Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This time, there were no surprises from the Atlanta Falcons.
The team that made a season out of repeatedly doing what seemed impossible couldn't do the little things against the Arizona Cardinals. Instead, what always was possible finally happened.
Quarterback Matt Ryan finally played like a rookie. Running back Michael Turner couldn't break anything and looked like he was playing behind a suddenly-mediocre offensive line. A defense that had played over its head all season made Kurt Warner look like the Kurt Warner of early this decade.
Maybe it was inevitable for a team that had been squeezing every drop out of its talent for months. Or maybe, more importantly, losing decisively in a playoff game is just a trigger for the next part of what coach Mike Smith repeatedly has referred to as "the process."
The Falcons exceeded every expectation this season. But what happened Saturday, just confirmed what Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have known all along. The process is far from over.
There's room for Ryan to improve. There's room for more help on the offensive line. The Falcons need to add to their pass rush, upgrade at outside linebacker and a couple of spots in the secondary.
The Falcons can look back on a successful season and that's great. But now, more than ever, Smith and Dimitroff can start the next steps in "the process."