FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Their fourth-quarter production alone makes the Atlanta Falcons look like a second-half team on paper.
Through two games, the Falcons are being outscored by their opponents 16-17 in the first half. Atlanta is then outscoring its opponents 33-17 in the second half. That has led them to a 2-0 start.
When those numbers are broken down, though, the Falcons' third-quarter scoring margin is actually their worst. By quarter, it goes: 3-0 in Q1, 13-17 in Q2, 6-17 in Q3 and 27-0 in Q4. It's that blowout in the fourth quarter that really sends Atlanta over the edge in the second half, in a positive way.
"When you get into these fourth-quarter situations, our team is one of the most, better conditioned teams in the league," Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder said. "We go out there and we obviously just try to wear them down in the first through third quarter, so when we get to the fourth, we're able to keep a certain dominance."
The Falcons' 27-point advantage tops the NFL stats board in fourth-quarter scoring margin. The Washington Commanders have the second-best mark at 15 points more than the opposition. The Jacksonville Jaguars are third with 14 points. The Dallas Cowboys (13 points) and Minnesota Vikings (11 points) then round out the top five.
There are seven teams overall with a positive double-digit difference.
Scrolling farther down the league's list, tied for 17th are the Detroit Lions, who the Falcons play Sunday (1 p.m., FOX) at Ford Field for their Week 3 matchup. The Lions have broken even in the fourth quarter. They have scored 14 points overall, and so have their opponents.
Below is a look at how the Falcons' and Lions' fourth quarters have played out:
Atlanta Falcons 24, Carolina Panthers 10
The Falcons and Panthers were tied heading into the fourth quarter. Atlanta scored two rushing touchdowns — both 3-yard scores by running back Tyler Allgeier — to pull and stay ahead.
Detroit Lions 21, Kansas City Chiefs 20
The Lions were down by three points heading into the fourth quarter. They scored a touchdown — running back David Montgomery had an 8-yard run — while the Chiefs managed just a field goal.
Atlanta Falcons 25, Green Bay Packers 24
The Falcons were down by 12 points heading into the fourth quarter. They scored a touchdown — quarterback Desmond Ridder had a 6-yard run — and made two field goals — kicker Younghoe Koo hit from 39 and 25 yards out.
Seattle Seahawks 37, Detroit 31 (OT)
The Lions were up by four points heading into the fourth quarter. They scored a touchdown — wide receiver Josh Reynolds had a 4-yard reception — and made a field goal — kicker Riley Patterson hit from 38 yards out — while the Seahawks had two touchdowns.
That all tied up the score and forced overtime, where the Seahawks sealed the deal with a touchdown.
Clearly, a game can be won in those final 15 minutes. But it doesn't have to be. The offense can add scores and the defense can prevent scores before it even gets to that point.
"You're not thinking about in regards to just the fourth quarter," Falcons defensive lineman David Onyemata said. "You're thinking about it all game. But things just end up going the way they go and you just keep going."
The Falcons offense is scoring an average of 13.5 points per fourth quarter and 24.5 points per game. The defense is allowing an average of, well, zero points per fourth quarter and 17 points per game.
The Lions offense is scoring an average of 8.5 points per fourth quarter and 26 points per game. Detroit's defense is allowing an average of 8.5 points per fourth quarter and 28.5 points per game.
Seeing a difference in all those numbers shouldn't be a surprise. A perfect game is rare, let alone a season.
In the Falcons' 884-game franchise history, they’ve had 14 shutouts, most recently in 2012 when Atlanta beat the New York Giants, 34-0. That's just 1.7 percent of their contest.
"It's the National Football League," Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. "In the history of this league, I don't think anybody has done that (consistently). Maybe the '07 Patriots have come the closest from quarter-to-quarter domination. It ebbs and flows in the game."
Even the 2007 New England Patriots, who finished the season 16-0, didn't have a shutout. They did outscore their opponents, 589-274, which averages out to 36.8-45.7 per game.
There's no such thing as complete perfection in the NFL. The best a team can hope to be is perfectly imperfect. Do the right things at the right time to achieve the right outcome.
The Falcons have done that in the fourth quarter so far in 2023.
"We're never out of it," Ridder said. "This whole team knows that. We're going to fight to the finish whether it's offense, defense, special teams. Whatever it may be, we're going keep going until that whistle hits zero no matter if we're at home or away."