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Coach Smith Cautions That Division Titles Aren't Won In September


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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Coach Mike Smith is trying to level expectations for the Atlanta Falcons.

If they keep winning, the Falcons will energize their fan base and draw more national attention, but Smith cautions that division titles aren't won in September.

"I think we have a good foundation in place the first three weeks, but that's just the first three weeks,'' Smith said. "We've got to be ready to handle adversity when adversity comes. We've got to be resilient, and I think we've shown that in the past three ball games.''

A 27-3 victory at San Diego gave the Falcons a two-game lead over Carolina and Tampa Bay in the NFC South. Though Smith knows that the leadership of quarterback Matt Ryan and the arrival of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan have made the Falcons heavy favorites to win the division, Smith doesn't buy that Atlanta has maximized its potential.

The Falcons still have concerns to address even though Ryan leads the NFL in touchdowns, completion percentage, first downs and passer rating and Nolan's defense ranks first with 11 takeaways and fifth in scoring.

"On the negative side, you've got to learn from your experiences,'' Smith said. "We didn't convert (the first) extra point. We need to make sure we do that. We gave up the 52-yard run in the fourth quarter ... Then we didn't cap it off there in the secondary.''

Atlanta (3-0) will face a different challenge from the past three weeks when it hosts Carolina (1-2) on Sunday.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton can hurt opponents passing and running the ball, but given how well the Falcons' defense is creating turnovers - they have a league-best seven interceptions - it's reasonable to think that Nolan will have a sound scheme in place.

Atlanta held Phillip Rivers to a 45.2 passer rating that was 50.3 points lower than his career mark from 2004-11.

"Even though we had only one sack yesterday, we had three or four times when we had free runners,'' Smith said. "The quarterback was able to get out and was under duress and threw the ball away. It's a combination of what happens up front and in the secondary.''

Smith loved how his offense and defense complemented each other against the Chargers, describing Atlanta's 17-play, 96-yard drive late in the second quarter as the game's turning point.

After linebacker Sean Weatherspoon caused running back Ryan Mathews to fumble and Thomas DeCoud recovered the loose ball at the Falcons' 4-yard line, the Atlanta offense held the ball for the next 12 minutes, 28 seconds.

Ryan converted five first downs on the drive before connecting with Tony Gonzalez for a 7-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead.

Ryan snapped his franchise-record of 272 consecutive pass attempts without an interception when Antoine Cason picked him off at the San Diego 3 early in the fourth quarter. But the defense followed with a three-and-out to sustain a 20-3 lead.

"When Matt is playing with confidence, I think it permeates around the locker room,'' Smith said. "We've got a lot of guys playing with confidence right now. We're creating a lot of first downs on first and second down, and that's a good thing. I think if Matt's got a lot of confidence that if we do get into a third down, we're going to be able to convert.''

With Gonzalez, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas as his primary targets, Ryan is enjoying a resurgence in his fifth season. He leads the NFL with a 114 passer rating, a 72 percent completion percentage and 50 first downs. He's tied with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ben Roethlisberger for most touchdowns with eight.

Ryan, whose career record improved to 46-19 in the regular season, credits the Falcons' 0-3 playoff record during his first four seasons with creating added motivation. The entire team seems to believe more in its abilities than in some years past.

"Yeah, I think so,'' Ryan said. "I think each team is different. The confidence level across the board is probably higher than it's been. That's not to say we haven't been confident in the past. We've had some good football teams in the past.''

The Falcons got a boost from running back Michael Turner for the first time this season. Five days after he was arrested in an Atlanta suburb on charges of drunk driving and speeding, Turner ran 14 times for a 5.7-yard average and a fourth-quarter touchdown.

The difference in Turner's performance was obvious to Smith.

"We blocked better,'' Smith said with a smile. "He ran harder. We got some looks.''

Read more: http://sportsillustr...l#ixzz27UIcDAUj

Edited by falcon_owns_nfc_south
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Can't win the division in Sept, but you can lose it in Sept, and looks like at least 2 out of 3 opponents are going to do that. If the Falcons beat the Bucs and the Packers beat the Saints, both reasonable outcomes, Falcons have a 4 game lead on the Saints and, basically, a 4 game lead on the Panthers.

Bucs could very well end up 1-3 as well.

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Can't win the division in Sept, but you can lose it in Sept, and looks like at least 2 out of 3 opponents are going to do that. If the Falcons beat the Bucs and the Packers beat the Saints, both reasonable outcomes, Falcons have a 4 game lead on the Saints and, basically, a 4 game lead on the Panthers.

Bucs could very well end up 1-3 as well.

The Bucs could end up with that record but I want to see more out of that defense. They had 2 good games and 1 horrible game.

I think they might be a solid D but who knows what will happen between now and when we have to play them,

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The Bucs could end up with that record but I want to see more out of that defense. They had 2 good games and 1 horrible game.

I think they might be a solid D but who knows what will happen between now and when we have to play them,

Unfortunately for them, they just lost one of their good young Dlinemen, and their offense is literally, last in the league.

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The important thing right now is that we are in control. While die-hard buc, saints, and panther fans are working on scenarios where they might have a shot at at least winning a tie-breaker we don't need anyone's help. If one of them doesn't step up fast though it won't be much of a contest this year if we stay healthy.

While every division game is a must-win for the division title the panthers have the additional pressure of getting some momentum. A 3 game losing streak gets that loser stank on you and that stuff is hard to scrub off. I hope Rivera enjoyed his time in Carolina because I might be willing to wager he doesn't see the end of this season. If he doesn't get back to .500 by midseason he may be gone by then.

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I tend to agree and even though I am normally very optimistic and non superstitious for some reason I am uncomfortable saying/typing those words this soon.

Not only are the Falcons rock solid, but the other teams in the NFC South are just bad.

Collectively they are 0-5 outside of the division, and I'd be surprised if it's not 0-7 after this week.

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I understand Mike Smiths point and it is very valid, but teams that start 0-3, only 5 have made the playoffs in what the last 30 something years? I think the only team ever to start 0-4, 0-5 and get to the postseason was the Chargers one year. (92-93 maybe?)

Even though we haven't even played the Saints yet, who have been labeled as our main competition this season for the division title, if they start 0-4 and we start 4-0, it will be very hard for them to even position for a wildcard, let alone catch us. Considering 3 of those 4 losses are going to be against Washington, Carolina and Green Bay. All teams with playoff aspirations as well and now own a tie breaker over the Saints.

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