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Falcons are going to have to leave past to find future

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Nostalgia for the past will doom hope for the future.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The greatest enemy of the Atlanta Falcons is not found in New Orleans, though they’re a close second.

It’s not in Foxborough, wearing a Boston beanie. It’s not climbing lamp posts in Philly, sporting a Super Bowl hat. It’s not eating barbecue with vinegar in Carolina, or enjoying the lack of winter in Tampa. It’s not even staring at the team in the mirror.

It’s nostalgia.

If the Falcons can’t learn to look past the success they had back in 2016, then all their future seasons are going to be depressing. I’m not going to prosecute the team for something that hasn’t happened yet, but if you heard a guy saying “Amen!” loudly over and over again while you read Dave Choate’s piece going against the idea about Greg Knapp taking over the offense, that was me.

Give the article a read if you haven’t. We can wait. In it, you’ll see his thesis about why that’s a bad idea, and why it hints to an inability to learn lessons.

I’ll go one step further. I’ll argue that it shows a deafening dose of nostalgia seeping into a franchise that needs to stop looking back. Ironically, it’s not the Super Bowl that probably keeps this team looking in the rearview. It’s what got them there.

In theory, isn’t that what we want?

The 2016 team, down the stretch, was the best in football, a team that could out-scheme nearly anyone in town on offense and raise a defense to new heights with its coaching. It came a few frustrating play calls, injuries and missed assignments away from being the top dog. But those days are over now, and the team would be smart to leave them behind.

The two seasons since have been a mixed bag. Sure, the team nearly went to another NFC Championship last year, but they were far from perfect. Steve Sarkisian looked lost in trying to run Kyle Shanahan’s offense, mainly relying on an overachieving defense to get them where they needed to be. That ended exactly how it should’ve: in Philly, against Nick Foles.

That team didn’t deserve a Super Bowl. Obviously, neither does the 2018 unit, a rag-tag team of stars and reserves guided by uninspired coaching, only capable of pounding teams lesser than they were. The offense caught fire early, but quickly faded down the stretch.

Though talented to the brim, the Falcons now look broken from a coaching standpoint. They can’t contend with the sharpest minds in the league, and have tried to rely on talent and talent alone to solve problems.

Well, talent alone won’t get this team back to a Super Bowl. And the sharp mind the team once had isn’t coming back anytime soon.

News of Knapp signals a likely desire to try and unlock the secrets of the Shanahan offense. One wonders if tales of Gary Kubiak are nothing more than wanderlust, and that the team’s well-aware of that. If the team’s trying to find a foot to fit the Shanny-crafted glass slipper, head out to the Bay Area. That’s the only place you’ll find your stroke of midnight wish.

It’s not that you have to get rid of the outside zone scheme. Keep it if you’d like. But it’s high time we all stop worrying about a 33-year-old quarterback having to learn a slightly-different offense, or a new offense altogether.

When the Falcons switched from Mike Mularkey to Dirk Koetter, the team soared offensively and went to the NFC Championship. It can be done if you find the right fit.

It’d be nice to keep the Shanny system, but the best person to run it has another job. You could bring in one of his disciples, but the team isn’t likely to hire another young coach after Sark’s struggles. This is a win-now group, and they need a win-now mind.

Darrell Bevell wouldn’t be bad, but you wonder if better is out there. The fact that he is responsible for one of the great Super Bowl busts and has such strong ties to Quinn in Seattle suggests that he’s not the best man out there, and that DQ, though we love ‘em, would be better off finding someone new to work with, like he did with Shanny in 2015.

Who the team hires as its offensive coordinator will decide 2019 and the future of the Quinn era. This is it. This is what settles things. If they hire the right guy and have a good spring, they’ll be back in contention, and Quinn might find himself here for another half-decade. If they screw it up, bags will be packed next December.

That’s how crucial this hire will be (should they part ways with Sark, of course, which looks to be the most likely outcome).

So Falcons, don’t be afraid to look ahead, and try something new. This team has too much talent to flounder with pissant play calling. Let Shanny be, and find a new path forward.

It might be the only way to get you back home.