CHARLOTTE – They will study this one day, like the Great Pyramid of Giza.
“How did they build that. How is it possible?” historians have wondered.
More than 4,500 years later, we look to the top of the NFC South Division, squinting our eyes to see the Eighth Wonder of the World: The first-place Falcons.
“How did they get there? How is it possible that they’re so high?” logical people wonder.
The first-place Falcons.
The first-place Falcons?
The team that lost five straight. The team that blew a 20-10 third-quarter lead to the crummy New York Giants and lost. The team that blew a 21-0 third-quarter lead to the Detroit Lions and lost. The team that blew a 16-3 fourth-quarter lead to the remains of the Carolina Panthers and probably should have lost.
They’re 4-6. And in first place.
Pyramids? Stonehenge? Kid stuff.
This is otherworldly.
“Have I ever seen it? No. But I’m happy to be in a division to let that happen,” Steven Jackson said.
Welcome to Wonkaland. Yes, you can eat that tree over there.
The Falcons defeated Carolina 19-17 Sunday. They took a 16-3 lead, even though the offense kind of stunk against one of the NFL’s most generous defenses. Then they watched an opponent that was 1-6-1 in its last eight games score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take the lead.
(We’re just getting started.)
Then they impressive drove to a go-ahead-again field goal with two minutes left, only to let Carolina drive back for the potential winning field goal, only to see the normally sure-footed Graham Gano miss a 46-yard field goal, only to burn less than a minute off the clock with their ensuing possession, thereby giving the Panthers one last chance to win it with a 63-yard field goal. It was blocked.
(OK, now we’re done.)
Never in doubt.
They’re 4-6. They’re in first place.
Still doesn’t sound right.
Does it feel like first place?
“I feel like we’re in first place. I feel like we won,” owner Arthur Blank said.
He was neither smiling nor blowing a kazoo. But then, it’s probably best to be cautious here.
“Obviously, when you’re in first, that’s where you’ want to be,” Blalock said. “Granted things haven’t gone the way we want week in and week out but that’s behind us now and we have to make the most of what’s ahead of us.
“I know this has happened from time to time. Seattle won the division one year at 7-9. Some crazier things have happened. That said, we have a long road ahead of us. It’s hardly time to declare anything.”
The Falcons are 4-0 against NFC South teams. They are 0-6 against non-division teams. The gravy train is about to run out because only two of their remaining six games are in the South (the season’s final two games at New Orleans and home against Carolina). The 4-0 division record is what gives them a tiebreaker edge over New Orleans today.
Logic suggests that at some point, the Falcons will have to beat a non-division team. But then, logic never would have suggested the current situation was possible.
I’m not sure coach Mike Smith really has any more job security than he did before the Falcons won their last two games. But it says something that at least nobody has stopped fighting, which didn’t seem to be the case a year ago.
At 4-6, they’ve also matched last season’s win total. See, there’s another positive note. Rainbows everywhere.
“I don’t see 4-6. Y’all see 4-6,” said wide receiver Harry Douglas, who had two key catches in the winning field goal drive. “I see 1-0 this week. I hope to see 1-0 next week. That’s the only way to look at it. Once you get in, you’re in.”
They weren’t great Sunday. They scored only three points off two Carolina turnovers and struggled to get into the end zone, seldom testing Carolina down field. Smith said the Panthers’ deep zone coverages made that problematic and White said that many times when the Falcons considered going down field, the Panthers brought the house with blitzes and Matt Ryan didn’t have time. Both might be true. But play-calling also seemed conservative and this team’s best chance to win is using Julio Jones, White, Douglas and Devin Hester.
But they were responded physically to Carolina on the road, particularly in the third quater. When Panthers safety Roman Harper bodyslammed White after a catch, Antone Smith took exception and jumped Harper. When cornerback Josh Norman scuffled with Douglas, Hester jumped on.
Douglas: “We’ve got each other’s back. I know one thing: In our receiver group, they’re not taking out anyone.”
White, who scored the Falcons’ only touchdown, led them with eight catches for 75 yards and went over 10,000 yards for his career, said he never expected a losing record would be leading the division but the Falcons need to concern themselves more with the future.
“How many games we got left,” he asked.
“We win six, we’d be 10-6. That would be pretty good, wouldn’t it?” he said.
OK, let’s not get crazy.