MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The Falcons were up 13 points early in Sunday's fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins, with a chance to cruise to a comfortable victory.
That didn't happen.
The Dolphins responded with a touchdown drive. Then Matt Ryan lost a fumble while scrambling to convert a third down. Miami scored again to take a slim, late lead.
There was a clear and obvious opportunity to say, "Here we go again."
Hard to fault those of you who took it. Old habits die hard.
That tendency, however, might be dying a slow death by recent results. Flashing back to previous seasons isn't logical anymore, not with a new head coach and new front office and new contributors and certain rookie tight end with a penchant for coming through in the clutch.
We must look at what this group has done thus far, with a growing sample size over four straight games that have come down to the wire.
The Falcons engineered two late scoring drives to beat the New York Giants. They simply gave one away at home against Washington. Can't convince me otherwise. Falcons should've won that game, period, but I digress. They held a late lead against the New York Jets in London, closing that game out with an excellent offensive drive.
They came through in the clutch again here at Hard Rock Stadium, earning a 30-28 victory over the Dolphins with Younghoe Koo's decisive field goal as time expired.
Three out of four ain't bad. It doesn't erase an old (and tired) narrative. They'll have to perform well under pressure more often than not. No team is perfect down the stretch, and the Falcons will lose some heartbreakers. That doesn't mean "here we go again" applies.
The belief instilled by head coach Arthur Smith for those big moments certainly does. It certainly did on Sunday afternoon, when the Falcons got knocked down but never out.
The confidence comes from the top down, then from the quarterback out. Ryan wasn't worried about a late interception or a lost fumble Miami turned into points when he took possession at the end.
His mindset while waiting for one last opportunity contained no doom and gloom those clinging to the past may have felt. He did some quick math after that lost fumble and knew the Falcons could control their own fate.
"If they score a touchdown, three points are going to win the game," Ryan said of his thinking after the fumble. "If they don't, three points will win the game. That's it.
"You're pissed that you turned it over and gave them a short field but those things happen. It's hard league. You have to be able to put it behind you and have the confidence and the guts to go out there and let it rip on that last drive."
Ryan let it rip to Kyle Pitts, who hauled in a 23-yard pass to start the drive. Then he dropped another dime to Pitts for 28 more despite Xavien Howard smothering the tight end in coverage.
The Falcons were in field-goal range, with time on the clock. What happened next was as important as anything. They ran three straight times, forced Miami to exhaust their timeouts and got a first down. It was all Koo essentially from extra-point range to secure the win.
"We got the ball with a chance to go win," Smith said. "Our guys have a big-time mindset, and that's what it's all about. As a defense, we want to stop them. As an offense, we want to say, 'Good. Give us the ball. Give us a chance. We're going to go down there and close it out.' That's what it was."
That's what they did on Sunday, what they've done in each win this season. It has inspired confidence in the locker room. Maybe, just maybe, it will do the same throughout the fan base.