The post-Super Bowl NFL power rankings are out, as well as the odds for Super Bowl contenders for the coming NFL season, and very few Falcons fans will be surprised to learn that the Falcons, as per usual, are not inspiring a lot of confidence in the people who come up with these lists.
After the loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinkas wrote an article lamenting the "same old Falcons." It's understandable why he would take this approach--don't you just hate it when the Falcons lose the NFC Championship Game by four points all the time? And how many times have we rolled our eyes as Matt Ryan tries valiantly to finish a game with a painful shoulder injury? And, losing close playoff games is basically what the Falcons are known for--it's not like they've ever lost a playoff game 24-2 to the Giants, or lost 48-21 to the Packers, or anything. They're always losing those close NFC Championship Games. Ugh, same old Falcons.
Perhaps I should have used the sarcasm font on that entire paragraph.
Yasinkas, to be fair, was speaking in broader terms about the "same old Falcons." What he intended to convey was, this team, yet again, had the opportunity for success in the postseason and failed to convert it into a Super Bowl appearance. The Falcons, for a second consecutive week, blew a comfortable lead, and weren't able to get back on top that time. That's all valid, and true, and frustrating. It's also the basis for the lack of respect the Falcons inspire in analysts and talking heads. It is not necessarily an entirely fair or objective basis, however.
For one thing, the Falcons did a lot of things this season to separate themselves from that "same old Falcons" stereotype. First and foremost--they won a playoff game, against a very good, very complete Seahawks team. Beating the Seahawks proved they weren't the "same old Falcons." Losing a close game to the 49ers wasn't something the "same old Falcons" would have been capable of, either. What the "same old Falcons" were known for was imploding in the playoffs, and one cannot objectively categorize what the Falcons did this postseason as an implosion.
Many analysts picked Seattle to win in the Georgia Dome in the divisional round, partly because the Seahawks are a solid team, but mostly because the "same old Falcons" had not yet succeeded in the playoffs, and thus were sentenced to a lifetime of playoff failure by sports media types. It's illogical, and it's lazy analysis, and they were wrong.
And, many analysts picked the 49ers to win in the Georgia Dome in the NFC Championship, because of all of the same reasons that they picked Seattle to win the week before. They were right that time, but the "same old Falcons" were so close to proving them wrong. If Harry Douglas doesn't fall down, if the refs actually call the egregious defensive holding call on 4th down (oh, the irony, Niners fans), if Matt Ryan doesn't fumble...there are so many little things about that game that, had they gone differently, instead of this article, I could be writing a recap of a Super Bowl parade in downtown Atlanta.
The point is, these are not the "same old Falcons." They had barely any rushing game, and a lackluster pass rush, and some very real issues with tackling, and several other flaws, and they finished the regular season 13-3 and very nearly won the NFC Championship Game. If we, as fans, are aware of these flaws and weaknesses, and the personnel needed to address them, we can assume that Thomas Dimitroff is on top of it. If we are devastated by how close the Falcons came, we can assume that the Falcons, at every level of the organization, are more devastated, and more motivated for next season.
Pete Prisco at CBSSports.com has the Falcons listed at 4th on his end-of-season power rankings. Prisco is one of the few analysts who is pretty objective about the Falcons, in that he bases his perspective on factors other than previous postseason performance. He asks in his summary, "Why do some think this team will fade away?" They think this team will fade away because analysts, in general, are so committed to the narrative about the "same old Falcons," and that's not likely to change.
The good news is that media perception doesn't impact anything, really, but our own level of frustration. In NFL.com's preseason breakdown, Gregg Rosenthal stated that the Kansas City Chiefs, the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles were poised to do great things in 2012, and that the Falcons had enough holes to maybe struggle to get to .500. Several analysts picked the Falcons to miss the playoffs in the 2012 season. The Falcons were picked by the "experts" to lose against struggling teams with less talent, week after week in the regular season.
It's reasonable to hope that eventually the "same old Falcons" will come to represent something different--the same old clutch team that can't stop winning close games. The same old team that is a perpetual playoff contender. The same old team with the same old fans that make life difficult for visiting teams. And, at some point, they'll be the same old team that brings the Lombardi Trophy to Atlanta. We, the same old fans, just have to be patient.