FLOWERY BRANCH – Coach Mike Smith, the winningest coach in team history, has the Falcons poised to make an unprecedented third straight appearance in the NFL playoffs.
The Falcons, the No. 1 seed, will host the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional round at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks advanced with a 24-14 victory over Washington on Sunday.
The Falcons are 0-3 in the playoffs under Smith, but are determined to reverse the direction of their recent playoff fortunes.
Each time they lost to the team that went on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and the last two playoff defeats were to the eventual Super Bowl champion in Green Bay and the New York Giants.
Smith doesn’t have to look too far for a signal that things are going to change.
“Matt (Ryan) has had a great regular season for us this year,” Smith said of his quarterback. “He’s got the individual accolades. He’s led our team through some tough ball games and been able to pull them out. Those experiences will help us in the post-season.”
In a meeting with Seattle last season on Oct. 2, 2011, the Falcons jumped out to a 27-7 lead, but had to hold on for a 30-28 victory.
Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka missed a 61-yard field goal attempt at the buzzer. It was short and wide left.
In the last meeting, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch was held to 24 yards on eight carries and one touchdown. He rumbled for 131 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown against the Redskins.
The Falcons faced quarterback Tarvaris Jackson in that previous matchup. The Seahawks are a much different team with rookie Russell Wilson at quarterback.
“I’m just very impressed with his maturity,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, who broadcasts Seattle’s games in an interview on 790 The Zone. “His work ethic and the way he just comes to work with a sense of purpose every day; it doesn’t change. It doesn’t waiver. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. It doesn’t matter if they won the game by 50 or lose by 7, he comes to work with that same attitude each and every day.”
The Seahawks also received a boost against Washington from the return of cornerback Brandon Browner, who was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Unlike in 2010 when the Falcons were the No. 1 seed, the Falcons had a full week of practice during the bye week. They are hoping the extra work will allow them to stay in a rhythm.
The players contend this playoff trip will be different.
“The coaching, the locker room, the brotherhood in the locker room is totally different than 2010,” defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. “I think that guys are eager to get into the playoffs and make our presence known. We are a team that’s going to be able to make this run in the playoffs.”
The Falcons know that stopping Lynch will be a key to their efforts against the Seahawks.
“Every play starts with the (defensive) line,” Babineaux said. “What we do up front dictates a lot of what happens on the back end. It’s our job to fill in our gaps, secure our gaps and make sure that the ball doesn’t run in our gaps. If it does, we have to make the tackle. That’s the type of attitude that we have to have from here on out. We have to be stout in everything that we do.”
The Falcons are facing arguably the hottest team in the NFC. The Seahawks have won their last six games.
Before the playoff game, the Seahawks had outscored their five previous opponents 193-60, including a 58-0 rout of Arizona and a 42-13 rout of San Francisco.
The Seattle defense has not given up more than 28 points in one game this season.
The Seattle won all eight game home games, but they had to learn how to win on the road.
“That was the hurdle they had to get over,” Moon said. “When you have a young football team. When you have a young quarterback, you just have to figure out what it takes to win out on the road, especially in close football games.”
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