You know that truism in sports about how teams are never as bad as they look in their worst loss and they're never as good as they appear in their best win?
Somewhere between their 45-10 win over San Francisco&t=h "San Francisco Giants") and their 34-7 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday lies the true Falcons -- maybe the team that should have beaten the New York Giants 34-31 in regulation if Jason Elam had not missed a field goal. Sunday's was a devastating loss to the Eagles in both its significance and in its appearance, but the Falcons do have a path to redemption even if it is one that will require as much luck as skill if they are to qualify for an NFC wildcard spot.
The first kind of luck the Falcons need is on the injury front. They need the likes of at least some players from the group of Matt Ryan "Matt Ryan (American football)"), Michael Turner, Sam Baker, Harvey Dahl, Michael Jenkins, Todd McClure, Christopher Owens and Chris Houston to return and be able to perform in a meaningful way while the games themselves still have meaning.
It seems like an exhausting list and, truly, it is. Regardless, it's hard to know how far any of them are from returning. McClure, Owens, Houston and Peelle all were hurt on Sunday. Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith did not have an update after the game.
"It's a matter of us seeing where they're at and we certainly hope that some of the guys who did not participate will be back next week," he said.
The second kind of luck the Falcons need is for the teams ahead of them -- Green Bay, Dallas, the Giants and Eagles -- to lose. They did not get any help when the Giants (7-5) beat Dallas (8-4) on Sunday. But it could start tonight with Baltimore (6-5) knocking off the Packers (7-4). Green Bay must visit Chicago, Pittsburgh and Arizona. None of those are easy games.
It also wouldn't hurt if Dallas, which has struggled in December in recent seasons, collapsed. Next week, the Cowboys host San Diego, winners of seven straight, then the following week they play New Orleans, winners of 12 straight, and they finish against the Eagles. In today's New York Times, the paper's national NFL writer Judy Battista wrote that "it's not out of the question that the Cowboys (8-4) will lose the rest of the way and miss the playoffs."
"It's do or die at this point, I think it's safe to say that," Tony Gonzalez said. "Anything can happen, though, if we lose one of these... games -- I've seen teams make the playoffs before. We've got to go out there and play our best every game. There's no tomorrow."
Smith said he told the team last week to forget about the NFC South title and to concentrate on the Wild Card. The Falcons still remain fourth and their deficit widened a bit on Sunday. They need their luck to start to change with a loss by Green Bay tonight.
But they also need to take care of their own business.
"We're 6-6. We're still in it," Chris Redman said. "We're going to fight to the very end. We can only do what we control and that's how we play on the field. Obviously, we need to get better and play a lot better next week."