The Falcons were a few minutes away from their first Super Bowl title last February despite one of the league's worst defenses. Coach Dan Quinn, who was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator before coming to Atlanta, aimed to fix that and the team's 2017 draft was a reflection of those plans.
UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley was the Falcons' first-round pick and they grabbed LSU linebacker Duke Riley with their next selection in Round 3. The team also signed defensive lineman Dontari Poe during free agency, the Chiefs' former first-round pick.
The goal: To avoid what happened in Super Bowl LI. The Falcons led 28-3 with two minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. Then Tom Brady led the Patriots on five straight scoring drives and, well, you know the rest.
"It wasn't about one play," Quinn told the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Jeff Schultz recently. "Those (defensive series) are the ones I evaluated over and over. When you go back and sit through it over and over, you know, 'I damn sure can't get a do-over. But I can learn from it.' I won't apologize for how aggressive we play and our style and attitude of where we're headed. But I have learned from that experience."
And despite the Monday-morning quarterbacking, the issue wasn't a Falcons' defense short on experience but short on depth.
"That wasn't it," Quinn said of his young players folding under pressure. "The guys were gassed. We had never played in the 90s (snap count). We were not traumatized at all. You could tell there was nothing left in the tank. They would come to the sideline in the fourth quarter and nobody was talking because there was nothing left."
That's worth remembering: The Falcons' defense got after Brady for much of the game. But they were also on the field for a jaw-dropping 99 snaps. As the Pats were mounting that historic comeback, the Falcons' were gassed, and worse, there wasn't much they could do about it.
Despite getting so close, Quinn isn't taking anything for granted; it's why during minicamp last weekend he wore two black wristbands that read, "Embrace The Suck," which has become an offseason rallying cry of sorts. The message?
"Eat a crap sandwich with a smile," Quinn explained. "This is going to be hard. Your choice: It's a victim's mentality or a warrior mentality. It's like, 'I know this run is going to be long, and it's going to be really hard. But here I go again.'"
And this time the Falcons have reinforcements.