The thing people will remember about the 2016 Falcons is that they blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.
That’s reality, but also a shame, because there was so much positive about their season and what it portends for the future.
The Falcons have traditionally had skill-position talent, but they pushed it to another level last year, leading the league in scoring (33.8 points per game). Much of that hinged on improvements up front, as their addition of center Alex Mack was one of the hidden keys to the season. Quarterback Matt Ryan has always been good. With time to process, he was surgical, which helped him win an MVP.
They’re also young and talented on defense, and will get boosts this year. Remember, they played the latter portion of last season without their top cornerback (Desmond Trufant, who was lost to a pectoral injury midway through the year) and added another pass-rusher in first-rounder Takk McKinley in the first round.
Coupled with their new state-of-the-art stadium, there’s plenty to be excited about for the long-term trajectory of the team.
But that one thing will continue to linger in the background.
Biggest positive change: The Falcons should be deeper on defense, and they could use that.
Veteran defensive tackle Dontari Poe was a good piece of business on a one-year deal, giving them a solid interior rusher.
And if McKinley emerges to help Vic Beasley (who looked like a bust after his rookie year, then looked like a star last year, perhaps the fault is with making premature judgments), they could be even better on that side of the ball.
Biggest negative change: Losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is going to take a minute to work through.
They were playing at such a high level last year that even a slight disruption is a big deal, and taking their play-caller out is definitely not just a slight disruption. We’ll see if Steve Sarkisian can keep things going, because he was given the gift of personnel to work with.
Coaching thermometer: Cool for now, but the Super Bowl collapse will raise the heat on Dan Quinn if they can’t continue playing at a high level. The Falcons coach has been unfailingly upbeat this offseason when discussing the elephant in the room, but it will never truly go away. The challenge will be keeping it out of his guys’ minds when an individual game turns south, because wondering if they’re about to fold again.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . It almost doesn’t matter, because the beers are cheap enough at their new stadium you can have more than one without taking out a home equity line.
Owner Arthur Blank has done some interesting things within the context of the league, and his cut-rate concessions (two-dollar hot dogs and five bucks for a beer) will make him more popular with fans — if not his business partners who are still gouging for snacks and beverages at their games.
Blank’s been willing to go against the grain, and that makes him one of the more interesting members of his club of 32.
How they can prove us wrong: It’s not foolproof, and a return to the playoffs is likely but far from a guarantee.
One of the first steps is making sure Devonta Freeman stays happy. The running back’s contract talks have had some rough spots, and the Falcons have kept the petty stuff at arm’s length. But if they can’t get a deal done before the season, there will be a lingering worry that an integral part of the offense is thinking about his post-Falcons years.
And while Quinn’s attitude is key to keeping the bad thoughts at bay, a run of bad luck (injuries or otherwise) could lead to flashbacks, and denying their existence doesn’t make them go away.