With opponent TBD, Falcons turn focus inward

Head coach Dan Quinn led the Falcons to an NFC South Division title in his second year in Atlanta.

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Head coach Dan Quinn led the Falcons to an NFC South Division title in his second year in Atlanta.

The Falcons usually follow a rigid process to prepare for the next opponent that includes themes for each day of the week.

So what to do when there is no next opponent yet for the Falcons because they earned a bye for the wild-card round of the playoffs this weekend?

“The focus comes right back to us,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Monday. “We’ll ask the guys, ‘Here are some things in your game we want to improve upon.’ And from a coaching standpoint, we will look at some self-scout and some things we’d like to do better from a scheme standpoint.”

The Falcons (11-5) had plenty to digest from their regular-season finale, most of it good. The bottom line was beating the Saints 38-32 and thus securing the NFC’s No. 2 seed and the bye. The Falcons will open postseason play on Jan. 14 at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons will face the highest-seeded NFC team to advance from the wild-card round from among the Seahawks, Packers and Giants. The third-seeded Seahawks (10-5-1) play host to the No. 6 Lions (9-7) on Saturday and the No. 4 Packers (10-6) play host to the No. 5 Giants (11-5) on Sunday.

If the Seahawks win, they would play the Falcons in the divisional round. If the Lions beat the Seahawks, the Falcons would face the winner of the Packers-Giants game and the Lions would play at top-seeded Dallas on Jan. 15.

The Falcons lost 26-24 to the Seahawks in Seattle on Oct. 16 after a controversial no-call for pass interference on their final play. The Falcons beat the Packers 33-32 on Oct. 30 at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons did not face the Giants or Cowboys.

Quinn, formerly the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks, said he talked to his players about how the Seahawks-Lions game on Saturday could determine their next opponent.

“It’s an exciting time, man, because at this spot all of the guys are battling for the same thing,” Quinn said. “Each team has unique stuff about them… so each matchup has a little bit of different stuff. That’s why for you guys watching playoff football is so much fun, and for us who get to coach in it and the players who get to play in it are so much fun because of all the different matchups. I told the team the fun is just getting started.”

The Falcons will get to relax this weekend after beating the Saints. They had already clinched the NFC South title but quarterback Matt Ryan said the victory in the regular-season finale was “like a playoff win” because of the importance of the bye.

Securing a playoff berth and then the No. 2 seed represented the apex of what’s been a season-long progression for the Falcons. They won their final four games by an average margin of 19.8 points.

“When you win games, it’s funny how that correlates to having fun,” Ryan said. “We’ve done some good things on the offensive side of the ball but the most important thing is all of the things we’ve done have given us the opportunity that we have now. At the end of the day, that is what you work hard for during the offseason. You train all those days to give yourselves opportunities this time of the year.

“I’m proud of the way our guys responded and handled that all year.”

The Falcons will face stiffer competition in the playoffs than during the back half of their schedule. The AFC West champion Chiefs are the only opponent they played over the final eight games to qualify for the postseason.

To advance in the playoffs, the Falcons may need a more complete effort after they played an uneven game against the also-ran Saints (7-9).The Falcons scored touchdowns on each of their first five possessions to lead 35-13 at halftime. But they managed to score only a field goal in the second half and the Saints gained 255 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth.

Quinn said coaches would address mistakes in the game, which included 10 missed tackles. Yet he also pointed to what he called “little moments where you get to demonstrate your ‘finish’” for the Falcons in the second half.

Those included stopping the Saints on a pair of two-point conversion tries, intercepting a pass in the end zone and securing the victory by recovering an on-side kick after the Saints had converted one earlier.

“It does show the resiliency,” Quinn said. “Not the whole game is going to go exactly how you want it all of the time. There are going to be some plays that go your way and the ones that don’t. You get up and you battle again.”