LONDON – The Falcons just completed their most difficult stretch of the schedule. They faced off against the Carolina Panthers and three legitimate playoff contenders and emerged at .500.
Before this season started, you absolutely would've taken 2-2 after playing the Panthers, Packers, Lions and Jaguars.
After going through the experience, though, it doesn't feel like a positive development.
Why? These Falcons are better than what they've shown to this point. In a competitive-as-heck league like the NFL, every game matters. Can't let 'em slip.
I'm not here to make a wild claim that the Falcons should be undefeated to this point. They deserve the record they have after getting beaten handily by Detroit and letting first-half troubles overwhelm them in Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars here at Wembley Stadium.
There's too much talent in the locker room to suffer consecutive losses like that. There are too many playmakers to score 13 points over two games. There are too many playmakers on the other side of the ball to have just one takeaway over two games and have a minus-three turnover differential on Sunday in London.
This was the third straight game facing a double-digit, second-half deficit after a troubling trend that has developed. The Falcons are consistently starting slow, requiring heroics to overcome early deficits. They were able to do so against Green Bay, but that's far harder against top-10 teams like Jacksonville and Detroit.
"We just have to find a way to jump-start early," head coach Arthur Smith said. "It's always going to start with me. We've got the right guys in that locker room, but (the offensive struggles early) is a reality. The other reality is that, thankfully, we're 2-2. We have to get this thing back to Atlanta and get this thing jump-started."
I spoke to several players after this loss about the team's performance through four games and they all had the same basic thing to say. You can't dwell on regrets even though they honestly believe they should be above even-steven.
"You'd obviously like to take those two losses back, but it's early in the season and we have a lot of ball to play," receiver Drake London said. "I don't think you've seen us play our best ball yet. Not even close."
London's point is both a source of optimism and frustration.
If he's right, and I truly believe he is, then the Falcons should have hope that they can realize their potential and go on a winning run against competition not nearly as fierce as what they've faced to this point.
It can also be a bit of a sticking point considering teams must capitalize on every opportunity available. The Falcons would surely hate to come up a game short of the division crown knowing a difficult first half cost them against the Jags.
Living in the past isn't an option for this team, which doesn't have a bye after this early-season London trip. The Houston Texans don't care about the Falcons travel schedule heading into a Week 5 clash. The Falcons must be locked in or risk losing a third straight game.
"(These first four games are) over and done with," right tackle Kaleb McGary said. "You've got to move forward. You can't dwell on the past. We have another block of football in front of us and we have to focus on that and be the best we can during that chunk of the season. We can't focus on what has been good or bad. We've gotta go, man."
They've gotta make hay over the next four-game stretch, where the Falcons face the Texans, Commanders, Buccaneers and Titans. The Falcons look better on paper than all of those teams. That doesn't matter, though, if they can't start faster and execute at a higher lever and with greater consistency.
I've always believed that a quality roster playing .500 against tough teams and taking care of business against inferior opponents creates a path to the playoffs. With that philosophy in mind, the Falcons aren't behind in their overall goal. That said, they aren't happy or even close to satisfied at 2-2, especially after Sunday's loss.
"It's not necessarily what you want to be, but there are lessons in every game," right guard Chris Lindstrom said. "The only way to make a loss productive is to learn from it and be better. That's the mentality of this team. We have to make the corrections, learn from the experience, and move on."
Smith is supremely confident the Falcons will do exactly that. His optimism is rooted in the Falcons team culture and the messaging from locker-room leadership.
"If you've got the wrong guys, it's easy to splinter and ride the roller coaster, but we've got the right guys in there," Smith said. "We've got to get back to work and jump-start things, getting rolling and get back on the winning track."
Take a look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars in London during Week 4.