Off to the best start in team history, the Atlanta Falcons have tried not to make too much of their early accomplishments.
Based on the way the Oakland Raiders have played this season, the Falcons appear to have a good chance to continue that success.
Looking to remain the NFC’s lone undefeated team, the Falcons can help coach Mike Smith match the franchise mark for victories while keeping the Raiders winless on the road Sunday.
Though its last two victories have not come easy, Atlanta (5-0) and Houston are the only unbeaten teams in the NFL. The Falcons rank fifth in the league with 29.6 points per game and are eighth in giving up 18.6.
“It is a great start for us, it really is,” said Matt Ryan, who has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,507 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. “At this point, you can’t really worry about what is going on in the history of our organization, but we have put ourselves right where we need to be five games into it.”
The Falcons are 48-21 in the regular season since Smith arrived in 2008. A seventh straight home win Sunday would tie him with Dan Reeves for the most victories in team history.
Achieving that feat seems very possible against Oakland (1-3), which ranks 30th in scoring defense at 31.2 points per game and 25th in total defense at 411.5 yards a contest. The Raiders have been outscored 72-19 in their two road losses to Miami and Denver.
However, Atlanta won’t take anything for granted after needing a last-second field goal to beat Carolina 30-28 on Sept. 30 and scoring the final 10 points for a 24-17 win at Washington on Sunday.
“This team’s got a whole different attitude about going out there and expecting to win,” said receiver Roddy White, among the NFL leaders with 31 receptions for 481 yards and three TDs.
At age 36, tight end Tony Gonzalez leads the league with 39 catches while totaling 388 yards and four touchdowns. He caught 13 passes for 123 yards and a score against the Redskins.
The former Kansas City Chiefs star has faced Oakland 23 times and recorded 110 receptions for 1,473 yards – his most versus any opponent – and eight TDs.
Gonzalez could be in for another big game against a Raiders squad that comes off a bye week looking for answers to problems on both sides of the ball.
“We’re not going to stick our head in the sand,” coach Dennis Allen said. “We’re going to evaluate everything and see what things we need to improve on and where we can get better.”
Despite Allen’s new defensive scheme that features more multiple fronts, coverages and blitz packages, the Raiders have allowed opponents to complete 71.5 percent of their passes. Oakland has recorded only three sacks and forced three turnovers, and the secondary has been decimated by injuries to the point that safety Michael Huff has had to play cornerback.
That’s a big reason why Oakland has yielded a league-worst 53.3 percent conversion rate on third down, which would be an NFL record.
“You’re not going to win many games in this league if you can’t win on third down,” defensive tackle Richard Seymour said.
The offense has not fared much better.
Oakland totaled a season-low 237 yards in a 37-6 loss to the Broncos on Sept. 30. The Raiders have converted on 27.5 percent of third downs and are averaging 3.4 yards on the ground.
Darren McFadden rushed for 113 yards with a TD in a 34-31 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 23, but he’s gained 88 yards with no scores in the three losses.
In a rare positive development, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey could play for the first time since being hospitalized after a helmet-to-helmet hit against the Steelers. He has nine receptions for 98 yards with a touchdown.
Oakland hopes this contest goes better than its last meeting with Atlanta, in which it was held to 77 yards – second fewest in team history – during a 24-0 home defeat Nov. 2, 2008. Ryan threw for 220 yards with two touchdowns and Michael Turner ran for 139 yards for the Falcons.
The Raiders fell 35-10 in their last trip to Atlanta on Dec. 12, 2004.