Being a lifelong fan of the Atlanta Falcons isn't for sissies.
This franchise has a way of laying an egg, or several eggs, just when the national spotlight finds itself focused on the team.
The latest evidence of that is the embarrassing 48-21 defeat put upon the No. 1-seeded Falcons by the Green Bay Packers on January 15, 2011 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Perhaps a better name for this team would be "The Not Ready for Prime Time Players."
The Falcons did, quite admirably, compile a 13-3 record and win the competitive NFC South. In doing so they dispatched both the defending champion New Orleans Saints and the up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
However, in several key games against quality opponents during the year the Falcons proved that they are indeed still a work in progress. An opening game loss against a Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers team at Heinz Field wasn't exactly ominous considering the quality of the opponent. It was disconcerting to see the much-ballyhooed Falcon offensive unit stuck in reverse or idle for much of the day.
An absolute blowout several weeks later against a Michael Vick-less Eagles team in Philadelphia was much more disturbing and did set off several warning alarms for me. Postgame comments by Falcons defensive end John Abraham claiming that the Eagles offense did several things not expected or seen on film led me to question some of our coaching preparation.
Very close and last-minute wins against teams like the 49ers and Browns did little to deep down make me believe that the Falcons were a powerhouse NFL squad. I felt like this team was whistling past the graveyard.
A three-game winning road trip near the end of the regular season made me feel like perhaps this team was rounding into good shape for the inevitable playoffs. Winning three on the road in the NFL is impressive regardless of the quality of opponent.
A home loss on Monday Night Football against the hated rival Saints dispelled a couple of notions in my mind that were starting to take shape:
First, that the Falcons were near invincible at the Georgia Dome.
Second, that after beating the Baltimore Ravens on a nationally televised and highlighted game in November on the NFL Network, the Falcons were indeed ready for prime time.
So after Saturday night's debacle against the Green Bay Packers, what am I or any of the rest of us to make of this Atlanta Falcons team? What does their immediate future look like? How can Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith improve this team?
This is a good team, not a great one. They benefited in the 2010 season by having very few injuries and several good things happen for them late in games. Their grind-it-out style of offense wore down several inferior teams but didn't have the quick-strike ability to hang with the truly high-powered offenses in the NFL.
The Atlanta Falcons defense still needs a pass rusher to bookend and complement John Abraham. One consistent problem this current edition of the Falcons has had is a lack of a pass rush. Kroy Biermann is a nice high-motor rotational end but doesn't look to be a long-term starting answer.
A better pass rush would make the corner play even better. Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson played well enough this year. One could easily make the argument that the lower-paid and less hyped Grimes clearly outshone Robinson.
On offense the Falcons need a playmaker or two. Whether it's a speed back who can take the place of the fragile Jerious Norwood or a fleet-footed wide receiver to complement Roddy White, there seems to be little explosiveness with the Falcon offense. They only had one play over 50 yards for the entire season. That's remarkable for a team that had a 13-3 record.
The "process" that both Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith talk about ad infinitum will continue. They have truly done a good job turning this franchise around. I worry, though, that the work that Dimitroff and Smith do might not be good enough to get the Falcons to that next level. Why not bring in a longtime NFL legend like former Cowboy front office guru Gil Brandt and let him take a look at the nuts and bolts of how the Falcons are conducting business?
Let's put the "process" through some review. The results might make the Falcons ready for prime time.