Coming into the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Giants, there was much talk about the Falcons lack of success in the playoffs, the fact that they got destroyed by the Giants in the 2011 playoffs, and the fact that Atlanta had just gotten manhandled by a 4-9 Carolina Panthers team. Question marks from every media outlet around the country were surrounding the Atlanta franchise. The general theme of conversations about this game was that the Falcons needed to win this game, and make a statement in the process.
I would say that the Atlanta Falcons made a statement. They not only beat the Giants, something few analysts picked them to do, but they completely took New York apart, defeating them 34-0. The offense looked as good as it has all season long, and the defense looked to be at its best against the defending Super Bowl champions. For the national media, who will only give credit to the Falcons once they make some noise in the playoffs, this game was as quality a statement as Atlanta could possibly make.
I believe it also made them feel very confident in what they can do if they properly prepare and take every opponent seriously. But I might be the only one. I listen daily to 680 The Fan here in Atlanta, and from the hours of 10AM-12Noon, The Dan Patrick Show is on the radio. There were some positive things said about the Falcons, but mostly negative things about the Giants. I can’t blame them. However, one of the individuals on the DP Show had an interesting statement about the Falcons.
The comment was that the Falcons would enjoy this shutout/blowout over the Giants too much, get completely cocky, and as a result end up floundering in the first round of the playoffs once more.
I think that could have been the case in the last several seasons, but there’s no way that is Atlanta’s mindset this time around. Look what happened to the Falcons in 2010 after they won the division and were the 1st overall seed in the NFC. They faced the #6 seeded Green Bay Packers, and got clobbered at home. They likely underestimated the Packers. Look what happened in the playoffs following the 2011 season. I don’t know what the Falcons mindset coming into that game was, but the result was a 24-2 defeat at the hands of the Giants. I don’t say all of this to say that the Falcons are incapable of winning playoff games; I say this to show that the Falcons have had great regular season success, and then gotten humbled in the playoffs.
These Atlanta Falcons now know not to underestimate any team in the NFL. They could get embarrassed in the playoffs. Or, as they experienced in Carolina in week 14, they could get embarrassed in the regular season. After that game, head coach Mike Smith rallied his troops, and got them to focus on the task at hand. The Falcons obviously prepared well, practiced with focus, and went out and executed the game play against the Giants. It was the type of performance you expect to see from Atlanta, and it shows that if you take every game as seriously as any other game, you can beat anyone by any sum in this league, even the defending Super Bowl champs.
I’m not saying the Falcons won’t lose in the playoffs. I’m not even saying that the Falcons won’t lose again in the 2012 regular season. But what I am saying is that this season has made the Falcons much more mentally tough, and when they’ve lost focus for a moment, they have been slapped back to reality quickly. I don’t think we are going to see the Falcons laying eggs in the playoffs or regular season in 2012; they’re going to put their best foot forward in every opportunity they are given.