Falcons head coach Mike Smith deserves respect but has his team earned it?
Rodney Dangerfield joked that all he needed was a little respect. Aretha Franklin crooned that all she needed was a just a little bit of "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." One joked about it and one sang of earning it.
To this point in the season, the 2012 Atlanta Falcons fight for respect lies somewhere between a little and just a little bit. The distance between joking and earning.
So if the old saying "respect is earned, not given" is no joke, then what more can the Falcons do?
Winning two of their last four games to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs would be a start.
Despite wrapping up their fifth division crown in franchise history and third straight appearance in the playoffs, media and fans have yet to place both feet on the Falcons bandwagon.
Both fans and media are quick to remind you of the last time they gave Atlanta a dose of respect.
It was last season and the Falcons were headed to New York for a wild-card matchup against the Giants. An explosive Falcons offense going up against a team with little flash. And then they played the game and that's where the Giants throttled the Falcons 24-2. And just like that, respect for the Falcons was thrown out with the bath water.
It's not enough that quarterback Matt Ryan has passed for over 3,500 yards with four games to go. It's not enough that Roddy White has nabbed over 1,000 yards receiving and Julio Jones needs only 69 to top the 1,000 mark. Critics will even say their 11-1 record is suspect when you throw in the fact that opponents are just 47-85 on the season. Fact is, with each milestone the Falcons surpass, a slew of questions arise.
Atlanta will top a franchise-best 14-2 record in 1998 should they win each of their remaining regular season games. Two of those games are at home against the Giants and Buccaneers. The other two are at Carolina and Detroit. They will be favored to win them all but expected to win in convincing fashion.
An NFC South crown is what the Falcons, their fans and media critics expected in 2012. To earn respect you have to go beyond expectations and achieve the unexpected. Achieve the unexpected by answering questions off the field with results on the field.
With home-field advantage comes the the comfort of sleeping in your own bed. Eating home-cooked meals instead of hotel banquet food. It comes with the familiarity of playing in a stadium filled with familiar friendly faces. A dome full of the expected.
The Falcons took one small step toward erasing questions and earning respect by defeating the New Orleans Saints. They took another half step by securing the NFC title. To make a giant leap for earned respect they will need to secure home-field advantage and accomplish the unexpected. Anything less and the 2012 Atlanta Falcons will be more Dangerfield thank Franklin.