NEW ORLEANS -- Arthur Smith joked after the Falcons 27-25 upset win over the Saints that he is fully expecting to receive a text from his mom at some point in the coming hour.
His guess as to what that text may say? "Stop doing that."
In this case, "that" means having a win or loss come down to the final play of the game.
When Cordarrelle Patterson came to the podium postgame, he said the same thing, only he actually had texts from friends and family already on his phone.
"We gotta stop giving our fans a heart attack," Patterson joked.
Here's the thing about all of this, though: There is a narrative at play here. We all know it. No one has to remind you about the last-second losses or the fourth quarter collapses. But the mindset that is currently brewing in Atlanta feels like an antidote to that narrative. The Falcons have now finished games in 2021, three with a walk-off field goal from Younghoe Koo. Do the Falcons want to be in the position where the fourth quarter gets out of hand and a team creeps back in? No. Of course not. But at the very least, they are walking away with wins more often than they're not when it does happen.
The Falcons had a 24-6 lead with less than 10 minutes to go in the game. They want to get to the point where they don't have to worry about a team coming back in the fourth quarter down by that much. But they're not there yet. At the exact same time, though, they're also not where they were last season. Even in the "it feels ugly" moments (as Smith put it), the Falcons found a way to win, to finish. That hasn't been the norm for this team in a while. But it feels like it is now, and the Falcons have a win over a previously 5-2 Saints team as evidence.
"Sure, we'd love to have a comfortable lead, but that's not the NFL, not when you're on the road and playing a good team," Smith said. "Our mindset is that we're going to finish games."
But what is the foundation of that mindset and where does it come from? Smith said it's simple.
"We have a team that believes," he said.
And there it is. The difference. The Falcons believe that they can win. They believe that if the ball is in their hands inside the two-minute mark and they're down, that they can find a way come away with the win. They believe in Matt Ryan's ability to lead the offense down the field. They believe in Koo to send a kick through the uprights. There's a belief, a confidence if you will, that wasn't there before. And even in a game that didn't completely look how they wanted it to, nor was it a fourth quarter showing worth a highlight reel outside of the final drive, the Falcons still believed they could leave New Orleans with a win.
For Ryan, he said you are what you repeatedly do. And for the first time in a couple years, the Falcons have evidence of repeatedly finishing a game out (against the Giants, Dolphins, Saints and one could even throw the Jets game in there, too, as they iced that game with a productive late-game drive). Ryan agreed with Smith, saying that it would definitely be easier if the score was 31-10 in the final two minutes, but "in this league it's just not that way very often." To be able to have a body of work that shows the blueprint of winning in those one-possession moments? Ryan said that experience is invaluable.
"When you do it and once you start believing that you can do it I think that's huge for a lot of our guys," Ryan said. "We have a young football team and a lot of guys who are in their first or second year of really going through this... I do believe that when you go through it and you start getting some success and you start making the plays that you need to make, that breeds confidence."
The best example of this confidence can be most felt in something Smith said after the win in Miami.
"As an offense, you've got to have the mindset: Good, give us the ball," Smith said. "Give us a chance, and we'll go down there and close it out."
This mindset continued to ring out as the Falcons got the ball back down by one with one minute and one second left to go in the game on Sunday. The offense wanted the ball. Smith wanted the ball in Ryan's hands. There was an assured confidence there that perhaps hasn't been there before.
The Falcons believe they can finish games, and that's the difference.
"We've been in that situation a few times this year," Olamide Zaccheaus said. "I feel like that does build confidence. It helps us believe that we can win and come through at the end. We just say it and keep saying it: (It's) our execution."
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