Published January 13, 2015
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Atlanta Falcons have gotten used to winning ever since Matt Ryan showed up in Dixie as the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
In fact, the Falcons haven't lost three straight in the Ryan era, a factoid they hope to keep intact when they host the rebuilding New York Jets on "Monday Night Football."
Atlanta opened the 2012 season by winning eight straight before finishing 13-3, and landing a play or two short of the Super Bowl. This time around the Falcons lost three in September and come into this game in full desperation mode after a furious comeback fell short in a 30-23 home setback to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots during Week 4.
Ryan connected with star tight end Tony Gonzalez for an 11-yard touchdown to cut the Patriots lead to 10 with fewer than five minutes to play before Atlanta recovered the ensuing onside kick and kicker Matt Bryant made it a one score game after booting a 25-yard field goal.
The Falcons defense held from there to set up a potential game-winning drive inside he final two minutes. Ryan was able to connect with Julio Jones for a 49-yard gain down to the Patriots 13-yard line on the first play of the march but, four plays later, his fourth-down pass to Roddy White fell incomplete.
Ryan completed 34-of-54 passes for a career-high 421 yards against the Pats and threw two touchdowns to Gonzalez. The veteran tight end made a game-high 12 catches and finished with a career-best 149 yards for Atlanta, which has dropped consecutive games in the same season for the first time since Weeks 13 and 14 during the 2009 campaign and is now 1-3 for the first time under head coach Mike Smith.
"We've had opportunities, and we haven't made the most of those opportunities," Smith said about his team's disappointing record. "We, as a coaching staff, and as a team, have to learn from those mistakes we have made in the first four games and move on and get them corrected. It's a long season, it's just the end of the first quarter, and we will learn from the mistakes we have made and move on."
Moving on means taking aim at New York and its rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
Smith threw for 289 yards and a touchdown, but lost a pair of fumbles and was picked off twice in a 38-13 drubbing at the hands of the Tennessee Titans in Nashville during Week 4.
The Titans turned four Jets' turnovers into 28 points in that one.
"It was one of those days where not much went right, with me in particular," said Smith. "I put the ball on the ground way too many times."
Smith's afternoon got off to a rough start when Alterraun Verner picked off the rookie's first pass from scrimmage and was pushed out of bounds at the Jets' 18. Things only snowballed from there.
Tight end Kellen Winslow led all Jets receivers with six receptions and 73 yards while the New York run defense was the one bright spot, holding the explosive Chris Johnson to just 21 yards on 15 carries.
Monday night's matchup marks the 11th meeting between the Falcons and Jets with Atlanta leading the all-time series 6-4, including a 10-7 win over the Jets in 2009 at the old Giants Stadium.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Despite possessing a multitude of weapons the Falcons have been unable to convert in the red zone on a consistent basis. Atlanta failed to score a touchdown on five of its six possessions inside New England's 20 in Week 4 and ranked 29th in the NFL in red-zone production coming into Week 5 at a paltry 38.9 percent.
This despite the fact that Jones leads the league with 481 receiving yards and Gonzalez is coming off a monster game. The fact that White has been ineffective while dealing with a bad ankle seems to have thrown Ryan and the Falcons offense for a loop but that's not acceptable.
Even with a banged-up White, Ryan has more weapons at his disposal than anyone not named Peyton Manning.
"They're big, fast. It's definitely going to be a huge challenge for us," Jets coach Rex Ryan said when taking about Atlanta's skills players.
The Jets defense has been able to make most teams one-dimensional by allowing just 79.3 rushing yards per game and that figures to continue here because Atlanta remains without injured running back Steven Jackson (hamstring). His replacements, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers, haven't generated much on a consistent basis.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons are giving up 26.0 points per game, which is 22nd in the NFL and a sharp dropoff from 2012 when the defensive unit allowed just 18.7 ppg.
The big culprit has been the lack of a pass rush. Atlanta has only seven sacks on the season and clearly misses veteran sack-man John Abraham, who is now in Arizona, and the injured Kroy Biermann.
Smith, though, probably isn't the guy to take advantage of a reeling group. Like most freshman, the West Virginia product holds onto the ball far too long and has performed much better at home than on the road.
The noise at the Georgia Dome will almost surely affect Smith, who was tied for the NFL lead entering the week with 11 turnovers (eight interceptions, three fumbles) and has been sacked 14 times.
"It's just taking ownership to your mistakes and manning up," Smith said when discussing is troubled. "A lot falls on my shoulders as far as taking care of the ball, but that's something I have to do. No one wants to make those mistakes.
"It's something that has to stop now in order for us to progress and to get better as a team."
Making things even tougher is the fact that Smith could be without receivers Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and Stephen Hill (concussion) as well as Winslow (knee).
Holmes, who leads the Jets in receiving yards (243), was ruled out on Saturday while Hill has been cleared for contact and is on track to go barring any setbacks. Winslow is questionable and will be a game-time decision.
Atlanta hasn't lost three in a row since a six-game skid in 2007, the year before Smith and Ryan arrived. Since then the Falcons have posted a 34-8 record at home over the last six seasons, a gaudy .810 winning percentage.
"Playing on a Monday night with their crowd, we know it's going to be a very hostile environment," Ryan said.
Expecting a rookie QB with a banged-up receiving corps to get it done in that kind of atmosphere against a desperate team is a little too much to ask.
"Obviously, we're not where we want to be," said Ryan. "We've got to claw ourselves back to where we want to be. It's a long haul. There's still a long way to go."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Falcons 30, Jets 13