, gave the Falcons a 9-7 final record for their first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.

“I told our guys this was not the last game in 2009 season, it was the first game for the 2010 season,” Smith said, remembering his pep talk to his team before the game in Tampa Bay. “It was, in the calendar year, 2010 and we needed to start 2010 off in the right fashion.

“It got us over the hump in terms of back-to-back winning seasons. But with that being said, we were very, very disappointed with the final results of the season last year just because our internal goals were much, much higher than just having a winning season.”

The higher goals have carried over into the third season for Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and quarterback Matt Ryan. Clearly, anything short of a return to the playoffs will be a disappointment.

Just ask owner Arthur Blank, who said he was excited about the long-awaited consecutive winning seasons but now is looking for more.

“Now, I’m excited about rings,” Blank said.

If their defense improves, the Falcons may have enough talent and balance on offense to challenge the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

Running back Michael Turner lost about 15 pounds and said he is back at his listed weight of 244. He missed five of the final seven games last season with an ankle injury but looks healthy and quicker in training camp. Turner was most effective as a straight-ahead runner last year, but he has turned the corner on outside runs in camp.

Turner finished second in the NFL in 2008 with 1,699 yards rushing and set a team record with 17 touchdowns. He had 871 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns last year.

“I think Michael came into this offseason with the mindset that, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be a one-year wonder; I’m going to be a very productive running back and a very productive player for a very long time in this league,’” Smith said.

Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez each had more than 80 catches last year.

Ryan’s season was a disappointment as his 58.3 completion percentage ranked only 23rd in the league. He missed two games with a toe injury and finished with 2,916 passing yards, 22 TDs and 14 interceptions.

There are other stars on the offense, but Ryan remains the key.

“We’re in year three of the process, so we should advance what we want to do,” Smith said. “Of course, the quarterback is the guy who runs the offense. Matt has gotten to a point where we feel very, very comfortable with what we’ve done so far, and we plan on adding things this season.”

Edited by falcon057
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