Falcons trying to build momentum for playoffs

Falcons coach Mike Smith has learned that little credit is given
for regular-season success when it is followed by postseason
flops.

Smith is hoping the Falcons’ impressive 34-0 shutout of the New
York Giants on Sunday generates momentum to end the streak of
disappointments in the playoffs.

The Falcons (12-2) need one win to secure home-field advantage
through the NFC playoffs. Atlanta has five straight winning seasons
but is 0-3 in the playoffs under Smith.

The Falcons have had better regular-season records than the
Super Bowl winner in two straight seasons. That meant little as
they lost to the eventual champion each year in the playoffs.

The Falcons were 10-6 last season before losing to the 9-7
Giants in the playoffs. The 2010 Falcons were 13-3 before losing to
10-6 Green Bay. The Giants and Packers were the hot teams that went
all the way.

The lesson for Atlanta is obvious: Late-season momentum matters
the most.

”I think it’s important that you’re playing efficiently and
effectively in December and January, and I think that’s what every
team is striving for,” Smith said Monday. ”I think over the last
two seasons, the teams that were playing well in December and got
really rolling were the teams that had the most success and the
teams that ultimately were the world champions. So I think momentum
is very important.”

Impressive regular-season records can be quickly forgotten.

”People don’t remember what you do in September and October,”
he said. ”It’s all about December and January.”

Atlanta plays Saturday night at Detroit before closing its
regular season at home against Tampa Bay.

Quarterback Matt Ryan dismissed the notion that the surprising
shutout of the Giants was Atlanta’s long-awaited statement game to
boost public perception of the team.

”That’s not something that I think about, or worry about,”
Ryan said. ”We still have some things in front of us, in terms of
the regular season, that we want to accomplish and get done. That’s
what I spend my time thinking about.”

Ryan outplayed New York’s Eli Manning, who threw two
interceptions. Ryan completed 28 of 33 passes for 270 yards with
three touchdowns and no interceptions and broke his own franchise
records for completions and passing yards in a season.

”I thought Matt had one of his best games since he’s been
here,” Smith said. ”He ran the offense extremely well. He exuded
a lot of confidence. I think that permeated around the team.”

Ryan threw two touchdown passes to Julio Jones and one to Tony
Gonzalez.

The Falcons’ running game enjoyed a revival. Running backs
Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling combined for 33
carries for 116 yards. Turner had 52 yards rushing with a
touchdown.

”It was nice to get it going,” Smith said. ”I thought we set
the tempo early with our running game. It goes hand in hand. When
you’re able to start running the football, they have to devote more
resources to stopping the run and it opens up the pass game.”

Atlanta gave the Giants their first regular-season shutout loss
since 1996. The Falcons held the Giants to 256 total yards.

”Shutouts are very hard to come by in the NFL,” Smith said.
”They don’t come along very often. When you do accomplish it for
your football team, it’s not just the defense. The offense and
special teams were contributing to that outcome as well. It’s a
sense of accomplishment because they don’t happen very often.”

It’s difficult to do better than a December shutout against the
team that beat Atlanta in last season’s playoffs.

”It was an important game for our football team for the next
three weeks,” Smith said. ”We’re playing for a whole lot. There
are still a lot of things that have to be determined in terms of
seeding for the playoffs. That to me was two teams that were
playing for a whole lot.”

NOTES: Due to the Saturday game at Detroit, the Falcons will
practice on Tuesday, normally an off day. Smith said it will be an
important day for S William Moore, who missed Sunday’s game with
injured ribs. ”We’re hoping to get him back out there as quickly
as possible,” Smith said. ”It’s going to really be determined how
his rehab goes tomorrow.” … The Falcons expect the league to
review S Chris Hope’s third-quarter hit on Giants receiver Victor
Cruz that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty.