Falcons understand that wins, No. 1 seed only set stage

Calvin Johnson is a special player butthe Falcons may be a special team. (Detroit Free Press photo)

Calvin Johnson is a special player but the Falcons may be a special team. (Detroit Free Press photo)

DETROIT – The schedule says there is a game left. The coach, Mike Smith, says, “We’ve said all along that if there’s games left to be played, we’re going to play them to win.” (And in his head, he probably adds: “Even if we play them with Luke McCown.”)

But this is the reality: Nobody is thinking about Game 16 against Tampa Bay. It’s about what happens in three weeks and that’s where everybody’s thoughts are. There’s no pressure to win the regular season finale next Sunday, no requirement to play in the first round of the playoffs, no pressure to jazz up the resume.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said late Saturday night following his team’s 31-18 win over Detroit, which secured a bye and the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. “Now we just have to go do it.” In the playoffs, he means.

Imagine being outfitted with the best ski equipment and taking four months of lessons, then one day being dropped at the top of a mountain and being told, “Try to get to the bottom without wiping out.”

That’s where the Falcons are today.

They’re 13-2. They can walk to the finish line of the regular season. Two weeks ago, they wowed skeptics and believers with a 34-0 win over New York. In Detroit, rather than suffer from the kind of emotional blahs that have plagued them, they jumped out to a 21-3 lead, endured some bumps in the third quarter (as Calvin Johnson took a wrecking ball to the NFL record book) and then pulled away in the fourth.

Blank is right. The Falcons have done all they can do. Now, it’s just a matter of validating their record.

They won’t know their opponent for two weeks. But after quick exits in 2008 (Arizona), 2010 (Green Bay) and 2011 (New York), their focus is, and should be, more on themselves. The words, “It’s not about them, it’s about us,” might as well be stamped on their foreheads.

“Going into the Giants game, we knew a lot of questions were going to be answered,” Tony Gonzalez said. “I think that day we realized how good we can be. Maybe we even surprised ourselves a little. But that helped us. The focus that we had that week of practice was the same focus we had in preparation for (Detroit). And yes, we’ve been here before. We’ve had a top seed. We’ve had a bye. It doesn’t mean anything. But this time we’ll come out focused and ready to roll.”

Safety Thomas DeCoud viewed the Lions game as another test passed. “We proved we can carry over from a really big win. We had a lights-out game against New Orleans but then just went through the motions against Carolina. It’s nice to know we can get this out of our system.”

There were some concerns before this game. Linebacker Mike Peterson, one of the team’s emotional leaders, walked into the locker room following warmups and sensed it was too quiet. So he banged two cymbals together, figuratively speaking.

“He riled us up,” Roddy White said.

Peterson smiled when asked about his pregame antics. He was the one who marched the team out of the tunnel and right through the Lions’ quasi-blockade for warmups in Detroit last season.

“They wanted to be relaxed,” he said. “When you’ve had success one game, the natural thing is to feel like you’ve made it. So I was just trying to keep the guys up, let them know what’s at stake.”

The Falcons started fast. Matt Ryan attacked early and often, completing his first 12 attempts and 15 of 16. He threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns. In the last two games, he is 48 for 60 passing (including 22 straight completions) for 549 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. The MVP candidacy just circled back.

Detroit’s defense focused on stopping Gonzalez (one catch). So White and Julio Jones (15 catches, 224 yards, three touchdowns combined) destroyed them.

Defensively, the Falcons gave up a ton of yards (522). Matthew Stafford threw for 443, more than half of that to Johnson (11 for 225). But the Lions reached the end zone only once, going one for four in the red zone. That’s why they’re 4-11. That’s why the Falcons are 13-2.

Said Ryan, “When you have a combination of guys who are committed to doing everything the right way, you have fun doing it.”

This much we know: The backdrop is impressive.

By Jeff Schultz

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265 comments Add your comment

NFC South Champs

December 23rd, 2012
1:11 pm

The Super Bowl stage is set.

Joey

December 23rd, 2012
1:20 pm

Jeff, that 3rd quarter makes me nervous of the playoffs. Mike Smith scares me sitting on leads. Most times, that just wears down your own D, and hands over momentum.

What do you think?

Put in Timeout by Ken Suguira,Filtered by Mark Bradley, Banned by Bill King, Chip Towers & only slightly loved by Jeff Schultz.

December 23rd, 2012
1:23 pm

Saints leading the Cowboys……I guess I will pull for the Saints today.

Before you people ask or start calling him out this happened last night so be happy.

Jeff Schultz
December 22nd, 2012
8:03 pm

Matt “Choke” Ryan – You know my policy on banning generally is limited to matters pertaining to race, profanity, etc. But I’m considering expanding the criteria just for you. So while you’re welcome to be critical of somebody or something, if the only purpose of you commenting on a blog is to stir up trouble and provoke a response (or responses), understand that you may be banned. And yes, this is completely subjective on my part. So be careful where you step from this moment forward. And this is your one and only warning. And no, I’m not up for a debate.

Buckeye

December 23rd, 2012
1:28 pm

4th

From Columbus

Hi dogs.

Steve

December 23rd, 2012
1:30 pm

Jeff, you rock! Very cool that you called out that “Choke” loser. Sad that people like that try to ruin your blogs. Go Falcons!

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
1:31 pm

I still think they should play the starters in the first half and then pull everybody out after halftime. Coaches like to think guys deserve a break, but some playoff games and THEN you deserve an entire game off.

Smitty coaches like he has in playoffs past, he deserves all of next season off!

Ray Edwards

December 23rd, 2012
1:34 pm

Okay, guys. I’m ready to come back now….hello? Anybody?

Put in Timeout by Ken Suguira,Filtered by Mark Bradley, Banned by Bill King, Chip Towers & only slightly loved by Jeff Schultz.

December 23rd, 2012
1:44 pm

OUCH……….Luke McCown. that was low. :)

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
1:51 pm

Nothing like the least intelligent person ever to walk the campus at Berkley (and that is saying something considering the pharmaceuticals that flowed there in the 50s and 60s)to make you want the days till weekend of the 13th to move quickly…

Hillbilly D

December 23rd, 2012
2:16 pm

I expect there will be a debate, probably sooner rather than later, about resting starters in the last game. my 2¢ is that I would be against it, if I were running things. If the starters don’t play the last week and then you have the bye week coming up, it’s 3 weeks from this game to the next one. How many times have you seen a team come out flat after a bye week or a layoff? If you have a guy who is fighting an injury (more than just the normal wear and tear) then it might be the thing to do but, in my opinion, if you go with 2nd teams in the last game and then you have the bye week, you’re playing with fire. We all know what can happen to a team that comes out flat in a playoff game, sometimes they get it together, sometimes they get it together too late, and sometimes they never get it together at all. So I’d treat the last game just like the first or any other game.

Dose of Reality

December 23rd, 2012
2:22 pm

lol…. Am I only one who found the pic above of Johnson and Ryan hilarious???? It looks like Ryan was trying to dance with him and Johnson was trying to pull away.

NFC South Champs

December 23rd, 2012
2:29 pm

D. Orlando Ledbetter is on injured reserve, heal up soon D-Led.

NFC South Champs

December 23rd, 2012
2:34 pm

As far as resting Falcon starters,

Smitty should do the opposite of what he did in past seasons.

DJANGO

December 23rd, 2012
2:47 pm

Bah! Humbug!

December 23rd, 2012
2:47 pm

The Falcons beat the lowly 4-10 Lions, and that is passing a test? You people are delusional! One and done come playoff time…can’t wait to read the article and the blog comments on that.

Jason

December 23rd, 2012
2:49 pm

I would play the defense the entire game. You don’t want a cold defense heading into the playoffs. The only player I’d let sit this game is Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez. Maybe Roddy White to get that knee 100%. But everybody else is playing. The O-line, the running backs, the defense, etc. Luke McCown can beat Tampa. No doubt about it. He’s not good as Ryan, but he can beat Tampa next week.

Put in Timeout by Ken Suguira,Filtered by Mark Bradley, Banned by Bill King, Chip Towers & only slightly loved by Jeff Schultz.

December 23rd, 2012
2:54 pm

Bah! Humbug!…………..and who is your team and who have they beat?

Put in Timeout by Ken Suguira,Filtered by Mark Bradley, Banned by Bill King, Chip Towers & only slightly loved by Jeff Schultz.

December 23rd, 2012
2:55 pm

Jason………Tony G has to play until he gets 1 catch to keep his streak alive at 95 games.

David

December 23rd, 2012
2:56 pm

Jeff-

Please ban Choke. Though one playoff win will silence that guy for good I think.

Although I can’t bear the thought of one of our guys getting hurt, I feel like our first teamers need their reps against Tampa for at least a half or 3 quarters… too much time off till the next game is gonna make our boys rusty.

TH FROM MC

December 23rd, 2012
2:59 pm

We will be one and done if Turner touches the ball more than once or twice. He cannot get critical yardage – EVER. He gets stuffed after a yard or two nie times out of ten. Why can’t Smith see this? We need to play Rodgers or Snelling – period. Turner plays and we are gone in game one. Any one want to bet me?

TH FROM MC

December 23rd, 2012
3:00 pm

**nine times out of ten**

Put in Timeout by Ken Suguira,Filtered by Mark Bradley, Banned by Bill King, Chip Towers & only slightly loved by Jeff Schultz.

December 23rd, 2012
3:01 pm

David catch up……CHOKE was told off by JEFF last night. read my first post and you will know what happened.

NFC South Champs

December 23rd, 2012
3:01 pm

How ’bout them 13-2 Falcons!

The pitiful sAints are Bah! Humbug!

Come watch the Falcons win the Super Bowl
at the Mercedes-Benz Dome in your own backyard.

DJANGO

December 23rd, 2012
3:05 pm

Detroit…..wow

DJANGO

December 23rd, 2012
3:09 pm

who is this Guy choke? Sounds like he’s in a lot of heads here.

Jeff Schultz

December 23rd, 2012
3:34 pm

Joey — Third quarter concerning, actually whole game was in terms of yards allowed. But the Lions have moved the ball against everybody.

Jeff Schultz

December 23rd, 2012
3:38 pm

General comment — How about if we cool it on unprovoked attacks on other blogger(s)? I’ve got no problems with debates, let’s just try not to get personal. Thanks.

Steve

December 23rd, 2012
3:52 pm

Jeff, one would think you would need a degree in early childhood education to be in charge of sports blogs with the way some people are on here.

Jason

December 23rd, 2012
3:53 pm

The Vikings might make the playoffs. They slammed the Texans today.

DawgNole

December 23rd, 2012
3:55 pm

Anyone know the date/time of the Falcons’ first playoff game? Have they been set yet?

Steve

December 23rd, 2012
3:59 pm

DawgNole, the NFL will wait to see who is playing who and will then decide. Won’t know for another week at least.

Jason

December 23rd, 2012
4:05 pm

@ DawgNole, usually the #1 seed plays on a Saturday night. So I’m guessing it’ll be on January 12th at 8:00 p.m.

Jason

December 23rd, 2012
4:11 pm

Nevermind DawgNole, I told you wrong. Last year the Packers had the #1 seed but played on a Sunday. So I have no idea lol

Hillbilly D

December 23rd, 2012
4:14 pm

Jeff, one would think you would need a degree in early childhood education to be in charge of sports blogs with the way some people are on here.

It’s even worse on the political blogs. This place is a walk in the park compared to those.

air of mendacity

December 23rd, 2012
4:15 pm

I used to get on these blogs some – but the infantile behaviour of many ruins the experience. Go Falcons – they seem to be peaking to me and if they can get some breaks, I don’t see why they cannot win two games at home and make it to the super bowl. the other teams are not so great that we can’t beat them – especially at home.

Intellectual Ninja

December 23rd, 2012
4:22 pm

This is from Pat Yasinskas, who unlike Ledbetter and even Shultzie, is willing to say some truth about the stubborn, play-not-to-lose coaching of Mike Smith. Yas includes Koetter in this, but I think we all know from the last four-plus years of the Falcons stupid need to take their foot off the gas that it is Smith, not Koetter, who is the variable that’s never changed in Atlanta.

From Pat Yasinskas:

“But, again, this isn’t about numbers. It’s about how valuable Ryan is to the Falcons, who, once and for all, need to realize they aren’t the same old Falcons. And coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter need to realize they should stop even attempting to be anything close to the same old Falcons.

Let’s be honest. Running back Michael Turner has had a wonderful run with Atlanta, but his days as the backbone of the offense are long gone. The Falcons are a pass-first team now, and Smith and Koetter need to lose the stubborn streak that’s prompting them to force a running game that just isn’t there anymore.

They almost learned that the hard way against the Lions.

After Ryan played a nearly flawless first half (15 of 16 for 184 yards and three touchdowns) and led Atlanta to a 21-6 halftime lead, the Falcons took the ball out of Ryan’s hands in the third quarter.

They got conservative and tried to force feed Turner at the start of the third quarter. That got them nowhere, and it almost got them into deep trouble. The Lions followed a three-and-out by Atlanta with a touchdown. Early in the fourth quarter, a Detroit field goal cut the lead to 21-16 and all the momentum seemed to shift to the Lions…

… But that’s when the Falcons put the game back into Ryan’s hands…

They’ll only be ready and they’ll only be a different team in the postseason if Smith and Koetter grasp the fact that they’re not going to get anywhere with the running game. They need to grasp the fact that this team can only go a long way if it’s riding Ryan’s arm.

The Falcons can win in the playoffs, maybe even the Super Bowl, if they just let Ryan go out and play like an MVP.”

Pat Yasinskas is saying EVERYTHING so many of us have said about Mike Smith’s insane refusal to stop being such a damn Marty Schottenheimer and embrace the MODERN NFL.

It’s time writers in Atlanta I admire stop writing pretty prose about how the Falcons “took care of business,” and instead shine the light about how they almost threw it all away… AGAIN.

SCFalcon

December 23rd, 2012
4:52 pm

When is C.J. Spiller’s contract with the Bill up? If he wants to come back south, he would make a great addition to the Falcons.

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
4:57 pm

SMH, you going to have 3 weeks of this cut-and-paste now…Heaven help those with minds…

@ Hillbilly D…
Only the 2011 Patriots and 2009 Saints have come out the bye week with any manner of an idea regarding attacking the opponent… Those teams went on to face what were at best described as wars in the championship games those respective years… So we’ll see, but that is if you’re rationally watching these games…

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
4:58 pm

Spiller can’t healthy…

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
4:59 pm

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
5:03 pm

@ Hillbilly D and Jeff Schultz…
I keep trying to tell Jeff Schultz that is child’s play as far blogging… However, It is still quite provincial in nature… That is the disappointing aspect…

Intellectual Ninja

December 23rd, 2012
5:16 pm

SMH, I see the blog is still plagued by the presence of a pseudo-intellectual basement-dwelling deviant.

Oh wow, JSS is still here! Wow. Why am I not surprised? Why am I not surprised to find this guy still here?

Is his BFF Choke around?

Because that would make it all the better.

Then again, the Falcons won, so that’s usually when Choke disappears.

The only time JSS disappears is when it’s time to climb up the stairs for his daily feedings.

Cannot believe JSS is still around. Would’ve thought for sure that his big fat head would have collapsed his spinal column, causing a passing mourned by no one.

Not even his mother, whose basement he dwells in.

DOOOOSH!!!

Intellectual Ninja

December 23rd, 2012
5:25 pm

BTW, dooosh, that was an Elephant Man reference.

I’m sure you’re still trying like hell to convince everyone of your brilliance, but I figured I should explain the reference a dullard like yourself has no true hope in ever understanding.

You see, there was this man, Joseph Merrick, who lived in Victorian England, who had a deformed and abnormally large head.

His head was so big, it broke his neck when he tried to sleep lying down instead of sitting it up.

It’s all quite sad. They made a film about it. John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins. It’s quite good.

You see, he looked like a deformed monster, but he was really a gentle, wonderful person.

So I guess I did the memory of him a great disservice in comparing his deformity, which he couldn’t help, with your insane doooshy ego.

My bad.

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
5:32 pm

And so it begins…
See 3:38PM

You came up from the depths, so anything in possible in the world of the undead I see… Don’t worry, you’ll be gone again in 3 weeks, well me clarify that, you’ll be ranting and using words of the words of others to try to ramp up the same tired cut-and-paste that you used against Reeves, Mora, Petrino, and now Smith… Enjoy your annual visit before you go back to the deep for the next 49 weeks!

Sis-Boom-Bah Humbug

December 23rd, 2012
5:35 pm

Rest Michael “The Walrus” Turner until he is released. Yesterday, he gained over half of his paltry yardage on ONE Play out of thirteen attempts. However, for the nonsensical reason of placating him & Smitty, Turner could still be used to handle kickoff returns – it would then be interesting to see whether he could get out to the 5-yard line before collapsing!

To compound matters, Turner is central to Smitty’s obsession with trying to sit on a lead – like in his patented 3rd quarter fiasco yesterday. This variant of choking will not cut it in the playoffs. It not only makes the offense perform pathetically, but it seriously degrades the play of the defense.

As long & repeatedly asserted by respondents on the AJC blogs, the Falcons FINALLY need to get serious about having a credible running game, and hence having a more versatile/less predictable offense. That means Snelling & Rogers in a “Committee of TWO”.

There is a limit on miracles by the passing offense as well as on defensive takeaways. Playoff caliber opposition can make this painfully clear.

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
5:36 pm

Well you do know saying these words oh so well: “I’m a man, not an animal!” Good luck with the treatments!

DawgNole

December 23rd, 2012
5:38 pm

Steve
December 23rd, 2012
3:59 pm

DawgNole, the NFL will wait to see who is playing who and will then decide. Won’t know for another week at least.

Jason
December 23rd, 2012
4:05 pm

@ DawgNole, usually the #1 seed plays on a Saturday night. So I’m guessing it’ll be on January 12th at 8:00 p.m..

Jason
December 23rd, 2012
4:11 pm

Nevermind DawgNole, I told you wrong. Last year the Packers had the #1 seed but played on a Sunday. So I have no idea lol
_____________________

Thanks, guys. I was hoping to get some lead time to plan a social occasion around the game with wife & friends. Saturday night would be perfect, but looks like we won’t know anything for another week.

45ACP

December 23rd, 2012
5:44 pm

Making a list, checking it twice, gonna ban those that are naughty, not nice!
Baby sitting adults should not be part of the job/blog. Long over due, thanks Jeff.
Falcons Rock!!!

DawgNole

December 23rd, 2012
5:46 pm

Intellectual Ninja
December 23rd, 2012
5:16 pm

SMH, I see the blog is still plagued by the presence of a pseudo-intellectual basement-dwelling deviant.
Oh wow, JSS is still here! Wow. Why am I not surprised? Why am I not surprised to find this guy still here?
Is his BFF Choke around?
Because that would make it all the better.
Then again, the Falcons won, so that’s usually when Choke disappears.
_______________________

Read the third comment on this blog. It will provide you an explanation of what happened to MCR. He got all indignant and stomped off after Jeff admonished him last night on the live game blog. We’re all better off for it if for no other reason than his eternal mindless rants had long since worn thin. Just have to hope he stays away; that likely will be determined by how the Falcons perform in the playoffs.

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
5:49 pm

Listen here, I’m going to heed Jeff Schultz on this one… He says your “harmless.” I disagree, but you’re only going to rehash the same tired material and the same tired points of argument… So have it and try to impress the sheep in the gentry… Tick tock, 21 days until it goes back in the Disney vault forever…