Falcons must address flaws for longer playoff run
The Cardinals, who benched quarter John Skelton in the second quarter and went with rookie Ryan Lindley, are an abysmal offensive team. They managed just 178 yards and scored 13 points off Ryan's turnovers. Even so, the Atlanta defense gave up two long runs to LaRod Stephens-Howling, who broke off gains of 52 and 40 yards, setting up a couple of field goals.
"Both of those plays, we missed a tackle," Smith said. "We've just got to get better at cleaning up some things in our run defense."
If Atlanta had been facing a more prolific offense — in other words, just about anybody else in the NFL — those plays could have changed the outcome. Reducing those breakdowns will be a key on Sunday, when the Falcons travel to Tampa Bay to face the streaking Buccaneers and rookie sensation Doug Martin, who already has rushed for 1,000 yards.
"Their rookie running back has had some really explosive games," Smith said. "It will be a challenge for us."
The defense clearly misses linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who sat out his third straight game with an ankle injury. He's not the only player hurting, either.
Samuel, the team's best coverage player, went out in the first half with an injured right shoulder after delivering a hit to Larry Fitzgerald. Jones, who pairs with Roddy White to give Atlanta one of the league's most dangerous receiver tandems, hobbled off in the second half after reinjuring his ailing right ankle. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry (thigh injury) also came out.
Smith never discusses the specifics of injuries on Monday, but he doesn't think any of those three will miss significant time. Also, he is confident that Weatherspoon will be back at practice this week, giving him a good chance to play against Tampa Bay (6-4), which has won five of six to climb into playoff contention.
Even Smith made a big mistake against the Cardinals, mistakenly throwing his challenge flag on an Atlanta fumble that would've been subject to review anyway. Under the rules, he was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the play was not reviewed, costing the Falcons a chance to get the ball back.
"That's totally on me," Smith said.
Ryan was feeling the same way about his performance.
He became the first quarterback since Bart Starr in 1967 to win a game while throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns, though Ryan was quick to note "that's good company to be in." He had never thrown more than three picks in a game, and his quarterback rating of 40.5 was the second-lowest of his career, surpassed only by his second game as a pro in 2008.
"As a quarterback, you don't want to ever have those kind of games. But they happen," Ryan said. "It's how you respond to it. I think it says a lot about our football team. I made the mistakes I did, but I'm surrounded by 52 other guys who show up and make plays. I'm fortunate to have those guys around me."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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