Saturday April 20th, 2024 1:42AM

Falcons have little room for error with slim playoff hopes still alive

By Andrew Seligman AP Sports Writer

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Atlanta Falcons are well aware of the situation they face with two games remaining and their postseason hopes hanging by a thread.

They simply have little room for error heading into their matchup against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

“Unless you’re living in Perth, Australia, or something and you turn your cell phone off, I think you’re aware of it,” coach Arthur Smith said. “It’s just, the reality is nothing matters. When you start to get caught up, it’s just a waste of time. ... Nothing matters but Chicago. ... Good or bad, you’re just taking energy away from preparing for Sunday. ...

"If you go out there and you don’t play well in Chicago, then nothing else matters.”

The Falcons (7-8) beat Indianapolis 29-10 last week with their best offensive performance this season. They played turnover-free ball and gained 406 yards with Taylor Heinicke starting at quarterback after Desmond Ridder got benched for the second time this season.

Heinicke completed 23 of 33 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown, helping Atlanta shake off back-to-back losses. But the Falcons have a steep hill to climb if they're going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017, whether they overtake Tampa Bay to win the NFC South or squeeze in with a wild card.

“Guys are playing for the playoffs, and we can’t make it there unless we win,” Heinicke said. "We go out there and win the next two games and don’t get in? OK. But if we’re talking about other teams winning and we don’t take care of our business then all that talk is hearsay.

"Our biggest concern right now is Chicago.”

The Bears (6-9) still have a mathematical shot at the playoffs, though their hopes were basically extinguished two weeks ago with a 20-17 loss at Cleveland. Chicago was up by 10 in that game, only to blow a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead for the third time in a loss this year.

They bounced back by beating Arizona 27-16 last week, with Justin Fields throwing a touchdown pass and running for another.

MIXED RESULTS

The Falcons rank 16th in total offense but only 24th in scoring.

They set a season high with 29 points last week and finished with at least 400 yards for the sixth time. Only San Francisco, with nine, has more 400-yard games.

Smith, who calls the plays, ultimately will be judged on the team’s offense, which he acknowledges has produced inconsistent results. Notably, the Falcons have scored more than 30 points in only one game in Smith’s three seasons, a 37-34 overtime win over Carolina on Oct. 30, 2022.

The more consistent production has come from Atlanta’s defense, which was the offseason focus for general manager Terry Fontenot and Smith and ranks among the league’s top 10 in yards and points allowed.

FIELDS' FUTURE

Fields' future in Chicago remains as murky as ever with two games remaining. But the former Ohio State star insisted he's not thinking about what might happen in the offseason.

“None of us really have control over our future,” he said. “The only person who really has control over it is God, and shoot, if he has control over it then I’m good. So whatever he does with my life I’m good with that.”

The No. 11 overall pick in 2021, Fields ranks 21st in passer rating and 28th in completion percentage. The Bears have to decide whether to pick up his fifth-year option for 2025. They could also have a shot at Caleb Williams or Drake Maye because they also got Carolina's first-rounder in the trade for star receiver DJ Moore last March.

If the Bears decide to move on from Fields, the Falcons might be a potential trade partner.

APPROACHING RECORD

Falcons running back Bijan Robinson needs 87 yards to break William Andrews’ team rookie record of 1,332 yards from scrimmage in 1979.

Robinson is tops among NFL rookies with 873 yards rushing and has a team-leading seven touchdowns, including four rushing. He's been pretty good at catching the ball, too.

Robinson's 48 receptions are a team record for a rookie running back. His 1,246 scrimmage yards include 373 as a receiver.

The Bears are allowing a league-low 80.7 yards rushing. But they've had trouble with running backs catching the ball. Last week, Arizona's Arizona’s James Conner had five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown, and Robinson is a more productive receiver. Conner has 22 catches for 106 yards, by comparison.

BOUNCE BACK

Bears running back Khalil Herbert emerged from a rough stretch last week by rushing for a season-high 112 yards and a touchdown. He had missed five games due to an ankle injury and then struggled over the next four with 75 yards on 31 attempts before breaking through against the Cardinals.

STACKING SACKS

Bears defensive end Montez Sweat finds himself in a unique position by leading two teams in sacks in the same season.

That has never happened in the NFL.

Sweat still leads Washington with 6 1/2 sacks and has six for the Bears, who acquired him at the trade deadline. His 12 1/2 sacks are a career high.

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