It's kind of hard to believe that at 4-6, we're sitting in first place in the NFC South, but that's kind of the way it's been in my career. This NFL journey of mine is always taking me on twists and turns. I've always had to face great odds. I've always had to face an eight-man box.
So for me to be on a team that's in first place right now at 4-6, it only falls in line with what I've known in the last 11 seasons and what my experience in the National Football League has been. Nothing comes easy. There are no easy yards. There are no easy wins, and I'm sure my first National Football League playoff start won't be coming to me easy either.
In a way, it feels like we've been given a second chance. Despite some of what happened in the first half of the season, we now have an opportunity to make things right this year. You don't often get second chances in life and you rarely get them in the National Football League.
But now, we're fortunate enough to go out, and work to be the team that we know we can be.
The vibe of the locker room has been great, but really nothing has changed in that regard. We're a group that has had some let downs, games that got away from us, and we've not lived up to our own expectations. But despite all that, this team has remained tight-knit. We're brothers.
Although we lost the game there, I think the trip to London only strengthened that bond. When you're on the road for almost 14 days between Baltimore and London and you don't have your family members around, your normal routine becomes filled in with spending time with your brothers. That did a world of good for us.
Any time you want to do something great, you've got to team up with the right combination of people. We know getting to the playoffs and ultimately winning the Super Bowl is not an easy task, and we're going to need not just one person or two people, but all 53 men, practice squad guys included.
The reason I love the game of football is that truly no one person can come in and just wave a wand and make things happen. You need everyone communicating, everyone on the same page.
To me, that's what makes it such a great sport.
REGROUP AND REFOCUS
The bye week came at a great time for us, and allowed us to kind of push the reset button. This is a very young team with a huge chunk of guys that are either first or second year starters, or just trying to make a name for themselves early in their career.
After going through training camp for four weeks and then eight weeks of regular season, that's 12 games. That's a good year for some of those younger guys coming from the college ranks, and it takes a huge toll on a body, both physically and mentally.
So it's very helpful to be able to take a week off to recover, as well as self-evaluate in areas that we all know we could get better in. It also allowed everyone to take a deep breath, and realize that we're not out of it. You look at the NFC South, and it's wide open. So we were able to quickly get ourselves back into a playoff position.
I was able to identify and recognize that this team, despite what we've been through and the struggles we had, was yet to have any sort of division in it. Guys still came to work and practiced just as hard as if it was week one. So everyone's dedication to doing the right thing was there. It was just a matter of time for guys to execute and trust in one another.
After the bye, we all accepted the fact that only we can take responsibility for what has happened to us this season. And on the flipside, we're the only ones who could take responsibility for what we made happen after the bye.
Guys have really accepted the challenge, and taken on the task of digging ourselves out of this hole. We know we're a better team than what our record reflects. A lot of the games that we lost, we weren't executing. We definitely realized that we let some games get away from us for various reasons, but we had to put those particular games behind us.
There are definitely some areas where we can improve as an offensive unit. One thing we have to try to avoid more is penalizing ourselves. The pre-snap penalties like false starts hurt us, and in the heat of the battle on the football field, we have to be making wise decisions. All games have highs and lows, and you've got to be able to stay pretty much stay even keel throughout it.
Any time you have those self-inflicted mental errors happen to knock you out of field goal range or out of the red zone, it's a setback and it's due to a lack of execution. So we have to spend some time fine-tuning those things so that everybody has a grasp of it before the game and we can make sure we're detailed in our assignments.
But we've fully committed ourselves to taking it one week at a time. We're not trying to get caught up in making projections, or what anybody else is doing. We just have to make sure the Falcons take care of the Falcons, and the rest will take care of itself.
Now here we are, we've brought ourselves back to being the head of our division, and guys are really trusting the process.
Any time you can control your own destiny and the result of your season is in your hands, it makes things a lot easier to deal with, a lot easier to handle, because you only have yourself to blame. As athletes, we are very self-motivated in that sense. So you want to have your season boil down to the type of work ethic and execution that you put forth on the field.
Either you do it the right way and you're rewarded, or if you don't, you only have yourself to blame.
When you have control over your fate, it's a lot easier to grasp.
NEXT MAN UP
What I'm most proud of about this team and this offensive unit for is how resilient we've been, especially in the face of adversity as it relates to injuries.
We've had to deal with a lot of guys going down, especially on the offensive line, but we've never had that "woe is me" kind of spirit. Instead, we've become very adept at having that "next man up" mentality. We've had to have guys step up, and they have answered the call. That's very good to see, and very uplifting.
Everyone on this roster has a role to play.
Unfortunately now, a good friend of mine, Antone Smith, is down for the year. That's a big loss for us. He's one of our team captains, one of those core guys that you need on every team, no matter what sport, no matter what position. His presence in the backfield as a running back is well-known, but his presence also as a special teamer was just as important. The guy did it all. He commanded a lot of attention from our opponents, and made sure that he was accounted for.
But I believe we have the personnel to step up and fill-in for that loss. We were a four-man backfield. Now Devonta, Jacquizz, and myself are going to have to pick up the slack in the areas where Antone is not going to be able to help us out now. I feel very confident in the other two guys in the running back room that I share responsibility with. I trust and believe in them.
Personally, I'd like to do a little more catching the ball out of the backfield. Antone always did a good job coming in on a third down situation, catching the ball out of the backfield and making a big explosive plays for us in the open field. It's one of those things that we all looked forward to seeing — Antone doing his thing out of the backfield. I know I can step up. The saying is "the more you can do, the more you help the team," and that is an area where I would love to show my value to this organization.
I've never been one to try to put myself in a box, and I've had a lot of years where I got a ton of passes out of the backfield. I have not lost that ability. I just have to make things happen with the ball when the opportunity presents itself.
MAKING THE PLAYOFFS
To be at the top of the division and smell that potential playoff berth, to be relevant at the end of November going into December, it gets my engine going.
All the things that you would need and want out of your team to try to position yourself for a playoff run, I think we have them, and it's coming together at the right time.
This is the time of year when a good defense and a good running game really become the difference. Our pieces are just coming along, they're clicking right now. I take great pride in being a tough hard-nosed runner, being a finisher and a closer for my team.
The one thing about the postseason is all you have to do is get there, and then anything can happen. We feel that talent-wise the dynamics of the team we have on our roster can help us do some great things if we can just get into that tournament.
We've seen this kind of thing play out before in the recent past. I saw first hand a team win their final game to go into the playoffs with a losing record, and then that team went on to win their wild-card game and make it into the divisional round.
That's the thing about the playoffs, and what makes the NFL so great: every team has a very talented roster, they're all competitive, and any team can win on any given Sunday.
Being at 4-6, is the record pretty? No. But someone has to win the NFC South. Why not the Atlanta Falcons?
We have six very tough games left in this regular season, and they're all against teams that can act as a measuring stick for us in terms of how we compete against them and how we do. This last game on the road Sunday against the Carolina Panthers was one of those as well. It might not have been the best-looking win, but it was a good win. I'll definitely take a ugly win over a pretty loss. They don't give you any bonus points for games you should have won.
Playing tough teams down the stretch is important. Ultimately, the goal is always to win a Super Bowl, and if you want to win the Super Bowl, you know you don't have an easy schedule or play easy opponents. We're looking forward to using these next six weeks to get better.
AT HOME IN THE DOME
It's going to be fun to be back at home this weekend for the first time in more than a month. I'm looking forward to it. The Georgia Dome is going to be rocking.
We have a tough opponent in the Cleveland Browns coming in, but the fate of our season is in our hands again.
That's where we want to be.
To all our great Atlanta Falcons fans: I know we've had very close games and probably given you some high blood pressure. But the one thing you should know is that we're going to do everything we can to rise up to the challenge ahead.