Quinn says Falcons believe they can finish strong

October 30, 2016 ATLANTA: Matt Ryan completes a pass under pressure from the Packers during the first half in an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

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October 30, 2016 ATLANTA: Matt Ryan completes a pass under pressure from the Packers during the first half in an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

His team blew late leads against the Seahawks and Chargers in consecutive weeks but Falcons coach Dan Quinn insisted his group is mentally strong. Those two straight losses after a 4-1 start reminded skeptics of their fade from 5-0 to 8-8 in 2015, but Quinn said these Falcons are “so much different” than those Falcons.

It all sounded good but, really, the Falcons needed results to back up Quinn’s words.

“We had to stop the bleeding,” defensive end Dwight Freeney said after the Falcons beat the Packers 33-31 on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons applied a tourniquet to their season with a masterful 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the final four minutes. Matt Ryan ended it with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu and then the defense didn’t allow Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to work more magic over the final 31 seconds.

If the Falcons (5-3) are in another tight situation late in the game at Tampa Bay (3-4) on Thursday, they now have some hard evidence to support Quinn’s conviction that they are the kind of team that can pull it off.

“We had a pretty strong belief in this group,” Quinn said Monday. “We spent a good bit of our off season developing this resiliency, this toughness that we want. But what it does when you come through, when you want those moments and now that happens—yeah, you need that… . When you come through in those situations, for sure it gives you something.”

The Falcons had a great finish, which isn’t to say they played a great game. Quinn said he found plenty not to like, especially with the defense: “We had a tough time defensively all the way through.”

The Falcons gave up too many big plays: Rodgers completed four passes of 20 yards or more, including a 58-yard gain on his second pass of the game. The Falcons had two key sacks against Rodgers after halftime but he spent most of the game escaping pressure to make plays.

There also were some signs of disorganization for the Falcons.

They had three penalties for illegal formations (Quinn said that on two of those plays officials judged that players in motion had moved forward without getting set). Linebacker Brooks Reed didn’t get off the field in time to avoid an illegal participation penalty that gave the Packers a first down three plays before they scored a go-ahead touchdown with 3:58 to play.

Yet the Falcons overcame those missteps and finished strong for a victory after they couldn’t do it at Seattle and at home against the Chargers.

“Our mindset and our attitude of what we stand for as finishers, that’s really strong and I love that,” Quinn said.

The Falcons lead the Buccaneers and Saints (3-4) by 2 1/2 games in the NFC South. The Falcons lost to the Buccaneers 31-24 at the Georgia Dome in Week 1 and won 45-32 an New Orleans in Week 3.

The Falcons face a potentially tough stretch of games that includes games at the Bucs and Eagles followed by home dates with the Cardinals and Chiefs. Quinn said he’s confident that his team won’t wilt like it did in his first year as head coach.

“The biggest difference: This team believes in one another and that (ability to) finish at the end of the game,” Quinn said. “That doesn’t mean we are going to get it every time. Three weeks ago, we lost at Seattle, (but) we totally thought we were going to go down to win it. Two weeks ago (against) San Diego, (we) didn’t.

“(Sunday) I was so thrilled we had a chance to go back and earn that right to finish because that mindset, that’s honestly the foundation of what really good teams have.”