Falcons beat another bad team, but can they beat good one?

Two touchdowns by Julio Jones (left) helped stake the Falcons to an early 42-0 lead over Tampa Bay. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Two touchdowns by Julio Jones (left) helped stake the Falcons to an early 42-0 lead over Tampa Bay. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(UPDATED: 11:30 p.m. The New York Giants defeated Dallas, which means the Falcons will face the Giants next Sunday at 1 p.m.)

If there is one absolute this season about the Falcons, it’s that they know how to wipe their feet on the lampooned and downtrodden. They create excitement for punch-drunk fan bases dreaming of Andrew Luck. They can beat any team that has been considered as an emergency replacement by the Big East.

But can the Falcons win a playoff game and, you know, actually beat somebody good?

They beat Jacksonville. They beat Indianapolis. They beat Carolina twice. They didn’t beat Tampa Bay on Sunday so much as they dodged exploding parts and avoided hyperventilating from laughing. The Falcons led 42-0 after 23 minutes — aided by three turnovers — pulled most of their starters early and somewhat wobbled to the finish line (not that the wobble of backups really matter), winning 45-24.

They made the playoffs. They finished the regular season with a record of 10-6. Not great, given the adjusted standards in Flowery Branch, but certainly not awful.

Still, have you ever bought one of those build-it-yourself desks from a cheap furniture store, and then, seemingly 17 minutes after you’ve tightened the last Swedish screw into pressboard and placed your computer, printer and books on top, one of the legs folded like linguini?

That’s kind of where we’re at with the Falcons. They went 8-3 after a 2-3 start this season. But given who’ve they’ve beaten and who’ve they’ve lost to, it’s fair to wonder if they’re going to turn into limp pasta in the postseason when they’re under more pressure.

Careful about conclusions. The Falcons just annihilated a team that finished the season with a 10-game losing streak. (That’s not a franchise record. Oh, did this postgame cry for a John McKay quote.) It makes you wonder how the Bucs beat the Falcons in Week 3.

Michael Turner, who had struggled of late, rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Michael Turner, who had struggled of late, rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Falcons’ last four wins came over Minnesota, Carolina, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, teams that finished with a composite record of 18-46. They went only 1-4 against the NFL playoff field (the only win coming over Detroit).

They went 2-4 against teams that finished with winning records  (Tennessee was the other one), 7-1 against teams with losing records and 1-1 against .500 teams.

You don’t indict a team for beating schleps. But skepticism is completely appropriate.

The question isn’t whether the Falcons have the talent and experience to win a road playoff game over the New York Giants next Sunday. They do. The question is which Falcons’ team will show up.

“People are going to have their doubts about us until we go into the playoffs and do some good things,” tackle Tyson Clabo said. “Just because we feel like we have the talent to do some special things doesn’t mean anything. We have to perform. You can’t just write down the roster and decide who wins from there.”

When Detroit lost to Green Bay Sunday, the Falcons were handed the NFC’s No. 5 seed on a platter, meaning they didn’t have to travel to New Orleans next week. They will still be on the road for the entire playoffs (barring an implausible NFC title match-up with Detroit), but running back Michael Turner offered, “It’s been proven over time that seeds do not matter.”

We know that to be true. The Falcons were the No. 1 seed last season and got drop-kicked by Green Bay.

Quarterback Matt Ryan played less than a half. He stuck around long enough to throw two touchdown passes and establish a new single-season franchise record for passing yardage. Running back Michael Turner also spent the second half reclining, after rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns (one for 81 yards) on 17 carries.

We witnessed three interceptions by the Falcons’ defense, a pick six by linebacker Curtis Lofton, a sack and forced fumble by John Abraham.

We saw why general manager Thomas Dimitroff believed wide receiver Julio Jones was worth more than a few draft picks. Jones had a 17-yard touchdown catch to make it 14-0. On Tampa’s first ensuing play from scrimmage, Josh Freeman had a pass intercepted by Dominique Franks at the Bucs’ 48. On first down, Ryan fired a pass to Jones near the 15-yard-line. Jones collided with safety Tanard Jackson, made the catch anyway, went down, got up and then pulled defenders with him into the end zone.

Plays like that show us what potential this team has. But if doubts remain, it’s not a mystery way. Not enough highlights have come against good teams.

By Jeff Schultz

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

946 comments Add your comment

j

January 1st, 2012
7:25 pm

Eddie from acworth

January 1st, 2012
7:26 pm

Eddie from acworth

January 1st, 2012
7:28 pm

Dang second. Oh well.
My guess is as good as yours about this team schultzie. No idea what happens next week. Just glad we dont have to go to new orleans next week….they look like green bay fom last yr.
Pressure the qb and throw the ball to julio a lot. That could equate to a win.

Go birds.

Big Dave

January 1st, 2012
7:31 pm

Falcons get a playoff win.

DATizGAY

January 1st, 2012
7:33 pm

Bring on whoever out of the NFC East…thank GOD no Saints in First Round. I hate “who dat” fans and hope Suh and Lions punch them in the crouch!

5150 UOAD

January 1st, 2012
7:33 pm

I never say FIRST even when I am 1st.

waynester

January 1st, 2012
7:33 pm

I hope it’s Dallas. We’ve owed them a playoff elimination for MANY Moons. Plus, the ‘boys play awful at home……

GregKennesaw

January 1st, 2012
7:37 pm

Congrats to Roddy and Matt.

GregKennesaw

January 1st, 2012
7:38 pm

Bucs are just an awful team….I mean they really suck.

Samuel L. Jackson

January 1st, 2012
7:42 pm

Dodged a bullet today dirty birds… The Saints won’t get to embarress you twice on national tv.

What do Falcons do?!?!?!?!?!

LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY EGGS!!!

Texas Pete

January 1st, 2012
7:43 pm

I want the Falcons to win a playoff game. But I swear, our secondary sucks. Dunta Robinson is probably the worst tackler I’ve ever seen. He whiffs far too many times. I can’t believe we pay him so much and get so little from him. Is it just me or does the Falcon defense look like easy pickin’s for any good passing team? I’m afraid that unless the Falcon offense can dominate the time clock, our defense will be shredded. Please, let’s win at least one playoff game.

romebuzz

January 1st, 2012
7:46 pm

we owe dallas some payback

katherine

January 1st, 2012
7:47 pm

congrats falcons!

Not a Falcon fan

January 1st, 2012
7:48 pm

It will be ONE AND DONE, no matter who the falCANTS play !!!!!! Matty ice-cold will be 0 and 3 in playoffs !!!!!!!

katherine

January 1st, 2012
7:48 pm

ok thanks for sharing “not a falcons fan” now buh bye

Dawg48

January 1st, 2012
7:50 pm

Who wins tonight?

Cowgirls or the little giants?

katherine

January 1st, 2012
7:51 pm

i kinda hope its the cowgirls

katherine

January 1st, 2012
7:52 pm

oh they are blasting the falcons on nbc right now…..bastages

Harpie

January 1st, 2012
7:52 pm

I think the Falcons are gonna win that first playoff game. After that, though, some divine intevention may be required….

Dawg48

January 1st, 2012
7:53 pm

Me too.

Eli is still Eli!

katherine

January 1st, 2012
7:53 pm

katherine

January 1st, 2012
7:54 pm

sometimes things dont always work out how they are supposed to…..you never know. Once you get into the playoffs all bets are off

jack bull

January 1st, 2012
7:55 pm

I’d much rather play in-doors, rather than in what will likely be 30 degree temperatures in NY next week. But that’s just me..

kappellmeister

January 1st, 2012
7:56 pm

Who you want, fans? Dallas or G-Men? Gimme the ‘boys.

M&M

January 1st, 2012
7:56 pm

Is Keith Bookings still with Dallas ?! :???:

P B Orr

January 1st, 2012
7:57 pm

katherine – How hard would it be to capitalize and punctuate your posts? Are you saving your strength for Choke and Phil?

Mr Charlie

January 1st, 2012
7:59 pm

The Smitty/CHOKE regime has feasted on the bottom dwellers and CHOKED vs the teams
with legit defenses. That’s why they CHOKE in the playoffs. New Orleans proved that last
week.

MCR: I wouldn’t be surprised if the CHOKE today vs a 4 win team.

I predict Tampa 24

CHOKE & Falcants 10

Ahh, just another way off prediction by Choke. Man, you can’t get anything right. You did calculate how much Raheem Morris and Josh Freeman SUCK.

Voice of Reason

January 1st, 2012
8:00 pm

Still a big achievement when you remember where we were 5 years ago: no stars, QB in the clink, coach leaving for Arkansas … Now, 3 playoff appearances and broke 4 franchise records today. Not bad, I say. I agree that we need a playoff win and take it to the next level. I agree that we need to do way more before we can pat ourselves on the back and feel great. But still, did anyone predict this 5 years ago? Seriously.

kappellmeister

January 1st, 2012
8:00 pm

Jeff – would u put any validity to the argument that the Birds are just accustomed to bad teams, since that has been the bulk of their schedule, and are then surprised how good the Saints/Packers are when they get there?

kappellmeister

January 1st, 2012
8:01 pm

M&M – yeah, 2nd string

keepinitreal

January 1st, 2012
8:03 pm

This was a weird season. We’re in the playoffs, but it doesn’t feel like we did a whole lot to earn it. It really just feels like we’re in by default.

I’m not going to get my hopes up. Maybe with lower expectations the Falcons will end up pleasantly surprising me. But I’ll believe we can win a big game on a big stage when I see it.

Dawg Man

January 1st, 2012
8:03 pm

Its a shame to watch the Falcons destroy a losing team as the Jags and jump all over the bench, but when the Saints destroyed them the week before, they really held their heads down—-remember this game when you get destroyed in the playoffs again–you are to need some of these 42 first half points.

chalkdawg4

January 1st, 2012
8:04 pm

Great job falcons. Let’s go to Dallas. Like the indoor environment. All the sudden Green Bay’s defense is suspect.

katherine

January 1st, 2012
8:05 pm

P B Orr
January 1st, 2012
7:57 pm

katherine – How hard would it be to capitalize and punctuate your posts? Are you saving your strength for Choke and Phil?

Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize someone was editing my posts. If you are trying to be an ass, good job!

P B Orr

January 1st, 2012
8:05 pm

keepinitreal – That’s how the Packers must have felt in 1967. They were 9-4-1 and barely made the postseason. The Rams and Colts were 11-1-2 and the latter did not make it. The Packers won against the heavily favored Rams and then won the Ice Bowl, finally crushed the Raiders in the 2nd Super Bowl. So it’s a new slate a this point.

Dawg Man

January 1st, 2012
8:06 pm

chalkdawg4, packers defense suspect? it will be fixed by the falcons, remember some of those 42 first half points—going to need them.

Furman Bitcher

January 1st, 2012
8:06 pm

Falcons are going to NY next week. Its will be a win and then the Packers will eat our lunch

P B Orr

January 1st, 2012
8:06 pm

I’m not trying to be an ass. You’re obviously not an idiot, so why write like one?

CGD..

January 1st, 2012
8:07 pm

C’ mon Romo get it done tonight!

10 straight losses.. This guy shouldn’t coach peewee football…Makes Coach Clean shot look Don Shula! Wow…

katherine

January 1st, 2012
8:07 pm

Attention all posters: PB Orr is editing the posts and dislikes words that aren’t capitalized or if you don’t use the proper punctuation. Your attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.

Macon Bird Fan

January 1st, 2012
8:08 pm

And the Falcons organization is classy enough to not run up the score like the Saints. And I’m not talking about the Falcons game. I’m thinking of when they hung 62 on hapless Indy earlier this year. I think the Falcons could have put 80 on the Yucs today, but Coach Smith has too much class.

katherine

January 1st, 2012
8:08 pm

This is a blog….i’m not at work so i’ll type how I like pb orr..but thanks for your concern.

Furman Bitcher

January 1st, 2012
8:09 pm

Who cares about Green bays defense. The offense will outscore us easy

Mr Charlie

January 1st, 2012
8:09 pm

If we went 16 and 0 and lost in round one, this season would not be a step forward. That just shows how far Smitty and Ice have brought this team. “Only” going to the playoffs, ask the next great genius coach, Raheem Morris, how much is sucks ONLY going to the playoffs.

However, Smitty has taken us to a new level, and a loss next week would be a bitter disappointment, but if we get that W, we are on our way.

Dr. Warren

January 1st, 2012
8:10 pm

As I said in the pre-game comment section, this game was about momentum and confidence. John Lynch said the same exact thing. Next week is about winning a playoff game and taking the next step forward for this regime. Considering how they started this season, that would be decent progress, regardless of what would happen the following week.

katherine

January 1st, 2012
8:10 pm

The falcons have definitely taken steps in the right direction the past few years…….

keepinitreal

January 1st, 2012
8:11 pm

P B Orr,

It’s a little different situation. The Packers were defending Super Bowl champs. They knew how to win the big games. The Falcons are still trying to figure that out.

But you’re right that it’s a clean slate. There’s no reason to hold anything back now. Hopefully Mularkey and BVG, especially, will take that message to heart.

country boy

January 1st, 2012
8:12 pm

The ball is in the Falcons court – they made the playoffs. In recent years both the Packers and Giants won the Super Bowl while being low playoff seeds.

CGD..

January 1st, 2012
8:14 pm

Will not see Tampa in the playoffs! Ah shucks! Shoot….Dang……..Man……..

Dawg48

January 1st, 2012
8:14 pm

Falcons are in the playoffs! Enjoy it!