ATLANTA – The Falcons found their way to .500 rather quickly after an 0-2 start. They won three of four, including two in a row heading into Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.
They sat on the NFC's playoff bubble approaching midseason -- I say that more as a barometer of conference standing over a real postseason projection -- a position they were never in a year ago. They were finding ways to win, scrubbing old narratives with a magic eraser.
Those efforts produced an opportunity to surge ahead against a struggling team, to hold a winning record for the first time since 2017. It doubled as a chance to win one at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time this season, something important to head coach Arthur Smith and his Falcons.
Lots of good could've come from a quality performance here in Week 8. All that went by the wayside in a 19-13 loss to Carolina.
"There was an opportunity here, to carry the momentum," linebacker Foye Oluokun said. "We really wanted to win that game. We expected to win that game, but we didn't. There's nothing left to do but get back to work and get the next 'W'."
Oluokun's right about a few things there. For one, they can't change the past. The Falcons have to flush this quickly and move on. Any lingering effects from Sunday's disappointment won't help them beat the Saints next week.
It's also not the end of the known universe. I'm not trying to make it seem that way.
It should be said, however, this was a winnable game there for the taking in the fourth quarter despite the Falcons looking as disjointed as they did. They couldn't fix game-long problems stopping the Panthers ground game or finding the offensive momentum required to finish drives in a low-possession game.
That produced a result that you might look at in January and identify as one you had to have. Things get tight down the stretch, often with final positioning decided by a single win or even a series of tiebreakers. Losing a division game, a conference game, doesn't help you in those regards.
Winning is hard in this league. Capitalizing on golden opportunities to do so is essential.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers during Week 8 of 2021.
That said, nobody hits on every single one. That Washington game was a contest the Falcons absolutely should've won. That's a belief still held, but the conviction waned after the Falcons won their next two.
That could easily happen to this Panthers game. Get hot for a prolonged period and missteps like this simply wash away.
That was essentially Smith's sentiment after the game. He understands the Falcons should've done better in several areas. They needed to in order to win this one. There is, however, plenty of time remaining to achieve their goals for the season.
"That's one game. We have 10 to go," Smith said. "We have a long, long season ahead of us. So here we are, 3-4. It's not where we want to be, but we have a lot of football [left]."
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