Home Not Very Sweet For Falcons

The Falcons head to Philadephia this weekend with a glimmer of hope of making the playoffs after losing their fourth consecutive game at home last Sunday against the Panthers.

As the Falcons head in to their final game of the season -- and quite possibly, the last of Jim Mora's tenure as head coach -- they need to look no further than their inability to protect home field advantage as the reason why their playoff hopes have all but disappeared.

Atlanta (7-8) may still have a glimmer of hope to gain a post-season berth, but even with a victory in Philadelphia on Sunday, their chances are remote at best thanks to a second consecutive collapse over the course of the final two months of the season.

Following Sunday's lackluster 10-3 defeat at the hands of the Panthers, Atlanta closed its home schedule by losing four straight games at the Georgia Dome to finish with a 3-5 mark there.

Panthers DE Julius Peppers sacks Falcons QB Michael Vick (Marc Serota/Getty Images)
In fact, the disintegration was nearly a mirror image of what occurred in 2005. Just as they did this year, the Falcons opened last season with a promising first half that was bolstered by a 3-1 showing in the A-T-L. But that positive effort was completely erased by an uninspiring 1-3 performance at home that contributed to their overall 8-8 finish.

Falling to pieces down the stretch was a stark contrast to what Mora and his Birds were able to accomplish in his inaugural season at the helm in 2004. In that campaign, the Falcons used the loud and cavernous environs of the Dome to produce a definite advantage, going 7-1 in the regular season, and then waxing the Rams 47-17 in their lone playoff game their to clinch a berth in the NFC title game.

In searching for answers as to what went wrong the last two years, there are several glaring similarities.

Despite possessing the top-rated rushing offense in the NFL, the Falcons simply ran out of gas in approaching the finish line. When they needed to pick up tough yards on the ground, they rarely could do so.

In losing to the Panthers on Sunday the Falcons rushed for only 83-yards in the game, the first time this season that they failed to hit the 100-yard plateau.

That failure highlights the steady decline of running back Warrick Dunn in 2006. This season, after opening with 100+ yard efforts in three of the team's first five contests, Dunn has failed to hit 100 after that. Dunn averaged 102 yards per game in the first five contests, but barely over 60 in the last nine.

Also, as opposed to '04, when they got better as games went on and dominated in the fourth quarter, the Falcons have consistently been worn down by the opposition in the final 15 minutes of games the last two seasons. This year, along with being out-scored 61-29 in the fourth quarter, Atlanta could never mount a comeback when entering that final stanza amidst a deficit. The Falcons are 0-8 this season when trailing after three quarters, and went 0-7 last year.

And then there's this one final tidbit to further illustrate Atlanta's fourth quarter woes: it's been 20-games since quarterback Michael Vick last threw a touchdown pass in the final period.

--When QB Michael Vick went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season with an 18-yard carry in the first quarter, he not only became the first quarterback to ever accomplish the feat, but he and Warrick Dunn became the first ever quarterback-running back tandem to hit the 1,000-yard plateau. They joined Miami's Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, Pittsburgh's Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, and Cleveland's Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack as the only backfield duos to do it.
--PK Morten Andersen's first quarter field goal -- the Falcons' lone score of the game -- was the 539th of his career, giving the NFL's top point scorer the most three-point boots in league history.
--OLB Michael Boley strained his right hamstring on the second defensive play of the game for the Falcons, and Ike Reese came in to replace him. After stretching it out, Boley returned to play in second quarter.
--S J.R. Reed, signed by the team on Thursday as a free agent, was not active for the game.
--WR Ashley Lelie injured his left shoulder attempting to make a catch early in the fourth quarter. He walked off the field on his own, but did not return to action.

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