TheDirtyWordII Posted January 10, 2012 Share Posted January 10, 2012 I didn’t want to post right after Sunday’s devastating loss if only because the sheer anger and disappointment for what felt like a lost season was too palpable. It’s easy to go off half-cocked when emotions are running high. I pride myself on being pragmatic as it relates to my view on the Falcons and Sunday at 4:15 was not a time to exercise pragmatism.48 hours later though, with the loss having reverberated sufficiently enough throughout the fanbase and having time to reflect with a bit more calm, my thoughts on Sunday and the season seem clearer.If you take the real long view, the one that looks at the Falcons organization since its inception in 1966, it’s simply impossible to view the last 4 years as anything other than a step forward. Coming off the 2007 debacle, if someone had asked “would you take a 43-21 regular season record but an 0-3 playoff record” on the day Mike Smith was hired…I think it’s safe to say most of us would have jumped on board. But expectations don’t work that way. They get re-adjusted depending on intermittent success and/or failure. For the Falcons, that re-adjustment has resulted in expectations that are either achieved or fallen short of in January. It’s an enviable place to be, a place that only 10 or so other NFL franchise can claim to be and as such, is a testimonial to just how far the Falcons have come in a relatively short period of time.But Sunday’s 24-2 drubbing also demonstrated just how far the Falcons have to go as well and it would be tough to argue that if you were to evaluate where the Falcons stand today on the NFL hierarchy versus where they stood at the end of the 2008 season when an improbable franchise resuscitation resulted in a 7 game improvement, that the 2011 Falcons presented more hope and a more realistic outlook of reaching the ultimate goal of a SB Championship than that team.As the first half wound down and the Falcons inexplicably decided to sit on the ball with 68 second and 3 TO’s remaining, I thought about how teams and seasons are defined. About what the difference is between building the identity of a teams season versus its holistic identity and a group of individuals coming together as an organization. I thought about how in 2008, the Falcons behind a truck of an RB in Michael Turner seemed to dare teams to stop their ground attack which would pulverize opponents into submission. That aura seemed to carry itself prominently into following seasons. On 4th down conversions in the 2008-2010 seasons, the Falcons converted 33 of 51, a gaudy 65% success rate. But with rapidly diminishing Michael Turner, that percentage dropped to 31% in 2011…and in the biggest moments of the Falcons 2011 season – the Falcons came up woefully short, not only against the Giants but the New Orleans Saints too in a moment that swung the balance of power in the NFL South back to the hated Saints. It represented a loss of identity, a loss that left the Falcons searching for another one. It was as clear a demonstration as to why franchises no longer build their long term futures on their running games. The shelf lives are too short.From the day Drew Brees arrived in New Orelans, they have been about him. Everything they do is based on the foundation of his abilities and leadership. It is not to say that they expect him to be their everything. 2010 proved that without a semblance of running attack that Brees too has his limitations. But make no mistake – he is the heart, soul and body of that franchise. With Brees at the center of the Saints universe, the attack mindset is at the surface of everything the Saints do. How they plan, how they execute…on both sides of the ball. Nothing exemplified this more than when the stakes were perhaps at their highest, an onside kick to begin the second half of the Super Bowl when they were trailing 10-6. And while Brees is the unquestioned center of the Saints universe which preaches attack at all times, that the singular moment that defines them is one in which Brees had no influence. The Saints took on the personality of the man who defines them. It showed that every Saint had a bit of Drew Brees inside of them and were better players and a better team because of that. I mean this year on MNF, Payton & Brees allowed their pre-game game plan review session to be recorded as if to say ‘set your TIVO’s NFL, it still don’t matter’. When the Falcons introduce their offensive starters, Matt Ryan is either announced 2nd or 3rd to last. When an unnamed Falcon said “someone’s got to talk to coach Mike about these conservative game plans”, which someone do you think that unnamed Falcon was referring to? And do you think he might have been insinuating that such a conversation has yet to occur?The main question that faces the Falcons this off-season is this. Who are they? The stat was listed in the AJC…in games where Matt Ryan had 40+ attempts, the Falcons were 1-7. Drew Brees puts up the ball up 41 times on average/game. Perhaps it’s the benefit of experience. Brees relishes his role as franchise centerpiece and heartbeat. He came to New Orleans having just turned 27…his career essentially hanging in the balance coming off a significant shoulder injury. This was not the first time Brees had to deal with his career hanging in the balance…in 2004, the Chargers drafted his replacement in Philip Rivers. Having questionably performed up until then, he was famously on a leash that was as short as one half of football, Brees hung on to the starting QB job for 2 years before relinquishing it. Every leader is different. Tom Brady is not the fire and brimstone personality that Brees is – preferring a more measured approach and public cadence. But make no mistake…he serves the same role in New England. The Indianapolis Colts? We see what happened when their unquestioned leader could no longer play. Green Bay? Brett who…? Sure this is the elite level of leadership and quarterbacking the NFL has to offer, but this is also the level at which Ryan supposedly has been anointed by the Falcons to attain. While progress from a statistical measure was made by Ryan in 2011, he seemingly never came up smaller in big moments than he did this past year. Why does it seem that the mantra of Ryan needing the running game to succeed before he can hasn't changed since he was a rookie? Against the lesser lights of the NFL - this actually is no longer the case. But Ryan cannot build a viable legacy on tune-up fights.Is Ryan solely to blame…? He certainly has some culpability, but you cannot help but think that the Falcons still have yet to become HIS team. Ryan will be 27 next season, the same age Brees was when he joined the Saints. Perhaps for the first time in his own NFL career, Ryan’s legacy now hangs in the balance. No longer is he viewed as the boy wonder who somehow managed to buck conventional wisdom and become a productive playoff qualifying rookie QB. Heck, 2nd round picks are now doing that (Andy Dalton). Now he’s viewed as the guy who come January turns to Matty Ice Cold. Fair or not, that perception is indisputable.It’s not about work ethic for Ryan. We all know that this is not an area he falls short in. He’ll put in the time whether it be alone, or with his receivers or during OTA’s to try and be the best player possible. But what’s tougher to ascertain is whether such an investment of time will pay off in a better leader and franchise centerpiece. One can be anointed as such, but to truly become one means not having to be anointed. Sean Payton may have wanted Drew Brees to be his…but Brees had to become that on his own.The Falcons didn’t lose 24-2 solely because of Matt Ryan. Breakdowns occurred in almost every facet of the game for the Falcons on Sunday. But ask yourself this question. Does everyone on the Falcons have a piece of Matt Ryan inside them like the Saints do with Brees? And if so…is that a good thing? Do the Falcons want to be about Matt Ryan? Defined by him? Are they now, and if so, what does that say about them?These are all questions that need to be seriously contemplated this off-season, not to mention issues regarding personnel at key position starting with OL & RB and coordinator change(s). A week ago, I was prepared to keep Mularkey. Amazing how a completely inept playoff performance can make one do a 180.This is the first precipice of the Matt Ryan’s career and essentially the entire Falcons franchise perhaps not only under this administration, but future ones if success does not come in the form of at the very least playoff success. It’s a precipice that is going to require and demand brutally honest introspection, individually and collectively. It may even require an instinct like self-preservation to be put aside. But what can’t be accepted any longer is a continuation of a process started 4 years ago. While Smith & Co. no longer refer to it as that, it still seems part of an unspoken vernacular as if this 4 year period has been a steady march toward an ultimate goal. That can no longer be sold. VanGorder is gone…Mularkey may be too. Other questions? Have we seen the last of Michael Turner in the Falcon uniform? Can the Falcons build an elite offense by targeting Roddy White 180 times/season? How drastically does the composition of the O-Line need to be modified? Why could we never get off the field on 3rd downs even in 10+ yard situations? Each off-season seems to bring a longer list of questions, questions that seem less and less superficial. But the biggest of them all will be this one. Whither Matt Ryan? Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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