Rival Report: Falcons

With infighting, suspensions and finger-pointing, the Falcons appear to be a team on the brink of imploding. The Vikings will try to take advantage of all the injuries and other problems Sunday.

Despite what you think, that's not really Dan Reeves aging exponentially before your very eyes. It just seems that way.

Phew! Has this been a long season for the Falcons' coach? He's said before that 1988 was perhaps the toughest of his 23 as a head coach. He was with the Broncos then, and a rash of off-field legal issues involving players wore him down, not to mention his ongoing clash with Denver quarterback John Elway, and the fact that Denver was in the midst of going 8-8 after trips to the previous two Super Bowls.

The Falcons (1-3) look like they're trying to steal the title, though, before the Vikings (4-0) even get to town this weekend.

In a season already rife with disappointment, the Mike Vick-less Falcons -- who've already suffered three straight dreadful losses -- took another shot to the solar plexus Wednesday morning when starting right cornerback Tyrone Williams was suspended for the rest of the week for conduct detrimental to the team.

He blew up between morning meetings, and began ranting about the defensive philosophy, so Reeves iced him. "I can't remember ever having to suspend a player," Reeves said. "But this is a team sport. I want guys to express opinions, but it's got to be done the correct way."

The timing is terrible. The Falcons, who had so many high expectations before Vick broke his right fibula Aug. 16 in a preseason game against Baltimore, have been playing horribly ever since they blew a 17-0 lead against the Redskins Sept. 14 only to lose.

Their injury list is remarkably long, and between all the grousing by new wide receiver Peerless Price about not getting enough balls, to the stunning underachievement by stand-in quarterback Doug Johnson, to other players grumbling about their roles, this has been a disaster.

"That just tells you guys are frustrated," said running back Warrick Dunn, who was demoted last week at Carolina to a backup role behind T.J. Duckett. "You hope things don't turn out that way, but that will probably turn out to be a wakeup call for the team. The main thing right now is sticking together. I think guys are coming together more now than before."

That seems easy to say without conviction. The odd truth is that Wednesday's practice was the Falcons' most spirited in a while.

Some players recently had complained to Reeves about the length of practice (they've been going out about 10 minutes earlier this year than last) and what they perceived to be a dreadfully slow pace.

Wednesday, though, the structure of practice was changed in some ways, the pace quickened, and there was a noticeable difference out there. "Everybody was kind of hooraying," said cornerback Ray Buchanan. "It kind of motivated me."

Tight end Alge Crumpler agreed.

"We have to be positive about the situation," he said. "You work hard, and you try to do it one way, and if it doesn't work you've got to shake things up a little bit. That's the direction we're going. [Reeves] is scaling back some things so we can get more focus on some things.

"I can say all these things, but we were working hard. We've always worked hard in practice. That's never been a problem. It's just that there was a glitch somewhere we had figure out."

Should the Falcons lose Sunday, they'd fall to 0-3 at home, 1-4 in NFC games and they already are 0-2 in the NFC South.

Vick may return in time to play Oct. 19 against the Saints, but that's no guarantee.

"I think we are at a fragile point in the season, and guys right now aren't willing to look at themselves and just say, 'I'm going to do whatever it takes to get this team back on a winning track,' " said kicker Jay Feely. "We've got too many guys who are saying it's somebody else's fault, it's the coaches fault, it's a different player's fault."

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd meeting. The Vikings lead 14-8, and while the series is 5-5 in Atlanta, Minnesota has won the last three meetings there, all in the Georgia Dome.

  • CB Tyrone Williams, suspended Wednesday, is an eight-year veteran who signed a five-year, $14.05 million contract in the offseason after spending his first seven seasons with the Packers. The deal included a $3 million contract.

    In Green Bay, Williams had a reputation for being difficult at times, and was on several occasions chastised by the coaching staff for his lack of effort in practice. The former Nebraska standout also disappointed some Atlanta coaches in training camp for his practice habits, and Reeves mentioned him as a player who needed to get in better shape. He played somewhere between poorly and mediocre in the preseason, and in the first two games, but improved in the past two games.

    Except, that is, for two misplays in last Sunday's 23-3 loss at Carolina. One interference call helped the Panthers on their first touchdown drive, and the other was a big goof. Williams flinched on a Carolina punt, giving the Panthers a first down on what became their second touchdown drive.

    Linebacker Keith Brooking was disgusted by what happened Wednesday.

    "There's been some finger pointing, and guys' attitudes aren't what they should be. You should be mad," he said. "But you've got to send that frustration in the right direction. Look at yourself and not everyone else. I don't care what your opinion is ... keep it to yourself and work with us."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- the number of touchdowns scored by the Falcons in their last 35 offensive possessions. And one of those was a 1-yard run by option QB Woody Dantzler three plays after OLB Sam Rogers returned a fumble to the Tampa Bay 2-yard line Sept. 21.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's one of those things you've got to go through to get the right mesh. Am I happy with the guys we brought in? So far, yeah. Is it a problem I think we can get turned around? Yeah. It just may take some time." -- Vice president of football operations Ron Hill, when asked about the difficulty the Falcons have had blending in some of their new players, like Williams, WR Peerless Price and others.

    The Wednesday suspension of starting RCB Tyrone Williams, when combined with the likely absence of injured strong safeties Cory Hall, Gerald McBurrows and Kevin McCadam may spell big trouble for the Falcons as they're preparing to face the NFL's hottest player, Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss.

    Williams will be replaced by nickel back Kevin Mathis in the base defense. In nickel situations, Mathis will continue to man the spot in the slot, and he'll be replaced outside by either Tod McBride, who hasn't played since breaking his right hand early in training camp, Allen Rossum, or rookie Bryan Scott.

    But with the safety situation the way it is, Scott, who played a little at the position while at Penn State, is working there in a backup role in practice this week behind rookie free agent Travaris Robinson.

  • WR Peerless Price did not practice Wednesday for the Falcons, but team officials are optimistic he'll play Sunday against the Vikings. He's troubled by a sore plantar fascia in the arch of his foot, and a strained neck.

  • WLB Sam Rogers, who will need surgery at some point to address torn cartilage in his left knee, did not practice Wednesday.

  • WLB Will Overstreet, who strained his surgically repaired left shoulder last Sunday for the second time this season, is not likely to play this Sunday against Minnesota.

  • OLB Karon Riley, a three-year veteran, is likely to get his first NFL start Sunday against the Vikings, filling in for injured WLBs Sam Rogers and Will Overstreet.

  • SS Cory Hall does not have a damaged posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, as originally feared last Sunday when he left the Falcons' game at Carolina. He is believed to have cartilage damage, and may need arthroscopic surgery.

  • SS Gerald McBurrow has a pinched nerve on the left side of his neck. He did not practice Wednesday, and is not likely to play Sunday for the Falcons against Minnesota.

  • SS Kevin McCadam has a strained left hamstring, a recurrence of the injury that kept him out of Atlanta's third game, Sept. 21 against Tampa Bay. He has a shot at being able to play Sunday against Minnesota, but don't bet on it.

  • LG Travis Claridge has a torn trapezius muscle in his left shoulder. It's not getting any better, but he remains the starter. He'll continue to be spelled from time to time in each game by Roberto Garza. For the most part, Claridge plays two possessions, then Garza two, then Claridge two and so on.

  • WR Brian Finneran (broken left hand) practiced again Wednesday and actually attempted to catch some passes. He had some success, one time getting a congratulatory handshake from wide receivers coach George Stewart after snaring a ball.

  • CB Tod McBride said his mending broken right hand/thumb, "Felt pretty good [Wednesday]. It looks like Sunday will be the day." He hasn't played since breaking the bones early in training camp.

  • QB Mike Vick has thrown some passes in a casual setting, and the limp caused by his broken right fibula is disappearing fast. There's a chance he'll practice next week, but few observers think he'll play before the Falcons' Oct. 19 game at home against New Orleans.

  • OLB Keith Newman, who's fresh off a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's banned substance policy, is almost certain to be activated for Sunday's game against the Vikings. Injuries to WLBs Sam Rogers and Will Overstreet make it almost essential.

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