INDIANAPOLIS — Frustration is mounting in Atlanta, but it doesn't make the Falcons' lack of postseason success any easier for the team to fathom or correct.
They have had almost seven weeks — a stretch marked by significant changes to a coaching staff led by Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff's scouting department — to think about their loss to the Giants in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
It's clear that they don't need to hear the criticism to feel the pressure to end the streak of postseason losses. The Falcons' self-evaluations are meticulous and were most likely as painful as ever this offseason, but they haven't provided any simple answers as to why a playoff win has been so elusive for them.
"It's a tough thing to put your finger on because when the postseason comes around, it's been disappointing," Dimitroff told PFW Friday at the Scouting Combine. "Somehow we need to figure out what we need to adjust to win those postseason games. We all know how important that is."
The Falcons have gone 11-5, 9-7, 13-3 and 10-6 in the four regular seasons since Dimitroff and Smith were hired, making the playoffs three times over that span. Yet, they still are without a postseason win. They were ousted by the last two Super Bowl champions and didn't show that they were anywhere near the caliber of the Packers and Giants when it came time to face off in the playoffs the last two years.
The fact is that the Falcons have been good — very good — for a significant portion of the past two seasons. They have put together four straight winning seasons. This for a franchise that had not ever had back-to-back winning seasons before Dimitroff and Smith came aboard.
Inconsistency had been a problem throughout the 2011 regular season for the club, but it averaged 25.1 points per game. That was seventh-most in the league. Then the playoff game at the Meadowlands started, and things started to evaporate for the Falcons. They scored the first points of the game on a safety a little over a minute into the second quarter but didn't score again in the final 44 minutes, falling in a 24-2 blowout.
Identifying and filling needs is one thing, but if anyone is expecting Dimitroff to scrap his system, ease off the accelerator when it comes to considering bold moves or alter a philosophy that has led the Falcons to a period of regular-season success that's unparalleled in their history because of severe playoff disappointment, guess again.
"It's confusing to me," Dimitroff said. "It's confusing because I believe that we have a very good foundation and I believe that we can continue to grow and evolve in a lot of areas.
"We've gotten away from the (catch)phrases about what we're really focused on, and it is truly about being better, and it's truly about being better in all facets. It's always us looking to upgrade our depth and where we deem we need to make significant changes. We will, in fact, do that.
"We'll never be hesitant and bashful about making moves. I think that's evident."
The first of those bold personnel moves this offseason will be deciding whether or not to do what it takes to keep CB Brent Grimes, who is unlikely to accept a deal that would pay him less than fellow Falcons CB Dunta Robinson. Atlanta signed Robinson to a six-year, $57 million deal before the 2010 season, but Grimes, who will turn 29 in July, has been the team's best corner for the past few seasons.
Negotiations between the team and Grimes are under way.
"Those are difficult discussions to have because they are high-dollar discussions," Dimitroff said. "Brent Grimes — he's a fine football player. We'd like to have him back. We have begun our negotiations with his representatives. Ben Dogra and Tom Condon are obviously accomplished agents, and we're not wasting any time with our discussions. We feel that we can come to a good conclusion to this negotiation."
The deadline for using the franchise tag — which could be applied to Grimes if no deal is reached by March 5 — is looming. The tag for cornerbacks is projected to be worth about $10.6 million and would take up a significant chunk of the Falcons' salary-cap space, but Dimitroff isn't ruling anything out at this point.
"Suffice it to say that it's one of the things that we would consider," he said.
Grimes is not the only high-profile Falcons defender due to hit the open market. The Falcons have held contract talks with the representatives of MLB Curtis Lofton and DE John Abraham, and at this point it appears unlikely that a deal with Abraham will be reached before the start of free agency.
The Falcons will likely have a hole or two left to fill when it comes time to draft, and they won't have a first-round pick to address a need — that pick was dealt to the Browns last year in the trade to move up 20 spots to be in position to draft Julio Jones sixth overall. Atlanta's first pick is No. 55 this year, but Dimitroff is confident that a player with the ability to help right away will be available to them at that point.
"Fifty-five for us in the second round — there are always players that you can get that can significantly impact your football team, and we think that we are dialed into some players at that point already," he said.
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