Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) had seven catches for 149 yards and one touchdown in the last meeting against Tampa Bay. Douglas will likely get top billing even with Roddy White on the field. Douglas is shown running the ball against the Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Karlos Dansby (56) and free safety Rashad Johnson (26) in the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Jennifer Stewart)
The Atlanta Falcons were supposed to contend for the Super Bowl this season, not the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
With their season spiraling downward fast, the Falcons find themselves in a battle for the basement of the NFC South with Tampa Bay. They are also just a game behind Jacksonville (1-8) and Tampa Bay (1-8) for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
The Falcons (2-7) have big games coming up against Tampa Bay on Sunday and Buffalo (3-7) on Dec. 1.
The Falcons have a .00129 percent chance of winning the NFC South and .00957 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, according to makenflplayoffs.com.
But Falcons coach Mike Smith is not ready to make “wholesale changes” to the lineup with an eye toward the future.
“Our No.1 goal each and every week is to win the football game,” Smith said. “We owe it to the team, the fans and everyone associated with Atlanta Falcons. This season is not over. I know people want to say (it’s) ‘gloom and doom,’ but that’s not the case.”
The Falcons have certainly had their share of injuries as they played another starter, left tackle Sam Baker, on injured reserve.
But other unanticipated problems have surfaced to reveal a much weaker team. The Falcons appear to have over-rated their offensive linemen and have a been exposed for not having much quality depth.
Heading into the 10th game, the offensive line continues to struggle.
“As a unit, you have to hit on all of your blocks if you’re going to have a chance to have a successful running play,” Smith said. “We have not given our running backs a chance on many of the rushing attempts.”
Smith insists that Matt Ryan is healthy. But he appeared to float a couple of passes and had three passes nearly intercepted against Seattle. Also, he did not make any throws to his right outside of the numbers.
“Matt is OK,” said Smith, who earlier this season concealed Roddy White’s high right ankle sprain. “We just didn’t protect as well as we needed to in the (Seattle) ball game.
The defense is in tatters, too. They have given up 84 points over the past three games.
This season is not over. I know people want to say doom and gloom. That’s not the case.
“We’ve not played the type of football that we would have liked to have played in the first nine games,” Smith said. “It is well below our expectations and we are going to continue to work. …We will take a good hard look and have competition in practice.
“The person that wins the competition in practice will have the opportunity to play in the football game. But we are not just going to make wholesale changes and say, ‘we are going to play this guy because of what our record is at this point in time.’ “
The Falcons just want to stop being gashed for big plays. At this point, they just want to slow some folks down.
“There were entirely too many explosive plays,” Smith said. I’m sure someone will look it up. I believe there were 12 plays for 296 yards. When you give up 296 yards in 12 plays, that’s not acceptable.”
SERIES HISTORY: 41st regular-season meeting. Series tied, 20-20. The Falcons won 31-23 on Oct. 20 at the Georgia Dome. Falcons coach Mike Smith has a 8-3 record against the Bucs. The Falcons have won eight of the last 10 meetings.
NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is set to return to action and could boost a sagging defense..
“He’s a passionate, no-nonsense, positive guy,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Weatherspoon was added to the active roster from short-term injured reserve Wednesday after missing the past seven games. Weatherspoon practiced last week, with conditioning as his focus, and said he could have played at Carolina on Nov. 3 if he were eligible.
Getting back their gregarious and enthusiastic captain should help.
“I think he’s a lift for the entire team, in particular on defense, without question,” defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.
Joplu Bartu and Paul Worrilow, both rookies who were not drafted, have filled in at linebacker and held their own under the circumstances. But neither player has Weatherspoon’s talent, experience or presence. In addition to bringing his enthusiasm and leadership back to the field, Weatherspoon’s ability should help shore up Atlanta’s leaky run defense.
“It will be a big help to the defense,” Smith said. “Sean through his play has earned a leadership role. He is one of our best players.”