Atlanta Falcons: Early Moves Pivotal to Super Bowl Return


The early bird may get the worm but the Atlanta Falcons are hungry for something bigger and better: a Super Bowl Ring.

The Atlanta Falcons failed to rise up to the occasion during Super Bowl LI, squandering a 25-point lead to the New England Patriots and subsequently losing in overtime. However, after nursing a few clipped wings, they are back on the hunt for a Super Bowl ring and preparing to soar. Perhaps a little ruffling of the feathers by division rivals, the New Orleans Saints, motivated the Falcons to kickstart their search.

The Atlanta Falcons are well aware of how close they were to winning their first Super Bowl ring. It’s as though they had the victory grasped in their beaks, only to be blown off course by tortmentuous weather that New England is well-accostumed to, crushing their hearts as they fumbled the game, allowing the win to slip away.

Not the type to dwell in the winter, the Falcons moved quickly realizing the need to secure quality players for future seasons before the clock strikes 4 p.m. ET and contracts signed through 2016 expire. Early on Thursday, the team announced that it extended the contracts of quarterback Matt Schaub and defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw.

While MVP Matt Ryan is well-armed with talent to guide the Falcons to victory for future seasons, a good second-string quarterback is vital to success. Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo can definitely attest to that after starting at quarterback during Tom Brady’s suspension. After spending seven years with the Houston Texans following a Atlanta-Houston trade in 2007 and amassing 23,221 passing yards, 124 touchdowns, and a 90.9 passer rating, Schaub rejoined his original team last season.

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Despite only playing in four games this past season, Schaub helped Ryan learn Kyle Shanahan’s new offense which mirrored the Texans offense that Schaub played in under Shanahan. Despite not playing simultaneously with Matty Ice, Schaub certainly helped him stay cool under pressure and was a key factor in Ryan’s monster season which might arguably be his career-best but certainly one that made him the first Falcons player to be named NFL MVP. With a new offensive coordinator this season, you can count on the quarterback duo to work together in order to build on the success of last season’s explosive offense.

Although there’s an ongoing debate over the truth of the expression “offense wins games, defense wins championships,” the debate is a valid one with enough “evidence” to support each side. The Falcons offense won many games in 2016, improving their season record to 11-5 from 8-8. Their offense allowed them to lead by 25 points heading into the third quarter of the Super Bowl.

However, their defense allowed the Patriots to score 31 unanswered points. And it wasn’t just the fact that the Atlanta Falcons offense was stifled that led to their destruction. No, the fact that New England’s defense stepped up, brought the pressure, and forced MVP Matt Ryan to fumble in a key fourth quarter play with about eight minutes to play, had a big impact on the game. The Falcons quarterback managed to avoid any turnovers during the postseason before that fumble. The Patriots capitalized on the turnover, scoring a touchdown and successfully executing a two-point conversion, tieing the score, forcing overtime, and putting the team in a position to win.

Therefore, it only makes sense for the Falcons to secure veteran players on the flip side of the ball. Courtney Upshaw’s extension may not appear to have as much surface value as Schaub’s, partly because of his numbers as he plays a new position, but it’s just as important.

After being moved from the outside linebacker position on the Baltimore Ravens to defensive tackle with the Falcons, Upshaw played in 13 games this past season, starting 5 of them. He finished the season with 12 solo tackles, 23 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, and one forced fumble and fumble recovery. With increasing playing time and growing comfort in his new position, Upshaw made an impact on defense, demonstrated his ability to pressure and reach the quarterback, even on the biggest stage when he sacked Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.

Next: 2017 NFL Mock Draft: Three Full Rounds

All eyes will be on the Atlanta Falcons as the 2017 season approaches. However, the team has its birds-eye view set on a Super Bowl ring and is determined to stay on its course. The journey won’t be easy. This will be a savage season. However, by retaining  Matt Schaub and Courtney Upshaw, in addition to previously securing veterans Ryan Schraeder and Robert Alford, the Atlanta Falcons are maintaining a fully-loaded arsenal of weapons and heading into their hunt with a big advantage.