Monday February 8th, 2016 1:59PM

Falcons' short-yardage struggles prove costly

By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Falcons' short-yardage woes in their first loss of the season stirred memories of similar struggles the last time they lost - in the playoffs.

In each case, Atlanta couldn't come up with just one yard.

The Falcons couldn't score after they had a second down at the Saints' 1-yard line late in Sunday's 31-27 loss at New Orleans. The Falcons, who had been the NFL's last unbeaten team, fell to 8-1.

In the 24-2 loss at the Giants in last season's NFC wild-card game, the offense was stuffed on two fourth-and-1 quarterback sneaks and a third-and-inches run.

Center Todd McClure bristled Monday when asked if there were parallels between the two losses. McClure said the offensive line is unfairly blamed for the short-yardage struggles.

"That's two totally different ballgames and that's what (upsets) me off more than anything, that you guys are going to write about how bad we are up front, that we can't get in the end zone," McClure said.

"But there's more to it than just blocking up front, and that's all I'm going to say about that because I get really frustrated when I hear things and read things, knowing there's more to it than the five guys up front, but we take the brunt of the blame. I don't want to talk about that anymore because I don't want to say anything I'll regret."

The Saints ranked last in the NFL with their average of 176.5 yards rushing allowed per game before holding the Falcons to 46 yards rushing on 18 carries, an average of 2.6 yards per attempt. Michael Turner had 13 carries for only 15 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers led the team with 29 yards rushing on three carries.

New Orleans led 28-17 through three quarters before the Falcons rallied. Matt Ryan, who passed for a career-best 411 yards with three touchdowns, threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez and Matt Bryant added a 20-yard field goal in the final quarter.

Ryan's 9-yard pass to Harry Douglas gave Atlanta a second-and-goal at the 1 just after the 2-minute warning. Ryan's second-down pass for Gonzalez was incomplete, Turner lost a yard on third down, and Saints cornerback Jabari Greer broke up a fourth-down pass for Roddy White.

"We get the ball on the 1, we're expected to get it in," McClure said. "I just get frustrated sometimes over the past couple of years. There's more to it than just lining up and blocking the guys wherever they line up. That's it. I can't talk about it anymore."

Coach Mike Smith seemed to point to the offensive line in his postgame analysis.

"We are not getting the surge that we need to on the run plays," Smith said after the game. "We've got to be able to move the line of scrimmage on those third down-and-one situations."

On Monday, Smith said blame can't be pointed to only one part of the offense.

"We've got to do a lot of things better," Smith said. "It's not one position group, it's not one guy, it's the entire offense."

Smith said the offense "did not execute well."

"We had too many unblocked guys in the hole and it's hard to get running that way," he said. "There are a number of reasons why and we addressed those in the meeting today and we'll continue to address them."

There also were problems on defense.

Smith said the Falcons had four missed tackles on Chris Ivory's 56-yard scoring run. That play turned the momentum after Atlanta's early 10-0 lead.

"You can't have missed tackles or they will lead to explosive plays," Smith said. "We've got to do a better job across the board. It is an issue that has probably been our Achilles' heel.

"It was not for lack of effort. That was a hard-fought football game yesterday."

The Falcons, who are home this week against the Arizona Cardinals, won't have to field more questions about the possibility of an undefeated season. The players insisted Monday those questions would not have been a distraction.

"I'd much rather be answering those questions being 9-0 than answering these questions being 8-1," said cornerback Dunta Robinson.

The Falcons are still in excellent position. They lead the NFC South by three games over Tampa Bay and still boast the NFC's best record, one game better than Chicago.

Robinson said he expects a strong recovery this week.

"We have a veteran football team, so we've won games and we've lost games and it's all about the way you bounce back," he said. "One thing I know about this team in the years that I've been here is that we've always bounced back after a loss and I don't expect anything different. I mean, we're 8-1, you know what I mean, so you can't be too down and you can't be too disappointed about that. ... We're still excited about our future."
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