The Atlanta Falcons are supposed to beat 4-10 (now 4-11) teams like the Detroit Lions. The Falcons did so in convincing fashion. While there may have not been the fanfare associated with the 34-0 destruction of the New York Giants, the win against the Lions might be a better indication of how the Falcons will fare in the playoffs.
Win More Imperative Than Opponent
Heading into the Giants game, the Falcons had a plethora of reasons to self-motivate. The Giants were bandied about as an "elite team" more than the Falcons despite the records. Revenge might have motivated some of the players after being embarrassed in the playoffs. And for some, they just needed to know they could.
The Detroit Lions did not cast the same long shadow. There was no respect to earn by beating a team with a losing record. Any residual tension from the last Falcons-Lions match up would be severely diminished. And for the most part, the Falcons had very little to prove.
Yet the Falcons took the field Saturday night like a team that was highly focused and highly motivated. Unwilling to overlook a sub-par but talented team, the Falcons started with a fast tempo. The Falcons stumbled in the third quarter, but never let up on the way to a 31-18 victory.
They focused on winning home-field advantage no matter what they thought of the opponent.
Dominant Despite Distress
When the Falcons faced the Giants, everything seemed to fall their way. From intercepting Eli Manning's first pass to Luke McCown kneeling down for the final time, the Falcons had the game firmly in hand.
The Lions would not fall so easy. Ndamukong Suh seemed to knock Matt Ryan to the ground on every play. Atlanta's receivers were manhandled while Calvin Johnson was breaking records all night long.
Yet the Falcons never wavered and never let up. Despite allowing the Lions to pick up yards constantly, the Falcons' defense held them to a mere 16 points. The offense had their moments, but never let the Lions come too close.
The Falcons played like they belonged there. Number one seed in the NFC taking care of just another opponent.
Attitude of Champions
The Falcons had to play a full 60 minutes to beat the Giants. Manning and company have had too many late game comebacks for any team to relax with a lead. The Lions have been the exact opposite in 2012, having lost multiple games they lead in the fourth quarter.
In the past, the Falcons have been willing to nurse a three or seven point lead until it was too late. Saturday was different.
ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters had an eye-opening report coming back from halftime. On the Monday Night Football broadcast, she stated that she asked Mike Smith if he was unhappy about anything going into halftime. Salters said that Smith was unhappy with allowing the Lions to get a field goal at the end of the half. With Falcons up 21-6, Smith was upset that the Lions had pulled within two touchdowns, an extra-point and a two-point conversion.
This is a very different mindset for a Falcons team that historically has been quick to pull their foot off the gas.
The Falcons defeat of the New York Giants proved they have the skills to beat any team in the league. The win over the Detroit Lions proved something far more important: They have the will to do so.