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  1. Quinn says Falcons' strong finish must carry over to 2020 December 30, 2019, 5:42 PM EST FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons couldn't save their season even though their second-half turnaround rescued coach Dan Quinn from being fired. A 6-2 second-half record certainly boosted spirits, including after Sunday's 28-22 overtime win at Tampa Bay, Still, in a bottom-line league, the Falcons missed the playoffs for the second straight season with a 7-9 record. Two consecutive losing seasons are a bitter reality check after two straight playoff seasons, including the 2016 run to the Super Bowl. “There is no trophy for playing well in the second half," Quinn said Monday. “It has to carry over." The big hope is the Falcons can take the momentum to 2020. “You know it's something to build on next year," linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said after Sunday's win. The Falcons proved they are resilient. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett knows players must prove much more. Jarrett says the Falcons are “a team that is going to be hungry — hungry for success. We want to be playing back in the postseason and winning big." Now Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, also retained for 2020, must prove Blank's confidence in them was justified. FIRST PRIORITY IS FAST START The Falcons have been devastated by slow starts in two straight seasons. They opened this season with a 1-7 mark. Quinn has said that finding a way to start better in 2020 will be an offseason priority. Quinn wasn't ready to say on Monday he'll play veterans more in preseason games. He said he still believes the preseason games are more important for younger players. PROTECTING RYAN Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 48 times this season, a career high. That included six sacks by the Buccaneers on Sunday. The season-long beating caused him to miss a game for the first time since 2009. He will be 35 by the start of the 2020 season and must have better protection. Despite the sack numbers, Dimitroff said he's convinced the line is better than a year ago. Rookies Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom finished strong at right guard and right tackle, respectively. With center Alex Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews established, the position to watch in the draft and free agency is left guard. STAFF CHANGES Raheem Morris was named defensive coordinator for 2020 last week, capping his chaotic season. He began the year coaching wide receivers before a midseason move to secondary coach helped spark the defense's resurgence. Quinn indicated Friday he plans to retain Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. On Monday, he said it was too early to say if more staff changes would come. SALARY CAP **** The Falcons face salary cap constraints, thanks largely to efforts to re-sign such players as Ryan, Jarrett, Julio Jones and Deion Jones. Ryan and Jarrett restructured deals to clear cap space, an example of moves Dimitroff said the team can make to remain financially flexible. “I am not concerned about it being a situation where we are going to be in what has been perceived out there as ‘cap ****,'" Dimitroff said. “It's not the case at all. We will accomplish what we need to accomplish to continue to be able to bring the right players in here to be a contender." The Falcons cannot afford to keep all their unrestricted free agents. Among the most notable players set to enter free agency are Campbell, tight end Austin Hooper, defensive ends Vic Beasley Jr. and Adrian Clayborn, punter Matt Bosher and safeties Kemal Ishmael and J.J. Wilcox. Hooper said Monday he would like to remain in Atlanta. HOW TO GET IT RIGHT Despite small improvements late in the season, the Falcons ranked only 30th in the league in rushing with 85.1 yards per game. Devonta Freeman was slowed by injuries and hasn't played a full season since 2016, also his last 1,000-yard season. Quinn spoke warmly about Freeman's late-season return but with frustration about the inability to establish a consistent running game. “That identity, it has to come through," Quinn said. “The fact it didn't, I'm not happy with that. ... It will be addressed going forward." Improved stability on the offensive line should help the ground game. Ultimately, addressing the running game may require the Falcons to make a tough decision on Freeman. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  2. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/saints-bring-fresh-faces-week-231801048--nfl.html Saints bring fresh faces into Week 1 vs. Atlanta BRETT MARTEL (AP Sports Writer) 34 minutes ago AP - Sports METAIRIE, La. (AP) -- Saints coach Sean Payton seems likely to open the regular season by throwing a dose of youth and inexperience at the visiting Atlanta Falcons. As of Monday, 10 rookies - six of them undrafted - and three other players who have yet to be on the field for a regular season snap were on the Saints' 53-man roster. Some of those players may not be active on Sunday, but the Saints will need several of them to suit up. Asked if he found it unusual to head into Week 1 with zero regular season experience on more than one-fifth of the roster, Payton said, ''We don't pay much attention to that, really.'' ''We look closely at how they're going to fit into the plan, how they're going to play in the kicking game and the progress they made at their position group,'' the coach added. Receiver Kenny Stills, drafted in the fifth round, made a case during preseason that he might be the best deep threat on the club. He not only gave opponents trouble with his speed, but also made some difficult catches that required balance along the sideline or the coordination to haul in a deep pass with one hand on a dead run. Defensive end Glenn Foster, an undrafted free agent from Illinois, had four sacks, five quarterback hits and a forced fumble in the preseason. Nick Toon, a 2012 fourth-round pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, was among the leading receivers in the preseason with nine catches for 164 yards, including a 56-yarder on a deep throw over the top from Drew Brees. Safety Kenny Vaccaro, the club's first-round pick, made 18 preseason tackles, second most on the club, and looks like a hard hitter. ''The rookies and young guys definitely gave the fans something to smile about in the preseason,'' Vaccaro said. ''Nick and Kenny (Stills) flashed the whole time. Glenn Foster was a beast every game. We've got some young talent that can definitely help this team.'' The Saints also kept receiver Andy Tanner, who also hasn't yet played in the regular season, but has spent the past two-plus seasons on New Orleans' practice squad. ''He hasn't played in a game but is a very polished receiver,'' Toon said of Tanner. ''As far as everyone else, you've got to start somewhere.'' Toon, whose father, Al Toon, was an All-Pro receiver, said NFL teams seek a balance of youth and experience, understanding that players of all ages have assets and liabilities. ''Young bodies are always good, typically less wear and tear,'' Toon said. ''But a young body means a young mind and an experienced body means an experienced mind, so there's a give-and-take.'' The other Saints rookies are offensive tackle Terron Armstead, nose tackle John Jenkins, tight end Josh Hill, guard Tim Lelito, cornerback Rod Sweeting, inside linebacker Kevin Reddick and running back Khiry Robinson. Armstead and Jenkins were third-round picks. The rest were undrafted. Defensive end Tyrunn Walker, who made the Saints as an undrafted rookie last season, has dressed for one NFL game, but did not play. For now, Saints veterans seem confident that the relative lack of experience on their roster won't become a problem. ''The Saints do such a good job of finding these gems,'' said outside linebacker Junior Galette, who pointed to receiver Lance Moore and running back Pierre Thomas as past examples of undrafted players who became key starters. Galette was undrafted in 2010, but now is projected to start because of serious knee injuries to Victor Butler and Will Smith. ''Everyone here who's an undrafted free agent on the team feels like they belong,'' Galette said. Payton added that the Saints record of giving undrafted players a fair shot gives the team a chance to get the best of them after each draft, which might explain why six were good enough to be on the Week 1 roster. ''One of the selling points (of signing with New Orleans) is we are going to play the best players, and a guy who is a free agent out of college will have the same opportunities as the draft picks,'' Payton said. ''So I think (it helps) in that regard.'' Notes: Payton declined to provide an injury update on veteran linebacker Jon Vilma, who missed the preseason because of arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Coaches are not required to issue injury reports for Sunday games until the preceding Wednesday. Payton also declined to discuss the status of outside linebackers Galette (left leg) and Martez Wilson (left elbow), but both said they practiced and teammates said they appeared to be ready. Galette, Wilson and Parys Haralson are the only three outside linebackers listed on the roster. ... Payton said the Saints added sixth-round draft choice Rufus Johnson, a defensive end, and offensive lineman Senio Kelemete to their practice squad Monday. They join QB Ryan Griffin, TE Michael Higgins, OT Marcel Jones, FB Austin Johnson, WR Saleem Hakim and CB Jumal Rolle.
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