Ever since New England Patriots running back James White broke the goal line and our hearts in overtime of Super Bowl LI, Atlanta sports fans have been looking back on and making comparisons to teams like the 1991, ’92, ’96 and ’99 Braves and the ‘98-’99 Falcons. All had great teams and all lost championships in the most agonizing fashion possible. Now, we’re left to watch the Falcons go through the off-season, a time when they have to improve the team fast before moving into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium this fall.
But before we completely write off the Falcons as another chapter in Atlanta’s losing sports history, let’s remember those ‘91 Braves. They had gone from last in the NL West in 1990 to the World Series in 1991, they took a three games to two lead in the series before losing the last two in extra innings. Sound familiar? The Falcons, were 8-8 last year, second in the NFC South but well out of playoff contention. In the off-season, they signed veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and center Alex Mack. Sanu had had an uncharacteristically bad season a year ago and Mack had played for the Cleveland Browns,m a small market, extremely bad team. Both players signed with the Falcons without getting many other offers. The ‘91 Braves signed veterans Sid Bream and Terry Pendleton after they had bad seasons, and both played well for the Braves.
So, how do the Falcons stay on track to win a championship like the Braves did four years later? Here’s four paths to victory.
1. Get some veteran help on defense.
The Falcons had seven players starting for them in the Super Bowl who were in their first or second years in the NFL. The past four seasons, Super Bowl championship teams, including, this year’s Patriots, last year’s Denver Broncos, the Patriots in 2014, and the 2013 Seattle Seahawks have been ranked in the top ten defensively in points-per-game and in the top 15 in yards per-game, with the top scoring offenses going 0-3 in that span. That’s including the Denver Broncos in 2013 who scored an all-time record 606 points that year, and were demolished by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII 43-8. The point is that defense wins championships, and the Falcons defense is decent. But they are too young to compete with experienced players like Tom Brady and are prone to mistakes, like allowing Julian Edelman to make a miraculous catch surrounded by three or four Falcon defenders.
2. Get a play-making Tight End.
Sure, Austin Hooper isn’t bad, but is he Tony Gonzalez? No, not even close. In ‘91 and ‘92 the Braves had a dynamic rotation of John Smoltz, Steve Avery, and Tom Glavine, but they sign Greg Maddux before the 1993 season anyway. Why? Because Maddux was a well-seasoned veteran who would mentor the other pitchers. The Falcons need to find a TE to make their offense even better. Going back to the 2013 Broncos, they were good in 2012, with stats similar to the Falcons last year, but they did two things in the off-season that turned a good offense into a record breaking one. They upgraded at wide receiver, signing Wes Welker. The Falcons have already done that, signing Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel last year. The other thing the Broncos did is they re-signed injured TE Julius Thomas. Thomas, who had missed his first two seasons with leg injuries, put up incredible numbers but he left two years later and Denver’s offense deteriorated to the point where last year it was almost completely dysfunctional. Lucky for Atlanta, the draft this year features two good TE’s: University of Alabama’s O.J Howard and University of Miami’s David Njoku. If they want a TE, they’re there for them.
3. Add depth
The Falcons starters are good, but in the NFL, injuries are inevitable and having capable back-ups is crucial to winning the Super Bowl. The Falcons were lucky that Julio Jones only missed two games with a toe injury, because they don’t have anyone who can step in next to Sanu and Gabriel and make plays with some consistency. Also, it is never a bad idea to have lots of depth on the offensive line. To fix this problem, the Falcons will may draft some lineman and maybe even a wide receiver near the end of the draft.
4. Don’t be stupid
Yes, this is the one thing all Atlanta teams seem to have trouble with, whether it’s bad play calling, bad draft picks, or bad trades. The Braves recently have had some stingy ownership which was unwilling to invest much money into the team, and a general manager who made bad trades and signed risky free agents. The same thing can’t happen to these Falcons. The Falcons need to do what I’ve mentioned and then sit back and watch this team win. The Falcons are already ready to win, but they need to get just a bit better. So Falcons owner Arthur Blank: please, please, please, don’t be stupid. Don’t spend money on a player the Falcons don’t need and don’t get rid of ones they do, if the Falcons can fix the few holes they have, I see a Super Bowl in their future.
Above photo: The agony of defeat — the Falcons lose Super Bowl LI in overtime when New England Patriot James White launched himself into the end zone.
Max Goldstein, is a freshman at Atlanta Jewish Academy who has never had bacon in his life.