After last year’s painful loss to the Giants, I wrote about how I was proud to be a Falcons fan, and that it was important to be “hometeam”. I almost became a major hypocrite last week as it looked like the Falcons would never get over the playoff hump. As someone who is also a fan of the Braves, that one-two punch of teams that quickly get kicked out of the playoffs is almost too much. But last week, the Falcons performed in Falcons fashion: came on strong, lost the lead, pulled out a victory in the end.
That is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the Atlanta Falcons. As my friend Brad said, “They play up or down to the opponent they’re facing.” Credit to Mike Smith for being the best coach in franchise history, but his style has fried every last nerve of the fans. We “rise up” because we fall down. A lot. With so much talent on the field, it’s peculiar and infuriating to see a pattern where we can cheer a comeback even though it’s from a hole the Falcons dug themselves.
The 49ers are a great team. They were the favorite, and we played them close. It wasn’t a blowout, and it’s always wonderful to see the Falcons fire on all cylinders like they did in the first quarter. I will still root for the 49ers in the Super Bowl because I don’t hold a grudge. They played a good game, and they deserve to win it all (I also don’t have any love for either AFC team).
But this blog post is about the Falcons. The pundits will likely pick them apart, which is fine. This team will probably never get the respect it deserves until it at least goes to the Super Bowl. The fans can wait because the fans will remain. The victory over the Seahawks was more important than the NFC Championship. The Falcons obviously wanted to go all the way, but the support from fans is stronger than its been in over a decade.
I will proudly wear a Matt Ryan jersey every time I watch the Falcons next year (and jerseys are expensive!). He makes mistakes, but he’s clutch. Today was just one mistake too many. But he’s undeniably matured as a quarterback, and I truly believe one day we’ll talk about him with the same respect people show Peyton Manning.
It will be hard to see Tony Gonzalez retire, but he’s earned it many times over. He will go out on top and as the greatest tight end of all-time. I’m honored that he played for our team and that he’ll end his career as an Atlanta Falcon.
We have so much talent on this team, but there’s undeniably more work to be done. I trust Arthur Blank, Thomas Dimitroff, and Mike Smith will do what needs to be done. They’re smart, thoughtful guys who know how to manage a team, and I believe the Falcons will be even stronger next year.
They couldn’t come back in this game, but they’ll come back from this defeat.
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