Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) has caught 33 passes for 383 yards with three touchdowns over his last four games, including a 12 reception, 146-yard performance against New England on Sept. 29. Gonzalez is shown being tackled by Carolina Panthers strong safety Robert Lester (38) and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Bob Donnan)
The Atlanta Falcons, once considered Super Bowl contenders, are now just trying to cobble together a victory.
After flipping over 36 percent of their roster, revamping their offensive line and suffering a rash of injuries, the Falcons find themselves with a 2-6 mark at the halfway point of the season.
They have dropped five of the past seven games and only have victories over St. Louis (3-6) and Tampa Bay (0-8). They are set to face a stout Seattle (8-1) team in a rematch of their NFC divisional round playoff victory at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons went on to the NFC championship game and came up 10 yards short of reaching the Super Bowl.
But now, the two teams appear headed in totally different directions.
As far as the playoffs, the Falcons, the defending NFC South champs, have a 1.1 percent chance of repeating and 3.5 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to the website MakeNFLPlayoffs.com.
“I think this team is very mature and is handling it very well,” center Peter Konz said. “I think we are excited because we have new life. We’re excited because we get to go out and play.”
The Falcons did open last season with an 8-0 winning streak. They’d have to match the mark over the second half of the season to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said that Konz and his offensive line mates had one of their better outings in the 34-10 loss to Carolina on Sunday.
“There were some positives you take from the game, the offensive line playing pass protection and we ran the ball more effectively,” Smith said. “Not as good as we’d like to, but I think we ran the ball more effectively.”
Left tackle Sam Baker returned to the starting lineup after missing the past three games. Lamar Holmes went back to right tackle for Jeremy Trueblood.
“We have to go back to details,” Baker said. “We have to go back to the little things.”
After rushing for 18 yards on 18 carries against Tampa Bay and for 27 yards on 14 carries against Arizona, the Falcons rushed for 78 yards on 20 carries for a respectable 3.9 yards per carry.
They’ll have to run the ball much better if they indeed do plan to turn their fortunes around.
Running back Steven Jackson broke free for a 13-yard run, his longest of the season outside of that 50-yarder against New Orleans. Since then, it’s been a struggle.
On Sunday, Jackson had what would have been his first rushing touchdown as a Falcon called back on a holding penalty. The penalty negated a 2-yard run in the second quarter that would have tied the game.
“Any time you have so many different new variables - from the offensive line getting their chemistry together as well as learning my running style, as well as (offensive coordinator) Dirk (Koetter) learning how to call plays with me in the game,” Jackson said. “It’s a lot of different variables that go into it. It looks a little easier than what it is, but I think we did make some steps in the right direction.”
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series 8-5. The Falcons have won the past three regular season meetings. The Falcons also beat the Seahawks 30-28 in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs last season when Matt Bryant kicked a field goal with 8 seconds to play.
NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - NOTES, QUOTES
—The Falcons got some welcome positive injury news when wide receiver Roddy White and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon practiced.
White has missed three consecutive games, but could play Sunday against the Seahawks. Weatherspoon is not eligible to play until Nov. 17 at Tampa Bay; coach Mike Smith said he’s on track to return for that game, barring a setback.
White has been hobbled by ankle and hamstring ailments. He hadn’t practiced on a Wednesday before a game since suffering the ankle injury before the regular season.
“He got some very limited snaps on Friday and had much more snaps in this practice,” Smith said Wednesday.
Smith said if all goes well for White, the plan is to increase his practice workload Thursday and Friday.
White suffered a high ankle sprain Aug. 15 in an exhibition game against Baltimore and played through that injury, but suffered a hamstring injury Oct. 7 against the Jets. He didn’t play Oct. 20 against Tampa Bay following the bye week, the first time he missed a game in his career.
Weatherspoon was placed on the short-term injured reserve list after he suffered a foot injury Sept. 15 against the Rams. He said he “tweaked” a ligament when his foot stayed planted as he was hit by an opponent.
The Falcons now have 21 days to decide whether to add Weatherspoon to the active roster. Smith said Weatherspoon has to show he’s ready physically and must get in football shape.
Weatherspoon stopped short of saying he would play Nov. 17.
“I get a chance to get out there and see how it feels and judge it off of that,” he said.
QUOTE TO NOTE:”Seattle has got a very good defense. They have two good defensive backs … tied for the league lead in interceptions with four, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. They have some guys that can rush the passer up front. It will be a challenge for our offensive line.” — Falcons coach Mike Smith on Seattle.
GAME PLAN: The Falcons running attack showed signs of life against Carolina.
Running back Steven Jackson rushed for 57 yards on 13 attempts for a 4.4 yard average in his second game back from a hamstring injury. He also caught three passes for 19 yards.
“I definitely feel a little better about where we are in the run game,” Jackson said. “I have the confidence in my leg again that I think I showed in a few runs. I was able to get my run reads and the offensive line I think did a really good job of winning the line of scrimmage a couple times there, so steps in the right direction but definitely not the outcome we want.”
Other than one 50-yard run in the season-opener, Jackson had amassed only 33 yards on 24 carries, in and around four games he missed with the injury.
After totaling only six yards on 11 rushes for a one-half yard average last week against Arizona, Jackson actually found some creases and showed a little of his second gear. More importantly for him, though, was breaking some tackles, which indicated to him the hamstring is sound.
“When you try to break tackles, going against the pile then you’re really loading it up against force,” Jackson said.