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Falcons prove they belong
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Forsyth County News
Okay, this may require some getting used to.

I’m speaking, of course, about the new Atlanta Falcons. You know, the ones who kept getting knocked down and coming back on Sunday. The ones who finally defeated the Super Bowl champion Saints, 27-24, in an overtime delight.

Before we declare the Falcons candidates for this year’s title, let’s recall that they’re just one hideously shanked kick away from limping along at 1-2. And recall that this same crew looked positively forlorn just two weeks ago in Pittsburgh.

That said, there was so much in Sunday’s game to convince you to believe in this team that restraint seems ridiculous. It takes two outstanding teams to wage a game like the Falcons and Saints did. They were so evenly matched that neither could keep the momentum; it kept swinging wildly back and forth.

Surely these aren’t the Falcons we’ve come to know and tolerate over the past 45 seasons. They proved that coming down the stretch last season. Instead of playing out the string, they pushed for their first consecutive winning seasons. In so doing they cemented a mind-set.
Sunday we saw evidence of that throughout 73 minutes of compelling action. The Falcons had every opportunity to pack it in, myriad times. Yet every single time they fought back.

“I told the guys that you’ve got to fight through adversity to win games in this league,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said in opening his post-game remarks. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the men in our locker room, and the members of our football team.

“We fought our tails off today. That was a hard fought game. I like the effort our team put out today. I’m very proud of them.”

The perseverance and resiliency demonstrated by the Falcons on Sunday makes them rare birds indeed. Here they were, in the deafening Superdome, facing the champion Saints, and hoping to somehow slow down quarterback Drew Brees and one of the NFL’s best offenses.

So the Falcons opened with a three-and-out, and then allowed Lance Moore (the guy returning punts for Reggie Bush) to motor 72 yards, returning the punt to the Falcon 6-yard line.

But a funny thing happened after the Saints’ predictable touchdown. The Falcons answered. Drove 80 yards in 9 plays. Took 4:49 off the clock. And they started the drive by springing Michael Turner on a 23-yard run.

How’s that for fighting through adversity?

The Falcons would intercept Brees twice — no small feat there — but sandwiched around an 80-yard touchdown pass to that man Moore.

And so, with 11:42 left in the half, the Falcons offense (two possessions, one first down since the touchdown drive) stood up and took over. 70 yards. 20 plays. An incredible 10:39 run off the clock.

“I thought that was not necessarily the turning point, but it was a statement,” declared Smith. “When you talk about controlling the tempo of the football game, that’s at the core of what they [the Saints] want to do. They want to control the tempo with all the groupings and the different looks that they give you on defense.

“We wanted to basically make sure that we controlled the tempo of the football game.”

And therein lies the beauty of this particular game. The Falcons stood up to the champions, didn’t back down, didn’t blink, played their game, imposed their will. They proved they belong on the same field with the Saints.

“It’s a tough loss,” Saints head coach Sean Payton noted in his own post-game remarks. “Credit them. They came in and played a real good game. It was a hard fought win for them. It’s a good team offensively and defensively. We couldn’t get them off the field.”

True enough. The Falcons ran 82 plays, the Saints 56. Though the yardage disparity was negligible (Falcons, 417-398) the time of possession was lopsided for the Falcons: 45:50 to 27:15.

The finish came as no surprise. The Falcons failed to finish their final drive in regulation. They went three and out to start the overtime. Then they let the Saints maneuver into position for Garrett Hartley to blow the winning kick.

And here they came. Pounding. Run after run, ten in all, eight straight to finish the drive, leading to Matt Bryant’s winning 46-yard field goal.

We’ll let the man who did the bulk of the heavy pounding, Michael Turner (30 carries, 114 yards, 1 touchdown) handle the summation. “Every game is a game of momentum. We just went out there and kept fighting,” Turner said in his post-game comments.

“We came into a hostile environment and came away with a nice win. Anytime you do that, it is really special.

“This is a great win for our franchise.”