FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons never trailed on the road in Seattle and held of a late charge by the Seahawks to emerge with a critical 34-31 victory. The win gives Atlanta head-to-head wins against the Packers, Lions, Cowboys and Seahawks, four primary wild-card contenders in the NFC.
Today's Early Bird Report includes reactions and thoughts from Monday night's win as well as some injury notes from around the division.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
NFL.com: Falcons beat Seahawks after Walsh misses field goal attempt
Although a nail-biter, the Falcons' win over Seattle was one of many thrilling games between these two teams. Chris Wesseling said as much in his recap of the Monday night matchup, and he relayed eight takeaways from the game.
He notes that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll will draw scrutiny for his decision to attempt a fake field goal at the end of the first half and then praises Grady Jarrett, who made the tackle on the fake play, for his performance in the win. Despite a tough game running the ball, Wesseling praised the Falcons' play on third down and Matt Ryan's efficiency in attacking a depleted secondary.
ESPN.com: Falcons get some momentum back with tough road win
Atlanta's win in Seattle wasn't easy, but it could pay dividends down the stretch. When they needed plays, the Falcons' stars stepped up. Grady Jarrett, Desmond Trufant, Matt Ryan, Mohamed Sanu and Julio Jones were among the players who made big plays at critical times, although they certainly weren't the only factors in the win.
"The Falcons are 5-1 in NFC play and now have a little momentum with a slew of NFC South games around the corner, starting with Sunday's matchup with Tampa Bay," ESPN's Vaugh McClure wrote of the win. "It's the first of three consecutive home games, even more reason why the Falcons can generate a little steam toward a postseason run."
Here are some additional headlines in the aftermath of the Falcons-Seahawks clash in Seattle:
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ESPN.com: Winston ruled out vs. Falcons after doctors examine QB's shoulder
According to ESPN's Jenna Laine, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston will not play against the Falcons. Winston's injured throwing shoulder was examined by team doctors who did not clear him for action in Week 12.
"Until he's cleared, I have no say in it," Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter said, per Laine. "Jameis isn't cleared."
*Tampa Bay Times: *Koetter says Martin's not at fault for struggling run game
The Buccaneers are currently ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging just under 80 yards. In their win over the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin gained 38 yards on 19 carries, further highlighting the struggles on the ground. On Monday, Dirk Koetter defended his running back.
"In my opinion, he is not the reason we're not moving the ball on offense," Koetter said, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. "If you look at the tape, Doug's making a little bit out of not too much, more often than not.
"We did not do a great job of run blocking in this game, but that's an O-line thing, that's a tight end thing, that's a lead blocker issue. The running back is going to take the hit."
Are the Bucs showing signs of life? Here are some additional headlines on Tampa Bay:
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*The Times-Picayune: *Saints defensive end Okafor out for season
The Saints' defense suffered a major blow in their comeback victory against the Washington Redskins. According to Herbie Teope of The Times-Picayune*, *defensive end Alex Okafor will miss the rest of the season due to a torn Achilles. Okafor signed with the Saints as a free agent, and he registered 4.5 sacks – second on the team – 43 tackles, two forced fumbles and defended three passes in the 10 games he started.
*Charlotte Observer: *Panthers healthier after bye, could get key players back
The NFC South race is shaping up to be the best in the NFL, and the Panthers are getting healthy at just the right time. After a relaxing bye week, Carolina looks healthier and could get two key pieces back by Sunday, according to the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person. While all signs point to Greg Olsen making his first appearance for the Panthers since Week 2 on Sunday against the Jets, things are a little less certain for starting center Ryan Kalil. Still, it appears Kalil will be back soon, if not this Sunday.
Sterling Moore is heading back to New Orleans and some additional NFC South headlines:
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