Playoff obstacles are nothing new to this Atlanta Falcons football team. In fact, enduring and overcoming past postseason hardships has made this team a more cohesive unit and taught them how to push forward.
With the arrival of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith in 2008 came unparalleled success for the franchise. In 2009 the Falcons put together their first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history. Since 2008 the Falcons have won 56 games and been to the playoffs four times in five seasons.
But the team’s first playoff win under Smith as coach and Matt Ryan as quarterback was elusive. After three one-and-done appearances in the postseason, the Falcons found a way in 2012 to put the pain of postseason’s past behind them by beating the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs and advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
“When you’re 10 yards away from a Super Bowl and you’re right there at the doorstep, it adds incentive to make you go even harder than you’ve actually gone [before]," said White, almost four months removed from the loss at home to the 49ers.
With the recent success of the franchise, with all the pieces Dimtroff has put together for this team, Atlanta is extremely close to the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl. The Falcons are in absolute “win now” mode and the next playoff obstacle for Smith and Ryan and every other player on the roster is making it to Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey after the 2013 season.
The Falcons learned so much by suffering through three painfully early playoff exits that now White feels getting past this next obstacle and into the Super Bowl will be easier than getting the playoff-win monkey off their backs last season.
“I know we know what it takes to get over the Super Bowl hump,” said White. “So now the players we all realize we need to get to the Super Bowl. Everybody’s on the same page, so it’s time for us to get over the hump.”
White has been working feverishly in the offseason to prepare for the 2013 campaign. He said he had a specific routine that he follows, a training regimen that includes football activities, workouts and diet, and even the rewarding opportunity to take some time to teach kids about health and football.
White will take two days on June 17 and 18 in Marietta, Ga. to team up with ProCamps and popchips® at Lassiter High School and put on a football camp for boys and girls between the ages of seven and 14.
The advanced kids will doing a lot of 7-on-7 drills and activities that White called “more competitive” in nature. The younger kids will be learning football fundamentals, and everyone will be eating popchips®.
“Popchips, they’re doing an excellent job of teaching kids how to eat healthy and giving out healthy snacks and things like that,” said White. “We need people like that because of the obesity problem that kids are going through at such a young age.”
Once White finishes with the kids at his camp, he’ll return his full attention to the Falcons, who he feels have done an excellent job in the offseason at bringing in talent to upgrade the team.
“I think the Steven Jackson move was a great move for us,” said White. “It [the offense] will be much more balanced. That guy can run, catch; he’s a three-down back so we won’t ever have to take him out of the game.”
Being able to leave Jackson in the game at running back on all downs will help offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter disguise his play-calling even more in 2013. Instead of having to alternate running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers for different aspects of the offensive play-calling, having Jackson in there all the time will make it tougher for defensive coordinators to catch up with what Koetter’s offense does on a down-by-down basis.
That will greatly enhance on of Koetter’s best traits: His aggressive tendencies on offense.
White called Koetter a “fearless play-caller” and said he expects the offense in 2013 to be even better and to dial up big things. This Falcons offensive unit will regularly be on the attack and have a number of new wrinkles with the addition of Jackson and the natural and needed progression by Koetter from Year 1 to Year 2 as coordinator.
Another aspect of the Falcons offense to watch out for in 2013 is slot receiver Harry Douglas, who caught 38 passes last year and has averaged just over 30 catches per year in his four pro seasons (he missed the entire 2009 season with a knee injury).
White said he’s anxious for Douglas to break out and marvels over Douglas’ work ethic and preparation techniques.
“He’s [Douglas] kind of the hidden guy that’s waiting to explode,” said White. “I’m just hoping this is the year he takes off and all of us get 1,000 yards, just like the [Indianapolis] Colts when they had all those guys running up and down the field and catching all those balls.”
With White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez on the team, White admits it will be hard to find enough touches for Douglas, who White believes would catch 60 to 70 passes if the receiving corps were less crowded. But Koetter knows how to integrate numerous weapons into an offensive scheme, and with Jackson now in Atlanta, defenses will have to prepare more for an Atlanta rushing attack which will open up passing lanes for not only the Falcons’ “Big Three” but Douglas too.
This Atlanta team has improved in the offseason, but White’s also noticed improvement within the division (he still calls new Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis the best cornerback in the game) and among the powers of the NFC, San Francisco and Seattle.
“I still think from top to bottom we’re one of the best teams, if not the best team in the NFC,” said White. “We’ve just got to, with the experience that we have, go out there and find ways to win.”
And if the Falcons don’t find a way to take that next step?
“If we don’t get to the Super Bowl it’s going to be a disappointing season for the Atlanta Falcons,” said White.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.