They have been a thorn in the side of the Super Bowl Champion Saints.
Once Michael Vick left Atlanta after the whole dog fighting incident, things were looking gloom for the Atlanta Falcons. They were on the brink of mediocrity, and needed to build the team from the bottom up. Starting with the head coach, and ending from everything from their quarterback, to their third stringers.
So their reformation began when they hired head coach Mike Smith. After going with Jim Mora Jr. and Dan Reeves, two long tenured head coaches, the Falcons needed to go in a different direction and get a coach with some spark while being disciplined. He was previously the defensive coordinator for the then dominant defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who fans remember having Marcus Stroud, John Henderson, Mike Peterson, and Rashaen Mathis.
Their decision to hire Smith paid dividends immediately. He was given by the Associated Press the NFL Coach of the Year Award in his first season at the helm of the Falcon’s franchise.
The next step in the franchise’s rebuttal from the bottom was to find a franchise quarterback. They found one, needless to say, in Boston College’s Matt Ryan. His style is to lead, not be the offense. He is a quarterback’s quarterback (sort of like when someone says a "pitchers pitcher") and with short, low risk, accurately thrown bullet passes, he manages the team and is a leader on the field. He has firm grasp of his offense now that he is in his third NFL season. He has gained the respect of his teammates that has no doubt helped in his success. He is also a member of an elite group that includes being the first rookie quarterback to start all 16 regular-season games and make the playoffs; which he fulfilled the same year as the Raven’s Joe Flacco.
Once the coach and the quarterback were put together, they needed a running game. The Falcons offensive line was very underappreciated when Vick was tenured with the team; they just needed a feature back. For a while, they went with the combined efforts of Warrick Dunn, and T.J. Duckett, but neither stepped up on big play situations. Both were also balanced, but didn’t excel in one particular aspect of running the ball.
They found what they were looking for in former understudy of Ladainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner. The risk was well worth it, considering Turner had never endured a 300 carry season in his career. The Northern Illinois recruit is making only $1,007,280 this year (according to yahoo! Sports) which is enough to be considered one of the best bargain players around.
Matt Ryan and coach Mike Smith are the main reason for the turnaround in Georgia. Also making contributions are tight end Tony Gonzalez, defensive end John Abraham, and drafted wideout Roddy White. The Falcons have already beaten the Super Bowl raining champs, the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome, and will look to oppose the Saints and win the NFC South Division Title come January.
This coach and quarterback duo could be tenured as long as, say Donovan McNabb with Andy Reid, or Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy, or Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Regardless, the Falcons will be a challenge for anyone, let alone the 1-3 Browns. Despite Eric Mangini’s teams’ grit, they might not have the talent to oppose the dirty birds.