It’s a year of many firsts for the Atlanta Falcons.
This season marked the first time that they got off to a perfect 8-0 start. Third-year veteran Sean Weatherspoon recorded his first career interception. Matt Ryan threw five interceptions in a game for the first time in his career—and won.
The list goes on and on. All the way down to this key fact: With three wins in three prime-time games so far this season, 2012 is already the Falcons' most successful year on national television under head coach Mike Smith.
Every game has taken place at the Georgia Dome, every game has come down to the wire, and every game has seen the Falcons leave the field victorious.
That’s quite the turnaround for a team that entered this season with a 9-24 Monday Night Football record and historically hasn’t fared much better on Thursday nights, Saturday nights or Sunday nights, either.
That has continued into the Mike Smith era, with the Falcons playing to a so-so 4-4 record in nationally televised regular-season appearances from 2008 through 2011: none in 2008, 1-1 in 2009 and 2010 and 2-2 in 2011. Of note, three of those four losses came at the hands of the New Orleans Saints.
But that was then, and this is now, as the Falcons have not only won their first three prime-time games so far this year, but their win on Thursday night proved that they weren’t the team of old, as they got past the usual late-season road block that was the Saints in a 23-13 victory at the Georgia Dome on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football.
The Falcons beat the Denver Broncos 27-21 on ESPN’s Monday Night Football in Week 2 and squeezed by the Dallas Cowboys 19-13 on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in Week 9 in their two other prime-time games. Their fourth will come on NFL Network’s Saturday Night Football in a Week 16 matchup with the Detroit Lions.
The hype surrounding the games, the pressure that comes with playing on the big stage and the historical struggles on prime time, more recently against the Saints—none of it seems to have fazed the Falcons one bit this year.
Sure, one prime-time game remains on their schedule, and we can't forget about their highly anticipated Week 15 matchup with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
But the fact that the Falcons have gone from cowering in the spotlight to shining in it speaks volume about this team and is a sign of great things to come.
All of the other tools were already in place: the next-level quarterback, the high-powered offense and the shutdown defense.
And with their newly found national-game wings, the Falcons may be ready now more than ever for a deep playoff run.