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Falcons In season news

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Devonta Freeman is third in the NFL with five rushing touchdowns, but has not scored in the last three weeks and has seen his involvement in the Atlanta Falcons’ offense decrease over that time.

Freeman rushed just nine times against Miami and had 12 attempts in each of the next two games, against New England and the Jets, a stretch in which Atlanta went 1-2.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian wants to get back to the ground game this week.

“They’re a heck of a matchup problem for defenses,” Sarkisian said of the Freeman-Tevin Coleman pairing. “Depending on formations and types of defenses we get, man coverage, zone coverage, you can try to create some opportunities that way.”

Tevin Coleman has picked up the slack in Freeman’s relative absence, and finished last Sunday’s 25-20 win over the Jets with a season-high 82 yards after Freeman left with a shoulder issue.

“I know in the past couple of weeks, we’ve called a couple things specifically for Tevin,” Sarkisian said.

“It wasn’t the coverage we were looking for and the ball ended up going somewhere else, which is natural in football. That happens when you’re calling pass plays. Sometimes the defense can dictate where the ball’s going to go on specific plays. All in all, we know they’re a great matchup for us against defenses.”

Atlanta will look to establish Freeman again in Sunday’s Week 9 game against Carolina, who currently field the NFL’s fifth-best rush defense, and are one of eight teams to allow less than 100 rushing yards per game.

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Steve Sarkisian trying to block out the noise with Falcons


By Sam Farmer Nov 04, 2017 | 04:20 PM |FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga | 2017-11-04T23:20:00Z


There are two four-letter words that are essentially forbidden at Atlanta Falcons headquarters: “last” and “year.”


To a person, the Falcons have no interest in discussing the 2016 season, and certainly not in comparison to this year. That’s not just because the team blew a 28-3 lead over New England in the Super Bowl, an epic collapse on the biggest stage, but because the task at hand, the incremental march forward, demands every ounce of their attention.


That said, in replacing Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and taking over one of the most prolific units in NFL history, it’s as if Steve Sarkisian was handed the keys to a Lamborghini and — at least from outside the organization — a pretty unreasonable set of expectations.


Either win the Super Bowl with the same core of players, or be viewed as a disappointment.


So far, the 4-3 Falcons have been underwhelming. They're ranked 15th in the league in scoring at 21.9 points per game, sharply off the pace of last season when they averaged an NFL-best 33.8. They're ninth in passing, 11th in rushing, 26th in time of possession, and 27th in turnover differential.


Sarkisian, the former USC coach who is calling plays in the NFL for the first time in his career, said he's able to block out the outside noise, which includes a fan-driven #FireSark campaign on Twitter.


"I don't think about the what-ifs of, 'This could happen,' or 'That could happen,' especially not now," Sarkisian told The Times this week during a break from preparations for Sunday's game at Carolina. "I think more of, I love football. I love being around good players and good coaches, and being around a good organization. I just embrace the opportunity that I have. I've never been afraid of a challenge, obviously."


Sarkisian was a surprise hire in February, after the long-expected departure of Shanahan, who left to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Fired by USC in the middle of the 2015 season after multiple incidents involving alcohol, Sarkisian went through addiction counseling, then reappeared at Alabama, where he stepped in for fired offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin for last season’s national championship game against Clemson, which the Crimson Tide lost.


The Falcons got off to a 3-0 start this season, and looked to have avoided the classic Super Bowl hangover. They then lost three in a row, though, including a non-competitive 23-7 loss at the Patriots in a Super Bowl rematch.


Last Sunday, Atlanta clawed its way back to a winning record with a 25-20 victory at the New York Jets. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, last year’s NFL most valuable player, orchestrated his 26th comeback in the fourth quarter or overtime to pull out that win.


Julio Jones raced down the middle for a 53-yard catch in that game, a welcome sight for the Falcons, who need to get that All-Pro receiver involved. Jones has one touchdown in the first seven games after reeling in six last season despite missing two games.


"I don't need validation from anybody," Jones said this week, "or number to tell me throughout the year what kind of player I am."


Regardless, the expectations piled are piled high on the shoulders of Sarkisian. The challenges he has faced have been well documented in recent years, most notably the painful public stumbles that cost him the USC job. Except to confirm that he regularly attends meetings to tend to his recovery, he avoided getting into the details of his daily regimen.


He did disclose, however, that he didn't realize how gratifying it would be to help others as they face their own issues of addiction.


"To be there for someone else is really powerful," he said. "It's really powerful to put your arm around somebody and take five minutes or 10 minutes or two hours with somebody to share your experience, to help one person at a time. Because it's a tough disease. But to know that I can help? That's pretty powerful stuff."


Sarkisian spends long days and nights focused on getting the offense clicking.


The Falcons are standing by him for now, confident that they have the pieces in place to get back to the postseason. They also know that it took a while for Shanahan to get up to speed when he was here. But this is a production league, and people who don't get the job done are shown the door, and — like the words "last year" — are treated like yesterday's news.

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Author: Alec McQuade Published: 6:49 PM EST November 10, 2017

WXIA | 11/10/2017 11:49:01 PM



The Atlanta Falcons will hold several special ceremonies during Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys as a part of its Salute to Service.

The Falcons will host soldiers from Fort Benning, and prior to kickoff, Army Ranger Soldiers will rappel from the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is 300 feet high, to deliver the game ball to AMB Group CEO Steve Cannon. Cannon will pass the game ball to the family of Marietta, GA native Marine Lance Cpl. Skip Wells who was a victim in the Chattanooga terrorist attack in 2015.

The team will also honor dozens of families from the T.A.P.S. (Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors) program. In addition, each player on the team will wear a decal with the initials a fallen hero on his helmet.

The Falcons held an entire week of actives in honor of the military, and they are the first team in the NFL to do so. They held a high school football game, visited a VA hospital, held a Vietnam Veterans brunch, among other events.

Here is more information about how the Falcons will honor the military during its Salute to Service Game Sunday:

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The Atlanta Falcons are top ten in total defense after Week 10


Dave Choate



Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s a stunning rank for this team.

I don’t know if I believe that the Atlanta Falcons are a top ten defense in the NFL at this exact moment, but regardless of what I believe, the stats suggest they are.

Atlanta held the Cowboys to under 300 total yards and just seven points today, which was enough to catapult them from top 15 in total defense to top ten. While they’ve had their fair share of shaky performances, Sunday’s was a dominant one, and there’s no doubt that the talent base is good enough for them to finish at this level. They’ll just have to somehow keep doing this.

The Falcons won’t have eight sacks every week, and they won’t be facing teams down their dominant left tackles and starting running backs, but expecting them to hold teams in check on a weekly basis isn’t really unreasonable. They’ve done it most of the year, and only the Saints truly frighten me the rest of the way, so there is a genuine chance Atlanta will finish there.

We’re getting closer and closer to Dan Quinn’s vision for the defense, even if we’re not quite sure how close the Atlanta Falcons are to being a great team again. Let us hope it is close.


© Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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NFL power rankings: Atlanta Falcons on the rise after week 10 win over the Dallas Cowboys


by James Rael@falcoholicjames Nov 15, 2017, 12:11am EST

The Falcoholic  


The Atlanta Falcons got the NFL’s attention on Sunday. They may have the league’s toughest remaining schedule, but they’re still a talented football team, and they shouldn’t be ignored. At 5-4, the Falcons don’t have a margin for error, however, they essentially control their own destiny. It should be an interesting couple of months. Meanwhile, today is Tuesday, so let’s break down the power rankings.

No team has a more difficult remaining schedule than the Falcons. They still have a trip to Seattle, two games against the Saints and home games against the Vikings and Panthers. If there's any reason for hope, it's that they have four home games left, and two games against the 3-6 Buccaneers.

Against Dallas, the Falcons were the team we've been waiting all season long to see. There were big plays in the pass game, Atlanta was ripping off key runs, and the defense finally got back to doing what it does best. That's flying around the field and using its speed to disrupt the passing game.

When is it really a must-win game? When your team’s owner is in the midst of a very public feud with the opposing team’s owner. Arthur Blank didn’t greet Jerry Jones on the field before the game Sunday in Atlanta, and Blank’s team gave him an undoubtedly satisfying triumph by beating Jones’s Cowboys.

Tevin Coleman has been a big part of this Falcons team for a while, but he has only three starts in his career. With Devonta Freeman expected to miss some time with a concussion, it’s a huge spot for Coleman to show his 4.6-yard career average can carry over to a bigger role.

I’m in agreement with most of these. If the Falcons win on Monday, then they are undeniably a top ten team. If you have high blood pressure, you might want to sit these next few weeks out.

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Falcons may be catching battered Seahawks at the right time


AP‎6‎:‎30‎ ‎PM Nov. 16, 2017



SEATTLE (AP) — Coming off their most impressive victory of the season, the Atlanta Falcons may have lucked out on the timing for one of their toughest road trips.

The Falcons won't be seeing the likes of Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and likely Kam Chancellor when they face the injury-riddled Seattle Seahawks on Monday night.

Atlanta (5-4) is coming off its most complete performance in a 27-7 domination of Dallas last week. Adrian Clayborn was the star with six sacks of Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott.

Matt Ryan continued his streak of 200-yard passing games and threw a pair of touchdowns.

It was the type of performance Atlanta had struggled to find with consistency this season, and why the Falcons are two games behind in the NFC South race.

And while coming to Seattle anytime of the year is a challenge, the Falcons may be catching the Seahawks (6-3) at the best possible time.

"We feel like we're playing ourselves," Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones said. "We know they're going to fly around and they're going to have great intensity, and we're going to have the same thing. It's who makes the fewer mistakes in this game."

Seattle is coming off an extended break, but it was after a costly win over Arizona lowlighted by the loss of Sherman to an Achilles tendon injury. Sherman, Avril and C.J. Prosise are all on injured reserve. Earl Thomas and Jarran Reed both have hamstring injuries, but are optimistic they'll play.

New left tackle Duane Brown, the addition meant to stabilize Seattle's offensive line, injured his ankle in his second game with the Seahawks and will be a game-time decision. And now there are concerns with the health of Chancellor after suffering a stinger late in the win over Arizona.

While Chancellor hasn't been ruled out, Seattle is planning on Bradley McDougald starting.

"We are just very fortunate that we have the depth that we have and I'm going to count on them to play really well, and I'm not counting on anything taking a backward step," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.

Here's what else to know about the Falcons and Seahawks meeting for the third time in 13 months:

MISSING SHERMAN: Jones has said he enjoys his matchups with Seattle, so it was no surprise when he said he'd miss not being able to play against the injured Sherman this week.

"It's always fun," Jones said. "We always have a good time because we always battle each and every play. Sherman is a guy who's going to try to stay on me the whole game. A lot of times guys start playing me and then they get off and get some help. Sherman is not one of those guys."

FILLING IN: The Seahawks will lean heavily on Jeremy Lane to step in for Sherman. Lane was originally traded to Houston as part of the Brown deal, but failed his physical with the Texans and was returned to the Seahawks. It's turned out to be a huge benefit for Seattle to have an experienced veteran to take over with Sherman now lost for the season.

Seattle also signed veteran Byron Maxwell to add depth in the secondary. Maxwell started his career in Seattle before spending time in Philadelphia and Miami.

SARK RETURNS: The trip to Seattle brings Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian back to the Pacific Northwest. Sarkisian was the head coach at nearby Washington from 2009-13 before leaving for the head job at USC.

Sarkisian is highly regarded for helping turn around a downtrodden Washington program, but was also somewhat lamented in Seattle for never being able to get the Huskies into contention for conference titles.

Sarkisian's debut in Atlanta is also being somewhat lamented. The Falcons have been inconsistent offensively and are averaging nearly 12 points per game less than a season ago when Kyle Shanahan was coordinating. Shanahan now is head coach in San Francisco.

"Part of the thing that we've really dialed in on over the last couple weeks of situation football: third down and the red zone," Quinn said. "We've really tried to put in some extra work in those areas knowing that that's what needed some attention."

DEFENSIVE UPSWING: The focus on the decline by the Falcons' offense has overshadowed improvement by Atlanta's defense. The Falcons are tied for 10th with their average of 19.9 points allowed, and rank seventh with their average of 311.9 yards allowed per game. They yielded 25.4 points and 371.2 yards per game in 2016.

The Atlanta offense hasn't recaptured its high-scoring touch from its Super Bowl season. The Falcons are averaging 21.9 points to rank 15th after averaging 33.8 points last season.

FINDING JIMMY: The Seahawks have suddenly made finding Jimmy Graham in the red zone a priority. Graham has six touchdown receptions in the past five games, including two TDs in the win over Arizona. It was his 15th career multi-touchdown game and second in three games after Graham had two TD catches in the win over Houston. Graham has already matched his touchdown total from the entire 2016 regular season.

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Falcons RB Freeman (concussion) won't play vs Seahawks




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman will sit out Monday night's game at Seattle while recovering from his second concussion of the season.

Freeman went out on the second play of last weekend's victory over Dallas after taking a shot to the head. The Falcons ruled him out Saturday.

Tevin Coleman will start in place of Freeman, while Terron Ward moves up to serve as the top backup.

Freeman, the league's highest-paid running back, spent the last two weeks of the preseason in concussion protocol. He also suffered a concussion during the 2015 season.

Freeman and Coleman have formed a productive tandem, combining for more than 900 yards rushing and seven touchdowns this season.


For more AP NFL coverage: and

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Intriguing players to watch in Falcons vs. Seahawks


by Kevin Knight@FalcoholicKevin Nov 18, 2017, 12:00pm EST

The Falcoholic  



We’re getting closer to Monday Night Football, where the 5-4 Falcons will take on the 6-3 Seahawks in a match-up that could very well have big playoff implications down the road. An Atlanta win would put them in the lead for the 6th seed and give them tiebreakers over four other Wild Card contenders, but a loss would essentially give the Falcons no room for error whatsoever.

This should be a great game between two teams that always seem to play each other close. Here are some Falcons to watch closely during the game.

Coleman will be the primary starter for the Falcons in Freeman’s absence, a role which he hasn’t assumed since the 2015 preseason. That’s not to say that Coleman isn’t worthy—he is arguably the best #2 RB in the NFL—just that he’s been relatively untested as a player that will be asked to carry the load in an NFL offense. If last week was any indication, Coleman is ready for the challenge.

The offense will function a little differently with Coleman as the primary runner. There will likely be a greater emphasis on the outside zone runs, which was needed anyway. The consistent 5-8 yard gains that Freeman would routinely provide will probably be replaced by more 2-3 yard runs and more 10+ yard runs. Overall, the run game should continue to be effective. I also hope that Sark leans more on Coleman as a receiver, as that’s been a part of the offense that has all but disappeared since Week 4.

Neal has been phenomenal for the Falcons in 2017, and they’ll need him to continue playing at that level on Monday night to beat the Seahawks. Neal will likely draw primary coverage responsibilities on Seattle TE Jimmy Graham, which is going to be a difficult match-up. Graham is the Seahawks’ primary red-zone weapon, and it’ll be up to Neal to keep him in check.

Seattle has also indicated that they’re likely to try and run the ball as much as possible. Neal’s open-field tackling ability and punishing hits will be needed to help shut down the Seahawks’ anemic rushing attack. Neal has arguably been the Falcons’ best defender this season, and the team will depend on him to limit the damage the Seahawks can do on offense.

With Seattle SS Kam Chancellor more than likely out for this game, Hooper should have a better match-up against back-up Bradley McDougald. McDougald isn’t awful, but he’s not the elite player that Chancellor is. The Falcons will likely have to rely on a mix of short passing and play-action shots against the ferocious pass rush of the Seahawks, and we’ve seen over the past several games that Ryan trusts Hooper as a safety valve.

Hooper’s blocking—which has been very up-and-down this season—will also need to be on point during Monday’s game. Establishing the running game will be important to keeping Seattle’s defense off balance, and Hooper will need to have a strong game to help accomplish that goal. Look for the young TE to rise to the challenge against a difficult opponent.

The Falcons’ pass rush

We saw the pass rush of the Atlanta Falcons completely take over the game last week against Dallas. Adrian Clayborn had six sacks at the hands of back-up LT Chaz Green and replacement Byron Bell. But it wasn’t just Clayborn that caused disruption: the whole defense contributed to that dominant performance, including two more sacks by Brooks Reed and Dontari Poe. They’ll need another excellent performance in Seattle to slow down the Seahawks’ offensive attack.

Seattle’s offensive line is arguably the weakest position on their roster. LT Duane Brown, recently added in a trade from the Texans, is likely going to be out for Monday’s game. LG Luke Joeckel looks to be on track to return, but he’s been sketchy at best even when healthy. RT Germain Ifedi has been awful. The only solid player on the line appears to be C Justin Britt, but he can’t do it alone. Look for the Falcons to go after Russell Wilson early and often, particularly with 4-man rushes like we saw against Dallas.

The Falcons’ offensive line

With Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor out, Seattle’s biggest strength on defense is likely their dominant pass rush. The Falcons’ offensive line has been good in 2017, but this is a tough test to see just how good they really are. RG Wes Schweitzer has been the blemish on what has otherwise been a solid season for the rest of the group, but even he has had some good moments mixed in.

The offensive line will need to play a great game to keep Ryan upright and help kickstart a running game that will more than likely be without Devonta Freeman. Expect to see a heavy dose of outside zone runs and toss plays in an attempt to tire out the Seattle defense and open up opportunities for play-action shots. If Ryan has time to survey the field, he’ll be able to take advantage of an undermanned Seahawks’ secondary.

What are your thoughts on the match-up between the Falcons and Seahawks? Who are some players that you’ll be watching closely during the game?

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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throws NFL’s lowest percentage of turnover-worthy passes


by James Rael@falcoholicjames Nov 23, 2017, 12:39am EST

The Falcoholic  


Fact: Matt Ryan ghostwrote the screenplay for “8 Mile”

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown eight interceptions this season. Six of those eight interceptions were tipped passes, such that Ryan’s receivers were responsible for the interception. This is something any mediocre analyst would know if he or she spent the time watching game film or researching the Falcons.

While mulling over this frustrating narrative about Ryan’s interceptions that’s managed to persist this season, I stumbled upon Pro Football Focus’ most recent quarterback rankings. Ryan owns Pro Football Focus’ second highest QB rating. (His 88.2 is second only to Tom Brady’s 94.8.) That may shock you, given all the chatter about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, whose 85.2 rating ranks 5th.

Here’s where things get interesting. According to PFF, Matt Ryan throws a turnover-worthy pass 0.6 percent of the time, lowest in the NFL. Compare that figure with Brady’s turnover-worthy pass percentage, which is 1.7 percent. I’m no math genius, but after scribbling furiously on the back of my electric bill for 45 minutes, I’ve deduced that Brady has thrown a turnover-worthy pass nearly three times more often Ryan this season. Nearly three times as much. Let that sink in for a moment.

Nothing to see here. Carry on.

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Matt Ryan: Atlanta Falcons QB, wife expecting twins, gets roasted with 28-3 joke


UPI | 2017-11-22T14:13:41-05:00


Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan announced that his wife was pregnant Tuesday on Twitter.

While most of the reaction was positive and congratulatory, the Internet is still the Internet.

"Happy to announce that we're having twins!" Ryan posted as the caption for a photo on social media, including his wife Sarah Marshall.

Ryan's wife was also holding Falcons baby onesies in the photo, which has more than 40,000 interactions on Twitter.

The Ryan's were married in 2011. The twins are expected to arrive in April.

"It's been a long road, but Matt and I couldn't be happier to announce that we are expecting twins! We are anxiously awaiting their arrival in April," Sarah Ryan wrote on Instagram. "There's just something about the number 2 in our house, I guess."

The photo the couple posted included a large gold No. 2 balloon.

One Twitter user turned the balloon into a series of numbers, editing the photo to read "28-3." The reference was aimed at Ryan's Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots after the Falcons held a 28-3 advantage. Another Twitter user said she hopes Ryan's twins are born on March 28. That would make their date of birth 3/28, another reference to the devastating loss.

"Ice cubes coming soon! #MattyIce and @sryan03 are expecting twins!" The Falcons tweeted Wednesday.

"The ice cubes," Sarah Ryan tweeted in response to the Falcons. "Thanks to @Mo_12_Sanu for the nicknames and thank you to everyone for all the well wishes. Matt and I really appreciate it!"

The Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 1 p.m. Sunday in an NFC South clash at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.


Copyright © 2017 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. TERMS OF USE | PRIVACY POLICY

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Falcons' Freeman could miss another game with concussion




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman remains on concussion protocol, threatening his status for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.

Freeman suffered the concussion on the second play of Atlanta's win over Dallas on Nov. 12 and missed last week's 34-31 win at Seattle.

Tevin Coleman would again start against the Buccaneers if Freeman can't return.

Freeman, the league's highest-paid running back, spent the last two weeks of the preseason in concussion protocol. He also suffered a concussion during the 2015 season.

Freeman, punter Matt Bosher (left ankle) and offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo (hamstring strain) were held out of Wednesday's practice.


For more AP NFL coverage: and

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Falcons getting into offensive groove at right time | 11:27 AM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One number jumps off the page when Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian dissects what's going right with the offense as of late.

"Definitely scoring points in the red zone," Sarkisian said. "When you're scoring touchdowns in the red zone, that has a dramatic difference on how the game can be played moving forward. It changes the complexion of the game for our defense when they get a lead. It changes the complexion for us [because] the run game becomes even more viable. You can play-pass. You can do those things."

The Falcons went 7 for 9 in the red zone over the past three games with wins against Seattle and Dallas and a narrow loss to Carolina. It's a stark contrast to the 3-for-10 combined red zone showing in a loss at New England and win against the New York Jets.

"Now, there's a lot those goes into getting into the red zone," Sarkisian said. "You've got to convert third downs. You need to be efficient on first and second down. But I just think the biggest component for us the last couple games is scoring touchdowns, when we have our chances, in the low red zone."

The 6-4 Falcons, currently sixth in the NFC playoff picture, probably won't catch up to last year's league-leading pace of 33.8 points per game. But their scoring is starting to look more like 2016 again after tying a season-high with 34 points against the Seahawks -- thanks, in large part, to the defense -- and 27 points against the Cowboys.

The Falcons averaged 28.8 points per game in their six wins and watched that average dip to 14.5 in four losses. They take an average of 23.1 points per game, which ranks 13th in the NFL, into Sunday's NFC South matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who rank 17th in scoring defense in allowing 22.8 points per game. The Falcons scored 43 points the last time they played the Buccaneers and scored 56 when they last defeated Tampa Bay at home [2014].

Quarterback Matt Ryan, with the league's sixth-best passer rating on third down at 98.6, feels the offense getting into a flow. Ryan is 8-of-12 for 60 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone over the past three games.

"I felt like we've been close throughout the year but haven't been able to really put it all together," Ryan said. "I think the last couple of weeks, we've been better. It starts, for me, with third-down conversions. I think that was the key last week against Seattle. We converted third downs at a high rate [9 of 14], which kept us on the field, kept us moving the ball, gave us some more opportunities to create explosive plays.

"I also think we've done a good job in the red area. We’ve been down there a bunch and we've been coming away with touchdowns, which is key. When you get your scoring opportunities and you put seven points up there, it's critical. So we've done a good job in those two areas."

With so much attention on All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, spreading the ball around has worked in the Falcons favor as well. Mohamed Sanu has done his part with a team-leading four touchdown receptions.

Sarkisian pointed out the key third-down conversion receiver Justin Hardy picked up on the first drive against Seattle that helped build momentum. Hardy, tight end Austin Hooper, and tight end Levine Toilolo each have had a touchdown in the last two games.

Not to mention the Falcons have turned to a rather heavy package in goal-line situations, installing defensive tackle Dontari Poe as a blocking fullback and even sending Poe in motion for deception against the Seahawks.

"I think it's been good," Sarkisian said. "Poe's been in, I think, three times now. We had a couple runs and a pass. We've mixed [Ben] Garland in some at tight end. This season is a long season. You're always trying to find different ways to get better. And incorporating a couple different guys has been good for us."

The pass protection has to continue to hold up, and Sarkisian was pleased with only one sack allowed against a menacing Seahawks defense. The offensive line has to continue that trend against Gerald McCoy and the Buccaneers.

Sticking with the run will be key as well. The Falcons hope to get Devonta Freeman back from a concussion soon after he returned to practice Thursday. Tevin Coleman will continue to be the primary back until Freeman returns, and the threat of Coleman's breakaway speed keeps defenses in check. In turn, the play-action game gets going, even if the running game isn't fully clicking.

"We have to be stubborn at times to stick to our run game," Sarkisian said. "A lot of times, early in the game, some of those runs might not look great. But as you see in late in that fourth quarter against Seattle, [Terron] Ward was able to pop out on a couple of those runs late.

"You have to keep leaning on them for the effectiveness of the run and allowing the runners to see the run. Two, you need to lean on them to help the play-action pass game. And three, we don't want to become a one-dimensional team."

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Devonta Freeman injury update: Falcons RB ruled out Sunday with concussion


Kirstie ChiappelliOmnisport@kchiappelliUpdated at 1:44 p.m. ETUpdated at 1:44 p.m. ET

Sporting News  


Devonta Freeman is staying in the NFL's concussion protocol another week.

The Falcons running back will miss his second straight game after being ruled out for Sunday's game against the Buccaneers, coach Dan Quinn announced Friday.

Freeman suffered a concussion in the Falcons' Week 10 win over Dallas when he was hit by Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens and missed Atlanta's road victory against the Seahawks on Monday. Although he was deemed healthy enough to resume practice this week, he was not cleared for contact and worked out on a limited basis.

Freeman, 25, remains the team's leading rusher with 515 yards on 116 carries this season. He also leads the Falcons with five rushing touchdowns.

Fellow running back Tevin Coleman is set for another start in Freeman's absence, while Terron Ward will serve as backup.

The Falcons are scheduled to host the Buccaneers at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.


© 2017 Sporting News Media and its licensors. All rights reserved.

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Falcons hitting familiar stride at the perfect time — again


Alex MarvezUpdated at 7:09 a.m. ETUpdated at 7:09 a.m. ET

Sporting News  


The Super Bowl hangover is gone.

And now the party might just be getting started again.

Atlanta's third straight win, a 34-20 humbling of visiting Tampa Bay, kept the Falcons (7-4) on track for a playoff berth while serving as a reminder of just how dangerous this team will be if it gets there.

The 2016 Falcons had the same record before they caught fire and zoomed into Super Bowl 51. Several of the positive elements to emerge during that run were on display again vs. the Buccaneers, in particular the showcasing of the NFL’s most dangerous wide receiver.

Julio Jones had more receiving yards individually (253) than 11 of the 13 other teams that played in Sunday’s early games. The performance made Jones the only player in NFL history with three career receiving games of 250-plus yards and made him the most prolific wideout statistically through 90 games in NFL history.

"He's unbelievable," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan told Sporting News in a postgame telephone interview from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “Right from the start, we knew he was going to have some one-on-ones with the way they were matching up their defense.

"The biggest thing was just getting it to him. Look at the number of targets (15) and number of completions (12). It wasn’t like we were forcing anything to him. When it was there, we just went to him and he made some plays."

One of those plays was absolutely gorgeous. Jones reached out like he was flying Superman-style to touch the pylon on a 25-yard touchdown toss from Ryan. However, it was a different passer who helped Jones make his biggest gain against an overmatched Bucs secondary.

Fellow wide receiver Muhammad Sanu, who had completed all five of his passes on gimmick plays while with Cincinnati, showcased his rocket-like throwing arm for the first time since joining Atlanta last year in free agency. Sanu bobbled a shotgun snap before he lofted a bomb to Jones, who outmaneuvered Bucs safety Justin Evans for the 51-yard score that gave Atlanta a 10-3 lead.

The Falcons wouldn’t trail for the rest of the game.

"We don't actually practice that throw and catch in practice," Ryan said with a laugh. "It's the first time I’ve ever really seen it.

"Maybe it's better they didn't practice it so they don't over-think it. Mo just launched it, and it was as good a throw as I’ve ever seen. That was a huge play for us."

Ryan had some huge moments, as well, in a 26-of-35, 317-yard passing performance. Two came when the Falcons were trying to do what they couldn't in last year’s Super Bowl collapse against New England — hold off a rallying opponent.

Tampa Bay (4-7) had closed a 27-6 deficit to seven points early in the fourth quarter and was trying for one last chance to attack an Atlanta defense that was showing signs of cracking down the stretch. Ryan, though, converted on third-down passes to Jones and Sanu before Tevin Coleman iced the victory with a 14-yard scoring run with 1:53 remaining.

The Falcons converted on 11 of 14 third-down attempts and now have a 65.9 percentage during their three-game winning streak. Ryan says the two go hand-in-hand as the offense’s comfort level working under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian continues to grow.

"When you’re converting on third downs like that, you can stay on the field and get into a rhythm," he said. "We've been doing a nice job lately in the red zone, too. That leads to being successful."

Because of their bumpy start to the season, the Falcons don’t have much room for error to enjoy a realistic shot at winning the NFC South. A home contest looms next Sunday against red-hot Minnesota (9-2), followed by a four-game stretch featuring two games vs. division-leading New Orleans as well as rematches with fellow NFC South members Carolina (8-3) and Tampa Bay.

But even if forced to take the wild-card route, the experience Atlanta brings from last year’s postseason run — and the heartbreak with which it ended — makes the Falcons one of the NFC’s most dangerous squads entering December and potentially beyond.

"We're different teams, but last year we were getting better throughout the year," said Ryan, the NFL's reigning MVP. “Guys here are also stepping up. That makes me optimistic.

"When you’ve got good players, good work ethic and team chemistry, that’s usually a pretty good recipe for success."

And who knows? Maybe the 2017 Falcons will finish the season with the kind of hangover that can come from drinking celebratory champagne rather than thinking about a chance that went spilling down the drain.


© 2017 Sporting News Media and its licensors. All rights reserved.

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Quinn sees improvement in Falcons’ ability to hold a lead


By George Henry | AP

Washington Post  


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons have a troublesome habit of maintaining a lead once they take it.

Coach Dan Quinn saw some improvement in Sunday’s 34-20 win over Tampa Bay, but the issue has lingered since the Falcons blew a 25-point lead to lose the Super Bowl nearly 10 months ago.

Atlanta’s win over Dallas two weeks ago is the only victory that wasn’t decided at the end, but Quinn liked how his team responded against Tampa Bay after Terron Ward lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter.

Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal and Dontari Poe followed with big stops in the red zone, ending Tampa Bay’s next possession. The offense then used up the next five minutes with an 11-play drive that ended with Tevin Coleman’s 14-yard touchdown run.

“It was a one-score game at that point, so I thought we had really clear examples of answering the bell for one another,” Quinn said. “That’s the kind of toughness and identity we’ve been looking for. We’ve been talking about making sure that identity really came to life.”

Quinn and his staff started a plan four weeks ago to improve the offense’s struggles on third downs and in the red zone. They saw improvement in practice, but after putting away Dallas early, the Falcons reverted to old form in the fourth quarter two weeks ago at Seattle.

After the offense settled for a field goal, the defense gave up a quick-strike touchdown that cut the lead to three points. The offense followed by going three-and-out, setting up a nerve-wracking situation that ended with Seattle’s Blair Walsh missing a 52-yard field goal that would’ve sent the game into overtime.

Thanks to star receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan, Sunday’s performance was nearly flawless, except for Ward’s fumble. Ryan led an attack that converted 11 of 14 third-down chances and ranks first in the NFL. The offense converted two of three chances in the red zone, and Jones, with 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns, was unstoppable.

The line cleared room for Coleman to rush for 97 yards as the ground game averaged 5.3 yards a week after putting up just 3.0. Even better, Atlanta sealed the game by effectively running the ball on its last five plays.

“We hadn’t done that in 10 games when we had a chance to own it at the end of the game, so offensively I was happy in that regard,” Quinn said. “But we’re nowhere close to where we want to be.”

Atlanta (7-4) will likely lean heavily again on Coleman and Ward this week.

Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman has missed two straight games with a concussion and still might not be able to return when Minnesota (9-2) visits Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons also face a big challenge against Vikings quarterback Case Keenum and a steady receiving group led by Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant left the Bucs game with a concussion. No. 3 cornerback Brian Poole exited early with a back injury.

If Trufant and Poole aren’t available, C.J. Goodwin would make his second career start with Allen, the free safety, taking snaps at nickel cornerback.

Quinn is eager for his defense to start creating takeaways. Atlanta ranks second to last with three interceptions and is tied for seventh with fumble recoveries. The Falcons have a minus-3 turnover margin, not the kind of result Quinn wants to see entering Week 13.

“To get in the plus you’ve got to force some,” Quinn said. “I thought we had a couple opportunities to get some and we didn’t.”

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Just for kicks: After TD pass, Falcons' Mohamed Sanu lobbies for field-goal chance


Lenn Robbins | 7:00 AM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu showed off his throwing arm to the world Sunday with a 51-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones that sailed 50 yards.

Could a long field goal be next on the list?

Sanu admitted Friday he's playfully lobbied for an opportunity to kick, as coach Dan Quinn revealed to the media earlier in the week. Sanu handled the punting along with playing quarterback and wide receiver at South Brunswick High School in New Jersey.


A couple years ago, Sanu said he was messing around at his alma mater, Rutgers, and kicked a 60-yard field goal. Maybe Falcons special-teams coach Keith Armstrong could use Sanu in an emergency if veteran Matt Bryant is unable to go. Bryant's career long is 62 yards, by the way.

"I be out there joking with Coach [Armstrong]; we always have a good time," Sanu said. "When he calls for the second group, I be like,'Oh, you need me to kick, Coach?' Just joking around. Just have a good time with it."

Armstrong assessed Sanu's kicking kills, based on what he's seen in practice.

"Outstanding kicker," Armstrong said with a smile. "If he decided to change positions, he's got a chance to become a Pro Bowl kicker (laugh).

"Honestly, with a soccer background that he has, he can do some things with the football which are pretty cool. You always have an emergency guy that can do that for you. The last guy I had to do that for me was Wes Welker in Miami, against the Patriots. I think he was the first to catch a pass, kick a field goal, kick off, and punt. But it's really good to have a guy like Mohamed, who has that skill set and can actually, legitimately kick a ball."

Armstrong has grown accustomed to being nudged by Sanu.

"Every now and then, he'll be out on a Friday, and I'll be looking, and I'll say,'I thought they're kicking inside?' And I look over, and I see a ball in the air, and it's him. But he's got the skill set, and he loves it.

"And he's always asking, 'Let me know when you're ready; let me know when you're ready.' It's good to know, sometimes. You may need it. You never know. Next man up."

Sanu enters Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings (9-2) with 452 receiving yards on 45 catches, second on the team behind Jones [1,039 yards on 66 catches]. Sanu leads the Falcons (7-4) with four touchdown receptions, has a 158.3 passer rating following his touchdown pass out of the Wildcat, and also has two rushes for seven yards with two first downs.

"We know his talent," wide receivers coach Raheem Morris said of the 28-year-old. "We know he can throw. We know he can catch. We know he can run. We know he can kick. He can do a lot of things. ... Never heard him sing, but he brings a lot of versatility to us."

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Falcons keep winning, but still struggling to put teams away




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons' path to the playoffs is simple — win this week at New Orleans, and they're in.

If only it were that easy.

Atlanta (9-5) has yet to figure out how to put away opponents on the road. Monday's 24-21 win at Tampa Bay gave the Falcons a fifth road victory, but each of them has been decided in the closing seconds.

Coach Dan Quinn sees a positive in the close calls.

"Here's what I like about that," Quinn said Tuesday. "There is a hardening that takes place, a confidence from coming through in those environments to know that this is our time to stand up and make opportunities count."

The tough part for Atlanta is changing the script. Building a lead hasn't been hard to accomplish, but the offense, despite leading the NFL in third-down efficiency, inevitably has to punt late in the fourth quarter.

Then the defense gives up a few big plays to set up a frenzied finish. Monday marked Atlanta's second straight road game to end with a missed field goal that would've forced overtime.

Overall the Falcons have played 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, most in the NFL, and they're 6-4 in those situations.

One quick fix is obvious — the defense ranks next-to-last with 12 takeaways and ranks last with just four interceptions. Improve those numbers, and Atlanta might reduce its penchant for drama.

"I think we did well," strong safety Keanu Neal said. "There were a few plays we left out there, but no game is perfect. It's about learning from those and moving forward, but I think overall we had a decent game."

Neal had the lone takeaway against the Buccaneers, stripping the ball from Peyton Barber and recovering the fumble at the Atlanta 9-yard line in the second quarter. Free safety Ricardo Allen picked off Jameis Winston on the next Tampa possession, but cornerback Robert Alford was flagged for holding to nullify the interception.

It marked the sixth time this season the Falcons have lost a pick because of a penalty.

"That's a big difference," Quinn said. "That part of our game we've got to clean up."

Despite their difficulties, the Falcons have won five of six and head into Week 16 with a chance to repeat as division champions for the first time in their 52-year history.

They must beat the Saints and then knock off Carolina at home in Week 17. Both opponents are 10-4 and tied atop the NFC South.

"We made enough plays to get it done," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "It keeps us right where we want to be and now we have to find a way to get better this week and try to get a win next Sunday down in New Orleans."

Notes: K Matt Bryant improved to 7 for 8 on field-goal tries of 50 yards or more. He's tied with Buffalo's Stephen Hauschka for the best percentage in those scenarios. ... Quinn wants Ryan to improve his accuracy by not forcing so many passes to WR Julio Jones. Jones has been targeted 19 times in the last two games but has just eight catches. ... RB Tevin Coleman is still in the concussion protocol and could miss his second straight game. ... Quinn expects LG Andy Levitre to return to practice later in the week. Levitre has missed the last two games with a triceps injury. Ben Garland has started in his place.

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NFC playoff picture: Falcons sitting pretty ahead of Lions, Seahawks, Cowboys


Vinnie Iyer@vinnieiyerUpdated at 10:40 a.m. ETUpdated at 10:40 a.m. ET

Sporting News  


Going into Week 16, only the Eagles (12-2) and Vikings (11-3) know for sure they'll be playing in the 2017 NFC playoffs.

Behind them, seven teams are vying for four spots in the postseason, after the Falcons (9-5) beat the Buccaneers on Monday night to eliminate the Packers from contention.

The Rams (10-4), who whipped the Seahawks on Sunday and built a two-game lead in the West with two games left to play, should feel good about their chances to remain the No. 3 seed. The Saints (10-4) are still barely leading the South over the Panthers (10-4) thanks to their season sweep of Carolina.

For those three teams, it's simple: Get to at least 11 wins, and they're in. If they fail to at least split their final two games, however, a few more doors might be left ajar for the desperate teams outside of the playoff picture.

Unfortunately for the Lions, Seahawks, Cowboys (all 8-6), making the playoffs like they did in 2016 probably comes down to the reigning NFC-champion Falcons free-falling out of the No. 6 seed. Even worse news: Because Atlanta beat Detroit, Seattle and Dallas earlier this season, none of those teams can get in over the Falcons with the same record.

Working up from the Cowboys' hopes to the Falcons' perch, here's breaking down what's left of each team's playoff hopes.

No. 9 Cowboys

As the standings suggest, Dallas needs to first pass Seattle and then Detroit before it can starting thinking about Atlanta.

The Cowboys can get to 10-6 by winning out, and they host the Seahawks with Ezekiel Elliott in Week 16. The next part of the equation is the Lions losing a game to either the Bengals on the road or Packers at home so Detroit finishes no better than 9-7. Since the Falcons beat the Buccaneers, the Cowboys need the Falcons to lose their final two games.

As improbable as all that sounds, with the Packers eliminated and the Falcons facing two tough final games, the Cowboys are far from dead. Their biggest obstacle is taking care of their own business. After the Seattle game, Dallas travels to Philadelphia, where the Week 17 game still could be big for the Eagles to earn the No. 1 NFC seed.

No. 8 Seahawks

As crazy it sounds after its Week 15 home debacle, Seattle can still win the NFC West if it wins out (at Dallas, vs. Arizona) and Los Angeles loses out (at Tennessee, vs. San Francisco). That would be a shocking-but-not-totally-impossible development.

For a wild-card spot, the Seahawks need to win out and bury the Cowboys in Week 16. They also need the Falcons to lose twice and the Lions to lose once. Had the Seahawks swept the Rams, they almost certainly would have made the postseason. Now they're hoping for a minor miracle.

No. 7 Lions

Detroit has a favorable schedule ahead in traveling to reeling Cincinnati and hosting possibly Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay.

If the Lions just win one of those games, the Cowboys and Seahawks will be rendered helpless and hopeless in all of this. Because of that heartbreaking home loss to the Falcons in Week 3, the Lions need to be 10-6 to the Falcons' 9-7 in order to move up for the second wild card.

No. 6 Falcons

If Atlanta goes 2-0 it wouldn't get a wild card — it would move up to No. 4 as repeat South champions over both New Orleans and Carolina, which it plays back-to-back to finish the season. Should Atlanta go 1-1, it would stay at least at No. 6 and have an outside shot at No. 5.

The Falcons going 0-2 likely would not cut it, even with their massive tiebreaker advantages. Given how talented the Cowboys, Seahawks and Lions are, there's a good chance one of those teams will finish 10-6.

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Fantasy Football: Atlanta Falcons RB Tevin Coleman good to go


UPI | 2017-12-21T15:18:55-05:00


Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman has cleared the concussion protocol and is on target to return for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

Coleman sustained a concussion in the first meeting between the NFC South rivals on Dec. 7. The 24-year-old sat out on Monday as the Falcons (9-5) posted a 24-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"He's been fully cleared to participate," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Thursday, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We really trust the process that the league goes through, not just with our own docs but with the independent. I think that part has improved over the last few years through the league. And we're pumped to have Tev back."

Coleman joins backfield mate Devonta Freeman with seven total touchdowns on the season. The Falcons' third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Coleman has rushed for 593 yards and has 21 catches for 245 yards in 13 games.

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Falcons must slow down Cam Newton to stay in postseason hunt


Vaughn McClure | 7:23 AM ET


The Atlanta Falcons knew Cam Newton would run the ball. That was no secret.

They dissected his designed runs on film and practice for them. They braced for the unscheduled scrambles, too.


Despite the preparation, the Falcons still found themselves playing catch-up when they faced the Carolina Panthers quarterback in Week 9. One of the primary reason the Falcons lost 20-17 was their inability to contain Newton, who ran the ball nine times for a team-high 86 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown run.

With the playoffs at stake in Sunday's season finale, the Falcons can't afford to let Cam be Cam.

"Cam's going to do what he do," Falcons linebacker Deion Jones said. "You just gotta get him on the ground."

Sure, the Falcons may not be able to totally shut down Newton, the Atlanta native who would love nothing more than to come home and spoil his hometown team's playoff hopes. But the key word is "contain." Newton, who is averaging 5.4 yards per rush, is third all-time in rushing yards by a quarterback with 4,261 and counting, right behind former Falcon Michael Vick (6,109) and Randall Cunningham (4,928). In 13 career games against the Falcons, Newton has seven rushing touchdowns and has averaged 50.9 rushing yards per game --- more than Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has averaged against the Falcons (50.7) in 15 career games.

In the November matchup, Newton broke loose for a 34-yard run off a play fake to Stewart; Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. succumbed to the trickery, giving Newton the edge. Fortunately for the Falcons, a forced fumble by Keanu Neal and subsequent recovery by Desmond Trufant negated that drive.

Later, Newton picked up 10 yards and a first down on a third-and-1 read-option play in which the Falcons missed two tackles. The Falcons were fortunate to force a punt on that drive. However, three other Newton runs -- including his touchdown scramble on third-and-5 when he virtually dunked the ball on Trufant -- were tied to scoring drives.

"I think it was more just playing the call out and not messing up; having mental errors," Beasley said of Newton's plays. "That's [what happened], especially on that big run that he had against us last time."


Beasley, who made a tremendous read in last week's game against the New Orleans Saints to drop running back Alvin Kamara for a 7-yard loss, acknowledged that he might be called upon to "spy" on Newton. Whatever strategy the Falcons use, it won't be easy to corral the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton. Not to mention Newton, although not always accurate, has the potential to beat you down the field with his arm.

"Cam, he's just different," free safety Ricardo Allen said. "He's big. He's strong. So do you take power to him or do you take finesse? And they have other players who are tough tackles, too."

This would be the wrong time for the 9-6 Falcons to be undisciplined with their reads and tackling technique. A loss, coupled with a Seattle Seahawks win over the Arizona Cardinals, would knock them out of the final wild-card spot and leave the Saints and Panthers as the NFC South's postseason representatives.

Such an outcome would give Newton even more reason to gloat.

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Julio Jones 'ready to roll' against Panthers Sunday


Kevin Patra Around the NFL writer  


Julio Jones had the Carolina Panthers' secondary beat in Week 10 for a wide-open touchdown. Uncharacteristically, the ball caromed off his hands for an inexplicable drop on a fourth-down shot that would have cut the Falcons' deficit to three points with more than half the fourth quarter remaining.

The drop put the Falcons behind an eight ball, and they couldn't recover, suffering an important division loss that has the reigning NFC champs on the verge of possibly missing the playoffs if they lose to Carolina again. Ahead of Sunday's pivotal tilt, with a playoff spot on the line, Jones is out to make sure those missed opportunities don't happen again.

"Every game is always about taking advantage of your [opportunities]. We had some missed opps in that game, and we don't want those to occur this Sunday," Jones said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Division opponent, they're definitely going to play hard. We're going to play hard, but it's not about them.

"We've just got to focus on us and bring our best."

Jones was targeted 12 times in the Week 10 loss, catching six for 118 yards. The Pro Bowl receiver has torched the Panthers in his career. In 10 games versus Carolina, he's averaging 106.1 yards per game with five total TDs. In the last four meetings alone, Jones averaged 164.0 receiving yards per game.

Jones has been dealing with ankle and thumb injuries that have kept him out of practices in recent weeks. The 6-foot-3 receiver said the issues wouldn't hinder him Sunday.

"As far as practice, I get those mental reps. I don't have to physically be out there," he said. "It's just a mindset and a mentality. I've been dealing with injuries my whole life, so it takes a different type of guy to go out there and play injured and know something's wrong. I'm good. I'll be ready to go."

In the most crucial game of the season for Atlanta, the Falcons need their most dangerous weapon as healthy as possible. And this time he can't flub any wide-open touchdowns or the season might be over.

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Matt Ryan leads Falcons back to playoffs despite tough year



FOX Sports  


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Quarterback Matt Ryan is in the playoffs for the sixth time in 10 seasons and still searching for the ultimate prize.

Last year’s meltdown in the Super Bowl has been well documented with the Atlanta Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead and losing to New England, but Ryan has his team back in the postseason despite a big drop-off in points and yards.

At 10-6, they’ve gone from the No. 2 seed to the sixth, but they’re the only NFC team to return to the playoffs. Ryan hasn’t enjoyed the kind of seamless production that made him the league MVP last season, yet he likes the team’s chances even though the offense has scored just two touchdowns over the last two weeks.

”We do a very good job throughout the week of getting ourselves prepared and ready to play,” Ryan said Tuesday. ”That provides confidence, so I think guys just need to focus on doing the best that they can with where their feet are at that time of the day.

”If we do that and we’re locked in for practice and walkthroughs, that’s going to give us the best chance to be successful.”

Atlanta has won three of four and six of its last eight heading into Saturday’s wild-card game at the Los Angeles Rams (11-5). The defense is better than a year ago, moving into the top 10 in scoring and total yards for the first time at the end of the regular season the 1998 Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl.

But the offense has been unable to match last year’s productivity, dropping from first to 15th in scoring as opponents have held five-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones to just three touchdowns. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are still a tough tandem to defend, but both have missed time with concussions. The offensive line hasn’t been as stout despite another Pro Bowl season from center Alex Mack.

Regardless of what’s happening around him, Ryan said his best course of action during the week is to stay focused on the game plan. He doesn’t want to get caught up in discussions about his legacy and whether he has what it takes to win a Super Bowl.

”That’s not something I worry about or think about too much,” he said. ”I try to focus or worry or lend my brain space to trying to win games. I’m lucky to have a lot of good friends around this league. I certainly have a lot of respect for the guys I play against week in and week out and I imagine they feel the same way.”

Ryan has won 95 of 158 career starts in the regular season, but he’s 3-5 in the playoffs and 0-2 on the road. That kind of discrepancy is why he said he puts little stock in whether last season’s easy victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum could help the Falcons this week.

The Rams’ defense has flourished in a new scheme devised by 70-year-old coordinator Wade Phillips and it has found success with a trio of dual-threat linebackers in Alec Ogletree, the former Georgia star, Robert Quinn and Mark Barron.

Atlanta also must keep tabs throughout the game on defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has 11 sacks.

”He’s one of the better players against the run at the position they play him at, but he’s also one of the better interior pass rushers in the league,” Ryan said. ”That creates some problems, but we’ll have a plan to account for where he’s at, and we certainly trust our guys up front to play well.”

Notes: WR Julio Jones was held out of practice with ankle and rib injuries. Jones was hit hard on the opening drive last week by Carolina safety Mike Adams, but he missed only a couple of snaps. He was limited in practice last week with ankle and thumb injuries. Jones has yet to miss a game despite being on the injury report this season with a hip flexor, back and knee injuries, too. … Freeman was held out of practice with a knee injury. … Listed as limited Tuesday were Mack (calf), receiver Taylor Gabriel (hamstring), tight end Levine Toilolo (knee) and defensive end Adrian Clayborn (calf). … LG Andy Levitre (triceps) was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Ben Garland will start in his place.

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2018 NFL Playoff Odds: Los Angeles Rams open as sizable favorites over Atlanta Falcons in wild card round


By 3k Jan 2, 2018, 1:15pm CST

Turf Show Times  


The Los Angeles Rams are in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and are coming in as sizable favorites over the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card round per the oddsmakers.

Having opened as 5.5-point favorites, the line has since widened to as much as 6.5 points by some bookmakers. With the Rams having rested the majority of their starters in Week 17 against the San Francisco 49ers, they should be enjoying optimal health heading in, or as optimal as is possible all things considered. For the Falcons, they were in a rough battle with NFC South rival Carolina Panthers and suffered the worse for wear from their 12-point win as LG Andy Levitre aggravated a tricep injury early in the game and has been placed on injured reserve.

That being said, I doubt the switch to a backup left guard is motivation to move the line from the oddsmakers. I’d posit this is just the money coming in supporting the Rams. And for good reason.

The Rams’ historic turnaround is hardly a fluke. It survived the test of a 16-game season (ok, a 15-game season...last week barely counts) to turn the worst scoring offense in the NFL to its best in a single year’s time, the first time that’s happened in the NFL’s modern era.

As such with the playoffs coming to LA, the Rams are coming in as home-field favorites.

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