ATLANTA – The NFC South is tightly packed. Expect it to remain so into the winter.
Parity reigns in a division without a clear frontrunner, suggesting the title will be won by the thinnest of margins. It could come down to a single victory. Maybe even a tiebreaker.
That's why, when you have an opportunity to get a win, securing it is essential.
Nobody's perfect. Sometimes it just isn't your Sunday, due to a bad matchup or injury situation or both, as the Falcons experienced in Cincinnati. Sometimes the furious comebacks don't pan out, like what the Falcons went through in Week 2 against the L.A. Rams.
There are some games, however, that are ripe for the picking. Sunday's game against the L.A. Chargers was one.
The Falcons run game was on point. The defense faced a Chargers attack with just one healthy skill player of note and did well, at times, affecting the passer and stopping the run. They weathered a second-quarter storm, established a third-quarter lead and had opportunities to finish this tight game off.
Couldn't get the job done. Couldn't convert a long-distance field goal. Couldn't connect on deep pass plays when they were available and desperately needed. Couldn't get a defensive stop when it was mandatory setting up a last-second field goal that created separation and a 20-17 Chargers win.
"It's a tough pill to swallow but I believe in our guys," safety Richie Grant said. "That's one that got away. But I believe in our guys and am confident we'll do better if we're put in that situation again."
They'll need to moving forward. If they don't, opportunities missed will be why this team is on the outside looking in. I know it's Week 10, but let's call it like it is. The Falcons are playoff contenders. They have a chance to win this division if they can find some consistency and start stacking wins. After how they've played to this point, this team is capable of competing for the postseason.
Will they get there? Time will tell.
We're at a juncture here where actions are magnified when a race is this close. This was an opportunity to get a win stay out front in the division, maybe even create more separation. That's why this individual opportunity missed stings a little bit.
"Every game matters," receiver Olamide Zaccheaus said. "The more I get experience in this league, the more that rings true. Especially games moving toward the end of the season. They matter a lot. We have to keep doing what we're doing and be better in critical situations."
The Falcons were excellent in one-score games last year. 7-2, in fact. They're 3-4 in this year, with a big fourth-quarter lead lost to New Orleans in the season opener. They'd certainly like that one back. Though proceedings were less dramatic, I would put this Chargers contest into that category.
"More times than not, the game's going to come down to one possession," Zaccheaus said. "That's when you've got to find ways to make plays and moments that turn the game in our favor. We didn't do that enough, and the Chargers did."
There's no time to spend focused on regrets, or what could've or should've happened in Week 9. Why? Week 10 is virtually upon us. The Falcons will play at Carolina on Thursday night, in a crucial NFC South matchup.
Every game matters. Every division game matters more. Moving on and playing well against the Panthers is as important as anything, especially on a short week. As Grady Jarrett often says, can't let one loss become two.
"We can't linger too long," the second-year safety said. "We have a big division game ahead on Thursday night. And it's a must win."