Inside slant: Atlanta Week 11 review

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition wraps up Week 11's games, including personnel news and exclusive unit grades for the Atlanta Falcons, who lost to Tampa Bay on Sunday. It's a premium service from

The Falcons' coaching and personnel staffs bunkered down Monday as they tried to figure out how to move forward after a devastating 31-7 loss to Tampa Bay bruised the team emotionally and physically.

It's not known which phase is hurt more.

Defensive tackles Trey Lewis (right knee) and Rod Coleman (right triceps and right hand) could be out for prolonged periods, leaving backups Jonathan Babineaux and Montavious Stanley to anchor the defensive interior. Recently signed Tim Anderson would back up one of the spots, and the team could sign another player for depth.

Left tackle Todd Weiner also could be gone, at least for Thursday's game, after re-injuring his left knee, on which he had arthroscopic surgery just more than a month ago to repair and clear out cartilage and other damage.

The Falcons have used four players at left tackle because of injuries, so the carousel at that spot won't be unfamiliar. However, the play at that position might not be as sound, either.

There were no medical updates Monday. Players were given the day off.

The potential weakening of the roster also could weaken the mettle players have shown in overcoming everything from the Michael Vick fiasco to repeated losses and debatable personnel decisions.

As crazy as it seemed after Atlanta lost six of its first nine games, Falcons players went into the Tampa Bay game wide-eyed and excited about the possibility of moving into playoff position in the mediocre NFC South with a victory.

Then they got drilled.

"It's easy to say, 'Move on, move on and get ready for next week,' but when you have these types of games, it's tough," quarterback Byron Leftwich said after starting against Tampa Bay, then getting pulled in favor of Joey Harrington in the third quarter.

When asked if he thought some of his teammates feel there is little to play for, Leftwich said, "Some guys might have that feeling."

Adding to the mental uncertainty is coach Bobby Petrino's indecision on the team's quarterback.

The decision to start Leftwich against Tampa Bay after Harrington had won two consecutive games didn't cause any locker room dissension even though players were split. They rallied around Leftwich once the decision was made. Then the rust of not playing on a surgically repaired right ankle showed up.

So did indecision in the face of heavy pressure from spotty blocking by a spotty offensive line. Two interceptions and a few heavy doses of booing ensued.

The Falcons fell behind 24-0. Instead of letting Leftwich finish things out, as he did with Harrington in a 31-10 loss to the New York Giants after pulling Harrington for Leftwich a week earlier at Tennessee, Petrino pulled Leftwich and re-inserted Harrington.

Now, there are far more questions and uncertainty than ever. Which isn't good for a 3-7 team having to play host to the Super Bowl champs on Thanksgiving.


--WR Michael Jenkins, who got off to a slow start, has 36 receptions for the season after nabbing a career-high nine catches against the Buccaneers. WR Roddy White still leads the team with a career-best 46 receptions.

--TB Warrick Dunn's season-high eight receptions vs. Tampa Bay gave him more than 450 catches for his career.

--"It's not a good feeling right now. We really did have a good week of preparation. Our spirits, our enthusiasm and our focus were as high as they'd been all year. Coming into the game, we felt like we had something to really shoot for and play for, to get back in the race." -- Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, after the loss to Tampa Bay.


--Rookie TB Jason Snelling rushed for 14 yards on two carries in his NFL debut and he might have played well enough on special teams to remain No. 3. The Falcons did not use him in short-yardage situations, which is how they used Artose Pinner, who was the third tailback.

--WR Joe Horn's playing status for Thursday night's game with the Colts remains uncertain, as he has not recovered from a hamstring injury that has kept him from playing or practicing the past two weeks.

--DE Jamaal Anderson, a first-round draft pick, still does not have a sack, even though right DE John Abraham tends to flush quarterbacks in Anderson's direction. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said Anderson has done a lot of positive things, but he does need to start generating pass pressure.

--Rookie RG Justin Blalock continues to be inconsistent, and he's getting exposed in pass coverage. He has problems against slanting or looping pass rushes because he takes questionable angles that leave him off balance.

--If backup TE Dwayne Blakley doesn't recover in time for the Thanksgiving night game with Indianapolis, Courtney Anderson, who was signed last week after being released by Detroit, would be the No. 2 tight end. Rookie Martrez Milner was placed on injured reserve recently with a high ankle sprain.


PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Byron Leftwich struggled, in large part because he was under tremendous pressure, which came up the middle. It's what teams do to immobile quarterback in order to flush him out of the pocket, but the Falcons seemingly have yet to figure that out. Receivers dropped more balls than they have all season, and the switch to Joey Harrington shouldn't be gauged by the numbers because his comparable success came against a prevent defense late in a blowout.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Weak blocking played a huge part as the Falcons had no answer for Tampa's swarming players. However, the push to get Warrick Dunn to the 10,000-yard mark seemed to take the focus away from the bigger picture. A healthy Jerious Norwood got just two carries. Atlanta rushed for a total of 49 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Falcons were able to get decent pressure on Jeff Garcia, but he only had to throw it 20 times because of the success of the running game. Veteran Joey Galloway roasted CB DeAngelo Hall on a double move up the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Atlanta hung tough for a while, but it just got ground down. Injuries to DTs Trey Lewis and Rod Coleman diminished a significant inside presence, and the Bucs' lead blockers were able to lock onto to linebackers.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Norwood was as explosive as ever on five kickoff returns, and Adam Jennings was adequate on punt returns. The Falcons punt coverage team (seven punts) was busy and very good.

COACHING: D -- The Falcons were a mess offensively. There were a few too many times when secondary blocking wasn't in place on pass attempts. There was a really questionable sweep on fourth-and-1, and the yo-yoing of quarterbacks also could be problematic.

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