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Tabeek: Falcons win third straight and here's why 4-4 feels so good

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LANDOVER, Md. – Sometimes it’s all about how you look at things and, at 4-4, things are looking pretty good right now for the Atlanta Falcons.

A year ago, the Falcons were in the exact same spot after eight games, sitting at .500. But right now, it feels so different following the Falcons’ 38-14 thrashing of the Redskins here at FedEx Field on Sunday.

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I don’t like to compare teams from different years but humor me for a minute. Here’s how the first eight games of the Falcons’ 2017 season unfolded (in order):

  • Won three straight.
  • Lost three in a row.
  • Split the other two.

Falcons fans, I’m sure you recall, were not happy with that 4-4 record.

Here’s how the first games of the 2018 season have unfolded thus far (again, in order):

  • Split the first two.
  • Lost three in a row.
  • Won three straight.

Falcons fans, based on my inbox and what I’m reading on social media at the moment, are absolutely thrilled right now to be sitting at 4-4.

And they should be, frankly, because this team has not only fought back from a 1-4 start, but they have had to overcome a ton of adversity just to reach .500 with eight games to go.

A whopping six Falcons starters have already been placed on injured reserve: Safety Keanu Neal, linebacker Deion Jones, safety Ricardo Allen, guard Andy Levitre, guard Brandon Fusco and running back Devonta Freeman.

Astonishingly, it doesn’t end there. Six more starters have missed at least one game: Defensive end Takk McKinley, long snapper Josh Harris, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle Derrick Shelby, kicker Matt Bryant and cornerback Robert Alford.

Again, that’s 12 starters who have missed substantial time through eight games. Has there been another NFL team hit harder by serious injuries than the Falcons this year? If so, are they winning games?

Yet, despite all of those aforementioned injuries, here the Falcons are, still standing, still fighting, still in contention – all thanks to Sunday’s huge road win over Washington.

No player has epitomized the Falcons’ toughness and perseverance more than quarterback Matt Ryan, who is putting together one of the best seasons in his distinguished 11-year career. Ryan, who entered Week 9 leading the NFL passing yards per game, fifth in the league with 2,335 passing yards and tied for fifth with 15 touchdowns, completed 26 of 38 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns against the Redskins (5-3).

Ryan, who already owns 21 franchise records and hadn’t thrown an interception in five games (he threw one in the first quarter against the Redskins), moved into 12th place on the NFL's all-time 300-yard passing games list during the Falcons’ first road win of the year, passing Warren Moon.

Speaking of road wins, the Falcons are going to need more of those if they hope to catch the NFC South-leading Saints and make a postseason push. Five of Atlanta’s remaining eight games will be played away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, including next week’s game in Cleveland’s Dawg Pound, a prime-time Thanksgiving Day game in New Orleans and what should be a chilly December showdown with the Packers at Lambeau Field on Dec. 9.

While that slate of games would be a tall task for any NFL team, the Falcons will continue taking it one game at a time and, hopefully, get a little healthier in the process. In case you’re wondering, the soonest Deion Jones can return to the field is Nov. 18, a home game against the Dallas Cowboys.

So, while these Falcons took a different path to 4-4 than the last year’s team, it all counts the same. The big question now is, can they keep the momentum going and make another playoff push?

If recent history under Dan Quinn means anything, there’s certainly hope.

The Falcons have closed out their last two seasons with 6-2 records. Even if this year’s team pulled that off, there’s no guarantee a 10-6 record would result in a postseason berth.

But it would certainly give them a fighting chance. And, really, that’s all you can ask for at the midway point of the season.

On to Cleveland.

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