The Falcons are coming off a thrilling win over their most hated division rival, but one that didn’t necessarily need to cause so much stress. Arthur Smith avoided mass criticism thanks to the heroics of Cordarrelle Patterson and Matt Ryan; at one point, Atlanta led New Orleans by 18. Before the Saints, led by Trevor Siemian and Kenny Stills, took the lead with just over a minute left in the game, the Falcons offense had the ball with a chance to ice the game.
With around four minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Saints needed a stop and a touchdown to take the lead, while the Falcons’ offense needed a couple of first downs to earn their first divisional win of the season. Smith elected to begin the drive with Feleipe Franks in an obvious zone-read situation that went for a yard. The fanbase knew precisely what would happen next (all too well) when Ryan was sacked on back-to-back plays following Frank’s first-down run. Atlanta would go on to punt to the opposing team, who would drive the ball down the field and take the lead.
Lucky for them, Matty Ice and Cordarrelle Patterson saved the day because had they not, there would be questions in need of answering for the staff. A win is a win, and I genuinely believe that. It is so challenging to win week-to-week in the NFL that one must appreciate a victory, learn, then move on to the following week. Just Win, Baby!
This team has already matched the win total of last year’s Falcons and are looking toward the postseason; in fact, if the playoffs started today — halfway through the season — the Falcons would be the 7th seed. Expectations must be tempered in Atlanta because this team still has obvious flaws. The defense has absolutely zero pass rush presence, and the offense can’t consistently find success in the run game — two constant facets of a playoff-caliber team. Still, the team is winning and doing it in ways the Dan Quinn-Falcons couldn’t in his later seasons.
Last year, the Falcons were 3-8 in one-score games. This season, the Falcons are 4-2 in one-score games under Smith through eight games. Four of the Falcons 12 losses a year ago were fourth-quarter blown leads, two being back-to-back games after leading by at least 15 points in the final quarter. The Falcons are learning to win close games under this new regime, but Matt Ryan had a big hand in winning last Sunday, not to mention the game-winning drives he had against the Dolphins and Jets.
This team is still learning to trust each other’s tendencies, so the Falcons are best served to ride this wave and turn this into a habit of winning close games. Atlanta will have to continue to believe in itself, but they have to consistently improve and evolve as the season progresses if they want to find themselves in a Wild Card game.