Go ahead and say it. You won’t get struck by lightning. Or worse, be thought a fool. It’s okay. Go on.
The Falcons are in the playoff hunt.
Time now to throw caution to the wind. Even though the Falcons have done nothing in their mostly sordid history to convince us to do so. To follow the Falcons is to be a skeptic.
But doggone it, I really feel like this time things are going to be different.
It wasn’t just Sunday’s 34-20 victory over the Saints that convinced me, even though it was an impressive performance.
It was more a matter of how they went about that victory, and how they’ve gone about this season, and how they’ve gone about resurrecting this moribund franchise.
Arthur Blank hired a bright young executive from a championship organization as general manager, and gave this first-time general manager control of football operations.
Thomas Dimitroff in turn hired Mike Smith for his first head coaching gig. Together they changed the attitude of the entire organization, top to bottom.
Together, they made Matt Ryan their very first draft pick as the Guys in Charge.
Then came the tough part. Together, they had to convince the players that the Guys in Charge knew what they were doing.
It appears that went well. How else to explain their amazing 6-3 record? Their dismantling of the Saints? Their being in the playoff hunt?
These guys aren’t the clowns Sports Illustrated predicted would go 2-14. “The era of Good Feelings has begun in Flowery Branch,” SI headlined in August. “Just don’t expect good football anytime soon.”
SI also included a revealing quote from Keith Brooking, the only Falcon remaining from the Super Bowl team:
“Smitty and his coaches are pure football guys who have not made it complicated for us in terms of schemes, terminology and the installation of the system.
“They’ve given us the nuts and bolts of football, and I believe they’ll put a winning team out there on Sundays.”
Wow, again. Even in August, Brooking had a feeling. You’ve got to believe. That’s the first step. That’s the feeling the Rays rode to the World Series, against similar odds.
The Falcons did have something else going for them. After all the chaos and turmoil of the past year, every player in their locker room wanted to believe.
Still, the Lions have guys who want to believe. Belief carries you only so far. You’ve got to produce some results to foster that belief.
The Falcons have done that. Recall how Smith noted that each early victory was confirmation that what they were doing was right, that they were heading in the right direction.
All of a sudden, the Falcons are hosting the Saints in a meaningful game in November. The Saints of Drew Brees and the NFL’s most prolific passing attack.
So, naturally, the Falcons intercepted his first pass of the game. On the game’s first play. A long pass nabbed by Erik Coleman.
They also intercepted his last meaningful pass, Chevis Jackson making a perfect break and sprinting Deion Sanders-like down the sideline, 95 yards for the icing score.
Yes, Brees threw for 422 yards. But through three quarters, he was 12-of-24 for 128 yards, that one interception, and no touchdowns. And the Falcons led, 20-6.
All that offense, and all the Saints could manage through three quarters were two lousy field goals. The stat-padding fourth quarter resulted from the Saints spending all of it in their two-minute offense.
See the master plan at work? To protect the rookie quarterback, the Falcons brought in Michael Turner, a career backup, to anchor a solid running attack.
Turner proved the perfect compliment to Jerious Norwood, who began the fourth quarter by taking a little flat pass and motoring 67 yards for the touchdown that made it 27-6.
The ball control attack — one drive lasting over five minutes, another going 8:37 — kept the defense off the field and fresh. New Orleans had the ball for less than 18 minutes during the first three quarters.
As Saints coach Sean Payton told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “I think we got beat today by a team that played better than we did.”
Why not? The Falcons have a good team. A playoff contender.
When not practicing his avocation, Denton Ashway practices his vocation with the law firm of Ashway and Haldi in Cumming.