It wasn’t an instant classic, but Sunday’s 34-29 win over Tampa Bay at Mercedes-Benz Stadium provided a bit of relief for coach Dan Quinn and the Falcons.
The team was in the midst of a three-game losing streak, including excruciating home losses to New Orleans and Cincinnati. Now, with a 2-4 record after Sunday’s win, the Falcons will continue to work on improving the injury-ravaged defense and try to add more on offense.
“For sure, you have to build on momentum,” Quinn said on Monday. “What I was looking for coming off the Pittsburgh game (a 41-17 loss), could we play more physical. I wanted to see that part come to life. It certainly took steps in the right direction. Now we have to build on that.”
The Falcons will move forward without kicker Matt Bryant, who has a strained hamstring, and running back Devonta Freeman, who has a groin injury. Both will miss the Oct. 22 home game against the Giants.
The Falcons will have updates for wide receivers Calvin Ridley (ankle) and Mohamed Sanu (hip) and defensive linemen Grady Jarrett (ankle) and Derrick Shelby (groin) on Thursday. Ridley and Sanu were injured during Sunday’s game, opening the door for Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall and Russell Gage to receive more playing time.
With the bye week following the Giants game, the Falcons likely won’t try to rush the injured players back too early.
“I thought it shows the depth of the group,” Quinn said.
Hardy was targeted seven times and had three catches for 33 yards. Gage and one catch and a big 9-yard gain in the key fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
The speedy Hall didn’t get any passes, but he can run the deep routes that Ridley has been getting open on.
“All of them have a role, all of them are counted on,” Quinn said. “I think it shows the depth of the group and certainly, we're proud of that.”
Gage’s first NFL catch came on a second-and-10 and helped fuel the last touchdown drive. He picked up good blocks from Hardy and Hall.
“Gage's hurdle was pretty sweet,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “His first touch, to basically jump over people, he's been watching (Austin Hooper) a little bit too much on film, I think. “It was cool to see when he got his opportunity, he didn't hesitate and made a really good play for us.”
So, if Ridley and Sanu are not ready to play against the Giants, Ryan likes the reserves to go along with Julio Jones and Hooper.
“Those guys, you know, it's impressive for the guys that don't get all of the same number of snaps but when they get their chances, make plays,” Ryan said. “It's really cool to see but that's what makes good football teams.”
The defense continued to surrender yardage in big numbers as they allowed 512 total yards to the Bucs. But with rookie Foye Oluokun, reserves Bruce Carter and Kemal Ishmael playing more, the linebacker corps showed signs of improvement. Duke Riley’s snaps were reduced in the process.
“We were encouraged by what we saw from (Oluokun),” Quinn said. “We saw Ish (Kemal Ishmael) take some. You saw Bruce (Carter) even take a few. That was by design so that we could keep guys rolling through and play at the speed we like to play.”
Riley, a third-round pick in 2017, had his snaps cut in half against the Bucs. He played 87 percent of the snaps against Carolina, 80 percent against the Saints, 75 percent against the Bengals and 84 percent against the Steelers.
Against Pittsburgh, Riley missed six of 12 tackle attempts. He played only 42 percent of the snaps against the Bucs.
The Falcons prefer Oluokun, a sixth-round 2018 pick from Yale, moving forward.
“Now that he’s fully healthy, it’s good to see him get back in action and get going,” Quinn said. “I was very impressed by Ish on the goal line play and the tackle that he made. The linebacker group as a whole, they are making improvement as we are going. If there is a guy who has a unique skill for certain situations, we are going to try to utilize him.”
Carter played 12 defensive snaps (19 percent) and Ishmael played six snaps (nine percent) against the Bucs.
Also, the Falcons used Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley rushing from the same side against he Bucs in order to try to create some pass rush.
“Sometimes when you can put two guys like that together, it really causes some difficulties for the offensive guards,” Quinn said.
Defensive tackle Jack Crawford had the only sack against the Bucs. He used a spin move to get free, but fell down and then got back in the play.
“He’s awful big to spin,” Quinn said. “We’ll send it to spin doctor Dwight (Freeney) to see if he can grade it. He got free and jumped up one time and didn’t think he made the play, but he was right there. We call that ‘don’t miss the layups.’ ”