Woodall: Falcons coach knows crowd noise will help in NFC South battle against Saints
Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn speaks with Atlanta Falcons fullback Derrick Coleman (40) during the first half of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 3 in Atlanta. - photo by John Bazmore | Associated Press

Dan Quinn wants the city of Atlanta to “bring the juice” Thursday night. 

Don’t believe him? Just take a look at a typed letter that was signed by the second-year head coach and posted on Twitter Wednesday morning; excusing all Falcons fans from work, or at least giving the option to do their jobs from home, the following day. 

“We love the energy and juice you all bring on game day! Here’s your note for Friday,” Quinn wrote in a Twitter post attached with to the letter.  “We cannot wait to be in front of you as the battle for the division is at hand! #InBrotherhood.” 

The head coach known for his always cliche “Quinnisms,” is right. The Falcons will require every ounce of energy from each occupied seat to radiate the insides of Mercedes-Benz Stadium because, let’s face it, they need it. 

It’s a primetime matchup with arch-nemesis and NFC South frontrunner New Orleans (9-3). And it’s a game Atlanta (7-5) desperately needs to stay alive in the playoff hunt. 

To make matters a little more dire, a Week 13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings coupled with Seattle (8-4) upsetting Philadelphia, the NFC's hottest team before Sunday night, did not help the situation. Now the suddenly revitalized Seahawks behind MVP candidate Russell Wilson move to No. 5 in the wildcard hunt standings. 

The Falcons certainly didn’t help themselves Sunday against the red-hot Vikings. Self-inflicted wounds complete with penalties and drops caused the Falcons offense to flounder. 

Atlanta, which entered the contest averaging nearly 32 points during a three-game win streak, converted just one of 12 attempts on third down, and failed to score a touchdown for the first time since Dec. 13, 2015. The league’s reigning MVP Matt Ryan threw for only 173 yards and saw his streak of 30 straight games with a TD pass (eighth longest streak in NFL history) end, while star wideout Julio Jones was held to a pair of catches at the helm of Mike Zimmer’s top-notch Vikings defense. 

That mistake-ridden loss was another reminder of just how inconsistent this Falcons team has been since their record-breaking 2016 campaign as the league’s top-scoring offense.

But there is no time to dwell on those circumstances. The margin of error could never be smaller. What started as the team’s silver lining has become a frantic push to the finish as Atlanta’s final four games are against division opponents.

Atlanta currently sits in third behind the Panthers (8-4), who trail the Saints by two games in the NFC South. Looking at the big picture, Atlanta is just outside the six-team playoff race at No. 7 behind Carolina, though technically has one foot in the door already once you dig a little deeper. 

The Falcons own the tiebreaker with wins over Green Bay (6-6), Detroit (6-6), Dallas (6-6) and Seattle. And a hypothetical season sweep of the Saints puts them in division-title contention. Football analytics also gives Atlanta a 44.9 percent chance to make the playoffs barring it wins the remaining four games on the docket according to makeNFLplayoffs.com.

But the Falcons still have to go through New Orleans first, split with the Panthers and complete the sweep of Tampa Bay as well. As it is the case every year, this division clash the Saints will be no cake walk. New Orleans averages 30 points a game behind a revamped offense that, while always helpful, no longer requires the arm of Drew Brees. It has been a backfield tandem of Mark Ingram II and rookie sensation Alvin Kamara to carry New Orleans to nine wins in its last 10 games. 

This only makes the scenario of winning out just a little more difficult for host Atlanta this week.

It can be argued that the Falcons can not only change gears, but do so in the same fashion as the previous year. The 2016 Falcons were too at 7-5 at this point before rattling out four-straight wins on the way to the franchise’s second Super Bowl berth. 

But again, let’s be honest here. That team is no longer. As put by Ryan so many times over the course of the year, it’s not useful to keep looking back to what once was. These are the 2017 Atlanta Falcons — a team with all the talent and potential, yet most arguably the streakiest bunch in the NFL. 

There have been flashes of a playoff team in the last month. Now 12 games in, Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian seems to finally have a grasp of the offense and an ability to adjust in this personnel-driven league.

But can those small victories and sparks of success finally ignite a flame that guides Atlanta toward its fifth postseason appearance since 2010? That question could be answered tonight.

It’s still ironic that Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a world-class facility built as a “thank you” to the fans, has not provided the same home-field advantage deserving of a defending NFC champion. But now is as good a time as any to change that. 

As for the permission slip from your head coach, use at your own risk. If rejected by said employer, at least it will be a fun story to add to your repertoire of Falcon fandom.


Sarah Woodall is a sports writer for The Times. She can be reached at swoodall@gainesvilletimes.com or @Woodall8Sarah on Twitter.

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