The Atlanta Falcons and Tony Gonzalez are trying to put the heartbreak of the 2012 postseason behind them. While there are plenty of personnel decisions to be made this offseason, the Falcons have put their focus on the more pleasant task of bringing Gonzalez back for one final year.
The Falcons are hoping to follow in the footsteps of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. Both the Ravens and 49ers lost in their conference championships in 2011 only to make Super Bowl appearances the following year.
This sort of gold-plated carrot might entice Gonzalez to give it one more shot. Worst case scenario, Gonzalez would enjoy a Chipper Jones-esque league wide victory-lap. The Falcons might even be hoping for the same "luck" that followed Jerome Bettis and Ray Lewis on their way out.
But history points in another direction.
The Process has a Pattern
For five straight years, the Falcons have been far more consistent than at any other time in franchise history. Taking a step back and looking at the larger picture, the Falcons have established a pattern of improvement that belies their 1-4 playoff record.
Since we are heading into the 2013 season, it is wise to look at the odd years by themselves. In 2009, Matt Ryan came back from injury to complete the Falcons' first ever back-to-back winning seasons. Nonetheless, the Falcons missed the playoffs in 2009. In 2011, the Falcons made it to the Wild Card Round. Despite the embarrassing loss to the New York Giants, the Falcons took a progressive step in an odd year.
Now, let's look at the even years. In 2008, the Falcons make it to the Wild Card Round. In 2010, the Falcons won the division and made it to the Divisional Round. In 2012, the Falcons won the division again and made it to the NFC Championship game.
If the Pattern Holds True
If the pattern continues, Tony Gonzalez could be faced with an even tougher decision.
According to history, the 2013 season will not bring him the Super Bowl that he has so desperately wanted. Following the same pattern, the Falcons should find themselves winning a Wild Card game, but losing in the Divisional Round. Gonzalez should go through all the offseason work outs, four preseason games, 16 regular season games and two playoff games, all without being any closer to a Super Bowl.
But the 2014 season should seemingly be the Falcons' greatest season ever. The pattern indicates that the Falcons will win the division and the NFC Championship game. If Gonzalez followed in Bettis' and Lewis' farewell footsteps, there just might be a ring at the end of the blood, sweat and tears rainbow.
Games Are Not Played on Paper
The success of an NFL franchise is not determined by fortune cookies. Coaches do not post horoscopes on the bulletin board. And, occasionally, a bowl of alphabet soup will spell touchdown if you look hard enough.
Sometimes, patterns can just be a coincidence.
But for Gonzalez, he might just need a sign. Postponing retirement only to find heartbreak could weigh heavily on him—but perhaps not quite as much as the other "what if" might.
If Gonzalez retires with fuel still in the tank, how would a Falcons' Super Bowl appearance feel? How does one deal with the knowledge that the dream one chased their entire life was there for the taking, and that dream was missed because he gave up one or two years too soon?
If history tells Gonzalez anything, he should retire now or commit for 2014 as well. Either way, the Falcons will continue focusing on the future and let others write about the past.