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Falcons Fall Flat Down The Stretch (1 Viewer)


Falcons fall flat down the stretch


AP Sports

ATLANTA (AP) - Back in early November, the Atlanta Falcons had little reason to be concerned about another winning season. They were tied for first in the NFC South. They were vying for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They were gearing up for a run at the Super Bowl.

In two dismal months, it all fell apart.

The Falcons went from championship contender to major flop, winning two of their last eight games. Not only did they miss the playoffs, they failed to snap the franchise's 40-year run of bewildering inconsistency with a second straight winning season.

The players spent Monday cleaning out their lockers, still reeling from a 44-11 loss to Carolina and trying to figure out how a team that reached the NFC championship game a year ago could follow up with an 8-8 record.

"It's very tough to swallow," Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking said. "I love this game with all my heart. I put so much into it. To come up short, it hurts. It hurts bad."

The Falcons have some obvious needs - starting with a woeful group of safeties - and other areas that will require a more subtle touch, such as Michael Vick 's lack of progress in the West Coast offense and seeming reluctance to run over the second half of the season.

Vick 's passing numbers were basically the same as the season before, even though he was more committed to throwing from the pocket and should have been more comfortable in his second year with Greg Knapp's offensive system.

The left-hander passed for 2,412 yards (an improvement of 99 yards over 2004), slipped a bit in accuracy (55.3 percent compared with 56.4 the previous season), had barely more touchdowns than interceptions for the second year in a row (15-13 as opposed to 14-12) and dipped from 78.1 to 73.1 in his efficiency rating.

As a runner - the one area that distinguishes him from every other quarterback - Vick was still a major threat but didn't come close to duplicating his numbers from 2004. His yards plummeted from 902 to 597, while his average per carry dipped from 7.5 to 5.9.

Vick got defensive when asked if teams have figured out how to contain him, especially the stingy opponents he faced in the second half of the season. The Falcons finished up with five games against the league's top three defenses, losing at Chicago and twice each to division rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina .

"It's not just Mike Vick ," he insisted. "I've got other players around me, other people around me - coaches who are supposed to do everything in their power to put everyone in the offense in a better position. It's not just me."

Indeed, Vick didn't get much help from a young corps of receivers, though first-round pick Roddy White and second-year player Michael Jenkins showed promise. For the second year in a row, tight end Alge Crumpler led the Falcons in receptions (65 for 877 yards and five TDs).

Warrick Dunn rushed for a career-best 1,416 yards, but the other component in the Falcons ' "DVD" backfield took a step backward. Power runner T.J. Duckett managed 380 yards and disappeared down the stretch, producing 43 yards on his final 39 carries.

"His production really, really went down," coach Jim Mora said. "I don't think that you just pin it on T.J., but there was a dramatic change. I spent time with him and Ollie (Wilson, the running backs coach) spent time with him and we talked about footwork. Or was it where he was lining up? Was it where his body was leaning? That's a great question that I don't have an answer for."

Of course, most attention falls on the quarterback. Vick certainly must take some of the blame for failing to produce a touchdown in either game against the Panthers or the loss to the Bears .

Mora pointed to several areas in which Vick improved, such as avoiding sacks, getting more receivers involved in the offense, and being willing to get rid of the ball when a play doesn't develop as planned. But there's plenty of evidence to suggest that Vick didn't make much progress in 2005.

"You can make a case either way if you want to," Mora said. "He's not even close to his potential, nor is he done learning."

The Falcons weren't close to having one of the league's best defenses, ranking 22nd with an average of 325 yards per game. They were especially vulnerable against the run, twice giving up more than 200 yards and finishing 26th with a 128.9-yard average.

Injuries were a problem. Defensive end Brady Smith played in five games, forcing the Falcons to give extensive playing time to rookies Jonathan Babineaux and Chauncey Davis. Middle linebacker Ed Hartwell, the team's major free agent signing and a fearsome run stopper, was lost for the season in Week 5. Backup cornerback Kevin Mathis played only one game.

Some problems could not be blamed on injuries. The Falcons gambled at safety, believing Bryan Scott and journeyman Keion Carpenter could get the job done, and paid a heavy price in missed tackles and blown coverages. Scott lost his starting job with four games to go, and Carpenter had clearly lost a step coming back from a serious knee injury.

Also, the Falcons suffered from their decision to let go of defensive veterans such as Cory Hall , Ed Jasper , Travis Hall and Chris Draft . Then again, younger players such as Babineaux, Davis, lineman Darrel Shropshire and linebacker Michael Boley all gained valuable experience that could pay off in 2006 and beyond.

"If we sit back and take a look at it, there will be some good things for the future," Mora said. "Maybe not good for this year, but for the future."

But just remember what the QB of the team says. " It's not my fault there are a bunch of guys including the coaches who are at fault. Just not me because I am GREAT.

Jim Mora really started to bug me late this season with all his B.S. Screaming at officials, the way he talks to the media, especially about Vick, all of it. Just sick and tired of him and was glad to see them fade down the stretch.


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