Bradley’s Buzz: The Falcons face a game of discovery in Detroit

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24) reacts after a play during the first half against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Miguel Martinz/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24) reacts after a play during the first half against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Miguel Martinz/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

The Falcons are 2-0. They’re third among NFL teams in total defense. (Small sample size, but it has been decades since we could say that.) They’re third in rushing yards. Bijan Robinson has made a splash. Jessie Bates has made a splash. Desmond Ridder is 14th in passer rating – one spot below Josh Allen, one above Jalen Hurts.

The season will change Sunday in Detroit. A loss would be no disgrace; the Lions appear to be pretty good. Winning would make us view these Falcons in a new light. They’d be 3-0 with a road win, 3-0 headed to London for a date with Jacksonville, one of only three 2023 opponents coming off a postseason appearance.

Since the NFL/AFL merger, 75% of teams starting 3-0 have made the playoffs. Naturally, the Falcons stand as exceptions. They were 5-0 in 2015 and went nowhere. They were 4-0 in 1986 and saw the season collapse on the blocked punt by the 0-13 Colts, who’d just fired their coach. The Falcons would soon fire theirs. But we digress.

Being 2-0 gives you a chance to do something. Being 3-0 is an indication you might be better than pretty good. Football teams play only once a week – as opposed to baseballers – but momentum can be a mighty force in football. Momentum in baseball is tomorrow’s starting pitcher. Momentum in football is less tangible but nonetheless real: A team starts winning, and soon it views itself as a winner.

The 2004 Falcons came off a difficult season. Michael Vick missed much of 2003 with a broken ankle; Dan Reeves was pushed aside just after Vick returned. Arthur Blank’s first head coaching hire was Jim Mora, never a head coach. Not much was expected. Mora greeted an opening win in San Francisco over a bad batch of 49ers – they’d finish 2-14 – as if it were the eighth wonder of our world. And yet …

Three weeks later, his team still hadn’t lost.

Those Falcons went 11-5 and won the NFC South. They beat the 8-8 Rams in the Divisional Round by 30 points. They played Philadelphia for the NFC championship. They lost, but still. A season that augured nothing special saw the Falcons finish as an NFL semifinalist.

Jim L. Mora isn’t Vincent T. Lombardi. He lasted two more years here. He was fired after one season in Seattle. He’s 0-3 in his second season at UConn. Year 1 with the Falcons remains his career highlight. That Year 1 also underscores Newton’s First Law: A body in motion tends to stay in motion. Once a team gets going, who knows where it might land?

The 2004 Falcons were nothing special. They finished 20th in total offense, 14th in total defense. They outscored opponents by three points over 16 games. That they led the league in rushing – remember the DVD backfield of Dunn-Vick-Duckett? – hid issues elsewhere. Their leading receiver was tight end Alge Crumpler. But they started fast and played to their strength. Sometimes that’s enough.

The belief is that these Falcons have a chance to be special. After years of wrangling a payroll skewed by massive outlays to a handful of players, they’ve built a nice-looking team. It’s unclear if Ridder can win shootout games, but the NFL is moving away from shootouts. This might be a time when running the ball and playing defense again matters.

Over the Falcons’ existence, there haven’t been many harmonic convergences. Could we be looking at one? Let’s see what happens in Detroit. We’ll talk again soon.

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