Early Bird Report: Russell Gage growing as member of Falcons offense

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In the second game of his third NFL season, Russell Gage caught the second touchdown pass of his career. It occurred on a well-timed route from the 8-yard line in the fourth quarter, and Gage held on to a bullet from Matt Ryan despite taking a big hit from the safety closing in on him. Gage began the day with a drop on third down, but he certainly wasn't about to drop that one.

Through two games this season, Gage looks like he'll have a bigger role in this offense, something that was discussed throughout the offseason. A player the Falcons drafted largely for his special teams abilities, Gage has become a shifty route runner with a penchant for finding space in zones. As he showed in the third quarter of Sunday's game, he can also throw the football beautifully.

Gage recorded the first 100-yard game of his career in the season opener against Seattle with 9 catches for 114 yards, and he followed that up with six catches for 46 yards and the touchdown in Week 2 against Dallas. The 160 yards Gage has recorded through two weeks ties him for the 13th-most in the NFL.

"You're always unsure, though, when a guy gets his opportunity if he's going to be able to handle that role and do it week-in and week-out," Ryan said of Gage after the Seattle game. "I think he's certainly exceeded everybody's expectations. He's played extremely well for us now that he's had his chance to be a starter. You're happy to see it because he's worked so hard, but I think it's been a slow progression from the time he first got here until now. He is one of those guys who has continued to get better week in and week out and I thought he played one of his best games for us this past week."

Christian McCaffrey expected to miss 4-6 weeks

Arguably the league's best running back in the league, Christian McCaffrey could not avoid the injury bug that swept across the NFL in Week 2. The Panthers star running back sustained a high-ankle sprain, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, an injury that could cost him four to six weeks of playing time. That's an important and significant timetable for the Falcons.

Atlanta plays its first game against Carolina in Week 5 – three weeks from this past Sunday – and the Falcons finish their season series with the Panthers in Week 8 – six weeks from last Sunday. It seems very likely McCaffrey misses the first matchup between the two teams, but it's possible he's out for both, which would be a huge swing for the Falcons.

If McCaffrey has anything to say about it, however, he won't be out as long as the doctors say. In speaking with the media after his injury, he explained his intentions for a quick recovery.

Week 2 NFL takeaways

With the additional wildcard spot now in effect around the NFL, an 0-2 hole might not be what it once was. Still, after looking for much of the afternoon that this Falcons team would sit at 1-1 after a great performance, it's tough to grapple with. Dan Quinn said he's taking a week-to-week approach with this team, which means all attention is now turned towards Chicago for an important Week 3 game, something Vaughn McClure mentions in his takeaways for ESPN.com.

"No matter how you dissect it, this was an embarrassing loss for the Falcons and one that could linger the rest of the season," Quinn said. "An 0-2 start was not what owner Arthur Blank signed up for when he decided to keep both coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after back-to-back 7-9 seasons. Yes, it's too early to rule the Falcons out of playoff contention, but a fast start was critical, especially with how difficult NFC South play will be against Drew Brees' Saints and Tom Brady's Bucs. Quinn said he's going to take things game by game, and he gave an emphatic "No,'' when asked whether any coaching changes would be made. The Falcons have no choice but to turn it around against a surprisingly undefeated Bears team next week at home, or else they could find themselves 0-4 out of the gate with a road trip to Green Bay in Week 4."

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