This is why you take nothing for granted in the NFL (big picture) or with the Falcons (close-up, warts and all).
You go to the Super Bowl one season with the King Kong of offenses. Certain expectations are stoked. Then the next season, you are performing more to the scale of Curious George with a serious identity issue.
About the only definite coming from this 2017 Falcons season – which hinges now on one, last chance to summon a memorable performance – is that 2016 really must have been something otherworldly.
In retrospect, something bordering on the miraculous.
For those who may not have fully appreciated 2016’s journey to the Super Bowl – set aside what happened after arrival – we present 2017. Proof that success in this league can be about as non-transferable as a passport. Best to consider it a one-and-done, like a firework or the Baha Men. And move on.
A year ago at this time the Falcons were about to win a fourth consecutive game, with its offense revving in the red, averaging 38 points over the last quarter of the season. The closing stretch has been much more subdued now. Half the points – 19 per game – in the past three leading to the home finale vs. Carolina.
There remains the chance to work on that number Sunday, to go 3-1 for the fourth quarter of the regular season and to hit the road in the playoffs with some sense of worth. There’s also the specter of finishing 2-2 and falling off the map.
No, not like last year.
It would have been much to ask to duplicate in some form the offensive output of 2016. But blame the Falcons. They set the bar.
Following a record-setting season, returning all the key components save one of the most key (offensive coordinator), there was the rightful expectation of a year of endless, wacky end-zone celebrations. But there’s that lesson again: Assume nothing when it comes to matters such as professional football or politics.
Even beyond the raw numbers, there is just the sense that something is off. Like a fellow whose shoes or underwear are too tight, these Falcons just don’t carry themselves as comfortably as a year ago.
Some things you just know. The spark of the special has not shown itself as it did in the Super Bowl run. Too many dropped passes. Too few takeaways. Too many narrow escapes even in victory. Way too few points.
All of it only underscoring how much went right in 2016, a reminder to savor such turns of fortune when they happen; and to never presume they can be replayed like a favorite movie on demand. This is not a Netflix world.
That the Falcons remain in the playoff conversation to the final week normally would be quite an encouraging thing around these parts.
But when following a season of exclamation points, speaking in a regular voice just seems like a whisper.