Let's not dwell on Sunday's loss to the 49ers. I realize that's easier said than done. It sounds melodramatic, but Sunday's loss is literally haunting my dreams. I'm avoiding all NFL-related television and radio broadcasts like the plague. The term "Harbowl" makes me want to simultaneously cry and punch someone, preferably Jim Harbaugh. I'm just being honest.
But, I can't deny what a special season this has been for the Falcons, and although we're all disappointed, to put it mildly, that the Falcons fell just short of the sheer poetry of Tony Gonzalez playing in his first Super Bowl, and his last game as a pro, on the home turf of our most bitter rival, we should always look back on this season fondly and with pride.
We have so many fond memories from this season. Who can forget Warren Sapp picking the Falcons to lose 41-0 to the Chiefs, and the Falcons coming out strong to defeat them on the road, or watching the Falcons pick off Peyton Manning three times in primetime? We'll remember the "experts" picking against the Falcons in week three, and Atlanta responding by dominating the Chargers in every phase of the game on the road. We'll remember the thrilling last-minute success at home against Carolina, and winning a tough one on the road against the eventual NFC East champs, the Redskins. Perhaps less fondly, we'll recall rolling our eyes and yelling things like, "Come on, IT'S OAKLAND," as the Falcons gutted out a win that should not have been so difficult. We'll all remember spending Atlanta's bye week reading stories and listening to reports on how the struggling Eagles were a lock to win in week 8 because of Andy Reid's record after a bye, and then watching the Falcons make liars out of everyone who picked against them.
We'll remember the halls of the Georgia Dome echoing with chants of "Eight and Oh!" following a primetime win against the Cowboys, and the aggravation of watching Matt Ryan throw five--count ‘em, five--interceptions against Arizona, and the hilarity of winning that game anyway. We'll remember the thrill of watching Atlanta's suspect run defense contain one of the better running backs in the NFL, Doug Martin, holding him to 50 yards as Atlanta wrapped up a close division win on the road. We'll never forget Atlanta's defense picking off Drew Brees five times, and how we laughed, because when Matt Ryan throws five picks in a game, the Falcons don't lose. Who could forget the Falcons shutting out the almighty New York Giants in the Georgia Dome after being almost universally picked to lose, again? Or Matt Ryan posting a quarterback rating of 142.6 for the second week in a row, on the road in Detroit?
We'll remember winning the NFC South, and finishing 13-3, and locking up the first seed in the NFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Who could forget that?
It wasn't all fun, that's for certain. We'll remember the aggravation of a four point loss to the dreaded Saints in New Orleans. We'll remember coming out flat against Carolina on the road, and that one isn't much fun to reminisce about at all. There was also that inexplicably poor performance at home against Tampa Bay, in which we watched John Abraham and Dunta Robinson go down with injuries, watched the rest of Atlanta's starters play the entire game, and saw the Falcons lose, anyway.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the season was watching the Falcons lock up the first playoff win of the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era. We won't soon forget the electricity of that playoff crowd, or the thrill of that last-minute win, and the pride we took in watching Matt Ryan execute that last drive flawlessly to set up the game-winning field goal, or the feeling that, if it comes down to a field goal attempt to win it, Matt Bryant's leg is completely trustworthy. I hope we never forget how it felt to stop holding our collective breath as time expired, as we realized that this team won a playoff game. Finally.
Sunday night's loss to the 49ers was also memorable--watching the Falcons dominate in the first half, again, and then blow that lead in the second half, again. Watching the game slip away. Being so close to that ultimate goal, and yet ultimately too far away. We'll never forget that photo of Tony Gonzalez sitting at his locker after the loss. We would like to be able to forget this game, and the outcome, but it's unlikely.
This Falcons team posted their fifth consecutive winning season, locked up their fourth playoff appearance in five years, got the proverbial playoff monkey off their backs, and they ended up just a few yards short of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. This is a team that has been built to be a perpetual contender, and the Falcons have evolved into precisely that. We will be discussing the future of this team a lot over the course of the offseason--the draft, free agency, how they can, and should, address the areas in which they fell short this season while also preserving their strengths--but for now, let's just appreciate the 2012 Falcons and this incredible, memorable season.