Falcons still have chance to hit their stride at right time

Could Sean Weatherspoon and the Falcons be flying high going into the playoffs? (Jason Getz/AJC)

Could Sean Weatherspoon and Falcons be flying high going into playoffs? (Jason Getz/AJC)

At this point of the season a year ago, the Falcons had won eight straight games, were 12-2 and tied with New England for the NFL’s best record, had beaten New Orleans, Baltimore and Green Bay and generally looked like anything but a team that could lose its first playoff game by 27 points — which, of course, they did.

There’s an obvious byproduct to having a season suddenly going down like Pompeii. People stop assuming what comes next.

Which brings us to the 2011 Falcons. More people probably project them as a first-round playoff exit than a Super Bowl contender. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Athletes feed off external doubt, and the “Green Bay did it, so can we” thing is slowly evolving into this group’s rallying cry. (The Packers entered the playoffs last year as a NFC’s sixth seed and proceeded to obliterate all in their path, beginning with the Falcons.)

“All of our goals are still in front of us,” running back Michael Turner said following Thursday’s 41-14 dismembering of Jacksonville. “All we can ask for is to get in the tournament, and then we’ll take it from there. We saw what happened last year with Green Bay.”

The Falcons are 9-5. They will get into the playoffs. They’ve had more than a few hiccups this season but have rebounded nicely. After losing to Houston and getting humiliated for one half at Carolina (combined six-quarter slouch: opponents 40, Falcons 17), they rallied to beat the Panthers and bury Jacksonville (combined six-quarter bounce-back: Falcons 65, opponents 14).

Falcons even have lessened the stress level for Mike Smith. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Falcons have lessened Mike Smith's stress. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

A stronger sense of how real this awakening is will come next Monday night, when the Falcons play at New Orleans. But there’s certainly no reason to think this team can’t go on a special run. It was a talented group with a veteran core before this season started, and it remains that.

“We like the [playoff] position we’re in because we feel like we can take our show on the road and win,” wide receiver Roddy White said. “We’re built to run the ball and play-action pass and get the ball to [the receivers] on the outside. We don’t break. We know we just have be consistent to win games. Carolina definitely was a wake-up call for us. It took two quarters to wake up, but we learned. You never want to be down 23-7 but it’s good to see what your team can do when that happens. That gave us a lot of confidence.”

The Falcons have clinched their fourth straight winning season Thursday. It speaks to general expectations that that was an afterthought. They know they need some measure of postseason success because one-and-dones get old real quick with a jaded fan base.

But there are positive signs. Matt Ryan is on target again. Receivers aren’t dropping passes.  The defense is starting to get more pressure. There are fewer missed tackles. Sean Weatherspoon is an emerging star. The team hasn’t had a turnover in the last two weeks.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff was concerned about his team for several weeks, but he’s starting to see light now.

“Mike has echoed this, and we’ve been very clear: We expect much more consistency given the talent of this football team and the talent of this coaching staff,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we had some moments of inconsistency. But we really believe now we’re starting to get our feet underneath us and we’re starting to play some fundamentally sound football.

“I’m seeing accomplished assignments. I’m seeing focus. I’m seeing finish.”

A little swagger also may be coming back. When asked his thoughts on the New Orleans game, White smiled and said, “We’re going to win.”

So he’s guaranteeing that?

“I don’t guarantee victories,” he said. “But we’re going to win.”

That certainly would alter perceptions.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

400 comments Add your comment

Big Enos Burdette

December 16th, 2011
12:41 pm

Well, we’ll see…

Big Enos Burdette

December 16th, 2011
12:42 pm

Jeff,
Can you please get me a truckload of Coor’s? Me and little Enos are parched

Big Enos Burdette

December 16th, 2011
12:45 pm

Oh, how I miss the Smith’s. They took all the anxiety out of the season

Dr. Warren

December 16th, 2011
12:47 pm

Let’s not forget they just beat Carolina and Jacksonville.

ScoutDawg

December 16th, 2011
12:48 pm

The strike and late season start caused this team to take a while to gel.

bgdawg

December 16th, 2011
12:57 pm

Just imagine, if JJ learns to do those amazing catches like some of the other best, then could be better than all of them.

DC

December 16th, 2011
1:01 pm

JJ did do some amazing catches…you probably didn’t see them b/c it was in the 4th qtr.

Die Hard Falcon

December 16th, 2011
1:06 pm

We’re on our way. I am not crowning us Div. champs or SB champs, just finally feel that we’re putting together solid play. If we play that way we can beat anybody including the packers & aints. When we execute, we’re better than they are taking into account offense & defense. Obviously it means nothing until it happens, but I can understand the statement from Roddy that ticked off the pack when he said that “we beat ourselves”. The Falcons just need to execute consistently and we ARE better and can beat any team. If we execute and don’t beat ourselves w/ turnovers and penalties, then there’s no team that scares me. The packers and aints have very suspect defense and if we don’t make the turnover mistakes then we can beat both of them and nobody in the AFC is scary to me this year. Only time will tell…

Go Falcons!!!

5150 UOAD

December 16th, 2011
1:11 pm

I guess the team wanted to make sure Coach Smith’s heart had no reason to hurt last night.

Buford T. Justice

December 16th, 2011
1:15 pm

Enough with the negativity, Dr. Warren. Look at this team and organization from a long term standpoint and you see the progress. Do they have a way to go yet? Sure. But this ownership and management is outstanding…

Greg Mendel

December 16th, 2011
1:16 pm

How is Grimes? A healthy Grimes is important, if not critical.

Sweet Old Buck

December 16th, 2011
1:18 pm

If the same team that just played six good quarters of football shows up at the Super Dome, we win!

JSS

December 16th, 2011
1:36 pm

Before the new age version of Beavis and Butthead show up with the Barney Fife of the AJC, this team is just average. Not great, not bad… I know some pundits are just feeling the 2nd half of Carolina shed the ghosts. That is typical Snarky Central spin. That Houston game is the true barometer. They did everything that people say they couldn’t do… They ran the ball… They won with lesser parts… Simple as that… I’m not going to lose any sleep over the Punch and Judy side show…

Hollywould

December 16th, 2011
1:40 pm

Love the pic of SPOON. He is making play after play and going one on one with the running backs in space and making the tackle. Him and Grimes are the best atheletes on the team. Should be fun next week.

GG

December 16th, 2011
1:40 pm

i keep hearing if we play this good we can beat the saints or the packers….does anyone really believe that we can play that way against the elite teams. The reason we don’t play excellent agaist those type teams is because those elite teams’ talent dictates how we play. It’s not so much we play bad against the Pack, it’s the fact that the Pack’s talent causes us to not play good. We won’t have receivers wide open down the field agaisnt the saints and pack. we won’t be able to put pressure on Brees and Rodgers. Those QB’s won’t fumble and give the ball up like the Jags did. I wish i was wrong, but history proves me right.

Gatorman

December 16th, 2011
1:42 pm

How soon we forget that Green Bay was where the Falcons are, only last year. The playoffs are a new season.

Dr. Warren

December 16th, 2011
1:46 pm

Buford, there is no longer-term supporter of the Falcons than me. I remember another time when our record stood at 9-5: that was in 1973, after losing our final two games and barely missing the playoffs. You think last night was a blow-out? In 1973 the franchise had what is still its biggest victory ever—62-7 over the Saints. I am not saying the ownership and GM and head coach are not good. What I am saying is that, aside from the Lions (do the Titans count?), our Birds haven’t beaten a good team all year. A nice test will come this Monday. Trust me–there’s no one who’d rather see the Falcons win the Super Bowl than Dr. Warren.

Die Hard Falcon

December 16th, 2011
1:48 pm

Double G, I assume you’re referring to my post and while it might be a “chicken or the egg” argument that cannot be proven either way, I still say that when we don’t make the mistakes, we’re good enough to beat them. I can’t prove it, only the team can by doing it, so if we go against one or both of these teams in the playoffs and play w/o the penalties or turnovers and still lose, then you’ll be right, if we do the same and win, I’ll be right. Either way, I just hope we leave it all on the field this year and can say we hung w/ the best and won or even if we lose, I just want them to not beat themselves, that will show the truth.

Go Falcons!!!

Dr. Warren

December 16th, 2011
1:48 pm

Correction: the test will come a week from this Monday.

Eric

December 16th, 2011
1:50 pm

JSS, do you just sit on the AJC f5-ing all day until somebody posts a Falcons story, at which point you break your fingers trying to post some “witty” commentary on how the Falcons actually suck? Is that really how you spend your life, trolling Falcons’ fans? I mean, haven’t Falcons’ fans suffered enough for 40+ years without having a basement-dwelling, beer-swilling moron such as yourself crapping in their Cornflakes at every opportunity?

This is a 9-5 football team that will be going to the playoffs for the 3rd time in 4 years. They should have beat NO and Houston if not for some ridiculous drops and they dominated GB for the first half, yet according to every single one of your inane and incessant comments, they are really no better than Carolina? Give it a rest, this is easily a top-1

Eric

December 16th, 2011
1:53 pm

All I know is Sean Payton and Company aren’t exactly excited to see the Falcons coming into town next week, I guarantee you that…

Buford T. Justice

December 16th, 2011
1:55 pm

Fans are like modern day financial analysts asking the question: what is the company, or in this case team, doing right now. I am looking long term, unlike giddy fans, at the LONG TERM picture, Dr. Warren. I like the plan, philosophy, management style of this team and I think it’ll pay off in time. Progress is what is important… looking at the progress year to year (AND NO, I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THEIR RECORD). I could give a rat’s as* about the Smiths… they had heart but no competent business/management strategy.

Stinger2

December 16th, 2011
2:12 pm

Jeff: I thought I had read your blog earlier today.
No… wait it was Mark Bradley`s. Also, the picture of Weatherspoon was not the same. What goes did your editor get his signals mixed up? Surley it was not you and Mark.

Hollywould

December 16th, 2011
2:12 pm

JSS, Looks like u are already losing sleep on the Falcons. Blogging late after the game and first up this morn with the blogging. Sure must suck to be a hater and they keep winning. You do know what insanity means right?

saintsation777

December 16th, 2011
2:15 pm

Sure can, stride to one and done out o the playoffs again if you people make it

tonyb

December 16th, 2011
2:18 pm

Roddy, I like the swagger, but can you keep down the bulletin board talk. Just let your play speak for itself.

Dr. Warren

December 16th, 2011
2:20 pm

Buford, from your lips to God’s ears. Let’s hope Coach Smith can stay healthy for many years to come, for his sake and ours.

JSS

December 16th, 2011
2:21 pm

I was working on a proforma report… My life hasn’t been 9-5 since May of 1988… But I leave you to your assumptions… Take the first three letters especially to heart…

JSS

December 16th, 2011
2:23 pm

And not losing sleep was not referring to the Falcons…

RonnieMackATL

December 16th, 2011
2:24 pm

“The Packers entered the playoffs last year as a NFC’s sixth seed and proceeded to obliterate all in their path, beginning with the Falcons.”

Didn’t the Packer’s run start with the Eagles?

Calm Down People

December 16th, 2011
2:25 pm

Lets see…the Falcons clobbered a terrible and reeling Jacksonville team that was playing their 3rd game in 11 days on the road with a rookie QB…. please…lets not get carried away.

Smoothie

December 16th, 2011
2:26 pm

“We’re built to run the ball and play-action pass and get the ball to [the receivers] on the outside.”

I like the sentiment, and I like Roddy’s confidence (cockiness sometimes bordering on arrogance but when it comes to Nawlins, to hell with being PC!!), but this team is no longer able to pound teams into submission with the running game. Against CAR and JAX, Turner struggled to find holes and his tip-toe tentativeness is really making me wonder if he’s a) playing hurt / banged up b) in need of regular platooning with Snelling, who seems to hit whatever hole is there with authority.

Racking up 80+ yds against a woeful Jaguars team that was definitely in over their heads, coupled with a less than inspiring ground game against CAR (ranked 21st in rush D?) last week should not really breed any type of expectation beyond a playoff berth and hopefully a favorable match-up with NY or Dallas that perhaps we can eek out. This team is still a few pieces away on the interior and the secondary leaves much to be desired against the Pack, Saints etc.

So let’s not get too carried away yet! One at a time. But the 10 day rest should really help. If we can get Grimes and Hayden healthy, along with rest for the O-line, we might have a shot to do some damage.

Phalcon Phan

December 16th, 2011
2:28 pm

I learned how to be a Falcon fan by being a GA Bulldog fan. I want blowout victories every game and if I don’t get them, I will rip all of the players and wail to get the coaches fired.Style points are everything in life.

FalconsFan

December 16th, 2011
2:30 pm

Calm Down…. can it.

We’re talking about the NFL, a form of entertainment, if you’re not excited about what happened last night.. go watch some WNBA action. Falcons fans are excited because we know the potential this team has.

Hollywould

December 16th, 2011
2:39 pm

Enter your comments here

Hollywould

December 16th, 2011
2:41 pm

Better double check that report/ your infatuation with the Falcons could end up with you charging for promises you can’t keep.

DocDawg

December 16th, 2011
2:42 pm

The falcons may not win the superbowl this year, but they have come a long, long way. Four winning seasons in a row doesn’t sound like much, but it is a tremendous breakthrough for this franchise. They are working towards a permanent relevancy, with good management and coaching. Next step is to win a playoff game, and avoid falling off a cliff the next season as has been the pattern with past teams.

SweetBack

December 16th, 2011
2:43 pm

I smell fear…………This blog reeks of it. And I think…….No, I know where it’s coming from!

Every time a Aints fan come on here, they stink it up!

Pdubb

December 16th, 2011
2:46 pm

Let sleeping does lay.

Pamela

December 16th, 2011
2:51 pm

Honestly the Jaguars are really not good this year. So for the FAILcons to beat them is the same difference as them playing a little league football team. So I know for a FACT that the Saints will beat the breaks off the FAILcons on December 26th! :)

Pamela

December 16th, 2011
2:52 pm

SweetBack TRUST me when I say that we in no fashion form or way fear the FAILcons…please..that is laughable..hahahahahahahaha! :) Let’s see what trash you will be talking on 12/27…I guarantee you that you will not have nothing so say when we beat those FAILcons… :)

JSS

December 16th, 2011
2:55 pm

You wouldn’t know what it means… It is not based on charging in order of matter (pro forma), the company makes money per project… Written literally thousands of these, the numbers and ratios are only affected by inflation… Stick to what you know? My business is not it… Another A-s-s-umption I see…

Pamela

December 16th, 2011
2:58 pm

Eric…trust me when I say that Sean Peyton could care less about the FAILcons coming to New Orleans…we will beat the breaks off the FAILcons and you and the rest of the sorry FAILcons fans know it! You will see. FAILcons aren’t playoff or Super Bowl material. WHO DAT!!! :)

tremaine

December 16th, 2011
3:01 pm

Team looked good last night.

Pamela

December 16th, 2011
3:01 pm

Gatorman the difference between Green Bay and the FAILcons is that Green Bay is a REAL team…the FAILcons don’t have to worry about playing them again because they will not even be a wild card for the playoffs… :)

tremaine

December 16th, 2011
3:03 pm

Ok fellow falcon fans, I have 5 opening spots in my fantasy basketball CBS sportsline gold league that I have to fill. If you are interested sign up for the gold league and search for Albany Fantasty Basketball League. The password is marines. The draft is Sunday at 830pm et.

Hey Now

December 16th, 2011
3:03 pm

JSS = Pompous A$$

Pamela

December 16th, 2011
3:04 pm

tremaine…well….aaaaaaaaaaaa…O.K. :) hahahahahahaha! Wow…do you and the rest of the FAILcons fans UNDERSTAND that they played a helpless team last night? I mean really..hahahahahahaha! :) I don’t care how many ‘Rise Up’ songs you all have nor do I care if the entire Angelic Choirs in this world sing songs for the FAILcons…it doesn’t matter…they will still lose to the Saints Monday, December 26, 2011. Trust me when I say…WHO DAT?!!! :)

Hollywould

December 16th, 2011
3:09 pm

Pamela, is my sandwich ready?

Hey Now

December 16th, 2011
3:09 pm

Pamela,, thats the kind of game the Aints would have lost,, I mean seriously,, The Rams,, BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA,,,,