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Falcons on hot streak despite recent ugly wins
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ATLANTA — The Falcons may be looking more like a playoff team in the standings than on the field.

Atlanta (7-4) has won five of six. There have been some struggles, including Sunday's 24-14 win over Minnesota. The Falcons led the Vikings 17-0 and needed a goal-line stand to stop the Vikings' comeback.

One week earlier, the Falcons led Tennessee by 20 points before winning 23-17.

Coach Mike Smith said Monday the Falcons have moved up after a 2-3 start to become relevant for the final weeks of the regular season.

"We've always said that we always want to position ourselves to be a relevant team in November and December, and the teams that have sustainability are the ones that are relevant in November and December," Smith said.

A favorable schedule could help the Falcons, who were No. 6 in the NFC playoff standings before Monday night's Saints-Giants game.

The Falcons still play three teams — Carolina, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay — who are a combined 13 games under .500.

This week they will face the Houston Texans, who are missing their top two quarterbacks. Matt Schaub already was out for the season with a foot injury when the Texans likely lost Matt Leinart for the season because of a broken collarbone in Sunday's victory against the Jaguars.

The Falcons also had a break against Minnesota when Vikings star Adrian Peterson was held out with a sprained left ankle.

Smith said the Falcons are winning with more than good fortune. He said they have earned their wins.

"You can look back, big picture, and say this game could have gone this way, this game could have gone that way," he said. "It doesn't matter."

Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton said the good news is the team hasn't peaked.

"As much as we like to blow a team out, we understand that can't happen all the time," Lofton said. "The concerning part for me as a team is our consistency throughout the game. We have to figure out a way to put four good quarters together, rather than in chunks. I believe when we do that, we will be where we want to be in terms of consistency and in all aspects of the game."

The Vikings held Michael Turner to 60 yards rushing on 19 carries. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan continued his strong play as he completed 27 of 34 passes for 262 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Ryan has nine TD passes with two interceptions in his last four games.

"It was obviously his best day percentage-wise and he did a real nice job distributing the ball," Smith said. "I think he had a real good feel for how they were going to try to defend us and did a great job throwing the football."

Receiver Julio Jones did not have a catch in his return from a right hamstring injury, but Roddy White had 10 receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown. White, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has 17 catches for 267 yards in his last two games.

White has delivered back-to-back impressive games after he received criticism for his two penalties and two drops in Atlanta's overtime loss to New Orleans on Nov. 13.

"Roddy has had two very efficient games the last two weeks," Smith said. "I think you see a very focused player out on the practice field, and I think that's carrying over to his play on the field."

Smith said he would have no update before Wednesday on cornerback Brent Grimes, who left the game with a right knee injury.

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