The Panthers, Redskins and Raiders entered Sunday a combined 4-10. Atlanta needed a last-second field goal to beat Carolina, a Robert Griffin III injury/Kirk Cousins implosion to get past Washington, and another Matt Bryant bomb late Sunday to down Oakland. So, that doesn't make any of those three Falcons wins look overly impressive.
I'm pretty confident that the Falcons could not care less.
Not only did the Falcons' 23-20 victory ([si_launchNFLPopup video='d72f34377ad44bfd8daa75bf5fb9511e']Highlights[/si_launchNFLPopup]) over the Raiders on Sunday keep them perfect (6-0), but it moved them a step closer to an early clinch in the NFC South and home-field in the playoffs.
Along with teams like the Cowboys and Chargers, the battle for the Falcons is as much mental as it is physical. Atlanta knows that, even if this season ends with a 16-0 record, it doesn't mean anything without playoff success.
An October victory over an Oakland team destined to finish under .500 doesn't do a lot to help with that reality. Except in this way: Every time the Falcons find a way to win when they shouldn't, every time they scratch and claw their way out of a hole to pick up a victory, they're planting another seed of confidence.
For a team that has collapsed so spectacularly in the playoffs in past years, that could be huge.
Take Sunday's game. Matt Ryan threw three interceptions and Oakland mashed Atlanta's offensive line all game. Even after Carson Palmer tried to hand the Falcons a victory with a late pick-6, the Raiders came back and scored to tie the game at 20.
Sure, the Falcons should be frustrated that they were in that situation and that the defense didn't hold a late 20-13 lead.
Instead of collapsing or sulking, though, Atlanta went out and took advantage of its last opportunity. Ryan completed 5 of 6 passes on the Falcons' final drive, including a pair of solid gains to ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez. And Bryant then drilled a 55-yarder -- far from a gimme, given the circumstances.
Scoff all you want at how the Falcons are getting it done right now. Heck, the Falcons themselves probably would be the first ones to tell you that they need to play better if they want to accomplish all of their goals.
What they won't do is apologize for winning ugly.
If anything, the last three weeks just show us how dangerous the Falcons can be when everything starts clicking. The defense is struggling and Ryan has run hot and cold, but they're finding a way to get the job done anyway. It wasn't that long ago that we were patting Atlanta on the back for shutting down Peyton Manning and dismantling the Chargers in San Diego.
The good news for the teams they've played since then is that Atlanta has looked far more vulnerable. The bad news is that no one has been able to take advantage. The Falcons found a way -- again -- on Sunday. They're not going to hang any banners in the Georgia Dome for a home win over the reeling Raiders. But victories like this one could help them as they pursue a major celebration down the road.