An era ends. It ends on the turf of the Georgia Dome, in front of a few thousand disgusted fans, its promise as exhausted and broken as the players who were under its yoke.
The 2011 Atlanta Falcons have no new general manager. They have no new head coach. Their roster will remain better than 80 percent the same, and the fans who support them are the same, albeit a year older and with more jaded eyes. This is not a team on the verge of a transformation.
But this is still the end of an era. Three years ago, Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith arrived in a whirl of promise, speaking of better days to come. As it turns out, they fulfilled that promise and then some, but our thirst for a title is not slaked. The Falcons know that's the next step.
So an era is ending. The Falcons have risen to heights we dared not dream when 2007 ended, going 13-4 and winning the NFC South. This team is done with progress, now. Going 15-1 and losing in the playoffs is no progress at all, not when you've posted the second best record in the NFL and gone to the NFC Divisional Round. It's Super Bowl or bust now, fair or not.
That's why I believe we're entering a new era. The three-year rebuilding period, if you can call it that after the success the team saw from 2008-10, is over. The brain trust for this team is so formidable, and the competition so fierce, that I truly believe the Falcons will step up their game and be perennial contenders for the biggest game in the NFL. It's that or fall apart, and I don't think I'd be alone in guessing that the Falcons are not going to collapse unless the injury bug mutates into a Kafkaesque monstrosity.
It's time. Let's hope the Falcons take a leap forward in 2011.