Tuesday May 31st, 2016 11:42PM

Falcons look a bit desperate after sluggish start

By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- Key players are hurting. Close games aren't going their way. Practices are now closed.

The Atlanta Falcons weren't counting on a start like this.

Surely no one is hitting the panic button - after all, the Falcons haven't lost back-to-back games since 2009 - but there are sure signs of a team feeling a bit of desperation.

Most noticeably, the Falcons (1-2) announced Wednesday the media would be largely barred from watching practices the rest of the season - a first in Mike Smith's six years as coach.

"I don't want to get into the details," Smith said, "but any decision we make is a football decision and what we feel like is in the best interest of our football team. We simply made an organizational decision."

The Falcons head into Sunday's prime-time game against Tom Brady and the unbeaten New England Patriots already two games behind in the NFC South and trying to avoid falling two games under .500 for the first time since Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and quarterback Matt Ryan arrived on the scene in unison, transforming a once-moribund franchise into one of the NFL's best.

The players, as one might expect, kept insisting there's no greater sense of urgency than any other week.

"I wouldn't say there's any real panic," free safety Thomas DeCoud said. "If you start getting into panic mode or desperation mode, that's when it can be kind of hindering to what you're trying to do."

Coming into this season, the Falcons had spent a total of 35 days under .500 during Smith's first five years as coach - a span that included five straight winning seasons, four playoff appearances, two division titles, and a heartbreaking loss in last season's NFC championship game.

Not surprisingly, there's a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality in Atlanta - especially since Hall of Famer-to-be Tony Gonzalez put off retirement specifically to take one more shot at a ring.

It's early, but the Falcons are off to a shaky start.

They opened with a 23-17 loss at New Orleans, getting stopped on fourth-and-goal in the final minute. Last week, Atlanta blew a pair of 10-point leads before giving up a late touchdown in a 27-23 setback at Miami.

Injuries have further dampened the team's mood.

The Falcons were missing five starters in the loss to the Dolphins, all hurt in a Week 2 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Defensive end Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing are done for the year, while linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is out for at least another seven weeks with a foot injury, costing the defense its emotional leader. Running back Stephen Jackson (hamstring) and offensive tackle Sam Baker (foot and knee) didn't play at Miami, either.

Jackson and Baker are still hurting and skipped practice Wednesday. So did star receiver Roddy White, who has played in all three games but continues to be slowed by a high ankle sprain he sustained almost six weeks ago in a preseason game.

The injury report was the main source of information after a two-hour practice, held in the team's indoor facility on a rainy afternoon. The Falcons changed their policy of allowing local reporters to watch workouts, barring the media from all but the first 30 minutes while the team was working on special teams - the minimum requirement under NFL rules. As soon as the team drills began, reporters were escorted back to the media room in a separate building.

On the field, strong safety William Moore feels like a bit of karma is at work.

A year ago, the Falcons went 13-3 while winning seven games by seven points or less - not to mention an improbable comeback in the playoffs to beat Seattle on the final play.

So far, largely due to a maddening inability to finish strong, the Falcons have twice come out on the wrong end of those sort of games.

"I hate to bring up last year," Moore said, "but when you go 13-3, think about all the games we won on those last-second touchdowns. That's all it's coming down to. You fall short sometimes. That's what's happening with us."

Under Smith, the Falcons have been able to avoid the sort of extended slumps that can ruin a season. They face the Patriots having won 14 straight after losses. It's been nearly four years since their last losing streak.

"It's very early in the season," the coach said. "Our sense of urgency is the same each and every week. You put the previous game behind you and move on to the next one."
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Bartus, Icemen shuts out Gwinnett
Garrett Bartus pitched a 42 save shutout, as the Evansville IceMen topped the Gwinnett Gladiators on a New year
10:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Gator Bowl Preview Capsule
A rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31 in Orlando.
8:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Millsap's 34 leads Hawks past Celtics
Paul Millsap had season highs with 34 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawks rallied from an 18-point deficit for a 92-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday afternoon.
7:44PM ( 2 years ago )
Falcons fire offensive, defensive line coaches
The Atlanta Falcons have fired defensive line coach Ray Hamilton and offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn.
7:02PM ( 2 years ago )
Best, worst of Falcons' 4-12 season
Best Game: They'd been eliminated from playoff contention previous week vs. New Orleans, but the Falcons showed some heart with Dec. 1 overtime victory over Bills in Toronto.
6:21PM ( 2 years ago )
Gonzalez's career ends with another Falcons loss
Tony Gonzalez is ready for the next chapter of his life.
9:47PM ( 2 years ago )
Professional Sports
Ole Miss' Freeze 'owning' mistakes, but denies paying players
Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze is "owning the mistakes" made during his tenure, which now includes NCAA violations, but said neither he nor his assistants knowingly did anything wrong.
By The Associated Press
10:01AM ( 10 hours from now )
Nighthawks' Devin Gearhart receives ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove award
University of North Georgia junior Devin Gearhart was honored with the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the best defensive third baseman in the NCAA Division II ranks.
By UNG Athletics Communications
10:00AM ( 10 hours from now )
Peavy almost perfect through 7 as Giants blank Braves 4-0
Jake Peavy faced the minimum 21 batters through seven innings, Denard Span drove in two runs with three hits and the San Francisco Giants beat the Atlanta Braves 4-0 on Tuesday night.
By The Associated Press
9:58PM ( 1 hour ago )
Life is a Dream: Atlanta up to No. 3 in AP WNBA power poll
Angel McCoughtry has a one-word explanation of why her team has been successful in the early part of the season — positivity.
By The Associated Press
9:55PM ( 1 hour ago )
Baseball: North Hall's Taber Mongero honored with Team Georgia invite
The dust may still be settling on the high school baseball season, but North Hall's Taber Mongero will not be taking any time to rest.
By AccessWDUN Staff
5:54PM ( 5 hours ago )