Atlanta Falcons Must Choose: Healthy Mind or Healthy Body?

Christopher BehelerCorrespondent IIIDecember 13, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 08:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons calls a play in the offensive huddle against the New York Giants during their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at MetLife Stadium on January 8, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons have an unexpected decision to make on Sunday. The New York Giants come to the Georgia Dome desperately needing a win to stay atop the NFC East. What was once billed as a revenge game has become far more significant for the Falcons. And the playoff implications extend far beyond simple seeding.

The Falcons must choose: healthy mind or healthy body?


Injuries Mount

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White became the latest starter to miss practice with an injury. Quarterback Matt Ryan's favorite target, White is invaluable to the Falcons' offense. 

While the injury is described as minor, any knee injury can be a concern for a wide receiver. Diminishing speed and maneuverability can limit effectiveness, especially when Ryan is forcing the ball into smaller windows as of late. A half step can mean the difference between a first down and an easy interception.

Also held out of practice on Wednesday was defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux and recent safety standout William Moore. Several other key players had limited participation in Wednesday's practice due nagging injuries.

With the playoffs less than a month away, the Falcons might be becoming unhealthy at the worst possible time. With the division firmly in hand, logic might dictate that health would trump wins this late in the season.

But this has not been an ordinary season.


Are the Falcons Losing Swagger? 

The bravado that carried the Falcons through the majority of 2012 seems diminished. On Monday, Jonathan Babineaux seemed cautious when speaking to Dave Archer on Atlanta's 790 The Zone. He said that the Falcons had something to prove in Sunday's game against the Giants.

Not to the media, but to themselves.

On Tuesday afternoon, Thomas Decoud was also quoted on 790 The Zone as saying, "Everybody knows what this game means."

It would appear that the Falcons were far more discouraged with their loss to the Carolina Panthers last Sunday.

This might be troubling considering their record is 11-2.

Mike Smith had success earlier this season with letting the team feel the weight of an upcoming game. Prior to the 30-17 trouncing of the Philadelphia Eagles, Smith let the team acknowledge that it was a make-or-break game for the Eagles. In the days leading up to the October tilt, players and coaches admitted the importance of the game.

Yet it was the Falcons who showed up as if there were no tomorrow.


Decisions, Decisions

The Falcons have shown that they need to ramp up their tempo in order to compete with the league's elite teams. This will require unflinching confidence to make high pressure decisions in an instant. So beating the Giants Sunday would seem paramount to reverse the Falcons one-and-done trend.

On the other hand, if the Falcons become a playoff caliber team running at half speed due to injuries, their exit might be just as quick.

Falcons coach Mike Smith might have to make one of his toughest decisions of the year come Sunday: nourish the body or nourish the psyche?

Unless the Falcons win Sunday and advance deep into the postseason, he will be second-guessed for quite some time.