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Atlanta facing must-win situation against the Bucs

The Falcons have an important game Sunday in Tampa Bay.

So Devonta Freeman will be back. Devin Hester will return. Will those two make a difference for the anemic Falcons’ offense?

Sunday in Tampa Bay the Falcons’ season is on the line. They’ve almost erased the impressive 5-0 start by losing four in a row and five of the last six games. The season has fallen apart and a win over the Bucs is the only way to save it.

Tampa Bay beat the Falcons in overtime on November 1 at the Georgia Dome. The Bucs had a 17-point lead only to see Atlanta bounce back to send the game into overtime. It was a nasty game for the Falcons, as they lost three fumbles, threw an interception and were penalized 11 times for 124 yards.

Atlanta’s offense has gone cold. Since averaging 32.4 points per game during the 5-0 start, the scoring average has been cut in half. The Falcons have averaged 16.2 points per game in the last six games.

Matt Ryan has struggled. His numbers are still decent, as he’s fourth in the NFL with 3212 passing yards. But he has 12 interceptions, which is tied for third in the league. Ryan averaged 13 interceptions per season in his first seven years in the NFL, so he’s on pace to exceed that mark this season.

Ryan is obviously not in synch with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He’s been asked repeatedly if he’s hurt, and Ryan has been asked again and again if he and Shanahan are getting along. Well, the Falcons better hope it is issues with the new offense, or if not Ryan’s game is slipping in his eighth year.

Ryan was 37-45 against Tampa Bay in the first game with 397 yards (his season high), two touchdowns and the one interception. He needs a similar game Sunday if the Falcons are going to have a chance.

Atlanta struggled running the ball against Tampa Bay, with only 101 rushing yards. Freeman ran 21 times for 88 yards, but can he do that coming off the concussion? Tevin Coleman, who had the costly fumble last week, will likely be needed for some carries to get Freeman back in the swing of running the football.

The Falcons are 6-5 with five games left. They have a difficult schedule remaining, since they still have two games left with the undefeated Carolina Panthers. They also have a game against the Saints at home and a road game in Jacksonville.

Right now the Falcons are behind Seattle for the final wildcard spot based on the Seahawks’ better winning percentage in the NFC. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday they’ll also be 6-6 and will definitely have the tiebreaker over the Falcons with two head-to-head wins.

So the Falcons have to win Sunday to not be in a bad position for the final four weeks of the season. The offense has got to perform better for Atlanta to have any chance at breaking this string of bad football.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at Follow Bill at and email him at

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