Wyche: Adversity will test Falcons resolve, character

Arthur Smith, Matt Ryan and Falcons brass will learn a lot about 2021 team during tough times

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"Adversity does not build character, it reveals it." Novelist James Lane Allen and every coach at any level of sport.

Here's the good news, despite the Falcons losing two straight: Every team in the NFC South not located in Tampa is on a losing streak.

Here's the reality: Despite the unpredictability of what's gone on week-to-week in the NFL, Atlanta (4-6) has yet to find its identity on either side of the ball, play more than one fairly complete game, and is now among the group of teams whose weekly outcomes could soon reflect draft position instead of playoff optimism.

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It's a foggy no-man's land that teams which hoped to compete but haven't quite gotten there hate to be in at this point of the season. It's also a position that everyone in this organization knew was possible before Week 1.

Mathematically, technically, or whatever adjective or adverb you'd like to insert to project hope for a playoff berth still fits. However, the Falcons must figure out an identity soon, because most of their competition knows who and what it is. Can't say that about the Falcons.

Teams like Indianapolis, San Francisco, Minnesota, New England and Philadelphia – like the Falcons – entered the season not quite sure what they were made of. Over the past two weeks, they've established a foothold of short-term resurgence.

Others, like Cleveland, Washington, New Orleans, Carolina, and Las Vegas, are in the sink-or-swim purgatory where Atlanta resides.

Character, entering Week 12, will be more important than ever. Wins are not the only goal. Establishing a foundation is as well.

Over the past two games, the Falcons have been outscored 68-3 at the hands of Dallas and New England. There is no shame in losing to two of the better teams in the NFL.

However, failing to score a touchdown in the NFL, let alone in two consecutive games, is a hard thing to do. The rules are designed for offenses to score. The proof is what other teams have done against a Falcons defense that has competed like crazy of late.

Sure, the Falcons didn't have their top two offensive weapons – Cordarrelle Patterson – in the 25-0 shutout to New England.

The Cardinals didn't have their starting quarterback, running back or wide receiver at Seattle and still won. The Ravens won without quarterback Lamar Jackson. Being without won't wash right now.

Unless, of course, your team is without character.

Atlanta's upcoming game at Jacksonville will show Coach Arthur Smith, GM Terry Fontenot, quarterback Matt Ryan and any player with backbone who's down to ride.

[A quick aside, Ryan has shown more toughness, leadership and pride than at nearly any point of his career. Watching the abuse he is taking and still getting up and getting after it the way he has is appreciated and respected across the league].

The Jags won't be easy pickings. There are people in that building who view this as a game against Atlanta as one they can win to get to 3-8. On paper, the Falcons, with a veteran quarterback in Ryan, should be able to beat a team that averages 15.9 points per game.

Then again, the Jags haven't been shutout this season.

For Atlanta, the preparation during the week is a start. Are guys as dialed in with their classroom work as they were Week 2? Are nicked up players pushing to play? Are players and coaches dialed in with a holiday disrupting the routine? Are coaches teaching with similar, if not more intent?

On-field effort means something too, but how often after a loss have we heard coaches say, "I thought we were ready. We had a great week of practice."

How players and coaches handle the details they so often discuss and how that translates onto game day will help everyone identify what the Falcons are trying to accomplish and build and who burns to be a part of that.

There are players who won't be back in Atlanta next season, but they'll need references if they want to continue playing. The gossip circle among NFL execs is more salacious than celebrity Instagram addicts, so the difference between a positive or negative review is quite real.

Those players who should and who hope to be back need to recognize opportunities and raise their awareness to football's realities because there will be draft picks and free agents coming for them if they don't lock in.

Doing things better than they have been done works in everyone's favor. It's what is starting to happen with surging teams and continuing to happen with some of those trying to stay atop the playoff food chain. There's no reason Atlanta can't follow suit.

There is enough talent and pride on this roster to rally to respectability – and to put up a touchdown or two per game.

It simply will take more of everything, especially character.

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