The students and faculty at Clifton Elementary School were uninhibited in their enthusiasm for the Falcons who dropped by Tuesday for a surprise visit.
The exuberance for the team seems to be more measured among NFL watchers.
The Falcons are 5-0 for the first time in franchise history and the only team in the NFC with a perfect record. Their star players get their due, and various media power rankings have them near the top.
Yet there might be nagging skepticism about the Falcons’ staying power, as illustrated during ESPN’s pregame show Sunday. Studio analysts answered the question that probably is on the minds of more than a few Falcons fans.
Can you trust this team?
“Sounds good … smells bad,” Keyshawn Johnson said.
“Unless you win in the playoffs, you’re going to be known as ‘next year’s champions,’” Mike Ditka said.
Johnson and Ditka made their comments before the Falcons defeated the Redskins, but it’s doubtful that the victory changed their views. The proof will come in the playoffs for the Falcons, who have provided plenty of reasons to doubt them after they flopped in three of the past four postseasons.
Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said the team doesn’t talk much about such skepticism, but called it “a good thing.”
“I would rather be the underdog team or the team that everybody is doubting vs. a team that everybody is pampering and pumping it up,” he said. “Inside that locker room, we know what we have to do.”
The Falcons have to keep winning games to secure their third consecutive playoff berth. Winning the NFC South is a goal, too, because it would assure them at least one postseason game at the Georgia Dome.
Quarterback Matt Ryan said the Falcons’ recent playoffs failures serve to remind them that they can’t be satisfied just because they are winning now.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We have players and guys that have been around for a long time and understand what it is that we need to do. And, at the same time, I think we have guys that feel like we haven’t played our best football yet.”
The contrast between the Falcons’ regular-season success and postseason failures has forged their reputation.
Since Ryan, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith arrived in 2008, the Falcons are tied for the second-most victories in the NFL. But in the postseason the Falcons haven’t measured up to the other teams in the top five in victories since then: New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
“I don’t really think about it too much or worry about what the outside perception is,” Ryan said. “For us, as players and being a part of the team, it’s just all about trying to win games and giving ourselves a chance at the end of the year.”
Falcons players and staffers fanned out in the area Tuesday for the annual NFL-United Way Hometown Huddle, a league-wide volunteer program. The Falcons said they had full participation among their players.
At Clifton, Falcons players, cheerleaders and the team mascot participated in a physical-education class with students. Team owner Arthur Blank couldn’t join them as planned because of a scheduling conflict.