Scouting the Falcons II

Based on hints that Michael Vick dropped after Saturday's game and comments that Alge Crumpler made earlier in the week, there seems to be some semblance of an uprising among veteran players who disagree with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's calls and the team's pathetic pass protection.

Vick improved, or at least took steps in the right direction, after his poor showing in an Oct. 24 win over the New York Jets. That game marked the second-worst passer rating of his career, but Vick essentially had a good second half.

He struggled in the frozen Sunday night game at Chicago and posted a 38.1 rating at Carolina, but he did a better job of getting the ball out of the pocket quicker and took the extra second or two he needed to let routes develop. On the downside, he still hung his receivers out too often for safeties to clobber them over the middle.

The overall numbers show significant progress compared to last year's, but this year's team missed the playoffs and the preceding bunch advanced to the NFC title game. So the third-down percentage and scoring averages are better, and the same goes for production and promise of the wideouts, but as coach Jim Mora said last week, if the team doesn't win, "They're just numbers."

Where the Falcons go from here is anyone's guess. The only two offensive players who performed at a consistently high level all season were Crumpler and running back Warrick Dunn. Vick needs an infusion of new, innovative ideas coming from his superiors, but more important, he needs proof that the schemes will give him time to make accurate throws downfield and not be so consistently blown up with heavy blitzing and pressure.

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--Coach Jim Mora made a passing reference to an apology Monday when asked about his postgame tirade following the overtime loss at Tampa Bay two days before.

"If I offended anyone, I obviously apologize," he said. "That wasn't my intent. It's a tough arena to be in. It's a tough situation to go on the radio 10 minutes after a game. I don't know why we do that. I didn't handle it as well as I should have."

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--Mora intimated that critics judge him as a hothead because his father, who won 150 games with New Orleans and Indianapolis before retiring, had a volatile temper.

"Every coach gets emotional," he said. "I don't think I get more emotional than any coach. I was completely emotionless through the whole game (at Tampa Bay). I don't see that as an issue at all.

"I think part of that comes from the fact I share my last name with my dad who's got famous sound bites. So everyone is always looking for one, looking for one, looking for one. So you know what? There hasn't been any. That's the problem. You get a penalty for yelling at an official, and everyone wants to make a big deal out of it. Every coach in this league yells at officials."

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--LCB DeAngelo Hall would be on the sidelines if Atlanta had made the playoffs. He separated his left shoulder late in the second quarter at Tampa Bay. Coach Jim Mora indicated that Hall could miss the Pro Bowl on Feb. 12 because his shoulder needs four to six weeks of rehab.

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--RDE Brady Smith (dislocated toe) might have played his final snap with Atlanta. Coach Jim Mora indicated Monday that Smith, who will miss his ninth straight game and 11th of the season on Sunday, could land on injured reserve this week.

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--RB T.J. Duckett can expect a heavy workload against Carolina as Warrick Dunn nurses a sore hamstring that forced him to leave in the fourth quarter of the past two games.

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--G Ben Claxton could start in place of injured Matt Lehr or Kynan Forney, both of whom departed the Bucs loss and couldn't return. Claxton has been active for just one game this year, when Forney's availability was uncertain because of a recurring swollen ankle. Lehr left with a strained calf muscle and was replaced by Austin King.

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--LT Kevin Shaffer likely will play his last game with the Falcons this week. If a veteran like Matt Stewart wasn't offered a chance to re-sign 10 months ago, there's almost no chance Shaffer would return when he can probably earn better money somewhere else.

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