2013 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

Terrelle PryorApr 23 08:58a

The Seattle Seahawks acquired QB Terrelle Pryor from the Oakland Raiders Monday, April 21, in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick in this year's draft. He will compete with [ More ]

Matt RyanApr 22 10:53p

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith is calling for major improvement on both sides of the line of scrimmage. He fears the team could bottom out for a second [ More ]

EJ ManuelApr 22 08:13p

Buffalo Bills QB EJ Manuel (knees) is healthy entering voluntary workouts and feels normal and had no limitations during the Tuesday, April 22 conditioning program. Bills head coach Doug [ More ]

Rolando McClainApr 22 07:53p

Updating a previous report, the Baltimore Ravens have officially placed LB Rolando McClain on the reserve-retired list for a second time. The Ravens will retain McClain's rights if he changes his mind again.

Eli ManningApr 22 07:33p

New York Giants QB Eli Manning (ankle) expects to be 100 percent for the beginning of training camp. Manning has no concerns about learning the Giants' new playbook, instead [ More ]

Ray RiceApr 22 04:43p

Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice looks great physically, according to strength and conditioning coach Bob Roguck. 'He's doing some things differently as far as his diet and so forth, [ More ]

David WilsonApr 22 02:43p

New York Giants RB David Wilson (neck) said he is still waiting for a clear MRI to be medically cleared, but is currently ahead of schedule.

Julio JonesApr 22 01:13p

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (foot) will be limited during the team's offseason workouts while he recovers from offseason foot surgery. 'Julio is participating with our athletic performance department,' [ More ]

Eli ManningApr 22 01:03p

New York Giants QB Eli Manning (ankle) said his ankle is progressing but he does not have a timetable for his return to the field. Manning is currently in a walking boot.

Stevie BrownApr 22 12:33p

New York Giants FS Stevie Brown (knee) said he feels like he is ready to go when the Giants hit the field after recovering from a serious knee injury. [ More ]

Will HillApr 22 10:33a

The New York Giants are likely to cut FS Will Hill after his third potential drug suspension.

Josh MorganApr 22 09:52a

Chicago Bears WR Joshua Morgan is likely to compete for the No. 3 or 4 wide receiver role this year, and he'll compete with WRs Domenik Hixon, Eric Weems [ More ]

Will HillApr 22 09:33a

New York Giants FS Will Hill is facing a year-long suspension after reportedly failing another drug test. He will appeal what would be his third drug-related suspension.

Kyle WilliamsApr 21 09:33p

The Kansas City Chiefs re-signed WR Kyle Williams Monday, April 21. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

Colt AndersonApr 21 07:12p

The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent FS Colt Anderson (Eagles) to an undisclosed deal Monday, April 21.

Jamar TaylorApr 21 06:43p

Miami Dolphins CB Jamar Taylor (groin) is healthy following hernia surgery and began offseason workouts with his teammates Monday, April 21. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said he expects [ More ]

Dustin KellerApr 21 05:42p

Eugene Parker, agent for free-agent TE Dustin Keller (knee), said Keller is ready to participate in offseason workouts when he signs with a team.

Eric FisherApr 21 05:12p

Kansas City Chiefs OT Eric Fisher (shoulder, hernia) said there is no timetable for his return following multiple surgeries, but he doesn't think he'll be out for long. 'He's [ More ]

Josh MorganApr 21 04:02p

The Chicago Bears have signed free-agent WR Joshua Morgan (Redskins) to a one-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

A.J. GreenApr 21 03:32p

Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green said he has added around six pounds this offseason, because he wants to be more physical as a way to beat coverage at the [ More ]

Michael VickApr 21 02:42p

New York Jets QB Geno Smith said he believes he will be the starting quarterback this upcoming season even though the team added QB Michael Vick this offseason. He [ More ]

Navorro BowmanApr 21 02:12p

The San Francisco 49ers plan to place LB NaVorro Bowman (knee) on the Physically Unable to Perform list when training camp begins, because he is not expected to be [ More ]

Eric FisherApr 21 02:02p

Kansas City Chiefs OT Eric Fisher (shoulder, hernia) underwent shoulder surgery and had a procedure to fix a sports hernia. He's currently rehabbing in Kansas City.

Tony CarterApr 21 01:22p

The Denver Broncos signed DT Mitch Unrein to his restricted free-agent tender Monday, April 21. CB Tony Carter, SS Duke Ihenacho and LB Brandon M. Marshall all signed their exclusive rights tenders.

Rolando McClainApr 21 01:02p

Baltimore Ravens LB Rolando McClain is retiring from the NFL again Monday, April 21. 'I gotta follow my heart. It ain't football. If football made me complete I would [ More ]

Tony RomoApr 21 12:42p

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back) will take part in the team's voluntary offseason program beginning Monday, April 21, according to a source. Players are allowed to lift weights, [ More ]

Marcus LattimoreApr 20 09:12p

San Francisco 49ers RB Marcus Lattimore (knee) is not expected to be restricted in any way when offseason workouts begin.

Michael EgnewApr 20 08:42p

The Miami Dolphins likely will add at least two more tight ends this offseason that will compete with TE Michael Egnew for a roster spot.

Armon BinnsApr 20 12:02a

Miami Dolphins WR Armon Binns is currently the team's No. 4 receiver, but the Dolphins have had discussions about WR Rishard Matthews replacing Binns at the spot, according to a source.

Tyrone CrawfordApr 20 12:02a

Dallas Cowboys DT Tyrone Crawford (Achilles') is expected to be ready for the team's offseason program, and he is expected to be a key piece to the defense this season.

M. Jones-DrewApr 20 12:02a

If healthy, Oakland Raiders RB Darren McFadden is expected to be the team's starting tailback with RB Maurice Jones-Drew as his backup.

Brian HartlineApr 20 12:02a

Miami Dolphins WR Brian Hartline (knee) is expected to be ready for the start of mini camp, according to a source. He suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the 2013 regular season finale.

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