Since 2008, when Mike Smith became head coach and Thomas Dimitroff became general manager, the Falcons have had four consecutive winning seasons. But that next step for the franchise has been onto an ice-covered ledge. They are 0-2 in the playoffs, with a and a .
“It’s about time we won, it’s about time we got a W,” said wide receiver Roddy White, who has been with the organization since 2005. “Everybody wants to win really, really bad, and get that first one out of the way.”
Asked what a playoff loss to the Giants on Sunday would mean, White said: “It’ll be devastating because this will be our third opportunity and we came up short. It’ll be tough for a whole ’nother six months.”
The franchise did not give up four draft picks and swap first-round selections in the 2011 draft with Cleveland to sixth over all, only to be flattened against the same ceiling. The Falcons drafted the explosive Jones and signed the pass-rush specialist Ray Edwards to break through and close the gap with Green Bay and New Orleans, the two dominant teams in the N.F.C.
The , but they beat just two teams with winning records, Detroit and Tennessee. They were clobbered on the road by New Orleans, 45-16, yet fought the Saints and the Packers at home before losing close games to both.
The Falcons have skill on offense with quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez, running back Michael Turner, and White, but the running game and the red-zone offense have wobbled at times, and the defense lacks a star in the secondary.
On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Falcons understand that they will be branded as just another team, or a really good team.
“There’s a lot of pressure to win, and to relieve that pressure, we need to win a playoff game,” offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. “We’re not just trying to win one playoff game, we’re trying to win four. If we win one and then lose, it’s just as disappointing to us.
“The goal is the . If you don’t get there, what’s the difference between losing Sunday or losing another game after that?”
Turner said the Falcons could not let the stage Sunday overwhelm them. They cannot have wide eyes and rabbit ears, and become distracted.
He was asked what the Falcons learned from two playoff losses. “Play smarter in those games; we made some critical mistakes,” Turner said. “Don’t let the games get too big for us.”
Turner said that although the Falcons were a young team in the past, “I think we have the experience under us now that we can actually make a push.”
The Falcons went 43 seasons without having back-to-back winning seasons, but the climate has changed significantly. They are long past being lampooned, and are instead seen as reliable and trustworthy because of Smith, Dimitroff and the owner Arthur Blank.
The Falcons are not as beloved here as the University of Georgia football program, or Southeastern Conference football in general, but the momentum from season after season of being a Super Bowl contender — and a playoff win or two — can change the status of the brand. The organization wants to use some public money to build a $750 million open-air stadium in the next five to six years to replace the outdated Georgia Dome, and postseason success can only make that a smoother path.
White said the message from Smith this week was that the Falcons had plenty of seasoning to win a playoff game on the road. They have 41 players on their 53-man roster who have playoff experience, and that is something to lean on.
“It’s time for everyone to take their game to the next level,” White said. “We’ve all played in playoff games, so it’s time for us to go win one.”