FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons are six games into the first 17-game NFL schedule and are not looking out of the corner of their eyes at the 2022 draft class or talking about draft positioning like the past two seasons.

In 2018, they made it to 4-4 before the bottom fell out with five consecutive losses. In retrospect, that was the initial spiral that eventually led to the departure of the former regime.

The Falcons have scratched out three wins over both New York franchises and the now 1-6 Miami Dolphins, teams with a combined 4-16 record. With 11 games to play, the Falcons have a schedule that now doesn’t seem as daunting.

Explore5 things learned in victory over Dolphins

The Falcons have only three games against teams with impressive starts - Dallas (5-1), Tampa Bay (6-1) and Buffalo (4-2).

The remaining eight opponents - two games each against Carolina (3-4) and New Orleans (3-2 before the MNF Seattle game), New England (3-4 with rookie quarterback), Jacksonville (1-5 with rookie quarterback), San Francisco (2-4) and Detroit (0-7).

Being at .500 while laying the foundation for the future is somewhat of a marker if not an outright milestone.

“It’s big,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “You’ve got to see -- use that business analogy. We felt our foundation was strong. We knew there (were) things we have to clean up. You can’t lose perspective.”

The Falcons have won two games on last-second field goals and they needed to recover an on-side kick in the final minute to hold off the Jets.

If they can play those teams off to the good start well and beat the below or at about .500 teams, they may get the profit that Smith keeps preaching about.

“We haven’t turned the profit yet,” Smith said. “Right now go on our earnings report right there. We need to turn the profit hopefully next week. That’s the name of the game.”

Smith knows that the path to earning that profit is for his team to keep improving, especially on the defensive side of the football.

“You want to build -- clearly you need to win so these guys understand,” Smith said. “That’s where the buy-in is huge. We’re doing something different. Are we getting any return on anything? These guys have worked so damn hard. They’ve bought in. It’s good to see, and it’s big for those guys.”

Pulling out close games is key to the NFL games in the free agency era where most teams are not stacked with superior talent on both sides of the ball.

“You’ve got to get used to that because that’s what most of these games are going to come down to,” Smith said. “It’s the way the league is structured. It’s very competitive. It’s the most competitive league in all of professional sports, in my biased opinion.”

The key is handling situational football and perhaps playing through some mistakes and mishaps. The Falcons did both against the Dolphins when wide receiver Calvin Ridley had a interception snatched off of him and quarterback Matt Ryan had a late fumble.

“More times than not, you’ve got to handle situational football end of half, end of games,” Smith said. “I thought we did that.”

The defense gave up 413 yards to the Dolphins, who also amassed 27 first downs as they converted of 7 of 11 third down situations (63.6%). The Falcons built a 27-14 lead, but allowed two touchdowns drives as the Dolphins took a 28-27 lead late.

“We played well in spurts, an area that we’ll continue to improve on,” Smith said. “Then really, we have to help them offensively. We were productive at times. They had the ball nine more minutes than we did. Credit to Miami. We had some really good drives. Then we had some other drives that were pretty quick and that can add up.

“The one thing about playing down there is that humidity on that field is real. Credit to Miami, they kept us on the field a lot and that’s a tough minded team.”

But the Falcons needed a stop.

“Yeah, we need to get stops,” Smith said. “But it also comes down to the team. We can also help offensively, so you don’t get to those situations.”

Smith hopes the team is building up to play four quarters of solid football.

“It’s a challenge,” Smith said. “The really good ones understand that and you can stay on that narrow bridge so to speak and that’s a journey. You want to keep getting better and have a shot at the end.”

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Falcons’ 2021 schedule features trip to London, January trip to Buffalo

Atlanta Falcons Schedule

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons 17, Giants 14

Washington 34, Falcons 30

Falcons 27, Jets 20

Bye Week

Falcons 30, Miami Dolphins 28

Next Four Games

Panthers at Falcons, 1 p.m., Sunday, October 31

Falcons at Saints, 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 7

Falcons at Cowboys, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14

Patriots at Falcons, 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18

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