All they do is win. Sometimes it’s Michael Turner running. Sometimes it’s Roddy White flying. Sometimes they just stretch it out and let their balding 35-year-old kicker end the suspense on the last play because, well, it’s good for ratings and keeps us all guessing.
“We’re just tying to give people their money’s worth,” linebacker Mike Peterson said.
They’re building a fat bank account. The NFL season is moving into December and the Falcons already are sitting on nine wins. They’re 9-2, a record that only the New England Patriots and New York Jets can match.
Winning has become so commonplace that they just clinched their third straight winning season and it was barely mentioned.
“It’s an afterthought,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Last season at this time we weren’t having a positive season and the conversation was we still hadn’t put together back-to-back winning seasons. It’s a nice feeling to have that behind us.”
They played Tampa Bay for first place in the NFC South. They won. They played Baltimore amid doubts that they belonged among the league’s elite. They won.
On Sunday they played Green Bay, which had won its last three games by a composite score of 85-10 and was the most recent leader in the oh-they’re-going-to-the-Super-Bowl derby. While it came down to a Matt Bryant field goal with nine seconds left to secure a 20-17 win – the fact remains that it was the Packers who were scrambling to find ways to beat this team.
The Falcons are good enough to win a Super Bowl. Here are a few reasons why:
♦ On a day when the Packers often doubled White and made sure he was a non-factor, quarterback Matt Ryan still completed 24 of 28 passes to nine different receivers against one of the league’s top defenses and engineered two14-play, 80-yard and seven-and-a-half-minute touchdown drives, the kind that can demoralize an opponent.
♦ They don’t beat themselves. They did not have a turnover for the fourth straight game and won the turnover battle for the eighth time in 11 games (all wins).
♦ The defense. Yes, the defense.
There have been times you’ve wondered about it and maybe covered your eyes. But did you watch the Packers on Sunday? One of the NFL’s premier teams, led by Aaron Rodgers, struggled at times to deal with the Falcons’ speed on defense. How rare is that in recent history?
Green Bay totaled more than 400 yards in offense. But it often was able to extend drives only because Rodgers managed to scramble away from the pass rush. (He led the Packers in rushing with 51 yards, including three first downs.)
Rodgers was sacked once and smacked a few other times, most notably by Brian Williams in the fourth quarter. He also was clocked by Curtis Lofton and fumbled at the Falcons’ one-yard-line in the second quarter (Peterson recovering).
In the third quarter, having been held to a field goal, the Packers resorted to trying a flea-flicker. (It worked, with Rodgers taking a pitch and completing a 34-yard pass to Greg Jennings). In the fourth, with the Falcons leading 17-10, Rodgers bought time on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons’ 21 and threw a desperation shovel pass to James Jones for 18 yards. Later, on fourth and goal from the 10, he bought time and eventually found Jordy Nelson for a tying touchdown with 56 seconds remaining.
Quoth Peterson: “We left our offense just enough time to win it.” Again.
Eric Weems returned a kickoff 40 yards and survived despite a facemask penalty on Matt Wilhelm that looked like a cartoon from Hell. Ryan, starting from the Packers’ 49, completed four straight passes to move the ball to the 29. Bryant took it from there, just as he did against New Orleans and San Francisco.
The Falcons celebrated afterward but it wasn’t at nearly at the champagne-spraying level. They’ve come to expect this.
“We’re ascending right now,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said.
“We think we’re developing something special,” cornerback Thomas DeCoud said.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Peterson. “We win, but when we come back to work next week it’s like everybody forgot all about Sunday.”
Another winning season becomes an afterthought. Welcome to the Falcons’ alternate universe.