Still no love for undefeated Falcons

Matt Ryan has garnered praise as a potential MVP candidate and owns an impressive regular-season resume, but won’t be considered among the NFL’s elite until he leads his team to the Promised Land. (Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

I’m not sure if you know this, but the Atlanta Falcons currently have eight wins and zero losses on the season. Heading into the second half, the Falcons have a legitimate shot of becoming the first team since the 2007 New England Patriots and second team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to finish the regular season undefeated.

So why is nobody talking about them?

Despite their flawless record so far, nobody wants to believe in the Falcons just yet. They’ve earned a reputation (fairly or not) of playing down to their opponents. In Week 4, the Falcons needed fifth-year quarterback Matt Ryan to lead a last-minute drive starting from their own one-yard line, culminating in a game-winning field goal by kicker Matt Bryant with seconds on the clock to dispatch the Carolina Panthers 30-28.

The following week, running back Michael Turner rumbled into the end zone for the game-winning score with under three minutes left and cornerback Dunta Robinson and safety Thomas DeCoud each had an interception in the final two minutes of the game as the Falcons hung on to beat the Washington Redskins 24-17. Redskins’ standout rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III left the game in the third quarter with a concussion, and fellow rookie Kirk Cousins came in to replace him, throwing the two picks in crunch time to doom the ‘Skins.

The Falcons pulled off a nail biter for the third week in a row when the Oakland Raiders came to the Georgia Dome. Cornerback Asante Samuel took a Carson Palmer interception all the way back for a touchdown with 2:40 left in the game, but once again a game-winning scoring drive was needed from Matty Ice as he set up Bryant for a 55-yard field goal to pull off the 23-20 win.

Then in Week 9, the Dirty Birds withstood a late charge by Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys with a couple of big completions to backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers late in the game that helped ice the game 19-13.

The combined records of those four teams? 11-22. Not exactly juggernauts by any stretch.

It’s no secret that the Falcons have benefited from a weak schedule. The only team with a win-loss record above .500 that they’ve played so far is the Denver Broncos back in Week 2. The only above-.500 team left on their schedule is the defending Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants, who they face at home in Week 15. It’s an extremely difficult feat for any team to go undefeated for the season, and it will only get more difficult the longer they go as the pressure mounts and opposing teams gain more motivation to knock them off. But the Falcons definitely have their favourable schedule working for them.

In today’s NFL, fans and media don’t just want teams to win games, they want them to win in style. Matt Ryan may be having a fine season, but he’s not breaking any touchdown records like Tom Brady did during the Patriots’ undefeated regular season five years ago. The Packers, Patriots, Broncos, Texans, 49ers and Giants are all teams generating more buzz and attention, despite the fact they all own worse records. Any time the public perceives a team to have a habit of playing down to their opponents, it’s a tough stigma to shake. It seems like everybody’s just waiting for the Falcons to mess up.

Heading into an early Sunday afternoon game against the struggling New Orleans Saints this weekend, the sports books had the Falcons favoured by only two-and-a-half points. These Saints, I remind you, have the worst defence in the league. Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King, one of the most influential sports writers in the States, picked the Saints to upset the Falcons 27-24. Yikes.

As impressive as this eight-game winning streak has been, it’s a rerun we’ve all seen before with these Falcons. Since 2008, the first year of  the Matt Ryan/head coach Mike Smith tenure, the Falcons are 51-21 in the regular season. However, they haven’t made it past the divisional round of the playoffs. For a team that hasn’t even reached a Super Bowl since 1998, let alone win the Big Game, maybe the fan base is just sick of getting their hopes up every year, only to see everything come crashing down again in another lacklustre postseason performance.

Green Bay Packers fans, including myself, went through a similar roller-coaster of emotions last year. The Packers entertained a perfect season for most of the year, finally finishing the regular season with a 15-1 record. But in their first game of the playoffs, the Packers defensive shortcomings were exploited by Eli Manning and the upstart Giants, and us fans were left with a bitter taste in our mouths.

It’s often said in sports that people only care if you win the last game of the season. It may be unfair, but it’s true. And no matter how well the Falcons do during the regular season, they won’t get the respect they deserve until they win the Big One.

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About Tim Bayer

I have sports opinions to say on the internets. Find my work here but mostly at editorinleaf.com.

Posted on November 9, 2012, in Football, International Sports and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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