There’s a reason no writer representing San Francisco contributes to this blog: SF teams, more often than not, finish the drill. Atlanta teams, sigh, tend not to. The Hawks have never made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, much less the NBA Finals. The Braves went to the playoffs 14 years in a row and managed only one World Series win—the city’s sole championship. Now the Falcons have reached the NFC Championship game three times and will once again not win the Super Bowl.
But, through three quarters of yesterday’s thrilling NFC Championship Game, it looked like the latest edition of the Falcons could make the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance. That will not be the case. SF teams come up big. ATL teams come up small.
My worries with the new era of the Falcons, led by the Dimitroff-Smith-Ryan troika, crystallized on November 27, 2011. I never was too bothered by the first two playoff loses suffered by this regime. Losing to the eventual NFC Champion Cardinals on their turf with a rookie QB in his first playoff game was tough, but reasonable. The defeat to the Packers was harder to take, but that team was a buzzsaw.
But, the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2011 was foreboding: The Falcons piled up a 17-0 lead in the first half on the lowly Vikings, who came into the Georgia Dome sporting a feeble 2-8 record, a rookie quarterback who’s ceiling is probably Matt Schaub, and no Adrian Peterson. But, in about a five-minute span, the Falcons gave up two touchdowns, and the Vikings closed the gap to three points. The Falcons would eventually win, but I remember sending a text to a couple friends that read: “The Falcons have no killer instinct. We should have squashed this team. Why is this even a game?”
And, that’s been evident in their no-show in the Wild Card Game against the New York Football Giants last year; several skin-of-their-teeth victories this season over bad teams, including the Cardinals and Raiders; and their two most recent playoff games. The Falcons impressively fast starts against the Seahawks and the Niners have been tempered by equally shocking swoons.
Against the Niners, they failed to score a single point in the second half, after having their way with the visitors in the first quarter of the game. Once again the Falcons only seemed to play offense for one-half of a football game; and however amped their defense was on the first couple series of the game, it was significantly more porous soon after. After letting the Niners recover from a 17-0 deficit and pull to within three points, the Falcons showed some pluck and put together a quick strike scoring drive to go into the half with a 10-point lead.
Maybe today would be different? Alas, it wasn’t. Matty Ice went cold, throwing an interception (that to be fair wasn’t his fault) and fumbling a snap. John Abraham was clearly ineffective—and I think someone needs to take a long look at why he was playing in the fourth quarter of a meaningless game on December 29. The better team, who’d been here before and squandered its opportunity last year, won. People seemed certain the 49ers would be back to avenge their loss; I get the impression that many think the Falcons just blew their one chance.
The fans, from what I hear from several people (including my parents) who went to the game, did their job for the entire 60 minutes. The city has risen up, as it is continually prodded to do, and embraced this team of talented underachievers. I’ve called the Falcons “the most considerate team in football.” They should be more considerate to their fans than to their opponents.