ATLANTA (AP) — As it turns out, coach Dan Quinn was smart to resist calling his Atlanta Falcons’ two-game winning streak a turnaround.
Quinn used a cautionary tone last week when asked about the two straight wins. He said to check back around Christmas — or even Thanksgiving — to see if the Falcons’ surge would continue.
Another smart call.
Thursday night’s visit from New Orleans finds the modest winning streak looking like old news. Sunday’s 35-22 loss to Tampa Bay revealed the Falcons’ old problems haven’t gone away.
Missed opportunities in the loss to the Buccaneers left the Falcons (3-8) alone in last place in the NFC South.
It may be difficult to move up in the division without such offensive leaders as running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper, who have missed two straight games with foot and knee injuries, respectively. It is not known if either has a chance to return for the Thanksgiving night visit from New Orleans.
The injury situation at skill positions could get worse, as the Falcons saw against Tampa Bay when Julio Jones briefly left the game with a sore shoulder. Jones returned, but he was obviously still bothered by the injury.
The half-empty stands at Mercedes-Benz Stadium made the game feel like a preseason matchup. The Falcons’ reliance on backups at skill positions added to the late-August ambience.
Atlanta again started Brian Hill as Freeman’s fill-in but on Sunday also tried Qadree Ollison. Neither was effective. The two combined to rush for only 34 yards on 17 carries. Ollison had a 1-yard touchdown run.
Other backups, including wide receiver Christian Blake, saw substantial time. Third-string tight end Jaeden Graham had a 53-yard catch on Atlanta’s opening drive.
While the offense sputtered in the red zone, Younghoe Koo was a reliable workhorse. Koo, from Seoul, South Korea, was good on field goals of 25, 38 and 40 yards. He has made a combined 10 field goals the last three weeks.
WHAT'S NEEDS HELP
The Falcons are still giving up too many sacks. Matt Ryan was sacked a season-high six times. The Falcons again struggled to generate a pass rush. They had no sacks, making their combined 11 in back-to-back wins over New Orleans and Carolina more mind-boggling than ever.
Russell Gage, who has had a more prominent role following last month’s trade of Mohamed Sanu to New England, led Atlanta with eight catches for 76 yards. He is fitting in nicely as a complement to Jones and Calvin Ridley.
Ryan said Gage has taken advantage of his chance to fill Sanu’s role.
“When guys like him get their opportunity to play, sometimes playing brings out the best in guys, and when they're involved in a game the way you can feature them the way you want to use them, it allows for their development to kind of expedite,” Ryan said. “He's done a great job for us. He's been consistent. He's played tough. He's made people miss.”
Hill was held to 14 yards on nine carries after running for 30 yards on 15 carries in his first start at Carolina. He is averaging only 2.8 yards on 52 carries this season.
Freeman, Hooper and safety Kemal Ishmael (concussion) have missed two straight games. Jones’ status will be watched closely in the short practice week. He missed practice time last week with a sore foot and now has the new shoulder issue.
12 — The six sacks are alarming. Ryan also was hit 12 times by Tampa Bay defenders. The ineffective run game only made Ryan an easier target for the Buccaneers’ pass rush.
The Falcons would have to finish the season with five straight wins to salvage a .500 record. No one is predicting such a surge, though a 26-9 win at New Orleans on Nov. 10 started the two-game streak. The return visit from the Saints on Thanksgiving night gives Atlanta a chance to show the win wasn’t a complete outlier.