It’s Thursday, which means there’s no longer any reasonable excuse or acceptable reason to choose to look back at the last weekend in the National Football League, instead of looking forward to the next one.
The problem with that, though, is that we’re talking about the Atlanta Falcons today, and what they did four days ago was so absurdly dramatic and outrageously enjoyable that it deserves our attention, even with a new run of games looming.
The Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers, and it might have dipped below your line of sight, given that there were several talented teams and bigger names playing at the same time, and that this was a matchup between one of the worst teams in the league and another that was meant to be. to be terrible. Instead, the Falcons claw their way to being something else.
Please forgive this quick summary. The Falcons won 37-34 after three touchdowns were scored in the final 3:06, after Carolina’s “game-winning” TD was actually only “game-tying” because kicker D.J. Moore tore off his helmet in celebration, after both an extra point and an overtime 32-yarder were missed, and after Atlanta continued to rethink everyone else’s idea of how bad they should be.
The Falcons, sorry, to use their proper new name — the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons — might be the most cheerful 4-4 team in NFL history. Despite an opening-game heartbreaker and an 0-2 start, they’re confounding all the bad forecasts, here they are, playing the best kind of scrappy football that a low-talent – but high-energy – team is capable of.
“Our guys don’t blink,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. They don’t wrinkle too much either.
Entering Sunday’s home game against the Los Angeles Chargers (1 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), the Falcons find themselves unencumbered by problems and loaded with speed. The downside of being written off by everyone from the oddsmakers in Las Vegas, to the wider football public, to some of their own fans, to, uh, me, is that such projections are made because your roster doesn’t seem to add up. .
The upside, and the Falcons are feeling it right now, is that even winning half your games makes you feel invincible, especially when the smart summer money suggested you’d be lucky to rack up that many wins throughout the campaign.
“The goal is to win, no matter what it takes,” Falcons lineman Jake Matthews said. “But we have to score, whether it’s defense, offense, special teams, we all have to work together to find ways to win.”
The outward pessimism was rooted in the theory that letting longtime franchise QB Matt Ryan go to Indianapolis was cover for a tank job designed to divert a rebuild.
Receiver Calvin Ridley (who was traded to Jacksonville this week) was suspended for gambling irregularities, and there were no positional lights to suggest things weren’t actually that bad.
No celebrity names on the tent list. Only two former first rounders as starters on defense, the lowest in the league. You could argue that the team’s most interesting player is the South Korean kicker, Younghoe Koo, who is quirky, cool and sometimes a fantasy god.
It was Koo’s overtime boot that clinched the win against the Panthers, and he will reacquaint himself on Sunday with his former team, the Chargers, who cut him loose four years ago.
Meanwhile, the skeptics are starting to believe. In a way. FOX Bet has visitors Los Angeles as favourites, but narrowly (-3 points).
“Tampa Bay is going to make the playoffs and will host a playoff game,” FS1’s Nick Wright said on “First Things First,” which was another way of saying he doesn’t expect the Falcons’ division lead to last long.
Maybe it will be like this. But … Atlanta has one of the weakest schedules in football ahead of it and plays in a division that doesn’t currently show much quality given the Bucs’ unexpected struggles.
They’ve got the good vibes working for them, and you don’t have to look too closely to see that this is a team that’s starting to feel like it’s on a freeroll.
There is a small exception to the good mood. Head coach Arthur Smith is a little on the harsh side when dealing with the press, which is probably fair enough given how brutal some of the preseason criticism was.
He has recently taken to reminding those who follow the team how the prediction models placed the Falcons “about 45.” best of the 32 NFL teams before the campaign. Petty? Sure – and why the hell not?
With an almost obsessive addiction to running the ball through Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson and avoiding fouls, Smith is responsible for a group that makes us all look stupid and has a grand old time doing it.
They were tough enough to escape last week’s nailbiters, are confident enough to look forward to another weekend without trepidation, and are making what should be the dullest record possible — 4-4 — look anything but.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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