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Falcons depth heavily tested in loss to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

ATLANTA — The Falcons often preach that no matter where a player lies on the depth chart, everyone is a starter. That next-man-up mentality was heavily tested in the 25-29 pivotal division loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After 14 weeks of NFL football, injuries are inevitable. The Falcons started the game with five starters out with injury, but four more would exit the game by the time the game clock hit triple zeroes.

The injury issues hit the the offensive line especially hard.

Right tackle Kaleb McGary and center Drew Dalman were ruled out prior to kickoff. Storm Norton and Ryan Neuzil, respectively, stepped up in their places. Norton had been in a similar position in Week 4 when he came in for McGary just days after signing with the team. He did something similar in Week 13, when McGary hurt his knee. Neuzil made the first start of his career on Sunday and saw action on offense for the first time this season.

Then, just a few minutes into the second quarter, the injury wave came crashing.

Left tackle Jake Matthews left with a knee injury. Then Tyler Vrabel, elevated from the practice squad on Saturday, stepped in. Later in the quarter, right guard Chris Lindstrom exited the game with an ankle injury. That left just one starter, Matt Bergeron, on the the field.

The Falcons weathered their injury issues and came up just short of a second-half comeback. Quarterback Desmond Ridder took three sacks, including one in the end zone that end up a safety. Atlanta rushed for 96 yards; it was just the third time they didn't run for 100 or more yards.

"To come in cold like that and do that in a game...there's anxiety there and everything that comes with that," Lindstrom said. "I don't think you know we skipped a beat.

"Storm and I now have two or three games together and a ton of reps. Neuzil and I have been working in practice every day for three years. I don't just work with Drew (Dalman), so it was good to be able to show all the work that we put in and it was all worth something positive."

However, it wasn't just the offensive depth that was tested. Defensively, the Falcons had to fill holes as well.

Linebacker Nate Landman, who has had a breakout season after replacing Troy Andersen with a season-ending injury, was designated as out. Andre Smith Jr. started. Cornerback Jeff Okudah was inactive and Clark Phillips III took the majority of his reps opposite starter A.J. Terrell.

Defensive lineman David Onyemata didn't play for the second time this season, instead, Kentavius Street filled in. However, as the injury trend piled on, Street left in the third quarter and was ruled out with a shoulder injury. A rotation of Ta'Quon Graham and Albert Huggins picked up the snaps on the defensive interior.

In the Falcons last game, Phillips also stepped up after Terrell was ruled out with a concussion.

"I feel like I embody that being the guy that kind of got thrown into the fire when a guy went down," Phillips said.

The rookie defensive back recorded five total tackles and two passes defensed against the Bucs but was called for a costly defensive holding penalty on Tampa Bay's game-winning drive.

The Falcons have another week to get healthy before their next divisional clash, but they'll practice the same way — emphasizing development and providing reps up and down the roster.

"No matter who's out there or who's hurt," safety Jessie Bates said III, 'our standard is our standard."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 14.

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