Welcome to other side of Falcons’ looking glass

This time, Carolina players didn’t dance on the sideline and mug for cameras with time still on the clock, as if trying to squeeze in a Vaudeville act before anybody left.

“There’s a better way to win, there’s a better way to show class if you get a victory,” Falcons linebacker O’Brien Schofield said Sunday. “They got off the field pretty fast today, not like in Carolina.”

This time, Falcons players didn’t pop springs. Their defensive front didn’t get run over like one of those old cartoons when somebody had to be peeled off the road. Their starting quarterback, Matt Ryan, was the best player on the field for the first time in a very long time.

This time, the owner, Arthur Blank, danced – not only after the game but before it in the locker room.

“I have to say, he’s a pretty good dancer,” Ryan said.

One win doesn’t erase everything, certainly not a six-game losing streak that train-wrecked a season. But two weeks after showing the world their worse, the Falcons showed us their best. A fortnight after losing to Carolina 38-0, the same Falcons defeated the same Panthers 20-13.

Welcome to the other side of the looking glass. The Panthers, now 14-1, will not go into the playoffs undefeated, and the Falcons, now 8-7, have a chance to go into the offseason with a winning record and their dignity intact, even if playoff hopes are nearly kaputski.

Before anybody doubt’s the legitimacy of what took place Sunday, consider the post-game analysis from the dabbin’ Cam Newton himself: “We got our ass kicked today. And I’m talking with the mirror in front of my face.”

The Falcons watched the Panthers drive 80 yards to a touchdown on the opening possession, with Newton dancing in the end zone from the eight-yard-line, then flexing and mugging in the end zone and at various stops on the way back to the sideline. He’s shy in that way.

Those expecting another Falcons collapse instead got this: The offense answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive of its own and the defense kept the Panthers out of the end zone the rest of the game.

“I considered this a measuring stick,” coach Dan Quinn said. “Right now they’re the best the NFL has to offer.”

And this: “The last game didn’t go far from our minds.”

Blank will remember this for how Quinn held his team together. He also may remember this for what his quarterback and offense showed after so many previous struggles.

Ryan had been having arguably his worst season as a pro, but he had easily his best game of the season against Carolina, completing 23 of 30 attempts for 306 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. His quarterback efficiency rating was 119.6, far exceeding what the Panthers’ defense had been allowing (71.8).

“Gutsy performance,” Quinn said.

In part, because Ryan often looked like he was in agony.

On the opening drive, he had a seven-yard run on third and-2 from Carolina’s 11 , making Thomas Davis miss with a juke, only to have safety Kurt Coleman bury his helmet in his left side, just below his rib cage. Playing in pain, Ryan often held his side the rest of the game and was slow to get up a few times. He was sacked twice and officially hit six times. But he completed 14 of 16 in the second half, and in the third quarter he scrambled away from the rush and connected with Julio Jones for a 70-yard touchdown that gave his team a 14-10 lead.

Ryan later: “My ribs are good but I took a good shot on that play. It took me a second to get back up and catch a breath. It takes a while sometimes, it’s hard to snap back up.”

This came a week after an improved showing against Jacksonville. Ryan has looked more confident in the past two weeks. Are the clouds parting in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense?

“Certainly, when you’re not winning games, you’re not making as many plays as you’d like to, but today there was a sense that guys were playing with confidence and felt like they could go out there and make a bunch of plays,” Ryan said.

It was a rare day of smiles in the locker room. It started with Blank dancing for his players. Yes, before the game. (He later dance again after the game in the media room.)

“He didn’t say anything,” Schofield said of Blank’s pre-game appearance. “He did a little dance and everybody was pretty hyped about that. I don’t know the name of it, but when the owner has that kind of confidence it definitely sparked a little juice before we got out there.”

White also got the last laugh. Carolina’s Josh Norman had referenced him as the Falcons’ “fifth-best” receiver. Well, the fifth-best receiver finished with more catches (five) and receiving yards (67) than anybody on Carolina.

“Those guys do a lot of talking,” White said. “I just hope one day he (Norman) can play as long as I can and maybe one day he can get paid as I can.”

It was a rare day to gloat, but well-deserved.