2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Falcons need title to cement status as elite team

By PAUL NEWBERRY - AP Sports Writer
    2013-08-27 14:24

ATLANTA (AP) - When Tony Gonzalez decided to return for one more season, he knew there was only one outcome that would make it a success.

A Super Bowl ring.

Gonzalez's tunnel vision is pretty much indicative of everyone's mindset in Atlanta, where the Falcons have become one of the league's most successful franchises but still need a title to reach truly elite status.

``I came back to win a championship,'' said Gonzalez, looking ahead to his 17th - and, he insists this time - final season. ``That's the kind of team I think we have. We want to pick up where we left off last year.''

Since Thomas Dimitroff took over as general manager and Mike Smith was hired as coach in 2008, the Falcons have gone 56-24 during the regular season, put together five straight winning seasons, made the playoffs four times, won a pair of NFC South titles, and twice earned home-field advantage.

The postseason has been a different story, though Atlanta - and Gonzalez - cleared a huge hurdle last season. For the first time in the Dimitroff-Smith era, the Falcons won a playoff game. For Gonzalez, it was the first playoff win of his career.

Alas, the Falcons came up 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl, losing to San Francisco in a thrilling NFC championship game.

Coming so close persuaded Gonzalez to postpone his retirement plans. The team showed its commitment by signing quarterback Matt Ryan to a nearly $104 million contract extension and landing free-agent running back Steven Jackson to complement one of the NFL's most dynamic passing games, with Matty Ice throwing to Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White.

If the offensive line holds up and the defense makes a stop every now and then, there's no reason the Falcons can't go even farther than they did last season.

``It's incredible,'' Gonzalez said. ``The sky's the limit to what we can do.''

---

Here's five things to watch as the Falcons try to win that elusive Super Bowl title:

RYAN'S WEAPONS: The Falcons have the potential to be even more explosive than a year ago, when they ranked seventh in the league in scoring. The 28-year-old Ryan is right in his prime and coming off the best year of his career, with highs in completion percentage (68.6), touchdown passes (32) and yards (4,719). White and Jones combined for 171 receptions, 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gonzalez (93 catches, 930 yards, eight TDs) looks like he could play another decade. Now add Jackson, who should be a much more versatile threat than his predecessor, Michael Turner. Of course, to take advantage of all those highly skilled players, Ryan will need some protection. Which brings us to ...

PROTECTING MATTY ICE: The Falcons' offensive line is a huge question mark. Todd McClure retired, Tyson Clabo was released, and Mike Johnson sustained a season-ending injury in training camp. Left tackle Sam Baker is solid, and Peter Konz should do just fine taking over for McClure at center. But the right side looks very shaky with guard Garrett Reynolds and tackle Lamar Holmes. Atlanta got a glimpse of its potential problems when Ryan was sacked five times by Tennessee in a preseason game. Considering the backup quarterback is untested Dominique Davis, the Falcons must keep Ryan healthy.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: The Falcons didn't get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year, coming up with only 29 sacks (and 10 of those were by since-released John Abraham). Coordinator Mike Nolan prefers a 3-4 alignment, so he's trying to adjust the personnel to fit the scheme. Kroy Biermann has looked more like an outside linebacker during the preseason than his listed position, defensive end. Newcomer Osi Umenyiora also might fill more of a hybrid role. Youngsters such as Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews will be expected to contribute more.

YOUNG SECONDARY: Cornerback was a prime focus in the draft after the Falcons cut Dunta Robinson and lost Brent Grimes in free agency. First-round pick Desmond Trufant was handed a starting job, and second-rounder Robert Alford will plenty of playing time in nickel and dime packages. They must grow up fast, playing in a division that guarantees two games a year against Drew Brees of New Orleans and Cam Newton of Carolina.

SMITTY'S TEAM: Smith has quietly become one of the league's top coaches, though he does his best to avoid getting noticed. He lets his assistants do their jobs, gives the veterans plenty of leeway but makes it clear he's the man in charge. Seriously, how many coaches would've let a player leave training camp for three weeks to be with his family, as Smith did with Gonzalez? That sort of give-and-take has made Atlanta a popular destination for free agents, and Dimitroff does his part by signing team-first players who mesh well together. ``We've had guys that have been the right fit for this organization,'' Ryan said. ``When you win first in the locker room, I think that transcends onto the field.''

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

---

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Knowshon MorenoSep 2 09:33a

Miami Dolphins RB Lamar Miller totaled nearly 20 percent (140 yards) of his season yardage total (709 yards) on his longest four carries of the 2013 season. He had [ More ]

J.J. WattSep 2 04:23a

The Houston Texans signed DL J.J. Watt to a new long-term contract on Monday, Sept. 1. Watt's extension is a six-year deal worth $100 million, of which $51.876 million is guaranteed money.

Kyle Van NoySep 2 04:23a

Detroit Lions LB Kyle Van Noy (core muscle) could miss as many as eight games as he recovers from core muscle surgery. He could be placed on short-term IR as a result.

Josh BoyceSep 2 03:12a

The New England Patriots signed LB Jake Bequette, DL Deontae Skinner, OL Chris Martin, S Kanorris Davis, LS Charley Hughlett, CB Daxton Swanson and WR Josh Boyce to the [ More ]

Sammy WatkinsSep 2 01:02a

Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins (ribs) said he felt fine after practice Monday, Sept. 1, and hopes to be on the field in Week 1.

A.J. EddsSep 2 12:43a

The New York Jets re-signed LB A.J. Edds Monday, Sept. 1.

Kevin DorseySep 2 12:03a

The Green Bay Packers signed WR Kevin Dorsey, C Garth Gerhart, WR Alex Gillett, RB Michael Hill, LB Adrian Hubbard and DE Luther Robinson to the practice squad Monday, Sept. 1.

Tim BenfordSep 1 11:52p

The Dallas Cowboys signed WR Tim Benford, DE Kenneth Boatright, C Ronald Patrick, CB Micah Pellerin, LB Keith Smith, LB William Smith and FB Nikita Whitlock to the practice squad Monday, Sept. 1.

Devon StillSep 1 10:42p

The Cincinnati Bengals signed OT Dan France, TE Kevin Greene, WR Cobi Hamilton, DT David King, WR Colin Lockett, CB Onterio McCalebb, DE Sam Montgomery, C Trevor Robinson, DT [ More ]

Isaiah FreySep 1 10:33p

The Chicago Bears signed WR Josh Bellamy, C Taylor Boggs, DT Brandon Dunn, DB Isaiah Frey, OG Ryan Groy, LB DeDe Lattimore, DB Albert Louis-Jean, DB Terrance Mitchell, DE [ More ]

Bryan WaltersSep 1 09:33p

The Seattle Seahawks re-signed free-agent WR Bryan Walters (Seahawks) to a contract Monday, Sept. 1. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

J. CunninghamSep 1 09:33p

The St. Louis Rams re-signed TE Justice Cunningham (ankle) and placed him on the season-ending reserve/injured list Monday, Sept. 1.

Quentin GrovesSep 1 09:33p

The Tennessee Titans signed free-agent LB Quentin Groves (Texans) to an undisclosed contract Monday, Sept. 1.

Charles JohnsonSep 1 09:23p

Free-agent C Josh Allen (Buccaneers), C Thomas Austin (Colts), OG Karim Barton (Browns), CB Akeem Davis (Redskins), LB Larry Dean (Vikings), TE Richard Gordon (Dolphins), TE Marcel Jensen (Vikings), [ More ]

Michael SamSep 1 08:02p

The Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League owns the rights to free-agent DE Michael Sam (Rams). The team has reached out to him, but there is no word [ More ]

Jeremiah GeorgeSep 1 08:02p

The New York Jets placed LB Jeremiah George on no-recall waivers Monday, Sept. 1.

Tim FuggerSep 1 08:02p

The New York Jets placed DE Tim Fugger (ankle) on no-recall waivers from the reserve/injured list Monday, Sept. 1, and he received an injury settlement.

Phil BatesSep 1 08:02p

The Seattle Seahawks placed WR Phil Bates on no-recall waivers Monday, Sept. 1.

Don JonesSep 1 08:02p

The New England Patriots claimed CB Don Jones (Dolphins) off waivers Monday, Sept. 1.

Derek CarrSep 1 06:42p

Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr will be the starting quarterback Week 1.

Charles JohnsonSep 1 05:42p

The Cleveland Browns signed free-agents WR Charles X. Johnson (Browns) and OG Karim Barton (Browns) to their practice squad Monday, Sept. 1.

Khalid WootenSep 1 05:32p

The Tennessee Titans signed free-agent CB Khalid Wooten (Titans) to their practice squad Monday, Sept. 1.

Phillip AdamsSep 1 04:52p

The New York Jets signed free-agents CB Phillip Adams (Seahawks) and released WR Quincy Enunwa Monday, Sept. 1.

Korey ToomerSep 1 04:22p

The Dallas Cowboys signed free-agent LB Korey Toomer (Seahawks) and released CB Jemea Thomas Monday, Sept. 1.

Case KeenumSep 1 04:22p

The St. Louis Rams claimed QB Case Keenum off waivers from the Houston Texans Monday, Sept. 1.

Ryan SuccopSep 1 04:22p

The Tennessee Titans signed free-agent PK Ryan Succop (Chiefs) to an undisclosed deal and released PK Travis Coons Monday, Sept. 1.

James IhedigboSep 1 04:22p

Detroit Lions SS James Ihedigbo (leg), FS Don Carey (undisclosed) and LB Kyle Van Noy (abdomen) did not practice Monday, Sept. 1.

Garrett GilbertSep 1 04:03p

The St. Louis Rams signed free-agents QB Garrett Gilbert (Rams), LB Kevin Reddick (Saints), SS Matt Daniels (Rams), LB Denicos Allen (Panthers) and OT Sean Hooey (Rams) to their practice squad Monday, Sept. 1.

Bruce IrvinSep 1 03:52p

Seattle Seahawks WR Kevin Norwood (foot) and LB Bruce Irvin (hip) may play Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, according to head coach Pete Carroll.

Corey PetersSep 1 03:32p

Atlanta Falcons DT Corey Peters (Achilles') is still iffy for the regular season opener. Head coach Mike Smith said he wants Peters to practice in pads Wednesday, Sept. 3, before making a decision.

Trai TurnerSep 1 03:12p

Carolina Panthers OG Trai Turner (groin) will start at right guard Sunday, Sept. 7 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to head coach Ron Rivera, though C Fernando Velasco may spot him at times.

Kyle WilliamsSep 1 03:02p

The Kansas City Chiefs released WR Kyle Williams Monday, Sept. 1.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group