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Falcons eyeing another winning mark but want more

ATLANTA (AP) – The guys who currently play for the Atlanta Falcons find it a little hard to believe.

Nine wins used to be a big deal for this franchise?

“Really? I never knew that,” said defensive end Ray Edwards, who signed with the Falcons before this season. “I guess times have changed.”

Indeed, they have.

The Falcons (8-5) are on the verge of their fourth straight winning season heading into tonight’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9). Not so long ago, that sort of sustained success would’ve seemed unimaginable.

Remember, this was a team that went through its first four decades in the NFL without so much as back-to-back winning seasons.

“That’s crazy,” said defensive tackle Corey Peters, who’s in his second season with the Falcons. “Since I’ve been here, it’s all about winning. The attitude is a winning one.”

Owner Arthur Blank brought a higher level of professionalism to the Falcons when he purchased the team nine years ago, but things really turned around in 2008 when he hired Thomas Dimitroff as general manager and Mike Smith as coach.

Reeling from a dismal season in which franchise quarterback Michael Vick went to prison, Atlanta quickly turned things around under its new regime with a surprising run to the playoffs. After going 9-7 in 2009 but missing the postseason, the Falcons soared to 13 wins and the NFC South championship a year ago.

Now, anything less than a Super Bowl championship would be considered a disappointment.

Quarterback Matt Ryan said the expectations “have changed, certainly, from where we were four years ago. That’s what you want. You want to be moving in the right direction. You want expectations to be high.”

Smith barely acknowledged the chance to wrap up another winning mark in prime time. He’s clearly got bigger goals in his sights.

“I haven’t even thought about that,” the coach said, chuckling. “The significance of this game is we’re continuing to be in the conversation to be a relevant team here in December. We want to have sustainability, and I guess one of the measuring sticks of sustainability – maybe at the low end – is winning seasons. But there’s other things on the high end in terms of how you measure your successes.”