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Falcons Team Report/Inside Slant


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Atlanta Falcons

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  Falcons' Jones should benefit from bye week

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones didn't appear limited by his bothersome toe against the Saints sUNDAY. Still, Jones said he looks forward to the postseason bye week the Falcons earned by winning 38-32 at the Georgia Dome.

"It's a long season," Jones said. "But, yeah, it will be beneficial for me for that week, especially with the toe injury I had. A week will be great for me."

Jones had seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Saints. It was his second game back since missing two because of the toe injury that he suffered during a game against the Chiefs on Dec. 4. Jones played 39 offensive snaps in the victory over the Carolina Panthers the previous week.

In addition to Jones getting some rest, the Falcons young defense received one more test before venturing into the playoffs.

For three quarters the Falcons controlled the best offense they had faced in two months. But they flailed at the finish as Saints quarterback Drew Brees came alive in the fourth quarter.

What happened?

"It's Drew Brees," safety Ricardo Allen said "At the end of the day, the only stat we care about is wins and losses. It's Drew Brees. He's a great quarterback. Yeah, we could have finished better. We should have finished better. But at the end of the day we got that win. We fought long enough."

The Saints came to the Georgia Dome ranked No. 1 in yards per game (422.9) and second in points (29.1). They gained just 218 yards through three quarters while falling behind 38-13 before adding 255 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth.

The Falcons had held firm against seven consecutive opponents since the Packers scored 33 points against them on Oct. 30. But only one of those foes, the Chiefs, are better than average offensively and four of them are well below.

The Saints presented the toughest test the Falcons' defense had faced in some time. They passed that test in the end, but still showed some cracks.

"We had a couple mistakes here and there," linebacker Vic Beasley said. "We'll go to the film room and fix those things."

Atlanta's defense benefited from its offense scoring touchdowns on its first five possessions, forcing the Saints to play catch-up, and then holding the ball for 11:37 of the third quarter.

After opening with a three-and-out New Orleans scored on consecutive possessions to get within 14-10 late in the first quarter. The Falcons held the Saints to a field goal over their next three possessions and swelled the lead to 35-13 at halftime.

The Saints ran just seven plays in the third quarter and gained 23 yards before erupting for five plays of 20 yards or longer in the final period. The Falcons made a key stop when cornerback Jalen Collins intercepted Brees' pass in the end zone with 6:52 to play.

"We are a group of guys that play hard for each other," second-year tackle Grady Jarrett said. "We are young in some spots, we have veterans in some spots, and we feed off each other.

"It is definitely a special group to be a part of because we got better as the season went on and are encouraged for where we are at right now. This was a top-two offense in the league we played, so we had a good showing. We did not finish as well as we wanted to, but we are definitely hitting our stride for the right point in the season."

The young defense believe it's ready for the playoffs.

"Absolutely, it is good being back in the playoffs," Jarrett said. "Being an Atlanta kid myself, just making it to the playoffs is great, but we want to have success. Just making it is not our goal and it is not the other guys on the team's goal, so we are hungry for more and are definitely in a good position."


Notes, Quotes

  Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is scheduled to interview with the Jaguars, Broncos and Rams for their vacant head coaching positions.

Under Shanahan, who is in his second season with the Falcons, the offense led the league in scoring with 540 points.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan flourished in the offense.

Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes (69.9 percent) for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 117.1 passer rating, the fifth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history.

Ryan believes that Shanahan could be a fine NFL head coach in the future.

"Oh yeah, I think so," Ryan said when asked recently on his weekly radio show 680 The Fan if Shanahan would make a good head coach. "I think whenever he does get an opportunity, he'll do a great job. I hope it's not for a while because we've got a good thing going on. Whenever he gets his opportunity, he'll do a great job."

Shanahan is the son of former NFL coach Mike Shanahan, who guided the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles, including Super XXXIII over the Falcons.

"I think he's a good leader," Ryan said. "I think he's got a good feel for talent evaluation and getting the guys that he wants to make it work for him. I think if he ever gets that chance, he'll do a great job."

The Falcons, winners of the NFC South title, will open in the playoffs at 4:35 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14, against the highest remaining seed from the Jan. 7 and 8th games.

Seattle, the three seed, is set to play Detroit, the sixth seed. If the Seahawks win, they will face the Falcons.

If Detroit upsets Seattle, the Falcons would face the winner of the Green Bay and New York Giants game.

Green Bay is perhaps the hottest team, steaming into the playoffs on a six-game winning streak. The Falcons defeated the Packers 33-32 on Oct. 30 at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons went toe-to-toe with the Seahawks before losing 26-24 on Oct. 16 in Seattle. The Falcons blew a late 24-23 lead when quarterback Matt Ryan threw an interception off the hands of wide receiver Julio Jones.

Also, there was a controversial non-call as Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman held Jones on a deep pass play that would have put the Falcons in field goal range for the victory.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn came to the team from Seattle, where he was their record-setting defensive coordinator.

The Falcons avoided a serious setback to their postseason chances when a left shoulder injury suffered by Pro Bowl pass rusher Vic Beasley wasn't serious enough to keep him out of the game on Sunday against the Saints.

Beasley said his left shoulder "popped out" when he collided with a Saints player on a play in the first quarter. Beasley said he immediately suspected he had hurt his labrum because the pain was familiar after he had played the previous season with a torn labrum in the opposite shoulder.

After the injury Beasley went to the locker room, where he said X-rays taken on the shoulder were negative. Beasley returned to the game early in the second quarter and sacked the Saints' Drew Brees just before halftime.

"I was still able to function," Beasley said. "I did a little workout, and just fight through the pain. We did a couple exercises to keep that movement, to keep that mobility, and I started feeling better later."

Beasley was scheduled to get an MRI on Monday.

Beasley entered the final week of the regular season with the NFL lead in sacks (14.5) and forced fumbles (six). The Falcons selected Beasley with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Clemson.


Strategy & Personnel


QB Matt Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes (69.9 percent) for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 117.1 passer rating, the fifth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history.

WR Julio Jones caught seven passes for 96 yards against the Saints. He finished with 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns.

CB Jalen Collins has had an interception in the final two games.

TE Austin Hooper (knee) may return for the playoff game.

CB Robert Alford (knee) said that he was fine and would be ready for the playoffs.

SS Keanu Neal (concussion exam) was examined for a possible concussion and cleared. Neal said that he will be ready to play in the playoffs.

LB Deion Jones led the Falcons in tackles with six tackles and three passes defensed.


PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus Chants of "MVP! MVP! MVP!" rang from all corners of the Georgia Dome on Sunday. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's dissection of the New Orleans' defense was masterful and complete. Ryan, who also set a franchise mark for most yards passing in a season with 4,962 yards, directed touchdown drives on the team's first five possessions as five different players scored. Ryan set the previous mark of 4,719 yards in 2012. Ryan completed 27 of 36 passes for 331 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Falcons.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B On the Falcons' second possession, Devonta Freeman broke open off the right side of the line, bounced outside and out-raced cornerback Sterling Moore to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown run. Mohamed Sanu, who was in the backfield inside of the tight end and right tackle Ryan Schraeder, picked up the key block. Saints safety Roman Harper was in the box to stop the run, but Sanu punished him and allowed Freeman to scoot outside and break Moore's containment. It was the fifth time this season that Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 200-plus yards in a game and third game in a row. They had 223 yards against the Panthers and 221 against the 49ers in the two previous games. They combined for 20 rushes for 140 yards and eight catches for 96 yards against the Saints.

PASS DEFENSE: C The pass defense started out well, but ended up getting torched in the fourth quarter as Drew Brees led a furious rally. They gained just 218 yards through three quarters while falling behind 38-13 before adding 255 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth.

RUSH DEFENSE: C The Saints rushed for 132 yards on 23 carries and average 5.7 yards per carry.

C-plus Punter Matt Bosher averaged 43.8 net yards on four punts. He had seven kickoffs for touchbacks.

B-minus The Falcons' offense came out smoking. The defense was on point early, but allowed a lot of yardage late to let the Saints make the game closer. The defense will need to play stronger for four quarters in the playoffs.

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