After their bye week, the Falcons return to practice Monday and are hopeful the week off allowed wide receiver Calvin Ridley’s mid-foot sprain to heal.
Ridley, who is tied for the team lead with 43 receptions with Julio Jones, didn’t play in the 34-27 win over Denver a Sunday ago. He leads the Falcons with 657 yards receiving and six touchdown catches.
The Falcons, who face the Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday at New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome, hope to be at full strength offensively.
“The Saints have been a pain in our butts for a couple of years,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “So, we know exactly what we have to deal with, but as we know, it’s next man up. The Saints are the next man up, so we have to focus our energy and our attention to go 1-0.”
The Falcons’ remaining schedule is the second toughest in the league, with the opponents having a combined .661 winning percentage. Only Jacksonville (.671) has a tougher schedule.
With Ridley out against the Broncos, backup receivers Olamide Zaccheaus, Brandon Powell and Christian Blake all caught passes. Zaccheaus caught a 51-yard touchdown pass and Powell had his first career touchdown catch.
“I was fortunate enough to recruit some of those guys,” said Morris, who was the wide receivers coach from 2016-19.
The Falcons will continue to be without defensive end Dante Fowler, who missed the game against Denver with a hamstring injury. He was placed on reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday.
Fowler is the 11th Falcons player to appear on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The others are defensive linemen John Cominsky, Marlon Davidson and Tyeler Davison; defense backs A.J. Terrell, Jamal Carter, Chris Cooper and Jaylinn Hawkins; quarterback Danny Etling; fullback Keith Smit; and linebacker Foye Oluokun. Etling later was released.
The Falcons have shut down their facility in Flowery Branch twice — on Oct. 15 and Nov. 6 — due to COVID-19 concerns. The team has had at least one player and one coach test positive for the coronavirus. The Falcons are not permitted to comment on a player’s medical status other than to refer to roster status. Clubs may not disclose whether a player is in quarantine or tested positive for COVID-19.
The Falcons, while on their bye week, had to stay in town and continue to get tested for COVID-19.
“We have pretty strict rules for us just in general,” Morris said. “We still continue to test every day, so we’ll be required to be up here for our testing times.”
Before the players left for the bye week, Morris stressed to the players to need to remain safe.
“Because the only thing that can really slow you down is COVID-19 issues and things like that,” Morris said. “(We) talked about wearing your mask out in public.”
The Falcons pointed out some examples of what not to do from the NFL and NBA.
“We want to handle it better,” Morris said. “Protect the team, rule No. 1. It’s definitely in effect for all of these guys. We definitely want to stress that this week in talking about COVID-19.”
With Fowler out and defensive end Takk McKinley released, the Falcons are thin at defensive end.
Defensive ends Allen Bailey and Steven Means started against the Broncos. Bailey played 34 defensive snaps (47%), Means played 51 (70%), Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 36 (49%) and Charles Harris played 40 (55%).
Harris has two sacks, while Bailey has one.
Also, Austin Edwards is on the practice squad. He played one snap against Detroit.
The Falcons are happy with the play of strong safety Keanu Neal, who missed most of the two previous seasons with a knee injury and a ruptured Achilles in 2019.
He could provide a big boost against some of the top offenses the Falcons are set to face.
“It’s rare that guys come back from that sort of layoff,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “I would say that he’s starting to really get back into form, really starting to feel him on Sundays. He just brings this special, different element to our defense. He brings the level of physicality and toughness that is just rare.”
The Falcons’ odds of making the playoffs are 90-to-1 and 180-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, according to SportsBettingDime.com.
The over-under on wins is 5.5.
One bright spot for the Falcons has been the play of Terrell, who holds 9-to-1 odds to win the defensive rookie of the year award. Only Washington’s Chase Young (2-to-1) and Baltimore’s Patrick Queen (5-to-1) have better odds.
Falcons' next four games
Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22
Raiders at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29
Saints at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6
Falcons at Los Angeles Chargers at 4:25 p.m., Dec. 13
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