“These are the times that try men’s souls.” – Thomas Paine

It has been said that football is family.  I concur.  Sports unite people from all kinds of different creeds and cultures.  The Brotherhood the Falcons built during the 2016 season was surely felt by its fanbase.  I felt it not only across social media, but in real places like Buffalo Wild Wings, fist bumping fellow fans decked out in the red and black Friday night before the big game.

The family just experienced its most crushing loss ever.  Of course it’s not just that the Falcons lost, but the way they lost.  That Lombardi trophy not only belonged to the executives, players, and coaches of the Atlanta Falcons, but every single diehard fan, and the city of Atlanta.  We tasted it, it was sweet, and for a moment, it was ours.  How do you get over having such joy snatched away and replaced with stunning disbelief?  You don’t.

The challenge that lies ahead of the core of remaining Falcons’ players and coaches is to move forward and to do so quickly.  It’s an even tougher challenge than the one the team just faced. Only two teams in the Super Bowl era have returned to the Super Bowl and won it after losing the game in the previous year:  Dallas in 1971 and Miami in 1972.  

There are also fears that the loser of the Super Bowl is destined to have a down year the next season.  But Falcons’ fans should not be too concerned about any so-called “curses.”  Here are a few reasons to be optimistic:

  1. Since 1977, losing Super Bowl teams have recorded winning seasons more often than not the next year.
  2. The Falcons are ahead of the “Carroll curve.”  The Falcons were able to see tremendous postseason success in year 2 under Dan Quinn, who is modeling his defense after the one he coached in Seattle, because they already have an established, top-tier QB.  The defense is young, and began to come together at the end of the season.  There are legitimate reasons to expect that the Falcons defense in 2017 could take an enormous leap and make up for any regressions on the offensive side of the ball.  It took Pete Carroll four years to get Seattle into the Super Bowl, and they were able to get back the next year.
  3. The Falcons are probably returning all of their core players, and will get some key players like Desmond Trufant back from injury.  The triumvirate of Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli, and Dan Quinn have already had two very good offseasons.  Another one is to be expected, and the young talent brought in via the draft in the previous two years should continue to produce improved play.  The Falcons have been very smart in free agency as well, under Quinn, and Atlanta has some money to be creative with.

The biggest questions are psychological.  Are the players mentally tough enough to overcome such a devastating loss?  If Dwight Freeney retires, how will the team replace his veteran presence?  Can the team focus on the details and daily process that got it to the Super Bowl in the first place, instead of looking too far ahead?  What happens when and if the Falcons have another big lead in a big game?

 
Many people feel that the epic collapse will define this team.  I disagree.  How the team responds to this adversity will define its legacy.  Strong families stick together in the hardest of times.  The strength of this Brotherhood is about to be tested.  Early signs out of the Branch are promising, but only time will tell.