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

Matt JonesMay 20 02:15p

Washington Redskins RB Matt Jones said that he loves the offense and has a chip on his shoulder after not being used properly while in college. 'My college career [ More ]

Derek CarrMay 20 08:53a

Updating a previous report, Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr (finger) is experiencing numbness in his right ring finger. He hopes to avoid surgery through rest and rehab, and no [ More ]

Derek CarrMay 19 06:13p

Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr (finger) has a right ring finger injury that could be surgically repaired. A return for training camp is still achievable, however, according to a source.

L. WashingtonMay 19 05:23p

Pittsburgh Steelers WR L'Damian Washington (undisclosed) was waived/injured Tuesday, May 19.

Shayne GrahamMay 19 03:03p

New Orleans Saints PK Shayne Graham was released Tuesday, May 19. Subsequently, free-agent WR Lance Lewis (49ers) was signed.

Joseph BarksdaleMay 19 02:23p

Free-agent OT Joseph Barksdale (Rams) will sign a one-year deal worth $350,000 with the San Diego Chargers, according to a source. The deal also comes with more than $1 million in incentives available.

Tom BradyMay 19 01:43p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady will continue to appeal his four-game suspension, despite owner Robert Kraft saying the team will not appeal the discipline levied against them.

Jed CollinsMay 18 03:32p

Dallas Cowboys FB Jed Collins was released Monday, May 18, and FB Tyler Clutts was re-signed to an undisclosed contract.

Tyler CluttsMay 18 03:32p

Dallas Cowboys FB Jed Collins was released Monday, May 18, and FB Tyler Clutts was re-signed to an undisclosed contract.

Lache SeastrunkMay 18 02:42p

Tennessee Titans RB Lache Seastrunk was released Monday, May 18.

Jimmy GaroppoloMay 17 08:42p

New England Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo's quick decision making and accuracy fit well with New England's playbook that includes quick-rhythm passes as part of the foundation, and Bucky Brooks [ More ]

Zach HockerMay 17 04:42p

The New Orleans Saints have signed free-agent PK Zach Hocker (Dolphins).

Joseph RandleMay 16 07:32p

Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle has the skills to lead the team's backfield in 2015 but he'll need to work on his off-field issues, according to Jon Machota of [ More ]

Matt CasselMay 15 07:52p

Buffalo Bills QB Matt Cassel is likely to enter Week 1 of the season as the team's backup quarterback, in the opinion of The Buffalo News' Vic Carucci. He [ More ]

Santana MossMay 15 07:12p

Free-agent WR Santana Moss (Redskins) is not ready to hang up his cleats and retire this offseason. 'I'm a free agent right now, you know how they do [ More ]

Robert TurbinMay 14 05:32p

Seattle Seahawks RB Robert Turbin (hip) underwent hip surgery this offseason, according to sources. No timetable was disclosed for his recovery.

Tom BradyMay 14 03:52p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has officially appealed his four-game suspension.

Greg SalasMay 13 02:23p

Free-agent WR Greg Salas (Jets) signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions Wednesday, May 13. Financial terms were not disclosed.

John ConnerMay 13 12:03p

Free-agent FB John Conner (Jets) signed with the Buffalo Bills Wednesday, May 13. FB Corey Knox was waived to make room for him.

Tom BradyMay 13 10:03a

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady's four-game suspension could be reduced significantly, and possibly overturned, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Brady has put together a renowned legal team to appeal his suspension.

D.J. SwearingerMay 12 05:22p

Free-agent SS D.J. Swearinger was officially claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tuesday, May 12.

Fred JacksonMay 12 03:13p

Buffalo Bills RB Fred Jackson may not make the final roster if the Bills end up keeping only three running backs, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. RB LeSean [ More ]

Lance MooreMay 12 01:23p

Free-agent WR Lance Moore (Steelers) signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions.

Justin BlackmonMay 12 11:02a

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon was denied reinstatement by the NFL this offseason, according to The Associated Press' Mark Long. It's unclear whether Blackmon failed a drug test or [ More ]

Joseph RandleMay 12 10:42a

Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle could see the bulk of the carries as the season weighs on, in the opinion of beat writer Todd Archer. Archer pegged Randle for [ More ]

Jimmy GaroppoloMay 11 09:42p

New England Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start while QB Tom Brady serves his suspension for 'DeflateGate'. Brady was suspended four games by the National Football League [ More ]

Tom BradyMay 11 07:12p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady will appeal his four-game suspension, according to his agent.

Tom BradyMay 11 05:52p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has been suspended four games for his involvement in the deflated-football incident in the AFC Championship. In addition, the Patriots will lose their [ More ]

D.J. SwearingerMay 11 04:12p

Houston Texans SS D.J. Swearinger was officially released Monday, May 11.

Carey SpearMay 11 01:22p

Cleveland Browns PKs Travis Coons and Carey Spear will compete for the kicker job this offseason, and the competition is wide open at this point, according to special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.

Garrett HartleyMay 11 01:12p

Cleveland Browns PK Garrett Hartley was released Monday, May 11.

Kyle ArringtonMay 11 10:32a

New England Patriots CB Kyle Arrington was released Monday, May 11, according to a source. The team left the door open for him to return.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group