FLOWERY BRANCH — Most football fans have seen the NFL Films footage of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh asking his team the eternal question, “Who’s got it better than us?”
The players chime in with a hearty, “Nobody!”
At 5-0, the Falcons have it better than anybody in the NFC.
The Falcons are ensconced in first place in the NFC South with a 3 1/2-game lead on Tampa Bay (1-3) and a 4-game lead over New Orleans (1-4) and Carolina (1-4).
Off to the best start in franchise history, Falcons coach Mike Smith plans to enjoy the fast takeoff while working out the kinks for a team that admittedly at times hasn’t played its best football.
“It’s all about your focus,” Smith said. “You’ve got to focus on the task at hand. This is a group of guys that knows how to have fun, but they also know how to snap in and go to work when it’s time to go to work. That’s the important thing.
“There has got to be levity in everything that you do, in your personal life, in you work life. But there are also things that you have to get accomplished and things that you have to do. Everyone understands what our jobs are in this building.”
Smith doesn’t plan any change the team’s approach due to the standings.
“During the week we try to be even-keeled,” Smith said. “You’ve got to go through your preparation as a coaching staff and as a team. Then you have to go play with emotion on game day. I think our guys do a really good job of that.”
Since the 2008 season, the Falcons are tied with Baltimore for the second-best record in the league at 48-21. Only New England (51-18) has been better.
Smith’s career winning percentage through 69 games (.696) is tied for 10th all-time with Harbaugh and Joe Gibbs, according to STATS Inc.
The nine coaches ahead of Smith are George Halas, Paul Brown, George Seifert, Chuck Knox, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, George Allen, John Madden, Blanton Collier and Potsy Clark.
Some of the players sounded giddy about their start.
“I think we’re doing a heck of a job of just going out there and competing and just expecting to win,” wide receiver Roddy White said. “This team has got a whole different attitude about going out there and expecting to win. Each week into each week, we seem to get better.”’
Smith said he isn’t worried about his team reading their press clippings. He contends that his defenders already know they must defend the run better after giving up 115 yards to Washington rookie running back Alfred Morris last Sunday.
“I’d rather learn lessons while I’m winning than learn lessons while I’m losing, so you’ve got to take that from it,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said.
The run defense will receive plenty of scrutiny.
“We are going to look at everything in terms of scheme and in terms of players, who’s playing and who’s not playing, because it’s something that we definitely have to fix,” Smith said
The Falcons also have to become more consistent on special teams.
“We’ll have two nice coverages and then have them pop one [kickoff return] out to the 35-yard line,” Smith said. “Those things will come back to haunt you.”
Even quarterback Matt Ryan will be asked to step up his game.
“Offensively, we haven’t turned the ball over [a lot], but when we have, it’s been catastrophic basically,” Smith said. “Two of them in the red zone, one returned for a touchdown and the other … was in field goal range.”
With a win Sunday against Oakland, Smith can tie Dan Reeves (49-59-1) for the most coaching wins in club history.
Don’t expect a wild celebration from the coach.
“It’s just a start,” Smith said. “That’s all it is.”