The Falcons had a giant monkey on their back going into the Seattle game this past weekend. The whole, "Mike Smith and Matt Ryan have never won a playoff game," thing had the whole team playing very tight the second half of the game.
The minute that they got to a 20-0 lead, the Falcons started to tighten up a bit. However, when they were already loose all game, it was a terrible way to change it up. This time, they have the giant monkey off their back.
This time, the burden has been lifted or whatever other cliche you want to use. Matt Ryan was quoted by AtlantaFalcons.com's staff about finally getting that first playoff win:
“I think it’s a good thing to get that first win out of the way, for sure. There are a lot of other things that you have to answer and things that can be distracting. I think that everyone did a great job of not letting it distract us, but it can be distracting. I think at this point it’s just more of getting into our routine of week-to-week normal stuff and normal questions you have to answer and getting ourselves ready to go out and play. I think if we keep that mindset and stay loose, we’ve been loose all year and we were loose last week, but if we continue to do that then I think that will bode well for us.”
And the distraction is gone. However, the Falcons have even made it a goal to stay loose. As the Pro Bowl quarterback says, Atlanta needs to come out and play their own game. They need to be relaxed and not worry about the distractions now that they are able to exhale a bit.
They were the favorites last week in a game that they had to win. Now they don't have that extra weight on their shoulders. In fact, the Falcons are the underdogs. They have no expectations and are even expected to lose.
There's nothing more fun than going into a game as a 5-point Vegas underdog (h/t Bovada). Playing with almost all of the analysts saying that the Falcons have no chance will only help them play loose. It's always easier to go out and prove people wrong when they don't put extra pressure on you.
Now the Falcons can play the game they want to play. They can scheme their offense to be aggressive. They can scheme their defense to play aggressive. They will play with a chip on their shoulder.
They can afford to play a bit wilder than they did against the Seahawks because they already have shown that they can come back from a last second deficit. They've shown that they can blow teams out that may be considered "better" teams like the New York Giants who they beat 34-0 at home.
Leading up to the Giants-Falcons game this year, the storyline was very similar. The Falcons didn't stand a chance. The Falcons were an underdog according to Vegas and many of the gambling websites that handicap games.
Then the Falcons came out and played fast and loose. They looked comfortable and ready. They looked like they belonged as the top seed in the NFC. Expect the Falcons to win this one if they can come out and play like they did against the Giants—fast, loose and aggressive.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.