The Falcons (11-1) wrapped up the NFC South on Sunday when Tampa Bay lost at Denver 31-23, handing Atlanta its second division championship in three years. But this team won’t be satisfied unless it reaches the Super Bowl.
“Just the first step in a long journey,” center Todd McClure, the team’s senior player, wrote on Twitter. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, a rookie on Atlanta’s last division-winning team, expressed a similar sentiment.
“The last time we won the division I was too amp!” he tweeted. “This time it’s just like... OK, now lets accomplish the (next) goal!”
The Falcons will now turn their attention to securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. After San Francisco and Chicago both lost on Sunday, Atlanta merely needs to win two of its last four games to ensure it won’t have to go on the road before the Super Bowl.
The division title has been an afterthought the past few weeks as the Falcons steadily pulled away from Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina. They all but locked up the championship last Thursday night with a 23-13 win over New Orleans.
Atlanta also won the NFC South in 2004, and captured NFC West crowns in 1980 and 1998.
“We don’t worry about it,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We try not to think that far ahead. One of the things I’ve learned in my five years is that if you’re worrying about what you’re going to do in January in September, October, November and December, you’re wasting your time.”
The Falcons can use December to tune up for the playoffs and get some players healthy, most notably cornerback Asante Samuel, who has been slowed by a shoulder injury.
Also, Atlanta is eager to turn around their recent history of flopping in the postseason. The team was one-and-done in its last three playoff appearances dating back to 2008, Ryan’s rookie year.
“I’ve tried to keep that week-to-week focus,” the quarterback said, “but at the same time, we’ve had some sour tastes in our mouths at the end of the last couple of seasons. So hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to change that.”