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From The Gut: How crushing loss to Pack in playoffs led Falcons to where they are today

The Falcons’ Explosiveness Campaign would perhaps never have existed if not for the early exit from the 2011 postseason

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

In the days leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft, there was a progression that was almost palpable. The writing had been on the wall for a few months: the Atlanta Falcons simply had to get better, stronger, faster — more explosive.

If that word triggers a flood of memories from that time, well, it should. It was only said by team representatives, according to my completely unofficial and made-up count, 137,438 times when the brass would get on the subject of what they were looking for from the annual selection process.

The word might not have even turned into a focus that would eventually see the Falcons go full yellow cake uranium by trading up to select wide receiver Julio Jones if not for the events of a cold, snowy January day in 2011.

I’m not going to take you back through the 2011 Divisional Round playoff game between the No. 1 Falcons and the visiting Green Bay Packers bit-by-bit. We should all remember the noteworthy things that happened that day:

  • The Falcons got out to a 7-0 lead.
  • The Packers answered back to tie things up.
  • The Falcons punched another touchdown in for a 14-7 lead.
  • Then the Falcons punched out for the day, allowing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to na-na-na boo-boo up and down the field on their way to a 48-21 win.

That about covers it.

It must have been in the days following that loss that the Falcons’ front office and coaching staff let everything sink in, looked at the tape from not just that game but the entire season and determined that “explosiveness” was going to be the word du jour for early spring.

When we take a closer look, players with that trait could have made a real different during the 2010 campaign. The regular season that year was one the Falcons got through by the skin of their teeth, the excitement of finishing 13-3 clouding our view of what the weaknesses were. But somehow, the Falcons were able to earn close wins and do enough to lock up the best route to the Super Bowl that year.

The Packers, however, exposed the big, gaping hole in Atlanta’s roster named — you guessed it — explosiveness. Once the Packers got out to a two-score lead in that Divisional Round game, the Falcons didn’t have the juice or the talent to play from behind. It was a position they hadn’t spent much time in leading up to that day.

Once the smoke cleared and the vision for the offseason came into view, the only way to find that explosiveness the Falcons were looking for was to make the blockbuster trade that brought Jones to Atlanta. Looking back on it, there was no other option.

There are plenty of good players who end up at the bottom of the first round of the NFL Draft, but to truly make a mark and find the explosiveness the Falcons were looking for, they had to find a way out of that No. 27 spot.

For weeks, the mock drafts had the Falcons selecting defense at that spot — and it was rightfully a need for a unit that lacked pass rush outside of John Abraham and desperately needed support in the defensive backfield. The prognosticators had the Falcons selecting a hungry defensive end with potential out of Iowa by the name of Adrian Clayborn.

Clayborn, as it turned out, didn’t even make it to the No. 27 spot — selected at No. 20 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and it’s tough to make any argument that staying put would have served the Falcons well with DT Muhammed Wilkerson perhaps being the only real difference-maker left by that point.

Had the Falcons won that Divisional Round game and moved on the NFC Championship Game in early 2011, had they even lost that game, it’s conceivable to think that the Falcons may have stayed at their spot late in the first round. It’s conceivable that the Cleveland Browns would have selected Julio Jones at No. 6 overall. It’s conceivable that the Falcons could have used their selection on Gabe Carimi, Jimmy Smith, Cameron Heyward or even Wilkerson.

Had that been the case, you have to ask yourself: How would things be different today?

As much as I’d love to guide you through a tour of an alternate universe where the Falcons select Carimi instead of trading for Jones and we all eventually turn into mole people and live beneath a world where Jones is scoring TDs — or not — for the Browns because we just can’t take it, I’m going to spare you the journey.

Suffice it to say, things wouldn’t be the same without that loss to the Packers six years ago. We wouldn’t be sitting here, nervously awaiting an NFC title game the Falcons are hosting. We wouldn’t be enjoying the exploits and explosiveness of Julio Jones in red and black. We wouldn’t look like humans anymore and we’d have taken on a distinctly wrinkled mole-like look and aversion to sunlight.

It’s all bad, you see.

Sometimes you have to suffer before you can appreciate where you’re going. And where we’re going Sunday is vastly different from where the Falcons could be had it not been for the Packers setting into motion the realizations that led to Julio Jones coming to Atlanta and the chain reaction of events that followed.

So, with the deepest of sincerity, thanks for the butt-whoopin’, Green Bay.

Here’s hoping we repay the favor come Sunday.