Atlanta at New Orleans: 5 Things to Know
With everything on the line on Sunday for the game in New Orleans, the Atlanta Falcons hope having already beat the Saints once this season will be a good luck charm in helping to decide the NFC South. The team is also hoping stud wide receiver Julio Jones will be available when Atlanta faces the Saints defense.
Here are five things to know about this game.
BIGGER, BETTER, MORE
So much is riding on this game. In a nutshell, the tie the Carolina Panthers have with Cincinnati could come back to bite them. If New Orleans wins, they will get to 7-8 on the season and should claim the division with a Panthers loss. Atlanta needs to win this week and have a few other variables for them to claim the NFC South Title.
Here’s something else to think about. If the Falcons win the division, they will select 20th in the 2015 NFL Draft. Should they lose, they will be back in the Top 10 again this season. New Orleans finishes the season at Tampa Bay. Atlanta finishes at home against the Panthers.
RYAN CONTINUES TO SHINE
Matt Ryan threw for 310 yards on 26-of-37 passing with two touchdowns and one interception on Sunday, equaling a 102.3 quarterback rating. He has thrown for 300-or-more yards five times this season, including each of the last three games.
Ryan eclipsed the 4,000-yard mark for the fourth-straight season with 310 yards against the Steelers. He is one of four quarterbacks to post 4,000-plus yards in each of the last three seasons (2011-13), joining Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. Through Week 15, Ryan is the only quarterback to accomplish that feat in four-straight seasons. He has thrown at least one touchdown in 19-straight games and has thrown two-or-more touchdowns in each of the last four games. He has posted seven multi-touchdown games this season and 56 games with two-or-more touchdowns in his career.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith addressed the media Monday, offering the latest injury updates, entering Week 16, beginning with news about cornerback Robert Alford.
"Robert Alford had a follow-up exam (wrist), and it is determined that he needs to have surgery and will be having surgery on his wrist today," Smith said. "He will be going on (the) reserved-injured (list)."
Meanwhile, as for Julio Jones (hip), Smith admitted the star wide receiver was "darn close" to playing against the Steelers before later being ruled out based on the decision by the team's medical staff.
He's continuing to improve and the team anticipates he will be ready to go this week. Like Jones, William Moore (foot) also missed Sunday's game, and he will continue to get treatment this week. Also, Jon Asamoah left Sunday's game with back tightness and will be listed as day-to-day when the team returns to practice on Wednesday.
ISSUES WITH THE RED ZONE
Despite being fifth in the league in red zone efficiency through 14 games this season, Smith admitted the team didn't play well in the red zone Sunday. He attributed some of the problems to execution and lack of consistency. "You have to score touchdowns in the red zone, and we didn't do that," Smith said. Falcons rookie tackle Jake Matthews echoed Smith's frustrations about having to settle for field goals instead of ending drives with touchdowns (converting 2 of 4 opportunities in Sunday's loss).
"That’s one thing that’s killing us for sure," Matthews said. "We talk about it all week that we know we can move the ball, but when we get in the red zone, we have to finish. I know we left some drives out there and settled for field goals, so if we could finish better, I think that game would’ve been different."
ODDS AND ENDS
Falcons running back Steven Jackson surpassed running back John Riggins (11,352) for 16th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 22 yards on the Falcons opening possession on Sunday. He finished the game with 46 yards on 11 carries, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Jackson is the NFL’s leading-active rusher with 11,379-career rushing yards.
Falcons kicker Matt Bryant connected on both of his field goal attempts Sunday, hitting kicks of 22 and 28 yards. He has made 36-straight field goals from inside 50 yards, dating back to 2013. Bryant scored eight points in the Week 15 loss, giving him 652 points since joining the Falcons in 2009, which is the second-highest total in franchise history behind Morten Andersen (806).