NFL Wire News

Falcons’ face elimination game against Saints

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — For the second consecutive week, the Atlanta Falcons dug themselves a massive hole and couldn’t climb out of it.

The main reason has been the offense’s inability to find and maintain a rhythm. If they can’t find it against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, their playoff hopes will be dashed in what is essentially an elimination game in the wretched NFC South.

The Falcons went down 31-7 against the Packers last Monday and fell behind 20-7 to the Steelers. They rallied each week, but could never overtake the opponent.

“It’s certainly is tough to kind of dig yourself out of ditches,” left guard Justin Blalock said. “We are not trying to go out there and start slowly, but whatever we are doing to get ourselves behind the chains and off the field quickly, it’s just a recipe for disaster.”

The Falcons could have helped themselves in the third quarter, but had to settle for 28 and 22 yard fields goals after the offense stalled in the red zone.

“It’s tough enough to put up points in this league and do it when you get behind by that much,” Blalock said. “We hung in there and fought our butts off today. We keep our heads held high and played as hard as we could. Obviously, we didn’t quite do enough in the end to get the outcome we wanted. We have to find a better way to start games and avoid lulls.”

The Falcons started fast three games ago against Arizona and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. But the last two games they had the slow starts.

“We had an opportunity early on and just missed on a couple of plays,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We continued to battle back. I think offensively it comes down to a couple things, you can’t turn the football over and when you have opportunities in the red zone, you’ve got to put it in the end zone.”

Against the Packers, the Falcons had wide receiver Julio Jones to ignite the rally. He was missed in the Steelers game and his status for the New Orleans game in unclear.

“It’s certainly always tough when he’s not in,” Ryan said. “He’s such a special player and dynamic player for us.”

Jones, inactive against the Steelers with a hip injury, is expected to be ready to play against the Saints.

“Julio is about where he was yesterday,” head coach Mike Smith said Monday. “Our anticipation is that we’ll have him ready to go this week. It’s going to be important for him to continue to improve. He improved from last week to this week. We need to get him back out there.”

Jones was listed as questionable on the team’s injury report before the Steelers game.

Smith said he was close to playing and expects that by later in the week he’ll be ready to return.

Smith would like to see the offense get in a groove for eight more quarters as the Falcons can still win the NFC South with victories over New Orleans and Carolina.

“Consistency continues to be something that we have to be better at,” Smith said.

Jones leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,428) after setting career highs in yards in consecutive games. Jones also leads the league with 27 receptions of 20 yards or longer.

If Jones can’t play, Harry Douglas will continue to play more. He has two consecutive 100-yard games as Roddy White is playing with an ankle injury.

The Falcons have embraced their situation as a potential playoff team with a losing record with two games to play.

“Nothing is odd about an NFL season,” Smith said. “We’ve sat on the other side of it going on the road and having to play an 8-8 team that went to the Super Bowl, playing a 9-7 team that won a Super Bowl.

“We’re just glad that we’re in the situation that we’re in, and we know what we have to do. I think it’s going to be a very interesting two weeks, not only for the NFC South, but all across the NFL, and that’s what the schedule makers want. I think they’ve done a hell of a job doing it.”

Notes: Cornerback Robert Alford, who suffered a broken wrist against the Panthers on Nov 16, will have surgery and be placed on injured reserved.

REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

–PASSING OFFENSE: D — The normally accurate Matt Ryan was off on too many key passes. On the opening drive, he made a sweet move to get out to his left and found White, but the pass was behind him. His interception might have been Harry Douglas’s fault, but neither 2008 draft classmate would throw the other under the bus. Ryan said he shouldn’t have thrown it. Douglas said Gay jumped the route. We thought Douglas cheated on his route and took it up field too quickly when it should have been a flat inside-cut. He also missed Devin Hester on a touchdown pass, but it didn’t really matter because Douglas was called for illegal contact. Ryan completed 26 of 37 passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 102.3 yards.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B — The Falcons were off to a promising day running the ball, but after they fell behind 13-0 and 20-7, they had to abandon the run. They have been averaging 27 carries over the past six games, but only had 20 carries for 97 yards against the Steelers. The running backs had 17 carries for 70 yards.

–PASS DEFENSE: F — It’s difficult to grade the secondary when they are regularly asked to cover for six to eight seconds. That’s impossible. Yes, the Steelers did pass for 360 yards, but when you’re playing pitch-and-catch with no pressure, that’s to be expected. Roethlisberger tried to attack nickel back Robert McClain, but he kept scrapping. Being a Falcons defensive back with no pressure has to be one of the worst jobs in the NFL.

–RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus — Give the run defense credit for holding the point of attack in the run game. They held Le’Veon Bell to 47 yards rushing on 20 carries. Paul Worrilow (11 tackles), Joplo Bartu (seven) and Prince Shembo (two) helped to control the Steelers vaunted rushing attack. The run defense stepped up to their challenge.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus — Hester had a 43-yard kickoff return, but it was wasted as Ryan tossed the pick-six on the ensuing offensive play. Eric Weems, Pat DiMarco, Javier Arenas and Matt Bosher had specials teams tackles. Matt Bryant made his chip shot field goals after the offense stalled in the red zone.

–COACHING: C-plus — The Falcons had a plan. But I’m with Roddy White. It’s on the players at this point. There were no play call problems or clock management issues. The Falcons should have gone for the fourth down-and-2 with 4:34 to play. Nobody in the building that the 32nd ranked defense would get a stop and they didn’t.


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