It says a lot about the Atlanta Falcons' season that much of the football-watching world was surprised the club did not blow a lead Thursday night to the Carolina Panthers.
Instead of sticking to their modus operandi, the Falcons forced a late turnover to thwart Teddy Bridgewater's comeback, prevailing 25-17 to move to 2-6 on the season.
Matt Ryan believes the victory can be what turns the tide for a Falcons season that had been flying down the wrong course.
"Absolutely," said Ryan, when asked if he was serious about a turnaround, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We've been in every game that we played this year. We've had some crazy losses, just to be frank. I really believe that we've got the caliber of team to go be in every game that we're going to play for the rest of the season. Why can't we win them all? That's the mindset that I have."
Entering Week 8, Atlanta was 1-3 when leading entering the fourth quarter (tied for most such losses in NFL). Instead of flopping down the stretch, the Falcons held the Panthers scoreless in the fourth quarter. Despite a missed extra point that kept the game from becoming a two-score affair, the Falcons posted their first win in five one-possession games this season.
"I hope it's the start of something," Ryan said. "I really feel like, although we're 2-6, I feel like we've been in some tight ones. We've played some good football. I think we can play some really tough football here in the second half of the season."
The Falcons have the firepower when Julio Jones is dominating as he did Thursday night. Jones' 137 receiving yards gave him 12,709 for his career, passing Torry Holt for the second-most in a player's first 10 seasons in NFL history.
The defense pestered Bridgewater in the pocket, compiling three sacks with the help of some timely blitzes and the secondary was better than it'd been all season.
"It just felt like it was going to be a different night," Ryan said. "Our defense stepped up and did a great job making plays. I'm happy for them. To come through in that type of situation, that's a confidence builder for us moving forward."
Confidence is good, but let's not overblow a Thursday night game against a team that, in reality, is still building in Matt Rhule's first season. The Falcons get fellow underachieving Denver Broncos next week before the schedule gets much tougher after the Week 10 bye. Atlanta plays New Orleans twice, Tampa Bay twice, Kansas City, Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Chargers in their final seven games.
Only one team in NFL history has made the playoffs after a 2-6 start: 1970 Bengals, who finished 8-6, lost in the divisional round to the Baltimore Colts. Paul Brown was head coach and Bill Walsh was WRs coach of that team.
The Falcons have improved since Raheem Morris took over as interim head coach, posting a 2-1 record with 29.0 points per game scored and 19.0 PPG allowed. Under Dan Quinn this year, Atlanta was 0-5, 24.4 PPG, 32.2 PPG allowed prior to the coaching change.
If not for massive collapses, the Falcons could be 5-3, authoring a much different story. Instead, it's news when Atlanta holds on for dear life to secure a win.