In the fourth game of the season against San Francisco, what if...
1. The Falcons have a letdown after beating the defending Super Bowl champs. The elite teams in the NFL can deal with prosperity.
The Falcons face a big character test over their next two games, as San Francisco and Cleveland are both 0-3.
The elite teams take care of the league's riffraff. The middle-of-the road teams celebrate too long and get upset.
Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez acknowledges that this is a real issue for the Falcons.
"You've seen it happen before, but that's one of those things that if we are as good as I think we are, we are not going to let it slip as far as our intensity goes," Gonzalez said. "We have to go out there and keep doing what we have been doing the last couple of weeks in order to get a chance to put us in the position to get a victory."
The 49ers are not devoid of talent. They have 13 former first-round draft picks and nine former Pro Bowlers. Despite the 49ers' record, the Falcons consider them an extremely dangerous team.
"They will do anything to win, trick plays," Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said. "They have guys fighting for jobs. Coaches fighting for jobs. You just have to be realistic about it. To me, those are the most dangerous teams. ... The [winless] teams will pull out all the stops."
2. Falcons defensive end John Abraham goes on a sack rampage. The 49ers have two first-round picks playing the tackle positions in Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, a 20-year-old rookie from Rutgers.
The 49ers' line gave up five sacks last week against Kansas City.
Abraham, who will line up over both Staley and Davis, has two sacks this season.
“I know the front four in Atlanta, and John Abraham in particular, are very excited to play us," San Francisco coach Mike Singletary said.
Davis, the 11th player taken in the 2010 draft, plays on the right side. Staley is the left tackle.
"He took a step back [against Kansas City]," Singletary said. "He didn’t do a good job fundamentally. He kind of did some things that got him in trouble, but he’s a young kid and he’s got a lot to learn."
3. Falcons wide receiver Roddy White gets loose against 49ers cornerback Nate Clements again. In last season's 45-10 victory over the 49ers, White caught eight passes for a franchise-record 210 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard touchdown catch.
Clements likely will draw the assignment again, but probably won't try to jump any short routes when he doesn't have any deep help.
Clements, a Pro Bowler in 2004, has 28 interceptions since 2002, fifth among NFL cornerbacks.
White, a two-time Pro Bowler, is off to a great start. His 25 catches are second in the league. He has amassed 258 yards and two touchdowns.
4. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Harry Douglas connect on the deep pass. The Falcons tried to take the Saints out swiftly in overtime when Douglas was open deep for an apparent long gain or a touchdown.
Douglas dove for the pass, but it was overthrown.
Douglas also got open deep in the Arizona game, but the pass was off the mark.
Ryan and Douglas, who's starting in place of Michael Jenkins, have been working on their timing.
Ryan has been on the mark in the intermediate passing game and has checked-down well to the running backs.
The only thing missing from the offensive attack has been the long pass.
"Everything is timing," Douglas said. "We just need to rep those things more, get it down in practice. Do some extra things after practice."
5. Former Falcons assistant coach Mike Johnson gets San Francisco's offense to explode. In a bizarre move, Mike Singletary fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and promoted quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson.
Johnson was the quarterbacks coach in Atlanta from 2002-05, before losing a power struggle with offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp over how to use Michael Vick.
The 49ers are trying to get quarterback Alex Smith more comfortable and likely will unveil more spread offense principles. Smith thrived in the spread offense in college.
Johnson has to get Smith to throw the ball to his talented wide receivers. Some contend that he locks into routes in the middle of the field and doesn't look outside enough.
"They have a lot of speed on their offense, [Michael] Crabtree, [Vernon] Davis, Delanie Walker and Ted Ginn Jr.," Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. "They have a lot of guys who can spread the ball."
Smith has completed 72 passes, but 50 of them (69.4 percent) have gone to tight ends or running backs.
"Sometimes I think it’s what the defense is giving you depending on the play call and things like that," said Smith, about why he doesn't throw much to his wide receivers.
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