FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons haven't backed up their offseason promise to be more physical and limit mistakes.
It's looking like 2013 all over again.
Coach Mike Smith insists his team has the players and schemes to make a playoff run, but the Falcons (2-6) have dropped five straight and are on course to finish 4-12 for the second straight year.
Smith hasn't changed his public stance since Atlanta finished 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl in January 2013. He takes "full responsibility" for what happens on the field.
But the problems aren't getting solved. The Falcons keep losing.
"This is an organization that's had a lot of success since we've been here," Smith said early this week. "Unfortunately, we have not had the success over the last year and a half."
The offensive line is battered by injuries again, quarterback Matt Ryan often has little time to set his feet, and Julio Jones and Roddy White have dropped critical passes.
Defensively, cornerback Desmond Trufant is the only potentially elite player on a unit that ranks among the league's worst.
And the Falcons, who return from a bye Nov. 9 at Tampa Bay and visit Carolina the following week, are almost a sure bet to lose on the road. They have dropped 12 of 13 away from the Georgia Dome, not including last week's collapse in London, where they served as the home team in a one-point loss to Detroit.
Ahead 21-0 at halftime, they made enough second-half blunders to lose at the buzzer on Matt Prater's 48-yard field goal.
Safety Kemal Ishmael and the defense allowed a 59-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-25 in the third quarter. Defensive tackle Paul Soliai had a holding call that gave the Lions a fresh set of downs on the winning drive.
On the previous possession, Jones dropped a third-down pass and center Jeff Stone was called for holding, a pair of mistakes that prevented the Falcons from running out the clock.
Ryan, who called the meltdown "probably as tough a loss to take as any I've been a part of," threw an inexplicable interception that led to a third-quarter field goal.
"We had a lot of different chances to win that ballgame and consistently didn't make plays when we needed to," he said. "I think everybody needs to look in the mirror and self-critique and really, when we get back to work, have a great mindset and a great sense of focus."
Though it might seem extra practice could help, Smith decided to stick with the itinerary players were given in April — to take the bye week off. Many players already had vacation plans and Smith wanted everyone "to disconnect for a little bit" before reconvening on Monday.
"The one thing I'll say is we're a 2-6 football team, but that's not a 2-6 locker room, all right?" he said. "That is a quality group of men. I can assure you this — there's no quit in them. Have we fallen short? Yes, but there's no quit in any of those guys."
During the offseason, owner Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Smith publicly committed to make the roster tougher and stronger at the line of scrimmage, but it seems little has changed.
The defense ranks second worst in total yards, is tied for second fewest in sacks, ranks fourth worst in scoring and is among the top 10 worst against the run and in third-down percentage.
Injuries have taken a big toll again. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, left tackle Sam Baker, center Joe Hawley, center Peter Konz and right tackle Lamar Holmes are out for the season. Safety William Moore is out for another four weeks.
A bigger concern might be that the supposed strength of the team — Ryan, Jones, White and the offense — has sputtered. Record-setting tight end Tony Gonzalez retired after last season, and the offense has performed far below expectations.
The statistics aren't alarmingly bad, but some of the numbers are inflated by six touchdowns by the offense in a 56-14 win over Tampa Bay, and the big-play ability of third-string running back Antone Smith.
Receiver Harry Douglas agrees the season has been a big disappointment, but echoed his head coach's belief Atlanta can still make the playoffs.
"We're not out of anything yet," Douglas said. "All we have to do is handle our own business. We control our own destiny and it starts with our game against Tampa Bay. I think our bye week came at the right time, so we can relax ourselves, regroup and pull off a heck of a season."
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