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Falcons In season news

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Falcons without starting RT Ryan Schraeder vs. Lions on Sunday


Mike Triplett | 1:38 PM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who suffered a concussion during Sunday night's 34-23 win over Green Bay, has been ruled out for Sunday's matchup with the Detroit Lions.

Former Denver Broncos tackle Ty Sambrailo, traded to the Falcons on Sept. 1 in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick, will start in place of Schraeder. It will be Sambrailo's eighth career start in three NFL seasons. Sambrailo, a 2015 second-round pick, will face quite a challenge against Ziggy Ansah and the rest of the Lions' defensive line.

Sambrailo said he is ready for the challenge.

"Just the way we prepare here, we get a lot of game-speed reps throughout the week to help you feel confident in your technique and in executing the schemes we're running,'' Sambrailo said. "It's next man up. It's always been like that, especially in this league. I had a good feeling I was going to be starting this week, and I'm ready to roll.''

Falcons coach Dan Quinn expressed confidence in Sambrailo stepping in for Schraeder.

"I thought a faster speed,'' Quinn said of what he saw from Sambrailo throughout the week. "I'm sure that comes with more confidence in the plan, more reps with the first group, more reps with Matt [Ryan]. So I felt like his quickness off the ball, that's definitely a part of his game in the run game. I thought he had a nice week in terms of preparation. You could feel the communication up and down the line, the combination blocks with the tight ends, the combination blocks with the guards. That's a big part of what we do in the run game. And he's really done a good job.''

Quinn said he hopes Schraeder is fully cleared to return by Wednesday, leading into a Week 4 home matchup with the Buffalo Bills.

Quinn previously ruled out reigning NFL sack champ Vic Beasley Jr. and defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw earlier in the week with hamstring and ankle injuries, respectively. Beasley was spotted walking around the locker room Friday and appeared to be in good spirits without and noticeable limp or protection on his legs. He could be sidelined a month, though Quinn refused to put a timetable on the injury.

Without Beasley, the Falcons will rely on rookie Takkarist McKinley to step into the primary role at left edge rusher in the nickel package. Defensive tackle Joe Vellano was promoted from the practice squad to provide depth with Upshaw sidelined.

Running back Terron Ward, who suffered a neck/shoulder contusion, also was ruled out for Sunday's game. Quinn said rookie fifth-round pick Brian Hill, who missed the first two games while recovering from an ankle injury, is expected to have a role as the third running back behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Hill also could show up on special teams, with Ward playing a significant role on special teams.

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Detroit Lions vs. Atlanta Falcons: Replacing Jarrad Davis key to upset


Dave Birkett | Detroit Free PressUpdated 8 hours ago  


Ahead of Sunday's game between the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett looks at the biggest factor for each team to win, and highlights the game's key matchup:

The Lions will win if … They hold the Falcons to fewer than 28 points. The magic number last year was actually 30 – the Falcons were 1-6 in games in which they scored 30 points or less last season – but we’ll raise the bar here for the Lions. The bottom line with this stat is the Falcons are an extremely explosive offense, probably the best in the league, and the Lions need to maximize their possessions and do everything they can to keep their defense off the field. Certainly, the Lions are capable of scoring in bunches, but it doesn’t make sense to get into a shoot-out with the fastest draw in town.

The Falcons will win if … Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combine for at least 90 yards rushing. Going back to last season, the Falcons have struggled in games in which they couldn’t get traction on the ground. Even in Week 1 this year, the lowly Chicago Bears kept the game close by bottling up Freeman and Coleman. The Lions enter Sunday with the league’s fourth-ranked rushing defense, and their success stopping the run has had a trickle-down effect on their defense overall. If they keep Freeman and Coleman in check Sunday, they should be able to pin their ears back and get pressure on Matt Ryan.

Matchup to watch: Lions LB Tahir Whitehead vs. Falcons RB Devonta Freeman

Forget Ryan and Julio Jones. The Lions said time and again this week the key to stopping the Falcons’ high-octane offense is to contain Freeman. Rookie Jarrad Davis has been ruled out for the Lions because of a concussion, which means Whitehead will shift to middle linebacker and call plays in nickel situations. Whitehead led the Lions in tackles last year, but he’ll have his hands full with one of the best running backs in the game. The Falcons run lots of stretch zone plays on offense, and are very effective with the play-action pass. Whitehead not only has to make the right reads on defense, but he has to be an impact player against the run.

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!


© Gannett 2017

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Ex-Falcons teammates Deion Jones, Paul Worrilow bond over football, fatherhood


Vaughn McClure | 5:37 PM ET


Last season, Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones picked Paul Worrilow's brain about reading quarterbacks' tendencies and offensive formations. This season, the topic of discussion has changed a bit -- to fatherhood.

The most recent conversation between the two former teammates had little to do with football and everything to do with raising baby girls. Jones became a first-time father before the season, while Worrilow, now with the Detroit Lions, has a 5-month-old to go with his 2-year-old.

"He always gives me advice, even through the whole pregnancy," Jones said of Worrilow. "He helped me out so much. I mean, he’s always seen me as a little brother."

Worrilow refused to take much credit.

"I just told him that being a dad is the greatest thing in the world," Worrilow said. "That’s how it’s been for me. I’ve got my two daughters now.

"I was just preparing him, like, 'Look, daddy’s little girl? It’s a real thing.' You try not to spoil them, but my wife has to pull the reins when I want to buy my 2-year-old [something]. I just tell him it’s a blessing. Nothing compares to that love between a dad and his daughter."

This Sunday in Detroit, Jones and Worrilow will enjoy a brief reunion when the 2-0 Falcons face the 2-0 Lions. Jones, who finished third in last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, was the one who took the starting middle linebacker spot from Worrilow after Worrilow led the Falcons in tackles for three consecutive seasons. But there was never any animosity, as Worrilow fully realized Jones’ speed and coverage ability gave him the advantage.

Jones has nothing but the utmost respect for how the situation was handled by Worrilow, who served as a mentor to Jones throughout the entire 2016 season.

"I really feel like without him last year, it would have been tougher trying to grasp everything so fast," Jones said of Worrilow. "I really feel like he helped slow things down for me. He helped me get my life in order. He pretty much taught me how to be a pro, how to go throughout the week and have a plan and how to take care of my body."

Worrilow often told Jones not to get down on himself about making mistakes and worry about the "next play" instead. If Jones did mess up, Worrilow told him to make sure that he was going full speed regardless.

Worrilow developed a reputation for being the first Falcon to arrive in the building around 5 a.m. Jones started joining him to get a better grasp of the defense.

"He grinds, man," Worrilow said of Jones. "He’s got the speed and the talent, but there are things that people don’t see. They see him on Sundays flying around and making plays. It was about the next day and him being in there breaking down film. He’s hungry, man. You can see it. It’s no surprise he put himself in the position he’s in. He’s a good one. And the whole world knows about him now."

There are high expectations for Jones in Year 2 in the defense. He played 139 of 143 defensive snaps through the first two games and had 12 total tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass defended.

As a starting linebacker in Detroit's base package but one who has come off the bench the first two games with the Lions starting both games in the nickel package, Worrilow, who also plays a significant role on special teams, has played 24 of 131 defensive snaps with two tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass defended.

Asked if he missed being with the Falcons, Worrilow said his daily schedule -- including time with his daughters -- doesn’t give him much time to think about it. Sometimes he’ll laugh, though, when he thinks about how Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich always yelled at Jones for biting his nails in the meeting room.

"It used to crack me up when Brich would get frustrated," Worrilow said. "Some people chew seeds, but Deion bites his fingernails."

Jones is unsure how long he’ll get to visit with Worrilow on Sunday, but he already has a plan in mind. Earlier this season, Jones tweeted about being apprehensive about asking opposing players to swap jerseys. Such won’t be the case with Worrilow.

"For sure, I definitely need his jersey," Jones said.

Said Worrilow: "It’s about the respect level for your opponent and someone you hold in high regard. So, yeah, we will swap."

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Did they get it right? Watch the Detroit Lions' final play vs. Atlanta Falcons


Dave Birkett | Detroit Free PressUpdated 7 minutes ago  


The Detroit Lions lost a heart-breaker to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, 30-26, when officials overturned a touchdown catch by Golden Tate with 8 seconds to play and, by rule, ran the remaining time off the clock.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said that Tate was short of the end zone and that officials administered the run-off correctly. Still, the loss was a tough one to swallow for a Lions team that just missed out on upsetting the defending NFC champions.

More Lions:

Here's what happened:

The Lions started their final offensive play, a Matthew Stafford pass to Tate, with 12 seconds on the clock. Tate ran a drag across the goal line, behind a pick route by Kenny Golladay, but Falcons cornerback Brian Poole came off Golladay and touched Tate on the back of his shoulder as Tate went to the ground to make the catch.

Officials initially signaled a touchdown on the play, but the call was overturned on review and the ball was spotted just shy of the goal line.

Was the call correct?

"Yes," Caldwell said. Replays showed conclusively that Tate's left knee was down before the ball broke the goal line.

So why didn't the Lions get the ball inside the 1-yard line with 8 or 9 seconds on the clock?

Let Jim Caldwell explain: "Since they ruled it a touchdown in that particular situation and ruled it incorrectly and the ball was indeed short, so he was ruled down. So what happens in that situation is that if you don’t have a timeout left, you’re going to get a 10-second runoff. If you have a timeout left, you can prevent that runoff at the end of the game and give up that timeout. But without any timeouts, they ran off the time on the clock, which was 8 seconds remaining, and game’s over."

Why didn't the Lions have any timeouts left at that time?

The Lions used all three of their second-half timeouts to stop the clock on the Falcons' previous drive. Atlanta began its final possession with 2:52 on the clock. The Lions used their first timeout after a 1-yard run by Devonta Freeman with 2:48 to play, their second after a short pass to Mo Sanu with 2:44 left, and their last after a pass to Julio Jones with 2:31 to play. They had to stop the clock on defense to conserve time for their offense.

Doesn't the runoff unduly penalize the Lions even though it was an officiating mistake that caused the clock to stop?

You certainly can make an argument that's the case. Had officials marked Tate down initially and the booth not called for a review, the Lions would have had fourth-and-goal inside the 1 with 8 or 9 seconds on the clock.

"You can kind of look at it that way if you want, but they ruled it correctly," Caldwell said. "They ruled it correctly and that’s the way it is."

Would the Lions even have been able to get a play off with that little time on the clock?

Caldwell said, "Certainly. We practice it all the time." Stafford said he's not sure. But Falcons safety Keanu Neal said he believes the Lions would have got another play off. "Yeah, they'd be able to get a play off. I think so," Neal said.

Last thing, does the rule requiring a clock runoff in that type of situation need to be changed?

The Lions have certainly done their part to change or clarify the NFL rule book in the past, from Calvin Johnson's "process of the catch" to Jim Schwartz and his challenge flag. Caldwell, though, said he does not believe the rule needs to be changed.

"I don't think so," Caldwell said. "It's tough to digest all that right now in terms of how it works. We all kind of know exactly what the situation could and would be, and in hindsight we can complain all we want but they administered the rule exactly the way that it's written."

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!


© Gannett 2017

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Falcons QB Ryan braces for tough Bills D after 3-pick game


AP‎5‎:‎51‎ ‎PM Sep. 27, 2017



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — If you ask the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan is still playing like an MVP.

Just overlook last week's three interceptions.

Ryan's streak of nine straight games without an interception, including the postseason, ended last week at Detroit with his most picks since late in the 2015 season.

But look again. Ryan really didn't deserve the ugly stat line.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday only one of the three picks was Ryan's fault, but it was costly.

Ryan's short pass over the middle intended for Julio Jones late in the half was intercepted by Lions safety Glover Quin and returned for a touchdown. The Falcons (3-0) escaped with a 30-26 win and have shifted their focus to Sunday's game against Buffalo.

The other two interceptions came off drops by Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman.

"Yeah, we were bummed we had them but by no means did I think they were three bad decisions on his part," Quinn said. "I think there was one he would like to have back."

The Falcons (3-0) remained undefeated with the narrow win .

Ryan's performance this season supports the idea the three-pick game was an anomaly. He had no interceptions in Atlanta's first two games, and his 68.8 completion percentage is only slightly behind last season's career-best 69.9 mark.

"You really don't look too deep into it," said Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. "Matt is a perfectionist and he was the MVP of the NFL last year. That's really nothing that you can harp on or really even think about. I didn't even know he threw three interceptions. That's how much we're not harping on it."

Ryan did not throw more than one interception in a game in 2016. He had only seven for the full season. He had not thrown more than one interception in a game since having two on Nov. 29, 2015 against Vikings. His last three-interception game was the week before against the Colts.

Ryan will look for better efficiency Sunday against a tough Buffalo defense that has not allowed a passing touchdown through three games. Strong defense has helped the Bills (2-1) enjoy a strong start under first-year coach Sean McDermott, the former Carolina defensive coordinator.

"I think their defense has done a good job," Ryan said Wednesday. "The secondary has been stout. The defense in general hasn't given up many points and has played really well in the first three weeks."

Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said he'll learn more about his defense after facing Ryan and receivers Julio Jones, Sanu and Gabriel.

"We're facing one of the premier quarterbacks in our league, MVP a season ago, led the team to the Super Bowl, and arguably the best wide receiver in our league in Julio Jones," Frazier said. "This will be a tremendous challenge for our defense, a high-scoring offense, a top-10 offense, so we'll learn a lot about ourselves on defense."

NOTES: Quinn said he expects players to lock arms, but not kneel, during the national anthem this week. He said he encourages fans to also lock arms during the anthem. DTs Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe knelt during the national anthem last week. ... Two starters, S Ricardo Allen and RT Ryan Schraeder, remain in the concussion protocol. Ty Sambrailo took over for Schraeder early in a win over Green Bay on Sept. 17 and started last week against Detroit. Rookie Damontae Kazee likely would start for Allen. ... DE Courtney Upshaw (ankle) is not expected to return this week. DE Vic Beasley (hamstring) and RB Terron Ward (neck, shoulder) have better chances to play.

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Buffalo Bills: Sean McDermott revisits his plan for Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones


UPI | 2017-09-27T22:49:43-04:00


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- New Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott is no stranger to the Atlanta Falcons.

He was Carolina's defensive coordinator from 2011 to 2016 and directed the defense that helped the Panthers go 15-1 in 2015 and play in Super Bowl 50.

McDermott's defenses were 5-7 when going up against quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.

For some reason, McDermott elected to cover Falcons two-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones with a single player last season. Jones ravaged the man-to-man coverage, catching 12 passes for a team-record 300 yards and a touchdown in the 48-33 plastering of the Panthers on Oct. 2.

Because of the Panthers' overall body of work on defense and clearly not that game, McDermott was hired to lead the Bills, who will face the Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Bills have some solid corners in rookie Tre'Davious White and E.J. Gaines, but he's not likely to leave them alone with Jones, who'll be limited in practice this week with a back injury, but is slated to play.

Safety Micah Hyde, a former Green Bay Packer, will likely be nearby or free safety Jordan Poyer.

Ryan sees some of the traits of the Panthers in Buffalo's defense.

"They are aggressive," said Ryan, the league's reigning most valuable player. "Very aggressive front four. The linebackers are very good against the run. That's something that we've seen from Carolina. They have some of the best in the league.

"I think that carryover is the same. In the secondary, there's a lot of quarters type of coverage, which they do a great job with. They have a ton of different pressures. They give you a lot of different looks."

The Bills have 10 sacks this season.

"They put a lot of stress on your pass protections," Ryan said. "It's something that we'll have to do a great job of. I think communication on our end, making sure that everybody is on the same page is going to be really important this week."

McDermott and Falcons head coach Dan Quinn's paths have crossed before.

"I've known Sean McDermott for years," Quinn said. "He was a player at William & Mary when I was coaching there."

Quinn followed McDermott's career as he served as a graduate assistant at William & Mary (1998) before he went to Philadelphia (1999-2010) and then Carolina before landing the Buffalo job.

McDermott is running the same 4-3 defense in Buffalo minus having Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis at linebacker.

However, the Bills do have a strong front seven. Right defensive end Lorenzo Alexander, left defensive end Shaq Lawson and strong-side linebacker Jerry Hughes all have two sacks each. Also, tackle Kyle Williams is stout.

Marcell Dareus missed the Denver game with an ankle injury.

"He's always had a hard-nosed approach," Quinn said of McDermont. "They'll be really good tacklers and they've got a talented front."

Defensively, the Falcons will face their stiffest test of the season in the run game. Chicago's second-year back Jordan Howard was coming off a strong year, but the Falcons haven't seen a back as accomplished as LeSean McCoy yet.

McCoy has rushed 48 times for 140 yards and has caught 18 passes for 131 yards.

McCoy, fullback Mike Tolbert and quarterback Tyrod Taylor lead a rushing attack that averages 111.3 yards rushing per game (11th in the league). They also have former Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco, who's being used as a lead blocker. He played 15 of 65 offensive snaps (23 percent) in their 26-16 win over Denver on Sunday.

The Falcons are giving up 85 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the league. The Falcons held the Lions to 71 rushing yards.

"The way they're built, you can count on their run game being rock solid, and that starts with Shady, it goes through Mike Tolbert, and Patrick DiMarco is the lead blocker there," Quinn said. "They've got a good offensive line, and their quarterback can really run and is athletic."

Tyrod Taylor has rushed 24 times for 106 yards.

"I guess this will be about three weeks in a row that we see a guy that can extend plays and get outside the pocket," Quinn said. "Three weeks ago, we saw it with Green Bay, last week with Detroit, and now this week with Buffalo."

Taylor has been efficient in Buffalo's short passing game. He's completed 53 of 79 passes (67.1 percent) for 562 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. He has a passer rating of 99.2.

"We know when the quarterback can extend plays, a second play just begins, receivers now have routes to go to different spots," Quinn said.

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 7-4. The Falcons have won the last four games with the last being a 34-31 victory in Toronto in 2013.


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Falcons try to keep Devonta Freeman in a steady rhythm




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are careful not to interrupt Devonta Freeman when he's in a steady rhythm.

Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and the NFL's highest-paid running back, has earned the right to stay on the field even when teammate Tevin Coleman is antsy and ready to play.

Coleman told coach Dan Quinn as much in last week's 30-26 victory at Detroit.

Freeman was in a groove. Don't mess up a good thing.

"When he gets rolling and he's hot, you don't want to take him out," Coleman said. "You want him to keep getting yards because he's hot right now. He's got the juice and he's feeling it. You want him to keep rolling until he gets tired.

"That's just how we do it."

Freeman ran 21 times for 106 yards. Coleman had 46 yards on six carries, and the duo combined for 227 yards from scrimmage. The numbers were impressive, but they only provide a glimpse of the big picture.

Freeman is the feature back. Coleman plays a supporting role. But if Coleman gets locked in Sunday when the Falcons (3-0) host Buffalo (2-1), Freeman, whose 2,362 yards rushing are tops in the league since the start of 2015, will step aside and let his friend keep working.

"Once a running back is rolling and rolling, it's important to let that guy go," Freeman said. "Me and Tevin understand that."

Freeman and Coleman are both blessed with quickness, speed and stamina, but Freeman, at 5-foot-9, is four inches shorter than his teammate and better equipped to duck between offensive linemen and keep defenders guessing.

Freeman is not an upright runner. He is compact and keeps his gravity low to read the angles that opponents try to take on tackle attempts. He has exceptional field vision.

Quarterback Matt Ryan, last year's NFL MVP, is still glowing about a run Freeman made two weeks ago against Green Bay. Freeman took a handoff and paused for a split second at the line of scrimmage to let the defense start moving. He then sliced through a hole and wound back to his left for a 10-yard gain.

"I mean not many people could do that," Ryan said. "To have the explosiveness that he has, to have the patience that he has, to have the vision that he has — that was an impressive run. Experience helps that, but you've got to have some natural just feel to be able to do those things. His feel, his vision is really as good as anybody I've been around."

Freeman loves to show his toughness, too, as he did last week against Miles Killebrew. The Detroit safety came up knock Freeman out of bounds, but the running back lowered his head and knocked Killebrew backward on the Atlanta sideline.

Freeman immediately dropped the ball and took a couple of quick steps over to look down at the defender.

"It's my will against theirs," Freeman said. "If you're in my way, I feel like you're trying to take something away from me. My thing is I can't let that happen."

He's far from a finished product, though. Freeman is still smarting over a missed block assignment in the Super Bowl, and he says it's a mistake he must live with forever. New England's Dont'a Hightower strip-sacked Ryan, gave the ball back to the Patriots, and the Falcons were doomed.

Freeman says he's put in countless hours of practice and film study to make sure something like that doesn't happen again.

"My teammates need me to be at the top of my game in every situation," he said. "They're counting on me, and I'm counting on them. Nobody can get it done by himself. It takes each and every one us doing their jobs and doing it right."

Notes: WR Julio Jones (back) was a limited participant in practice Friday and is listed as questionable for the game. Jones said that he's certain he will play. ... Right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion), FS Ricardo Allen (concussion), DE Vic Beasley (hamstring), DE Courtney Upshaw (ankle) and RB Terron Ward (neck, shoulder) have been ruled out. DT Jack Crawford (shoulder) has been cleared to play.

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The Falcons are quietly one of the NFL’s best offenses again


by Dave Choate Sep 30, 2017, 2:00pm EDT

The Falcoholic  


In terms of productivity per drive, there’s nobody better.

We all expected the Atlanta Falcons to once again be among the league’s best offenses in 2017, and they have delivered on that promise for the most part, overcoming some sloppy penalties and three turnovers in Detroit to deliver compelling results again.

Did you know, though, that they’ve delivered the best yards and points per drive totals in the entire NFL? I didn’t until I saw this, from Football Outsiders.

The 2016 Falcons scored 104 points through three games, thanks in large part to a complete dismantling of a pitiful New Orleans Saints defense in Week 3, while the 2017 Falcons offense has managed just 87. That’s still the fifth-highest total in the NFL, but it raises the question of how the Falcons are so, so productive when they’re scored 17 fewer points in three games thus far.

How can this be? As I see it, there’s a couple of factors here.

I’m hopeful the Falcons will be able to avoid starting from the 10 yard line for the most part going forward, but otherwise, it’s difficult to quibble with the results. Once they iron out some of their early struggles and get Ryan Schraeder back on the field, chances are good they’ll once again pass the eye test as one of the league’s premier attacks. As the stats above suggest, they’re already quietly doing great work.


© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Falcons' offense could dig deeper against Bills


Vaughn McClure | 6:00 AM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons sent a strong message at the start of last week's game, although the result was unsuccessful.

On the very first play against Detroit, Ryan made a play-action fake to running back Devonta Freeman, tried to gather himself, and threw a pass deep downfield to Jones, who had two defenders in his area. Ryan probably would have hit Jones in stride off the double move if tight end Levine Toilolo hadn't allowed Anthony Zettel to pressure Ryan into a rushed, short, incomplete throw.

Despite the misfire, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said the deep ball definitely sent a message.

"There's no doubt we want to be the best attacking team in football," Sarkisian said. "We want to stay aggressive in all aspects of our game. ... We just felt like that was a good opportunity for us. We liked the play design. It didn't play out exactly the way we wanted, but again, I think for our guys knowing going into that game that that was the style of game we were going to go for, went for it.


"We didn't hit that one. We didn't hit a few other deep balls. But we took our shots. And we really believe over time, if we continue to work at it in practice and do it in ballgames, we're going to hit some of those big ones that are going to really have an effect not only on the passing game, but really help our running game. It's a big part of our offense. We've just got to keep stressing it. I think sooner or later, with the players we have, we're going to make those plays."

Entering Sunday's matchup with the Buffalo Bills, Ryan is only 2-for-11 for 122 yards and a touchdown on passes thrown 20-plus air yards down the field -- and the Falcons are still 3-0. Those are, of course, lower-percentage throws, but Ryan was 36-of-71 for 1,268 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions on such throws last season.

Ryan was 0-for-5 in the 20-plus air-yard category last week against the Lions, with four targets to Jones and another to fellow speedster Taylor Gabriel. Four were end zone shots, including two where Jones easily could have drawn a penalty on the defense, and another where Jones was just slightly out of bounds.


The Falcons are close to connecting on those plays. And as Sarkisian said, having a dynamic playmaker such as Jones and a speedster such as Gabriel makes going deep that much easier for Ryan. Now it's just a matter of the timing being right, banged-up guys such as Jones (back) being healthy, and the blocking holding up. Remember, the Falcons will be without starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder for the second consecutive game due to a concussion, putting the pressure on Ty Sambrailo to protect Ryan and give him enough time to complete such throws.

The Bills boast the league's top scoring defense, allowing just 12.3 points per game after three games. In terms of the deep ball, Buffalo has held its opposing quarterbacks -- the New York Jets' Josh McCown, Carolina's Cam Newton and Denver's Trevor Siemian -- to 3-of-11 for 83 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions on throws 20-plus air yards downfield.

Ryan's most productive day throwing downfield last season was against Carolina in Week 4, when he was 4-of-6 on passes of 20-plus air yards for 173 yards with two touchdowns. That was the same game Jones went off for a career-high 300 receiving yards against a Panthers defense then guided by coordinator Sean McDermott.

Well, it's Week 4 of the regular season again. And McDermott is now the head coach of the Bills. Maybe Ryan, Jones and the Falcons can go deep once again.

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Atlanta Falcons | 3:30 PM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is expected to be sidelined for two to three weeks with a hamstring injury, a source told ESPN's Vaughn McClure, while wide receiver Julio Jones is not expected to miss any playing time despite his hip flexor injury, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Coach Dan Quinn confirmed that Jones' and Sanu's injuries, suffered during Sunday's 23-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills, are not long term.

"For those of you guys who have covered the team for a long time, you would know that Julio Jones is a faster healer than the average cat," Quinn said. "It's just how he's built. He's a special player, competitor, athlete. What may take someone four [weeks] may take him two. What may take another person one, he may be ready way quicker."

Quinn declined to put a timetable on the injuries, but a source told Schefter that Jones will be ready to play after resting during this week's bye. The Falcons' next game is Oct. 15 at home against the Miami Dolphins.

Sanu appears likely to miss the Dolphins' game but could return for an Oct. 22 Super Bowl rematch with the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Massachusetts. He was spotted in the locker room Monday wearing a compression sleeve on his right leg.

Jones played 15 snaps before exiting with the hip flexor injury, while Sanu played 31 snaps but didn't return for the second half following a hamstring strain.

"The good news is both of them aren't going to be long term," Quinn said of Jones and Sanu. "Both of them, the competitiveness to get going will be there."

Jones leads the Falcons with 19 catches for 295 yards but doesn't have a touchdown. Sanu is second on the team with 16 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.

The Falcons have no plans to add a receiver to the roster at this time.

Quinn said the bye week came at a good time to get the entire team healthy. He said reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., who suffered a hamstring strain during a Week 2 win over the Green Bay Packers, is making progress but won't return until he is able to "open up" as a runner. Beasley was expected to be sidelined a month after suffering the injury Sept. 17.

The Falcons are expected to add defensive line help since Beasley, Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee) and Jack Crawford (biceps) are all banged up. Crawford, who wore protection on his left arm Monday, could be lost for the season.

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Source: Falcons' Jack Crawford to have season-ending biceps surgery

6:07 PM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn.png&w=160&h=160&scale=cro
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer
    • Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
    • Also worked at Chicago Sun-Times, Fresno Bee
    • Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002

The Atlanta Falcons placed defensive lineman Jack Crawford on injured reserve Tuesday with a torn biceps, and a source told ESPN he is scheduled to have season-ending surgery.

Crawford suffered the injury during Atlanta's 23-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. He played 12 defensive snaps in the game as a reserve.

Losing Crawford further depletes the Falcons' depth along the defensive line. Pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring) and defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee) are working their way back from injuries. The Falcons released former second-round pick Ra'Shede Hageman, the backup nose tackle, after an investigation into a domestic incident.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn expressed optimism about Beasley returning soon, once he can open up and run without issue. The reigning NFL sack champ was expected to miss a month after suffering a hamstring strain against Green Bay on Sept. 17.

Upshaw's status is a little less clear, although he won't need surgery, Quinn said. Upshaw was not on the field doing rehab exercises alongside Beasley last week.

As for Crawford, who formerly played for the Dallas Cowboys, he has brought versatility, power and toughness to the defensive line, primarily from the interior. He was limited some during the preseason while dealing with a groin injury. Once Crawford was healthy, he provided backup support to interior lineman Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe. Through four games, Crawford recorded five combined tackles and three quarterback hits.

Joe Vellano, who was promoted from the practice squad after Upshaw's injury, is the primary backup now on the interior of the defensive line. Derrick Shelby, who has lined up at defensive end while Beasley is sidelined, also can play inside.

The Falcons did not immediately announce a corresponding roster move after placing Crawford on IR, but Quinn said Monday he would meet with general manager Thomas Dimitroff about adding help along the defensive line. The Falcons worked out six defensive linemen Monday: Sterling Bailey (Georgia), Pat O'Connor (Eastern Michigan), Devin Taylor (South Carolina), Nicholas Williams (Samford), Jonathan Woodard (Central Arkansas) and Lavar Edwards (LSU). O'Connor was informed he won't be signed at this time.

The Falcons (3-1) have a bye this week as players rest and recover from injuries. Their next game is Oct. 15 at home against the Miami Dolphins

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The Falcons have the best backfield in the NFL, per ESPN


by Dave Choate Oct 7, 2017, 4:00pm EDT

The Falcoholic  


The Atlanta Falcons clearly have one of the best running back tandems in the NFL. Devonta Freeman is one of the league’s leading rushers every year, he’s a remarkable blocker, and he’s a perfectly capable receiver when called upon. Tevin Coleman has lethal speed and can break huge plays on the ground and through the air.

Given that, it’s little surprise that ESPN ranked the duo as the best backfield tandem in the entire league, for the reasons listed above and the stated reasons below.

While many backfields feature players who can adeptly handle more specific roles, Freeman and Coleman are a rare one-two punch that can each play in any offensive situation. They're excellent pass-catchers and solid runners between the tackles, and each is effective in the red area. Together they account for 42.8 percent of the offense's yards from scrimmage. Freeman, who has rushed for a league-leading five touchdowns this season, is among the game's best.

When you consider that both are still quite young and Coleman is still comparatively cheap, the Falcons are as well-positioned as anyone, at least through the end of 2018 when Coleman’s rookie contract runs out. These guys are both genuinely great, and with Steve Sarkisian in town, they could see even larger workloads in 2017.

The full piece is Insider, so unless you have that, you won’t be able to see all the best tandems. Suffice to say that Freeman and Coleman rule the roost, however, and I don’t think any other team is particularly close.


© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Falcons' young defense needs to start taking the ball away




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Matt Ryan's turnovers have drawn much of the attention in Atlanta.

Yet there are two sides to this issue for the Falcons.

Not only has the NFL's reigning MVP been sloppy with the ball the last two games, throwing five interceptions and losing a fumble, the defense has failed to produce the number of takeaways expected from a speedy, aggressive unit.

The Falcons (3-1) have come up with just one pick and one fumble a quarter of the way through the season, resulting in one of the NFL's worst turnover margins.

While everyone insists it's not a major concern given the team's record, the stat must be especially galling to coach Dan Quinn. After all, he's a defensive specialist who harps constantly on the importance of snatching the ball away from the other team.

"I hopeful we're like a good shooter who is 1 out of 8 but we're about to get hot," Quinn said Thursday, breaking into a smile.

Since he arrived three years ago, the Falcons have used the bulk of their draft picks to assemble a defense that can attack the ball every chance it gets. They've certainly got some big hitters, most notably linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and safeties Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee, but they haven't delivered enough of the blows — especially on the quarterback — that lead to turnovers.

Tackling has also been a major focus for Atlanta, which hosts the Miami Dolphins (2-2) on Sunday coming off a bye week.

"The better at tackling you are — not just thinking about the ball — but getting your tackle right, so then the second and third guy can take shots at the ball," Quinn said. "We're not concerned, because we do emphasize it. We love the speed, love the energy. We just think as we get more reps at it, we're going to get our shots."

The secondary also needs to step it up. Cornerback Desmond Trufant has the only interceptions so far, picking off Green Bay's Aaron Rogers in a Week 2 victory that was clearly Atlanta's most impressive performance of the season.

The Falcons have missed on some other chances. In their last outing against Buffalo, Trufant had a change to pick off a pass but couldn't hang on, a potentially crucial play that could've changed the entire complexion of the game. As it was, the Bills pulled off a 23-17 upset, taking advantage of two interceptions and a fumble by Ryan that was returned for a touchdown.

"We didn't capitalize when we had our hands on the football," Quinn said. "That's a play (Trufant) would like to have back. Well, you don't get 'em back. You nail 'em when your opps come."

The Falcons have certainly devoted plenty of draft picks toward building the type of ball-hawking group that Quinn had in his previous job as Seattle's defensive coordinator.

Each of the last three years, Atlanta has taken a defensive player in the first round — defensive end Vic Beasley Jr. in 2015, Neal in 2016 and linebacker Takkarist McKinley this year. Campbell, Kazee, linebacker Deion Jones, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Duke Riley have also been drafted during the Quinn era, quickly developing into key contributors.

"You've just got to be aware of the ball at all times," McKinley said. "If we've got a chance to get a sack and we're chasing the quarterback down from the back, we've got to attack his arm and get the ball out."

The rookie is confident that things will soon turn around.

Perhaps this is the week, facing the offensively challenged Dolphins.

"Turnovers come in bunches," McKinley said. "It's just a matter of time."

Quinn shares that optimism.

"I think we're about to get hot on some of those," the coach said, "because of the way we play."

Notes: WR Julio Jones remained limited at Thursday's practice because of a hip injury but insisted there's no chance he won't play against the Dolphins. "Limited means, really, nothing," he said. "I'll be ready to go." ... Jones also said he's not concerned about a glaring number on the stat sheet: zero touchdown receptions through four games. "I don't know why people are worried about Julio Jones. I'm not worried about it," he said. "Whatever the defense gives us, we're going to take. If that's me going out there and not scoring and we're still winning games, that's fine with me." ... WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring), defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee) and kicker Matt Bryant (back) also skipped practice, though Sanu did some conditioning work on the side. The Falcons guarded against the possibility that Bryant can't go by signing kicker Mike Meyer to the practice squad. He was with the team in the preseason, making 3-of-4 field goal attempts.

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NFL power rankings: Atlanta Falcons still top five team following bye week


by James Rael@falcoholicjames Oct 11, 2017, 12:34am EDT

The Falcoholic  


The Atlanta Falcons didn’t play a football game yesterday. And as boring as it was watching other teams play, the Falcons needed every minute of their bye week to get healthy and rebound following their week four loss to the Buffalo Bills. It already looks like several injured players will make their respective returns Sunday afternoon when the Falcons take on the Miami Dolphins. Meanwhile, it’s Tuesday, which means there are new power rankings. Let’s break them down.

The Falcons have a strong chance of making the playoffs as is, but they need to take advantage of a struggling Dolphins team at home this week. Why? Because after that, they play four of the next five on the road, with trips to New England, Carolina and Seattle.

They come off their bye needing to get the offense playing like it did last season. Injuries could be an issue at receiver.

Getting back to good health was the main objective for this 3-1 outfit in the bye week. That's the position all organizations want to be in during the bye week: sitting pretty in the standings, with time off to heal some bumps and bruises.

They got a chance to let Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu heal a bit during the bye week, and at the same time, it was key for Matt Ryan to get out of his slump.

The Falcons have to feel pretty good about catching the Dolphins at home this week. Then comes the Super Bowl rematch at New England.

Basically the Falcons didn’t move because ... they didn’t play. (Sporting News is the only exception.) You can convincingly argue with a straight face that the Falcons are one of the best teams in the NFL. There’s no reason (at least for now) to rank them outside of the top five. A few teams (the Panthers, the Eagles, and the Packers) are hitting their stride which seems to give some writers pause as they parse out the top of their rankings.

Your thoughts?

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Falcons remain first in the NFL in yards per drive


by Dave Choate Oct 13, 2017, 6:00am EDT

The Falcoholic  


They’ve had a week off, but the Falcons remain one of the better offenses in football. I will never tire of typing this, so please don’t ask me to stop.

Per our own Charles McDonald, also of Football Outsiders, the Falcons are averaging more yards per drive than any other NFL team. They’re top five, still, in points per drive, as well. That speaks well to the team’s efficiency, and it continues to suggest that Atlanta’s just in need of a reversal of their turnover fortune. The offense is already plenty productive.

With Steve Sarkisian talking about getting Austin Hooper more involved, and the absurd number of weapons the Falcons can bring to bear, it’s fair to expect the team to continue to play well, with hopefully even better results in the points column. The team could certainly stand to start from the 25 more often, instead of inside the 10, which might hurt the yards per drive but significantly help out on the other side. Maybe that’s me being greedy.


© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Falcons WR Sanu (hamstring) won’t play Sunday vs. Dolphins



FOX Sports  


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons will be without receiver Mohamed Sanu for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Sanu strained a hamstring in the Falcons’ last game, a 23-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills, and is still hobbled by the injury even though Atlanta (3-1) had a bye week.

He did some limited conditioning work at practice this week but wasn’t able to participate in drills. Sanu is third on the team with 16 catches for 163 yards and one touchdown.

The Falcons top receiver, Julio Jones, will play against the Dolphins even though he was limited all week by a hip injury.

Also out for the Falcons: defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw, who will miss his third straight game with ankle and knee injuries, and linebacker Jermain Grace (hamstring).

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Falcons vs. Dolphins: Top Matchups to Watch


by Michael Aprile@RiseUpReader Oct 15, 2017, 10:00am EDT

The Falcoholic  


Michael Aprile is the editor-in-chief of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the Falcoholic post-game podcast that airs weekly.

The Falcons enter this game heavily favorited and much healthier than they were the last time we saw them take the field. Ricardo Allen, Ryan Schraeder, and Vic Beasley are all back in action against a Dolphins team who has yet to do anything remarkable this year (unless you consider how remarkably bad their offense has been).

On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons should be able to dominant in this one, plain and simple. Jay Cutler is having the worst season of his career, and Miami’s biggest threat on offense (Jay Ajayi) is no lock to play. Given the Dolphins’ struggles on the offensive line, this is setting up to be a signature performance for Atlanta’s defense.

If the Falcons can hold off Miami’s pass rush and aggressive defense, this one should be a walk in the park. Let’s check in on some of the more critical matchups that could be the difference in this game.

Falcons’ pass rush vs. Dolphins’ offensive line

With or without Vic Beasley at 100%, the Falcons need to put pressure on Jay Cutler and suffocate the Dolphins’ offense early and often. If Jay Ajayi doesn’t play, the pass rush becomes even more important as Miami will likely be forced to throw more than they’d like.

The Dolphins’ offensive line has struggled mightily this season despite having talented players at key positions. Laremy Tunsil is developing into one of the better left tackles in the AFC, and Mike Pouncey has always been a good center when healthy.

If Pouncey (hip) is unable to go, Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett could both have monster days against a weak interior.

With Jack Crawford out for the year and Courtney Upshaw still on the mend, expect rising player Joe Vellano to get quality snaps along the interior.

Takkarist McKinley has had an impressive rookie year thus far, and he’ll likely line up across from Ja’wuan James, a former first-round pick who’s had his share of struggles this season. Per PFF, only three rookies since 2006 have had a better pass-rush productivity than McKinley from the right edge through five weeks.

Dolphins’ receivers vs. Falcons’ cornerbacks

The Dolphins have one of the most underrated pass-catching trios in the league at wide receiver.

DaVante Parker is having the best season of his career, Kenny Stills can beat a defense deep at any moment, and Jarvis Landry is one of the toughest slot receivers to cover. If Parker (ankle) is unable to go, the Miami offense takes a big hit. Parker can go up and get the 50/50 jump balls, and his size is a problem for opposing cornerbacks.

Robert Alford’s speed makes him a good match for Stills, and Desmond Trufant’s agility aligns perfectly with Landry’s strengths.

With the talented Brian Poole in the slot, the Falcons should have the luxury of not letting the offense dictate where they line up, especially if Parker doesn’t go.

Look for the Falcons’ corners to stay aggressive and attempt to exorcise their turnover demons against the 32nd ranked offense in the league.

Falcons’ offensive Line vs. Dolphins’ pass rush

Ryan Schraeder’s long-awaited return from a concussion could not have come at a better time. The Dolphins will trot out the fearsome Cameron Wake, and the thought of him facing Ty Sambrailo is scarier than anything you’ll see on Halloween.

Miami registered six sacks last week against a stellar Tennessee offensive line, a cause for concern since the Falcons have had some protection issues this year.

Although Wes Schweitzer has steadily improved this year, Ndamukong Suh is easily the biggest test he’ll face this season. Schweitzer fared well against Suh in the preseason, but the regular season is a different beast altogether.

With rookie defensive end Charles Harris heating up, the Dolphins will bring pressure from nearly every direction. Fellow rookie Davon Godchaux has been a big hit for Miami, so Alex Mack and Andy Levitre will need to be aware of him at all times.

Which matchups will you be watching closely?


© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Falcons not haunted by Super Bowl meltdown ahead of rematch with Patriots




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Through OTAs, minicamp and training camp, Dan Quinn did his best to deflect questions about the big collapse.

This week, there's no avoiding the painful memories for the coach and his Falcons. Atlanta will visit the Patriots on Sunday in a game that brings up old questions about the biggest meltdown in Super Bowl history.

"We're not facing any demons here this week," Quinn said Monday. "It's the 2017 version of us and them. We don't get to replay that one. How it ended was a bummer."

Quinn says the 28-3 blown lead in the 34-28 overtime loss to New England is in his team's "rear-view mirror." That may be because the Falcons (3-2) have similarly painful new concerns, including losing first-half leads in losses to Buffalo and Miami in their last two games.

Atlanta led the Dolphins 17-0 at halftime before losing 20-17 on Sunday . The Falcons have scored only seven second-half points in the two losses.

"We were just flat, that's all," running back Tevin Coleman said Monday. "We didn't have any juice coming into the second half."

The Super Bowl rematch would be enough to rekindle talk about the Falcons' inability to finish out a win. Now, just in time for the visit to New England, that problem has carried over to the 2017 season.

"The scars are definitely deeper when you have it and you let it up than when it goes back and forth, back and forth," Quinn said. "Those are the ones that ... leave a deeper mark."

The Falcons have struggled to repeat the offense which powered them to last season's Super Bowl. The Falcons rank only 11th in the NFL with 24.2 points per game, almost 10 points below last season's league-leading average. Atlanta was held below 20 points in each of its losses.

The biggest drop in production is at quarterback. Matt Ryan, last season's NFL MVP, has a troubling balance of six touchdown passes and six interceptions, including two in the loss to the Bills . He threw 38 TD passes with seven interceptions last season.

Ryan's numbers have been hurt by at least three dropped passes that were intercepted. The biggest play of the loss to the Dolphins came when the Falcons already were in position to attempt a tying field goal and Ryan's pass for tight end Austin Hooper was deflected by Cordrea Tanker and intercepted by Reshad Jones .

Quinn said a review of the play showed Hooper should have tried harder to go for the ball.

"For us the lesson is you always go aggressively to go catch it," Quinn said. "Don't wait for it, you go aggressive to go get it."

Quinn assigned some blame for the recent decline in scoring to his run defense. Poor tackling has led to longer drives for opponents.

There could be no better way for the Falcons to snap their two-game losing string than to win at New England.

But it wouldn't avenge the Super Bowl collapse.

"You don't get to go replay it," Quinn said. "Yeah, there's a part that's motivation for sure, but it wasn't a driving force for us because for us only to be in the present moment we couldn't keep looking back in the rear-view mirror.

"We wanted to make sure we could be the best version of us we could be. We couldn't do that if we kept replaying a game we can't change."

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Super Bowl rematch with Patriots would be ideal time for Falcons to recapture 2016 mojo


Dan Wolken|USA TODAY‎4‎:‎26‎ ‎PM Oct. 19, 2017



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Reminders of 28-3 are stubbornly prevalent for the Atlanta Falcons, from the Internet memes to the New England Patriots’ scoreboard troll job on opening night to — let’s face it — a penchant for blowing leads that has carried over from Super Bowl LI to this season.

It’s quickly becoming an unwanted theme here, as the Falcons (3-2) prepare for their high-profile rematch Sunday night in New England. The easy narrative, particularly this week, is to make some connection between Atlanta’s Super Bowl demons and its recent trouble finishing games. Is that fair? Of course. Is it too simple? Almost certainly.

“It’s tough to get one answer,” left tackle Jake Matthews said. “I can’t say enough (about) what we’re doing well in the first half. We’re just not finding a way (to continue) in the second half. That’s on all of us.”

But as noise grows about whether the Falcons have some sort of mental block or systemic issue holding leads — yes, the dreaded “choker" label — the natural inclination here is to look toward the more easily identifiable and correctable factors in their admittedly slow start.

— Explosive offensive plays? Not enough.
— Turnovers? Too many.
— Touches for star receiver Julio Jones? Too few.

“I just have a sense of who our guys are and how we play, that it’ll come,” said head coach Dan Quinn.

Even taking the Super Bowl hangover psychobabble into account, this looks more like a mechanical problem than a mental one — for now.

The Falcons, after all, did undergo one of the more significant coaching changes of the offseason when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left to take over the San Francisco 49ers' top job and was replaced by Steve Sarkisian, a virtual NFL novice.

While quarterback and 2016 league MVP Matt Ryan insists Sarkisian isn’t to blame for the offense's slippage from the top-scoring attack last year to 12th this season, it’s possible some natural comfort and continuity was lost in the transition.

“I think Sark’s done a great job, and honestly he’s put us in good positions through five games,” Ryan said.

“I think we’ll continue to get better for sure. He’s got a better understanding now, having been here, having gone through game situations. I think he's gotten better as the year’s gone on, but as players we need to play better.”

It’s also possible the Falcons, and Ryan in particular, are fighting a natural regression to the mean after setting all kinds of franchise records last season and scoring 30 or more points 11 times in the regular season, something only two teams in NFL history have done more often. There was nothing fluky about those numbers. The Falcons were a legitimate scoring machine, all the way up until the point where one more first down would have brought Atlanta its first Lombardi Trophy.

The issue is whether such production can be replicated in a league where the talent disparity is so thin and the film study so advanced. Teams seem more determined than ever to take away Jones, whose 73.4 receiving yards per game represents a career low. And the Falcons aren’t countering with enough big-play answers to open things up for him.

Ryan, meanwhile, already has six interceptions, just one fewer than he had all of last year.

“We’re close,” Ryan said. “We’re not clicking on all cylinders yet, but we’re close.”

As they tore through the NFC last season, the Falcons certainly didn’t look like a one-off contender. They've got a top-level quarterback in his prime, arguably the league's premier wideout, and perhaps the league's top running back tandem in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

And though it's way too early to sound any alarms, the spotlight gets significantly bigger this week given the opponent.

“As far as having a bad feeling in your gut about it, i’m really past that,” right tackle Ryan Schraeder said. “It was a football game that we lost. It sucked, but i’m not going to live my whole life crying about it.”

They can’t, of course, because the expectation here is to be right back in the mix in what looks like a wide-open NFC, especially after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. And for all the issues they’re trying to work through, Atlanta remains in solid position for a playoff return.

But 28-3 — the third-quarter lead they squandered to New England in the Super Bowl — is still real, still there in the background, still something they’ll get asked about until they do something to quiet the naysayers.

“We’ve talked about last year once or twice — maybe three or four times — but to keep looking back is not what we’re about,” Quinn said. “The fight that matters is the one we’re in and to see how good the 2017 team can get. That’s where our focus is. To keep rehashing keeps us out of the present moment.”

This Sunday night, though, the problems of both past and present will converge for Atlanta. Those memories will be everywhere in New England, impossible to ignore. And playing the Patriots will either be the first step to making them go away or making them seem far worse.

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Falcons vs. Patriots: One reason to be confident, one reason to feel nervous


by Dave Choate Oct 21, 2017, 8:00am EDT

The Falcoholic  


The Atlanta Falcons have not done much over the last two games to engender confidence from the fanbase. When you’re headed into a Super Bowl rematch with one of the NFL’s best franchises, and you’ve dropped two straight games to the Bills and Dolphins while scoring a combined 34 points, you really can’t ask people to be wildly enthusiastic about your chances.

Yet I do believe the Falcons can win what promises to be a shootout, if they can just avoid the big, costly mistakes that have plagued them in recent weeks. The Patriots do not look invincible, even if they still clearly have one of the NFL’s most talented rosters, and you don’t have to squint very hard to see the Falcons getting that passing attack on track and beating the **** out of Tom Brady en route to a tight victory. There are no guarantees, though, that the Falcons team that shows up on Sunday night will be better than the one that has so thoroughly disappointed us the previous two weeks. It’s as close to a coin flip as I’ve seen this season.

Here’s one reason to feel confident, and one reason to worry.

Feel confident about finally getting the offense rolling

There’s no way to put this nicely, so I simply won’t bother. The Patriots’ defense has been bad, something your average New England fan is very willing to admit.

If Steve Sarkisian and Matt Ryan can’t get the passing game going against a team missing two of its better players in the secondary, considering that it has been one of the most error-prone secondaries in the NFL, that’s a legitimate problem. The front seven has been playing a bit better over the last couple of weeks, which is a cause for concern, but the Falcons whipped a better version of this Patriots defense a year ago, and whatever decline we’ve seen offensively is matched by what’s happened to the New England D.

There are a couple of key matchups to watch here. Young cornerback Johnson Bademosi has size and intriguing potential, but is going to struggle mightily to handle Julio one on one. The second is Tevin Coleman and Taylor Gabriel working against this defense, period, because their incredible speed allows them to break big plays, and the Patriots have allowed way too many big plays in 2017. As long as the Falcons don’t hunch up and play overly conservative football, four scores (or more) seems perfectly reasonable.

Be worried about stopping the Patriots

Honestly, if the Falcons somehow are able to hold the Patriots under 30 points at home on Sunday Night Football, they probably have an excellent chance of winning this football game. We’ve seen this defense make real strides when they’re not picking up drive-extending penalties, but they haven’t had to face an offense this talented all year, and it’s probably going to be problematic.

Brandin Cooks is an explosive option, Chris Hogan is quite good, and Dion Lewis and James White are problematic pass-catching backs who can break long gains if the Falcons can’t wrap up and tackle properly. Stopping Rob Gronkowski can be done, but it will require excellent play from De’Vondre Campbell and Keanu Neal to get there. Mike Gillislee isn’t a great back, but he can also carry the load a bit on the ground and wear down the Falcons defense. As always, the Patriots are just bristling with weapons, and Brady hasn’t been any less effective despite the hits he’s taken thus far.

Get after Brady enough, shut down Gronk, and play disciplined football and you might be able to pull this off. It’s fair to wonder whether Atlanta will, though, and I’m concerned about just how productive New England will be.


© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Atlanta Falcons owner doesn't need closure in Patriots rematch


Ian Rapoport NFL Network Insider +Follow on Twitter  


An offseason full of storylines comes to an end Sunday night.

The Falcons play the New England Patriots, a rematch of the epic Super Bowl LI, and finally Atlanta can cease answering questions about their 28-3 lead disappearing as the nation watched in awe. This will be, at least, closure.

Except that's not how owner Arthur Blank sees it.

"No, no closure," Blank told this week, prior to exiting the NFL Fall Meetings in New York. "There's nothing open. I mean, if there's nothing open, there's nothing to close."

Blank's philosophy mirrors that of his team. Under coach Dan Quinn's tutelage, the Falcons addressed the memorable loss, discussing it openly this spring whenever it came up. They fully processed it. By training camp, they were done. It was over, they were on to the new year.

The painful memories won't fade, but their focus quickly shifted toward the 2017 goals.

"Last year is finished," Blank continued. "I'd say the franchise had a wonderful year, I mean that truly. Both on and off the field. We finished our stadium, the team had a wonderful year, competed at the highest level. It didn't end the way we wanted to, we certainly didn't conclude the way we wanted to. But we've learned from it, grown from it, I think we're better for it."

Yet this week, no doubt the flashbacks will come. They'll look across the field and see the same Patriots as they saw in February. Different season, yes. The Patriots don't look quite as invincible, while the Falcons have lost two straight after a fast start.

Blank joked that he looks forward to every game. But it's clear this takes on a different feel.

"Whenever you play the Super Bowl champs, whether you played in the game or not, you want to have success," Blank said. "You play the champions in any sport ... you watch a golf tournament, when number one in the world is leading, they all want to win the tournament and beat number one. So, New England is No. 1 and obviously we'd like to go out there and have a successful result."

As for the Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski said they were given "highly strict rules" not to discuss their February win. No worries, there. The Falcons simply have other things to worry about than rekindling the hype of the rematch.

"I don't think it's an issue, I really don't," Blank said. "Not for the staff, the coach, for the players. They are onto this year. You have this 24-hour rule. You don't have a grace period from one year to the next because you lost the Super Bowl. It doesn't work that way. You don't get six days off when you lose a game to end your season. We're beyond that. Right now, we've lost the last two games at home -- which is not good. We're on the road for three games. We got enough to focus on."

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Falcons sign LB Sean Weatherspoon for third stint with team




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have signed linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for his third stint with the team, adding depth to the position which lost rookie Duke Riley to a knee injury.

Riley left last week's loss at New England with the injury and is expected to miss Sunday's game at the New York Jets.

Weatherspoon was Atlanta's first-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft. He made 41 starts in his first four NFL seasons before missing the 2014 season with an injury. He played in 14 games with Arizona in 2015 before returning to the Falcons for four games in 2016. His 2016 season ended when he suffered an Achilles tendon injury.

Atlanta waived backup defensive lineman Joe Vellano. The team made two practice squad moves, signing defensive lineman Taniela Tupou and waiving defensive lineman Jonathan Woodard.

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Falcons' offensive funk has Sarkisian searching for answers


AP‎6‎:‎05‎ ‎PM Oct. 26, 2017



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The dramatic decline in the Atlanta Falcons' scoring has left the heat on first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to orchestrate a quick turnaround.

Most of the key pieces are in place from the Atlanta offense that led the NFL in scoring last season. The biggest change was at coordinator, where Sarkisian was hired from Alabama after Kyle Shanahan became San Francisco's coach.

Production for the Falcons (3-3) has been stuck in reverse in three straight losses . The challenge for Sarkisian is to find answers in Sunday's game at the New York Jets .

The low point for the offense came in last week's 23-7 loss at New England .

It was time for Sarkisian and other coaches to review their own work.

"For me, especially coming out of the game, human nature is to look around and kind of see what's wrong," Sarkisian said.

"We really challenged all of us coaches and players to look at ourselves and find the things within ourselves individually to say hey, this is an area where I can improve upon," he said.

The obvious areas for improvement are third down and red-zone production. The Falcons scored in only one of four possessions inside the New England 20. They converted only two of nine third downs.

"That's generally not winning football," Sarkisian said.

Extra practice time has been devoted to each area this week.

Players say it's wrong to blame Sarkisian for the offense misfiring.

"When things are going bad, it's easy to point the finger at this person, that person," wide receiver Julio Jones said Thursday. "It's on all of us to take it upon ourselves to fix it. I feel like Sark has been doing a good job for us calling the plays. We've just got to go out there and execute."

Center Alex Mack said it is "definitely too simple to point a finger at any one person."

The Falcons' scoring has dropped from their NFL-leading 33.8 per game in their 2016 Super Bowl season to 21.3. Atlanta has been held under 20 points in three straight losses.

The Falcons' offensive frustrations were summed up against the Patriots in the fourth quarter at the New England 1. Sarkisian called a jet sweep on fourth down. Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel lost five yards on the run.

Coach Dan Quinn was critical of the call . He said he'd "rather have a better play for that."

Perhaps aware of mounting criticism of his top offensive coach, Quinn defended Sarkisian on Thursday.

"There are a lot of really good things that Steve does and I don't want to lose sight of how good a football coach this guy is," Quinn said. "When you're going through a time when you're not producing from a points standpoint, there's a lot of factors involved."

Sarkisian, 43, is in his first NFL job since 2004, when he coached the Raiders' quarterbacks.

His self-described issues with alcoholism led Southern Cal to fire him as head coach in October 2015. He had treatment and in 2016 was hired as an offensive analyst at Alabama, where he was promoted to coordinator a few days before the Crimson Tide's loss to Clemson in the national championship game.

Sarkisian said Thursday he knew he'd have to make adjustments when he returned to the NFL.

"I wasn't naive to think there wouldn't be some" adjustments, he said.

"We knew there were going to be some things along the way to adjust to. I think it's gone very well in that way. It's just a matter now of us taking care of some situational third down plays and making sure when we get our opportunities in the red zone, we score points."

NOTES: RB Tevin Coleman, a surprise on Wednesday's injury report with a knee injury, was again limited on Thursday. He hurt his knee against the Patriots. ... LB Duke Riley posted on his Twitter account "Surgery came out great!" on his knee. The Falcons have not released a timetable on Riley's recovery other than to say he won't play this week.

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Falcons breathe a bit easier, but still seeking 2016 form




ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons can breathe a bit easier.

The losing streak is over.

Still to be resolved: Can this team recapture the form that carried it all the way to the Super Bowl last season?

After surviving a miserable day at the Meadowlands for a 25-20 victory over the New York Jets , the Falcons (4-3) were finally able to turn their focus to the NFC South race.

They'll face a divisional opponent for the first time on Sunday when they hit the road for the third week in a row to take on the Carolina Panthers (5-3).

Due to a quirk in the schedule, Atlanta is the only team in the league that hasn't played a division foe.

"We put emphasis on the division (games), and now we're finally getting back to do that," coach Dan Quinn said Monday. "They're special because you only get six of 'em."

The NFC South field is tightly bunched, with New Orleans (5-2) on top of the standings and riding a five-game winning streak. Only Tampa Bay (2-5) has fallen off the pace.

The Falcons snapped a three-game skid with their victory over the Jets, which came on the heels of an ugly 23-7 loss at New England in a nationally televised rematch of the Super Bowl.

"It was important for us to come out and play well," quarterback Matt Ryan said after the game. "To find a way to get the job done after not doing that the last couple of weeks was huge for us."

But, other than an impressive win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 2 , the Falcons have yet to reach the form they showed last season, especially on the offensive side.

That was certainly understandable in this latest game, which was played in a driving rain. Ryan, who fumbled away a couple of snaps, called it "some of the hardest conditions I've played in for the length of the game."

"I've played in situations where we've had some heavy rain or tough wind for a little bit, but really from kickoff until the end of the game, it was coming down pretty hard," he said.

The Falcons are still scuffling in the middle of the NFL pack, averaging 21.9 points per game, after leading the league in scoring in 2016.

The lack of a strong running game remains one of Quinn's top concerns. The numbers against the Jets looked pretty good — 140 yards on 32 carries — but a big chunk of that came on Tevin Coleman's 52-yard run.

Otherwise, the Falcons were held to 88 yards on 31 carries — an average of just 2.8 yards.

"I thought we had opportunities to create a few more," Quinn said. "It was good to see Tevin break a long one at the end. But we can take our run game better than we did (Sunday). I think we have at times this year. We're still committed to it.

"Even on a down day, we still had over 100 yards because of our commitment to that. But I would say I was probably more pleased from a pass protection standpoint than all the way finishing through on the run game."

Coleman was in the game for the closing minutes after Devonta Freeman went out with a shoulder injury. The Pro Bowl back will probably be limited when the Falcons return to the practice field on Wednesday, according to Quinn.

Otherwise, Atlanta came through the game with no major health issues.

Quinn had nothing but praise for the run defense, which held the Jets to a season-low 43 yards on 22 carries. The Falcons had given up more than 100 yards in three straight games, including 162 yards the previous week against the Patriots.

"We were really committed to doing it right," Quinn said. "That part of the game felt real familiar in terms of everybody just being assignment-sound, doing their jobs, not stepping out of the gaps to go make a play.

"The consistency of the run defense is what really jumped out. We took a big step toward becoming the unit — especially in the run game — that we can be.

"It's just one time to do it. But after the last three weeks, everybody was tired of how we performed in the run game. We decided to stand up and do something about it."

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