FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons know what it takes to win in the regular season. When it comes to the playoffs, that’s another story.
Perhaps no team faced a greater burden going into this postseason than the Falcons (13-3), the NFC’s top-seeded squad for the second time in three years. They’ve yet to win a playoff game under the current trio of quarterback Matt Ryan, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff – one-and-done in all three appearances going back to the 2008 season, the last two not even close.
Not surprisingly, the players keep insisting the previous years don’t matter; they’re only looking forward to Sunday’s divisional game with the streaking Seattle Seahawks (12-5).
But the senior member of the team, center Todd McClure, concedes there will probably be some additional pressure when the Falcons take the field at the Georgia Dome.
That makes a quick start crucial to Atlanta’s hopes.
“We’ve been disappointed a few times,” said McClure, who’s been with the Falcons for 13 years. “I think we’ve got guys in this locker room who are hungry and ready to get over that hump.”
The Falcons have gone 56-24 in the regular season since Dimitroff and Smith took over in 2008 and drafted Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick – more wins than any team during that span except New England (60-20). But the significance of five straight winning seasons, two division titles and, now, a fourth trip to the playoffs has been undermined by the lack of success in January.
Carrying around all that baggage, the Falcons can’t help but be a little skittish about facing a team that might be hotter than anyone in the league. The Seahawks have won six straight games, including last week’s 24-14 victory over Washington in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We can’t get too tight,” McClure said Wednesday. “There’s going to be some added pressure, I’m sure. I’m not going to say there’s not. But if we come out, start fast of both sides of ball, some of that will die down. Then we can just go out and play football.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll shrugged off the notion that his team has some sort of psychological edge on the Falcons.
“This has nothing to do with years past or story lines,” he said. “We’re playing a terrific team, with a terrific coach and a terrific quarterback, and we’re on the road. It’s a monstrous task.”
The biggest task for Smith and his coaching staff might be getting the players to have a convenient case of amnesia. He doesn’t want them lingering over those last three trips to the playoffs.
“We’re a much more mature team because of our experiences,” Smith said. “We feel very good about we’ve accomplished thus far this year. We have expectations. We set our goals, and we’ve been clicking along pretty well this season. I like the way we’ve played through the first season.”
Now comes the second season. The one that really matters.
“I’m confident in the guys around me,” said Ryan, who has completed nearly 69 percent of his throws for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns. “We’ve proven we can go out there and be successful. You have to buy into that. You have to believe in that. I feel more comfortable with the guys around me.”