ATLANTA -- There wasn't much celebrating inside the Atlanta Falcons' locker room following Sunday's win over Dallas, but there was a noticeable, good vibe that had been missing for some time.
Players smacked hands emphatically and nodded at each other with approval, almost as if to say "that's more like it" following an erratic start to the season. Now 5-4, the Falcons appear to have a little momentum going into another important NFC matchup next Monday night at Seattle.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the star of the weekend following his record-setting, six-sack performance against the Cowboys, put things in perspective before folks started to tout the Falcons as Super Bowl contenders once again.
"We've got to take that [momentum] to next week, because next week's a whole 'nother beast," Clayborn said of facing the 6-3 Seahawks in the deafening atmosphere at CenturyLink Field.
All those sacks Clayborn and his fellow defenders collected of Dak Prescott and all those scoring opportunities Matt Ryan and the offense took advantage of against the Cowboys will mean nothing if the Falcons go to Seattle and crumble. The margin for error already is slim, with New Orleans having won seven in a row and sitting atop the NFC South at 7-2. The Falcons, who lost their division opener at Carolina, don't see the Saints until Weeks 14 and 16.
Sure, coach Dan Quinn has taught his players to not look beyond the next game on the schedule. But how the Falcons perform in Seattle after taking care of business against the shorthanded Cowboys could indicate where this season is headed.
"Now we've got to focus on Seattle, take it one game at a time," receiver Mohamed Sanu said. "They're a phenomenal team. Just playing over there, it's different. And we've got to prepare for it."
First and foremost, the Falcons would love to be back at full strength. Top rusher Devonta Freeman was knocked out of the Dallas game with a concussion, his second one since August. Initial word was Freeman had no sensitivity to light or sound after taking a hit from Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, but his playing status remains unknown.
The Falcons also want to take advantage of undermanned opponents when they have the opportunity. They did so against Dallas and will look to do so again in Seattle, where All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is lost for the season due to a ruptured Achilles. The anticipated Julio Jones-Sherman battle won't happen -- meaning there will be no follow-up to the pivotal no-call near the end of the teams' meeting last year, which Seattle won 26-24 -- so it will be interesting to see how Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard elects to defend Jones, and how the Falcons plan to unleash their top weapon.
Furthermore, Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown is recovering from an ankle injury, and his status could impact whether Clayborn follows up on his six-sack outing or someone such as Vic Beasley Jr. or Takk McKinley joins the sack parade against Russell Wilson.
No matter how things unfold from now until next Monday night, the Falcons know there's an opportunity to regain some swagger and not just be a one-game wonder. It's up to them to take advantage.
"The same mindset every week: championship football," Jones said. "You always have to trust the process. When people say things are going bad, people tend to make up stuff. We just do what we do, and everything else will take care of itself."