FLOWERY BRANCH — After an uneven performance in his most recent outing, Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota is determined to get back under control.

The Falcons (4-6) are set to host the Bears (3-7) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Falcons are a game behind the Buccaneers (5-5) in the NFC South with seven games to play. The Bucs have a bye this week.

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Mariota admitted to trying to do too much in the 25-15 loss to the Panthers on Nov. 10. He was last seen rolling on the ground, launching an aimless pass into the teeth of the Panthers’ secondary.

The meme creators on social media have been having a ball with that move. He was ruled down by contact.

Mariota completed 19 of 30 passes for 186 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He finished with a passer rating of 89.

“He encourages me to be efficient,” Mariota said of Falcons coach Arthur Smith. “I think it’s just being smart situationally, taking care of the football, making plays when they’re there and when they’re not, and just getting us out of bad stuff.”

The Falcons were 4-4 and positioned to build a lead in the NFC South, but have lost the past two games. Mariota knows the Falcons have to get back to their winning formula, which was running the ball and throwing some timely intermediate passes. He believes they can lean even more on the rushing attack, which ranks fourth in the NFL and is churning out 160.4 yards per game.

“Yeah, we’ll have to see,” Mariota said. “They say that a run game travels, right? As it gets later on in a year, it’s helpful, but at the same time, we have to make plays in the passing game.”

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The pleas for the Falcons to ditch Mariota in favor of rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder were incessant on social media after the loss to the Panthers.

“You know what you sign up for as a coach and player,” Smith said. “If you’re dumb enough to look at social media or TikTok, shame on you. But you know what you sign up for. You’re in the public. We’re in the biggest reality show going, so, if that’s part of it, it will crush you.”

Smith pointed out that three weeks ago the social media pundits were ready to declare Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady washed up. The Bucs have put together a couple of wins, and the Packers upset the Cowboys on Sunday night.

“So, I get it,” Smith said. “It’s what sells, but that is part of the job for any player or coach. It’s reality, and that’s why you need perspective because literally you go back three weeks, and they had those guys probably 5 feet in the ground putting dirt on the casket.”

He’s counting on Mariota to bounce back. He was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after the Week 6 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

“It’s such a long journey,” Smith said. “But I think … if you’re insecure or dumb enough to go down that rabbit hole, shame on you.”

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Mariota plans not to force any plays to help him get back on the efficiency train.

“I think specifically there’s a couple of plays where there was an interception in the last game on Thursday night, also a couple of third downs where I took a sack,” Mariota said. “We talk about it all the time, in order for this offense to continue to hum and be in rhythm, I’ve got to be efficient.”

Sometimes Mariota may have to throw the ball away, and other times he may have to scramble more.

“I can do a better job of that,” Mariota said. “I can help this offense get in a rhythm and get going and continue to move the chains.”

Mariota acknowledges that there’s a fine line between extending a play to get a desired outcome and forcing things into a bad situation.

“I think when it comes down to it, if my initial reaction is to scramble and throw it, then I think more times than not, those have been good decisions,” Mariota said. “I think when I start to extend it, and I start getting pushed out to the sideline, sometimes those plays become negative and bad decisions. Just being smart, once the play is done and over, really during it or trying to get a few yards if I can.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17

Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT

Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17

Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.


Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD