Posted: Tuesday, December 15th 2009 at 8:07am
Falcons 'still have a chance' to reach playoffs
By The Associated Press
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith looks on during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in Atlanta. New Orleans won 26-23. / photo: Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- Nearly everything went smoothly in coach Mike Smith's first season with the Atlanta Falcons.
This year seems the exact opposite.
After a surprising regular season and earning a wild-card playoff spot last year, the Falcons have dropped below .500 for the first time under Smith.
The team's two best offensive players, quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner, could miss their third straight game this week when Atlanta (6-7) visits the New York Jets (7-6).
Including a three-point loss Sunday to unbeaten New Orleans, Smith has hardly enjoyed the last five days:
- Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was arrested Thursday and charged with felony possession of marijuana;
- Receiver Brian Finneran was placed on season-ending injured reserve Monday with a torn knee ligament;
- A week after an embarrassing loss to Philadelphia, the Atlanta offense competed through the early minutes of the fourth quarter before mistakes cost the team another chance to win.
"There are no moral victories in the NFL," Smith said, "and we did not make enough plays (Sunday) to win the football game."
The Falcons haven't been eliminated from postseason, but they need an abundance of help to get there. Atlanta must beat the Jets, Buffalo and Tampa Bay and needs Dallas to lose its last three and the New York Giants drop two of three.
"We have to win out, and some teams have to lose," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "At the same time, we still have a chance."
Winning three straight could prove hard to accomplish without Turner, a first-time Pro Bowl selection last season who's rehabbing an ankle sprain, and Ryan, the 2008 NFL offensive rookie of the year who's battling turf toe.
Despite losing their last two games with Chris Redman at quarterback, Smith praised the journeyman's performance against New Orleans.
Redman completed 23 of 34 passes for 303 yards, one touchdown and one interception on Sunday, but Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma easily picked him off with 3:53 remaining at the Atlanta 43-yard line.
On their previous drive, the Falcons forced a 23-23 tie early in the fourth quarter on Jason Snelling's 4-yard touchdown run, but at the 1:18 mark, Atlanta was essentially finished when Vilma tackled Snelling one yard short on fourth-and-two.
"(Chris) bounced back, and I thought the entire team bounced back from the performance eight days ago," Smith said. "I thought Chris was on point in terms of making the right reads and getting the ball into different receivers' hands, so he was going through his progressions. I thought the protection was good, only giving up one sack."
Smith blamed himself for the 12-yard loss that preceded Vilma's interception. The play, which was run out of a wildcat formation, called for running back Jerious Norwood to take the snap and hand off to receiver Eric Weems on a reverse around right end.
Because he's not a quarterback, Norwood didn't call timeout before the snap when the Saints adjusted their scheme before the play.
"I take responsibility for not calling timeout," Smith said. "That's my job."
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