The 2011 season wasn't short on interesting storylines as the calendar year presented plenty to talk about. Here's our best of what happened in 2011:
5) Svitek breaks out as a starting tackle
The offensive line was a question mark coming into the 2011 season, and some would argue it's a central point of focus during the 2012 offseason. But as the season wore on, questions started to become answered and perhaps Will Svitek was the biggest of the bunch. Incumbent left tackle starter Sam Baker went down with a back injury midway through the season, thrusting Svitek into a starting position on a line that saw plenty of changeover up to that point. The perennial backup performed admirably and provided stability at Matt Ryan's blind side during Baker's absence — so much so that Svitek earned the starting job for the rest of the season.
4) The Falcons earn four straight winning seasons
Expectations in Atlanta are lofty these days, and many view anything but a strong run in the playoffs and a Super Bowl title as a disappointment. But taking a step back and realizing how much progress has been made in the past four seasons is really impressive. Under head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have recorded four straight winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. In fact, the Falcons hadn't recorded consecutive winning seasons until Smith's first two seasons with the team. While the expectations are a product of the success the Falcons have had — and they've yet to reach the goals set for themselves — 2011 represented another set toward progress.
3) Records fall vs. Tampa Bay
Coming into the regular-season finale at the Georgia Dome against Tampa Bay, the Falcons had several individual records that were surely going to be broken. When the clock hit all zeroes, many more were shattered than just those expected. The Falcons ran off 42 straight points on their way to the huge win over their NFC South rivals, but along the way, the record books had to all but be tossed out. The Falcons broke nine individual and team franchise marks during the win as Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Julio Jones and John Abraham helped rewrite the record books and Falcons history.
2) The Falcons sign Ray Edwards during free agency
The Falcons were long rumored to be in the market for a pass rushing specialist during the abbreviated free agency period after the lockout was lifted. Those rumors came to fruition when the Falcons announced they had signed former Minnesota defensive end Ray Edwards to complement Abraham in getting to the quarterback. While Edwards had a down season, managing only 3.5 sacks and his lowest output in that category since his rookie season, the veteran DE fought through a knee injury from the offseason as well as several bumps and bruises along the way to add an extra element to the Falcons defensive line.
1) The Falcons trade up to get Julio Jones
The excitement surrounding the announcement that the Falcons had traded up during the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft was incomparable, as it was largely an unexpected move. But general manager Thomas Dimitroff proved he had his eye on standout wide receiver Julio Jones from Alabama by giving up a slew of picks to jump into the Browns' spot at No. 6 overall to snag him. Jones didn't disappoint as the rookie had an incredible first season, with 959 yards receiving and eight touchdowns after spending much of the season dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. If his first year is any indication, Jones will be giving Falcons fans something to talk about for a good long time.
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