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Falcons’ winning recipe is small, served on Ice


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I usually just read the posts more than post but thought this was a great read. http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=dw-falconsbucs120510

TAMPA, Fla. – Brent Grimes(notes), who made the final, critical interception to secure another wild Atlanta Falcons comeback victory, is listed at 5-foot-10, although he admits he’s only 5-9 ½.

Eric Weems(notes), who received a fourth-quarter kick and delivered a darting, daring 102-yard return to spark the rally from 10 points down, is listed at just 5-9, but swears he looks down at his fellow undersized teammate.

“Oh, I got it,” Weems said of Grimes. “He’s a little midget.”

“Weems [is] hating,” Grimes shot back with a laugh. “No [i’m] probably a quarter or half an inch taller than Weems.”

The debate soon raged throughout the Falcons locker room, one massive lineman to the next taking sides. Quarterback Matt Ryan(notes) diplomatically went with Weems, since he’s an offensive player. Everyone else just kept laughing. The consensus was they both look more like 5-7 or 5-8.

These are the heady days of the Falcons, 10-2 now after a thrilling 28-24 victory over Tampa Bay (7-5). That two of the team’s smallest players made the biggest plays makes perfect sense. One minute Atlanta is trailing big, in part because of self-inflicted wounds (mental errors, interceptions and penalties) that they had been avoiding all season. The next they are all smiles as they are packing for another victorious flight home, the NFL’s best record in the bag.

“Nobody panicked because we know we can make the plays that we need to,” Ryan said.

The rest of the NFL may be slow to fully respect the Falcons, perhaps because seven of their wins have come by seven points or fewer. That’s the league though. It’s always about one or two plays and right now the Falcons keep making them.

For all the talk in the locker room about how everyone contributes, the main cog remains Ryan, the third-year quarterback who keeps showing signs of greatness. This wasn’t his finest day, either. He threw his first interception in 186 attempts (ending the Falcons’ four-plus game streak without a turnover) and then threw another.

Yet when he got the ball on his own 33-yard line, trailing 24-21 with 8:30 remaining in the game, he promptly led the critical drive. At one point, facing third-and-20, he zipped a dart to an outstretched Roddy White(notes) for 25 yards. Eight plays later he hit Michael Jenkins(notes) for a nine-yard touchdown that proved to be the game-winner.

Those are the drives that separate good from potentially great. If anything, Ryan has established himself as a winner this season, not just a talent. He finished just 18 of 36 with 205 yards passing and two touchdowns, but couldn’t have been happier.

Ryan, 25, said he’s learned how to shake off mistakes, buckle down with confidence and, perhaps most important, go for the jugular by chasing a touchdown, not just seeking field goals when the game is on the line. It’s a mentality that charges the offense.

“Absolutely,” Ryan said. “As a quarterback and an offense you have to understand situations. We have an opportunity. Without a doubt your mentality changes when you know you need a touchdown and not a field goal.”

In the past, the picks may have caused him to press. Now he said he shrugs them off.

“I think the longer you play the better you get,” he said. “If anything, you understand you have to do it. You’re going to make mistakes in this league. Things aren’t always going to go your way. You have to put it behind you.”

The quarterback’s confidence has impacted everyone, changed everything in Atlanta.

“Matt did a good job staying tough, never blinked,” coach Mike Smith(notes) said. “That’s what this football team does.”

Consider Weems, a utility player who says the night before games he hits his knees and prays for the strength to make some kind of a play – in this case, tight-roping down the sideline for the game-changing kick return. He’s a small player with great strength (345-pound max on the bench) that came out of little Bethune-Cookman (Fla.) and over three seasons has dared everyone to cut him. No one has, and not just because he and Smith share the hometown of Ormond Beach, Fla.

“Size doesn’t matter,” Weems said. “It’s all about heart. The size of the heart. If you have heart anything is possible.

“Guys try to push you around to see where your head, where your heart is and see how you’re going to respond. When guys knock you down you have to respond. Once you respond they see where your heart is.”

Grimes, meanwhile, is a freak of nature athlete who just simply isn’t that tall. “He is a small, short guy, but he has an unbelievable vertical leap,” Smith said. That’s 40 inches, according to Grimes.

He made a brilliant play earlier in the game when he hid low in coverage on a pass from the Bucs’ Josh Freeman(notes) only to leap up and snag it out of the air. Replay ruled it incomplete, which motivated him to do more. With Tampa driving late to win the game, he made a quick break on a ball to clinch it with a pick. He says height is overrated too.

“There aren’t any 6-3 corners,” Grimes said. “They’re going to throw it up to a tall receiver, you have to go up and make a play. The ball has to come down.”

So this was the Falcons locker room, joyous and confident and just rolling along. Grimes soon regaled everyone with stories of how he can dunk a basketball.

“Weems can throw it down too but I can throw it down better than Weems.”

And here came another debate for the plane ride home. Ten wins into this season, the playoffs coming fast, the quarterback maturing final-minute drive after final-minute drive and the Falcons are having all the fun.

You can keep overlooking them. They promise to just come up big again.

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