ATLANTA — A fast start through five games? The Atlanta Falcons have been there, blown that.
One year ago, the Falcons were 5-0 and appeared certain to land in the playoffs. Instead, they won only three more games for an 8-8 finish in Dan Quinn’s inaugural season as coach.
Now, the Falcons again are leading the NFC South with a 4-1 record. Quinn believes the optimism generated this season is not just another path to a letdown for Atlanta’s fans.
For evidence, the Falcons can point to their ability to find different ways to win. They also can point to back-to-back wins over last season’s Super Bowl teams.
“It is different, it feels different for us,” Quinn said Monday during a conference call. “We have a much better way that we reset. We learned a lot from last year’s start and learned a lot from last year’s season.”
Two weeks ago, the Falcons dominated through the air in their 48-33 home win over Carolina. Matt Ryan passed for a team-record 503 yards with four touchdowns, including 300 yards to Julio Jones, a team record for yards receiving in a game.
On Sunday, Jones had only two catches for 29 yards, but Atlanta rode strong defense, including a surprising six sacks, to beat the Denver Broncos 23-16. Vic Beasley Jr. had 3 ½ sacks.
Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman led the offense. Freeman ran for 88 yards with a touchdown and Coleman was the Falcons’ leading receiver with four catches for 132 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown from Ryan.
The Falcons found other ways to score when Denver’s defense focused on Jones.
“The versatility is probably the thing that jumps out to us,” Quinn said, noting that running backs, receivers and tight end Jacob Tamme have taken turns as Ryan’s favorite target.
For a team coming off a 6-10 record in 2014, last year’s .500 record was a step up. The problem was 8-8 felt like a big letdown following five straight wins to open the season.
Atlanta began this season with a home loss to Tampa Bay, but will take a four-game winning streak into this week’s game at Seattle.
“We love the style and identity of this year’s team and the attitude and style we like to play with,” Quinn said.
For Quinn, it is a return to the city where he served as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator under coach Pete Carroll. Quinn was hired by Atlanta before the 2015 season.
Quinn said Carroll “had a huge impact on me as a coach in a lot of ways.” But Quinn was reluctant to say much about his time in Seattle.
“My biggest focus this week is I want it to be about the guys,” he said.
NOTES: The Falcons flew to Seattle following Sunday’s win in Denver and will practice at the University of Washington this week. … Quinn said LBs De’Vondre Campbell (ankle) and Deion Jones (ankle) will practice Wednesday after missing the win over the Broncos. Campbell and Jones are rookie starters. “We will take all the time we need to determine if they can help us,” Quinn said. Backup LB Paul Worrilow (groin) also missed the Denver game and his status for this week remains uncertain.