Smith: Atlanta Falcons no longer “10 yards from the Super Bowl”

  • Joe Ray
Can Mike Smith lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl in his sixth season with the team? (Associated Press)

Can Mike Smith lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl in his sixth season with the team? (Associated Press)

While much of the attention so far this offseason has been directed to the NFC West, the Atlanta Falcons have been retooling their roster to make another run at the Super Bowl in the 2013 season. Longtime New York Giant Osi Unemyiora and former Rams running back Steven Jackson should be upgrades over departed veterans Michael Turner and John Abraham, and tight end Tony Gonzalez returned for a 17th season in pursuit of that elusive Super Bowl title.

Coming as close as they did to a Super Bowl berth, it could be easy for the Atlanta Falcons to dwell on what could have happened in 2012. Still, any team that truly wanted to be successful would find a way to look past the adversity of last season. That is exactly the goal for Falcons head coach Mike Smith.

Smith has to keep his team looking forward to a new year and a new opportunity to represent the NFC on one of the biggest stages in sports. The Falcons aren’t going to do that by reflecting upon how close they were to upsetting the San Francisco 49ers in January, according to Chris Wesseling of Around the League.

“After I came out of a week and a half of not sleeping and not watching the Super Bowl, I heard a lot of people talking about, ‘We were 10 yards away,'” Smith told fans at the Falcons’ annual State of the Franchise event. “Listen folks, that was 2012. Our only focus right now is on 2013. We’re not 10 yards from the Super Bowl.

“We’re like every other team in this league fighting to get to the same place. We’re 261 days from going to New York and getting a chance to go play in that. So we’re done talking about that 10 yards. We’re moving on and looking forward, folks.”

The Atlanta Falcons sure have a long road to travel if they want to make it to the Super Bowl right now. The team lost many good players from last year’s team. Standout offensive linemen Todd McClure (center) and Tyson Clabo (right tackle) will be replaced by second-year players Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes, respectively. McClure retired after spending his entire career with the Falcons, and Clabo was cut by the team and signed with the Miami Dolphins.

At cornerback, the team also lost two great veterans. Brent Grimes, who was arguably the team’s best corner when healthy, left for the Dolphins in free agency, while Dunta Robinson was released and signed on with Kansas City. The Falcons spent their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, who are both promising prospects in their own right. Whether they can replace the veteran presence in the secondary will be interesting to watch.

What may be most troubling for the Falcons is the fact that they couldn’t hold up in the second half in the playoffs. After taking a 20-0 lead into the half against Seattle, the Falcons nearly blew the game before a last second field goal by Matt Bryant saved their playoff lives. They were not so lucky against the 49ers, as a 24-14 halftime lead for the Falcons turned into a 28-24 loss that could not be salvaged by the Falcons’ drive that ended up 10 yards short.

While the Atlanta Falcons will have to rely heavily on Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White again in 2013, the defense will have to take significant strides to take the team to the Super Bowl this season.

Follow us on Twitter – @DownandDistance

Down and Distance Columnist Joe Ray – @jpray_SK

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