Today, we say goodbye to the 2011/2012 Atlanta Falcons, a team that was good, but a team that should've been better than just "good."
The Falcons were so confident that they were close to being legitimate title contenders that they sacrificed five draft picks to land Julio Jones, who they felt was the one missing piece to their offensive puzzle. And Jones performed just fine for a rookie.
In fact, the whole offense was fine. Matt Ryan was fine, Michael Turner was fine, Roddy White was fine. The problem with all of this is that the Falcons weren't envisioning "fine" ‒ they envisioned their offense performing at a Green Bay or New Orleans-type level. They weren't that.
Now, the question becomes, does this team need to add just a couple more pieces, or do they need to swing a bigger wrecking ball?
It's hard to look at that performance against the Giants and think this offense doesn't need major changes. The Giants defense played magnificently, but you can't let even the best defense shut you out in a playoff game. You just can't. I don't care if the '85 Bears and '76 Steelers had a baby, and that baby was raised by Marv Marinovich and Mike Ditka. The Falcons are not some upstart band of scrappy youngsters, just happy to be there playing with the big boys. They should not have been dispatched so easily.
So what now? You can't replace Matt Ryan, because you're not going to find a better replacement. It's going to be hard to upgrade a receiving corps that features Julio Jones and Roddy White. Maybe you cut ties with Michael Turner, who might be hitting that running back wall. You can definitely plug some holes on the offensive line, but will that be enough to get them where they want to be?
What if this group just isn't good enough? What if this is the ceiling? Do the Falcons just stay here and keep winning 10 games a year, or do they make major changes?
Defensively, the Falcons are OK ‒ inconsistent and not dominant, but certainly good enough to win if the offense was doing what they were expected to do. The biggest question mark here is cornerback Brent Grimes, whom the Falcons cannot live without and who is eligible for free agency.
They absolutely need to address the other corner position. Dunta Robinson is not getting the job done, and an old lady in a motorized cart would be a substantial upgrade. They probably expected to get more out of their defensive front, too, having signed Ray Edwards and not gotten much return on their investment.
How the Falcons replace offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will be crucial. No one seems too broken up about losing him, especially after how things went down against the Giants, but it'll be an important position for the Falcons. They need to replace defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, too.
Heading into next season, the Falcons will be expected to push the Saints for the division title, but probably not threaten for the conference title. The front office has to figure out how to get over that hump.