ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons are eager to break free of their mostly inglorious past, show they can be a team that consistently puts up winning records and contends for the playoffs.
Time to end that losing streak.
For the first time in Mike Smith's two years as coach, the Falcons have lost consecutive games. Certainly, there's no need for panic — Atlanta lost a pair of road games to Dallas (5-2) and unbeaten New Orleans — but this franchise's mostly grim 43-year history raises doubts any time there's the least bit of adversity.
"You don't ever want to have losing streaks," receiver Roddy White said. "It can head south real fast."
Well, at least the Falcons (4-3) have an opponent that would seem custom-made for getting back on the winning track: Team Dysfunction, a.k.a. the Redskins.
Washington (2-5) has already changed up the guy calling offensive plays — head coach Jim Zorn was stripped of the duties, even though management gave him the dreaded vote of confidence for the rest of the season — and the Redskins look like they're headed for another year of big salaries and low return, a familiar theme during the ownership of Dan Snyder.
"Our season is not over," running back Clinton Portis insisted. "The same way we got into this mess, we can get ourselves out of this mess."
At least the Redskins didn't lose last week — they were off. Zorn said the bye came at just the right time, giving Washington a chance to regroup from the dismal start.
"It was good for a lot of the players and even the coaches just to get a breather, regroup, study schemes and tendencies," he said. "The whole being 2-5 and being able to soul-search a little bit. Our players have done a wonderful job of practicing with enthusiasm. It shows the character of our football team. We don't want to lose, and our guys are fighting hard to get that next win."
The Falcons are in much the same situation, just to a much lesser degree.
Start with Matt Ryan, who led a charmed rookie season but is running into a bit more adversity in Year 2. Over the last three games, he's thrown seven interceptions — more than half of the 13 picks he had in his first 20 games as a pro quarterback.
"You're going to make some mistakes, you're going to have some plays you wish you could have back," Ryan said. "But you've got to continue to have the mindset that you have to go out there and make plays and stay confident with your abilities. I've played this game for a long time. I know there's going to be some ups and downs."
Ryan will try to get back on track facing one of the league's best pass defenses (the Redskins rank second in the league) and a cornerback, DeAngelo Hall, who still feels betrayed by his former team.
Hall played with the Falcons from 2004-07 and made two Pro Bowls, then was traded to Oakland after a new regime took over in Atlanta. Hall didn't even make it through one season with the Raiders but has landed on his feet with the Redskins.
Now, he's got another shot at the Falcons.
"Promises were made, and they lied," Hall said. "When they lied, I said I can't trust them — I've got to get out of here."
The Redskins are happy that Hall wound up on their roster.
"He has listed his game up every week," Zorn said. "He's always looking for that interception, which you love. Plus he has really made some good plays underneath and inside: forcing the runner back inside, making tackles, and things like that. He has done everything we ask him to do."
The entire Redskins defense is playing at a championship level, ranking among the top five for the fewest points and yards allowed, which only magnifies just how bad the offense has been.
Playing behind a makeshift line that lost two key starters to season-ending injuries, quarterback Jason Campbell has spent much of the season on the run and Portis has spent much of his time in a futile search for a little running room. Washington is averaging just 13.7 points.
"We are going to try to push the button a little bit more," Campbell said. "What I mean by that is just coming out and trying to find a tempo early in the game. I think our main thing is going to be to take the football and try to manage the game very well. We are going to be in a hostile environment. We're playing against a really good football team that's hungry for a win."
Snyder recently made some rare in-season comments, saying he was embarrassed and frustrated by the team's performance.
Portis couldn't agree more.
"We know that we are a disappointment," the running back said. "It didn't take Mr. Snyder to say that. We already knew it. It's us, we have to play the part. We can't put it on him. I think with him saying that he apologizes that it's not going to make our record better than 2-5, or make people forget that we are 2-5. We just have to perform better."
The Falcons feel the same way about these last couple of weeks.
"It's a goal of ours not to lose two in a row," receiver Michael Jenkins said. "Unfortunately, it happened. It's just something we have to overcome now. We definitely can't lose three in a row."