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If last week’s Falcons were for real, we’re about to find out 12:48 pm December 20, 2012, by Jeff Schultz (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 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 do 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 http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/2012/12/20/if-last-weeks-falcons-were-for-real-were-about-to-find-out/
Falcons give performance to leave us wondering again 6:55 pm December 9, 2012, by Jeff Schultz CHARLOTTE – It started with the Carolina Panthers winning the coin flip for the first time this season. It ended with the Falcons being trash-talked off the field by a last-place team. Somewhere in between, we witnessed Atlanta’s worst four quarters of football of the season. And the Falcons’ deserved it all – the loss, the mocking, the questions about what this means moving forward. “I can hear everybody right now,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “They’re getting off the bandwagon. I can hear them jumping off. Looking at our history, people are going to go, ‘See, I told you.’” OK. It’s a little premature for I-told-you-sos. The Falcons haven’t lost a playoff game yet. But it has to be concerning when an 11-1 team falls behind 23-0 to a 3-9 team, and at one point finds itself being outgained 356-66. It’s concerning any time a defensive front is so thoroughly shredded the way the Falcons’ front was Sunday, and the offense can’t run the ball (again), and all hopes of opening the regular season’s final month with an impressive win are emphatically squashed. The Falcons lost 30-20 to Carolina. They managed to make Cam Newton feel like he was back at Auburn again. If Newton could combine for 403 yards and three touchdowns with his arm and legs in victories every week, media members wouldn’t be hiding behind potted palms and waiting for anonymous quotes that rip him for being petty, immature and ego-maniacal (just paraphrasing the attack pieces). The fact the Falcons lost a game in itself isn’t devastating. They’re 11-2. They’ve already clinched the NFC South Division and remain in a strong position to clinch home field through the NFC playoffs. But Gonzalez is correct: This was like feeding steroids to a doubting public. Next week’s game against the New York Giants will tell us something. The Falcons find themselves having to rebound, physically and emotionally, against the team that drop-kicked them out of the playoffs last year. “We all knew we were flat,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “It seemed like every time there was a play to be made, we were almost there. You can’t be almost in this league. “We get a chance to go after some guys who controlled our destiny last year.” Yes. Best to turn the page as quickly as possible. Embrace the possibility of amnesia. The Falcons made the Panthers look like a playoff team. Carolina scored on its first five possessions (two touchdowns, three field goals), and only one of those ended in a big play (Newton’s 72-yard touchdown run, finished off with a flip). Mostly, the Panthers punched the Falcons in the mouth. It figured they would milk this a little, and they did. When the Falcons rallied for a 30-28 win back in September in the Georgia Dome – Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal coming with five seconds remaining – quarterback Matt Ryan was caught on camera screaming toward Carolina’s bench to, “Get the [bleep] off our field!” So when this one ended, several Carolina players were overheard trash-talking on the field, led by defensive end Greg Hardy, who witnesses say mimicked Ryan’s comment, “Get the [bleep] off our field.” Bryant’s reported response: “Watch us in January.” Introducing, the trash-talking kicker. Hardy is the same obscurity who earlier said the Panthers were a “better” team than the Falcons, adding: “I’m trying to mess up their whole playoff experience. I want them to go home sick in the stomach, mad about life, a couple depression issues …” (He didn’t make himself available for the media Sunday.) Down 23-0, the Falcons showed a pulse. Ryan’s four-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones closed it to 23-13. But a seemingly successful two-point conversion pass to Roddy White was ruled incomplete (questionably), deflating the comeback. DeAngelo Williams’ touchdown on a 53-yard screen pass slammed the door shut. When asked if he considered this loss a bump in the road, Gonzalez responded: “It better be, if we’re the team we think we are.” Instead, they’ve left everybody wondering again. By Jeff Schultz http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/2012/12/09/falcons-give-performance-to-leave-us-wondering-again/?cxntfid=blogs_jeff_schultz_blog