For the second straight game, running back Antone Smith was pretty much the only Falcons player making plays in the second half.
Smith’s 41-yard catch-and-run score was the only Falcons touchdown after halftime in the 27-13 loss to the Bears. His 74-yard TD reception against the Giants a week earlier was the only Falcons score in the second half of the 30-20 defeat.
Smith now has scored a touchdown in five of six Falcons games, and each score has gone for at least 38 yards. He has scored two of the three touchdowns the Falcons have scored in the past nine quarters.
Smith’s five touchdowns this season have come on just 23 touches; last season he scored two touchdowns on seven touches. It’s no wonder Falcons fans call for Smith to get more chances, though Smith has refused to be drawn into that debate.
“I don’t think just one guy can do it,” Smith said. “There’s no way in the world I’m the one guy making plays. It seems that way, but I’m not. A lot of guys are out there blocking, Matt is throwing the ball and Steven (Jackson) is doing a good job. Without them, I don’t have any success at all.”
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Against the Bears Smith appeared to be second in snaps among halfbacks behind Jackson, the starter. But Smith had just two rushing attempts and four receptions, with four of those touches after halftime.
Smith’s latest long scoring play came with the Falcons trailing the Bears 13-3 in the third quarter.
The Falcons got out of a first-and-29 hole created by a holding penalty on tackle Jake Matthews when Levine Toilolo caught a 14-yard pass. Smith gained nine yards with a catch on second down.
On the next play, Matt Ryan lofted a screen play to Smith, who ran down the right sideline for the touchdown. It looked like all of Smith’s scoring plays this season: He finds space, turns on his exceptional speed and outruns even those defenders who appear to have good angles to tackle him.
“It was a great play call,” Smith said. “I made a great catch and the receivers did a great job blocking inside.”
Massaquoi earns more snaps: Falcons linebacker/defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi played just 35 percent of the defensive snaps in the first five games. He got extensive playing time in the base defense against the Bears and made an impact with a sack, two quarterback hits and at least two other pressures of Jay Cutler.
The sack was Massaquoi’s team-leading second of the season. It was a positive sign for a unit desperate to generate a pass rush without using blitzes—the Falcons entered the game ranked next-to-last among NFL teams in sack percentage.
“I had a great week of practice,” Massaquoi said. “The coaches trusted me to put me back out there today and you see what happened. Whether that’s going to stick, (or) whether that’s not, all I can do is continue to work hard and be put in a position like I was tonight.”
Massaquoi made an immediate impact when he replaced Kroy Biermann for the second defensive series. Massaquoi sacked Bears Cutler for a five-yard loss to force a third-and-15 for the Bears, who converted when Cutler passed to Alshon Jeffery for 19 yards.
Just before halftime Massaquoi pressured Cutler on an incomplete pass on third-and-2 at the Falcons’ 10. The Bears settled for a field goal and 13-3 halftime lead.
Unnecessary roughness: A personal foul penalty against Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow helped set up the Bears’ first score of the game.
Near the end of the first period, the Bears were called for a false start and the play was whistled dead. But Worrilow kept going and barreled into Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who had spiked the ball to the turf.
“I didn’t hear the whistle,” Worrilow said. “To me, it didn’t look like he didn’t give himself up. I was in that gray area if I pull up and the play is still going . So I would probably do it again.”
The 15-yard penalty against Worrilow resulted in a first down for the Bears at the Falcons’ 14-yard line. Robbie Gould kicked a 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter to cut the Bears’ deficit to 7-3.
Bartu starts: Joplo Bartu replaced rookie Prince Shembo as a starter at inside linebacker for the Falcons against the Bears on Sunday.
The move appeared to be a counter to the pass-catching threat of Bears running back Matt Forte, who had 10 catches for 77 yards. Bartu covered Forte out of the backfield on several plays.
Bartu started 13 of 16 games last season at outside linebacker and the first three games this year at inside linebacker. Shembo had replaced Bartu in the lineup for the past two games.
In the first five games Bartu had 21 tackles (13 solo) and two fumble recoveries. He chased down a fumble forced by safety William Moore to set up the game-winning field goal against the Saints in the season-opener.
Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said during the week that he planned to expand Shembo’s role as a pass rusher but Shembo didn’t appear to play any snaps from scrimmage.