The Falcons have indisputably played better football in the last month or so, with impressive wins over the Cardinals and Saints and a pair of comebacks against the Packers and Steelers that saw Atlanta come quite close.
Some of this is just the Falcons' offense performing like it should and the team's defense inevitably improving after being one of the league's worst throughout the early going. Yet it would be impossible for us to let that improvement go by without comment.
How have the Falcons turned this thing around?
1) Julio Jones
Julio Jones has played in three of the last four games, and over those games, he's put up 28 catches for a little over 550 yards and two touchdowns. When Julio's eating, the entire offense rolls along at a much better pace, and it's not a coincidence that the furious Packers rally and Arizona win were keyed by Jones' contributions. His quietest game in this stretch was last week against the Saints, when he still put up an effortless seven catches for 107 yards despite not being 100%.
He's kind of a big deal.
2) The Defense Stepped Up
It's odd to see the defense getting credit after they allowed a massive game to the Packers, but better defenses than Atlanta's have been bested by Aaron Rodgers in company. If you want a better sample of what the Falcons have done, look at the other three games.
They shut down an anemic Cardinals offense, held Le'Veon Bell to a mediocre day and prevented a big game from Ben Roethlisberger and then put together their masterpiece against New Orleans last weekend, sacking Drew Brees five times and forcing three turnovers. This defense is at its best when it is opportunistic and playing its best athletes, and a gradual shift in the latter direction has made a massive difference.
This isn't a great unit, but it's one I feel can slow down a quality offense at this point. Given what happened in 2013 and the first half of 2014, that's great praise.
3) They're Fighting Like Hell
I tend to resist a lot of talk about intangibles, toughness and heart, because I think too often we use that to make overly simplified judgements about football teams. You'd have a hard time convincing me that this team isn't playing more inspired football, even so.
One of the hallmarks of this current Falcons team has been the way opponents have either snuck back in to games the Falcons should have easily one, and the second has been that the team can't rally from huge deficits. The latter is still strictly true, but the rally against the Packers stands out because of the quality of the opponent and the sustained fury of the comeback.
I think we all expected the Falcons to allow the Saints to get close last Sunday, but instead there was that emphatic, unnecessary and glorious Osi Umenyiora fumble return for a touchdown. Maybe this is all just random background noise, but I think with jobs on the line and a chance for that absurd division win, things may finally be clicking for the Falcons.
What do you think has improved over the last month or so?