I’ve been putting this entry off for a while now, and it’s time to get it off my chest.
The Atlanta Falcons are being unjustly disrespected heading into the 2012 NFL season. Both Warren Sapp and Vegas expect the Falcons to miss the playoffs this year, and a couple of Falcons players are mysteriously absent from the Top 100 Players of 2012 list.
Now, I know the thing fresh in everyone’s minds is the 24-2 shellacking at the hands of the New York Giants in the wildcard round of this past season’s playoffs.
And before that, the thing fresh in everyone’s minds was the 48-21 beatdown they received from the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the 2010 playoffs.
And I know the Falcons are 0-3 in the playoffs since the current regime took over in 2008.
I’m not trying to justify the Falcons’ seemingly inability to win a playoff game; instead, I want to shed a little perspective.
Since 2008 when Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith were named general manager and head coach respectively, the Falcons have posted a 43-21 record, easily one of the best records in the league for that time span. The Falcons have had four consecutive winning seasons in a row – a ridiculously impressive feat for a franchise that had never posted back-to-back winning seasons until 2009.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is 43-19 since he was drafted by the Falcons in 2008 and named the day-one starter. He has only missed two games in his career. Both games were in 2009 when he suffered a turf toe injury. However, Ryan returned early from the injury and led the Falcons to three straight wins, good for a 9-7 record on the season. Although the Falcons missed the playoffs (the only time they’ve done so under the current regime), the winning record effectively removed the “no back-to-back winning seasons” monkey from the franchise’s back.
Last year, Ryan was ranked 52nd on the Top Players of 2011 list. This year, Ryan won’t make the list. There’s no doubt the reason is because of the stinker in this past year’s playoffs. Should Ryan be ranked as high as he was last year? Not quite, but he absolutely should be on the list. Quarterback Tim Tebow was ranked 95th and fullback John Kuhn was ranked 92nd – are we really supposed to believe Matt Ryan isn’t at least the 92nd best player in the league? There’s just no justification for that.
Of course, because the Falcons played so horribly versus the Giants, the disrespect extend to other players. Rookie wide receiver Julio Jones had a spectacular rookie campaign, yet he’s absent from the list. Again, you can’t convince me Jones isn’t better than Tebow or Kuhn. Tight end Tony Gonzalez had a much better season this year than he did in 2010, yet he dropped seven spots from 46th to 53rd. Wide receiver Roddy White plummeted from 24th to 65th, but he did lead the league in drops, so there’s at least a bit of justification there.
Is the success the Falcons have had in the regular season negated by the fact they’ve yet to win a playoff game? No, but unfortunately, that’s how a lot of people see it. The fact that the Falcons’ playoff opponents (Arizona Cardinals in 2008, Packers in 2010, Giants in 2011) have all gone to the Super Bowl should count for something, but it doesn’t. In order for Ryan and the Falcons to garner the respect they undoubtedly deserve, they have to have some postseason success. Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com outlines exactly why it’s absurd to assert Ryan or the Falcons aren’t good because they’ve yet to secure that elusive playoff victory.
Despite the fact that winning in the playoffs is difficult, it’s how teams are judged. They said quarterback Peyton Manning couldn’t win in the playoffs. They said ex-head coach Tony Dungy couldn’t win in the playoffs. They said quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn’t win in the playoffs after he lost in his first playoff appearance. They’re saying these things about the Falcons.
The moves the Falcons made this past offseason – hiring defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, hiring offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, and trading for cornerback Asante Samuel – are all moves that undeniably made the team better. Furthermore, I’m certain these moves will eliminate any doubt of the Falcons being able to win in the playoffs.