Falcons rise at critical moment in season

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ATLANTA — As the Atlanta Falcons learned so painfully in last season’s playoffs, the key is peaking at the right time.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (84) reacts to his touchdown catch against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of Sunday's game in Atlanta.  JOHN AMIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (84) reacts to his touchdown catch against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of Sunday's game in Atlanta.

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 Thursday night. 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 3½ 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 and haven’t lost since.

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.”

This one was over by halftime, Gabbert and the shell-shocked Jaguars (4-10) saddled with a net passing total of minus-1 yard. It got as bad as minus-29 before Jacksonville piled up some meaningless yards on its final two possessions. The injury-riddled Jaguars, playing out the season with an interim coach and a new owner, were coming off their best performance, having scored 41 straight points in a 41-14 victory over Tampa Bay.

Michael Turner had a 5-yard touchdown run and Matt Bryant kicked a pair of field goals to account for Atlanta’s other scoring in the 41-point barrage.

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