Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith is being careful not to attach too much importance to this Sunday's showdown between the Falcons and Packers, in a prime-time game at the Georgia Dome.
"I think the game has a little bit more emphasis for us because it's a conference game. We're very aware of the circumstances when you get into December. It determines whether you're going to get a chance to play in the second season," Smith said during a conference call with Packers media on Wednesday.
In other words, Smith is stressing to his team that this is an important game because it'll go directly to playoff tiebreakers, not because the Falcons should feel a need to settle a score from last season's loss to the Packers in the playoffs.
"We don't circle games on our schedule," Smith said.
Prime-time TV, however, will no doubt use the Packers' 48-21 win in the playoffs last year to build a storyline for this Sunday's matchup. The Falcons had homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, but a red-hot Packers team behind a scorching-hot quarterback ended the Falcons' season abruptly.
The Packers led 21-14 as the Falcons neared a half-ending field goal attempt that might've cut the deficit to four points. That's when cornerback Tramon Williams stepped in front of a Matt Ryan pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown that broke the dam and began a flood of points. When the water had settled, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
The Rodgers run continued through the Super Bowl and into this season.
"When you're completing nearly three out of every four passes, there's no doubt he has an understanding of the pass-offense. He knows where to go with the ball. We have to be disruptive," Smith said.
To that end, Smith said last spring's lockout afforded "an opportunity to drill down deeper than we ever have. I know we spent more time on that as a coaching staff than we ever have."
In other words, the Falcons will be as ready for this one as they possibly can be.
"The motivation for us is it's the next game. They're the Super Bowl champs. We have to be excited about the opportunity to play them," Smith said.
Ryan appeared to suffer some shell-shock from Williams' interception. After a slow start to this season, however, he's rebounded by posting 35 points against the Eagles, despite having been under a fierce pass-rush, and 30 against the Seahawks. The Falcons have been up and down through the first four weeks and, at 2-2, might be facing an early pivot point in their season this week against the Packers.
"Those things are always tough to get over," Ryan said of Williams' interception and touchdown return. "It serves as motivation in the offseason. Against a good team like Green Bay, you can't make those kinds of mistakes.
"You know every possession is more valuable," he added.
Asked to provide an assessment of his team through the first four weeks of the season, Smith said: "You get what you earn in this league. We're 2-2 and that's what we've earned. We've had some inconsistencies. We've got to play more consistently."
Smith is a coach who believes in the value of a strong running game. The Falcons were No. 12 in the league in rushing last season but have fallen to No. 19 this year. His game plan will likely make a strong commitment to the run this week; Smith would no doubt like his team to dominate time of possession and limit Rodgers' play time.
"At the core of what we want to do is we want to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and that's something we haven't done," Smith said.
"It was definitely a learning experience for us," he added of the playoff loss to the Packers. "They were the better team and we didn't play very well. We'll have our hands full this week." Additional coverage - Oct. 5