Jan 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith chats with quarterback Matt Ryan (2) prior to facing the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
For the past five years, beginning with their defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 Wild-Card game, the Atlanta Falcons have been gearing up to win a playoff game. Everything has depended on them winning a playoff game and making a run.
For four long years, the Falcons didn’t have that. They lost to the Cardinals. They got clobbered by the Packers. And they couldn’t score offensive points against the New York Giants last year. After the defeat at the hands of New York, all the talk was that the Falcons couldn’t win in the playoffs, and despite whatever they did in the regular season, they wouldn’t quite convince anyone until they did some damage in the playoffs.
More than just national perception, it seemed that the Falcons were playing extremely tight in the games that meant the most. Maybe they weren’t mentally ready to so anything, or maybe they just didn’t have that special something that it took to win in the playoffs. Even some fans expressed doubts over the team. The talent was undeniably there, so what could be the problem?
All of that seems so silly, so juvenile, so absolutely ridiculous at this point. Of course the Falcons had what it took. Maybe there did begin pressing at times in the playoffs. Maybe they weren’t mentally prepared going into certain games. But they certainly have all the talent in the world, and after that performance against Seattle, it showed tremendous mental fortitude, the kind of toughness that is necessary to win playoff games.
Now that they have emerged victorious in a playoff game, I would expect the Falcons to play much looser. They won’t be fretting about pressing to hard to make plays, they won’t be caught up with the magnitude of the moment, they won’t be losing focus on the task at hand. They can go out, simply execute plays, and do their best job to give Atlanta their second Super Bowl representative ever.
That doesn’t guarantee a win. And various pundits out there will say that there is never a team ‘playing with house money’, and there is no playoff game where a team doesn’t feel the pressure. But right now, the Falcons won’t be feeling all of that pressure. Sure, it’s not everyday that a team makes it to the conference championship game, but if Atlanta loses to San Francisco, a team that is solid as a rock across the board, nobody will think any less of this team. This is a very good Atlanta Falcons club, and they will make their presence felt no matter what.
If any team is feeling any pressure in this game, it’s the 49ers. They just made it to the conference championship game last season, before getting bounced by the eventual champion New York Giants. They had some really poor plays, especially a couple muffed punts that ended up costing them the game. They do look like a very loose team, especially with how good they really are, but if the pressure is on anyone, it’s on San Francisco.
We will see how things play out in the NFC Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers. Go Falcons!