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Football

    Finally, the Falcons put together four quarters of quality football this season. Quarterback Matt Ryan, in his first game back from a ankle sprain, directed the Falcons to a 26-9 victory on Sunday to silence the normally boisterous crowd at the Superdome.  Ryan cobbled together four scoring drives of 10 plays or more, including a 17-play masterpiece, that helped to shield the defense as the Falcons improved to 2-7 and snapped a six-game losing streak. The Saints dropped to 7-2 and had their six-game winning streak broken.  The Falcons, who entered the game with only seven sacks, found a pass-rushing groove and came up with six sacks against the normally elusive Brees.    Ryan completed 20 of 35 passes for 182 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 78.5. It was his first game back since having his streak of 163 starts (154 regular season, nine playoffs) broke.  The Falcons rushed 34 times for 143 yards for a 4.2 yard per carry average to help win the time of possession battle.  The Falcons previous rushing high was 103 yards against Arizona on Oct. 13. After Ryan tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Brian Hill, the Falcons held a 20-9 lead with 14:53 to play. It was just a matter of closing the deal against the Saints, who committed four untimely illegal hands to the face penalties and had a roughing the punter penalty that led to a field goal. In all, the Saints committed 11 penalties for 85 yards.  The Falcons on the strength of three time-consuming scoring drives held a 13-6 halftime lead over the Saints. It was just the third time this season the Falcons have held a lead at halftime. The Falcons led the Eagles 10-6 in Week 2 and held a 17-16 lead at halftime over the Texans on Oct. 6. The Falcons went on to beat the Eagles, but were blown out in the second half against the Texans (55-32). The Falcons won the toss and elected to receive. The offense, leaning heavily on the rushing attack, zipped down to the Saints’ 13-yard line after a 12-yard gain by running back Kenjon Barner of a direct snap.   But the Saints’ crowd got loud and right tackle Kaleb McGary jumped offsides followed by right guard Jamon Brown jumping offsides. Instead of first and 10 from the 13, the Falcons had first-and-20 from the 23 and they couldn’t overcome the setbacks. The Falcons settled for a 37-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo to take a 3-0 lead. The drive took 5:33 off the clock.  The Saints answered with a 29-yard field goal by Will Lutz to tie the game. The Falcons then put together a 17-play, touchdown drive that included a Ryan scramble on a four-and-4 from the Saints’ 44 yard line.  Ryan tossed a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper to cap the drive and put the Falcons up 10-3.  Hooper left the game left with an apparent knee injury, but returned to the action. The game went back and forth until Koo added a 36-yard field goal with 1:35 left in the second quarter. The Saints answered with a 47-yard field goal from Lutz at the halftime buzzer. In the second half, the Saints opened with another field goal drive to make it 13-9.  The Falcons’ defense came through with sacks from linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, defensive end Adrian Clayborn,  defensive end Vic Beasley (one and half), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett  (2.5 sacks). The Falcons also had 10 quarterback hits.  The Falcons only had seven sacks on the season before this pass-rushing outburst.   On defense, the Falcons, who moved assistant coach Raheem Morris over to help coach the defensive backs, didn’t have any blown coverages and free safety Damontae Kazee came in nickel package and added a physical presence. Kendall Sheffield started at left cornerback, but went down inside while Blidi Wreh-Wilson came in to play outside in the nickel. Kazee and Wreh-Wilson came in for the nickel while safety Kemal Ishmael and linebacker Foye Oluokun left the base defensive package.  Freeman left the game with a foot/ankle injury and Hill took over at running back. Ito Smith (neck injury) was placed on injured reserve on Saturday. Rookie Qadree Ollison was active for the first time this season.  The Falcons are set to play at the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Charlotte.  
  • The Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Missouri Tigers 27-0, posting their third shutout of the season. This is the first time Georgia has shutout their opponents three times, since 1981. The Bulldog’s ability to stop the run has elevated this defense to historic levels. For the first time in school history, Georgia hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown through the first nine games of the season. The previous school record was eight games, in 1927. Georgia is the only team in the FBS to not allow rushing through their first nine games of the season over the last 20 years.
  • The Atlanta Falcons have released Matt Bryant, who had connected on just 9-of-14 field goal attempts this season, and have signed Younghoe Koo. Bryant had been the Falcons kicker, since 2009 and is the Falcons all-time leading scorer with 1,163 points, over 148 games. Koo attended Georgia Southern University, where he set the school’s career field goal percentage record, connecting on 31-of-35 (88.6%) of his field goal’s for the Eagles. In his final season with the Eagles (2016-17), Koo became the first kicker in school history to be named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award and became the Eagles first FBS All-American after being named to Phil Steele’s third-team. That season, he tied the school record with 19 made field goals, after connecting on 19-of-20 attempts, including 14-consecutive makes, which also tied the school record. In 2019, Koo became the kicker for the Atlanta Legends, where he was perfect on his field goals, connecting on 14-of-14 attempts. Prior to joining the Legends, Koo appeared in four games for the Los Angeles Chargers, in 2017, where he went 3-for-6 on field goals and a perfect 9-for-9 on extra points.
  • A day after holding tryouts, the Falcons released veteran kicker Matt Bryant on Tuesday.  Younghoe Koo, (pronounced “Young Way Coo”) who played at Georgia Southern and last kicked in the NFL for the Chargers in 2017, was signed. The Falcons also put Elliott Fry, who played at South Carolina, through a tryout. » MARK BRADLEY: A sign of times, releasing Matt Bryant Bryant missed field-goal attempts from 51 (wide left) and 53 yards (wide right) as the Falcons fell behind 24-0 against the Seahawks on Sunday. He made field goals from 47 yards and one from 37 yards with 1:21 to play to pull the Falcons with in one score in an eventual 27-20 loss. The Falcons cut Bryant — the franchise’s all-time points leader — in February. He made 9 of 14 field-goal attempts after rejoining the team just before the start of the season. Giorgio Tavecchio was slated to be the field-goal kicker, but he was too erratic in the exhibition season and the team re-signed Bryant. Bryant, 44, has made just 2 of 6 of his field-goal attempts from 50 yards or more this season. He’s made 3 of 3 from 40 to 49 yards, 3 of 4 from 30 to 39 yards and 1 of 1 from 20 to 29 yards. He’s also missed an extra-point attempt that could have tied the score against Arizona.  “Over the last few weeks, we’ve missed the mark,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Monday. “We wanted to take at look and evaluate.” Koo was on the Patriots’ practice squad. In 2017, he played in four games and was 3-of-6 on field goals, including 1-of-4 from 40 to 49 yards. He’s never attempted a kick beyond 50 yards in the NFL. Koo was the kicker on the Atlanta Legends, during their short-lived Alliance of American Football season. He was a perfect 14-of-14 on his attempts, his longest at 38 yards.  Koo is the fourth NFL player born in South Korea. In college, he was an All-Sun Belt selection and a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. Also Monday, the Falcons waived quarterback Danny Etling and cornerback D.J. White. However, the team later released punter Kasey Redfern and added Etling to the practice squad. Redfern, who also handled kickoffs, was signed before the Arizona game Oct. 13. He played in three games for the Falcons and averaged 41.2 yards on nine punts. Etling was active Sunday as the backup to Matt Schaub.  Matt Ryan (ankle sprain) is expected back after the bye week. --- Subscribe to “The Bow Tie Chronicles” podcast with the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter on iTunes or on the new AJC sports podcasts page.
  • Falcons owner Arthur Blank addressed the elephant in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. After the team dropped to 1-7, coach Dan Quinn’s future was a topic of discussion and Blank admitted that it was a “fair question.” The Falcons were expected to contend for the NFC South title, but find themselves in last place heading into their bye week.  “It’s a very fair question,” Blank said when asked about Quinn’s future with the team. “I would say, much like the coaches said, I am extraordinarily disappointed in the season. Nobody would have anticipated 1-7 and the lack of consistency. Today was a prime example of that. Down 24-0, if we could’ve just played the second half, we would’ve won the game, but it doesn’t work that way.” Quinn, after a successful stint as Seattle’s defensive coordinator was hired as the Falcons head coach on Feb. 2, 2015. He took the team to Super Bowl LI, but it’s been downhill since they took that 28-3 lead.  It does not appear that a coaching change in imminent. “We’ll take the next couple of weeks and during this bye period of time and evaluate where we are,” Blank said. “Whatever decision we have to make, it will be made for the right reasons for the long term. We certainly have a lot of intelligence on this coaching staff.  “Besides Dan (Quinn), we have three other head coaches and we’ve got three general managers in the building beyond Thomas (Dimitroff), so actually four in the building with Rich McKay.” Raheem Morris, Mike Mularkey and Dirk Koetter are the former head coaches on Quinn’s staff. Ruston Webster (Tennessee) and Phil Emery (Chicago) are the other former general managers on the staff.  “The knowledge base is there, but the performance is not,” Blank said. “This is a performance-driven business. I understand that and they understand that as well.” Blank promised a sweeping evaluation. “We’ll continue to look at everything we can and make the right decisions when we have to make them,” Blank said. “I’m not bashful about making those decisions. In almost 20 years, I’ve had to do it almost five times now. I understand the responsibility that I have to the fans and to the sponsors and our players and coaches, etc., to put a winning team on the field. We’re still committed to that a thousand percent and that’s not going to change.” Blank, who has owned the team since 2002, knows that change is on the horizon.  “We are going to do something,” Blank said. “We’re going to continue to think really hard and evaluate everything that we can do as an owner and as a senior management team and figure out if there is anything we can do to make some decisions here earlier and here later that would help the process, but we have no plans of making any changes right now.” Blank has been appalled at how the team has fallen behind. The Falcons have been outscored 144 to 50 in the first halves of games this season.  “It’s very painful,” Blank said. “It’s very painful, because not only am I an owner, I’m the steward for the fans. I’m the custodian of things on their behalf. I feel their pain, I truly do. I see their pain and I understand what they’re going through. “It’s bewildering how we can play that way in the first half and completely different in the second half. That’s kind of been typical of the year. We just haven’t had the kind of consistency to win games.” The Falcons are essentially eliminated from the playoffs at the halfway mark of the season.  “It’s just not acceptable at any level,” Blank said. “We’ll have to continue to think about what’s the best thing for the franchise and the team on a long-term basis and we’ll do that.” Fans have been voting by not coming to the games. “It’s very painful,” Blank said of the empty seats. “I understand that. I’ve always been here, I’m going to be in my seat. Hopefully, the great majority of our fans will as well. I think they understand our ownership has been committed for almost 20 years now in doing the right things for the franchise.  “I look at our record over that period of time compared to the prior 36 years and it’s extraordinarily good. Even for this staff, it’s hard to imagine, but we played as a Super Bowl team a couple of years ago. The year following, when we weren’t supposed to be competitive, we were five yards away from playing for the NFC Championship game.  “In the last year, we’ve had a number of injuries, as we all know. That’s all history. It’s nice to understand that and appreciate that, but this is a ‘now’ business and it’s a ‘now’ game, so we perform good.' Blank doesn’t plan to make any sentimental decisions.  “I think you need to keep in mind, it’s not a reason or another, but it is a fact, the players, they love Dan Quinn,” Blank said. “They’re playing hard for him. Results aren’t there and I understand that, and they understand that as well.  “You all heard about Julio’s (Jones) comments this last week. I happened to be in the locker room and in 20 years, I’ve never heard a player talk that way with that emotional content and that fervor and that feeling about their responsibility and their own accountability. I think he touched a lot of players and the whole staff in doing that. That has to convert to a different record.” But even after Jones’ speech, the Falcons went out and did the same thing. Fell behind, tried to rally and came up short.  “I think the players have not lost confidence in the coach and the coaching staff and they’re playing (with) high energy, they’re committed, they’re practicing hard, they’re working hard,” Blank said. “They’re as befuddled I think as we are, as the coaches are, but I don’t think they view it as a lack of confidence in the coach and the coaching staff. I think they’re very committed to working for him and doing whatever they have to do. Hopefully, it will be enough. We’ll see.”
  • The Falcons continued to sink into the basement of the National Football League on Sunday.  Playing without quarterback Matt Ryan for the first time in nearly a decade, the Falcons were defeated 27-20 by the Seahawks before another sparse crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Ryan’s streak of 163 consecutive starts (154 regular-season games and nine playoff games) was snapped because of a right ankle sprain he suffered last week against the Rams. He was ruled out on Saturday, one day before the Falcons (1-7) suffered their sixth straight loss. Seattle improved to 6-2.  “(We) can't lose the turnover battle zero to three and expect to come out ahead,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn lamented. “For us, we talked to the team. The first half of the season is complete, and we have to come out for the second half of the season much like we came out in the second half today. “If we do that, we'll be the team that we would like to play like. Losing that turnover margin and digging yourself into a hole at the start, (is a) tough way to get started into a game.” With the 39-year-old Matt Schaub at the controls, the Falcons couldn’t generate much offense as they fell behind 24-0 in the first half. Kicker Matt Bryant missed two field goal attempts, Schaub tossed an interception and the Falcons failed to cover Seahawks rookie wide receiver DK Metcalfe twice in the end zone. In the second half, with a chance to make it a one-score game, running back Devonta Freeman had a costly fumble at the Seahawks’ 1-yard line.    “It hurts,” center Alex Mack said. “You don’t want to see fumbles. Those are things that change games.” Schaub completed 39 of 52 passes for 460 yards and a touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 99.8. He leaned heavily on wide receiver Julio Jones, who had 10 catches for 152 yards. “I mean, we fell short,” Schaub said. “We had opportunities, ... Our defense played great in the second half holding them to three points and giving us a chance with the football.” Schaub, who had not started a game since Dec. 6, 2015 when he was with the Ravens, had his fifth career 400-yard passing game.  “He’s seen every single look,” said tight end Austin Hooper, who had six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. “He’s the consummate professional.” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson completed 14 of 20 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 131.7.  Seahawks built their first-half lead behind the a strong rushing attack that was averaged 6.6 yards per carry after two quarters. They finished with 151 yards on 33 carries for a 4.6 average per carry.  “Just technique issues,” defensive end Vic Beasley said. “We have to stay in our gaps. When they get explosive runs, it’s just somebody getting out of their gap. Just a mistake on the defensive side of the ball.” The Falcons have now been outscored 144 to 50 in the first halves this season. In six of the eight games, they’ve trailed by double digits at halftime. The Falcons only win was over the Eagles in the second week of the season.  The Seahawks took the lead with a 42-yard field goal by Jason Meyers on their opening drive. After an exchange of punts, the Falcons moved to Seattle’s 33-yard line, but elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1. Bryant’s kick was wide left. For a team that was 1-6, the decision to attempt a field goal was puzzling.  The Seahawks scored a touchdown on their next three possessions to take control of the game.  Metcalfe, who played at Mississippi, caught a 4-yard touchdown when the Falcons left him wide open in the middle of the end zone. Seattle running back Chris Carson, the former Parkview High standout, rushed for a 1-yard touchdown and Melcalfe added a 2-yard touchdown when he broke wide open again in the end zone. Carson rushed 20 times for 90 yards.  After Seattle went up 10-0, Schaub was intercepted by Seahawks linebacker Mychal Kendricks. After Carson’s touchdown made it 17-0, the Falcons did go for it on a fourth-and-1 from their own 34. In one of the few highlights of the first half, Schaub connected with tight end Jaeden Graham to convert.   The Falcons came out strong in the third quarter. Running back Brian Hill scored on a 23-yard touchdown to cap an seven-play, 75-yard drive to open the period.  The Falcons’ defense forced a stop and Bryant made a 47-yard field goal to make it 24-11.  After the defense forced another stop, Schaub had the Falcons back on the move but Freeman killed the promising drive with his fumble. Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner recovered the loose ball. The play was reviewed and was upheld as a fumble.  With a chance to make it a one-score game, why Freeman tried to stretch the ball out made little sense. On Seattle’s ensuing drive, Meyer added at 54-yard field goal.   Schaub answered with another 75-yard yard touchdown drive that was capped with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper.  The Falcons’ onside kick failed, but the defense got a stop. Schaub had the ball back with 2:41 left to play to work a 10-point football miracle. The Falcons kicked a 37-yard field goal on second down with 1:21 left. The second onsides-kick, Kasey Redfern’s high bouncer didn’t go 10 yards and went out of bounds with 1:17 to play.  The Falcons’ defense snapped its sack-less streak when Grady Jarrett dropped Wilson with 8:52 left in the third quarter. It was the Falcons first sack since the 9:50 mark of third quarter of the Colts’ game on Sept. 22. Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison added a sack in the fourth quarter.  The Falcons have made it a habit of digging first-half holes this season and they have not been able to come back from any of the deficits. The Falcons were down 21-0 at Minnesota, up 10-6 against the Eagles, down 20-3 to the Colts, down 24-7 to the Titans, up 17-16 against the Texans, down 20-10 against the Cardinals, down 13-3 against the Rams and down 24-0 to the Seahawks. “We’ve played a lot of good opponents,” center Alex Mack said of the chronic slow starts. “If you don’t make plays, they’ll probably capitalize.”  The Falcons have a bye next week before returning to play at the Saints on Nov. 10. 
  • Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was ruled out of Sunday’s game against Seattle. Ryan, who suffered a right ankle sprain against the Rams on Sunday, took part in practice Friday and was listed as questionable for Falcons’ game against the Seahawks at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Then Saturday, the team elevated quarterback Danny Etling from the practice squad to the active roster, signaling that he will serve as the backup to Matt Schaub on Sunday. The Falcons placed offensive lineman John Wetzel on waivers to make room for Etling on the 53-man roster. Ryan appeared comfortable Friday on short, three-step, dropbacks. He threw a series of passes to his left, then to the middle and to the right to stationary receivers. He didn’t throw to any receivers running routes during the portion of practice that was open to the media.  Ryan had started 163 consecutive games (154 regular-season games and nine playoff games). He missed two games in the 2009 season with a turf-toe injury sustained in Week 11. He came back to win the last three games as the Falcons posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. 
  • The Atlanta Falcons have traded Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots for a 2020 second-round pick. After seven weeks, the Falcons are tied for the third-worst record (1-6) in the NFL, with a .143 winning percentage. They now have four picks in the first three rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, which include one first-round pick, two second-round picks and one third-round pick.  Despite the hole the Falcons now have on their offense without their starting slot receiver, the Falcons will likely use these early draft picks to rebuild their struggling defense. The Falcons are one game away from becoming the first team in NFL history to fail to record a sack in five-straight games. The Falcons only have five sacks this season, which is the fewest in the NFL. The last time they got a sack was against the Indianapolis Colts. In addition to their lack of being able to pressure the quarterback, the Falcons defense also struggles to produce turnovers. They only have two interceptions, which both came against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons have placed defensive end/outside linebacker, Vic Beasley on the trade block and have been rumored to be in discussion with teams on outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Falcons defensive ranks - 2019 31.9 points allowed per game (31st) -116.40 expected points contributed by all defense (32nd) 387.7 total yards allowed per game (27th) 274.0 passing yards allowed per game (28th) 113.7 rushing yards allowed per game (20th) 4 total takeaways (31st) 2 interceptions (t-30th) 2 fumbles recovered (t-25th) 5 sacks (32nd)
  • Austin Hooper is in a contract year and he is putting together the best year of his career. Through six games, Hooper has nearly set single-season career-highs for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Austin Hooper’s 2019 stats (NFL rank among tight ends) 42 rec (1st) 480 yards (2nd) 11.43 avg 3 touchdowns (t-2nd) 0 drops (Hooper and George Kittle are the only tight ends with 25+ receptions and zero drops) Hooper is the youngest tight end in NFL history to record 40+ receptions and 450+ receiving yards, through a team’s first six games of the season. He is just the sixth tight end to ever record those numbers within the first six games of a season. Austin Hooper’s single-season highs (difference between current stats and single-season highs) 71 rec (-29 rec) 660 yards (-180 yards) 4 touchdowns (-1 touchdown)
  • The Atlanta Falcons are off to a 1-5 record to start the 2019 season, the worst start in the Dan Quinn era. Whether the defense is playing horrible, kickers are missing kicks or the team is getting penalized left and right, this Falcons team always finds a way to lose. In week 6, the Falcons lost to the Arizona Cardinals 34-33, despite Matt Ryan having his best game of the season and one of the best games of his career. Ryan’s stats against the Cardinals (week 6) 83.33 cmp% (30-36) 356 passing yards 11.9 avg 4 passing touchdowns 144.9 passer rating 80.0 qbr For the third time in NFL history a quarterback was on the losing end of the game after throwing four+ touchdowns, zero interceptions and having a 140+ passer rating... Ryan has been apart of two/thirds of these such games. Ryan also became the first quarterback in NFL history to lose after completing at least 80% of his passes for 300+ yards, four+ touchdowns and zero interceptions.