By Associated Press
As the Atlanta Falcons learned so painfully in last season’s playoffs, the key is peaking at the right time.
Maybe they’ll get it right this season.
With their best effort of an up-and-down season, the Falcons clinched a fourth straight winning record with a 41-14 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 25.
Matt Ryan had another big game, throwing three touchdown passes in less than three quarters of work, and John Abraham terrorized rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert with 3 1/2 sacks.
“I feel like we’ve hit our stride,” said Roddy White, who had 10 catches for 135 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
A year ago, the Falcons won the NFC South with a conference-leading 13 wins. But they were one-and-done in the playoffs, blown out at home by the Green Bay Packers in the division round. The Packers went on to claim the Super Bowl title.
Atlanta would like to follow their lead.
“You know, Green Bay did a heck of a job last year peaking at the right time,” White said. “I feel like we haven’t hit our stride. The last two games, we’ve been hitting it.”
Atlanta led 27-0 at halftime and stretched it out to 41-0 before Jacksonville scored on a blocked punt. Going back to the previous week, when the Falcons overcame a 16-point halftime deficit at Carolina, they ripped off 65 points in a row over five quarters.
Now that’s more like it from a team that was projected as a Super Bowl contender but had not quite lived up to expectations.
Atlanta (9-5) strengthened its hold on an NFC wild card and clinched its fourth straight winning season.
Ho hum. This team has much higher goals than finishing above .500.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to accomplish that as an organization and a football team,” coach Mike Smith said. “But believe me, it’s not one of those expectations we really want to talk about. If we’re where we think we are as an organization and a football team, that’s expected each and every year.”
It wasn’t so long ago that nine victories was a big deal. The Falcons went through the first 42 years of their existence without so much as back-to-back winning