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

D.J. WilliamsAug 22 05:12p

Free-agent DT Anthony McCloud (Cardinals), WR Jabin Sambrano (Falcons), DT Marcus Forston (Patriots), TE D.J. Williams (Patriots) and DE James Ruffin (Buccaneers) all cleared waivers Friday, Aug. 22.

Damien WilliamsAug 22 04:58p

Miami Dolphins RB Damien Williams has leapfrogged RBs Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee on the depth chart.

Jalil BrownAug 22 03:22p

The Miami Dolphins released CB Jalil Brown Friday, Aug. 22.

Michael EgnewAug 22 03:02p

The Miami Dolphins waived TE Michael Egnew Friday, Aug. 22.

Emmanuel SandersAug 22 11:22a

Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (quadriceps) had a full practice Thursday, Aug. 21, and he could play in his first preseason game Saturday, Aug. 23.

Isaac RedmanAug 22 10:52a

Free-agent RB Isaac Redman (back) said he is no longer able to play football after suffering a spinal cord injury in 2013.

Christian PonderAug 22 10:42a

Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater is entrenched as the No. 2 quarterback, and the team is confident with him there. QB Christian Ponder could be traded if he performs [ More ]

Brandon BostickAug 22 08:22a

Updating a previous report, Green Bay Packers TE Brandon Bostick (leg) has a slight fracture of his fibula and could return by Week 2 or Week 3.

Sean SpenceAug 22 01:02a

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Sean Spence (knee) and Jason Worilds (knee) are not expected to have suffered serious knee injuries during the team's preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21, according to sources.

Doug MartinAug 22 12:52a

Tampa Bay Buccaners RB Doug Martin was called the team's 'bell cow' running back by head coach Lovie Smith.

Heath MillerAug 22 12:42a

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Heath Miller had a team-high five catches for 53 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown reception, in the team's preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21.

Nick FolesAug 22 12:12a

Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception during the team's preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21. He led [ More ]

LeSean McCoyAug 21 11:42p

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy (thumb) said he expects to be ready for the regular season after spraining his right thumb during the team's preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21.

Sammy WatkinsAug 21 10:22p

Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins (ribs) did not participate in team drills during practice Thursday, Aug. 21, and he has not been cleared to play in the team's preseason game Saturday, Aug. 23.

Max StarksAug 21 09:32p

Arizona Cardinals OT Max Starks (ankle), LB Kevin Minter (pectoral) and OG Jonathan Cooper (toe) did not practice Thursday, Aug. 21.

Brandin CooksAug 21 09:12p

New Orleans Saints WR Brandin Cooks (illness) returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, Aug. 21, and he is questionable for the team's preseason game Saturday, Aug. 23, [ More ]

Victor ButlerAug 21 09:12p

New Orleans Saints CB Rod Sweeting (undisclosed) and LB Victor Butler (undisclosed) did conditioning work on the side with trainers during practice Thursday, Aug. 21.

LeSean McCoyAug 21 09:02p

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy's (thumb) X-rays on his right thumb came back negative, but he will not return to the team's preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21.

Jeremy MaclinAug 21 08:52p

Philadelphia Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) walked off the field under his own power after falling and clutching his right knee during the team's preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21.

LeSean McCoyAug 21 08:32p

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy (thumb) left the team's preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21, and went to the locker room for X-rays on his right thumb.

Le'Veon BellAug 21 07:52p

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell started against the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night as he waits for a possible suspension after being charged for driving under the influence and marijuana possession.

Kenny BrittAug 21 07:32p

St. Louis Rams WR Kenny Britt (shoulder) may sit out of the team's preseason game against the Cleveland Browns Saturday, Aug. 23, with a shoulder injury. Britt did practice this week, however.

William HayesAug 21 07:32p

St. Louis Rams WR Jordan Harris (undisclosed), LB Pat Schiller (undisclosed), DE Sammy Brown (calf), DT Matt Conrath (undisclosed), DE William Hayes (undisclosed) OG Barrett Jones (back) and C [ More ]

J. VanderveldeAug 21 06:22p

Philadelphia Eagles WR Josh Huff (shoulder), RB Chris Polk (hamstring), WR Brad Smith (undisclosed), CB Brandon Boykin (leg), LB Jake Knott (hamstring) and C Julian Vandervelde (back) are not [ More ]

Reggie WayneAug 21 05:32p

Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne (knee) is a game-time decision against the New Orleans Saints Saturday, Aug. 23, according to head coach Chuck Pagano.

Darnell DockettAug 21 05:12p

Arizona Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett (knee) was placed on Reserve/Injured Thursday, Aug. 21.

Fendi OnobunAug 21 05:12p

Jacksonville Jaguars TE Fendi Onobun (knee) has cleared waivers and was placed on Reserve/Injured Thursday, Aug. 2.

Mike CaussinAug 21 05:12p

Washington Redskins TE Mike Caussin (undisclosed) was placed on Reserve/Injured Thursday, Aug. 21.

Isaiah PeadAug 21 05:12p

St. Louis Rams RB Isaiah Pead (knee) has cleared waivers and was placed on Reserve/Injured Thursday, Aug. 2.

Joe MaysAug 21 04:42p

Kansas City Chiefs LB Joe Mays (wrist) will have surgery on his wrist, according to a source. Mays was hurt in last week's preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. [ More ]

Eric WeemsAug 21 04:02p

The Atlanta Falcons signed free-agent WR Eric Weems (Bears) Thursday, Aug. 21. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Manti Te'oAug 21 03:42p

San Diego Chargers OG Jeromey Clary (shoulder, hip), WR Vincent Brown (calf), LB Manti Te'o (foot), DT Sean Lissemore (ankle), SS Jahleel Addae (hamstring), DE Lawrence Guy (shoulder) and [ More ]

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