(Online readers: I’m taking the risk of posting this before 11:59.59 p.m. Friday on the assumption the world will still be here at 12:00.01 a.m. Saturday.)
DETROIT — Imagine if the world actually ended on Friday after everybody had finally started to buy into the Falcons?
Alas, life goes on. The Mayans are left to seek a refund from their director of world predictions, Danny Sheridan. The rest of us now watch and see how the Falcons react to acceptance.
That was no small victory last week when the Falcons doubled-over the New York Giants 34-0. If they couldn’t quite make up for last season’s 24-2 playoff loss at New York, they at least finally gave a glimpse of their ceiling. Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, came up big in a big moment. Their offensive line neutralized one of the best front fours in the NFL. Their defense, even without safety William Moore, one of its most important players, and a banged up Asante Samuel and Jonathan Babineaux, handed the Giants their first shutout in 16 years.
But it is equally important how they respond to that victory.
The Detroit Lions are not nearly as bad as a 4-10 record or a six-game losing streak would suggest. They have a dangerous passing connection with local appeal (Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson) and talent on both sides of the ball, even if the locker room is a dysfunctional mess and Ndamukong Suh, for all of his skill, seems to have a cranium full of nougat. But this is a game the Falcons should win, especially knowing that a victory (or a tie) would clinch at least a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Great teams don’t just respond well to adversity. They respond when everybody is telling them how great they are.
“This is not the time to go cool,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “It’s not the time to think you’ve arrived. Actually, it’s the worst time to have that attitude. You’ve got to make sure we go to the playoffs and keep that same kind of momentum. Maybe we learned that against Carolina. Maybe that loss was something good for us.”
“I think we learned our lesson from the Carolina game,” running back Michael Turner said. “We are not taking anything for granted. We’ve still got work to do. We’ve still got things to get better at. They are going to give us their best shot. We know that.”
Anybody guaranteeing another first-round exit for the Falcons had their eyes closed last week.
Anybody guaranteeing a Super Bowl had their eyes closed in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Both qualify as silly drivel.
Bottom line: We still don’t know what to expect. We saw both ends of the spectrum in consecutive weeks: falling behind 23-0 and losing to a 3-9 Carolina team, then blowing out the defending Super Bowl champions.
Do you really want to take a strong position one way or the other?
But the Detroit game will tell us something. This is the time of the season when title contenders come together. The carrot of a victory securing a first-round bye — and therefore a week for the Falcons to rest some regulars in the final game against Tampa Bay — should provide all the motivation they need.
Gonzalez again: “I’m anxious to see how we respond after last week. … You can’t dwell on what you’ve done in the past. We set the standard of what we can do against a really good football team. We have to make sure we duplicate that week in and week out. Our focus going into that game was the best it’s been all year. We have to have that type of effort the rest of the season. That’s what good teams do in December.”
And so far, the Falcons are 1-1.
By Jeff Schultz
From the music jukebox, just in case we all are going bye-bye
Otherwise, some recent clicks from my archives