FLOWERY BRANCH — Asante Samuel is the Falcons’ resident expert on the importance of momentum entering the playoffs.
He should know. Samuel is the proud owner of two Super Bowl rings — XXXVIII and XXXIX.
He experienced a seismic momentum roll during his rookie season with the New England Patriots, who took a 12-game winning streak into the playoffs and steamrolled Tennessee, Indianapolis and Carolina on their way to the Vince Lombardi trophy.
One year later, the Patriots had less velocity, entering the postseason with just a two-game winning streak. But they still generated enough momentum to beat Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and become the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
What does Samuel think now?
“I think (Sunday) was the best game that we put together so far,” the cornerback said of the Falcons’ 34-0 thrashing of the New York Giants. “We just want to take this momentum that we’ve got and ride it into the playoffs. That’s how you win it. You take your momentum and you keep it going.”
Since the Giants and the Packers both lost their 14th games in 2010 and 2011 and then stormed to NFL titles, it’s become fashionable to talk about hot teams and winning it all.
The Falcons are outspoken about building on the big win over the Giants with victories over Detroit and Tampa Bay to close out the regular season.
“You need to win big ball games in this league to gain momentum going into the playoffs,” wide receiver Roddy White said.
There are differing theories on how momentum works.
While the Giants and Packers were hot the last two seasons, the 2009 New Orleans Saints went 13-0 and then dropped three in a row before the playoffs started as they rested starters. They were able to recapture their urgency during a playoff run and defeated the Colts for the Super Bowl XLIV title.
“Momentum is very important,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to measure, quantify it and put a number on it. Momentum is kind of like when you use the word passion or when you used the word purpose.
“Sometimes, you can define them, but you can’t quantify them.”
The Falcons have studied the angles. They seek to end a four-game postseason losing streak that dates back seven seasons. On Jan. 15, 2005, they throttled St. Louis 47-17 in the division round at the Georgia Dome before Jim Mora’s team lost the NFC championship game to the Eagles.
Under Smith, the Falcons have been eliminated from the playoffs in their first games after the 2008, 2010 and 2011 seasons.
In 2008, they went into the wild-card round at Arizona with a three-game winning streak.
In 2010, they were the No. 1 seed, went 9-1 to close out the regular season and lost to the Packers in the divisional round.
Last season, they finished the schedule with a 3-1 run and lost to the Giants in the wild-card round.
“It’s important that you are playing efficiently and effectively in December and January,” Smith said. “I think that is what every team is striving for.”
Smith was on the 2000 Baltimore coaching staff when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. The Ravens dropped Game 9 to Pittsburgh 9-6 before winning seven in a row heading into the playoffs.
“That was a unique experience in terms of having really five games where we didn’t score an offensive touchdown and we had to keep the team together,” said Smith of those offensively-challenged Ravens. “We won two of those five games where we didn’t score an offensive touchdown and then we got on a roll.”
The mentality then quickly changes in January.
“When you start talking about tournament games, it’s all about winning that game,” Smith said. “If you don’t win, then you go home. There’s definitely a conclusion.”
The Falcons can extend their momentum in Detroit Saturday, when they can wrap up the home-field advantage for the playoffs with a victory. Smith will then be faced with the notion of sitting his starters for the finale.
“We are playing for a whole lot,” Smith said. “There is still a lot of things that have to be determined in terms of seeding for the playoffs.”
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