FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are 1-3 and confronting another difficult contest this week.
Coach Dan Quinn, in his fourth season, has been in this situation before and still led the Falcons to the playoffs.
“My guess is in December and January we’ll look back on these games much like we do in past years,” Quinn said Monday. “In ’17 we had a tough stretch with Buffalo, Miami and New England, or the year before in the opener when the sky was falling externally. I want you to know inside it’s not.”
Quinn insists the Falcons have the right mindset to turn the season around, but their defense must make some quick fixes if Atlanta is to stop a two-game skid with a victory Sunday at Pittsburgh. The Falcons gave up 80 points the last two weeks at home, allowing New Orleans and Cincinnati to overcome late deficits in the closing seconds.
“The best thing about our team is the attitude that they’re in it for one another and the togetherness that it’s going to take,” Quinn said. “We’ll just throw all of our focus, all of our attention right into right now, and that’ll be this week’s preparation. But I will say you’ve got to learn from these.”
Injuries have caused matchup problems for the defense. Starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen are out for the season, and middle linebacker Deion Jones, the defensive captain, had foot surgery and will miss at least the next six weeks.
The Falcons have plugged in Damontae Kazee at strong safety. He took 73 snaps, tied with cornerback Robert Alford for the most on Sunday, and had his first career interception. Rookie Isaiah Oliver, a second-round draft pick, made his first career start and manned both free safety and cornerback.
The loss of Neal and Allen hurt most against the Bengals when the Falcons lined up in nickel. Longtime starting cornerback Desmond Trufant, usually a regular on the left side, moved to the slot while Brian Poole went from nickel to safety and Oliver went to left cornerback.
It all unraveled on the last drive.
With 1:30 remaining, defensive end Vic Beasley sacked Andy Dalton to force and recover a fumble, but the ruling was changed and Cincinnati kept the ball. Trufant dropped an interception on the next play and defended a third-down pass before Tyler Boyd beat him for a fourth-down catch to the Atlanta 24.
After Boyd and Dalton beat Trufant for another fourth-down completion, the Bengals used their last timeout with 12 seconds remaining. They had no choice but to throw the ball into the end zone on the next play. That way, if it wasn’t successful, they would get a chance at one last snap.
Defensive coordinator Marquand Manual quickly switched the Falcons from man to zone coverage, which might have worked if Oliver hadn’t let A.J. Green streak behind him and emerge wide open for the winning catch.
It was a big mistake, leaving a rookie with a chance to be out of position against Green, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
“In that moment, in that part of the field, you want (Oliver) to play it from high to low,” Quinn said. “As opposed to a communication error, that was a technique error. Those scars aren’t fun.”
Quinn was also disappointed that Dalton threw a pair of easy TD passes in the first half when Tyler Eifert and John Ross were wide open.
“Correction-wise we allowed two touchdowns on two-seam routes, and we know that we certainly haven’t seen that happen against our defense and the style that we play,” Quinn said. “So for us to foul up those two, that part we know we can get corrected.”
NOTES: Quinn hopes that RB Devonta Freeman and DE Derrick Shelby will be full participants when the Falcons return to practice Wednesday. Freeman has missed three straight games with a right knee injury. Shelby has been out two games with a groin injury. DT Grady Jarrett is still being evaluated after leaving the final drive with an ankle injury.
By GEORGE HENRY, Associated Press