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Monday, October 14, 2013
Recovering from 1-4 start a tall task

By Vaughn McClure

Julio Jones undergoes season-ending foot surgery Monday. Roddy White questioned the identity of the offense in a radio interview Friday.

All seems to be imploding for a 1-4 Atlanta Falcons team picked by many to make the Super Bowl this season. Through all the adversity, quarterback Matt Ryan continues to approach work with a smile. And head coach Mike Smith continues to keep an optimistic approach.

"We are still in this," Smith said last week. "There are still 11 games to be played, a lot of football to be played. We're focusing on us and focusing on what we have to do to get a win. We can't look beyond our next opponent."

Maybe the Falcons could use Tim Tebow. That’s a joke, of course, but Tebow is the last player to help his team overcome a 1-4 start to make the postseason. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only six teams since 1990 have qualified for the playoffs following such a start: Tebow’s Broncos (2011), the Packers (2004), the Jets (2002), the Titans (2002), Oilers (1993) and Chargers (1992).

Can the Falcons join the group? It would take a dramatic turnaround by the defense, a dynamic effort from the $100 million quarterback and maybe a little luck. Since Ryan and Smith joined the team in 2008, the Falcons have rattled off seven winning streaks of three games or more, including two eight-game winning streaks.

Here is a projection of how the Falcons will fare over the final 11 regular-season games:

*Sunday vs. Tampa Bay (0-5): The Buccaneers are in disarray and still feeling the effects of the Josh Freeman fallout. Falcons win (2-4).

*Oct. 27 at Arizona (3-3): The Cardinals will get beat up by the Seahawks right before the Falcons come to town. Falcons win (3-4).

*Nov. 3 at Carolina (2-3): Panthers have shown fight on defense, and Cam Newton seems to play well against his home state team. Falcons lose (3-5).

*Nov. 10 vs. Seattle (5-1): The Colts and Andrew Luck showed the Seahawks aren’t invincible. Ryan could do the same. Falcons win (4-5).

*Nov. 17 at Tampa Bay (0-5): Don’t see how the Buccaneers get any better with Greg Schiano as head coach. Ryan is 3-1 in Tampa. Falcons win (5-5).

*Nov. 21 vs. New Orleans (5-1): Would have been more fun had the Saints marched in undefeated. Ryan is just 3-7 versus the hated rivals, but his fortunes turn. Falcons win (6-5).

*Dec. 1 vs. Buffalo (2-4) in Toronto: NBA teams seem to get distracted by the sights and sounds of Toronto. The Falcons can’t afford to do the same. Falcons win (7-5)

*Dec. 8 at Green Bay (3-2): For a team that plays indoors, facing the Packers at Lambeau in December could be a worst-case scenario. Falcons lose (7-6).

*Dec. 15 at Washington (1-4): RG III obviously is not at full strength this season, which is a good thing for a vulnerable Falcons defense. Falcons win (8-6).

*Dec. 23 at San Francisco (4-2): The rematch from last year’s NFC Championship Game should show what the Falcons learn from blowing a 17-point lead and a Super Bowl berth. Will it matter? Falcons lose (8-7).

*Dec. 29 vs. Carolina (2-3): The Falcons might have dug themselves too deep of a hole, but finishing with a winning record without Jones would be an accomplishment. Falcons win (9-7).