The Atlanta Falcons' offseason has officially gotten underway, but that obviously doesn't mean the 2012 season will be left behind so soon. The fans are busy performing their own autopsy of the year-ending, 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers to find what, or who, caused the death of their Super Bowl dreams.
As a Detroit Lions fan, I'm no stranger to heartache. That's why I thought it'd be nice to compile a list of the culpable parties and apportion the blame accordingly.
So before you start to look toward the draft, click through to find out who is responsible for this playoff exit.
The Falcons were well within field-goal range, and—assuming, of course, that Matt Bryant converts the kick—the turnover took at least three points off the board.
Those points ended up looming large. The Falcons were forced to go for the end zone late in the game, as they were down by four points. Had they knocked in a field goal or scored a touchdown, the trajectory of the game changes dramatically.
But it's pretty hard to come down on a guy who had 396 yards and three touchdowns. And don't mention the interception. Roddy White slipping is not Ryan's fault.
Blame: 10 percent
A defensive line is tasked with occupying the offensive line, clogging running lanes and occasionally getting to the passer. The last one is more for the ends, while the first two are absolutely paramount for most all D-linemen.
Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Kroy Biermann did not do their jobs. Frank Gore continually gashed the front line for five or six yards a pop, eventually bullying his way through for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth.
Gore ended with 90 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers might not be huge, but he was extremely effective, and that's a direct result of the Atlanta defensive line getting pushed around.
John Abraham isn't included on the list because the overwhelming majority of those read-option runs were either in the middle or just slightly to the right.
Blame: 30 percent
As mentioned previously, the 49ers rode Frank Gore and his 21 carries to victory. Colin Kaepernick continually gave the ball to Gore on the read-option and Gore kept the chains moving.
Why didn't Falcons DC Mike Nolan make any adjustments?
Vernon Davis also enjoyed a big day. Davis brought in five passes for 106 yards and one touchdown.
Considering how easily Zach Miller crushed the Falcons last week, why didn't Nolan have something in place to account for the tight end?
These are questions that fans must be asking themselves.
Not letting Kaepernick run free on the read option isn't the worst idea ever. However, that doesn't mean you can let Gore wear down your defense.
As for the lack of coverage on Davis, I can't even begin to explain that one.
Blame: 20 percent
Anytime a team coughs up a 17-point lead at home in the NFC Championship Game, the head coach is going to catch some heat.
The Atlanta Falcons played well for a majority of the game, but they couldn't make a few plays that needed to be made. There weren't any terrible calls by Mike Smith, but the adjustments not seen on defense by Mike Nolan were also overlooked by Smith.
There are plenty of areas where fans will irrationally second guess Smith's decisions. However, a lot of the fans were right.
The Falcons kept passing because that was what worked.
Maybe we can wonder why they didn't throw a full-blown Hail Mary to end the game. But that's some serious nitpicking.
Blame: 20 percent
Fans want to find a scapegoat. It's what we do.
However, the biggest culprit in this loss was the San Francisco 49ers.
The Atlanta Falcons played extremely well. They were in control and made a couple of ill-advised turnovers. As discussed previously, one of those was just the way the game breaks.
The 49ers kept coming and stuck to their game plan. They pounded Gore up the middle and passed the ball to Vernon Davis.
Quite frankly, San Francisco won this game. At least partially.
Blame: 20 percent