Funny group, these Atlanta Falcons.
For the second time in three seasons, theyre finding a way to not be as good as their record. And that inspires some trepidation entering this final stretch.
This win-extracting group is better than that loss-avoiding group, but its the similarity other than the sizzling record thats a worry.
In 2010, Atlanta started out 10-2 en route to 13-3. Seven wins were by single digits, and the Falcons failed to crack 21 points in five games.
Atlanta escaped New Orleans, thanks to an odd confluence of field goal attempts and timeouts, and a shocking hustle play prevented a home loss to San Francisco, which finished 6-10 and fired its head coach before seasons end.
The Falcons struggled with Cleveland (5-11), lost by 14 to Kevin Kolb-led Philadelphia, held off visiting Cincinnati (4-12) and then played hard-nosed football in edging Tampa Bay (10-6) by six.
Matt Ryan led a last-minute drive for a quality 27-21 win over Baltimore (12-4), and Atlanta actually put away St. Louis (7-9).
The tease that was the 20-17 win over Green Bay on a field goal with nine seconds left followed, as did some nice wins over Tampa Bay, Carolina twice and Seattle, plus another loss to the Saints.
But this was a 9-7 team -- which would still have been a sign of progress for the organization -- with a 13-3 record, evidenced by the harsh lesson delivered by Green Bay in a 48-21 first-round playoff win in Atlanta.
In 2012, Atlanta is 11-1, with seven wins by single digits. The Falcons have failed to hold opponents below 21 points in five games.
The biggest win in the first 12 two years ago was 41-7 over Arizona, which finished 5-11. This year, its 27-3 over San Diego, which is 4-8 and in the final weeks of Norv Turner.
Atlanta is giving the fans some tremendous theatre in home games, with thrillers against Denver, Carolina, Oakland, Dallas, Arizona and New Orleans, only one of which has a winning record.
The record is nice, but there hasnt really been a game that will keep potential playoff opponents reaching for the Tums.
Theres a gripe about tailback Michael Turner, that he has lost a step or two. Well, duh. So has everybody else who is older today than a year ago.
Atlanta has needed to address offensive line concerns for a few years and hasnt. Throw in a new offense, no fullback and more passing, and theres quite an adjustment.
Turner -- who is 26th in the NFL with 56.9 yards a game -- averages 3.8 yards per carry, which while not inspiring is right with the 3.9 for Arian Foster and BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Trent Richardsons 3.6.
Now, little Jacquizz Rodgers has gotten a some people a little jazzed, and there is reason for that. Hes yet another weapon, a unique and versatile one and one who averages two-tenths of a yard per carry more than Turner and has six fewer touchdowns. Jason Snelling remains annoyingly underused and has only nine carries.
Note that Ryan has been sacked 22 times for 157 yards in losses through 12 games with 13 interceptions, and hell set career highs in all three areas.
While Ryan has improved, hes also under substantially more pressure. Atlanta is 10th in most quarterback hits.
Reading between the lines notwithstanding, Atlanta has respect and has since owner Arthur Blank got smarter and head coach Mike Smith came aboard.
Win in the playoffs, and the respect will grow to the level of, well, teams that win in the playoffs. Until then, or at least a run of dominance, understand the skepticism.
Heres the thing: The Falcons are having no different a season than one of the college teams playing in the national championship, and its not Alabama -- winning games, but often barely over subpar opposition.
This is very much a team to like, no question, more so than in 2010. But until it eliminates the similarities to 2010, this is still a team to love at your own risk.
Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or email@example.com