Early Bird Report: How the Falcons bucked the NFL's onside-kick trend

Saints Falcons Football

Atlanta had an opportunity to make things very interesting late in its loss to the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving night thanks in part to two onside kick recoveries. To that point in the season, there had only been three onside kicks recovered in the league, and the Falcons equaled that feat in one game, although one of the three onside kick recoveries was called back due to a penalty.

RELATED CONTENT

Recent changes to NFL kickoff rules resulted in the number of onside kicks that were recovered to fall dramatically in 2018, and there still have only been six recovered all season thus far. The Falcons lead the league with two recoveries, which provided some entertainment in the closing minutes of their most recent loss.

"Fortunately, it rolled in our favor three times," Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael told D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The kick happened to be just where it needed to be. They didn't come out and block us how they should. They left a couple of guys free. They wanted (Alvin) Kamara to get the ball, but you know the speed we had out there and everybody grinding for it, we came up with it."

To read more about the Falcons' success recovering onside kicks, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

AJC: Falcons don't know what to expect from Panthers

The news of Ron Rivera's firing as Panthers head coach has major implications for Sunday's game. Atlanta will be the first team to face Carolina with interim head coach Perry Fewell running the show, which presents a slew of new challenges for the Falcons.

There likely won't be wholesale changes under Fewell, especially with only a handful of days to prepare for the Falcons after ascending to the role of interim coach, but he is still a major unknown for Atlanta. When asked about how they can go about preparing for something they've never seen before, Falcons coach Dan Quinn likened this situation to one that is a bit more familiar.

"What I explained to the team, much like when you prepare for a quarterback and a quarterback change comes in," Quinn said. "They've got a rock-solid program, foundation and philosophy of how you do things. Much like when a new quarterback comes in, there will be some tweaks to it, but not wholesale [change] as it goes."

D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote more about how the Falcons are approaching Sunday's game for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which you can read here.

ESPN: Fixing Falcons starts in trenches

Four games remain in the 2019 season, but the Falcons don't have a shot at extending the year past those final games. So, with the playoffs out of the question, how is Atlanta staying motivated to try and close out the season with some momentum?

For center Alex Mack, it's not that difficult to find reasons to continue playing hard the rest of the way. In fact, it's pretty simple.

"There's a lot to play for, and I think we have a lot of pride," Mack told ESPN's Vaughn McClure. "Losing's not fun. Winning is fun. I don't know if we need a whole lot more motivation than that.

"People's jobs are on the line. How you play affects what your next contract is. There's tons of motivation beyond the ultimate goal of the playoffs and winning [the Super Bowl]."

McClure wrote about how the Falcons can begin to fix some of the issues that have resulted in their 3-9 season, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. There may not be an easy solution for Atlanta in those two areas, but he believes improving as a team begins with better play in the trenches.

To read McClure's piece, click here.

CBS Sports: All signs pointing up for Julio Jones

Julio Jones missed his first game since 2016 after a shoulder injury sidelined him on Thanksgiving night against the Saints, but he seems to be trending in the right direction for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

"If it wasn't a shorter week [last week], I think he would have had a better chance at it to go," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "He's certainly close and back to feeling closer to himself this week, but certainly all signs are pointing up."

To read more on Jones' status, click here.

CNN: Former Falcons QB Pat Sullivan dies

Former Falcons quarterback Pat Sullivan died Sunday at the age of 69. According to a report by CNN, Sullivan's family released a statement saying he died in his home surrounded by loved ones.

"He was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and fought a long and difficult battle as a result of his treatments. The family is appreciative of everyone's outpouring of love and support," the Family's statement said.

A star quarterback at Auburn University, Sullivan became the first player in the school's history to win the Heisman Trophy in 1971. He was selected by the Falcons in the second round of the 1972 draft and played in Atlanta until 1975. During his four seasons with the Falcons, Sullivan completed 93 of his 220 pass attempts for 1,155 yards with five touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

To read more about Sullivan's college career and life after the Falcons, click here.

NFL.com: 2020 NFL Draft order

With their loss to the Saints, the Falcons now sit at 3-9 and are officially out of postseason contention. They are, however, very much in the running for a top-five draft pick. Currently, the Falcons hold the No. 5 pick in the upcoming draft, and they have the same record as the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins. Atlanta is behind both of those teams in the draft order, though, because they have a higher strength of schedule.

"Nothing like a game in which Atlanta's quarterback was sacked nine times (tying a career high) while it failed to sack the other team's QB even once to bring the team's needs in the trenches into clear focus," NFL.com's Dan Parr writes. "The pass rush, which seemed to be finding its way just a few weeks ago, has now registered zero sacks and a grand total of two QB hits in the last two outings."

To see the rest of the NFL's current draft order, click here.

AJC: Falcons still 'competing with one another'

After a lapse against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Falcons' defense rebounded with a pretty solid performance against the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving night. Yes, Atlanta did surrender 26 points to the visiting Saints, but half of those points came on drives that began inside of the Falcons' 40-yard line.

Offensive turnovers often left Atlanta's defense in a precarious situation, but the Falcons allowed just two touchdowns in the game and forced the Saints to kick four field goals. Even more impressive was Atlanta holding New Orleans to just two third-down conversions on 10 attempts.

"It's good," Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant told D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the defense's improvement. "It's definitely the progress that we want. Making plays and getting turnovers. Stopping them on short-fields. We are definitely trending in the right direction. We just have to continue to do more and do whatever it takes to try to get these wins."

Ledbetter wrote more about the Falcons' mindset entering the final stretch of the 2019 season, which you can read here.

AJC: Falcons plan to keep developing young players

The Falcons have already taken the opportunity to get some of their younger players time out on the field during games. We've seen an uptick in the usage of players like Russell Gage and Christian Blake at receiver as well as Kendall Sheffield, among others.

With four games remaining in the 2019 season and the Falcons officially eliminated from the playoffs, Atlanta will look to continue developing their young players for the future.

"You definitely want to take a look and see where you are at," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Through some injuries we've already had that at a number of spots already to see where they development could go and who you could look at. Some of that starts on special teams.

"Those chances sometimes they come up through injury. But the other part is that we want to keep developing them and pushing them so they can max that out. But it's always still about playing our best to go win."

D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote more about the Falcons' youth movement for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which you can read here.

ESPN: Matt Ryan nearing 50,000 yards

Matt Ryan has already made his mark on this history books this season, surpassing Warren Moon and moving into the NFL's top 10 in career passing yards. In Week 14 against the Carolina Panthers, Ryan could again reach a major milestone.

With just 34 passing yards on Sunday, Ryan will have amassed 50,000 in his NFL career, a feat that only nine others have accomplished in the league's history. Here are the nine quarterbacks on that list, currently:

  • Drew Brees: 76,228 yards*
  • Tom Brady: 73,782 yards*
  • Peyton Manning: 71,940 yards
  • Brett Favre: 71,838 yards
  • Dan Marino: 61,361 yards
  • Philip Rivers: 58,090 yards*
  • Ben Roethlisberger: 56,545 yards*
  • Eli Manning: 56,537 yards*
  • John Elway: 51,475 yards

*Player is still active

ESPN's Vaughn McClure spoke with Ryan about what the milestone would mean to him and how he would reflect upon it. McClure's piece also includes quotes from other notable quarterbacks on that list like Favre and Brees about the Falcons' starting quarterback.

"Everybody's shooting for that," Ryan told McClure of finishing his career as the NFL's all-time leading passer. "Anybody that tells you they're not is lying. Of course you're shooting for that. Of course you'd want to be recognized that way. But at the same time, there's a long time to go between now and then.

"You need a lot of luck, and I think all the guys up there on the list would say the same thing. You've got to work really, really hard, but you've got to be lucky, too, to be able to continue to play and not have things derail your career because every time you're out there, something could kind of change that narrative. It could change in one play. So, I think you have to be lucky to get there, too. But I feel good, man. I feel like I've got a lot to go, a long way to go from here."

To read the rest of McClure's piece, click here.

AJC: Falcons' offensive line rebuild not working

During the 2019 offseason, the Falcons went to great lengths to bolster the depth and talent along their offensive line. Atlanta used two first-round picks on guard Chris Lindstrom, who has been on injured reserve since Week 1, and tackle Kaleb McGary. The Falcons also signed veteran guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, who, alongside McGary, have been starters for much of the season.

Those new additions haven't led to different results, however. The Falcons have allowed 40 sacks so far this season, tied for the seventh-most in the league. They've also had difficulty establishing the run, ranking 30th in the league with 74.3 rushing yards per game.

"It's real frustrating, especially when it's one of those big guys that lay on him," Brown told The AJC's D. Orlando Ledbetter of opponents sacking Matt Ryan. "I know as an offensive lineman, you take that personally, even if it's not your guy. So, I know that all five guys, every guy in that room, is fighting their butt off to make sure that we keep that man, Matt on his feet."

To read the rest of Ledbetter's piece, click here.

The Ringer: Atlanta Falcons exit interview

With Atlanta officially eliminated from the postseason, The Ringer's Danny Heifetz wrote an exit interview for the team in 2019. Heifetz touched briefly on what went right for the team, had a lot more to say about what went wrong for the team, and took stock of the future via free agency and the draft.

"No team needs to win the Chase Young sweepstakes quite like Atlanta," Heifetz writes. "The Falcons have one of the worst pass rushes in the league. Beasley and Clayborn are likely gone in March, and the Falcons have virtually no money to acquire a veteran pass rusher to replace them."

To read the rest of Heifetz's exit interview, click here.

Advertising