With Falcons head coach Mike Smith leading the charge, every game and every play is about learning lessons.
Sometimes the lessons are good and sometimes they are painful.
Saturday's difficult 48-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers was a loss on all fronts, wide receiver Eric Weems' 102-yard kick return being one of the few bright spots in an evening hopeful with excitement, but Smith's message to the team in the locker room after the game centered around the idea that all is not lost.
As Smith stepped to the podium to speak with the media late Saturday night he wouldn't share his exact words to his locker room of Falcons, but provided a general idea that said his team will look for ways to bounce back.
"Generally speaking I know they're disappointed," Smith said. "I'm disappointed. We're all disappointed. We don't like the way the game went tonight. We will learn from it. That's, I think, the important thing, that we learn from what took place this evening. I also told them you've got to realize that as bad as you feel right now you've got to remember that there's a whole body of work that we put out there this season and we can't forget that either."
The body of work landed them in the position to win one game and put themselves in the NFC Championship Game, but that plan was foiled by Green Bay's penetrating defense and streaking quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Smith said he felt Rodgers was better Saturday night than he was in Week 12's 20-17 Falcons win, but he didn't believe the Packers did anything drastically different than what they saw in that game.
"We had to spend some time this week preparing for the run," he said. "It was the same game plan the last time we played them. They made the plays when they had to make them, we didn't. That's the difference in the ball game. They were the better team, tonight."
Smith stressed 'tonight' and went on to say that he knows his team is better and had been better all season than what they showed in the Divisional playoff loss.
The five sacks the offensive line allowed were two more than any they gave up all season.
The seven penalties were a season high. A number even more outstanding considering the Falcons were the least-penalized team in the NFL this year.
In short, it wasn't the way the Falcons had played all season, but Smith wasn't going to explain any of it away.
"No excuses," he said. "We're not going to make any excuses. I thought our preparation was good all week. When we came to practice we were focused. We just did not play Atlanta Falcons football, the way the Atlanta Falcons have played all season long. I think the statistics bear that out from the score on the scoreboard to what happened offensively and defensively as well."
Even when the game was getting away from the Falcons on the scoreboard, they continued to put forth an effort to be proud of, including the pressure they put on Rodgers. However the pressure only made the Packers quarterback work harder. The goal was to bring him to the ground and that did not happen.
The Falcons had two sacks; but that number belittles the amount of times defensive players had Rodgers within their grasp, but couldn't finish the sack.
"There were numerous opportunities to get the guy on the ground," Smith said. "That's a very good quarterback and a very good offense. We had opportunities to get him on the ground. We had some free runners that we didn't convert. I would have never imagined that happening."
In short, very little about what happened on Saturday night was indicative of the Falcons; however Smith, ever the optimist, will not let his team hang their heads for long.
All season the team has adhered to a 24-hour rule, a directive from the coach to not dwell on a win or a loss for longer than a day, in an effort to remain focused on the next task at hand.
Saturday night ended the season for the Falcons and while it may take a little longer than the typical 24 hours to move on from this one, Smith will make sure the lessons taken from this loss will move them on to the next great thing.
"It was a very discouraging evening for our football team and our organization, but we will come back from it, I can assure you of that."