EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Matt Ryan knelt down in the Falcons huddle and gave a quick speech before calling the play.
That last part was unusual but the Falcons quarterback felt it necessary given the circumstances, with less than two minutes left in a tie game with the New York Giants.
It was direct and to the point and, more important than anything, exuded confidence.
"We're going to win this game," Ryan said. "All you have to do is your job."
That's easy to say, harder to truly believe when you're 0-2 following a pair of lopsided losses. These Falcons heard the message, which was preached by head coach Arthur Smith and his staff heading into Sunday's game by showing how to repeat the good, and correct the bad from a disappointing start to the season.
Deep down, they believed it. They were going to win this game.
That confidence propelled excellent performance under pressure and helped the Falcons find a way to earn a 17-14 victory here at MetLife Stadium.
It may have done more than that. It may have shown these Falcons how to win. It may have validated what Smith and Falcons leadership have been saying the past three weeks. That they are better than what the final scores showed early this season.
There were conditionals in all that as we wait to see what happens next.
There is something that, after three weeks, we know for certain. These Falcons fight.
"There are tough times. What does it say about you?" Smith said. "After Week 1, Week 2, you get in a game like this on the road; the easy thing to do would be [to say] 'Oh, here we go again.' These guys scratched and clawed and fought. I can't say enough about them and their mentality."
Talk is one thing. Execution is another.
The Falcons were clutch when it mattered most, especially on the game-winning drive.
Younghoe Koo sealed victory from 40 yards out after the Falcons moved 58 yards on six plays. That series was a showcase in late-game, execution, following a 15-play, game-tying drive where the Falcons finally found a rhythm.
Better late than never, and just in the nick of time. With everything on the line, the Falcons found a way to win.
"That's who we want to be," Smith said. "It's never going to be perfect. We know we have a ways to go but, when we needed the last two drives, guys stepped up. They went down the field and scored a touchdown. They kept swinging and found different ways [to win] in the clutch.
"That's what we want to do. We want to be in games at the end. It's a huge learning process, and this is a big step for our program."
If it has a lasting effect well beyond one happy Sunday, if it helps next time they're faced with a do-or-die scenario, these Falcons got a whole lot better and a whole lot tougher to beat in one afternoon.
Smith has nothing to do with what happened in previous years, including a 2020 season where they regularly coughed up late leads. What happened Sunday is, however, a clear break from that. These Falcons were closers. This franchise needs separation from the recent past to help usher in a more prosperous future.
Early-season wins like this can help with that. Assuming, of course, what happened here isn't an isolated incident.
Repeating clutch performances will make this game, in hindsight, a period of accelerated growth. It's surely a big part part of this team's quest toward continued improvement.
Smith's understanding that everything broken wasn't fixed with one good fourth quarter is an important part of that journey. That will be the message going forward, and key to taking the next step forward as a team.
"We have to improve, and we know that. That doesn't change because we won," Smith said. "That's the name of the game, and that's what we're preaching – growth and improvement. Hopefully we see that again this week. We have the right mindset. This will say more about us than anything else.
"Had we found a way to win bigger, that would've been nice. It might've helped everybody's blood pressure of those involved with the Falcons, but this says more about our character. It's something to build off, because we have more things to correct."
Call for questions
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Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.