FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes the Falcons' marginal rise in the latest national power rankings.
Week 16 power rankings
"Welcome back, Falcons. Everybody missed you. After five weeks of bad football (and losing) -- when Atlanta lost by fewer than 10 points just once -- Dan Quinn's team showed up to play Sunday. Tevin Coleman stands front and center in the Falcons' triumphant return to existence, rambling through the Cardinals' front seven for 145 yards on just 11 carries, with a 65-yard scamperto set up a field goal and a 43-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach for Arizona. Honorable mention to Grady Jarrett, who was all over the place with seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble that set up a touchdown. Despite the poor overall campaign from Quinn's defense, Jarrett has resumed his high level of play. This is an interior lineman with six sacks, 47 tackles, 11 QB hits and three forced fumbles. Maybe not in the Aaron Donald stratosphere, but there are about, oh, 32 organizations that'll take those numbers from a DT."
"The early injuries on defense proved to be too much to overcome. But they will be fine next season."
"Biggest breakthrough: DB Damontae Kazee. He is tied for second in the league with six interceptions. Kazee did not have an interception in 156 snaps last season; he has played six times as many snaps this season after replacing the injured Ricardo Allen (Achilles) at free safety. Coach Dan Quinn said he sees Kazee's future at either safety or nickelback."
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
NFL.com: Strong possibility Falcons could fire both OC and DC
On NFL Network's "Up to the Minute Live" Tuesday, Tom Pelissero reported that Falcons coach Dan Quinn is expected to make significant changes to his coaching staff.
Those who have been paying attention in recent weeks know that Quinn is taking a long and hard look at every aspect of his team after the Falcons went through a five-game losing streak after climbing back to .500 at the midpoint of the season.
Still, Pelissero's report is the first major indication that serious changes could be coming this offseason.
"At this point...it sounds like a strong possibility that there will be significant changes to coach Dan Quinn's coaching staff," Pelissero said. "Now, owner Arthur Blank has already said publicly he does not think Quinn is the problem. My understanding is Dan Quinn, who got a contract extension through 2022 just last summer, absolutely is going to be back. But this is a possibility here that he could end up cleaning out both of his coordinators -- that's offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel. It would not be a surprise if they overhaul things on both sides of the ball."
To see what else Pelissero had to say, check out Kevin Patra's recap for NFL.com.
ESPN: Matt Ryan discusses playing into his 40s
NFL quarterbacks are winning the race against time and have begun to extend their careers into their 40s. Tom Brady is currently 41 years old while Drew Brees is in the conversation at 39 years old. Given the way the game has changed to better protect quarterbacks and the advancements in nutritional and medicinal sciences, it's possible this will become more of the standard. As for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, he told ESPN's Vaughn McClure that he believes it's possible for him to keep going at that age.
"Yeah, I think so," Ryan told McClure. "I think, No. 1, I've got a long way to go until I get there. But if you can stay healthy, and you're still playing at a high level and all those things, I don't see why not."
To read the rest of McClure's piece on Ryan, click here.
ESPN: Alford says he's a top-10 CB with room to improve
Matt Ryan wasn't the only Falcons player who recently spoke with Vaughn McClure. Cornerback Robert Alford has had a tough year on the field, but he remains extremely confident about his abilities. Some of the difficulties he's faced could be linked to Atlanta losing its two starting safeties at the beginning of the year, but Alford feels strongly about his talent.
"I feel like I'm top 10 [cornerback] in this league," Alford told McClure. "Last year, I was doing my thing. Came into this year, I did my thing. At the end of the day, I just have to get back to my style of play and make those plays that the team needs me to make that I've been making in the past.
"I haven't made those plays this season, but we have [two] games left. All I have to do is show my worth and go out there and ball my tail off."
To read the rest of what Alford had to say, click here.
The Ringer: Exit interview: Atlanta Falcons
With the Falcons now officially eliminated from the postseason, Danny Heifetz of The Ringer has taken a big-picture look at the team's 2018 season.
He covers what went right for Atlanta, what went wrong and how it could proceed forward in hopes of re-asserting itself as one of the league's contenders.
"For stretches this season, Atlanta's offense under coordinator Steve Sarkisian was almost as good as its 2016 offense under Kyle Shanahan," Heifetz writes of what went write in 2018. "Julio Jones leads the league in receiving yards (1,511) and is just the fifth receiver in NFL history with three seasons to have more than 1,500 receiving yards. He also has learned how to get into the end zone, with six touchdowns in his last seven games after getting zero scores in his first seven. Fellow Alabama alum Calvin Ridley has looked like a more than capable sidekick in his first season, and the duo will be one of the best receiving combos in the NFL when both are healthy. Tight end Austin Hooper put up career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Best of all, the Patriots are now the ones blowing games they were all but guaranteed to win. Take that, Brady."
That's about as rosy as Heifetz gets in his evaluation of the season, and there's plenty of negatives for him to point out.
If you'd like to read the rest of his piece for The Ringer, click here.
AJC: Falcons need fast fixes before window closes
Atlanta seems like a team in position to rebound from this season. Given the number of injuries that occurred and the blend of young and veteran talent returning, it's not hard envisioning things getting turned around. But that won't happen on its own. The Falcons will need to fix the holes they do have on the roster fairly quickly if they want to extend their window, writes Michael Cunningham for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"More important is that when it's time for Quinn and Dimitroff to assess this season, they resist the human urge to blame their failures on bad luck," Cunningham writes. "They'll need to honestly evaluate the roster they've built. They'll have to admit to their mistakes and, best they can, mitigate the damage those errors caused while also not overreacting to small samples."
To read the rest of Cunningham's piece, click here.