Falcons shrug off being over .500 for first time since 2017

Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson rushed for 56 yards and had a rec. touchdown in their Week 1 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Arthur Smith didn’t care. Not in the slightest. Not Sunday after the Atlanta Falcons went over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2017 season. Not the day after, when he was asked about the benchmark again.

The third-year Falcons head coach was insistent on not making a big deal of his team getting to 1-0 and snapping a five-year streak of being .500 or worse, which until Sunday was the longest active run in the NFL.

“Don’t care,” Smith said. “I’m in the present. All I really care about right now is make sure I give you the answers you need to give you my real perspective and it’s on Green Bay. It really is.

“I don’t celebrate in-season whatever. All I care about is trying to get this team better so we can play in the postseason.”

Even though Week 1 can offer wild overreactions based on small sample sizes, beating the Carolina Panthers 24-10 at home does offer one thing: A sign of tangible progress.

For two-plus seasons, Smith pointed toward a process of reshaping the roster and the culture within the Falcons organization, of stripping away entitlement that perhaps existed before he and general manager Terry Fontenot arrived.

Due to salary cap restraints, age and the changing of players, Atlanta flipped almost its entire roster. Only one player remaining on the active roster -- safety Jaylinn Hawkins -- played for the prior regime and hasn’t had some level of contract extension, re-signing or option picked up by Smith and Co. Only eight players on the 53-man roster, including captains Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, Chris Lindstrom and Younghoe Koo, remain from the 2020 season.

Sunday was proof that the new culture inside the building is turning into something on the field.

“Absolutely. Obviously it’s the first game, but you can feel things are turning around, you know what I’m saying,” fullback Keith Smith said. “The culture, everything. It’s turning around over here.”

Smith is one of the few who has seen it all. He signed with Atlanta after stints in Dallas and Oakland. He signed three contracts with the Falcons -- first in 2019, then a three-year deal in 2020 and re-signed again this offseason.

He’s been part of the transition, a special teams stalwart who has seen the shift. Being over .500 for the first time since before he arrived matters little. It is, though, “something to take into consideration.”

That the Falcons understand they didn’t play close to their capabilities -- the offense allowed four sacks, converted 20% of third downs and had five of their 12 non-kneeldown drives go three-and-out while the defense allowed nearly five yards a carry (4.8) -- is something to build on.

The last time Atlanta was over .500, running back Bijan Robinson was a sophomore at Salpointe High School in Arizona and receiver Drake London was a junior at Moorpark High in California. Only two current players -- Matthews and Jarrett -- were on the Falcons the last time they had a winning record.

So it’s been a while. They'll get the chance to add another win on Sunday when they host the Green Bay Packers (1 p.m. ET, FOX).

“Obviously there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Matthews said. ‘But, hey, we’re 1-0.’ “