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Monday Game Face


* contributing writer Daniel Cox takes a day-after look at the Falcons' 20-17 win over the Packers on Sunday. It was another nail-biting, record-setting game in a few ways, but the records the Falcons and their players hold currently don't mean as much as what they want to achieve at the end of the season. *

Flowery Branch, Ga. —Let this be the last time this is mentioned with the Atlanta Falcons.

With Sunday's win, the 9-2 Falcons are assured of a winning season this year, making it three straight successful seasons for the franchise.

Last year's 9-7 record broke a dubious distinction by the Falcons, having never recorded back-to-back winning seasons, and this year they've taken it a step further.

Last season, the Falcons were happy to secure the win in the final game of the season, ending the streak and bringing some continued positive energy to the football club on behalf of their owner, Arthur Blank.

This year, there's more important things on their mind.

In a largely subdued locker room after the 20-17 win over the Packers, some of the media asked the inevitable of the Falcons players: "How's it feel to get that third straight winning season?"

"That's good," running back Michael Turner said. "We've got bigger goals than that, though. We just want to keep up the energy. We've got a special group of guys and we want to keep it going."

There's no talk of a certain big game in Dallas just yet. For now, the Falcons want to continue to win games and, as they often say, continue to get better each week. They have a confidence in themselves that if they do that, the opportunities they're seeking will come to them.

In a game that had playoff implications, hype and feel, the postgame locker room had the feel of a preseason game. There was little jubilation — instead only the feeling of a team that takes pride in winning any way it can and one that knows it has the tools to be the best.

They know there's a lot left on the plate.

In the words of tackle Tyson Clabo, "We've got to keep working to keep this thing going."* *

Behind Enemy Lines:Interesting comments out of the *Green Bay Press-Gazette *on Sunday night.

In a rant and rave-style feature, Mike Vandermause offered up his perspective on what he saw of the Georgia Dome Falcons fans — and the crowd in general — from yesterday's game.

Among his commentary on the crowd included his thoughts on the Dome's attempt to excite and engage its fans.

"Do fans really have to be reminded to make noise in a game of this significance? Apparently Falcons fans do, based on the Jumbotron signs urging fans to crank up the decibels," Vandermause wrote.

He also shared his thoughts on the Packers contingent present at the game and his belief that there was a lack of Falcons fans in attendance at kickoff.

The Falcons are undefeated at home this season and a huge reason for that is the home fans creating a frenzied atmosphere that not only gets the team excited, but also works against the opposing team's offense.

From the FanCast:Up 17-10 and the benefactor of taking over on their own 41-yard line after a fourth-and-1 stop halfway through the fourth quarter, it appeared the Falcons may be ready to put Green Bay away and avoid the need for more late-game theatrics.

In the Falcons FanCast, one fan spoke too soon.

"Alright, we go down and score and no fourth quarter drama."

Au contraire, mon frere.

A stalled Falcons drive gave the ball back to the Packers, who went on to tie the game, which set up — you guessed it — another fourth-quarter game-winning drive.

Say this about your 2010 Atlanta Falcons: They know how to give you your money's worth on gameday.

Statistically Speaking:This week is brought to you by the number 12.

In Week 12 of the season, quarterback Matt Ryan engineered his 12th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in his career. It was the fifth such accomplishment this season.

That game-winning drive was capped by kicker Matt Bryant's 47-yard field goal. Guess what number game-winning field goal that was for Bryant.

If you said 12, you've been paying attention and you are correct. It's also the third for Bryant in his time with the Falcons.

Incidentally, in the last remaining days of fan Pro Bowl voting, Bryant is certainly deserving of the honor. In addition to his three game-winners, the ninth-year veteran has converted on 24-of-27 field goal attempts.

Pivotal Play:It's hard to have a game that is decided in the final seconds and not have at least a handful of plays that turn the tide.

Linebacker Mike Peterson's recovered fumble on the second quarter goal line stand certainly comes to mind. (Impressive stat on that: the Falcons hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown inside the 20-yard line all season until Aaron Rodgers scored the Packers' first touchdown Sunday).

Cornerback Brian Williams' blitz of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on fourth down to force an errant throw was critical.

Of course, Ryan and Bryant's moments were huge.

But something needed to happen late in the game to set up the game-winning drive and kick and that something came from an emerging special teams ace and a player that has made a significant play on special teams for three straight weeks.

Take a bow Eric Weems, your teammates just might select you as the special teams captain at the end of the season.

Not only has the wide receiver/return man done a great job in coverage, his returns have been solid. He hasn't broken a return for a touchdown just yet, but he's given the Falcons great field position on more than one occasion.

With 56 seconds remaining in the tied game, Weems fielded the kick and returned it 40 yards, a good return in its own right. A facemask penalty gave Atlanta 15 more yards and Ryan proceeded to do what he did.

Even without the penalty, Weems' return would have been pivotal enough, but the two combined to give Atlanta just enough.

That's A Wrap:While it may feel like it's time to exhale after tough games against playoff-caliber opponents in Baltimore and Green Bay, there's still a few close-calls to go.

A tough three-game road trip awaits before a Monday night game at home with the Saints.

Break out the playoff generator and the home-field procedure information. It's that time of the year.

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