Freewheeling Falcons Flying Surprisingly High

It is Thursday, which means there is no longer any reasonable excuse or acceptable reason for choosing to look back at the most recent National Football League weekend, instead of gazing forward to the next one. 

The problem with that, however, is that we are talking about the Atlanta Falcons today, and what they did four days ago was so absurdly dramatic and uproariously enjoyable that it deserves our focus, even with a new slate of games approaching. 

The Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers, and it might have dipped beneath your line of vision, given that there were more accomplished teams and bigger names playing simultaneously and that this was a matchup between one of the worst teams in the league and another that was supposed to be awful. Instead, the Falcons are clawing their way to being something else. 

Forgive then, this lightning recap. The Falcons won 37-34 after three touchdowns were scored in the final 3:06, after Carolina’s “game-winning” TD was actually just “game-tying” because scorer D.J. Moore ripped off his helmet to celebrate, after an extra point and an overtime 32-yarder were both missed, and after Atlanta continued to reimagine everyone’s else idea of how bad they are supposed to be. 

The Falcons, sorry, to use their correct new name – the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons – might be the most cheerful 4-4 team in NFL history. Confounding all the dire forecasts, despite an opening game heartbreaker and an 0-2 start, here they are, playing the best kind of scrappy football that a team low on talent – but big on eagerness – is capable of. 

“Our guys don’t blink,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. They don’t frown too much either. 

Going into Sunday’s home clash against the Los Angeles Chargers (1 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App), the Falcons find themselves unburdened by trouble and filled with momentum. The downside of being written off by everyone from the Las Vegas oddsmakers, to the wider football public, to some of their own fans, to, er, me, is that such projections are made because your personnel list doesn’t seem to stack up. 

The upside, and the Falcons are feeling it right now, is that even winning half your games makes you feel invincible, especially when the smart summer money posited that you’d be lucky to collect that many wins across the entire campaign. 

“The goal is to win, no matter what it takes,” Falcons lineman Jake Matthews said. “However we’ve got to score, whether it’s defense, offense, special teams, we’ve all got to work together to find ways to win.” 

The external pessimism was rooted in the theory that letting long-time franchise QB Matt Ryan leave for Indianapolis was setting the table for a tank job designed to beget a rebuild.  

Receiver Calvin Ridley (traded to Jacksonville this week) was suspended for gambling irregularities and there were no positional shining lights to suggest things might not actually be so bad.  

No celebrity names in the marquee roster spots. Only two former first rounders as starters on defense, the lowest in the league. You could make a case that the team’s most interesting player is its South Korean kicker, Younghoe Koo, who is quirky, cool and sometimes a fantasy god.  

It was Koo’s overtime boot that clinched it against the Panthers, and he’ll resume acquaintances on Sunday with his former team, the Chargers, who cut him loose four years back. 

Meanwhile, the skeptics are starting to believe. Sort of. FOX Bet has visitors Los Angeles as favorites, but narrowly (-3 points). 

Tampa Bay is going to make the playoffs and will host a playoff game,” FS1’s Nick Wright said on “First Things First,” which was another way of saying he doesn’t expect the Falcons’ divisional lead to last long. 

Maybe that will be so. But … Atlanta has one of the weakest schedules in football ahead of them and play in a division that’s not currently showing much quality, given the Bucs’ unexpected struggles. 

They have those good vibes working for them, and you don’t have to examine too closely to see this is a team that’s starting to feel like it’s on a freeroll. 

There is a slight exception to the good cheer. Head coach Arthur Smith is a little on the gruff side when dealing with the press, which is probably fair enough given how savage some of the preseason criticism was.  

He’s recently taken to reminding those who follow the team of how the prediction models placed the Falcons “about 45th” best out of the 32 NFL teams before the campaign. Petty? Sure – and why the heck not? 

With a near-obsessive reliance on running the ball through Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson and avoiding mistakes, Smith’s in charge of a group that’s making us all look stupid and is having a grand old time doing so. 

They were tough enough to escape last week’s nail-biter, are confident enough to look ahead to a new weekend without trepidation, and are making what should be the most boring record possible – 4-4 – look anything but.