The Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys both sport 4-5 records as they get ready to meet Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. So why do the teams feel as though their seasons are going in different directions?
The atmosphere around the Atlanta camp was deflated after last week's loss to the Browns, which ended the team's three-game winning streak. Dallas, on the other hand, is riding high after breaking a two-game losing streak last week with a win in Philadelphia.
"Trust me, we're all p----- and disappointed," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "But just like when we were 1-4, we didn't plan on staying there. Certainly not backing off what we think we can get done this season."
The Falcons have very slim playoff hopes now. They would almost need to run the table or go 6-1 at the very least to have a chance to get in the playoffs.
"We know what works, how to get ready," Quinn said. "All that goes into to do that. That's what our focus is, so when I spoke to the team and we got through all the truth and good plays, bad plays, all the things that went through it, we go forward in every single way that we can. So we're really clear about where we thought we had the missed opportunities."
A few weeks ago, Dallas traded for Oakland wide receiver Amari Cooper, giving up a first-round pick in 2019 in hopes that Cooper would be the spark plug the Cowboys' offense needed. In its first test drive, Cooper scored a touchdown, but Dallas couldn't generate enough momentum on offense in a 28-14 loss to the Titans on Monday Night Football.
But then everything clicked into place as Dallas notched its first road victory of the season by defeating the Eagles 27-20 on Sunday night. Cooper caught six passes for 75 yards, and his presence seemed to open things up for other Dallas receivers like Michael Gallup (two catches, 34 yards) and Allen Hurns (two catches, 40 yards).
Quarterback Dak Prescott suddenly seems to have a dangerous group of targets, and that's making life a lot easier for the Cowboys' top offensive weapon.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott had his second-most productive game this season as he rushed for 151 yards and a TD on 19 carries and caught six passes for 36 yards and a touchdown.
That's 7.48 yards per touch. Not quite the 8.2 per touch he piled up in a victory over Detroit in late September, but good enough for his talent to translate to a Dallas win.
"Getting him the ball, I think, is a priority for us," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "Whether you hand it to him or throw it to him, he can have a positive impact on the game."
That's classic Garrett understatement.
Even with Cooper having a positive influence on Dallas' passing game, the book on the Cowboys is still a simple one: Stop Elliott and you stop Dallas.
But that might not be easy for Atlanta. The Falcons have the 27th-ranked defense in the NFL. They're slightly better against the run, ranking 21st. The Falcons allowed a season-high 211 yards rushing against Cleveland, a fact that will be addressed before Sunday's game against the Cowboys.
"We have to be more disciplined up front," Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "Giving up 200 is not something we are proud of. We have to be better, there's no way around it."
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said the team needs to have a short memory and be ready to play the Cowboys on Sunday. The Falcons have won the last three meetings, most recently 27-7 in 2017 at the Georgia Dome.
"We've certainly got our work cut out for us, but like every week it comes down to what we do, and we've got to prepare really well and make sure when Sunday rolls around to 1 o'clock that we're on top of our game plan and ready to play."