There are still observers out there who dismiss the Atlanta Falcons as less than the best in the NFL, despite the record, despite the solid performances, despite winning when not playing their best.
The Falcons’s answer: Keep winning.
They did so again Thursday night, picking off Drew Brees five times en route to a 23-13 victory that avenged their only loss and moved them to a league-best 11-1. In the process, they ended Brees’ streak of 54 straight games with at least one touchdown pass and put a the hated Saints’ playoff ambitions all but out of reach. At 5-7, New Orleans would have to win out to have a shot at the post season.
But enough about them. The Falcons moved to the brink of clinching a division championship. The could clinch the NFC South with a month to play with a month left in the regular season if Tampa Bay loses at Denver on Sunday.
The Falcons raced to a 17-0 lead before the Saints could get the vision of their buses pelted with eggs at the Atlanta airport out of their minds. William Moore had two interceptions to stake a defense that carried the night as the offense struggled in a big way.
But they won nonetheless, which has been a hallmark of their special season so far.
“I thought our guys showed a ton of resiliency throughout the entire football game,” coach Mike Smith said. “We entered tonight’s game wanting to get a positive result and get mission 11 accomplished and I thought we did that.”
It says a lot more about the Falcons that they won at less than their best than to win playing lights out. That’s what championship teams do. But because the Falcons have not won a playoff game in the Smith era — including a loss at Arizona, a blowout loss at home to Green Bay in 2010 and an embarrassing loss when they scored just two points to the New York Giants last year — skepticism will abound until they reverse it.