FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes the gesture that helped Austin Hooper turn a former Saints fan into a lifelong Falcons supporter.
While it's fair to say the Falcons' playoff chances are nowhere near as good as they were just two weeks ago, as The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Matt Winkeljohn points out, they still have a small shot.
Per Winkeljohn, various projections give Atlanta between a 6 and 9 percent change at making the playoffs, which, as he says, is "better than zero."
"A win in New Orleans would be big, alright, but pretty much as a step toward moving into one of the two NFC wildcard spots," Winkeljohn writes. "The Falcons trail Carolina (6-4) for the first wildcard with a win over the Panthers in hand and a road game coming against them. They trail Minnesota (5-4-1) by a game and a half, but they have company between themselves and the Vikings.
"Without getting into who holds what tiebreakers, Atlanta also trails Seattle (5-5), Dallas (5-5) and Green Bay (4-5-1) with a road game coming against the Packers. The Lions (4-6) are even with the Falcons. The toughest game of the six remaining is on deck in New Orleans (9-1). After that, the Falcons will play Baltimore (5-5) at home, at Green Bay (4-5-1), home against the Cardinals (2-8), at Carolina (6-4) and at Tampa Bay (3-7)."
To read the rest of Winkeljohn's piece on the Falcons' playoff chances, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
AJC: Dissection of dead Falcons season includes offensive line
As the Falcons search for answers this season, all positions should be looked at. The AJC's Michael Cunningham believes the offensive line should not be overlooked in that search. Atlanta has not been able to consistently win at the point of attack and on the line of scrimmage this season, Cunningham says, which is something that he believes is holding the Falcons back.
"You can't fault the Falcons for eschewing linemen in recent drafts," Cunningham writes. "The group was good in 2016 and '17 and they added Fusco for this season. The line might still be good if the Falcons are right about their core players, but they are in trouble if they miscalculated and this season is the start of the group's decline.
"The Falcons might have made something out of this star-crossed season if their offense didn't fall off at the same time their defense got better. They couldn't keep up the scoring because, unlike the Saints, their offensive line play didn't allow it."
To read more of what Cunningham has to say, click here.
ESPN: Gunshot survivor now in Falcons' brotherhood
Sometimes it's important to step back and gain perspective. That's what this past week was about for the Falcons, who participated in the NFL's Salute to Service initiative. But Falcons tight end Austin Hooper was touched by a particular story long before last week. As ESPN's Vaughn McClure detailed in a really touching story, Hooper has made a life-long fan in Louisiana native and former Saints supporter Kyron Greenup.
Greenup is paralyzed after a stray bullet from random shots fired in his neighborhood pierced his skull in 2014. Hooper heard of Greenup's story and invited him to the Falcons-Saints game in Week 3, where he was named an honorary team captain.
"It was good that everyone rallied to make Kyron's day," Hooper told McClure. "If he can go through life the way he does, with such a positive attitude, what are our everyday problems? Little things that you go through, they're meaningless. Kyron's outlook is the way more people should be."
I highly recommend everyone check out McClure's piece on this great story.
NFL.com: Takeaways from Week 11's Sunday games
Another close loss at home leaves the Falcons far on the outside of playoff contention. Atlanta expected a tough fight from Dallas, and that's exactly what it got.
With a quick turnaround before facing one of the NFL's dominant teams on Thursday night, the Falcons are intent on turning the page. We're going to reflect a while longer on Sunday's game, however, starting with some takeaways from NFL.com's Nick Shook.
"This loss, Atlanta's second straight, all but buries a Falcons team that was surging before being stunned by the Browns last week. At 4-6 with six to go, the Falcons would have to win out to have a shot at a Wild Card berth, with the competitive NFC South essentially out of reach. Two of those final six are against the teams ahead of them in the South (New Orleans and Carolina). When we reach clarity in the aftermath, we'll point to a 1-4 start and Weeks 10-11 as why things unfolded the way they did. But there are reasons to be hopeful: Calvin Ridley is a very promising target alongside Jones. And an offseason will allow key defenders to get healthy. It just looks now as though the fork is coming very close to being stuck into the Falcons after this one."
There's no doubt that injuries sapped away a lot of the promise for the season. But the Falcons are building quality depth for the future and will be better for it once back at full strength.
To read the rest of Shook's takeaways from the game, click here.
ESPN: Close not good enough as Falcons' season fades
The Falcons take things week to week and day by day in their preparation, but the bigger picture is becoming clearer. ESPN's Vaughn McClure writes that Atlanta season continues to fade away, and any potential path to the postseason is growing smaller each week.
"Ain't nothing to say; it ain't nothing to say but to go back to work," Grady Jarrett said after the game, per McClure. "Sometimes, we talk too much. ... It ain't no excuse for nothing. That's how I live life. Ain't no excuse. You've got to go to work.
"You're going to get whipped sometimes. You're going to lose sometimes. ... Everybody's checking their own self. One thing, I don't speak for nobody else. I represent the name on my jersey, and I represent this organization with everything I've got. I love the fact that we get the opportunity to go back to work."
To read the rest of McClure's piece, click here.
AJC: The fading Falcons fall to 4-6
McClure wasn't the only writer to touch upon the sense that things might be slipping away this season. Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution focused his post-game column around that theme, and he believes it's time to admit the unlikely isn't going to happen.
"This 22-19 loss – the third home loss this fall in which the winning points came inside the final seven seconds – dropped the Falcons to 4-6," Bradley writes. "They'd have to win out to have any playoff chance, and they still must travel to New Orleans, Green Bay and Charlotte. Football Outsiders assessed their postseason possibilities at 11.5 percent before Sunday's kickoff, and you can slice that in half now. This isn't happening. After that 1-4 start and all those defensive injuries, it was never happening."
To read the rest of Bradley's column, click here.