Wed Nov 20 6:11pm ET
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks to pass against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) catches a touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn speaks to members of the media following an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen, right, speak following an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. The Falcons won 29-3. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill (23) celebrates his touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill (23) scores a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers while wide receiver Justin Hardy (14) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Falcons can’t explain it.
They’ll try to come up with this reason or that, but the perplexed looks betray that they’re just as baffled as everyone else.
In a tale of two seasons, Atlanta suddenly looks like the team the Falcons were expected to be all along.
Unfortunately, they only showed that form after a 1-7 start, which likely left too deep a hole and not enough time to pull off an improbable playoff run.
Still, the mood is a whole lot sunnier around Flowery Branch.
Two straight dominating road wins over division opponents will do that to a team.
“This is what I hoped we would look like,” coach Dan Quinn said.
After romping past first-place New Orleans 27-9 in perhaps the most surprising result of the season, the Falcons (3-7) followed up with a 29-3 rout at Carolina last weekend.
Atlanta will try to stretch its out-of-nowhere winning streak to three in a row against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7) on Sunday, the first of three straight home games and a chance to vacate last place in the NFC South.
“It’s a question that I’ve obviously been struggling with the first part of the season,” Quinn said. “You looked under the hood and everything looked right, but it just wasn’t running like you’d hoped it would.”
After the Falcons’ sixth straight loss, Quinn took advantage of a bye week to thoroughly assess his team.
The biggest change was a shake-up of the coaching staff, with Raheem Morris moving over to work with the secondary after serving as receivers coach. Also, while Quinn remains the defensive coordinator, he has largely turned over the responsibility for callings plays to Morris and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich.
The results have been striking. The Falcons did not allow a touchdown in the last two games, a streak that actually stretches back 10 quarters to their Week 8 loss to Seattle. They’re suddenly getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, registering 11 sacks against the Saints and Panthers after managing just seven over their first eight games. They had four interceptions against Carolina, further fueling the turnaround.
“For whatever reason, our focus has been up and down,” Quinn said. “But what I can say is the players are the ones - man, they really ramped up their focus, their communication, their cohesiveness and their chemistry. When all those things are happening, that’s when the powerful stuff happens.”
Safety Ricardo Allen was all smiles after practice Wednesday.
“We’re finally proving to ourselves that if we put in the work during the week, if we go hard enough during the week, if we keep our head down and silence the noise on our side, the sky’s the limit,” he said.
Some players are still toying with the idea of making the playoffs, though that seems highly unlikely.
The best the Falcons can finish is 9-7, which means the Saints (8-2) only have to win two more games to ensure they can’t be caught by Atlanta in the division race. The wild-card picture is the same, with Seattle (8-2) and Minnesota (8-3) both comfortably ahead of the Falcons.
“As a player, as an athlete, as a competitor, absolutely, you’re trying to look at every way,” running back Kenjon Barner said, glancing at his phone to mimic going through all the various scenarios. “OK, if they lose and we win ... yeah, we’ve had those conversations.”
Jerome Henderson, the passing game defensive coordinator, credited the players for taking ownership of their predicament.
“It’s guys just saying, ‘This isn’t us,’” Henderson said. “A lot more player-led meetings. A lot more getting together and talking through issues and just saying, ‘We’re not going to leave the practice field with any gray.’”
In their quieter moments, the coaches and players are surely frustrated that it took so long to find a winning formula.
They’re doing their best not to look back.
The present - and the future - suddenly looks so much more promising.
“I wish you could change the past, but you can’t,” Quinn said. “Now, can we throw everything we have into this moment?”
Notes: P Matt Bosher was back at practice, beginning his 21-day window to return from injured reserve. Bosher went on IR after Week 4 with a groin ailment. He is eligible to return to the active roster for the Dec. 8 game against Carolina. ... S Kemal Ishmael (concussion) has already been ruled out and will miss his second straight game. ... The Falcons claimed their second straight NFC special teams player of the week award. Barner was honored after returning a punt 78 yards for a touchdown.
The San Francisco 49ers placed wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (foot, knee) on injured reserve on Tuesday. The seven-year pro has been dealing with chronic leg issues and will be shut down to undergo treatment. Goodwin managed just 12 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown in 2019 and its probable his three-year tenure with the Niners is over. The speedster will likely find his way onto another roster next year but at 29 years old, Goodwin holds minimal dynasty value. With Goodwin shelved, wideout Kendrick Bourne will continue operating as the primary third receiver. With five scores over his past six games, Bourne has emerged as a red zone threat and will be a low-volume WR5 in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons.
San Francisco 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a knee injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
New York Jets S Jamal Adams (ankle), OT Chuma Edoga (knee), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (calf), CB Brian Poole (concussion), RB Bilal Powell (ankle, illness), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring, knee) and DL Quinnen Williams (neck) did not practice Tuesday, Dec. 10. OT Kelvin Beachum (ankles), S Matthias Farley (ankle), DL Steve McLendon (knee, hip), RB Ty Montgomery (foot, hip) and DL Nathan Shepherd (ankle) were limited. RB Le'Veon Bell (illness), CB Maurice Canady (shoulder), OL Tom Compton (ankle), QB Sam Darnold (knee, thumb), QB David Fales (elbow) and LB Paul Worrilow (quad) participated in full.
Baltimore Ravens LB Chris Board (concussion), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury) and DT Brandon Williams (non-injury) did not practice Tuesday, Dec. 10. TE Mark Andrews (knee), QB Lamar Jackson (quad) and DE Jihad Ward (elbow) were limited.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (abdominal) and CB Desmond Trufant (forearm) were placed on the Reserve/Injured list on Tuesday, Dec. 10. LB Ahmad Thomas was signed to the active roster, while TE Carson Meier and LB Quentin Poling were added to the practice squad.
Philadelphia Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery (foot) is out for the rest of the season with a foot injury he suffered in Week 14 against the New York Giants, according to a source. The team is still reportedly gathering opinions about the exact injury, however.
Fantasy Spin: This injury wraps up yet another injury-shortened season for the 29-year-old, who has played a full season once in the last five years - averaging only 12 games over that span. Jeffrey is still due $12.75 million over each of the final two years of his deal, so he's probably not going anywhere this offseason. With Nelson Agholor also ailing, the Eagles could be forced to finish the season with Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and a few practice squad players at the position.
Arizona Cardinals DL Rodney Gunter (toe) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a toe injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10. DL Caraun Reid (Cardinals) was re-signed to an undisclosed contract to replace him on the roster after getting released over the weekend.
Washington Redskins CB Simeon Thomas was handed a four-game suspension by the NFL on Tuesday, Dec. 10, for violating the league's policy and program on substances of abuse.
Detroit Lions WR Marvin Jones (ankle) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with an ankle injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Fantasy Spin: The hits just keep coming for Detroit, which figures to lean on Kenny Golladay even more the rest of the way. Danny Amendola should also see more targets as well.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate (knee) was placed on the injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season. Tate sustained a mild MCL sprain in his left knee in the third quarter of the teams Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Damion Willis was promoted to the active roster in a corresponding roster move. Tate took advantage of all the injuries to the Bengals receiving corps this season, racking up a career-high 40 catches for 575 yards and one touchdown, and is a worthy hold in dynasty leagues heading into his third season.
Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp played only 20 of a possible 68 snaps in Week 14 versus the Seattle Seahawks.
Fantasy Spin: By comparison, Kupp logged 57 snaps in Week 13. Head coach Sean McVay defended the move by suggesting it was the cost of doing business in order to establish some offensive balance on early downs. However, the flaw in that reasoning is that Kupp's playing time should not be cut in favor of backup tight end Johnny Mundt. Meanwhile, Brandin Cooks didn't make a catch in his 61 snaps. Expect Kupp to return to his normal snap count in Week 15 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Free-agent CB Jamar Taylor (Seahawks) signed an undisclosed contract with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell is among the players the team is expected to make available via trade this offseason, according to sources.
Fantasy Spin: Bell is averaging only 49.1 yards rushing behind one of the league's worst offensive lines in his first season with the Jets, and it is becoming increasingly clear head coach Adam Gase either can't find a way to keep him involved in the offense or doesn't want to. A trade will be hard to accomplish as well, as the Jets would take a $15.5 million cap hit if they deal him and his hypothetical new team would have to find a way to fit one of the larger contracts at his position onto the roster.
Cincinnati Bengals WR Auden Tate (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a sprained left medial collateral ligament Tuesday, Dec. 10. WR Damion Willis was elevated from the practice squad to replace him on the roster.
Fantasy Spin: Tate's emergence was probably the best thing to happen to the Bengals in an otherwise lost season. Assuming A.J. Green re-signs with the team in the offseason, Tate will probably push John Ross for the other starting outside job while Tyler Boyd remains the main slot receiver. Tate, who finishes this season with 40 catches for 575 yards and a touchdown, should be considered a solid late-round flier next summer in fantasy drafts.
Dallas Cowboys WR Cedrick Wilson (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Dec. 10. OT Mitch Hyatt was elevated from the practice squad to replace him on the roster.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell (foot) has been placed on Injured Reserve ending his season. It's an unfortunate, yet fitting, end to the rookie's season having battled injuries to his hamstring, abdomen, and a broken hand before a fractured foot put him on season-ending IR. Campbell finishes his rookie season with 18 catches for 127 yards and one touchdown. The Colts are still unsure of T.Y. Hilton's (calf) status for their Monday night game vs New Orleans, but it's looking increasingly likely Hilton misses the game. Assuming Hilton is out, Zach Pascal has interesting WR3 value with Marcus Johnson also in the mix in deeper fantasy leagues.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are expecting to get wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and running back James Conner (shoulder) back in time for their Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills. Neither has played since getting injured against the Cleveland Browns in Week 11. Both players are expected to practice this week in what would be a big boost to the Pittsburgh offense as the team looks to remain in the playoff picture. Conner's return would come at an especially good time as Jaylen Samuels is looking questionable for this weekend with a groin injury. That being said, fantasy GMs need to temper their expectations for both players as the Bills have been stout on defense this season.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (abdomen) will be out for the remainder of the season after suffering an abdominal injury during the first half of Week 14's win over the Carolina Panthers. Ridley had a big game before the injury, catching five balls for 76 yards and a touchdown but went down before halftime and was unable to stand on his own. He was carted off the field and looked to be in significant pain. With Ridley out look for Russell Gage to slide in as the No. 2 receiver in Atlanta opposite Julio Jones. Gage is worth a look as a flex play in fantasy leagues going forward.
New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (ankle, illness) is not expected to play Thursday night at Baltimore. Powell, who was filling in for Le'Veon Bell (illness) injured his ankle at the end of the Jets Week 14 win over the Dolphins. Powell is also apparently dealing with the flu but head coach Adam Gase said the ankle is the bigger concern right now. Powell is yet to officially be ruled out, but all signs are pointing to him not suiting up this week. The good news for New York is Bell is reportedly close to 100 percent and should reclaim his starting role with Ty Montgomery working as a change of pace back. Powell can safely be dropped by those that picked him up for the Miami game.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark (ankle) was spotted in a walking boot on Monday and left the locker room using a scooter. Head coach Doug Marrone told reporters that Chark is "week-to-week" with the injury, which puts the remainder of his season in jeopardy. Chark broke out in a big way for Jacksonville in 2019, catching 67 balls for 956 yards and eight touchdowns. With Chark sidelined, look for Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, and Keelan Cole to all see more chances within the Jacksonville passing attack.