FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons were getting nowhere in the NFC South with what coach Mike Smith says was six weeks of a "yo-yo" pattern of wins and losses.
Finally, just in time for their bye week, the Falcons, who had the best record in the NFC a year ago, have their first winning streak of the season.
After the Falcons beat the Lions 23-16 in Detroit on Sunday for their second straight win, Smith revealed his surprise reward — a full week off for the bye week.
Defensive tackle Corey Peters says players didn't dare to dream the coach, who normally clings to routines, would cancel tentative plans for practices on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Coach Smith is not usually a guy to change the schedule, especially to that extreme, anyway," Peters said Monday.
Smith said he decided last week he would give the team a full week off if it won. He didn't share his plan, avoiding any temptation to use the reward as a carrot.
"It was but I did not dangle that," he said. "That is not something I believe in doing. I know different people have different ways and styles of trying to motivate guys. We try to go out and be as even-keeled as we possibly can and try to prepare like we always do and go out and try to accomplish the goals and we were able to do that."
Smith first told his players they would be off Tuesday, and there was a big cheer. Then he said they would have the full week off.
"It was very spirited," Peters said. "Everybody is super excited about it. When he started talking, I think you could feel it building. I think it was great. I think we've been playing well and I think this was exactly what we needed, going on the road against a very good football team, a physical football team."
Smith said he expects that injured players, required to report for treatment, will have company at the team's facility.
"I think it's important the guys who are injured are in here getting treatment and I've got a hunch we'll see a lot of guys, even though they're off, that are going to be in here during the week," Smith said. "I just have that feeling."
Smith had no update Monday on fullback Ovie Mughelli, who injured his right knee in Sunday's game.
The injury looked serious, but Mughelli tweeted he won't miss much time.
"Thx for all the love and support guys," OvieMughelli34 tweeted. "I promise I'm ok. It looked worse than it is. I heard the slo mo looked bad on tv. I'll b back soon."
The Falcons also had a scare when left tackle Will Svitek stepped on quarterback Matt Ryan's foot, causing Ryan to tweak his knee. Ryan finished the game after missing only a couple plays.
"It looked a lot worse than it actually turned out to be," Smith said. "The first thing that goes through my mind was OK, what plays did Chris Redman practice during the week so what's our inventory? ... How do we continue to play with our backup quarterback knowing he didn't have the snaps that your starter has?"
Even with two straight wins, the Falcons are only 4-3. For a team coming off a 13-3 regular season, one game over .500 is only a start.
Peters says the players know they'll need more than a modest two-game winning streak to accomplish their goals to be a factor in the postseason.
"Coach Smith has done a great job of making us understand that it's important to take this time off, but when we come back we're back and we're ready to go and we're focused," Peters said. "We've got to keep these wins coming."
The Falcons will play at Indianapolis (0-7) on Nov. 6. They play only four teams who currently have winning records: New Orleans twice, Houston and Tampa Bay.
Smith said he hopes the week off gives his players a chance to heal. Some players, including defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and defensive end John Abraham, have been playing less than full speed.
"I think this is going to be a big week for us in terms of getting some guys getting healthier," Smith said. "We've got some guys who have missed time, especially on our defensive line, who should get healthier."