Today, The Future Is Bright For The Falcons

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15: Head Coach Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons is congratulated by Interim Head Coach Mel Tucker of the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Falcons exceeded expectations from the get-go under new coach Mike Smith, so Thomas Dimitroff's talk of building a winning team in three seasons kind of went by the wayside.

It happened naturally. When you go 10-6 11-5 with a rookie coach, a rookie quarterback and a rookie general manager, expectations are heightened. The Falcons faithful tolerated a 9-7 2009, rejoiced in a 13-3 2010 and were crushed when the Falcons were rolled over by the Packers in the playoffs last year.

At this point, the three year plan was over. Thomas Dimitroff was supposed to have build a roster that could contend for a Super Bowl, and the fans' patience collectively ran out. When the Falcons stumbled and bumbled to start the season—especially after a shortened yet hype-filled pre-season—it seemed like that plan had gone off the rails.

Yet viewed in the light of that plan, the decision to mortgage some serious draft picks for Julio Jones makes sense. The Falcons had built their contending roster and were now looking for playmakers to fill the last weak spots, to raise their game, to become something bigger and better than the run-heavy team they had become. They snagged Jones, a future thumper in Akeem Dent and an incredibly potent punter in Matt Bosher to try to take care of a few nagging weaknesses, and counted on the rest of the team growing.

Ultimately, it was probably the right move for a franchise confident in its three-year building effort. It's just taken time to work out.

Sitting at 9-5, the Falcons are playing better football now than they have all season.The growing pains that marked the early going appear to be gone—karate chop some wood, if you would—and the plan is on track.

It's not easy to build a winner in today's NFL. You can try to cash in all your chips for a one-year push, like the Eagles did this season, but that rarely works out. You can build an organization for the long haul, but it's incredibly difficult to win year-in and year-out without watching your performance dip at some point. The Colts and Patriots pulled it off for a long time, but a creaky, Peyton Manning-less roster is sucking out loud in Indianapolis right now.

The Falcons are trying to be one of those teams that has it both ways, and that's what makes this season so interesting. There's the bedrock foundation of the team from 2008 and earlier, many of whom are at least potentially playing their last season in an Atlanta uniform. Then there's the new guys, big names like Julio Jones and Ray Edwards, who are just starting their careers with the team and trying to bring that elusive explosiveness to the roster.

Anytime you attempt to make a big climb, there's stumbles along the way. I truly believe that the Falcons, for all their flaws, are heading for great things. Whether we remember this as a truly successful year or a stumbling block, this team will get there.

This is a team positioned to succeed now and tomorrow in a way few others in the NFL are. We're lucky that way.

That's my rambling, happy post for the day. Weigh in on the state of the Falcons.

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