OK. Now what?
They have played eight games and won eight games. They have won at home and on the road. In warm weather and cold. On Sundays and Monday, day and night. On national TV and probably when not too many were paying attention because, well, the Braves were still teasing us.
Are they great? I don’t know — what’s great? Halfway through the NFL season, the Falcons are the only team that hasn’t lost a game. So even if they’re just very good, isn’t every other team somewhere south of that?
One week after ending their history of horrors in Philadelphia, the Falcons knocked off Dallas 19-13 Sunday night. And the national analysis figures to focus on the decline of the Cowboys in 3 … 2 … 1 …
“I’m anxious to see what happens, to see if all the networks make it all about the Cowboys,” Tony Gonzalez said. “But that not our primary concern.”
No. Winning is. But it hasn’t escaped the Falcons that them winning often becomes the secondary story to the opponent losing. As Gonzalez said, “I made reference to it [in interviews] because I was a little frustrated after last week. We beat a very good team [at Philadelphia] but after the [television] highlights everything was about Philly. But I understand why. We haven’t done anything. When we get to the playoffs, we’ve lost.”
That hangover, of course, will carry through the regular season. But that doesn’t make what the Falcons are accomplishing any less remarkable. They are doing it with defense (holding Dallas without a touchdown until 5:21 remained), with an increasingly efficient Matt Ryan (who threw for 342 yards despite three sacks and getting beat up by the Cowboys’ pass rush). Even running back Michael Turner finally broke through a 43-yard gain late in the third quarter to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Their offense didn’t reach the end zone until that score, but it didn’t matter.
“We find ways to win football games,” Turner said.
The Falcons have never been 8-0 before. Then again, not many NFL teams have.
But sometimes streaks this become a search for flaws instead of a recognition of everything that a team does right. The Falcons don’t beat themselves, either with penalties or turnovers. They make plays in the clutch. They are opportunistic. Trailing 6-3, they drove 60 yards in 1:03 to kick a field goal as the first half ended. Things like that often get overlooked.
Through most of three quarters, it was a field goal battle. Each team had two. And then, the team unearthed something rare: a running game.
In the first quarter, Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for eight carries for five yards. Through most of three quarters, Turner had 10 carries for 16 yards. Then it was like a scene from Forrest Gump: He started running from the bad kids and his braces came flying off.
He’s got magic legs!
Late in the third, on first down from the Falcons’ 35, Turner busted through the middle for an eight-yard gain. Relative to the rest of the game, it seemed like a furlong. On his next carry, Turner busted it open for 43 yards before being dragged down by the Cowboys’ Brandon Carr at the Dallas 14. Appropriately, it was Turner who finished off the drive, scoring from the three just 14 seconds into the final quarter, giving a the Falcons their first lead of the night, 13-6.
Some have been slow to embrace the Falcons, at least as an undefeated team. That’s understandable. They don’t dominate opponents. They’re not overly physical. They don’t have a postseason resume that makes you go, “Wow!” More like, “Oy.”
But let’s recap: There were concerns before the Denver game (Peyton Manning), the San Diego game (long trip, short week), the Washington game (road, Robert Griffin III), the Philadelphia game (Michael Vick and city of six straight losses).
If the Falcons wanted to play the no-respect card, they had the comments from Rob Ryan to fuel them. The Dallas defensive coordinator didn’t quite scream, “Guaranteed win,” but he came close, telling Dallas media: “We need to win now. That’s what we’re going to do. We’ve got to win this week and we know it and we’re going to.”
Ryan might have been trying to fire up his players. But is that something a coach from a 3-4 team normally would say before a game against a 7-0 team? Maybe he just didn’t think the Falcons were all that great. But if 8-0 isn’t great, what is it?
Because the last time I looked, the NFL hasn’t had another NFL undefeated team for a few weeks.
– By Jeff Schultz