NFL Wire News

Falcons lament defense but can still fly into playoffs


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Despite losing to the Green Bay Packers when a furious rally came up short Monday night, the Atlanta Falcons still control their own way to the playoffs.

They can even lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend and still win the NFC South with victories over the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. Under that scenario, they’d be the first 7-9 team to make the playoffs since the Seattle Seahawks did in 2010.

“The opportunity keeps coming up for us,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I think collectively we need to seize it.”

The Falcons and the Saints are 5-8. The Falcons close with games against Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Carolina. The Saints close with games against Chicago, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, which has been eliminated from the playoffs.

“We are at the point in the season where it is time,” Ryan said. “We have to play the kind of football that we are capable of playing for 60 minutes. We are in the mix, but we need to win football games. You have to clean up the four or five plays that kind of cost us (against the Packers), and I think we can.”

The Falcons could be the first team to qualify for the playoffs with the 32nd-ranked defense. The Falcons gave up more than 470 yards for the seventh time this season as the Packers amassed 502 yards, including 179 on the ground.

Falcons coach Mike Smith was perturbed by the missed tackles. He counted seven missed tackles on one play alone.

“We had a hard time tackling that big back,” Smith said. “Obviously there at the end when we wanted a stop to get the ball back to our offense and we had an opportunity to do that and we gave up the big explosive run.

The Falcons couldn’t slow down Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy or John Starks, who both rushed for more than 70 yards. They’ll face another big challenge in Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, who has rushed for 1,231 yards this season.

“We did not tackle well across the board, but they fought extremely hard,” Smith said. “We didn’t do a good job of getting multiple sets of pads on (the running backs).”

The Falcons’ playoff bid may hinge on the health of wide receiver Julio Jones, who left the game with what appears to be a hip flexor. He caught 11 passes for a franchise-record 259 yards. He was coming off a 10-catch, 189-yard game against Arizona in the previous game.

“When Julio is healthy and when he and Matt are in tune with one another they are as good as any in the NFL,” Smith said. “He is as good as anyone in the NFL. He is hard to cover, he has great speed, and he has great hands. He is an elite wide receiver. He is one of the best, if not the best in the NFL.”

The Falcons believe can win if they get caught up in another shootout.

“I knew that they had been playing well on offense,” Smith said. “I knew we had an opportunity to move the ball on them. Our offense did a very good job of creating some explosive plays.”

Ryan is hoping the Falcons can put an entire game together to help them win the NFC South title.

“I thought that everybody battled,” Ryan said. “We had no quit, but we put ourselves too far behind early on. When you make mistakes going against a team like that it is tough to overcome. Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to make enough plays to overcome what we did in the first half.”

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