The Falcons still have a shot in the woeful NFC South despite another turnover-filled loss


ATLANTA (AP) — Already assured of their sixth consecutive losing season, the Atlanta Falcons and their coach, Arthur Smith, still have reason to believe all is not lost.

For that, they should give thanks to the woeful NFC South.

The Falcons (7-9) remain in contention in the NFL's most forgiving division entering the regular season's final week. They continue to struggle with turnovers and poor quarterback play but could salvage their season, possibly save Smith's job and improbably win the NFC South if they beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and last-place Carolina wins at home against Tampa Bay.

Given the Falcons' struggles and the fact Carolina (2-14) has the NFL's worst record, neither result seems likely. At this point, however, no ending should be a surprise in the league's only division without a winning team.

This doesn't hide the fact the Falcons remain painfully flawed, with the latest evidence coming in another turnover-filled loss, 37-17 at Chicago. One week after providing a rare clean game in a 29-10 win over Indianapolis, Taylor Heinicke threw three interceptions before leaving the loss to the Bears with a left ankle injury.

Desmond Ridder, already benched twice this season, took over for Heinicke and threw the Falcons' fourth pick.

Smith has posted 7-10 records in each of his first two seasons and faced a mandate from owner Arthur Blank to show improvement. A win over the Saints would provide a one-win bump, but the late-season fade makes it more difficult to make a case Smith has the team moving in a positive direction.

“You put a lot into it, but does that break anybody’s spirit here?” Smith asked Monday. "No. That’s what we’ve proven over and over again. We’ve done this to ourselves. It’s nobody’s fault but your own. Starts with me, as it should, but that’s what gives you a lot of confidence.

"Nobody liked what happened (Sunday). We have life. However crazy it played out, that is what the situation is. Any time we play New Orleans, it’s a big deal. Certainly, this game has a lot on the line. I know some of it is out of our control, but again, that’s our own doing, right?”

The Falcons are 2-6 on the road.


The Falcons did a slightly better job of moving the ball than reaching the end zone. They rushed for 134 yards for their 11th game with more than 100, and had 307 total yards. Bijan Robinson rushed for 75 yards. The Falcons average only 19 points per game, ahead of only six teams. They are closer to the middle of the league with their average of 330.9 yards.


No matter the verdict on Smith, it's likely a change is coming at quarterback. The Falcons hoped to strike gold with Ridder, a third-round pick out of Cincinnati in 2022. Ridder's inability to avoid interceptions, fumbles and sacks cost him his starting job twice this season. The Falcons' biggest offseason decision may be choosing a path to find their next starter — through the draft, a trade or free agency.


Tyler Allgeier's 75-yard touchdown catch was the longest play of his two-year career and the Falcons' longest play from scrimmage of the season. Allgeier had only five carries for 13 yards but his long run following the catch showed Robinson is not the only running back on the roster with big-play ability.


Younghoe Koo made only one of three field goal attempts. A 50-yard attempt fell short and a 42-yarder hit the left upright. The snow and wind made for difficult kicking conditions, but it marked the second time in the last four games he has missed two attempts. Koo has made 31 of 36 this season.


Heinicke said he felt a sharp pain in his left ankle late in the game. If he has continued soreness this week, Ridder will likely get the start. ... CB Mike Hughes (concussion) and C Drew Dalman (ankle) also are expected to be on the injury report this week.


137 — Drake London's four catches for 56 yards gave him 137 career receptions, surpassing Julio Jones' 133 in 2011-12 as the most for an Atlanta player in his first two seasons.


The Falcons may find it difficult to avoid keeping an eye on the scoreboard when playing the Saints. The Tampa Bay-Carolina game also is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. EST. The Falcons beat the Saints 24-15 in Atlanta on Nov. 26.