Fans of the Atlanta Falcons walk into the 2009 season with a sense of pride for the first time in years after the quick turnaround from the abysmal 2007 drama. The 2008 campaign marked one of the most loved teams in Falcons history, as new faces all around the organization brought the adrenaline of a winning football team back to Atlanta.
The fallout from the ’07 collapse is a memory Falcons fans can never forget. Michael Vick was sent to prison for his dog fighting scandal, and new coach Bobby Petrino abandoned the team to take the Arkansas job before the season was even over.
That Falcons team finished with a shameful 4-12 record, including only one division win. After the season of never-ending bad news, fans were not expecting the early success of the new-look Falcons.
Things started to turn around with the offseason additions of head coach Mike Smith, running back Michael Turner, and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. The new offense carried the team in 2008, as Turner lead the way with 1,699 yards rushing, second in the league.
His play opened up the defense and took the pressure off the strong-armed stud out of Boston College. Ryan’s 3,440 yards passing and 16 touchdowns helped guide the team to their 11-5 record as he took home Rookie of the Year honors.
Mike Smith was also honored with the 2008 Coach of the Year award, leaving Falcon fans highly satisfied despite the first-round loss to the Cardinals in the playoffs. At his initial hiring, the Atlanta fan base was skeptical of the new coach, but he proved his worth in a single season lifting the team from the bottom of the league to a playoff berth.
The biggest improvement for the Falcons from '07 to '08 was their point production on offense. The team ranked 29th in 2007 in points per game, and in one season changed that to 10th.
In 2008, they put up impressive numbers as they ranked sixth in yards per game. Problems in the red zone slowed this productivity, as the team's point total reflects, but between the 20-yard lines, the Falcons were as good a team as any.
The defense was strong enough to propel the team to 11 wins by giving up more than 24 points only four times in the regular season. The Falcons ranked 11th in the league, allowing only 20.3 points per game.
Their Achilles heel was the rushing defense, as they ranked 25th by letting opposing backs run for 127.5 yards per game. Their inability to stop the run up front was evident in their 4.9 yards per carry allowed to opponents.
Despite some shakiness on defense, the fan base in Atlanta was blown away by the early success under Mike Smith. His ability to rebuild from what was arguably the worst season in franchise history gave him respect and loyalty from Falcons enthusiasts all over town. 2008 was a historic year for the team as they made a giant step forward to becoming a powerhouse franchise in the NFL.