The time every NFL fan dreads has arrived - the end of the season. It's a cold time - and for 31 teams, it begins the season of contemplation, planning and hoping. Fans debate what could have been and the larger picture of what it takes to win the big one. We look towards free agency for that "one missing piece" and towards the draft in hopes of finding the next big star.
In that light, I've been hearing a theme resound through the forums that has made me ponder its true merit. I've heard the sentiment that - to win it all - a team, or coach or player needs a "killer instinct." I've not only heard it uttered by Falcons fans, but also by fans of many of the other 30 teams who didn't win the big one this year. But what does it really mean? And in that definition, does it really matter as much as we've portrayed it to?
So, what does it mean to have a "killer instinct"? Based on the conversations I've seen, it contains the following thoughts:
- When you have a lead on an opponent, you continue to play aggressively until the end of the game
- When you have a lead on an opponent, you put the game away and win dominantly
- When playing a "lesser" opponent, you dominate on both sides of the ball and win by an impressive margin
While this may not cover all aspects of having a killer instinct, I do think it echoes the majority of frustrations that fans have with their teams, Falcons certainly not excluded. So, given those criteria, it's pretty obvious to many Falcons fans that our team would lack that "killer instinct" that we all seem to covet - and our collective blood pressure seems to suffer for it. But is that lack of a "killer instinct" really keeping this team from achieving the ultimate goal?
I think it's only fair to look at the last several Super Bowl
champions to see if they also fit the billing of having that killer instinct. So, what of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens
? Well - truth be told, this is a team that needed to convert on a 4th and 29 to even win a game against an eroding Chargers
team and scored 6 points against the KC Chiefs
. It needed a 70 yard miracle catch - and terrible safety coverage - to beat the Broncos
. And it's a team that lost a 22 point lead in the Super Bowl and almost lost at the end of the game. I don't think that fits the definition of a killer instinct.
The 2011 New York Giants
limped into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. They lost some embarrassing games to the Redskins
and other "lesser" teams (no RG3) in that season as well. The 2010 Packers
almost didn't make the playoffs, and lest people forget, they struggled to put away the Bears
as Rodgers threw 2 picks and no TDs in the NFC Championship game. And that was against a Bears team that subsequently had to put in Caleb Hanie
as their QB.
The reality is this: a killer instinct is not the deciding factor in forming a championship team. The last team that looked truly dominant - that had a killer instinct that was unmatched - was the 2007 Patriots
, and they finished the season as one of the 31 disappointed teams.
Don't get me wrong - a killer instinct can help your team from suffering through some needless losses, and it can help your team get starters off the field for rest while your backups get some needed reps. But it's not the the missing piece of the puzzle.
The one thing champions do exhibit consistently is a "never say die" mentality. And frankly, life shows us the same thing. Few people go through life winning at everything. Most of us suffer through embarrassment and loss and failure at some point in our journey. We take our shots and often do not succeed. And yet, it's the people who keep fighting - who keep trying - who eventually come out on top. Success is rarely immediate; it's built on a foundation of failure, losses and pain - and each of the last several Super Bowl champions will tell you the same thing.
But what does this mean for our Falcons? Simple. The journey isn't over. They've done a good job of setting that foundation - sometimes more than we'd like. But this team continues to battle - it continues to fight. It may not always be pretty, but our team - our Falcons - have been forging that critical "never say die" mentality since 2008. Does this guarantee that we'll make it to, and even win the big one? No - life just doesn't work that way. But, at the very least, this is a team that has learned the lessons that get you the opportunities. While we may not have a "killer instinct", we may have something even more valuable in its stead: perseverance.