Let’s focus, folks.
The Atlanta Falcons are 6-0.
Just let that sink in.
The only team standing between the 1972 Miami Dolphins and their annual champagne toast celebrating the fall of the NFL’s last undefeated team?
The 6-0 Atlanta Falcons.
Even after the success of the past five seasons, this news remains difficult to process. Especially for those who recall most of the Falcons previous 42 seasons.
Yes, the Falcons performed Sunday as if it were a playoff game. And if it had been, they’d have certainly lost. It took a team as inept as the Oakland Raiders to refuse acceptance of the Falcons’ largesse.
Matt Ryan threw as many interceptions in the first 30 minutes as he had all season. Matt Bryant missed his first field goal. The defense allowed the weakest running team in the league to advance the ball 149 yards at a robust 4.7 yards a pop.
The Falcons amassed all of 45 measly yards on the ground, and 15 of that came on a Ryan scramble. Ryan advancing the ball (running connotes too much forward movement) remains a sight we should all be spared.
But in the end, the Falcons remained undefeated ever after. Asante Samuel returned an interception 79 yards for a score, Ryan put together another final 40-second drive, and Bryant kicked the winning field goal from 55 yards.
Ugly as it might have been, it wasn’t much uglier than last week’s laborious win over Washington, or the last-ditch win over Carolina before that. Winning ugly is still winning.
And prior to 2008, when Thomas Dimitroff became the Falcons GM and Mike Smith became the head coach, there hadn’t been a whole lot of winning going on. Ugly or otherwise.
We’ve almost forgotten how important those final three wins of 2009 were. We witnessed a team wracked with injuries and going nowhere rally to finish the season 9-7.
More important than earning a playoff spot, that finish earned the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.
By contrast, the Dolphins also began play in 1966. In their seventh season, they were Super Bowl champions. Undefeated Super Bowl champions.
So, indulge yourselves, Falcons fans. It’s been a long wait to be the league’s only undefeated team, and it’s a milestone worth appreciating.
Likewise, it’s worth applauding Smith on notching his 49th victory, tying him with Dan Reeves for most in Falcons history. His .700 winning percentage is far and away the best as well. His secret?
"It’s all trickle-down economics," safety Thomas DeCoud told Paul Newberry of phillyburbs.com last week. "Whatever the big guy says, we buy into it wholeheartedly. He’s always preaching consistency. He always says consistency makes greatness. There’s a sense of pride on this team. We want to be great. I think we’ve really bought into it this season."
Hard to imagine a quote like that emanating from one of Norb Hecker’s players. The Falcons original coach went 4-26-1 from ’66 to’68.
Or from a member of Pat Peppler’s 1976 squad. Pepler went 3-6, taking over when Marion Campbell was fired (the first time.) Peppler notably presided over the dismal 59-0 loss to the Rams that remains the Falcons nadir.
Even a decade ago, not much had changed. Jim Mora inexplicably led the Falcons into the NFC Championship Game in his initial season, 2004. Near the end of the 2006 season, he was announcing has availability for the University of Washington job — while Washington still had a coach, and Mora was still under contract.
Until Smith’s arrival, Mora and Leeman Bennett (46-41 from ’77-’82) were the only winning coaches in Falcons history.
The infamous 2007 season? A microcosm of the Falcons hideous history. It might be summed up thusly: Michael Vick, Bobby Petrino, 4-12.
That’s where the team stood when the Dimitroff-Smith regime assumed power. Hard to imagine the Falcons would suddenly become respectable.
"If you had asked me five years ago, it would have been hard to say yes," center Todd McClure told Newberry. McClure would know. He’s the longest-tenured Falcon, at 14 years. "It had been such an up-and-down roller coaster for us."
When you say the Falcons have more wins than any team in the league except the Patriots since 2008, framed against the backdrop of the Falcons history, that’s downright amazing stuff.
So don’t talk today about the Falcons recent 0-3 playoff record, or how much harder the schedule gets after the bye week, or how poorly they played the past three weeks, or how lucky they are to be undefeated.
Focus on the Falcons being 6-0 for the first time ever.