About a week ago I was pretty convinced I had discovered the formula for success in winning NFL games. Despite not always making it look pretty, the Atlanta Falcons won 13 games because they simply knew how to control the clock.
Ball control. That was the key, according to me.
Atlanta did everything right during the regular season, when it came to controlling the ball and winning football games. But, they flat out didn't make for good television.
Most sports networks saw Atlanta as an afterthought for the entire year. The fans in Atlanta kept saying a number one seed and "dome" field advantage would finally get the nation's attention.
And, for the past two weeks, Falcons fans continued to complain that the national media was completely overlooking the "best" team in the NFL. Even Herm Edwards, who made half of his fame with his classic quote, "You play to win the game", claimed Atlanta just wasn't a pretty team to watch.
And we kept saying, "You wait, we will get our respect".
Well, tonight, the prettiest team on the field had the prettiest performance. The Green Bay Packers, who many picked at the beginning of the 2010 season to be the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl, absolutely destroyed the Atlanta Falcons in a 48-21 victory.
It looked more like the 2005 USC Trojans versus the Pac-10 schedule than it did an NFL Playoff game.
Atlanta could not do anything right, on offense or defense. We said we'd ram the ball down the Packer's throat. We said we'd convert third down after third down. We said we'd force turnovers, maybe run back a kickoff, and protect the ball on offense.
Just like we had done all year. No matter the score. No matter the situation, Atlanta found ways to win during the year by doing the above listed things.
And tonight they failed to follow their formula--their magic formula.
All of a sudden, I feel like the whole season was fools gold. If you look at the schedule, Atlanta rarely had a double digit victory. More than once they had to come back to win.
Maybe this wasn't, really, the NFC's best team? If you look at New England, who was just a game better than Atlanta, they emphatically won each game they played.
Atlanta wasn't that way. They won with smoke and mirrors. They won with clutch performances. They won with a little bit of magic each weekend.
Maybe Atlanta wasn't the best team. Maybe they just had the most magic?
Tonight, for me, felt like Atlanta got a big slap in the face with a stick of irony.
All year Atlanta was the "healthiest" team in the NFL. Yet, going against a "banged up" Packers squad, Atlanta's one injured personnel area just so happened to the easiest to exploit.
Brian Williams was the lone Falcon who didn't play their regular role. Chris Owens had to take over in his place at nickelback.
And, Chris Owens was picked on all night.
Also, it began to seem as the year went on that as Atlanta began to boast about it's running game, the less it worked.
Statistically, Michael Turner had a great year, but any Falcons fan can tell you now, in hindsight, that the running game did nothing more than set up the pass all year.
It wasn't really the Falcons bread and butter. It wasn't an impact running game that churned for yards after yards.
But, the stat sheet sure showed it to be so.
Again, fools gold.
While we were 13-3, and had the number one seed, and Dome Field Advantage, we were all so high and so distraught by the fact no one outside the city of Atlanta gave us a chance.
But, even I can say that, all week, I knew the Packers offense was going to be unstoppable. I knew our offense was going to have trouble running the ball.
But, I also knew we would convert third down after third down, and not turn the ball over.
Two interceptions later and I'm hitting myself with a facepalm.
Here's me admitting, for the first time, that the media was right and I was wrong.
This team was sugar coated all year with a weaker schedule and a lot of luck. This 13-3 team could have easily been 9-7 again.
And, they really weren't that pretty. Two weeks ago, I could have cared less about how "pretty" we were.
But now, after watching the unstoppable Green Bay Packers offense and defense do exactly what people claimed it would, I'm not so sure I wouldn't mind trading in some luck and modesty for a pretty deep passing game and a ferocious, tenacious front seven on defense.
So, I might sound pretty down on this team. But, there's an underlying fact that keeps my head up.
Earlier this year I wrote an article stating why the Atlanta Falcons were now the NFL's "model" franchise.
And, even with tonight's result, I'm not ready to put that idea to rest.
This is still the team that put together back to back winning seasons for the first time in team history.
Heck, right now we are on a streak with three.
It's still a team that has one of the winningest head coaches, winningest young quarterbacks and one of the winningest fan bases.
One, ugly game can't take that away from us.
What I saw this year was something different. Being a Falcons fan isn't what it used to be.
I used to always just kind of watch the Falcons games under the radar. I never really boasted about it. I, in all honesty, never really liked the team a few years ago, despite their winning ways, because of the personalities like Vick and DeAngelo Hall who gave the organization somewhat of a lower class rep.
And of course, that all went further downhill in 2007.
But, now, the Falcons organization is something to be proud to be a part of.
I've seen the level headed Matt Ryan's interviews. He's a perfect role model. He's a one in a million type of ambassador you want for a city. Mike Smith is the same way.
The team is full of guys you want to root for. Heck, if you saw Brent Grimes walking in the mall you might mistake him for a local 8th grader. It's those blue collar guys like that who fill our roster.
Even Roddy White, at his loudest, is a guy who was at least smart enough to immediately apologize for some foolish "tweets".
The Falcons marketing and promotional efforts throughout the city has been great, and the player involvement in the community has made just as many headlines as the team success.
If you look at this team enough, even if you aren't a fan who is from around here, you see a team you can't root against. The entire organization is full of guys you want to root for.
So maybe they weren't the NFL's most talented team. Maybe ESPN and NFL Network were right all along for not jumping on the bandwagon.
But, in the glorified, star powered NFL that exists today, no group of guys deserved to have a little bit of magic more than the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons run to the Super Bowl may not have been set in stone, but what is set in stone is the establishment of a class organization who's winning games more than they are losing.
We need to embrace that. It's our turn, as fans, to not just turn on this team like we have in the past. I.
Although we lost tonight, we finally have a football team that we can be proud to be fans of. Even that has been a long time coming.
People say Atlanta isn't a pro sports town. But, when you have a team who's as easy to root for as the Falcons, how can we let it not be?
It's time for us to take the next step in "Rising Up" and become the pro sports fan base this team deserves.
In hindsight, we might have been wrong about tonight's game. But also, in hindsight, it's pretty clear that each and every player and staff member of the Atlanta Falcons has crafted a magical turnaround for what seemed to be the lousiest franchise in the NFL.
I'll wear my Rise Up T-Shirt all week to that.