Like many other Falcons fans, I expected the Atlanta Falcons to bounce back from last week's heartbreaking 31-27 loss to the division rival New Orleans Saints by crushing the Arizona Cardinals at the Georgia Dome last Sunday.
Instead, they just barely squeaked past their hapless opponent 23-19. Many of the team's nagging problems reared their heads yet again: a sluggish Michael Turner, a struggling offensive line and an inconsistent pass rush.
Not to mention that the Falcons decided to make it even harder on themselves with a career-high five-interception performance from quarterback Matt Ryan on a day that the offense managed just one touchdown on offense in 60 minutes of play.
Like many other Falcons fans, my initial reaction was disappointment in the team's performance.
But as the minutes turned to hours and Sunday afternoon became Monday night, I realized that I wasn't as worried about the team's postseason chances as I thought I originally was, but I couldn't figure out why.
After all, I thought that a big win against a lowly Cardinals team would help boost the team's confidence looking ahead to the final quarter of the regular season.
Then it hit me: In truth, I know that I wouldn't have wanted the Falcons to win any other way than how they did on Sunday.
Despite all of their issues, their well-documented weaknesses and finding themselves down in the fourth quarter yet again, Mike Smith's Falcons came back to win for the ninth time in ten games this season.
That, in itself, is quite an achievement, though some are quick to point out that it's the team's sixth victory by seven points in less this year, suggesting that it's something to be concerned about.
I'd honestly be more concerned if the team cruised its way past all of its opponents.
The fact that these Falcons are struggling and continued to struggle in a hard-fought win against a Cardinals team which, by the way, isn't as bad as its 4-6 record would suggest (a win over the New England Patriots, a top-10 defense and three losses by seven points or less), is quite a testament to the team's newly discovered ability to win games even when everything goes wrong, which was far from the case in recent years.
In the past four seasons, if Michael Turner didn't get going, more times than not, the Falcons left the field defeated. That was true not only in the regular season but in the postseason, where a running game stuck in neutral proved to be Atlanta's demise in each of its playoff appearances in that span.
Yet so far this season, the Falcons have showed an ability to win not only with a near non-existent running game, but even on days when kicker Matt Bryant is having a bad day (Dallas), when the defense gets run over (Kansas City, Carolina, Washington) or when Ryan and the offense are off their game (Denver, Oakland, Arizona).
When one part of the team doesn't perform, one of the other parts is there to pick up the slack.
And that's the beauty of these 2012 Atlanta Falcons. They don't depend on just one player or one game plan to win––they can beat you with whoever steps up.
Sometimes, it leads to sloppy wins, like the one this past weekend. That might not appease those that would prefer to see the Falcons ease their way into the playoffs. To that, I answer: They've done that already, and look what it got them—three straight early playoff exits.
This year, nearly every game has been a hard-fought battle right down to the end, and the Falcons have come away victorious in all but one of those.
And history says that's a lot more desirable than cruising past teams in the regular season.
Of them, the one who had to battle week in and week out to get there won the championship.
The one who blew out virtually every opponent in the regular season lost it.
I know which end result I prefer—do you?
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