Atlanta Falcons: The Eight Year Rise from Turmoil to Super Bowl

Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) waves to the crowd following the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: William Glasheen/Appleton Post Crescent via USA TODAY NETWORK
Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) waves to the crowd following the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: William Glasheen/Appleton Post Crescent via USA TODAY NETWORK /

The groundwork for the Atlanta Falcons’ trip to Super Bowl 51 was laid back in 2008. We revisit the last 8-years; from embarrassment to Super Bowl bound.

The Atlanta Falcons are headed to the Super Bowl. Its’s a sentence that is hard to believe by even some of the Falcons’ faithful but yet, here they are. The Falcons stand one win away from bringing the city of Atlanta it’s first Super Bowl championship.

From the 2008 season to this point, the Falcons have endured a massive, emotional wave of triumphs, embarrassments, let-downs, and ridicule. Atlanta is now riding a wave that hasn’t been this high since 1998.

This impressive voyage of the Atlanta Falcons started on April 26th, 2008.

The Era of Matt Ryan

On April 26th, 2008, the lasting days of the Bobby Petrino-Michael Vick saga came to an end. They ended with the third overall pick in the 2008 draft which so happened to be Boston College’s Matt Ryan. With his selection came the foundation for what has been a magical season for the Falcons over the 2016-2017 campaign.

Related Story: Falcons demolish Packers, head to Super Bowl 51

As a rookie, Ryan led the Atlanta Falcons to an 11-5 record and trip to the playoffs. Also relative rookies back then were head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. The shocking season ended with the Falcons losing to Arizona in the Wild Card Round, but Matt Ryan established himself as a quarterback with tremendous potential.

Enter Julio Jones

The 2011 NFL Draft brought another massive player into the fold. Fresh off a 13-3 season which ended in an embarrassing Divisional Round loss to Green Bay, the Falcons rolled the dice. Dimitroff showed fortitude and traded five draft picks to Cleveland for the right to draft receiver Julio Jones. Adding Jones to a corps that featured Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez allowed the Falcons to blossom into an offense that put up points with ease.

2011 regular season
2011 regular season /

, but only mustered two against the Giants in the Wild Card Round. It was another black eye for the team’s overall image.

Next up was the 2012 NFC Championship Game meltdown, an injury marred, four-win 2013 season, and six total wins in 2014. The 2015 season started promising. Atlanta began 5-0 and then…well, you know the story.

Building Brick-by-Brick

What we didn’t realize over the span of four seasons is that the Falcons, brick-by-brick, quietly laid the foundation of the team that we see today. Such bricks include:

  • Selecting a pair of speedy corners in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in the 2013 draft
  • Drafting LT Jake Matthews and RB Devonta Freeman in 2014
  • Grabbing OLB/DE Vic Beasley Jr, CB Jalen Collins, and RB Tevin Coleman in the 2015 draft
  • Signed OLB Brooks Reed and LG Chris Chester in 2015 free agency
  • Inked deals with C Alex Mack and WRs Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel in 2016 free agency
  • Drafting SS Keanu Neal, LB Deion Jones, and TE Austin Hooper in 2016

Trumping all the above personnel moves was the hiring of head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan prior to the 2015 season.

It’s also worth noting that some bad financial decisions along the way considerably slowed down the Falcons’ progress. The free agent contracts of Ray Edwards, Steven Jackson, and Dunta Robinson accumulated precious salary cap and delivered minimal performance.

Character Beats the Odds in 2016

The Falcons faced a ton of questions and even more doubt as they entered the 2016 season. Up against the NFL’s toughest schedule, there was little expectation they’d finish the regular season strong and get into the playoffs. Low expectations didn’t stop Quinn from building up the character of his young and talented bunch while preaching ignorance toward the outside chatter.

The ultimate outcome was a team that avoided the second-half collapse so many sat back and waited for. Atlanta climbed over the wall that was the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round. They also flustered and dominated Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

Are the Falcons on the verge of a dynasty-like sequence? That remains to be seen. One thing is for sure though, the Falcons have been a punching bag for quite some time. They’ve also teetered on the cusp of greatness from here and there.

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In capturing the NFC Championship trophy, the Atlanta Falcons’ plan that began in 2008 seems to be finally paying off. The only task left is one Quinn has preached all season long: Finish!