Imperfect Atlanta Falcons remain perfect

The Falcons are 5-0 in part because of Tony Gonzalez, who had 13 passes for 123 yards and a TD. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

LANDOVER, Md. -- Arthur Blank is a cultured man who has experienced plenty of things in his life.

That’s why I’m kind of chuckling at what the owner of the Atlanta Falcons said after his team defeated the Washington Redskins 24-17 on Sunday at FedEx Field.

As he waited to listen to coach Mike Smith’s postgame news conference, Blank walked over to me and sounded like he had a big secret.

"This is the first time this team has been 5-0, and that goes all the way back to 1966," Blank said.

Blank’s tone wasn't celebratory or boastful. In fact, he sounded more amazed than anything. You can’t blame him, especially when you look at the history of the Falcons.

They’d had only two 4-0 starts in their entire existence. Aside from one glorious run to the Super Bowl in 1998, this is a team without much positive history. The Falcons didn’t even have their first back-to-back winning seasons until 2008 and ’09.

Blank wasn’t the only one who seemed stunned that the Falcons are 5-0. Like Blank, veteran center Todd McClure has been around the block. He has the longest tenure of any member of the team, but he sounded almost child-like as he pondered his team’s status.

"You know [linebacker] Mike Peterson came into the league the same year I did," said McClure, who was a seventh-round pick by Atlanta in 1999. "I went up to him after the game and I asked him, 'Have you ever been 5-0?' He couldn’t remember being 5-0."

I double-checked with Peterson, who has played for the Colts, Jaguars and Falcons during his 14-year career.

"Not that I remember," Peterson said. "If I have, it wasn’t sweet enough that I could remember. This is very sweet. It’s big for the city, the franchise and the owner. Everybody’s been pulling for this team to take that next step. You can kind of see it now. We’ve been fighting this thing the last three or four years."

"The thing" Peterson is talking about is the fact that the Falcons have had four straight winning seasons, but they haven’t won a playoff game. They’ve been a good team, but not quite great.

The Falcons can’t do a thing about their playoff jinx until January, but they’re putting themselves in a position where they could have the NFC South wrapped up early. If they keep winning, they could rest some starters at the end of the season, have home-field advantage and, maybe, finally get over that hump.

They might have taken a step in that direction Sunday.

"These are the kind of games that you hate to see, but you want to see," defensive end John Abraham said. "We didn’t play the way we wanted to, but we persevered."

The Falcons weren’t sharp early and fell behind when Ryan Kerrigan intercepted Matt Ryan in the second quarter and returned it for a touchdown. Atlanta hung around, but fell behind again (17-14) early in the fourth quarter when Santana Moss caught a 77-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins, who entered the game after fellow rookie Robert Griffin III suffered what the Redskins described as a mild concussion in the third quarter.

"We were our own worst enemy in the first half," Smith said.

The Falcons -- and Ryan -- were uncharacteristically sloppy for the better part of three quarters, but they scored 17 points in the fourth quarter. Ryan completed 34 of 52 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns, and he did that on a day when he didn’t look particularly sharp.

For the second consecutive week, Ryan rallied the Falcons to a come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter. With the game tied (17-17), Ryan and the Falcons got the ball at their own 31-yard line with 5:40 remaining and promptly went on a touchdown drive.

"That’s what [Ryan] does," Abraham said. "I never thought we were going to lose that game because nothing he does surprises me."

Ryan didn’t have his best day, and neither did the Falcons, but they came away with a win. They did it with solid defense, stopping the Redskins consistently on third downs and coming up with two fourth-quarter interceptions. They also did it because veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez had a huge game, catching 13 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.

"In terms of showing some resiliency, you are going to have to do that," Smith said. "Games are going to be tight and close in this league, and you are going to have to win those close ones."

That’s the kind of thing you have to do if you’re going to take the next step that Peterson talked about.

"We’ve got a maturity level on this team," Peterson said. "We were down seven, and it could easily have swung the other way and got away from us. We got down, but we have the maturity to get through that. Nobody got down or started pointing fingers. It just shows how this team has grown over the last few years."

And here might be the scariest thing of all.

"We haven’t played our best football yet, but we’re 5-0," McClure said. "This team is much better than the way we’ve played so far. But the nice thing is that it’s easy to make corrections when you’re 5-0. We still have a lot of room for improvement."

They do. But they’re 5-0, and that’s something the Falcons never have been able to say before.