Normally, I only talk about the Georgia Bulldogs, but it’s hard for me to discount my first two true sports loves. Before I got serious about being a Bulldogs fan (and eventually an alum), I was always a die hard Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons fan. The college game didn’t come around to me until I was in the 5th grade or so, so I’d always followed the NFL and specifically the Falcons.
The 18 months prior to the beginning of this season were the most difficult 18 months that I believe any professional franchise has endured in the history of professional sports, save maybe the 1919 Chicago White Sox who got ripped apart by the 1918 team that was found to have conspired to throw the World Series. It just seemed that everything that could go wrong for the Falcons did. First, your $100M QB gets thrown in jail for making some boneheaded decisions, you have a pretty bad season, and your top-dollar coach flees by the cover of night for the brighter pastures of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Then comes the 2008 NFL Draft and the Falcons have a choice about whether to build along the lines (their most pressing need IMO at the time) by taking Glen Dorsey or to take what many scouts think is a franchise QB, but was pretty inconsistent and threw a lot of picks in a less than stellar conference his senior year. Everyone knows what happened for that one.
I’ll go ahead and apologize because I was one of the people very critical of the selection of Matt Ryan at the time. Let me preface and say that it had nothing to do with Ryan himself, but as I stated earlier, I thought the Falcons were better served to build through the line by taking Dorsey. Well, this is me eating crow and loving it. Matt Ryan right now is playing at an unheard of level as a rookie. People are making the Ben Roethlisberger comparisons, but I think Ryan is better at this point in his career. Roethlisberger wasn’t a vital part of his offense his rookie year, he merely had to hand the ball off to Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. Matt Ryan’s taken this offense by the reins and the coaches trust him to run it the same as if he were Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.
The Falcons then traded back into the 1st round to take Sam Baker to protect Matt Ryan’s blind-side. Once again, I was skeptical of the pick. Although he’s out now and may be gone for the rest of the season, Baker was a force when healthy and proof that he was deserving of the lofty pick. So far, GM Thomas Dimitroff is 2 for 2 in the 1st round, IMO.
The next three picks are Curtis Lofton at LB, Chevis Jackson at CB, and Harry Douglas at WR. All three have contributed big time at one point or another this season, the most recent being Douglas’ performance today. By my count, Dimitroff is now 5 for 5 with his first 5 picks.
The icing on the cake was the shrewd signing of free agent RB Michael Turner early in the free agency period. Turner, long the understudy to Ladanian Tomlinson in San Diego, is the 1st back in the NFC South this year to rush for 1,000 yards, he set the franchise rushing record with 220 yards in his first ever game, and he currently is one rushing TD away from tying the franchise record for rushing TD’s in one season. Make that 6 for 6 for Dimitroff so far.
This is a team that I didn’t expect anything more than a 3-13, 4-12 season. I figured they might upset a team along the way, but honestly thought they were a few years away from seriously contending. Right now, the Falcons stand at 7-4 and one game back in the division. No rational Falcons fan would have predicted this at the beginning of the year. This team is the most pleasant surprise of the year to me and it certainly has softened the blow of the disappointment that is the Georgia season. Thank you Arthur Blank for hiring the right guys and thank you Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith for bringing hope and excitement back to Atlanta at least for this fan.