The Union Recorder

Local Sports

January 22, 2013

Falcons still hurting after coming up shy of title

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Mike Smith walked into the room, rubbed his white hair and sat down at the podium.

His grim expression told it all.

The Atlanta Falcons were still hurting.

The season ended 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl, a stunning finale for a team that seemed poised to bring home the first championship in the franchise's 47-year history.

The Falcons had an early 17-point lead on San Francisco at home in the NFC championship game, but let it slip away. The 49ers preserved their 28-24 victory with a fourth-down stop at their own 10-yard line with just over a minute remaining.

"It's not fun to come to work after the outcome we had because of the finality of it, knowing we're not going on the practice field with this group of men ever again," Smith said Monday. "But we will move on. We have to move on — quickly."

For the Falcons, the offseason focus will likely be on upgrading the defense, figuring out a way to replace tight end Tony Gonzalez if the Hall of Famer-to-be goes through with plans to retire, and perhaps coming up with another front-line running back in case Michael Turner doesn't return.

Smith said it's too soon to discuss specifics, and he's always close to the vest with personnel decisions anyway. But he's confident that general manager Thomas Dimitroff will assemble another winning roster by the time the Falcons report to training camp.

"We need more playmakers across the board," Smith said. "That's the goal each and every year, to add players. But with the (salary-cap) system we have in place, you can't do it all across the board."

In the short term, the Falcons will keep an eye on quarterback Matt Ryan, who sustained a sprained left shoulder on the final drive of the NFC title game. He was able to stay in the contest, but threw two straight incompletions to snuff out Atlanta's hopes.

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