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Super Bowl or Bust?

The Falcons appear to have a different level of focus on that ultimate goal heading into the 2013 season.

Kevin C. Cox

If you missed Roddy White's recent appearance on ESPN's Two Guys Yelling at Each Other About Sports First Take, Andrew Hirsh and Dave Choate both covered it this week. Roddy handled himself impeccably, and said, basically, that for a team as talented as the Falcons, that fell just a few yards short of the Super Bowl this past season, anything less than the Super Bowl will be a disappointment.

Roddy's statement just adds to my growing perception that the Falcons have a different level of focus heading into this season.

When Harry Douglas was on NFL AM last week, he mentioned that he has his wide receiver test from the NFC Championship Game hanging on a wall in his home so that he's confronted with it daily. He never wants to forget how it felt to lose that game; he never wants to feel that way again. I am haunted by the memory of Douglas falling down, untouched, on that catch. I literally had nightmares about it after the NFC Championship. It's not surprising that it's worse for Douglas.

As free agency began, Steven Jackson turned some heads when he stated that, "the Falcons are one good running back away from winning the Super Bowl." Subsequently, Jackson signed with the Falcons, with hopes of making his statement a self-fulfilling prophesy.

When Osi Umenyiora signed with Atlanta, he made reference to the Falcons being the most talented team he had seen in his life. He also expressed his belief that, in addition to talent and solid coaching, a team needs veteran leadership to win a Super Bowl. Osi believes that, having won two rings with the New York Giants, his leadership will help the Falcons reach that ultimate goal.

It's no secret why Tony Gonzalez scrapped his retirement plans for one more season in the red and black. Gonzalez believes this team can win a Super Bowl. After such a long and distinguished career, after finally achieving that first playoff win against the Seattle Seahawks, there's just one task left on Tony's career to-do list, and he believes the Falcons can accomplish that.

Roddy White said on First Take, during the first three trips to the playoffs in the Mike Smith era, in 2008, 2010 and 2011, the team was just happy to make the playoffs. When you're just beginning to post consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the team's inception in 1966, that's understandable. But, perspectives have shifted. No longer is this team satisfied to just make the playoffs. This team is capable of so much more, and anything less than the Super Bowl absolutely should be a disappointment at this point.

If you read the Pro Football Talk article on White's appearance on First Take, and scroll through the comments, you'll see witty gems like, "Well I guess it's bust then LOL." This eloquently-expressed opinion is generally based on the lack of postseason success for the Falcons in recent years, but the idea that past performance dictates future success is fundamentally flawed. The reality is, however, teams always have a limited window with the talent they have. We can be almost entirely certain that this is Tony Gonzalez's last season. Asante Samuel, Umenyiora, Jackson and even White aren't getting any younger.

Something has been missing from Atlanta's postseason appearances in the Mike Smith era. Even in the game the Falcons won against the Seahawks, they blew a huge lead and very nearly lost. They have not played in the postseason at a level that is consistent with their talent. But this is now a team that believes in their ability to get to that next level. This is a team that no longer has the "no playoff wins" monkey on their backs. The Falcons have a wealth of veteran leadership, including two veterans, Umenyiora and Samuel, who already have Super Bowl rings.

What Roddy said on First Take is very different from, say, Rex Ryan guaranteeing a Super Bowl win for several seasons in a row. White wasn't being reckless, he made no guarantees. This was not a Super Bowl prediction. This was White saying, he knows how talented this team is, and the front office has made moves in free agency to put the team in an even better position to win. The 2012 season ended heartbreakingly close to the Super Bowl, and every man on the roster, and on the coaching staff, and in the front office is working to ensure that they don't experience that again. White is saying, anything less than a Super Bowl win will be a disappointment for this Falcons team.

Saying it and doing it are two entirely different things, and there are a lot of variables that go into a Super Bowl win. But, with this level of focus on that ultimate goal, the Falcons are putting themselves in a better position to actually achieve it this season.