There was a high point for the Atlanta Falcons' potential last decade. It came with a little over 18 minutes left in Super Bowl LI.
Since then, the franchise has not been able to exorcise the demon associated with blowing a 28-3 lead with a Lombardi Trophy on the line. 2021 might be their first step toward at least moving beyond that period of Falcons football, though, thanks to the arrival of a new regime.
Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith moved to Atlanta to help turn the Falcons -- an aging team with a bloated cap situation -- back toward a prosperous future. It's a daunting task for anyone, and it hasn't been easy for the new folks in Atlanta, who also had to fulfill a request to trade the best receiver in the franchise's history during their first offseason.
That's handled, and next on the docket for the Falcons is a familiar task: Prepare for the regular season. Matt Ryan is back for his 14th season in Atlanta, and he has a popular new weapon in tight end Kyle Pitts. Their existence in the same offensive lineup -- seasoned veteran and promising rookie -- might best explain where the Falcons are at this point. One stands as a symbol of years past, while the other is a figure of hope for the future.
While they might not play together for too long, they're certainly on the same side in 2021, a season which Fontenot has characterized as one in which the Falcons expect to compete. This is not Sashi Brown tearing down the Cleveland Browns in order to jump-start a rebuild. The Falcons think they can have their cake and eat at least a few bites of it, too.
"There is a bunker mentality with us," Fontenot said, via the team's official site. "It is disrespectful to say we're not going to be a good football team or that we're in a rebuilding mode. The players, coaches, staff, and everyone here, we put a lot into this. We're excited about it. We have confidence in ourselves, and we believe in the people here."
Atlanta has already had enough of mediocrity in recent years, which led to the firing of both Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn. It's a bit unfair, though, to expect a new GM and coach to be able to straddle the line between immediate contention and long-term sustainability when there are clear needs to adjust the make-up of a team.
Fontenot and Co. believe they've done the best job they can in an offseason that included an abbreviated pre-draft process. And in the middle of prime prognostication season, they're selling the optimistic outlook as much as possible.
Just know it might not go entirely according to plan.
"When you take off on an airplane, it's rarely on its exact course," Fontenot said. "There are constant adjustments in flight, but you eventually land and get to where you're going. That's how we see it. We have a clear vision, but we also know we have to adapt and adjust."
Versatility will be incredibly important to keeping this aircraft headed toward its destination. There's a lot of fog to cut through, no doubt, but a willingness to adjust might just keep it soaring. That's one thing -- and maybe the only thing -- the new-look Falcons would have over the 2016 group.
Training camp is finally here! Be sure to check outNFL Network's extensive live coverage, including Inside Training Camp every day and highlighted by Training Camp: Back Together Saturday Fueled by Gatorade on July 31.