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The New Orleans Saints can clinch the NFC South division with a victory over the Atlanta Falcons in their Monday night matchup in Week 16.
New Orleans' win over Minnesota in Week 15 moves the Saints to within a win or a Falcons loss of the NFC South crown.
In previous games, we've seen the Falcons get complacent and squander halftime leads, allowing inferior opponents back in to the game and keeping them unnecessarily close. Tonight, I can say with full confidence the Falcons played an absolutely complete game, sixty minutes of outstanding football.
The defense allowed only seven points, the lone touchdown being against the second-stringers in garbage time. Blaine Gabbert was held to only 141 yards passing, and turned the ball over three times. Maurice Jones-Drew, while he eclipsed the century mark on the ground, was also largely held in check.
John Abraham was a one man wrecking crew, racking up 3.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles on a night Gabbert spent mostly running for his life. In total the Falcons sacked the rookie QB five times, and Thomas DeCoud would add to the dominance with a tip-drill interception in the second half.
On offense, the Falcons put up a season-high 41 points and were firing on every cylinder imaginable. Matt Ryan was an impressive 19-for-26 for 224 yards passing and three touchdowns, but the real story was the receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones. Jones finished the day with five catches for 85 yards and a score, while White managed to catch 10 (count 'em) 10 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
Whatever Mike Smith and the coaching staff at halftime last week, it obviously worked because this is certainly not the same Falcons team we saw struggle at the start of the year. They've gained a renewed confidence, and are building some real momentum at the perfect time.
Tonight's win is perhaps the best you'll see from the Atlanta Falcons. Heck, this about as dominant as you can expect any NFL team to play. With this blowout win, the Falcons move 9-5 and will be looking strong heading into next week's Monday Night matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
Perhaps building some momentum coming off last week's comeback win over Carolina, the Atlanta Falcons have shown outright dominance in the first half of this Thursday Night football game.
After Atlanta settled for a field goal on their second possession of the game, Jaguars return man Jarrett Dillard muffed the punt, and it was quickly recovered by an opportunistic Sean Weatherspoon at the Jaguars five-yard line. One play later, Michael Turner would walk into the end zone untouched on a five-yard rush, extending the Falcons lead to 17-0.
Later in the half, Matt Ryan would lead the offense on an extremely methodical nine-play, 72 yard drive. Leading receiver Roddy White would catch all three passes thrown his way on the drive, including a six-yard reception good for a touchdown. White has had a big-time game thus far, reeling in seven passes for 90 yards in just the first two quarters of play. Ryan has also been impressive, going 14-for-21 for 160 yards and two TDs.
The Falcons would keep their foot on the gas on defense as well, holding an inept Jags offense scoreless in the first half. Though Maurice Jones-Drew has gotten his yards (eight carries for 74 yards), the real reason behind this success is Blaine Gabbert amassing only 21 yards so far. The Falcons have simply been able to stack eight men in the box and key in on MJD all game.
In the waning moments of the half, John Abraham would notch his second sack of the game and force the aforementioned struggling Gabbert to fumble, soon after recovered by Curtis Lofton. That turnover would eventually lead to another Matt Bryant field goal, and the Falcons now enter halftime leading 27-0.
The second half should be a good test to see whether Mike Smith's team can really dominate a team not named the Colts this season. Stay tuned.
Update: Good news for Jags fans, and for this game's watchability:
@jaguarsinsider Jones-Drew has an ankle sprain and is expected to return.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew left his team's game against the Atlanta Falcons late in the second quarter with what looked to be a right leg injury. He walked off the field under his own power with a visible limp, taking a knee on the sideline, appearing frustrated. And not just because the score was 24-0 at the time.
Here's a look:
MJD has been Jacksonville's entire offense. He leads the league in touches, and it's hard to fathom just how bad this Jags team would be without him. With 27 players already on injured reserve, the Jags can't possibly be cursed enough to lose Jones-Drew for any significant span of time. Can they?
He headed into the locker room with one play left in the half. We'll hope he's able to make it back out.
The Jacksonville Jaguars came into this week allowing the fourth fewest yards per game in the entire league, but it didn't take long for the Falcons to put the first points of the ball game.
On the Falcons opening possession, Matt Ryan led the offense on a seven-play, 75 yard drive that ended with Ryan hitting Julio Jones on a short drag route which Jones turned into a 29-yard scoring play. After coming up with a couple of big plays against Carolina, Julio continued his hot streak by outrunning everyone to the end zone. Ryan was a perfect four-for-four on the drive, hitting four different receivers in the process.
On defense, the Falcons were just as good. John Abraham would sack Blaine Gabbert for a 10-yard loss on Jacksonville's first offensive play from scrimmage, and Corey Peters would also manage big-time sack (later negated by an offsides penalty). Still, the defense held true and forced the Jags to go three-and-out on their first possession of the game.
So far, it's been all Atlanta in this one as they lead 7-0.
The Atlanta Falcons' defensive front has been feast (five sacks against Chicago) or famine (25 total on the season, only six teams in the league have less) this season, but Jacksonville's rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and a maligned offensive line could be ripe for Atlanta's line to pad their low numbers, according to the National Football Post's match-up analysis:
Another opportunity for the rookie QB to improve his overall game on a national stage. From my perspective, Gabbert’s development hasn’t come as quickly as the Jags expected and he struggles to make plays vs. pressure-based schemes. If I am making the calls for the Falcons’ defense, I work to bring edge pressure from the secondary on third down situations. Force Gabbert to make quick reads and throw the ball vs. blitz-man coverage. I’m interested to see what the rookie can do tonight when he has to step into throws vs. pressure.
Ray Edwards has taken the brunt of criticism for the lack of sacks - he was the key free agent acquisition in the offseason thought to be the missing key and a compliment to DE John Abraham - but refuses to measure his worth by the single stat:
"We can't really worry about sacks,'' said Edwards, who signed a five-year deal that guarantees him at least $11 million. "We've just got to worry about doing our jobs.''
But he's clearly disappointed with his performance, knowing that more - a lot more - was expected from the big-name duo.
"A sack-fest, right?'' Edwards acknowledged, managing a bit of a smile. "I'm just going to continue working to put pressure on the quarterback and hopefully the sacks will come.''
The Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars have announced their inactives for tonight's game, and despite warming up with the team earlier, cornerback Brent Grimes is out for the Falcons, along with fellow defensive back Kelvin Hayden. Grimes will now miss a third straight game after knee surgery.
There are no surprises among the inactives for Jacksonville quarterback Dan LeFevour, running back Deji Karim, cornerback Robert McClain, center John Estes, receiver Mike Thomas, defensive end Matt Roth and receiver Cecil Shorts.
Friend of the program Knox Baredeen of CBSSports.com is reporting that injured cornerback Brent Grimes is warming up with the team. Grimes has not practiced with the team since having knee surgery that caused him to miss the last two games.
Head coach Mike Smith told reporters on Tuesday that Grimes would be unlikely to start or play against Jacksonville but could make his return against the New Orleans Saints December 26.
In Grimes’ absence, the Falcons have used a combination of Dominque Foxworth and Christopher Owens opposite Dunta Robinson.
Atlanta can clinch a fourth consecutive winning season and move closer to a NFC wild card with a win against Jacksonville Thursday night.
As the regular season starts to wind down, the Atlanta Falcons are trying to keep pace with the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
The Jacksonville Jaguars look to be without two of their key wideouts for their upcoming contest versus the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday as Mike Thomas (groin) and Cecil Shorts (hamstring) missed practice completely on Wednesday.
Here is the full injury report for the Jaguars on week 15:
|DT Tyson Alualu (not injury related)||LP||LP||FP-P|
|CB TJ Heath (shoulder)||DNP||DNP-O||DNP-O|
|S Dwight Lowery (shoulder)||LP||LP||FP-P|
|FB Greg Jones (not injury related)||LP||LP||FP-P|
|RB Maurice Jones-Drew (not injury related)||LP||LP||FP-P|
|S Chris Prosinski (thumb)||DNP||DNP-O||DNP-O|
|DE Matt Roth (concussion)||DNP||DNP||DNP-O|
|PK Josh Scobee (groin)||DNP||DNP||LP-Q|
|WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring)||DNP||DNP||DNP-O|
|WR Mike Thomas (concussion)||DNP||DNP||DNP-O|
|OT Guy Whimper (thigh)||LP||LP||FP-P|
While the Atlanta Falcons prepare to face the league's worst passing attack on Thursday versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, two of their cornerbacks were held out of practice Wednesday due to injury. Kelvin Hayden (toe) and Brent Grimes (knee) are listed as doubtful for stepping onto the field Thursday.
Here is the full injury report for the Falcons on week 15:
|DE John Abraham (not injury related)||DNP||DNP||FP-P|
|TE Tony Gonzalez (not injury related)||DNP||DNP||FP-P|
|C Todd McClure (not injury related)||DNP||DNP||FP-P|
|CB Kelvin Hayden (toe)||DNP||DNP||DNP-D|
|CB Brent Grimes (knee)||DNP||DNP||DNP-D|
|T Will Svitek (groin)||DNP||DNP||LP-Q|
|RB Michael Turner (groin)||DNP||DNP||LP-P|
|WR Harry Douglas (groin)||DNP||DNP||LP-P|
|K Matt Bryant (non injury related illness)||DNP||FP||FP-P|
|DT Jonathan Babineaux (ankle)||DNP||DNP||LP-Q|
|LB Stephen Nicholas (quad)||LP||LP||FP-Q|
|WR Julio Jones (back)||LP||LP||FP-P|
|DE Ray Edwards (neck)||FP||FP||FP-P|
|CB Chris Owens (hand)||FP||FP||FP-P|
|OT Tyson Clabo (not injury related)||DNP||FP-P|
To call the last week for the Falcons 'tumultuous' would be a huge understatement. Between mounting a big second half rally to beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and then having to deal with head coach Mike Smith's heart scare following the game it's unfair to have them turn around and be ready for a Thursday night game, but unfortunately those are the breaks for Atlanta this week.
If there's a saving grace it's that they should be in for a fairly easy affair this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a game they're heavily favored in. Granted, the Jags just came off a big win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Falcons are a much bigger test. For the second week in a row the defense will face a rookie QB, but first year signal caller Blaine Gabbert is no Cam Newton, and for that reason alone the Falcons should walk away from this game fairly unscathed.
Across the board Atlanta are favored by around 11 points, and this is easily surmountable for the Falcons. Matt Ryan is on a role right now, and quietly playing very good football even if he isn't getting any attention of the national stage. The reason the Jaguars were able to get the better of the Bucs last week was their ability to not only pressure Josh Freeman, but to force him to turn the ball over. The lack of ability or continuity on the Falcons' OL is definitely cause for concern, but Ryan has been around the block longer than Freeman and responds better to pressure. Last week he responded extremely well to the Panthers' pass rush, and there's little reason to think he wont fair the same way here. Jacksonville will struggle against the passing attack of Atlanta, as they simply don't have enough competent players in the secondary to account for White, Jones and Gonzalez.
The line on the game is 42.5 pts, and personally I'd take the under this week. I'm not confident the Jaguars will be able to score 15 pts on Thursday, and this game has the distinct feeling of one where the Falcons could get up early and grind out the rest of the game on the ground. With limited time to prepare I'm not sure the offense will be at its best, but I still feel it will be enough to get the W.
When it's all said and done I think the smart decision this week is to take the Falcons minus the points, but stick to the under- I just don't peg this to be a high scoring affair.
The Atlanta Falcons are readying to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in perhaps the most-anticipated Thursday night game of this entire week. The first injury report for the game is out, revealing a lengthy list of non-participants, in addition to the standard list of resting seniors.
Running back Michael Turner skipped practice, as did slot receiver Harry Douglas and starting tackle Will Svitek. All three of those gentlemen were felled by groin injuries. Julio Jones was also limited, this time due to a back injury. Sam Baker filled in for Tyson Clabo, who was out with an illness.
On the Jags side, Cecil Shorts and Guy Whimper have funny names.
|DE John Abraham (not injury related)||DNP|
|TE Tony Gonzalez (not injury related)||DNP|
|C Todd McClure (not injury related)||DNP|
|CB Kelvin Hayden (toe)||DNP|
|CB Brent Grimes (knee)||DNP|
|T Will Svitek (groin)||DNP|
|RB Michael Turner (groin)||DNP|
|WR Harry Douglas (groin)||DNP|
|K Matt Bryant (non injury related illness)||DNP|
|DT Jonathan Babineaux (ankle)||DNP|
|LB Stephen Nicholas (quad)||LP|
|WR Julio Jones (back)||LP|
|DE Ray Edwards (neck)||FP|
|CB Chris Owens (hand)||FP|
|DT Tyson Alualu (not injury related)||LP|
|CB TJ Heath (shoulder)||DNP|
|S Dwight Lowery (shoulder)||LP|
|FB Greg Jones (not injury related)||LP|
|RB Maurice Jones-Drew (not injury related)||LP|
|S Chris Prosinski (thumb)||DNP|
|DE Matt Roth (concussion)||DNP|
|PK Josh Scobee (groin)||DNP|
|WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring)||DNP|
|WR Mike Thomas (concussion)||DNP|
|OT Guy Whimper (thigh)||LP|
The Atlanta Falcons are fresh off a 31-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers and they come in at No. 8 in this weeks' ESPN NFL Power Rankings. Matt Ryan and the Falcons host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night in a crucial game for the Falcons as they try and make a push for one of the NFC playoff spots. The Jaguars come in at No. 26 this week. via ESPN.com
After facing Jacksonville on Thursday, the Falcons get 10 days to prepare for a huge game vs. the Saints. (Sando)
The Jaguars have placed 27 players on injured reserve this year -- more than half a roster. (Kuharsky)
The Falcons come in at No. 10 in this weeks' Fox Sports NFL Power Rankings while the Jaguars come in at No. 26. via Foxsports.com
Trailing by 16 at halftime, it looked like the Falcons would continue their up-and-down season. But instead, they kept the Panthers off the scoreboard in the second half, and put up 24 points of their own. QB Matt Ryan found some chemistry with rookie WR
Congratulations to Mel Tucker on his first win as a head coach in the NFL, and it came in dominating fashion. I have said it once, and I will say it again . . . MJD is the best unheralded player in the NFL.
The Falcons come in at No. 8 in this weeks' CBS sports Power Rankings and the Jaguars come in at No. 22. via cbssports.com
The Falcons have to play more up-tempo with Matt Ryan. The schedule is favorable down the stretch, starting Thursday against the Jaguars.
Blaine Gabbert showed some life to his game against the Bucs. That's something this team needed in the worst way.
For more news and coverage on the Falcons visit SB Nation's The Falcoholic for all things Falcons.
The playoffs are well within reach despite an up-and-down season.
Former Atlanta Falcons first round pick Sam Baker has struggled during the 2011 season and may be falling out of the offensive line picture completely.
Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith wouldn't give any details other than he wasn't feeling well after his team's victory over the Carolina Panthers. He was transported to a Charlotte hospital for tests before returning home early Monday morning.
Smith was back on the field Monday night directing practice as the Falcons prepare for Thursday's home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Georgia Dome. When asked how he was feeling by reporters after practice, Smith would offered that he felt much better on Monday than he had following the game on Sunday.
"I feel a whole lot better today than I did yesterday, I can assure you that."
Smith and the Atlanta coaching staff began preparing for Jacksonville last week in hopes of combating the short week of preparation. The Falcons seemingly dodged a bullet that Smith's condition wasn't serious and didn't cause him to miss any practice time with the team.
For more on Smith and the Falcons, stay tuned to Falcons blog The Falcoholic.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith will prepare to face off against his former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, on Thursday night needing a victory to help secure a playoff spot in the NFC.
The combination of the Falcons' stunning comeback win at Carolina, coupled with the Tim Tebow led 13-10 Denver comeback against Chicago allowed Atlanta to climb one spot in the NFC Playoff picture, moving from the No. 6 seed to the No. 5 seed, where, barring a monumental collapse by the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons will stay if they win out the regular season.
For three weeks Atlanta had been sitting at the No. 6 seed, where they would hypothetically play at the No. 3 seeded NFC South Champion Saints in the wild card round. By moving up to the No. 5 spot, Atlanta would now travel to the No. 4 seed NFC East Champion, which switched from Dallas to New York after the Giants' 37-34 win Sunday night.
With three games remaining - a short-week turnaround hosting Jacksonville this Thursday night, at New Orleans on December 26 and hosting Tampa Bay on New Year's Day - the Falcons could finish 11-5 and not host a playoff game if New Orleans can't be caught. To win the division, the Falcons would need to win out (beating the Saints) and have New Orleans drop their season finale to Carolina January 1 to win a tiebreaker determined by division records.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who may be making a playoff push at this point in the season, look to try their luck in the Georgia Dome in this week 15 matchup. Amidst a string of season where the Jaguars have fallen short of the playoffs, Mike Smith's former boss Jack Del Rio now finds himself in somewhat of a hot seat. However, with the Jags possibly a team still in transition, that final push for the playoffs may not be any easier this season.
Record: Went 8-8, missed playoffs
Last Meeting: September 16, 2007 (Falcons lost 13-7)
Notable Additions: OG Jason Spitz, LB Paul Posluszny, LB Clint Session, S Dawan Landry, QB Blaine Gabbert
Notable Losses: LB Kirk Morrison, LB Justin Durant, WR Mike Sims-Walker, S Sean Considine
The most notable change this season was the teams first-round pick Blaine Gabbert. Given his performance against the Falcons this preseason, however, I wouldn't be so sure he'll take the starting job away from Garrard this year, especially if the Jags find themselves in the playoff race.
What we do now, however, is that they've dearly missed having Mike Smith run the defense. Jacksonville ranked 28th against the pass and 28th overall on defense last season, posting a mere 26.0 sacks team-wide in the process. Hopefully the offensive line can recover from their sub-par preseason performance against that group this time around. The additions of Posluszny and Landry will improve the group an already stout run defense, but that secondary is still pretty suspect.
The other thing we know about the Jags is that they won't pass much, regardless of who's at QB. As they have in the past, the team will rely on the oft-used Maurice Jones-Drew and the ground game. The key for the Falcons, then, is shutting down the run and forcing Garrard/Gabbert to pass and play catch-up. With pass-catching weapons really limited to Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis, I think the defense can really lock in on Garrard and force mistakes.
While the Falcons will come in favored, we've seen this Jaguars team put up a tough fight in the past. With them likely playing for their playoff lives and the Falcons hopefully making a push for the NFC South crown, this will mark the de facto start of "playoff football" in 2011.
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