By Matthew Asher
For the Atlanta Falcons, this NFC Divisional game is put up or shut up time. Since the beginning of training camp, the question surrounding the Falcons is simply “Can they win a playoff game?”
It’s a fair question. Since Atlanta’s 47-17 thrashing of the St. Louis Rams back in 2005, there is just one current Falcon who was on that 2004 NFC South Champion team: Todd McClure. Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan, Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez (including his time as a Chief) and 2008 AP Coach of the Year Mike Smith have zero playoff wins between the three of them.
While Atlanta finishing up the regular season 13-3 was great, the season will all be for nothing if the Seattle Seahawks come into the Georgia Dome on Sunday and hand Atlanta its fourth loss of the season. Atlanta may not win Super Bowl XLVII, but they at least need to advance to the NFC title game for this season to not be considered another blown opportunity.
Fortunately, Smitty says the team is not just hoping to deliver a win for those who have never won in the playoffs. “We all want to win,” Smitty said. “When you’re in this position this is a tournament. It’s the second season and everybody needs their individual thoughts behind them. Put them somewhere else and do whatever we have to as a team to win.”
If Atlanta finally wants to win its first playoff game in almost a decade, they should look no further than the New York Giants game a few weeks ago. What did the Falcons do to the defending Super Bowl champs? They dominated them in every facet of the game, blowing out and shutting out New York 34-0.
Just like the Giants game, Atlanta needs to prove how dominant they can be against the Seahawks. How? Simply by not doing what the Broncos did in their Divisional game.
On Saturday the Denver Broncos (the other NFL team to finish the regular season 13-3) should have destroyed the Baltimore Ravens and sent Ray Lewis into retirement. They didn’t. Despite running more offensive plays, holding the ball for more time and basically outdoing Baltimore in every facet of the game (except turnovers), Denver didn’t go in for the kill.
Leading by a touchdown with less than 70 seconds to go, Denver allowed Baltimore to march down the field and score the game-tying touchdown with 31 seconds left. Denver could have tried throwing the ball a few times to get in field goal range, but they decided to play it safe and go to overtime. The lack of a killer instinct ended up costing Denver a double-overtime 38-35 loss.
Whether it was Baltimore simply catching Denver off guard on a few key plays or them actually being the better team (depending on your point of view), the lesson the Ravens taught the Broncos was simple: don’t underestimate your opponent.
This means Atlanta needs to think of Russell Wilson not as a rookie quarterback but as a dual threat player who can change the course of the game single-handedly. Marshawn Lynch may be getting a lot of respect from the defense because of his known abilities, but the Falcons need to make sure he never has a chance to showcase those talents in this game. While the majority of NFL fans couldn’t pick the Seahawks defensive starters out of a lineup, they’re still really good.
The Falcons need to remember this: until the game clock reads 0:00, don’t let up for a single play. If Atlanta can do that, there’s no reason that the Falcons can’t end the day 14-3 and preparing to face the 49ers next week.
Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.