Falcons challenge: Close gap between who they are and who they should be



The good and loyal employees of the Atlanta Falcons Football Club, LLC have certain obligations here on the final Sunday of the regular season.

Chief among those is to show up at 4:25 p.m. with the firm conviction that this is the day when everything falls into place. That here, on the 16th game, the annoying twitches and tics that have afflicted much of the previous 15 will vanish, as if by sheer force of will.

In preparation this week, they spoke the good speak.

Yes, there have been multiple difficulties, particularly on offense and particularly glaring in light of all the fun the Falcons had on that side of the ball just a year ago. Still, they have to think, there must be one more switch to flip, some previously undiscovered junction box in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, that they will stumble upon and that will electrify everything.

“There certainly have been opportunities throughout the season that we haven’t connected on. And some we have and something has gotten us off schedule, like a penalty or turnover,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “There have been some things that have set us back, but all of that doesn’t mean much this week. We’re in the position we’re in. We believe and we know that we are capable of playing our best football. Now we just got to go out and do it.”

That position, you may have read, is: Beat Carolina, get into double digits in wins for a second consecutive season and live for another week as a wild-card playoff team. Lose, coupled with a Seattle victory over Arizona, and melt away like cotton candy in the rain.

Yes, the Falcons had a similar opportunity to nail down the postseason a week ago in New Orleans and bumbled about before losing 23-13. But the schedule has given them a mulligan.

Asked what possible leap they could make Sunday that hasn’t been evident for much of this long season, center Alex Mack said, “You’re always growing, you’re always working hard. It comes down to playing well on game day. If you’re able to put together a few good games you can be a really good team.”

“We didn’t perform the way we wanted to last week, and we have this chance to come out and improve on it and redeem ourselves,” Mack said.

Here at the last minute, their coach must profess confidence that his obviously talented bunch will rise to the moment. That is the only way to think, said Dan Quinn, because, "I know what they can do."

The gap between what the Falcons can do and what they have done is the canyon they must leap Sunday.

Just complete that jump, just get into the playoffs, then you’ll see.

“I feel like we just got to handle our business and get into the dance and whoever gets up against us is going to get a tough draw regardless,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “Because we know how good we are as a team.”

That is how you want all good and loyal Falcons to be thinking here at Week 17 of a 16-game season. The more cynical among the outsiders would suggest that a team’s DNA has been established by now, and that within those strands there exists no particularly special traits when it comes to this year’s Falcons.

If we already have seen the best of these Falcons, then there is little reason to get worked up about Game 16. If not, it might be time to break out that version.