I was in Detroit for the Super Bowl, for those still out of the loop. I enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if I really was there to support a team like the roughly 50,000 or so Seahawk and Steeler fans that seemed to be in attendance. I also believe it didn’t help that the game was in Detroit, which is not a bad city, but not exactly one I’d put at the top of my list to visit for a party weekend.
But going to the game and considering both teams allows me to consider a bit more what it takes to be a Super Bowl Champion. I know it’s not exactly a new discovery, but I think much more than people believe boils down to how a team plays down the stretch. As was the case with the Steelers this past year, the Patriots in 2001, and the Panthers in 2003, a team that moves onto the Super Bowl needs to have a strong finish to their season. The Falcons have not really done that since 1998. I could probably expound a bunch of reasons why that is, but frankly, that needs to change. The Seahawks, like Eagles in 2004, and the Patriots in their two other Super Bowl years weren’t exactly dominate down the stretch, but rather consistent from start to finish during the entire season. That is also another way to go, and I do think the Falcons need to get more consistent, but I think for the way this team is built, it’s better to be dominant in the second half of the season rather than being the most consistent for seventeen weeks.
It’s clear that defense wins championships as has been the case in the modern NFL (since 1995). Besides the Rams in 1999, there hasn’t been a team that was able to win a Super Bowl that had a questionable defense. I don’t think you need a dominant defense that we’ve seen the Bears, Bucs, and Ravens sport in recent seasons, but you need a defense that can control even the most explosive offenses in the NFL. The Falcons defense is not there yet, but I don’t think it’s as far as some may believe. I think overall, upgrading one or two positions on the defensive front, while getting some more help in the secondary (one or two more key playmakers) is going to put the defense on an upper echelon level. Best case scenario is that it gets done this off-season and we see some major improvements in 2006. Otherwise, I think it may take two off-seasons to do it with the hope that no more than a third year for the unit to really gel and hit its stride.
Our offense needs to become more consistent. It’s quite clear that in order to win a Super Bowl you only need to outscore your opponent. In essence, it doesn’t mean you need a very explosive offense capable of scoring 30 points each week, but one that can consistently put 24 or more points on the board (which usually puts you among the Top 10 in points scored in the NFL). We averaged 21 and 22 in 2004 and 2005, respectively, so we are knocking on the doorstep it seems.
A lot of that consistency centers on Michael Vick. I’m not saying Vick needs to become a 100-rating passer, but he needs to become more consistent. I think all Falcon fans seem to realize that when evaluating whether the team can win a game or not, a lot depends on which Michael Vick shows up to the game. And I’m not going to go into all the ways how Vick can improve, but basically all Super Bowl winners and losers had a quarterback that either made plays for them or managed the game well enough that it allowed the rest of their offensive playmakers to make the big plays. Vick probably needs to be closer to the former since our offense isn’t exactly a powerhouse when it comes to the rest of the unit making big plays.
I sincerely believe this team has a two or three-year window of winning a Super Bowl ring. That’s not to say winning one after 2009 is unlikely and that we have to do everything in our power to win immediately rather than continue to build for the future. I think the window may be that small because Vick will likely reach his peak in ability during that period and afterwards his contract may be come so bulky that if we haven’t achieved the desired results in that span, there are going to be a lot of questions about whether Vick is truly the long-term hope we want. Also I believe that is a good window for Mora as the head coach since most head coaches manage to go to their first Super Bowl in their first five seasons in the NFL. I also believe that it is a good window for defensive improvement as beyond 2009, a lot of the veterans we’re counting on now as our defensive core probably won’t be with the team any longer.
My hope is that I will be able to attend Super Bowl XLII in Phoenix in which I hope the Falcons will be playing.