The problem with these Atlanta Falcons is that they're pretty good. And when I say "these Atlanta Falcons," I'm not just talking about the 2011-12 edition. I'm talking about the Falcons of Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, who have consistently been pretty good for four years now.
That may sound like a backhanded compliment, or damning with faint praise (for all of you football fans who are also Alexander Pope aficionados), but trust me -- I'm not complaining. As a fan since the '70s, I've born witness to the fact that, for most of their existence, the Falcons have not been anywhere near pretty good. Most of that time, they've been pretty darn awful.
So on the one hand, it is with some satisfaction that I state that, in this football mad town, our professional team is now officially pretty good. Knowing that we have a realistic chance to win every game sure beats wearing a paper bag over your head at the stadium.
On the other hand, you know the old saying -- heck, you probably heard it first from your high school football coach: "good is the enemy of great." That's easy to forget in a town where "crappy" and "sucky" have long been the enemy of "good."
How are these Falcons "pretty good?" Let us count the ways. Their regular-season record since 2008, the year Dimitroff and Smith arrived, is 43-21. That's a winning percentage of 67 percent, which if this were biology class would actually be a D. But since these are football players, and the usual grading standards don't apply, we'll give it a solid B. In other words, pretty good.
What about quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons' first round pick in 2008? There's no doubt that, following the Michael Vick debacle of 2007, he's been a breath of fresh air for a city that badly needs one (especially in August, when we're on permanent smog alert). But, speaking of damning with faint praise, I recently heard a couple of professional football analysts agree that Ryan is "solidly in the second tier" of current NFL quarterbacks.
Sounds like a solid B to me.
And how about Michael "The Burner" Turner? First of all, whoever gave him that nickname should be sued for false advertising, because he's hardly a speedster. But there's no doubt he's been a solid and serviceable back, piling up yardage in a workmanlike fashion. In fact, he just broke the team record for rushing yards in a season, eclipsing the mark once held by ... wait for it ... Gerald Riggs. Ticker-tape parade, anyone?
So the question isn't, any longer, whether the Falcons are any good. It's whether these Falcons, as currently constituted, can become anything more than just good -- or whether we're doomed to be the B team, to the Saints' A Team, for the foreseeable future.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.