FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The players and coaches certainly believe there is a different aura surrounding the Atlanta Falcons this season, even if such a change is not immediately evident to the outside world.
The group collectively believes this team is better equipped to bounce back from failures, unlike last year's squad which tumbled through a six-game losing streak all the way to an 8-8 finish following a 5-0 start. That's why quarterback Matt Ryan is confident his 4-3 Falcons can bounce back from a current two-game losing streak, starting with Sunday's game against Aaron Rodgers and the 4-2 Green Bay Packers.
"I think you learn a lot from experiences that you go through last year; obviously ups and downs that we went through," Ryan said. "There are a lot of guys who are back from that group. And I think there's less -- I don't know what the right word for it is -- there's just more of consistency day to day. There are guys who show up with the right attitude, the right way to approach both meetings, practices, walkthroughs, all those kinds of things. To me, that professional approach and that team-first approach is what you see."
Coach Dan Quinn sees the same characteristics in this ballclub. He constantly harps on how this team is able to "reset" and remain focused. He pointed to one aspect, in particular, which illustrates the transformation.
"When I go to walkthrough and I see them getting together without even any coaches there, `I want to go through this play again,' those are the small things that maybe I hadn’t seen before that I see now," Quinn said. "Knowing that it’s a group, there’s a lot of things that happen behind the scenes from player to player. That type of communication. And those are like small examples that I get to see on a daily basis that I know the work’s getting put in."
There have been some significant additions to the roster, such as three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to help orchestrate the offensive line, and rookie draft picks Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell to bring more speed and toughness to the defense. Signing seven-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher Dwight Freeney obviously has had a positive affect on Vic Beasley Jr., who leads the team with 6.5 sacks. But it's the familiar faces such as Ryan, Julio Jones and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux who have to set the tone for the group and keep a positive vibe through the most difficult circumstances.
"I just notice that the attention to detail wasn't there last year," said Babineaux, now in his 12th season with the team. "At certain key points of the game, we wouldn't have that attention to detail. This year is different. Like I said in the past, we went through a great offseason as far as being mentally tougher.
"Nobody is breaking down. Everybody is thinking together. It's a brotherhood that we have here. We're going to continue to do what we always do but have more focus about it. But the key thing we haven't been doing the last two weeks is finishing."
Ryan, Jones and Babineaux are three of the eight players still remaining who played in the 2012 NFC Championship game, the last time the Falcons made the playoffs. (Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris, Cliff Matthews and injured Sean Weatherspoon are the others.) The Falcons have a great opportunity to end their three-year playoff drought while currently sitting atop the NFC South. But a loss to the Packers, coupled with the Buccaneers (3-3) winning at home against the Raiders Sunday, would make next week's Thursday night clash in Tampa that much more crucial for a Falcons team thought to have the best chance to win the division.
"We just have to finish," Babineaux said. "In the NFL, that's what separates the good teams from the great teams, being able to finish games like you're supposed to. That's how you get wins in this league."