Falcons playing with chips on their wings

Falcons playing with chips on their wings
January 17, 2013, 8:00 am
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Mike Smith: "We try not to listen to the noise outside our building" (USA TODAY IMAGES)


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Even with its gaudy 13-3 regular season record and accompanying No. 1 overall seed, Atlanta was a popular pick to lose its first playoff game.

No wonder, then, the Falcons, at 4 1/2-point underdogs to the 49ers for Sunday's NFC title game at the Georgia Dome, are the biggest home dogs for a No. 1 seed in a conference title game since the 1978 Los Angeles Rams, who were 3 1/2 dogs to Dallas.

The Falcons' recent playoff history and, thus lack of postseason success, is the reason. In 2008, 2010 and 2011, they were one and done.

"We try not to listen to the noise outside our building," coach Mike Smith insisted in his Wednesday media conference. "It's impossible."

So does beating Seattle in a divisional round game Sunday after blowing a 20-point second-half lead and trailing with 31 seconds to go serve as the elixir for the Falcons? Or is the chip on their shoulders too big to knock off now?

Whatever the case, quarterback Matt Ryan said the Falcons losing to Arizona, 30-24, Green Bay, 48-21 and the New York Giants, 24-2, in their most recent three playoff appearances has only made them stronger, so to speak. Besides, the Cardinals, Packers and Giants all advanced to the Super Bowl in those seasons, with the Packers and Giants claiming Lombardi Trophies.

"I think this is a team that's probably mentally together than some of the teams that I've been a part of," Ryan said. "I think everybody has kind of a tougher shell, you know, everybody's a little bit harder than we have been in the past and I think that's helped us. We gutted through the end of the game last week and we were able to find a a way to get it done.

"That's kind of been our M.O. all year -- we've found different ways to get wins. That's what's been the most rewarding."

But can they continue it against the 49ers, or is the satisfaction of finally winning a playoff game enough?

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