Then, on Jan. 27, 2017: "My goal initially (as owner) was to have a sustainable winning organization, one that would be important in the NFL conversation every year," Arthur Blank told a pre-Super Bowl media gathering. "In my opinion, I think we have reached that level this year.
“We have an opportunity now to play in the final game of the year and hopefully get the positive outcome we’re looking for. But the bigger goal is that I think we’ll be back in this room having this conversation a number of times in the years to come.”
Now: An owner who values organizational identity and stability is looking at possibly changing a head coach for a fifth time. The general manager since 2008 is on the ropes. A young defense with promise in 2016 is feckless today. Key skill players on offense are transitioning from boons to salary-cap drains.
Then, on Jan. 22, 2017: "Forever I've loved being a part of really connected, good teams," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "I knew for us to play at our best we have to be really close in the locker room, and that carries over onto the field.
“For this team to connect the way they have — the unconditional support that they have for one another — it’s legit. You can feel it. Having that unselfish attitude. Knowing I want to ball out for that guy right next to me. When you’re playing for something bigger than yourself, it’s a really good feeling. I’m glad that they’ve captured that.”
Now: The Brotherhood talk has grown as stale as the air inside an airport smoking lounge. The Falcons surely are trying to rally around their popular coach, but they couldn't be doing more to undermine him short of staging a fourth-quarter sit-down strike. The next head coaching hire may decide that he has enough family, what he needs is players.
Even after the devastating loss to New England, there was at least the lifeline of hope thrown to a struggling public.
Then, on Feb. 7, 2017: "As we bid adieu to Texas, we should be dreaming dreams of sweet tomorrows," wrote AJC columnist Mark Bradley, summing up the best feelings that could be summoned at the moment. "The Falcons are, in the main, a young bunch. They made the Super Bowl ahead of schedule. They were no worse than the NFL's second-best team. Their future should be as bright and shiny as a disco ball."
Now: Here's a team that is for the second consecutive year only damaging its draft prospects with any late, prideful victories. There is the sulphurous smell of drastic restructuring around this franchise. Disco is dead, and the Falcons prospects don't seem so vigorous either.
Where the Falcons find themselves is not unprecedented. The NFL is built on the kind of sudden change of fortune that could be cause for many a whiplash lawsuit.
The 15-1 Carolina Panthers of 2015 provided a regional cautionary tale when they lost that Super Bowl and then plummeted to 6-10 the following season. For the three seasons following their Super Bowl appearance, they were 24-24. The Falcons will have to win six of their final nine games to reach even that level.
The 2008 Arizona Cardinals epitomized a fluke, losing the Super Bowl that season and going 18-30 the following three seasons. The Falcons will have to lose all their remaining games to match that mark, not a goal they are likely to post in the locker room.
What the Falcons now face is the fact that the foundation supposedly poured three seasons ago came with a trap door. That run to the Super Bowl was an aberration, not an omen.
Thus, we hereby file that not-so-long-ago Falcons season along with Vanilla Ice, Buster Douglas, Linda Blair and other one-hit wonders. If it even happened at all, which I’m beginning to question.