Falcons plan to climb back into NFC South race

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

With seven games to play, the Falcons are in last place in the NFC South with a 4-6 record.

They have three games remaining against teams with losing records and four against teams with winning records in the NFL’s first 17-game regular season.

After eight games, the Falcons were sitting pretty at 4-4 after a stunning 27-25 upset of the rival New Orleans Saints. But after getting smashed by the Cowboys and Patriots, the Falcons must regroup and try to get back in the fight.

“You get to 4-4 and come off a big division win, then you go down and play Dallas. We come back and play New England, and it’s about as rough as you can feel,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Friday. “The emotions of getting back to 4-4, really what I’ll say is that we deserve to be where we are at. You haven’t played well-enough, and you’ve played two really good teams.”

The Falcons are chasing the Buccaneers (6-3), Saints (5-4) and Panthers (5-5).

The Bucs have lost their past two games, to the Saints and Washington Football Team. The Bucs host the New York Giants on Monday.

The Saints, who are playing with backup quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill, have lost their past two games, to the Falcons and Titans. The Saints play at Philadelphia on Sunday.

The team on the upswing in the division is the Panthers, who re-signed quarterback Cam Newton to lead their late-season charge. He helped them upset Arizona and move to 5-5 on the season Sunday. The Panthers host the Washington Football team Sunday.

“You’re sitting here in this moment and you’re 4-6,” Smith said. “You have to have perspective and say hey, we have seven games to go and we’re going to swing at it. All that matters is that you go down to Jacksonville and get back in the mix. That’s the truth.”

The Falcons play at Jacksonville (2-7) on Nov. 28. The Jaguars are led by coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who played at Cartersville High and Clemson.

The Falcons have been blown out by an average of 28.5 points in four of their six losses. They are 4-2 in one-score games, as kicker Younghoe Koo has made three game-winning field goals.

“Thankfully, we’re not in a 1-9 hole here,” Smith said. “It feels bad, and I get it. I get the frustration. You’ve got to own it. We clearly have not played well enough the last two weeks, but it’s not like it’s all lost.”

If the Falcons can beat the teams with losing records -- Jacksonville, San Francisco (4-5) and Detroit (0-8-1), they could get to seven wins. If they can somehow split the four games against teams with winning records, they could reach 9-8 and have outside shot at a playoff berth.

But first, they need to revive the offense.

The Falcons haven’t scored a touchdown since wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus caught a 6-yard touchdown pass with 10:39 to play in the fourth quarter against the Saints.

“It’s been a tough five days offensively,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “It’s just across the board. We haven’t thrown the ball well-enough. We haven’t run the ball well-enough. I’ve got to be more accurate.”

Basically, it’s been an all-systems failure.

“We’ve all got to be more effective with what we’re asked to do in terms of the game plan,” Ryan said. “We got a nice little extra few days to take a deep dive into what we can do better moving forward. We certainly got to take advantage of that.”

Ryan said the most disappointing thing was the unit’s overall lack of production.

“Whatever that is caused by, that’s the most disappointing,” Ryan said. “I think our defense did a nice job keeping us in the game the entire night (against New England) well into the fourth quarter, making it a two-score game. We had chances. We’ve got to find a way. Whatever it is, whatever we have to do moving forward, we got to find a way to be more productive than we’ve been.”

The Falcons have some glaring problems along the offensive line.

“It’s frustrating,” left tackle Jake Matthews said. “It’s not who we want to be. It makes you angry. We know we’re better and we have to fix it, and that’s what we intend on doing.”

The Falcons have combined to go 3-of-22 on third downs in the losses to Dallas and New England. They can’t run the ball in short-yardage situations and have given up six sacks and 17 quarterback hits in the past two outings.

“I think just executing,” Matthews said. “We know what to do, and we just have to do it. We got to have confidence doing it and make it happen. It’s hard to give an answer and solve it right here, but it’s a lot of stuff. We’ll take the film out and figure it out. It’s definitely a group effort, that’s the biggest thing.”

Smith didn’t rule out personnel moves along the offensive line.

“Everything is on the table,” Smith said. “We’ll do a lot of self-reflection over this weekend. Use it as a mini-bye. Come back, and I promise you this, we’ll come back. All we care about is finding a way to beat Jacksonville.”

The Falcons are watching Ryan’s toe. He was injured in the New England game, but continued to play.

“I think we’ll be all right, but we’ll have to see,” Smith said. “We’ll see how the next four or five days progress.”

Running back Qadree Ollison rushed for a career-high 34 yards against the Patriots and had two nice runs.

“Qadree ran the ball hard,” Smith said. “He ran well. Had his moments. That was good to see.”

Smith did not have an update on the status of wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who’s on the non-football injury list while tending to his mental health. Also, Smith did not have an update on offensive lineman Matt Gono who remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

The Falcons believe that they can get things turned around.

“We win next week and get this thing rolling,” Matthews said. “That’s what we intend on doing.”

Cornerback A.J. Terrell, who had the second interception of his career against the Patriots, was upbeat.

“Definitely,” said Terrell when asked if the Falcons were still aiming for the playoffs. “That’s the mind-set we have to keep. Like I said, another game next week coming up, just have to put this in the rearview window and just move forward.”

Smith believes the Falcons will bounce back.

“We’ve got tough guys here,” Smith said. “We’ve got the right coaches, and we’ll come back. We’ll put together a plan. We’ll go down to Jacksonville and try to win a football game.”

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Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons 17, Giants 14

Washington 34, Falcons 30

Falcons 27, Jets 20

Bye Week

Falcons 30, Dolphins 28

Panthers 19, Falcons 13

Falcons 27, Saints 25

Cowboys 43, Falcons 3

Patriots 25, Falcons 0

Next four games

Falcons at Jacksonville, 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 28

Tampa Bay at Falcons, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5

Falcons at Carolina, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12

Falcons at San Francisco, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 19

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