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Tabeek: Falcons proving great expectations were justified


Maybe we weren't so crazy after all.

For the second time in six weeks, the Atlanta Falcons have gone on the road and knocked off one of the best teams in the NFL, the latter a stunning 29-22 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Back on Nov. 10, the Falcons came out of their bye week and went into New Orleans and demolished the heavily favored Saints, 26-9. I called it Dan Quinn’s biggest regular-season win at the time.

If Sunday's come-from-behind win over the 49ers (11-3) doesn't unseat the Saints win as Quinn's biggest, it will surely go down as one of the most thrilling wins since he arrived in 2015. Matt Ryan's 5-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones on the goal line – a play that was initially ruled short of the goal line before it was reversed – will not be forgotten by the Falcons faithful anytime soon. (And don't get me started on the play before – a catch in the end zone by Austin Hooper that was eventually ruled incomplete. I still think the ball hit his foot, not the ground.)

"That was awesome," Dan Quinn said after the game. "At the end, game on the line, those are the moments as a coach you totally live for."

Making it even sweeter for Falcons fans was the fact that Kyle Shanahan's 49ers began the day as the top seed in the NFC. By game's end, the 49ers dropped to the fifth seed.

The Falcons are now 4-2 since that aforementioned bye week with wins over the Saints, 49ers and a sweep of the Panthers. Those are three teams with a combined record of 26-15.

"We knew we would have to have a good road mentality to come out here," Quinn said. "Last couple of times on the road – one at New Orleans, Carolina and here – and you've got to really be connected to make sure you're ready for a fight."

The Falcons have not only been ready to fight since the bye, they've been the ones administering the beatdowns.

So, let me just get this out there now: The Falcons have been a very good football team in the second half of the season and they're playing playoff-caliber football, the kind of football you want to see teams play down the stretch in December. Even Shanahan said as much on Sunday night.

"I think our guys played hard, they just played better than us and coached better," Shanahan said.

The problem for Atlanta is that it went 1-7 in the first half of the season, and it crippled any realistic chance the Falcons might have had to make a postseason run.

This right here though – this team, the way they're playing right now – is the team I expected to see in 2019 when we were trying to set reasonable expectations. Some thought that two-game stretch with wins over the Saints and Panthers in Weeks 10 and 11 might have been a fluke, especially after losing their next two.

You can't say that anymore.

When you knock off teams on the road – teams that have everything to play for in terms of playoff seeding and possibly hosting home playoff games – that doesn't happen by accident. Sure, the Panthers are out of it now, but when they hosted the Falcons back on Nov. 17, they still had a postseason pulse and were playing to stay alive before Atlanta whipped them 29-3.

So, what are we to make of this second-half surge by the Falcons? When it's all said and done, what do we look at when trying to assess this group, the first-half Falcons or the second-half group?

"I don't want to go back to look or look too far ahead," Quinn said when asked that question. "I just want to stay in the moment with this group of guys. However we fouled it up, this is where we're at."

Quinn is right. You are what your record says you are – and the Falcons right now are a 5-9 team. But the one thing this Falcons team has shown us is that they can be a very good team that's capable of beating any team in this league.

After all, they've proven that.

And that's what I and a lot of the so-called experts expected of this Falcons team once upon a time – that this team would surprise a lot of people in 2019.

Well, for better and for worse, these 2019 Falcons have certainly done that in spades.

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