Of all sports movies I've seen, none still resonates with me quite like the original Rocky. The Academy Award winning film depicted a fighter whose life never intended for him to be anything more than the average Joe. Yet, in the face of that, when given a chance at the biggest of opportunities - a fight against the Champ - he shines brightest. But here's the thing about Rocky - he doesn't beat the champ. Rocky does far more than anyone expected and he fought in a way that no one had seen before. His victory truly was a "moral" one.
Why do I bring this up? Because that is the light in which I see the Falcons 2012 season. The start of this season was loaded with questions and doubts about every aspect of this team. Here's the short list:
- Can Smith/Ryan win a post-season game?
- Can Ryan win on the road/outdoors/in the spotlight?
- Can Ryan throw the deep ball or lead a true pass-first offense?
- Is this really a talented team, or is Thomas Dimitroff a vastly overrated GM?
We have all heard the questions, and here's the thing: they were ALL legitimate questions. I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but these questions were warranted. Granted, the playoff game question is loaded - as there were multiple factors for why the Falcons haven't had success - but those factors have been slowly eliminated. In 2008, Ryan was a rookie and took them farther than anyone expected. In 2010, the Falcons offense was not geared to be explosive and keep up with the Saints
of the NFL. In 2011, the offensive scheme and terrible offensive line play limited Ryan. The 2012 season didn't have the benefit of those doubts anymore.
But how is 2012 already a success when we still have a game to play? Easy - we've answered every question definitively, punctuated by the playoff win over a scorching hot Seattle Seahawks
The 2012 Falcons proved to the world that Ryan/Smith can win in the post-season. They proved that Ryan can win anywhere and everywhere - on the road, outdoors in bad weather, in high profile games and against all odds. Matty Ice proved that he could throw the deep ball beautifully, and his franchise records of over 4700 yards and 32TDs shutdown any talk of whether he could lead a pass first offense.
For the front-office, there was a large amount of validation as well. Granted, guys like Peria Jerry and Ray Edwards are still sore points, but Dimitroff can point to a whole host of draft picks that are big contributors. Guys like DeCoud and Moore played at near pro-bowl levels this year, while the pickup of Asante Samuel for a 7th rounder looks like the steal of the year. Additionally, sticking with heavily criticized players like Sam Baker, Garrett Reynolds and Matt Bosher - who all stepped up their games considerably in 2012 - shut many fans up. Deeper round picks like Vance Walker and Jaquizz Rodgers have contributed at high levels, and free agent pickups like Robert McClain were big winners. All of this while keeping this team in healthy cap position for the future.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not writing off this team for the NFC Championship game, but the win yesterday capped off what I already consider to be a highly successful season. This franchise - from the owner down to the players - were under tremendous pressure to answer a large number of questions. Whether we win the big one or not, all questions have been answered and a new standard set. The future for this franchise is as bright as it ever has been.
What do you think? Am I over-estimating what has already been accomplished? Do we need to get to the Super Bowl (or even win it) to get complete validation?