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One and Done League - FFL: Week 3 | NFL: Championship

Falcons' offense falters, costs them at Philadelphia

2018-01-13 10:08:26
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer

Players: Matt Ryan, LeGarrette Blount, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman

Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones can't make the catch on a fourth-down pass in the end zone from Matt Ryan as Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Mills defends in the final minutes of an NFL football NFC divisional playoff game Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)


Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins reacts to stopping Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman short of a first down on a fourth-down play during the first half of an NFL football NFC divisional playoff game Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 15-10. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)


Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan react after failing to connect in the final minutes of the team's NFL football NFC divisional playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)


PHILADELPHIA (AP) The Atlanta Falcons nearly won a Super Bowl a year ago behind the NFL's most potent offense.

It was that side of the ball that ended their chances to get to the big game again.

Atlanta managed only 10 first-half points, both coming off Philadelphia turnovers, and lost 15-10 to the Eagles on Saturday. While Philadelphia advances to the NFC championship game, the Falcons (11-7) go home.

''I think that's certainly something that we have to look at and evaluate this offseason,'' Matt Ryan said after concluding a somewhat down season for him in the wake of his 2016 league MVP campaign. ''There were too many times that we were a little bit inconsistent.''

That was exemplified against the Eagles (14-3), who like the Falcons sputtered in the red zone. But Philly got three field goals from Jake Elliott and a touchdown run from LeGarrette Blount.

Most damaging for Atlanta was how it came up empty deep in Eagles territory on its final drive. The Falcons had first-and-goal at the 9, and got to the 2 on fourth down before Ryan's pass to Julio Jones soared over his head in the end zone.

''Certainly in those situations you want to go to your best players,'' Ryan explained. ''You know, obviously rolled to the right and had an opportunity to Julio. It just didn't work out and that's disappointing.''

Atlanta was the NFL's highest-scoring team last season, but its lowest production was in a 24-15 defeat to the Eagles. The offense wasn't nearly as productive this season, falling to 15th, from 33.8 points a game to 22.1.

The Falcons didn't come close to their season's average, or to the 26 they put on the board in beating the Rams in a wild-card matchup last weekend.

So while the defense was vastly improved, particularly in the pass rush, the Falcons fell flat with the ball far too many times.

''That's one of the areas we are dialed in from the beginning of the season to where how we make sure those aren't field goals and they turn into touchdowns,'' coach Dan Quinn said. ''Was there plays that knocked us out? Could we have done better in the run game down there?

''Those are certainly topics we are going to look long and deep into.''

Star receiver Jones had a strong game with nine receptions for 101 yards. He was targeted 16 times.

But he couldn't get free downfield, except for a 20-yard reception on fourth down on the final drive. For the Falcons to be Super Bowl threats down the road, Jones must be nearly unstoppable.

Atlanta's running game was spotty against the Eagles, too. Several times, Tevin Coleman had open lanes and got nice gains. On other plays, he and Devonta Freeman didn't have an inch to run when Ryan handed off.

Coleman, usually the backup, had 79 yards on 10 carries, with a long of 23. Freeman had only 7 yards on his 10 carries.

In contrast, the Eagles ran for 96 yards and had several big plays on the ground.

Now, the Falcons must cope with a much earlier and nearly as dramatic defeat as what they sustained last February.

''It's difficult when you get to the playoffs and you've put in all the work throughout the year,'' Ryan said. ''You're in a competitive game like tonight. There's a lot of back and forth. It's disappointing to not get the outcome that you want.

''The finality of it sometimes is difficult, so we're disappointed for sure.''

Player Notes
Russell Wilson Jan 16 6:50pm ET

The Seattle Seahawks hired Brian Schottenheimer as their new offensive coordinator Tuesday. Mike Solari was also named the new offensive line coach. Schottenheimer most recently served as the Colts quarterbacks coach the last two seasons, but he previously was an offensive coordinator with the Jets from 2006-2011, with the St. Louis Rams from 2012-2014 and with the University of Georgia in 2015. Solari spent the last two yearse as the offensive line coach for the Giants. Both Schottenheimer and Solari will have their hands full, mainly fixing the offensive line and getting something out of what was a terrible running game the last two years. Russell Wilson remains one of the best and most athletic quarterbacks in the league, but these new additions don't really figure to benefit him all that much.

Stefon Diggs Jan 16 6:20pm ET

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs has certainly seen an increase in popularity this week. After making national news by scoring the game-winning 61-yard touchdown last week against the Saints, Diggs will look to keep the good times rolling against the Eagles. The Eagles defense has allowed the 14th most fantasy points to opposing receivers this season, including allowing eight touchdowns to receivers over the Eagles last six games played. Diggs finished the regular season with eight touchdowns and is coming off of an impressive six-catch, 137-yard performance. Diggs should see plenty of targets and will be a top-4 fantasy play at receiver for the final four of the NFL playoffs.

Adam Thielen Jan 16 6:10pm ET

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen has had a career season with 91 receptions and 1,276 yards, including 74 receiving yards last week in the Vikings wild win against the Saints. But Thielen has only four touchdowns this season and has not caught a touchdown since December 10th. He has been a go-to receiver for quarterback Case Keenum but when the Vikings get in the red zone Thielen serves more as a decoy than a weapon. This week he will take on an Eagles defense that has allowed the 14th most fantasy points to opposing receivers this season. The Eagles have been tough on the run this season but can be beat in the secondary. Thielen is an excellent route runner and should have no issue getting open often this weekend. He may not find the end zone but Thielen is a top-4 play at receiver in fantasy for this weekend.

Jerick McKinnon Jan 16 6:00pm ET

Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon will look to make it two straight playoff games with a touchdown when the Vikings take on the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. McKinnon punched in a 14-yard score last week against the Saints but will go up against an Eagles defense that has allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing backs this season. McKinnon is the de facto backup to Latavius Murray but McKinnon presents more athletic value in the passing game. While the Eagles will try and shut down the Vikings running game, McKinnon could see some opportunities to make some plays in the screen game. The Eagles have allowed only three rushing touchdowns since Week 4 of the regular season which means the Vikings will have to get creative in the red zone. McKinnon's name is flying under the radar in preparation for championship weekend and could certainly provide some fantasy value at a cheap price.

Latavius Murray Jan 16 5:50pm ET

Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray will have a tough matchup Sunday against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. It will be tough sledding against a defensive unit that has allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Up until the Cowboys Ezekiell Elliott's 103 yards in Week 17, the Eagles had not allowed a single 100-yard runner all season. Murray has become a reliable force in the red zone, scoring eight rushing touchdowns in the regular season and punching in for another score last week in the playoffs against the Saints. But the Eagles have allowed only three rushing touchdowns since Week 4, making this one of the stingiest match ups Murray will see all season. Murray could struggle to post a solid fantasy stat-line and will be a touchdown-dependent option this championship weekend.

Travis Kelce Jan 16 5:43pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (concussion) will not participate in the Pro Bowl due to a concussion he suffered in the playoffs. Tennessee Titans TE Delanie Walker has been named as Kelce's replacement.

Case Keenum Jan 16 5:30pm ET

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum will head into the NFC Championship game against the Eagles with his confidence at an all-time high. Keenum was playing solid football last week against the Saints but it was in the final moments where he really shined in helping create the Minnesota Miracle. He has a career-high 22 touchdown passes during the regular season but will go up against an elite Eagles defense one more stepping stone away from the Super Bowl. The Eagles have allowed the 11th fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season with 19 interceptions during the regular season. The unit has played extremely well of late, holding opponents to less than 227 passing yards in nine of their last 10 games, including the playoffs. Keenum will have to protect the football and could be in line for a less than stellar fantasy stat line. Nonetheless, he will be the second best quarterback option (behind the Patriots' Tom Brady) in fantasy heading towards championship weekend.

Matt Ryan Jan 16 5:10pm ET

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is expected to return in 2018 with full confidence from head coach Dan Quinn and his staff. The Falcons took a notable step back in 2017 with Sarkisian in his first full year as the coordinator after the departure of Kyle Shanahan. Quarterback Matt Ryan's numbers were expected to disappoint after his 2016 MVP season, and Atlanta's offense as a whole never really reached its full potential. With Sarkisian likely sticking around, it may be good news for the continuity of the unit, especially since they should be getting most of their weapons back. It wouldn't hurt to upgrade at the receiver position, though.

Nick Foles Jan 16 5:03pm ET

Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles has thrown just one touchdown compared to two interceptions in five games played in Philadelphia this season. Meanwhile, he has thrown four touchdowns and zero interceptions in two road contests. The Eagles face the Minnesota Vikings in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship this weekend.

Drew Brees Jan 16 4:30pm ET

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees says he has no plans to test the market, and that he hopes to re-sign with the Saints before the start of the new league year. "I'm not in the mood to make anything secretive," Brees said. "It's the same way I felt two days ago. It's the same way I felt 12 years ago. That is that I'll be here as long as they'll have me, hopefully." Brees, who turned 39 on Monday, cannot be franchise tagged, giving him a little leverage even if he insists he does not want to test the market. Brees' main goal could be some guaranteed money for 2019.

Bobby Wagner Jan 16 4:03pm ET

Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner (hamstring) will not participate in the 2018 Pro Bowl due to a hamstring injury. Wagner has been dealing with the ailment since late in the season and will be replaced on the Pro Bowl roster by Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander.

Julio Jones Jan 16 3:13pm ET

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle) will not participate in the 2018 Pro Bowl due to his nagging ankle injury. Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams will take Jones' place in the Pro Bowl.

David Johnson Jan 16 2:30pm ET

The Arizona Cardinals are putting in second interview requests for their head coach position today. Among those expected to get a call are Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak and Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. With so much still in flux, it is still uncertain what the fantasy values of the various Cardinals players will be following this process. Keep an eye on who gets the job and how it will affect players such as running back David Johnson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Leonard Fournette Jan 16 1:40pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette was involved in a minor car accident Tuesday when his car was rear ended. Fournette was fine and was able to drive home after the accident. Of greater concern for Fournette's availability in the AFC title game against the Patriots is the ankle that he aggravated in the Divisional Round against the Steelers. Fournette's ankle has bothered him at times this season, but he was able to return against the Steelers and carried the Jaguars offense with three touchdowns. Fournette may be somewhat limited in what he can do against the Pats, but rest assured that he'll be the focal point of the offense yet again as they try to pull a second straight huge upset. T.J. Yeldon filled in admirably when Fournette left the game last weekend, and he figures to have a big role as well, even if Fournette is playing.

Cliff Avril Jan 16 1:40pm ET

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril (neck) intends to play again in 2018 despite missing most of the 2017 season with a career-threatening neck ailment. "Right now it's all about recovery. I had surgery. I'm in the process of recovering. It's a long process, a long journey. When I get to the end of that, then I'll figure out what's next," Avril said. Avril was injured in Week 4 and missed the rest of the season, and head coach Pete Carroll even said it would be tough for Avril to ever play again. It remains to be seen how effective Avril can be after his neck injury in 2017, but if he can return to anywhere close to his pre-injury form, his return will be a big boost to a Seattle defense that fell off in 2017, mainly due to injuries.

Eli Manning Jan 16 1:20pm ET

The Cleveland Browns are interviewing former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo for their vacant offensive coordinator position on Tuesday. McAdoo's tenure with the Giants didn't end well as he went 2-10 this past season and caught fire for benching longtime starting quarterback Eli Manning. Despite the rough season, McAdoo has had plenty of success as a play-caller in the NFL, leading the Giants to the sixth-most points in the league in 2015 when he was their offensive coordinator. McAdoo, along with former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey and former Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan have all been linked to the job opening.

Ben Roethlisberger Jan 16 1:10pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked on his radio show on Tuesday whether he wanted offensive coordinator Todd Haley back in 2018. Roethlisberger responded by saying, "The least amount of change the better. We don't want to have big changes because we're right there, we're on the cusp...We feel we have some great things going for us." Rumors of a fracture between Haley and Roethlisberger popped up during the season but it is apparent those issues were overblown. Roethlisberger went on to state, "I think its perceived as a bigger deal than it was." Haley is not under contract for the 2018 season but the Steelers could look to bring him back with the support of Roethlisberger.

Hau'oli Kikaha Jan 16 12:53pm ET

New Orleans Saints LB Hau'oli Kikaha (ankle) proclaimed himself 'ready right now' when asked by reporters Tuesday, Jan. 16, whether or not he would be ready for OTAs.

Marcus Mariota Jan 16 12:50pm ET

Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson remains confident that quarterback Marcus Mariota is the right guy for the gig, and Robinson isn't too worried that the team will have yet another head coach guiding the offense in 2018. "Marcus is a pretty resilient guy. He's a very mentally tough guy," Robinson said of Mariota. "He takes a lot from the standpoint of ownership in things. I have zero concern in Marcus being able to adapt and learn, and do what's best to get the offense going." Mariota will be playing for his third NFL coach after being drafted in 2015. It was a disappointing year for the Hawaiin in 2017, as he threw for just 3,232 yards with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions after throwing for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2016. Injuries slowed Mariota down again, but he has plenty of pieces around him in the offense to be successful. The right coaching staff may be able to get more out of him, but fantasy owners probably won't want any part of Mariota, definitely not as a QB1.

Coby Fleener Jan 16 12:43pm ET

New Orleans Saints TE Coby Fleener is set to count $8 million against the cap with a $6.3 million salary in 2018, making it highly unlikely he will stay with the team unless he agrees to a pay cut on the five-year, $36 million contract he signed in 2016. The Saints choose to release him, they would still be charged $4.8 million in dead money.