CHARLOTTE – This might not seem like an appropriate question for a team that just won 31-10, shares the best record in the NFL at 11-2 and might be on the way to locking up home field advantage through the NFC playoffs.
But is it fair to expect better than what the Falcons have shown us in the last two weeks?
“I think you should [expect] that and we should too,” center Todd McClure said Sunday. “We have lulls. You can’t do that when you play good teams. We have to try to figure out what’s going on and make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The Falcons were fortunate Sunday. They faced an opponent, Carolina, that’s probably one turnover from being dropped into the Sun Belt.
The Panthers’ first play from scrimmage in this game: a fumble.
Three plays later, the Falcons led 7-0. Eight minutes into the game, it was 14-0.
The question wasn’t whether the Falcons would win but whether the Panthers would wind up looking like Wile E. Coyote after he inadvertently wrapped the dynamite fuse around his big toe. (Actually, the few Carolina fans who showed up deserved some comic relief.)
But domination just hasn’t been a part of the Falcons’ makeup this season – even when it’s handed to them on a platter. That’s a problem.
They won 31-10. Don’t be misled. Until a touchdown with four minutes left – set up by an interception from Jimmy Clausen, who seems destined to join his older brother in the insurance business — this was a sloppy, emotionless and dreary 10-10 game from midway through the first quarter until the final minutes.
Think about that going into the rematch against New Orleans in two weeks.
Think about that going into the playoffs.
Understand where this franchise is at. Making the playoffs is not the goal. Doing damage once it gets there is.
This isn’t to suggest the Falcons haven’t proven themselves this season. They have. They’ve beaten three of the league’s premier teams: New Orleans (on the road), Baltimore and Green Bay. They have won seven straight now, almost a half-season in itself. And yes, the NFL is about wins, not style points or polls or computer rankings.
But after a poor outing at Tampa Bay last week and too many late-game survivals, Falcons players, coaches and front office officials were hoping for a laugher against the NFL’s worst outfit.
From coach Mike Smith: “We didn’t play very well after we jumped up on them.”
From defensive end John Abraham: “We might’ve got a little complacent. We lost a little fire there in the third quarter.”
From wide receiver Roddy White: “I just feel like sometimes we’re not focused and into the game the way we should be. We can’t keep having bad series. Coming out of the half we had a series where it was like one sack, another sack, and then it was third-and-25 or 30 or something. Against good teams we can’t play like that. We can’t have lapses like that.”
Actually, this what any fan of an NFL team would want: Players who are 11-2 and recognize the need to be better.
Matt Ryan needs to be better and knows it. He started the game completing seven of eight with a touchdown. Thereafter, he went 13 for 26 with an interception.
The offense, after touchdowns on the first two possessions, produced only one field goal and a turnover in the next six.
The defense allowed Carolina to rush for 212 yards – by far its biggest total of the season. Jonathan Stewart ran for 117 yards in the second half alone (133 overall).
Linebacker Mike Peterson picked the adjective: “Embarrassing.”
No, there’s nothing embarrassing about 11-2. It’s a special record in a special season. But there’s nothing wrong with expecting more.
– By Jeff Schultz