After two excruciatingly long weeks of waiting, the Atlanta Falcons are in the process of making their final preparations for Sunday, when they will take on Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.
Falcons Eager for Sunday
For all intents and purposes, the Falcons were expected to head into the playoffs with a first round bye for roughly the last month of the regular season. The wait for a meaningful playoff game—and the chance to redeem themselves from previous January failures—has the team feeling a little antsy.
"We've been disappointed a few times," said McClure, who's been with the Falcons for 13 years. "I think we've got guys in this locker room who are hungry and ready to get over that hump."
Falcons Must Find a Way to Stymie Lynch
As we discussed in this space earlier in the week, stopping the Seahawks vaunted rushing attack will be paramount to coming away with a victory on Sunday. While the Redskins and their fifth-ranked run defense were unable to contain Marshawn Lynch, the Falcons know that they have to keep the star RB out of the endzone—regardless of how many yards they surrender between the 20's.
“You’ve got to hit him early,” Sean Weatherspoon said. “He’s a tough back. I’ve played him a few times. He gets downhill pretty quick. He’s tough. He wants to play football; he’s not trying to get out of bounds so you’ve got to be physical with him.”
While one should never with injury upon a player for competitive reasons, Lynch missed his second striaght day of practice on Thursday with a nagging foot injury. If—and this is a big if—he is
Falcons Aren't Feeling the Pressure
There's no doubt that the Falcons are under a lot of pressure to win a playoff game this year, as a loss on Sunday would make Atlanta 0-4 in the postseason in the Mike Smith Era. Still, this team—matured from their past adversity—isn't letting the pressure get to them.
“I won’t look at it as pressure; I look at it as motivation,” Weatherspoon said. “You get what you earn in this league, and we put ourselves in the position that we wanted to put ourselves in. For everyone to be not really talking about us and saying we’re the team that could potentially drop one — because we haven’t won in the playoffs — that’s something that you’ve got to use as fuel to your fire in order to get over that hump. I don’t look at it as pressure; I just look at it as a great opportunity.”
Maturity Remains Biggest Difference Between This Year's Falcons and Past Teams
If there's one reason to believe the Falcons are more capable of winning the Super Bowl this season than in 2011, 2010, 2008, 2004 or 2002, it's the level of maturity of the players in that locker room—many of whom have been together for a while—who have collectively been through their fair share of ups and downs.
“I feel like this is the best team I’ve been on since I’ve been here,” McClure said. “I’m not just saying that. I feel like this is the best opportunity I’ve had and we’ve had to make a run. We have to go out on Sunday and execute. We have to play our best football to win this game and I think we’re ready for it.”
“We’ve been here in the past before and now we’re more mature,” said safety Thomas DeCoud. “We know what we can and cannot do.
“It’s a sense of pride, more of an internal sense of pressure rather than anything external. As professional athletes we all want to go out there and perform well and get this monkey off our backs, so to speak.”
Tony Gonzalez Discusses Retirement Plans
If the Falcons fail to win the Super Bowl this year, the biggest question heading into the offseason will be whether or not Tony Gonzalez plans to return for another year. Still, the team is hoping that the five percent chance he could come back for one more go-around, but for Tony, he's heading into this week knowing that it could be the end.
"For me, obviously, this could be it," Gonzalez said, via the Associated Press. "There is no tomorrow. There is no saying, 'We'll get 'em next year.' It's about going out there and trying to finish on the right note."