The Falcons have not been successful once they are in the playoffs the past four seasons. That much is clear.
People around the league have lots of questions as to whether or not Ryan and the current team can possibly win a playoff game, let alone a Super Bowl. They base this not on his success of the team’s albeit limited success in the regular season, but on the tremendously ineffectiveness of the team in the playoffs. Even some of the Falcons faithful have begun to question Ryan, Head Coach Mike Smith, GM Thomas Dimitroff, or all of the above. I personally do not doubt, but there are doubts and doubters out there, and truly the Falcons haven’t done much to prove to anyone that they CAN be successful in the playoffs.
However, lets imagine for a moment that the Falcons HAVE won a playoff game. Lets imagine that they defeated the New York Giants, but lost to the 49ers. Obviously winning the game against the Giants would have major implications and have changed the entire outcome of the playoffs, but this situation in completely hypothetical. The Falcons would have won only 1 playoff game the past four seasons (in three trips to the playoffs), not having made it to an NFC Championship game or a Super Bowl. But they would have had a singular playoff victory.
Would this change the perception of the Falcons? Would this change people’s perception of Matt Ryan? Does winning one playoff game really make that big a difference? I don’t think that would say anything more about the talent of the team, or the desire of this team to win. However I do think that it would be a tremendous confidence boost, one that could propel this team into further post-season success.
I think this Falcons team has all the talent in the world. The receiving corps is, top to bottom, second to none. Tony Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer. Matt Ryan is already a Pro-Bowler who has not yet realized his full potential. The defense has some key veteran players, but also has a multitude of extremely talented and athletic young starting players. That being said, ‘all the talent in the world’ doesn’t win games if the team fails to execute. There were vast spans of the regular season where the execution was poor, and when you play elite teams in the playoffs, team execution becomes even more important. Playoffs magnify your ability to successfully execute plays during the season, or magnifies your sporadic success. The Falcons experienced the latter, as the Giants challenged the Falcons to execute (something they did at times during the regular season but not routinely), and watched as Atlanta failed time after time to convert 3rd & 4th downs or to stop the Giant offense.
Would winning one playoff game really make that big a difference? I feel that this teams would have gotten drubbed in the 2nd round of the playoffs if they had not by the Giants. The execution of this teams was just that poor. However, the confidence boost that they could be successful is something that is invaluable and cannot be replicated through practice, film study, or regular season success. I don’t think these Falcons players are feeling a wall and feeling like it is impossible for an Atlanta team to win in the playoff just yet. However, a major hurdle will be jumped when they do win that first playoff game under this regime. Once they do that, the talent of this team will be able to take over and continue their playoff success.