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Unfinished Falcons Rip Victory from Lion’s Jaw

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Three games in, the Falcons are still figuring it out, and winning in the process.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

First, it was the jaw of a bear – as the ghastly grizzly of Chicago salivated all over the week one “W,” its pearly whites firmly prepared to bite in. But, lo, the swift, steadfast, admittedly very lucky falcon swooped in and claimed it just before the bear’s mouth slammed shut.

Next would come the jaw of the lion, the king of the jungle, roaring and ready to snatch its own “W” – boy, did it come close – the fierce predator pounced, leaping into the air with carnivorous craze, nearly landing the fatal chomp on the win– but the falcon flew in right in the nick of time, claiming the victory once more.

Lions, Bears, oh my. Thank goodness there are no Tigers on the schedule, and thank goodness cheese doesn’t have teeth.

The Atlanta Falcons are 3-0, plowing through three-fourths of the NFC North, two installments on the road, one in primetime against the quarterback of his generation. They’ve blown off the dust on their prolific offense, shined off the edges on their growing defense and have seemingly slammed the door on any murmur of a Super Bowl hangover.

They’ve also, on two occasions, gotten by with a little luck – something the team should have in full supply as recompense after what went down in Houston this past February.

These Falcons are also still loading – they’re an incomplete team still prone to three-and-outs, pick-6s, explosive touchdown receptions and the bionic leg of K Matt Prater.

Typically, this type of team has lost a game within the first three bouts of the season. The Falcons haven’t, and they’ve played no slouches – just Aaron Rodgers, a dangerous Chicago running back duo and feisty defensive front seven on grass and a resurgent Detroit team the Birds could very well meet once more in the NFC Championship – two of three bouts not even in friendly confines. Did I mention Aaron Rodgers?

Complain all you want about the near comebacks, Desmond Trufant not being quite right just yet, the pass rush not being as consistent as you’d hope, Ty Sambralio not playing like Jonathan Ogden, MVP Matt Ryan showing he’s as prone to making a mistake as the next guy. Claw, harp and grumble ‘til the cows come home– the Falcons might just keep winning in spite of it.

The team so far is fielding what could be the best Falcons team of the decade – on both sides of the ball, this is as talented as they’ve been in eons. On the sidelines and in the boxes, this is as much brainpower as has fueled the play calling and coaching in quite some time. The Falcons are entering a special moment for the franchise – one where they just might be able to become consistently excellent.

Soak it in, warts and all, and enjoy the ride.

The bugaboo on the day (and the only reason we’re talking about this being a close game) were the picks – this was the first time Ryan has thrown the ball to the other team since the Kansas City game last December – it’d nearly been a year since the QB had erred so, and naturally, they came in bunches (though, only one came at the full fault of Ryan – Tevin Coleman and Mohamed Sanu owe partial, if not full, blame for the others. It’s also possible that the other team has talent and can make plays, but y’know, that doesn’t sell as well to the hot take viper pit).

Is it fun for the offense to turn the ball over? Nope. Did turnovers almost cost them the game? Indeed. Did they lose? 3-0. Does this indicate anything serious about the offense as the season goes on? Why of course not. Can we just accept, sometimes, football teams don’t execute as well as they would like, and that the following week, they typically do? Nods head until he gets a mild crick in the neck.

It's not as if there aren’t legitimate criticisms of Atlanta’s play – penalties are a little more frequent than one would hope, the right side of the line with the reserve Sambralio isn’t as effective as it should be (though Ryan Schraeder should be back next Sunday), Ryan’s got to work on his long ball accuracy for the season, the team needs to stop flirting with danger late in the second half, the middle of the defense needs to better play the cross routes and general intermediate passing game.

Nobody’s perfect, and the Falcons certainly have things to look for on film three games in.

But so did the 2016 team – and frankly, its problems were far-more obtuse three games in than this team’s has been. It’s almost as if this could be a sounder squad.

Living on the edge is no fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but the team’s schedule shaped up to be more-brutal three-game stand than anyone predicted. Playing two very respectable teams on the road hasn’t been a cake walk – can you believe the Packers ended up being the least-stressful of the three? The NFL is weird, man.

But, in come the Buffalo “traded their top wideout” Bills, a much-needed bye week to tighten the bolts and then the Miami “blew out by the JetsDolphins stop by Mercedes-Benz. Life could admittedly be worse for the next few weeks, even if we’ve got a few more bruises and scrapes to tend to. They’ve got plenty of time to get fully in-rhythm before the Patriots rematch.

No one in the NFC looks immortal right now – really, the Falcons are the most complete team in the conference through three weeks of play, and even with a few hiccups and late game jitters, they’re the top dogs.

Green Bay, Dallas, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Arizona, Carolina -- all contending teams with legitimate questions. Detroit is perhaps the second-best team in the pack right now, and we all saw who they lost to Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles are likely third – and thankfully, they’re not on the schedule (just yet).

The Falcons are still loading for the 2017 season, though they’re not working off 1999 AOL Broadband. It’s easy to be frustrated at mistakes, but don’t let the wish for perfection keep you from enjoying the potential excellence.

No, the Falcons aren’t *excellent* right now, but they are pretty dang great.

And excellence doesn’t feel like a pipe dream.

So, sure, they’ve won two close games. C’est la vie.

It sure feels better to be in a position of winning a game you could have lost than in one of sulking for months because you lost a huge game you abrasively should have won.

Perhaps winning a couple close games along the way will once and for all teach the Falcons to do the one thing this franchise has always struggled with – finishing.

Sunday, they finished. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure counted.

Onto the next one, as the progress bar continues to load.

Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the new Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.