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Now or never for Falcons
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) recovers his own fumble against the Carolina Panthers during a 2016 game against the Carolina Panthers in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Falcons found themselves in what coach Dan Quinn on Wednesday called "a spin cycle of frustrated, anger and then motivated" after a mistake-filled loss last week at New Orleans.

Motivated? That's all about this week, because despite the frustrating 23-13 loss to the Saints , the Falcons would secure a playoff spot by beating Carolina on Sunday.

The Falcons (9-6) could lose to the Panthers and still make the playoffs if Seattle loses to Arizona. This scenario apparently has not been discussed in team meetings, as some players say Atlanta's only path to the playoffs is beating Carolina.

"Our situation is if we win, we're in and if we don't, you go home," said defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. "It's as clear as it gets."

Defensive end Takk McKinley delivered an almost verbatim playoff analysis when he said "If we win, we're in. If we lose, you know, we're out."

Even quarterback Matt Ryan compared the home game against the Panthers to an elimination game in the postseason.

"This is what it's like in the playoffs, so basically for us the playoffs have started and if you win you continue to play," Ryan said. "It's fun to be a part of that. As competitors, that's where you want to be at this time of year."

Ryan acknowledged players understand the Falcons could back into the playoffs with a loss.

"Obviously we know the situation but we're not relying on anybody else," he said. "It's about us taking care of our business."

The Falcons too often fell short of taking care of business last week.

Devonta Freeman lost a fumble after a Deion Jones interception gave Atlanta possession at the Saints 2. Freeman also was stopped on a fourth-down run from the Saints 1 in the fourth quarter. The Falcons were called for 10 penalties for 91 yards, had key dropped passes and converted only 2 of 13 third downs.

It wasn't the kind of performance needed when Atlanta still had a chance to win the NFC South. Now the Falcons are left with one final opportunity to take care of their own playoff destiny.

The Falcons still hope to march through the NFC playoffs, where there is no clear favorite , and make a repeat trip to the Super Bowl.

"We've had some things that have set us back but all that doesn't mean much this week," Ryan said. "It means we're in the position that we're in. We believe and we know we're capable of playing our best football and now we just have to go out and do it."

Ryan said Quinn on Wednesday showed players video of Willis Reed of the Knicks hobbling onto the court for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals after tearing a muscle in his right thigh in Game 5 and missing Game 6.

"It's not necessarily about playing through a torn quad or anything like that but the competitiveness of one guy and the impact it can have on a team and what's people's commitment to an organization looks like," Ryan said, adding he had never seen Reed's famous show of courage.

"I didn't know it and I'm one of the oldest guys in our building," he said. "I'm sure the other guys have no idea, too."

Ryan said Quinn "does stuff like that to keep the messaging fresh. It's cool to see."