— Sometimes it's easy to forget Matt Ryan is only in his third year as Atlanta's quarterback.
His weekly messages make him seem older and wiser.
"We have to remain focused on the process, remain focus on our preparation during the week and be extremely detailed when we practice and in meetings during the week so on Sunday we can cut loose and play," Ryan said after the Falcons beat St. Louis 34-17 on Sunday. "For the most part we've done a pretty good job of that. We still need to clean things up. There are a lot of areas where we need to improve."
If that sounds like something Tom Brady would say, then it should not come as a surprise. Ryan was at Boston College when Brady was leading New England to Super Bowls. And Atlanta's general manager, Thomas Dimitroff, was New England's chief of college scouting for about five years.
Dimitroff has been able to draft well, including his first-ever pick in Ryan in 2008. He has also supplemented the roster through free agency — although he swerved off the Patriots' model to a degree to sign high-priced free agents such as running back Michael Turner and cornerback Dunta Robinson — and make some shrewd trades, like bringing in Tony Gonzalez from Kansas City in 2009.
All of it has the Falcons with the best record in the NFC at 8-2 thanks to a four-game winning streak. Sunday's game against Green Bay (7-3) at the Georgia Dome could be for home-field edge in the playoffs, but the Falcons need to keep winning just to stay in first in the NFC South with New Orleans and Tampa Bay — both with winning streaks of their own — a game back.
There seems to be a weekly debate as to which team is best in the NFL. New England has the pedigree. The New York Jets have the swagger. Green Bay has the tradition. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have the defense. Philadelphia has the juice.
In many ways Atlanta is as low-key as its coach, Mike Smith.
Smith was a surprise choice by Dimitroff in 2008 in part because he was not the household name as Jacksonville's defensive coordinator. Football people knew him, but fans did not. Dimitroff didn't worry how Smith would "sell" to the locals. He wanted the right guy.
The Falcons play smart; they've been penalized a league-low 38 times and have gone three straight games without a turnover. Ryan has been intercepted only five times on the season on 377 attempts.
They can play fast: wide receiver Roddy White has 79 catches for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns. Only Philadelphia (284) has scored more than Atlanta's 256 points in the conference. Mike Jenkins is averaging 14.3 yards per catch (granted in only five games this season).
They can play rough: Turner has 864 yards after rushing for 871 last year in 11 games. He is healthier and more fit now, looking more like the back that gained 1,699 yards in 2008. They have had the same starting offensive line for the season — Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo.
They can play defense: statistically Atlanta is in the middle of the pack but only Chicago (146), Green Bay (146) and New Orleans (170) have allowed fewer than Atlanta's 192 points in the conference. Ten different players have accounted for their 15 interceptions.
Can they keep it going?
"We're not a team that's really played a full game for 60 minutes," Smith said. "We feel like we have better games out there. When you have that attitude you're going to continue to strive to be the best you can be."