I’m planning to do a longer blog post once the season is over about how this was the year I went from being a casual football fan to a diehard one, but since the Falcons’ first playoff game is coming up on Saturday, I thought I’d write a bit about it.
One of the overarching narratives I’ve heard about the Falcons this year is that the team gets no national respect. While I believe that pretty much every fan believe their team should be getting more respect, it does seem that the Falcons don’t receive as much attention as a 13-3 team deserves. But I admit there’s really nothing sexy about the Falcons aside from Michael Turner’s gigantic ass. The media, whether it’s political, sports, or otherwise, likes easy to construct and the Falcons best one is “We were in the toilet and successfully rebuilt in three years. Boo-ya.” This is a team that isn’t about a highlight reel. Tony Gonzales catching a five yard pass that nets a first down isn’t going to make SportsCenter’s Top Plays of the Hour, but it’s crucial in a winning team because he keeps doing it. Turner doesn’t break out into long-yardage runs, but he’ll beat you to death by making you try and tackle him all day as he constantly pushes for over a hundred yards per game. Matt Ryan is a solid quarterback, but he’s not throwing game-winning Hail Marys. He’s calmly doing what’s necessary to get the win. The Falcons aren’t blowing anybody out, but we’re winning in clutch situations. While the Patriots may get a lot of attention for destroying the Jets 45-3, that’s a boring game to watch. The Falcons not only win, they keep you on the edge of your seat for the full sixty minutes.
And yet looking at the coverage on ESPN and NFL Network of this weekend’s playoff game between the Falcons and the Packers, it looks like the Packers are going to waltz to an NFC Championship game versus the Bears. Why are the Packers, an 11-5 team going up against a 13-3 team that has home field advantage and already beaten them once, the favorites? Because they have a running game now! Rookie James Starks had a great game against the Eagles and so there’s no way the Falcons can win! Becuase Starks had a good game last week, that’s the death knell against the Falcons this week. Forget our versatility, forget Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzales, the much-improved special teams work especially of Eric Weems, our improved defense, our offensive line that gives Ryan about thirty years to throw a pass, because last week Green Bay found someone who could run the ball besides their quarterback.
Of course, the media is hedging by saying that it will be a close game and a duel of the quarterbacks, even though the game apparently rests on the shoulders of Starks and Turner. I especially like the implication that we’re a bunch of cheaters and that if Green Bay loses, it’s because we rigged the replay system in our favor. I agree that Gonzales didn’t make that catch against them. But later in the game, Aaron Rogers got off a pass on 4th and 1 on what should have been a Delay-of-Game penalty. This argument that the Falcons are, at best, “lucky”, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Was it lucky that the Saints kicker missed a game-winning chip shot in Week 2? Absolutely. It was also lucky that during a kickoff to the Saints, the ball took a funny bounce and touched one of the Falcons’ players, thus giving the Saints an advantage.
I’m not saying that the Falcons are the clear favorite to win this Saturday’s game. I do think that with the exception of the Seahawks, the Falcons are going to be the underdog no matter what. If we win and Chicago comes to the Dome, all we’ll hear about is how great the Chicago defense is. Even if the Seahawks manage another miraculous victory, all we’ll hear about is how the Seahawks are “hot” right now (just like Green Bay is “hot”). I understand that the media needs to keep contests interesting so that viewers will stay tuned, but it’s frustrating that the 13-3 home team is somehow playing the underdog.
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