Updated 10:10 a.m., January 22
The 2013 Super Bowl will be Sunday, February 3, in New Orleans. Game time is 6:30 p.m., CBS.
The Atlanta Falcons went farther in the playoffs in 2013 than in any year since the 1998 season. Yet, there's still the taste of defeat. And that makes many Falcons fans wonder, "What does it take?"
Sunday's 28-24 loss to San Francisco at the Georgia Dome was tough for Atlanta in that the Falcons, who were the top-seeded NFC playoff team, had a 17-0 lead in the first half. According to media reports, that made it the largest comeback in the history of the NFC Championship.
That shows the Falcons' chief weaknesses -- defense, and a championship tradition. And those should be the team's top priorities to keep moving forward.
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Since the regime of Coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff took over in the 2008 season, the emphasis has been on offense. QB Matt Ryan was drafted right away, and other performers such as RB Michael Turner and receivers Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez have been acquired as supporting players.
However, a coaching cliche is that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. In both playoff games this season, the Falcons had sizable leads (on Seattle and San Francisco), yet had to come from behind. That shows an inability to "put people away," as the saying goes.
And Atlanta was shut out in the second half Sunday -- indicative that the 49ers' defense rose to the challenge when the Super Bowl was on the line.
To raise the bar, so to speak, upgrading the defense seems obvious.
Also, there's the matter of tradition. This will be San Francisco's sixth trip to a Super Bowl -- and the other five all have resulted in victories. It's simple: They expect to get there. And they expect to win when they get there. Like the Alabama Crimson Tide, they consider it a birthright.
Green Bay has a similar mindset -- remember, legendary coach Vince Lombardi's name is on the Super Bowl trophy.
The Falcons can indeed be proud of their just-concluded season. But to keep moving forward, they need a better defense, and upgraded expectations.
Football games are 60 minutes long, and they take an offense, a defense and an expectation to win for a tradition to evolve.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article included a reference to Falcons receiver Roddy White, who was drafted before Dimitroff became GM and before Smith became head coach.