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Falcons can put end to streak

Photo: Kevin Hinton. Atlanta Falcons' Roddy White (84) shoves off a tackle from Buffalo Bills' Donte Whitner (20) during Sunday's game at the Georgia Dome.

Photo: Kevin Hinton. Atlanta Falcons' Roddy White (84) shoves off a tackle from Buffalo Bills' Donte Whitner (20) during Sunday's game at the Georgia Dome.

ATLANTA -- Todd McClure is in his 11th season with the Falcons, so you'd expect him to be the Atlanta player with the most at stake in purging the curse.

"It would be huge," the veteran center said Sunday after the Falcons routed Buffalo 31-3 at the Georgia Dome. "We need to get that monkey of our backs."

But the weight of the Falcons never having back-to-back winning seasons rests even heavier on a former longtime Atlanta center and member of the team's ring of honor.

"It's embarrassing," said Jeff Van Note, who joined the team in 1969 and played in 18 of their 44 seasons. "It's a ridiculous record. It's gone on way too long."

Next Sunday, the NFL's longest stretch of futility may finally come to an end.

The Falcons (8-7) went into the season with a bigger goal. But with their playoff hopes dashed amid a run of injuries, salvaging a winning record has become a major priority.

"Finishing 9-7 would mean a lot," said quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw three touchdowns passes against the Bills.

"We want to do it for the franchise, for owner Arthur Blank and the fans," said Roddy White, who caught a 42-yard TD pass from Ryan on the Falcons' first play on Sunday.

"I don't know much about Falcons history, but I know about this," added young defensive end Kroy Biermann.

But none of the current Falcons have heard about the lack of back-to-back winning seasons more than McClure.

"I'm tired of it," he said. "And I want it to end."

For that to be accomplished, the Falcons must beat Tampa Bay in Florida next weekend. The Bucs are just 3-12, but they beat the NFC South champion Saints 20-17 in overtime at New Orleans on Sunday.

"We're not taking anything for granted," McClure said.

The Falcons know better.

Atlanta won the NFC South in 2004 with an 11-5 record under coach Jim Mora and were 6-2 to start 2005 before stumbling to an 8-8 finish.

Last season, the Falcons again won the NFC South at 11-5 in Mike Smith's first year as coach and started 4-1 this year. But it will take a season-closing three-game winning streak to get a winning record.

How bad have the Falcons been through the years? The only time that they've been able to have consecutive non-losing seasons was 2004-05 and 1971-73.

With Van Note at center and Norm Van Brocklin as coach, Atlanta was 7-6-1 followed by 7-7 and then 9-5. It looked like the Falcons were building to something, but then came just 11 victories over the next three years.

It has always been that way with the Falcons. A rare good season has always been followed by disappointment.

"This has to end," Van Note said.

The Falcons have a chance to finally accomplish just that thanks to Ryan's late TD pass to Tony Gonzalez that beat the New York Jets 10-7 and the rout of the Bills, who were forced to give Brian Brohm his first action after losing their top two quarterbacks.

The Bills (5-10) were held to 178 total yards, including a season-low 40 yards rushing, and the Falcons intercepted two passes and had a fumble recovery for the TD.

"I think for the second straight week I felt like our defense played very solid," Smith said.

Ryan, 13-1 as a starter at the Georgia Dome, was 18 of 35 for 250 yards. White added a 5-yard TD to his 42-yarder and had eight catches while going over 1,000 yards for the third straight season.

Gonzalez had to leave the game with a calf injury, and both punter Michael Koenen (head) and kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring) were also hurt. But the Falcons still had no trouble with the Bills as they kept alive their hopes for a 9-7 season.

"When it comes to the playoffs and making the postseason, things didn't go as well as planned, but we can still finish with a winning season," said linebacker Mike Peterson. "I'm sure the fans and the organization can be very happy about that."