TAMPA — So if Cam Newton can accomplish this in one season as a starter in the SEC, how many NFL teams are going to run through walls to draft him in the spring?
Well, a lot. But safe to say the Falcons won’t be among them. The biggest reason they’re tied for the league’s best record (9-2) is the play of quarterback Matt Ryan, who was 24-for-28 last week against Green Bay and just won the NFC’s offensive player of the month award for November. And considering this is only his third season, he’s probably going to be around for a little while.
Ryan and the Falcons are in a rare position today. If they defeat Tampa Bay, they’ll hit double-digits in wins for only the sixth time in franchise history with four games still to play. But it would be the second season of double-digit wins in three tries during the regime of general manager Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and Ryan.
As I wrote early in the week, Smith (29-14) already ranks fourth in team history in victories despite being only ninth in games coached (43).
The Falcons are not blowing teams away. Kicker Matt Bryant has won three games late on field goals and six of their nine wins have comes by seven or fewer points. But they’re doing a lot of things impressively. Their offense has become more diversified in the past few weeks and the defense, starting to get healthy, is making stops in key situations. Green Bay had two red zone possessions that resulted in a field goal and a fumble, and threw consecutive incomplete passes on third-and-1 and f0urth-and-1 at the Falcons’ 41.
A few other numbers:
♦ 0: That’s how many turnovers the Falcons have in the last four games, a franchise record streak. The team’s 10 turnovers are the fewest in the NFC (third in the NFL). The Falcons also are 8-0 when winning the turnover battle.
♦ 165: That’s Ryan’s consecutive pass attempt streak without an interception. The franchise record is 197 (Steve Bartkowski, 1982-83).
♦ 42: The Falcons’ accepted-penalty total, which is the least in the NFL.
About today’s game: Tampa Bay has the league’s sixth worst rushing defense so expect the Falcons’ game plan to run accordingly. Michael Turner rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta’s 27-21 win at the Georgia Dome last month.
Finally, late Tampa Bay and USC coach John McKay will be inducted posthumously into the Buccaneers” ring of honor at halftime. Rich McKay, his son and the Falcons’ president, will take part in the ceremonies. The Bucs will wear their throwback pale tangerine uniforms.
Tampa Bay lost last week to Baltimore to drop to 7-5. So expect the team to come out desperate, knowing another loss significantly damages its playoff chances.
That’s it for now. I’ll check back in a little while and let you know about inactives as soon as they’re announced.