GREEN BAY—The Atlanta Falcons have suffered two of the most heartbreaking losses of the NFL season, but heading into the final month of the season, the Falcons find themselves tied for the NFC South lead with the Saints, each with 5-7 records.
"I think it has brought us closer, having to battle through some tough losses, and I think it's been a galvanizing thing or whatever, but it's definitely brought us together and made people mentally tough. The one thing that I've been proud of is that we've continued to battle all year, regardless of the situation, and I respect our guys for that," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan told Packers media on Thursday.
The Falcons will take on what many believe to be the No. 1 team in the league, the Packers, at Lambeau Field next Monday night. Falcons Coach Mike Smith pronounced Aaron Rodgers the No. 1 quarterback in the game.
"We want to be a relevant football team in December. I think that's what everybody shoots for. Sometimes being a relevant football team means having 10 wins. Sometimes it means having less than that. We are a relevant football team in the month of December. We need to play our best football, and this week we're playing a team that's got the best record in the NFL at 9-3, and they're playing outstanding football. We look forward for the opportunity to prepare through the week and then go up and compete against them," Smith said.
A passing attack that ranks No. 6 in the league is the strength of the Falcons. A pass defense that's last in the league is the Falcons' weakness.
"I think we've got a really good locker room. The guys have trained very hard all offseason. We haven't played as consistently as we've needed to through the first three-quarters of the season," Smith said.
The lack of a team in the NFC South with a winning record is causing media criticism, but it's happened before that a team with a losing record has won in the postseason – 7-9 Seattle did it by beating the Saints in the 2010 playoffs – and Smith is focused on what's ahead, instead of the two painful losses (Detroit and Cleveland) that are behind the Falcons.
"I think you've just got to live the day that you're in and the day that we're in today is that we're in first place in our division. We've got to go out and try to be the best that we can be today. We can't worry about what's happened in the past or concern ourselves too much about what's going to happen in the future. Our mindset has been since we came off of our bye week that we were going to be committed to one another, that we were going to only concern ourselves with today, be the best that we can be, make the corrections, and then start the next day with the same objectives. I think that's the way you have to approach it when you're not playing consistent football," Smith said.
The Falcons have won three of their last four games, including a 29-18 win in Arizona last Sunday. Ryan is the reason for the Falcons' resurgence.
"I think Matt has matured every year as a quarterback. His leadership skills I think have been a big part of why we're successful, not only the skillset that he has in terms of throwing the football and running the offense, but Matt is the leader in that locker room and I think that's the thing you see. The head coach and the quarterback are the two guys that have the win-loss record attached to them. Nobody else really does. He's done a very good job throughout his entire career of being what a starting quarterback in the NFL needs to be, not only on the field but off the field," Smith said.
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - DEC. 4