Falcons GM follows Patriots' blueprint
Dimitroff has built Atlanta into a winner in short time

FLOWERY BRANCH - Thomas Dimitroff hesitates to give the New England Patriots too much credit for his success as general manager in Atlanta.

After all, nobody on New England's payroll was responsible for the Falcons' decisions to hire coach Mike Smith, draft quarterback Matt Ryan and sign running back Michael Turner.

And did the Patriots trade Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta?

Well, not directly.

But it was Kansas City GM Scott Pioli, Dimitroff's former boss in New England, who dealt the NFL's career-leading tight end to the Falcons for a second-round draft pick in 2010.

'It's probably safe to say No. 88 wouldn't be playing for us,' Dimitroff said Thursday.

When Atlanta (2-0) visits New England (1-1) this weekend, Dimitroff will make his first trip to Gillette Stadium since he left to take charge of the Falcons' football operations in January 2008.

Atlanta has won 13 of 19 games during Dimitroff's tenure, and he believes a victory Sunday would lend more credibility to a Falcons organization trying this year to achieve consecutive winning seasons for the first time in the franchise's 44-year history.

The Patriots have won three Super Bowls since 2001. In 2007, it became the first NFL team to go unbeaten in a 16-game season.

'If anything, for me, it's more about us going in there and proving that we can compete at a high level,' Dimitroff said. 'For us, it's going to be sort of playing the benchmark organization and seeing how we fare against a historic program.'

During Dimitroff's stint as director of college scouting from 2003-07, New England went 77-17. Though his love for football began as the son of late NFL quarterback, assistant coach and scout Tom Dimitroff, the Falcons' GM acknowledges the important roles Pioli and Patriots coach Bill Belichick played in shaping his career.

Like Smith, who had never worked as a head coach on any level, Dimitroff was considered a largely unproven and obscure choice when Falcons owner Arthur Blank hired him.

'Thomas has done a great job of putting the team together,' Belichick said. 'It seems like every time they make a move or do something, whether it's draft a guy or sign a guy like Turner or trade for a guy like Gonzalez or get a guy like Brian Williams, it's always something that makes their team significantly better.'

SideBar: Falcons at Patriots

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Where: Foxborough, Mass.

TV/Radio: Fox/92.9-FM