NFC South Reporter
The Falcons are 5-7, simply as they have been this time final yr, however head coach Arthur Smith sees a distinction.
It begins with the standings. A yr in the past, the Falcons have been 5-7, however 4 video games behind the NFC South-leading Buccaneers. Tampa Bay’s struggles this season have them at 5-6, so the Falcons are solely a half-game again with 5 video games remaining. Smith additionally sees progress in his younger roster and what they’ve proven in wins and losses.
“I consider we’re a significantly better workforce,” Smith stated Monday after their fifth loss by a single rating this season. “We’re a reasonably disciplined workforce. Knock on wooden, we do not get a variety of penalties, we do not have a variety of psychological errors. Does that make you are feeling any higher that you just’re 5-7? No. However now we have an opportunity.”
Most middling groups aren’t so lucky to have a lot in play. The Patriots (6-5) and Commanders (7-5) have higher data and are in final place of their divisions, and the Chargers, whereas 6-5, are three video games and a tiebreaker behind the Chiefs. Because the Bucs proceed to stumble and cope with key accidents, the Falcons one way or the other stay proper within the thick of playoff competition.
“It is loopy that we’re nonetheless on this state of affairs,” Smith stated. “I really feel like a damaged report. We’re the place we have been two weeks in the past, the place we have been (Sunday). The best way the schedule is, in a perverse method, with a late bye, you are a half-game again within the NFC South, nevertheless that works out. It is a distinctive alternative, I suppose.”
And three of Atlanta’s subsequent 4 opponents even have dropping data, so there’s not only a hope, however even an inexpensive expectation of profitable these video games. Keep shut, hold competing, and the season ends with these Bucs coming to Atlanta on Jan. 8.
“These guys, it doesn’t matter what’s occurred, they grind it out and it’ll repay. It has paid off,” Smith stated Monday. “These younger guys, they know what it is prefer to be in strain. That is the world we stay in. We play within the mud, and we’ll struggle you and do the whole lot we are able to to throw at you to ensure now we have a shot to win the sport.”
The Falcons additionally know they may have extra wins than they do. Sunday’s loss to Washington noticed them poised on the 2-yard line within the closing minutes, down six factors, solely to have a Marcus Mariota move deflected on the line and intercepted ultimately zone. They led the Saints 26-10 within the fourth quarter earlier than a late collapse, and led the Chargers within the fourth quarter as nicely. In the event that they shut out these video games higher, this might be a division-leading Falcons workforce getting into the ultimate month of the season.
The Falcons have not gained a division title since 2016, and their final season with a profitable report was 2017 — solely 4 NFL groups have gone longer with out one, and three (Giants, Commanders, Jets) have profitable data proper now, with solely the Broncos on tempo to proceed their drought.
Atlanta is 5-7 largely on the energy of a top-five operating assault, averaging 160 yards per sport regardless of lacking Professional Bowl operating again Cordarrelle Patterson for 4 video games alongside the way in which. They’re on tempo to hurry for two,720 yards, which on a per-game foundation could be the third-highest whole in workforce historical past, behind solely the 2004 and 2006 groups, which had Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn operating all around the subject.
They seem to be a half-game out of first regardless of a protection that ranks twenty fifth in factors allowed and within the backside 5 in yards, passing yards and third-down conversions. They’ve 17 sacks, and whereas solely the Rams have fewer per sport, there’s progress there, as they completed final yr with a league-low 18. Smith stated the workforce is aware of the place it wants to enhance to win the shut video games. The run protection might catch a break Sunday, because the Steelers is likely to be with out main rusher Najee Harris, who left the sport Sunday with an belly harm.
“There are a variety of issues we are able to enhance: run protection, run matches, issues which are reasonable and never simply coachspeak,” Smith stated. “That shall be our cost this week.”
The loss at Washington on Sunday stung the Falcons, however strolling off the sphere, Smith was reminded of his first yr as an NFL assistant, as a 25-year-old defensive quality-control coach with Washington in 2007. That Washington workforce was 5-3 and misplaced 4 in a row to have the identical 5-7 report his Falcons do now, earlier than ending the season on a tear.
“We ripped off 4 in a row and acquired within the playoffs,” Smith stated. “It occurs within the NFL. It occurs yearly. You make it arduous on your self, for rattling certain, however we’re (in competition). That is the truth of the state of affairs.”
Greg Auman is FOX Sports activities’ NFC South reporter, masking the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He’s in his tenth season masking the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having frolicked on the Tampa Bay Instances and The Athletic. You may comply with him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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Publish date: 2022-11-30 20:12:01
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