One of the things the Falcons have been best at since head coach Mike Smith took over is converting third downs on offense. They're consistently among the league's best on offense, but in their last two trips to the playoffs, that success has escaped them.
This season, Atlanta's third-down conversion rate was 45.10 percent, second-highest in the NFL. Last season they finished sixth and in 2010 they were third with 46 percent. Smith and the Falcons' only finish outside of the top six in the league since 2008 was in 2009 when they finished 11th.
The past three seasons under Smith have been the three best third-down conversion seasons in franchise history.
But in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons the Falcons have managed a percentage on third down of just under 30.
One of Smith's coaching points this season was taking extreme caution with the football. They were among the league's best throwing less than one interception per game this season and were tied with Houston for the lowest number of fumbles lost per game this season with 0.2.
"We've learned a lot about taking care of the football," right tackle Tyson Clabo said. "I think that was a big issue (against Green Bay in '10), that and third downs. All the things that we've done well this year are things that we are going to do well in the playoffs."
Atlanta's plus-13 takeaway margin was tied for fifth in the NFL this season.