Because the Falcons are the 11-1 team that nobody seems to believe in, it feels like we're all laying out a road map of the things they have to do before they deserve to be taken seriously. Never mind that the Falcons were 43-21 during Matt Ryan's professional career before this season began, which is the fifth-best record for any team over that four-year stretch. The Falcons need to beat a great team, even though they comfortably handled a Broncos team in Week 2 that we all didn't realize was quite that good. They need to win on the road, even though they blew out the Chargers by 24 in San Diego when the Ravens needed a miracle and overtime to win there by three. They needed to beat these Saints last night, in what was probably the only time an announcer declared a home game versus a 5-6 team to be a "must-win" for a 10-1 squad.1
And now, of course, the next step in our road map for the Falcons is to win a playoff game with Ryan at the helm. Since Atlanta already has a playoff spot virtually sealed up, Ryan and the Falcons are going to spend the next four weeks deflecting that same question about their legitimacy in interview after interview, something Ryan already had to do during the postgame show last night. That criticism conflates the words "haven't" and "can't." It suggests that there's something lacking about Ryan's abilities or even Atlanta's character. That both Ryan and his team truly can't be taken seriously — that they don't deserve to be taken seriously — until they beat somebody in January. I don't know that the Falcons will win the Super Bowl or even that lone playoff game this year, but impugning Ryan and his team on some sort of illegitimate-until-they-win argument is lazy. There is no next hurdle for the Falcons to cross because that's a narrative trick, not a genuine way that people win or lose football games. All it takes to realize that is a little bit of historical perspective.