FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Even though none of the Atlanta Falcons would publicly acknowledge the heightened pressure to win leading up to Sunday's playoff clash with the Seahawks, make no mistake, the anxiety was real.
Alas, having finally earned that first playoff triumph of the Mike Smith era -- a miraculous 30-28 victory over the Seahawks -- the Falcons seemingly could breathe in a collective sigh of relief.
Does it stand to reason Atlanta can now play looser in Sunday's NFC championship against San Francisco, the first home title game in the Falcons' 46-year history? Do they stand to benefit from the change in atmosphere?
"I think so," safety Thomas DeCoud said after the Seattle win. "A little bit looser. Like you said, we have that proverbial monkey off our back. Now, we can, you know, really calm down, hit our stride and make sure we dont make the same mistakes we did in this game. Thats just one more thing off of our plate.
"Now, we got to just correct what we did wrong ...