Ever since general manager Thomas Dimitroff, head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan simultaneously (but not coincidentally) arrived in Atlanta in 2008, there have been plenty of positives when it comes to the Falcons.
A franchise that had never posted back-to-back winning seasons nor made consecutive playoff appearances has now finished with five-straight winning seasons and is back in the postseason for the third straight year and the fourth time under Dimitroff, Smith and Ryan.
But here comes the playoffs, which have been reduced to a four-letter word when it comes to this regime.
The Falcons actually haven't won a postseason game since the 2004 season, when they rolled the Rams, 47-17, in the NFC Divisional Playoffs before losing to the Eagles in the conference title game a week later. But it's the failure of the Smith and Ryan Era to produce a playoff victory that has drawn a great deal of criticism.
Three postseason appearances and three times the lights have gone out for the team from Georgia. Setbacks to the Cardinals (30-24) in 2008, the Packers (48-21) in 2010 and the Giants (24-2) a season ago add up to a combined score of 102-47.
Of course, Ryan has been assigned the majority of the blame for those losses and the numbers certainly don't offer him much defense. In those three losses, he's completed 63.6 percent of his passes (70-of-110) for 585 yards while totaling twice as many turnovers (6) as touchdown passes (3). Ryan was sacked 10 times in those contests and had two of those turnovers returned for touchdowns.
But since this isn't and has never been a one-man game, there's plenty of blame to go around. The Falcons' ground attack totaled 169 yards in those losses. As for the defensive side of the football, Smith's team allowed 413.7 yards per game in the trio of setbacks, totaling just three sacks and two takeaways in the process.
But back to the present, with Atlanta in co-possession of the league's best record at 13-3. As the weeks wore on in 2012 the team's regular-season performance was almost rendered meaningless. For some, this year's Falcons weren't who we thought they were because the team was 0-3 in the playoffs from 2008-2011.
We shall see. As currently constructed, the offense falls on Ryan -- who finished fifth in the league in both passing yards (4,719) and scoring tosses (32) this season -- and the aerial attack, while Michael Turner and the ground attack take a back seat. Hence, Atlanta has been mediocre at best against the run, but defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has the team playing opportunistic football to the tune of 31 takeaways, including 20 interceptions.
Win or lose, these Falcons won't be flying under the radar come late Sunday afternoon.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. A former NFL research coordinator for ESPN, he is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru and/or Facebook at Pro Football Guru.
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Matt Ryan
- Thomas Dimitroff