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Bair: What victory over 49ers, and Falcons reaction to it, says about Arthur Smith's squad

This unit has commanded respect, playing better than the sum of its parts

ATLANTA – The Falcons took it to a quality 49ers team on Sunday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

They were better on offense, defense and special teams. They weathered a mid-game momentum shift without panic or grave error and still beat San Francisco by two scores in the season's first result without a dramatic finish.

There was no luck involved here. And spare me the 49ers-were-too-banged-up-to-make-this-a-big-win hot take. The Falcons were the better team, plain and simple, in their most complete effort of this young season.

"We know we have the ability and the talent," left tackle Jake Matthews said. "Games like this are a confidence builder, and it's big to get it done against a good team like this and prove to each other that we're a good team. We have to continue to carry that mindset all season."

Let's be honest here: How many of you believed before the season started that the Falcons had the ability and talent to compete with anyone in this league? Better not be many hands raised.

Outside expectations were so low the bar was near the floor. Inside, however, these Falcons believed in themselves, what they were doing, how they were working and what they were capable of.

Now they're showing us who they are week-in and week-out. They're competitive. They fight like heck and enter each contest expecting to win no matter what the bold predictions say. While defying expectations used to be met with protest and used as motivational rocket fuel, now they're greeted with an apathetic shrug.

The Falcons don't seem to care about what others think. They know who they are and what they're about.

"All year, I think this team has been really confident," head coach Arthur Smith said. "There are things that we have to do better. That's the nature of this game. You need to have perspective whether you win or lose, to identify what needs to be fixed. … We're not going to be satisfied. We're going to continue to grow and improve. This is a fun group to coach."

This is also a fun team to watch.

They run the ball well with a scheme as well choreographed as any, finding efficiency even when they whole world knows they're handing it off. They have an athletic quarterback in Marcus Mariota willing to chuck it deep or tuck and run. They have a defense that's stingy in the red zone and has taken the ball away 10 times in six games. They've got the league's best punt return unit.

They're also making progress, which was clear in how they soundly beat the 49ers. There was no breathtaking finish against a good team. The Falcons were in firm control and never lost it.

As impressive as anything in the game was the Falcons' reaction to the result. They were excited, to be sure, but they kept this win in proper perspective. Nobody called it a statement game. Nobody claimed that the Falcons have arrived.

This was viewed as an important step and part of a longer journey to meet their own expectations. And, unlike what the outside thought, they were and are sky high.

"You can't get too hyped up after winning just three games," inside linebacker Rashaan Evans said. "Three wins isn't going to get us into the playoffs. We have to stay focused and keep doing what we're doing. The No. 1 thing is to stay consistent. We don't want lulls. The leadership is doing a great job of keeping the team focused and that we have to play ball like this for the rest of the season."

The Falcons are 3-3. They have made mistakes and played poorly at times. But they're in every game and, by now, surely after this 49ers win, they have commanded and earned your respect. And in a real compliment to the coaching staff, they are better than the sum of their parts.

Consistency is the next goal, as the Falcons try to start stacking the wins required to push for a playoff spot.

"So far, this was our most complete game," Evans said. "There's always room for improvement. We're not satisfied or hyped about winning three games. We want more."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers during Week 6.


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