Although yours truly did not have the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl this season, I still had them winning the NFC South narrowly beating out my NFC Super Bowl pick New Orleans who is unbeaten by the way (shameless plug). Why did I have the Falcons winning the division yet not advancing to the Super Bowl?
Simply put, I don’t believe in Matt Ryan and I sure as hell don’t believe in the Falcons’ defense. I’m not suggesting Matt Ryan isn’t a good quarterback because he is; I’m just not convinced he can win a big game in the playoffs on his own.
Those things are moot points today because it was formally announced that wide receiver Julio Junes was lost for the season with a broken foot. This added to the fact that his counter-part on other side of the formation, Roddy White, has been dealing with injury issues of his own. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that free agent running back Steven Jackson has already missed more than half the season to this point.
What is happening to the 1-4 Falcons right now should serve as a warning to all teams that have great regular seasons. They had home-field advantage the last two seasons now and in both cases came up empty in disappointing losses in their own building. The first lesson learned is that when you have everything lined up for you, you must take full advantage or else your window closes.
It isn’t as simple as just re-loading in Atlanta either. Tight end Tony Gonzalez decided to come back for one last chance at the Super Bowl appearance that has eluded him. As he said following the Monday night loss to the New York Jets, “I just can’t keep chasing this thing.” That should tell you right there that Gonzalez is playing his final season.
With that said, his position will need to be replaced. The defense has no playmakers either and cannot get any pressure on the quarterback. With a tremendous amount of the salary cap devoted to Ryan and his receivers, there will be little room to go after big-name free agents. There again is another part of this cautionary tale.
When a team drops the money on the quarterback the way Atlanta did, it assumes that the team will be in thick of the playoff chase for several more years. Already, there have to be questions about whether this team has already seen its’ window close and whether Mike Smith can survive this are questionable at the moment.
Remember to that Jackson was a short-term solution at running back so that is yet another position they must address.
If I were the general manager of the Falcons, I’d be shopping Tony Gonzalez to the highest bidder. This will accomplish two things more than likely. First, it would be the right move to try and get Gonzalez one final opportunity to get to a Super Bowl. He has been nothing short of the consummate professional both in Kansas City and in Atlanta. He deserves the chance if the Falcons really believe they are out of the playoffs and I firmly believe they are.
Secondly, a move to trade Gonzalez should result in some draft picks. Atlanta isn’t going to get first or second round picks for what would amount to a ‘rented’ player, but it could help them collect some middle or late round selections. As I discussed, the Falcons need players period and the more picks they have the better.
The real lesson in all of this is that you cannot ever take for granted the chances you have before you. The Falcons and their fans are learning that the hard way right now.