Following the Falcons' Thanksgiving Day loss to Indianapolis, there was some talk in the locker room of setting a foundation for next season over the next five games. That didn't sit well with some veteran players, who could be in the last leg of their careers.
Though 3-8 Atlanta isn't going to the playoffs unless some miraculous turnabout occurs, the fact that some of the team's leaders still want to play with a purpose should be somewhat encouraging to coach Bobby Petrino.
"I've been on teams that have been 3-7 that have shut it down," said quarterback Joey Harrington, who played with Detroit and Miami before joining the Falcons. "There isn't a guy in this locker room that's thinking about shutting it down."
The thing is, the Falcons have played pretty much up to their abilities for much of this season and the results have been what they've been. Playing hard hasn't equaled success, which means a multitude of things aren't working -- especially on offense.
Atlanta is averaging 14 points per game, the second lowest in the NFL, behind only San Francisco. It has not scored more than 26 points in a game (once) and has never scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game.
"It just puzzles me that we can't score points, tight end Alge Crumpler said. "You can't score, you can't win."
Petrino and his players could not offer a solution why Atlanta has managed just 155 points, with six of those points coming from the defense. The Falcons have just 13 offensive touchdowns.
The yo-yoing of Harrington and Byron Leftwich at quarterback has jolted consistency and messed with some psyches throughout the locker room, but there are more problems than just quarterback play.
The Falcons have not settled on short-yardage run game personnel, mixing all their backs but never settling on one or two. Tailback Warrick Dunn has been consistent but he's not a big-play threat any more. Jerious Norwood is a game breaker, but his ankle injury caused him to miss one game and slowed him for another so his reliability has been diminished.
The deep passing game is relatively non-existent, not just because Harrington might not have the strongest arm or because Leftwich hasn't played enough to develop chemistry with receivers. Protection problems have forced the quarterbacks to either take sacks or get rid of the ball quickly on short passes that might not generate chain-moving series that wear defenses down.
Over the course of games, defenses have been able to establish themselves based on Atlanta's limitations.
The prolonged inability of the Falcons to establish varied threats makes them easier to defend when they get in scoring situations.
"I don't know. I really don't," Harrington said. "A lot of it has to do with momentum. A lot of it has to do with confidence and a lot of it has to do with, I don't want to say doing it that first time so you know how to do it again, but it's... I wish I had a better answer. We've had plenty of drives of drives where we've moved the ball very well and just have come up short."
--Coach Bobby Petrino, hired in January from Louisville, said he has not thought about returning to coach in college for next season and he has told team owner Arthur Blank that he would be back in 2008.
"He's been very clear with me," Blank said. "He loves Atlanta and he loves the organization. Obviously he's disappointed in what happened to Michael Vick but he has great confidence with myself, with (president and general manager) Rich McKay and the coaching staff to put together a winner and be here many years.
"He told me this is where he wants to be and that his work is just beginning."
Said Petrino about leaving after just one season to go back to college: "I haven't given that one bit of thought. I certainly don't want to get into any speculation and rumors and having to deal with that. I am focused on our football team here. I'm focused on playing the Rams this week."
--The Falcons continue to be afflicted by injuries and illness on the offensive line, and more shuffling could be in order for their next game at St. Louis. Regular starters, LT Todd Weiner and RG Kynan Forney, did not play against Indianapolis because of a knee injury and a sinus infection, respectively. Forney is expected to return and re-take his spot from D'Anthony Batiste, who made his first NFL start in two seasons vs. the Colts. Weiner remains questionable as he tries to recover from aggravating his surgically repaired left knee.
--One of the trappings of being the head coach and the play caller reared itself in the second quarter of the Falcons' 31-13 Thanksgiving loss to the Colts. Indianapolis wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez appeared to have possibly stepped out of bounds on a 32-yard catch. The Colts quickly got off a running play. Falcons coach Bobby Petrino threw out the challenge flag for the Gonzalez reception a play too late.
"I was talking with the quarterback (Joey Harrington), we were talking about what we were going to do the next series, and they flashed it up on the board and upstairs they said, 'He was out, he was out," Petrino said. "I threw the flag. I had one little second to react. I blew that one."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--QB Byron Leftwich has recovered from a tailbone injury but he will not start Sunday at St. Louis. Petrino said he is going to stick with Joey Harrington as the starter because Harrington is more familiar with what the coaches want to do offensively. Harrington is also more mobile, which is crucial because of Atlanta's problems with pass protection.
--WR Roddy White had his third 100-yard-plus receiving game to increase his season total to 774 yards on 52 receptions. Both are career highs.
--WR Joe Horn, who missed this third straight game with a hamstring injury, said he would be back to play at St. Louis Dec. 2. Whether he will regain his starting spot from rookie Laurent Robinson will be decided next week.
--OLB Michael Boley suffered a hyper-extended right elbow injury against the Colts but he said he should be ready to start against St. Louis Dec. 2. Boley continues to play himself into a possible Pro Bowl spot. He finished the 31-13 loss to the Colts with nine tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.
--CB DeAngelo Hall had his fourth interception of the season after properly playing a double-move route by Colts WR Reggie Wayne. Hall was beaten for a touchdown on a similar route by Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway Nov. 18. Hall, despite an early season meltdown against Carolina, could be having his best season yet.
--TE Courtney Anderson, signed two weeks ago, saw extensive action as starter Alge Crumpler's backup and performed fairly well. He did not have a reception but was used mainly as a blocker.
REPORT CARD VS. COLTS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Joey Harrington connected with Roddy White for a 48-yard, first-quarter touchdown, but there was no consistency in any facet of the passing game. Receivers dropped balls, Harrington misfired at times and over the course of the game, protection broke down.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Falcons surpassed 100 yards for just the third time, with Warrick Dunn gaining 70. It took 10 games, but the coaching staff finally realized that rookie Jason Snelling could be an effective short-yardage runner, especially in the big back package that included fullbacks Ovie Mughelli and Corey McIntyre.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- There's no shame in having Peyton Manning throw three touchdown passes and for 272 yards. The problem was that he kept hitting the same routes, particularly an inside seem route to H-back Ben Utecht and tight end Dallas Clark.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- No explosive runs were allowed and the Falcons were very physical, but after awhile, they simply got worn down. Defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Montavious Stanley weren't that much of a liability starting for injured Rod Coleman and Trey Lewis, respectively.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Jerious Norwood averaged 26 yards per kickoff return and ran hard. The coverage teams were solid. The Falcons may have gotten jobbed on a running into the punter call in the second quarter that turned the game to the Colts favor.
COACHING: D -- The initial game plan worked, as Atlanta jumped to a 10-0 lead but things got sideways from there. There were some clock management issues before halftime and Petrino tried to challenge whether Colts receiver Anthony Gonzalez was in bounds on a catch after Indy had already run another play. No good.