It looked like the Falcons' season was slipping away from them at halftime of Sunday's game at Carolina. Coming off an error-laden loss to the Texans one week earlier, the Falcons trailed the Panthers 23-7 after giving up 23 unanswered points.
Matt Ryan was sacked in the endzone for a safety in a second quarter in which Atlanta gained only 32 yards on offense and struggled on defense, allowing 16 points.
Maybe that wakeup call was the jolt Atlanta needed. The Falcons finally looked like a playoff team in the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points to earn a 31-23 win.
There was a bit of a scare after the game, as Falcons head coach Mike Smith was transported to a Charlotte hospital for a non-emergency matter, according to the team. There was good news on Monday, however, as Smith returned to the Falcons' facility, per reports, and was busy preparing for the team's next opponent.
The Falcons have a one-game lead in the wild-card race and will be playing on short rest this week with a Thursday-night meeting at home against the Jaguars.
The PFW Spin
Atlanta can breath a sigh of relief — the Falcons appear to be headed to the playoffs for a second consecutive season with games against Jacksonville, New Orleans and Tampa Bay left on the schedule. It would take a collapse for the Falcons to not win two out of the three, and 10 wins should be enough to get them in.
The sense of optimism about the Falcons' future has to be tempered, though. Perhaps the second half of Sunday's game will be remembered as the time when the team finally broke through and never looked back, but the Falcons can't fall behind like they did against the Panthers and expect to win against a higher-caliber opponent, like the teams they could run into come playoff time.
Longtime Falcons C Todd McClure, who has spent his entire 13-year career with the franchise, told PFW last week that he was hoping he and his teammates would put together some complete games before the season is over. They only have three more tries to do it before the regular season is over, though — they aren't going to have very many complete games under their belt heading into January.
"If we go out there and put out the complete game and we don't have the penalties and we don't have the mental mistakes or the other things that go on, we can play with any team in this league, but we're going to have to do that to get hot here," McClure said.
With the Jaguars up next, the Falcons have a great chance of putting together a winning streak before getting a couple extra days to prepare for a tough test on the road against the NFC South-leading Saints in Week 16.
Playing great for only one half probably won't be enough to get it done against New Orleans.
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