They’re 2-0, having won twice against teams that made the playoffs last season. They’re 2-0 and they’ve trailed for only 16 minutes and 20 seconds of the season’s first two hours. They’re 2-0 and they’re looking really good again, but still they need something. And that something sits about 40 minutes south of Boston.
Chris Houston: “We’re ready.”
Mike Peterson: “We’re up for the test.”
The Patriots are the gold standard of 21st Century football. The Falcons are the team that, having worked in two different centuries, still hasn’t achieved consecutive winning seasons. But that’s about to change. These guys are up for anything. This a franchise that, for the first time in its existence, is moving from strength to strength.
Michael Turner: “We’re trying to do something special here.”
The Falcons did special things against Carolina on Sunday — Matt Ryan completed 13 consecutive passes and Turner trampled out 105 yards and Houston made a game-changing interception and Brian Finneran, of all people, helped thwart a game-ending Hail Mary — but the result didn’t feel at all extraordinary. It felt as if a good team had again taken care of business.
Tony Gonzalez: “The great thing about this was that it was a total team effort. There wasn’t one guy dominating.”
Although the new guy came close. Ryan threw seven times to Gonzalez. He completed all seven passes, one of them for a touchdown, another for the greatest one-handed-grab-while-being-interfered-with in NFL history. Gonzalez completes this offense. And the defense, which had some iffy moments Sunday, nonetheless made the required stops.
Houston: “The coach [Mike Smith] has done a great job of keeping us working. He never lets us think too highly of ourselves.”
At the same time, Smitty and staff don’t undersell the potential inherent in this roster. The Falcons no longer view themselves as underdogs. They were 11-5 last season and they’re 2-0 now. They’ve stepped up in class. And that’s why the weekend in New England comes at such a propitious moment.
Gonzalez: “Any time you go up against Tom Brady and [Laurence] Maroney, especially in New England, that’s going to be a test. And really, that’s something we need.”
Yes. The Falcons have come so far so fast as to have rendered those of us on the periphery without bearings. Are they really one of the 10 best teams in pro football? One of the five best? Have we already passed the point where we half-expect them to backslide after their rousing 2008 season? Can they stand toe to toe with Brady and Randy Moss and Kevin Faulk and Wes Welker for two, three, four quarters.
We know now that the 2009 Falcons could absorb a big effort from a division opponent and still win. “There was a lot of good football played out there,” Smith said afterward, and there was. Jake Delhomme did not fall to pieces. Steve Smith did not lose his mind. The Panthers started nicely and finished with a rush. And still they lost.
Next up: New England. “You know you’re dealing with a veteran team, a team used to winning,” said Peterson, who forced his third turnover of 2009 Sunday. But Peterson’s new team is itself getting accustomed to smiling on Sunday. And the nicest part is that the Falcons, who are turning into something of undeniable merit, aren’t at all impressed.
Peterson: “We’re taking it one at a time, trying to pile up as many wins as we can string together.”
Here he smiled. “And we’re 2-0,” he said.