It took every bit of Ra’Shede Hageman’s outstretched 6-6, 318-pound frame to block Graham Gano’s 63-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the Carolina Panthers’ 19-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Hageman’s right hand got a piece of the football, and – with it – a piece of first place for the suddenly surging Falcons (4-6) in the victory-starved NFC South.
“I think it’s good,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said with a laugh when asked about having a share of first place. “It’s been a different year, for sure, but you play to be relevant in November and December. And as quirky as this year has been, we’re relevant. And we’ve got to keep going.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith wouldn’t talk about being tied for the division lead, saying the only thing that matters is preparing for Cleveland next Sunday. Still, the Falcons have improved after a rugged start.
“We know what we have to do and that’s what we try to get done,” said Smith, whose team has now won two in a row after a five-game skid . “We’ve been able to get it done the last two weeks.”
Falcons second-year cornerback Desmond Trufant, who recorded a key interception of Cam Newton (one of two for Atlanta) in the third quarter of Sunday’s win, said there is no time to rest.
“It’s big, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” he said. “We got it, now we got to keep it. We need to keep winning and being consistent and we’ll be right where we want to be.”
In his 10th season in the NFL, Falcons wide receiver Roddy White – who became the 42nd player ever to go over 10,000 yards receiving for his career on Sunday – is taking a pragmatic approach.
“We just got to take care of business on our end,” said White, who finished with eight catches for 75 yards and a score on Sunday. “If we win the next six, we’ll be 10-6. That looks pretty good, doesn’t it? So we’ve got a ways to go, but we’ll take it week by week.”
Correspondent Ron Green Jr. contributed.