|National Football League|
Quinn knows the Falcons almost never take the easy way
By GEORGE HENRY
ATLANTA (AP) Falcons coach Dan Quinn has seen his team coast to just one victory this season - two months ago against Dallas.
Now that the playoffs are here, Quinn isn't expecting anything to come easily when Atlanta (10-6) visits the Los Angeles Rams (11-5) in the wild-card round this weekend.
"Easy has never really been our way," Quinn said Monday. "We're more of a back-against-the-wall kind of group. We like those moments to prove it."
At least the Falcons earned their way into the postseason with a 22-10 victory over Carolina. A loss would've sufficed, too, after Seattle lost to Arizona, but going in with a win gives Quinn some positive teaching points this week.
The best sign he saw against the Panthers was a plus-three turnover margin. Atlanta has four interceptions over the last two games - as many as it had in the first 15 to rank second-worst in the NFL - so maybe it's the start of a good trend.
"Having a mindset for it is one thing," Quinn said, "but having it come to life on game day, that's another."
There are other areas to clean up. The rushing attack overcame its least-efficient game of the season, averaging just 2.3 yards on 26 rushing attempts. Three of the seven penalties came on punt returns that cost Atlanta about 60 yards in field position.
Atlanta converted just one of five trips to the red zone with Matt Bryant bailing out the offense each time and kicking five field goals in the second half. The offense has yet to shake its penchant for dropping passes - it tied for the league lead - and false start flags.
But there also was plenty for Quinn to like.
Running back Devonta Freeman, after losing fumbles in the last two games, had no issues in 20 touches.
"You really saw the ball high and tight for him, especially on the touchdown, all the way down to the ground," Quinn said. "He's worked hard at that. It really showed."
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was an inside force with a sack, two quarterback hits and two tackles for lost yardage. Rookie end Takk McKinley, a late first-round draft pick from UCLA, is emerging as a force from the left and right sides.
And middle linebacker Deion Jones, with team highs in tackles (138) and interceptions (three), has become the undisputed leader of the defense in his second season.
Jones loved how the Falcons forced Panthers quarterback Cam Newton into the worst passer rating of his 109-game career. Even though Newton was without a strong receiving corps and running back Jonathan Stewart was sidelined by a back injury, Jones was pleased with how the defense held Carolina to one touchdown while Atlanta's offense was grinding through a long afternoon.
"We have our offense's back, and that's what we always talk about," Jones said. "I feel like if they have the ball, they can do amazing things with it once they get in rhythm. It's just a matter of giving it to them."
The offense has yet to match last season's output when it led the league in scoring. Quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016 MVP, finished with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He had career bests with 34 TDs and seven picks last season.
It's been a tough campaign. Other than the Dallas win, every other victory was decided late.
But the Falcons, 10 months after blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history, are back in the playoffs for a second straight year. They're a No. 6 seed, but the only NFC team to repeat.
"It wasn't perfect throughout the regular season by any stretch of imagination, but we battled and found a way to play ourselves into this situation," Ryan said. "I've played long enough to know that all that you want is an opportunity. All that you want is a chance this time of the year. We gave ourselves that opportunity. I'm really proud of that."
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Updated January 1, 2018