Good morning and welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons players and coaches are getting ready for a big NFC showdown with the Vikings – and you've got plenty of questions today. Just remember that all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
I've received a number of questions about the Falcons giving up second-half leads and the "killer instinct" topic, so we'll begin there.
Kedric from Atlanta, GA
Hey, that win was pretty nice, but they were up 27-6 at one point in the game. They are about to start playing some good quarterbacks and I just want them to put teams away and not make it interesting. They have the talent to run up the score.
Matt: Hey, Kedric. You're right, the Falcons were up by 21 points in the second half before the Bucs made a run, scoring touchdowns on two straight possessions in the third and fourth quarters to make it a 27-20 game with 13:53 left in the game. The Falcons drove down the field to the Bucs 14-yard line and looked like they were about to answer back with a touchdown on their ensuing possession, but Terron Ward fumbled and it was recovered by Tampa Bay. The Falcons did eventually score again late in the fourth to make it 34-20. I point that out because of how the Falcons responded. They stopped the Bucs on a critical fourth-and-1 play in the fourth. Then they answered (eventually) with a late touchdown by Tevin Coleman to make it a two-score game and seal the win. Teams are going to rally and will make some big plays when they're down – it's the NFL and with players like Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard, chances are you'll make some. But I really liked how the Falcons responded and closed it out – the defense forced Tampa to turn the ball over on downs twice and the offense punched in a score in between. That, to me, is finishing.
Jamie from Melbourne, Australia
G'day, Beek. Love your column. What a good last three weeks it's been! I'm travelling from Australia all the way to the Benz to catch the Saints game in two weeks and then also the Bucs game in Tampa. Was a little worried about our early season form and was concerned that these games would be dead rubber matches, but we are right back in the thick of things and can't wait to get to the ATL! What's the latest you're hearing on Desmond Trufant? Really can't afford to be without him too long. Any tips for pre-game/post-game activities for an Aussie attending his first NFL game? Would a stadium tour be a good idea? Cheers!
Matt: Hey there, Jamie. I know a lot of readers were panicking (and some were extremely negative) early in the season, but sitting at 7-4 overall with a 6-1 mark against NFC opponents isn't such a bad place to be – especially when you own head-to-head tiebreakers over the likes of the Seahawks, Packers, Lions and Cowboys. Do the Falcons have a tough schedule ahead of them? Sure, but everything is still on the table for them and that's all you can hope for. It doesn't matter how you make it into the postseason, just get there. Would a top seed and home-field advantage be better? Maybe, but as Falcons fans witnessed last year, it isn't necessary. Right now Trufant is in the NFL concussion protocol, Jamie. He's being evaluated by physicians and when he's cleared to play, he will. But as far as when, no one knows right now. To say anything more about it would be pure speculation. There are a ton of things to do in and around Atlanta, but I'm not sure how long you'll be in town. I would definitely take a stadium tour if you can though. Safe travels, Jamie.
Ray from Asheville, NC
Hi Beek, I usually don't write more than once a week but I want to respond to a couple of things that you and other readers brought up. I agree with Jerry that there were way too many empty seats during the Bucs game and there are a lot of distractions. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is still a great venue for sports and I hope we see those banners for the Falcons and Atlanta United. I agree with you that fans will be more involved as the season progresses ... I hope! There are a lot of fans with a lot of energy already, including me. I think you should arrange a meeting place for all of your followers before some/all home games. It would be really cool to meet you and Beek followers personally. By the way, we have the "killer instinct" or we wouldn't be 7-4! Just a few of my thoughts.
Matt: Thanks, Ray – always enjoy your comments and questions. Yes, I'll say it again – Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a terrific place to watch a game and have a hard time believing anyone truly thinks the Georgia Dome was better. As far as the banners go, it would be cool to see banners from both the Falcons and United hanging, but where would you put them? Regarding your idea for meeting other SFTB readers, that's a very good suggestion, Ray. I'd love to meet all of you – and put a face to the names, as they say. Would be a lot of fun to talk some Falcons football and get to know you. Let's try to make that happen at some point. And you're right about the 7-4 record. As I noted above, it's a good place to be and everything is on the table for the Falcons still.
Poe from Queen Creek, AZ
Good morning, Matt. These past weeks have been exciting with Atlanta back rolling at the right time. You said earlier this season that you think we can go 12-4. With the Vikings being our next opponents, do you still believe we can go 12-4? And if so, what are the necessary steps we need to take to keep rolling and get into the playoffs?
Matt: Good morning. Do I think it's possible for the Falcons to win the rest of their games? Yes, every single one of their games is winnable. But the key for the team – the players and coaches – is not to think like that, and Falcons coach Dan Quinn makes sure they don't. Just listen to his one of his press conferences. If the Falcons take it one day, one game at a time, and stay healthy, anything can happen. Right now, all of their focus is on Minnesota and trying to come up with matchups they can exploit or take advantage of – that's often what it comes down to, and executing. Back in August I predicted that the Falcons would go 12-4 and 4-2 in the division. They are 1-1 in NFC South and 6-1 vs. the NFC. There are too many existing scenarios right now to go through them all, but I like where they are sitting right now. Beating Minnesota and improving to 8-4 with four division games left would put them in a tremendous spot.
Jacob from Monroe, GA
With the injuries to the cornerbacks and Jalen Collins's knowledge of our scheme, is there any chance we bring him back? Thanks.
Matt: Hey, Jacob. As Falcons coach Dan Quinn said last week, they evaluated the situation with Collins and decided to move on.
Malachi from Carrollton, GA
Beek, I ask so many questions now I practically feel like you are my best friend, but on to the Falcons. I am very pleased with this team right now, and how they are clicking on offense, but we haven't even reached the most important part of the schedule yet. I say these next two games are must-wins, and if we win those, I feel like that's an automatic playoff spot. But Beek, what do you think is finally clicking with this team? What do we have to do to make it to the playoffs? And do you think Julio Jones will finish his career known as one of the all-time greats? (I mean Julio is breaking records Jerry ain't even broke.)
Matt: Hey, Malachi. Always appreciate the questions and support, bud! One of the biggest keys for the Falcons – especially as of late – has been their play on third down and in the red zone. On offense, they've been better on first and second downs, setting up more third-and-short situations (which are much more manageable). And on defense in the last three games, they've limited opposing offenses on third down and in the red zone. That's been huge. The Buccaneers converted just 4-of-11 third downs (36 percent) and were just 2-of-5 (40 percent) in the red zone. In the 34-31 win over Seattle last Monday night, the Seahawks were 5-of-12 (42 percent) on third down and just 2-of-6 (33 percent) in the red zone. And in the 27-7 win over the Cowboys in Week 10, Dallas was just 5-of-11 (45 percent), 0-for-1 on fourth down and 1-of-2 in the red zone. Regarding Julio, yes. He's already considered one of the all-time greats – and he still has a lot of football in him.
James from Decatur, GA
As far as the empty seats go, this is the South. There is a lot of multi-tasking to be done. It's not cold like up North and the South has the most beautiful women in the world. Who's going to stay in a seat?
Matt: You know, I've heard a number of different theories and reasons as to why people don't sit in their seats at times during games, but that's one I haven't heard, James.
Brian from Marietta, GA
I feel like there was a lot of negative media coverage after the game on Sunday calling the Falcons out for struggling to finish "again" or that they almost blew it "again." Do you think that this view is valid? If anything, the Falcons showed that they can finish "again."
Matt: Um, no. I don't know who you were listening to or what you were watching, but the Falcons were hardly struggling. And check out my answer above regarding finishing, Brian.
Tony from Augusta, GA
What's up Beek? What are the chances of this big NFC matchup getting flexed this Sunday. What is the deadline for the league to make a decision on flexing games? We have quite a few 1:00 games remaining on the schedule and they could all affect the playoff picture so I'm curious to know for this week and future weeks. Rise up!
Matt: The idea behind flexing games is to make sure there's an attractive matchup in that Sunday night slot – and if the league (and network) can get a better one, they'll flex it. So if there's already a marquee matchup scheduled, don't count on that game being moved. And yes, the Falcons have a number of 1 p.m. games that could be moved. According to Matt Haley, the Falcons' football communications manager, the league has to decide if they're going to flex the game 12 days in advance, Tony. Obviously they have to make the call early enough so the teams can plan ahead (for travel, etc.).