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Ashway: Even in loss, Falcons look like contenders
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Forsyth County News

It was the worst of halves.

It was the best of quarters.

But that third quarter, coming as it did after a forlorn first half, was enough to rouse even the most seasoned Falcons skeptics.

If ever there was a stirring defeat, the Falcons’ 26-24 loss to Seattle Sunday was it.  We discovered a lot about this team.  More importantly, the Falcons discovered a lot about themselves.

In an effort to honor the election season with full disclosure, allow me to declare myself a devout Falcons skeptic.  I have long been dubious of all things Falconry.

And why not?  For over 40 years, every time this franchise achieved a winning record, they followed it up with a losing season.  When they finally, miraculously, reached the Super Bowl, they turned in one of the most hideous performances in the history of the game.

And when the Mike Smith Era finally treated us to winning seasons — in a row! — they ultimately wound up 10 yards short of the Super Bowl.

Even last year, with Dan Quinn picking up the pieces of Smith’s lost cause, the Falcons fast start thrilled the populace.  A start exceeded in amazement only by the sudden flameout which followed.  From 6-1 to 8-8 doesn’t happen often.

Students of Falcons history expected nothing this season.  Quinn’s cluelessness while presiding over last seasons’ crash seemed to confirm his place in the lengthy list of assistants mis-hired as Falcons head coaches.

For amusement sake, the list of luminaries includes Norb Hecker, Marion Campbell, and Dan Henning.  Jim Mora lasted but three years, despite starting 11-5.  Only Smith and Leeman Bennett achieved a modicum of success.

Here’s Falcon history in a nutshell.  When they fired Bennett, they said he had taken the team to a “plateau.”  It quickly became a mesa with Henning’s hire.

This year’s opening loss, at home, to lightly-regarded Tampa Bay, served as confirmation.  Wins over Oakland and New Orleans meant little.  Neither did a win over suddenly defenseless Carolina.  Denver was thought to be a real test, but the Broncos were compelled to start a rookie quarterback, with predictable results.

Now, Seattle, from whence Quinn came, stood as a real measuring stick.  This would be the team that would show the Falcons what they had.  Or hadn’t.

The NFL’s top-ranked offense amassed three points and 86 yards in the first half.  A Matt Ryan sack and ensuing fumble provided Seattle with seven points a play later.  In fact, Ryan was hit or sacked on 11 of 17 first half pass attempts.

It was men against boys, and the men led, 17-3, at the half.

Then, the most amazing thing occurred.  The Falcons came out in the third quarter and pushed Seattle all over the field.  They rolled up 252 yards of offense, while the Seahawks gained a paltry 29.

They marched on relentless scoring drives: 75 yards in 9 plays, consuming 3:59; 79 yards in 8 plays, taking 3:23; and 97 yards in 6 plays, taking 3:27.  The Falcons were an irresistible force marching through one of the NFL’s most respected defenses.

The way the Falcons got up off the canvas and fought their way back into this game spoke volumes about the character of the team.  It surely told them a lot about themselves.  Whatever it is that Quinn and the coaching staff are selling, the team needs to keep buying.

No, they couldn’t close the deal.  But what did it take to beat them?  Great coverage, leading to a sack of Ryan, followed by a desperate, 70-yard drive.

Then, it took Julio Jones beating Richard Sherman over the middle, just getting his hands on a ball thrown slightly ahead of him, and deflecting the ball to Earl Thomas for an interception.  This led to Seattle’s go-ahead field goal.

Finally, it took a mysterious non-call on blatant interference by Sherman on Jones during the Falcons final offensive play.  Officiating guru Mike Pereira tweeted: “No question that was pass interference.  They’re all tough, but you have to make that call.”

No matter.  The Falcons have already moved on.  And they’ve taken a wealth of positives with them.  They’ve convinced themselves that they can play with any team in the league.

And they just might have convinced a few skeptics, too.