The Atlanta Falcons have dealt with their fair share of tension over the last five years. You have to expect that the pressure will build up over time as you don't win playoff games, receive media scorn and increasingly feel that you have to win to save your job or at least your reputation.
The Falcons have been all to familiar with that, and it's tough to argue that they didn't tense up just a bit in the second half of the Seahawks game. Mike Smith made some poor decisions, the secondary played sloppy football and Matt Ryan had a handful of bad throws. It was a tense performance, a letting off the gas while simultaneously tightening up, and it nearly cost the Falcons badly.
Stress, of course, tends to evaporate when you overcome a major challenge. And that's the position the Falcons find themselves in today, having won their first playoff game in five seasons under Mike Smith and surviving a close call to advance to the 2013 NFC Championship game. The pressure to win is still there, the need to get to the Super Bowl and continue to prove this team's mettle important...but no longer are their backs against the wall. They won a playoff game.
That should mean a looser Falcons team, which can only be a good thing going forward. The Falcons are notoriously conservative and prone to letting off the gas when they have a big lead, and after halftime they always seem to play a more self-conscious, mistake-filled game of football. With the playoff bogeyman gone at last, the Falcons are saying things like this:
"I think so," safety Thomas DeCoud said after the Seattle win. "A little bit looser. Like you said, we have that proverbial monkey off our back. Now, we can, you know, really calm down, hit our stride and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes we did in this game. That’s just one more thing off of our plate.
It may or may not translate into a win, but I really do expect looser play from the Falcons in the game ahead. Given the way this team has historically struggled, I can hope that's a good thing.