NFL Nation: 2013 Week 5 NYJ at ATL

Jacquizz RodgersScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesThe Falcons couldn't get Jacquizz Rodgers into the end zone on the final play of the first half.
ATLANTA -- One yard.

That's all that stood between the Atlanta Falcons and rebounding from a dismal 2013 start.

One yard might have given them much-needed momentum going into the bye week. One yard might have given fans hope the team would sneak right back into the playoff picture.

Instead, Monday night ended with one resounding thud.

There were a variety of reasons why the Falcons suffered their third straight defeat, falling to 1-4 with a 30-28 loss to the New York Jets, who kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired. Some folks will put the blame on head coach Mike Smith, particularly after he decided against going for a field goal with a second left before halftime.

Smith admitted, in hindsight, maybe settling for three would have been the best option. But he believed his team could get the one yard necessary for a touchdown. He expressed faith in his offense, faith in his quarterback, faith in his offensive line.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan, Quinton Coples
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan was only sacked twice, but he felt the pressure from the Jets.
Those out there not upset with Smith are certainly pointing fingers at each and every offensive lineman for not helping Jacquizz Rodgers pick up that yard on fourth-and-goal. Truth be told, there's no reason to call out the linemen on this one. They pointed fingers at themselves.

"Probably would have been better if we had gotten a better push," right guard Garrett Reynolds said. "I don't know exactly what happened. I haven't watched it. But we didn't get in there."

Based on the replay, it appeared at least two front-line Falcons got beat on the play. Joe Hawley, the backup center who lined up as an extra lineman in the tight end spot, seemed to miss his block and allow penetration to Jets defender Quinton Coples. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood appeared to get overpowered by Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was credited with dropping Rodgers for no gain.

"What did I see? I was just trying to block my guy," Trueblood said. "I wish I would have done a better job. If I would [have gotten] my man, [Rodgers] would have scored."

Owning up to the mistakes is the first step. Correcting those errors is the next phase for the much-maligned offensive line.

The front five have been the object of much criticism since an ugly showing in the preseason. This line underwent a major facelift from last season with center Todd McClure retiring and right tackle Tyson Clabo being released, then signing with the Miami Dolphins. The Falcons were prepared to start Mike Johnson in place of Clabo until Johnson went down for the remainder of the season with a broken leg and dislocated ankle.

Then left tackle Sam Baker, who was stellar last season, went down with an injury in Week 4 against the New England Patriots, which forced demoted right tackle Lamar Holmes to take over at left tackle alongside left guard Justin Blalock, center Peter Konz, Reynolds and Trueblood.

The makeshift line has had its struggles. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter compensated by orchestrating plays to help quarterback Matt Ryan release the ball quicker to avoid pressure.

Still, Ryan has been sacked at key times this season, including against the Patriots when Holmes allowed Ryan to get sacked in the red zone. On Monday night, Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson beat Trueblood and Reynolds, swooping in for a sack-fumble play on Ryan. The turnover led to a Nick Folk field goal.

The line must have gotten a pep talk from offensive line coach Pat Hill at halftime Monday night. The performance in the second half was much better, particularly in terms of clearing holes in the running game. Rodgers had two red-zone touchdown runs in the second half. And Ryan didn't get sacked in the fourth quarter, when he completed 12 of 18 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Regardless, that one yard the Falcons couldn't pick up before halftime might stick with them the entire season. Still, Ryan refused to blame the line.

"I thought they did a good job," he said. "I thought they fought the entire night. It's a good defense that we went against, specifically a very good front seven. And I thought our guys stepped up to the challenge.

"We ran the ball really effectively in the red zone. We just didn't run it effectively on that one play."

The Falcons don't have much of a choice but to ride with the offensive linemen they have now. Getting Baker back healthy might help, but he struggled when he was in the lineup. There aren't too many quality linemen sitting on the streets, and the Falcons have no current interest in recently released tackle Max Starks. Plus the organization still has high hopes for Holmes developing into a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle down the road.

Building toward the future is great, but the Falcons have to be more concerned about the present. If they have any thoughts of rebounding from this dismal 1-4 start, the line has to hold up its end. If it doesn't, the critics will continue to feast on the entire group.

"We always say we're all we got; we're all we need," Reynolds said. "All these people out here saying stuff about us. That's OK. That's their opinion. They don't know what we do. They don't know how hard we work. We have to take it on ourselves to continue to get better. We're a team. We're going to stick together."
ATLANTA -- It should have been a night of celebration for Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Instead, it turned into a night of frustration.

Gonzalez reached a milestone by catching a pass in his 200th consecutive game, joining Jerry Rice as the only two players to catch passes in 200 straight games. After the game, all Gonzalez could talk about was how his team would rebound from a 1-4 start after dropping a third straight, losing Monday to the New York Jets 30-28.

"I'm not going to sit here, what are we going to do? Sit here and feel sorry for ourselves? I'm not going to throw my hands up and say the season's over," Gonzalez said. "We still have a lot of football left to play, and I'm going to believe.

"And I expect my teammates to believe that we can turn this thing around after this bye week, and get a couple of guys back and get healthy. It's still in our hands. Yeah, it puts us behind the eight ball, but at the same time, if we go out there and just take it one game at a time, I'm confident that we can turn it around. I really am."

Gonzalez continues to do his part. He had 97 receiving yards on a team-high 10 catches, while being targeted a team-high 14 times. He was instrumental in drawing several penalties on the Jets for pass interference and defensive holding.

Had it not been for Julio Jones' jaw-dropping one-handed catch late in the game, Gonzalez's first catch -- the one putting him at 200 consecutive games -- would have been the most memorable grab of the night.

Gonzalez had hoped this would be a memorable season, although it hasn't turned out in such a manner thus far. He continues to chase an elusive Super Bowl ring, but the veteran emphasized last week that this would be his final season, no matter how the Falcons finish.

He expects them to finish strong.

"Whether it's realistic or not, that's up to you guys to say what you've got to say," Gonzalez vented. "But as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to go out there and play my heart out. And I expect that from my teammates, and hopefully we can turn this around."

Geno Smith turns in turnover-free gem

October, 8, 2013

ATLANTA -- Instead of micromanaging Geno Smith by making him wear a color-coded wrist band, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan came to his football senses and actually challenged his rookie quarterback to take the opposite approach Monday night.

"Let 'er rip and play with no conscience," Smith said of his coach's edict.

Smith played out of his mind, all right.

Eight days after the ugliest four-turnover performance you will ever see, Smith delivered a possible turning-point game for him and the Jets, rallying them to a dramatic, last-second upset of the Atlanta Falcons, 30-28, at the Georgia Dome.

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesGeno Smith left the Georgia Dome with his third victory in five games as a starter.
Smith was terrific for the first 58 minutes, and he was even better in the final two, directing a seven-play, 55-yard scoring drive to set up Nick Folk's 43-yard field goal as time expired. Smith was flawless on the final drive, completing four passes to three different receivers and calling an audible -- an audible! -- on the third-down play before Folk did his thing.

If Folk had missed, it still would've been a silver-lining night for the Jets (3-2), simply because of Smith's dramatic improvement. Sure, it would've hurt, but the initial pain would've faded, replaced by the big picture -- Smith's positive strides.

That they won the game, too, beating a team that fancied itself as a Super Bowl contender, was the ultimate double-delight for the Jets, who moved to within one game of the first-place New England Patriots in the AFC East.

"We showed that we can be great," said defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who was just that against the Falcons (1-4).

Team success aside, this showed Smith's potential. He's not a turnover machine, after all. After 11 giveaways in the first four games, he played a clean game on a national stage.

No turnovers.

Let's repeat that: no turnovers.

"I thought he did an outstanding job for us throughout the entire game," Ryan said.

This was the kind of game the Jets envisioned when they chose Smith in the second round. That he kept his cool on the road, with ear-splitting noise, showed plenty of moxie. For a change, everybody isn't talking about his strong arm and his physical gifts. Everybody's talking about his calm under pressure.

"He's wise beyond his years," running back Mike Goodson said.

Smith didn't put up "wow" numbers, mostly because Marty Mornhinweg featured the running game, but the former West Virginia star capitalized on his chances. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards, three touchdowns and a 147.7 passer rating. And he did it without injured wide receiver Santonio Holmes and with a couple of newcomers, Goodson and wide receiver David Nelson.

More importantly, he did it in crunch time.

Thanks to a fourth-quarter defensive collapse, the Jets fell behind 28-27. Smith got the ball on the 20-yard line with 1:54 on the clock. There wasn't a rah-rah speech in the huddle.

"There was no Disney pep talk," guard Willie Colon said. "No time for that. Good offenses get it done and that's what we did."

Smith hit Stephen Hill for a 12-yard gain, Jeremy Kerley for 13 more and Hill for another 9. Smith scrambled for 8 yards and got out of bounds, stopping the clock with 37 seconds left. After a Bilal Powell run, Smith hit Clyde Gates for 3 yards.

Now it was third-and-3 from Falcons' 31, on the fringe of field-goal range. Mornhinweg sent in a pass play and put Smith in shotgun. The kid looked at the Falcons' defense and changed the play to a run, moving behind center for the snap.

"That takes [guts]," Colon said of Smith's play change.

It almost blew up, but Powell shed a tackler in the backfield and ran for 6 yards. In came Folk, who is money with the game on the line. Smith loved the moment.

"Always calm, since I was a kid," he said, describing his emotions on the final drive. "To be in that situation, to take my team down and get a field goal or touchdown. … It's great to come away with a victory."

After last week's debacle against the Tennessee Titans, Smith said he "needed to change my mentality," explaining he couldn't afford to be uptight. He would've been that way if Ryan had gone through with the ridiculous idea of slapping a remedial wrist band on him, a la Mark Sanchez, circa 2009.

Smith heeded Ryan's words -- let 'er rip. It's a fine line, playing aggressively but not recklessly, which Smith had been doing. In Tennessee, he struggled to complete two passes in a row, let alone an entire drive with no margin for error.

"He's a rookie and we made him look like a 10-year vet," Falcons safety William Moore said.

It's amazing how quickly things can change in the NFL. A week ago, a crestfallen Smith apologized to defensive teammates for all his mistakes. On this night, they were raving about him. Ryan didn't gush too much, preferring to keep it about the team.

"The key word is 'fearless,'" he said. "I challenged our team the night before to play that way, and that's exactly how we played."

Starting at quarterback -- for a change.

Yep, another 'Folk hero' headline

October, 8, 2013
ATLANTA -- With the game on the line, Nick Folk is money.

Folk kicked the 43-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the New York Jets to a 30-28 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons Monday night at the Georgia Dome. It was his sixth game-winning kick since 2010 with the Jets, including a 48-yard winner in the season-opening win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Not bad for a guy who has to fight for his job every training camp.

"It felt good," he said of his latest "Folk Hero" moment. "It went down the middle. I hit it pretty good. I hit it pretty solid."

Folk noted that Week 5 Monday night games have been "pretty good to me over the years." In 2010, he made five field goals in a 29-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Each year, the team signes a veteran challenger. This year, it was Billy Cundiff and, later, Dan Carpenter. Folk sent them both packing. Who could argue with the results? So far, he's 11-for-11 in field goals, including makes from 22 and 36 yards Monday night before the game winner.

"I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball pretty well for a while now," he said. "Going back to last year, I think -- you take away my three block kicks or you add them in as makes ... you put those in, I’m a 90-percent guy last year."
Matt RyanKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Falcons' season is on the verge of a collapse after their fourth loss of the year.
ATLANTA -- A last-minute loss at the New Orleans Saints, now 5-0?


A four-point defeat at the Miami Dolphins, who moved to 3-0 with the win?

OK, I get it.

A comeback falls just short against the then-4-0 New England Patriots?

Far from a shocking outcome.

Now then: How should we view the Atlanta Falcons' fourth loss of this still-young season, a 30-28 defeat Monday night to the New York Jets?

"Your record," said Falcons tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, "is who you are."

Make no mistake: The Falcons are 1-4 and, by definition, one of the NFL's worst teams. History suggests they have little chance to make the playoffs, one year after reaching the NFC Championship Game. Common sense tells us there is more going on here than an unfortunate collection of close losses, and standard cynicism brings us to question the future of their leadership for the first time in its tenure.

Has coach Mike Smith's charm worn off? Is this roster, the one collected by celebrated general manager Thomas Dimitroff, as skilled as we once thought? Are the Falcons, a model franchise for the past six seasons, headed toward a watershed moment?

We're not there yet. More than two-thirds of the season is still ahead. But judging by the near-silence in the Falcons' postgame locker room, many players and surely some coaches were wondering what might come next.

"We just can't play like this. We can't," safety William Moore said. "It's a long season. I know we've got a bunch of winners around here. It just doesn't feel right to lose. Speaking individually, I've never been a part of this. We've got to get it together.

"We're running out of time."

Yes, 118 NFL teams started 1-4 between 1990 and 2012. Only six of them made the playoffs. That's 5 percent. In other words, 95 percent of the teams in the Falcons' current predicament have not made the playoffs.

"This puts us in a deep hole, a deep, deep hole," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "It's going to be tough to dig ourselves out of it. That's what we have. It's 1-4. What are we going to do? Sit here and feel sorry for ourselves? I'm not going to say the season's over. We've still got a lot of football left to play. I'm going to believe and I expect our team to believe that we can dig out."

For that to happen, of course, the Falcons would need to be the simple victims of a tough early schedule and some bad timing. Our eyes suggested otherwise Monday night. The Falcons' issues seemed to run deeper.

For one, they fought all night in their home stadium just to take a one-point lead with 1 minute, 54 seconds remaining against a Jets team that few have mistaken for a playoff contender. Their offensive line was overwhelmed by the Jets' admittedly strong front, their defense was gashed by rookie quarterback Geno Smith -- who never came close to a turnover after committing an NFL-high 11 through four weeks -- and their special teams gave up two long returns as well as a blocked punt.

It culminated with Smith's stunning and surgical game-winning drive -- 56 yards on eight plays over the final 1:54. Nick Folk's 43-yard field goal won it on the final play, giving the Falcons four losses by a combined 19 points.

"We're better than that," Moore said. "We all know that. We know we're better than that. We're not getting blown out. It's coming down to last-second drives."

Those tight margins might reflect more of a mirage than comfort, however.

I don't want to minimize Smith's breakout performance, but let's also recognize that the Falcons' inconsistent pass rush and soft coverage helped spur him to a career-high 147.7 passer rating. The Falcons blitzed Smith on seven of his attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He completed passes six of those times, including two for touchdowns.

Smith took four sacks, but one came when he ran out of bounds and the Falcons put him under duress on only two of his 20 attempts.

"He's a rookie," Moore said, "and we made him look like a 10-year vet."

And perhaps the Falcons' offense will look different when tailback Steven Jackson returns from a hamstring injury, but Monday night it managed 64 yards on 22 attempts. When Atlanta needed 1 yard at the goal line on the final play of the first half, Rodgers ran into a wall of penetrating defenders. Maybe the return of left tackle Sam Baker (knee) could help. At the moment, however, the Falcons are solely reliant on quarterback Matt Ryan generating downfield plays against a heavy pass rush.

The Falcons will have two weeks to consider mid-level changes while nursing Jackson and others back to health. But their schedule won't get much easier -- it includes games at Seattle, Green Bay and San Francisco, among others -- and they are already four games behind the Saints in the NFC South.

"You get what you earn in this league," Ryan said, "and we haven't earned it."

And so now the big questions begin. Has Smith brought this team as far as he can? Does Dimitroff need to rebuild with a fresher roster around Ryan? Will Gonzalez's final NFL season be a dud?

The Falcons should be better than this. Right? Are their issues circumstantial or systemic? Monday night was the first time you could argue the latter point. Success in this league has never been more fleeting, has it?

Jets' goal-line stand pivotal against Falcons

October, 8, 2013
ATLANTA -- In a game decided by Nick Folk's 43-yard-field goal as time expired, the Jets beat the Falcons 30-28 Monday night because they got huge assists from their defense. And perhaps, no play mattered more than one easily forgotten.

Muhammad Wilkerson had himself a night with seven combined tackles, including two for a loss. But the big defensive end's sack and strip of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan late in the third quarter proved pivotal.

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Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesThe Jets' defense stuffed the Falcons before halftime to keep momentum and a 17-7 lead.
That was the game's only turnover, and it led to the second of Folk's three field goals to put the Jets ahead 20-14 with 39 seconds left in the third. Without that, Geno Smith and the offense would've had to find the end zone at the end to win.

Talk about a team effort.

“We feel great,” Wilkerson said. “We won collectively.”

The Jets' defense, despite facing 70 plays on a night when the Jets ran just 46, stood especially stout at the end of the first half in holding the Falcons scoreless on six snaps inside New York's 12-yard line.

Trailing 17-7, Atlanta took over with 7:19 left in the first half, burned every second of it and didn't score a point when coach Mike Smith passed on a field-goal try from the 1-yard line on the final play.

On first-and-goal from the 4, tackle Sheldon Richardson dropped Falcons back Jason Snelling for a 1-yard loss. After an Atlanta timeout, Ryan's pass to Harry Douglas deflected off the receiver's hands.

Then, a short pass to wide receiver Julio Jones netted four yards and left fourth-and-goal at the 1 as safety Dawan Landry stopped him short of the goal line.

With seven seconds left, Smith called timeout. Ultimately, the Atlanta coach decided to go for it.

“I knew that they were going to do it. I could just feel it by the mentality of the game,” said linebacker DeMario Davis. “They were right there on the 1-yard line. I don't know what they were thinking, but they went for it and we were able to rise to the challenge.”

Smith explained his decision: “We felt like we needed to score a touchdown in that situation ... In hindsight, it is probably not the way we wanted it to work out.”

Ryan's fourth-down pass sailed past tight end Tony Gonzalez, but pass interference was called and the Falcons got a new set of downs from the 1 with one second left. Jacquizz Rodgers took the ensuing handoff and was stuffed for no gain and the Falcons were without three points that sure would have come in handy at game's end.

“We bowed up and stopped them like we're supposed to,” said Wilkerson, who helped pressure Ryan into a few quick throws. “They felt they could score, and we knew that we were going to hold them. We did our job and stopped them. That's a credit to the coaches for putting together a great game plan.”

The Falcons moved the ball better in the second half, scoring 21 points and gaining 227 of their 363 yards, but the Jets' stand at the end of the first half mattered more.

Even when Atlanta took a 28-27 lead on Ryan's 3-yard pass to tight end Levine Toilolo with 1:54 left in the game, Wilkerson didn't lose faith. He believed in Geno Smith, and the offense.

“I felt like I do all the time when the offense gets the ball, like they were going to drive down the field and get some points,” said the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder. “Collectively, as a team, we play together. It's 'Monday Night Football,' prime time ... We showed that we can be great.

“This team has a lot of heart. Rex [Ryan] always tells us to stick together, keep fighting. Believe in your brother next to you, and we did that tonight.”

Locker Room Buzz: New York Jets

October, 8, 2013
ATLANTA -- Observed in the locker room after the New York Jets' 30-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

Rex's speech: Describing the emotion of the win, Rex Ryan said "the key word is 'fearless.'" In fact, that was the theme of Ryan's speech to the team Sunday night at the hotel. Several players mentioned Ryan's speech, saying it was a source of inspiration. Said guard Willie Colon: "Rex gave a hell of a speech. It woke us all up. ... Basically, it was, 'Be fearless, let it loose, don't be uptight.'"

Colon noted how pundits had predicted the struggling Falcons would right their season by beating the Jets, adding that Ryan's response to that was, "Damn with that, we have just as much of a right to be on this stage as they do."

Even-keeled Geno: One thing you have to like about Geno Smith: He doesn't get too high or too low -- at least not publicly. The rookie quarterback acknowledged it was a childhood dream to pull out a game in the final seconds, but there was no self-congratulations. He deflected the praise to his teammates, commending his receivers, blockers and runners. And he also dropped a few compliments for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who called a marvelous game.

Quiet Kellen: It's not often a player in the winning locker room declines to comment, but tight end Kellen Winslow opted for that approach. "It wouldn't be a good choice," he said, muzzling himself instead of saying something inflammatory. Clearly, he was upset about something. Smith shed some light, noting that Winslow was "frustrated" throughout the game. In fact, Winslow, who entered the game with a team-high 16 receptions, was targeted only once. It was a big one, though, a one-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Winslow's status was iffy before the game, as he was listed as questionable due to chronic pain in his knee.

Locker Room Buzz: Atlanta Falcons

October, 8, 2013
Observed in the locker room after the Atlanta Falcons' 30-28 loss to the New York Jets on Monday:

Keeping his calm: Quarterback Matt Ryan had somewhat of a blank stare on his face as he dashed through the locker room for his postgame press conference. When he stepped to the podium, he was asked immediately about the offense’s inability to punch it in on fourth-and-goal from the 1 before halftime. "I think everybody was ready to go," Ryan said. "That would have been a big score from us before the half. ... When you have those chances, you’ve got to punch it in." Head coach Mike Smith admitted in hindsight, maybe a field goal would have been a better option.

Caught off guard: Safety William Moore tried to explain why the defense imploded on the Jets’ final drive, as rookie quarterback Geno Smith marched his team into field-goal range in seven plays, capped by Nick Folk's 43-yard game-winner: "There were a few situations where they started fast-balling us," Moore said. "It’s hard to get the personnel in. It’s hard to do stuff. It was because didn’t nobody know what they were doing. It was because they were hurrying up, and they took advantage of some of the looks that we had."

Walking wounded: Neither Roddy White nor Jason Snelling were at their lockers after the game. They were probably in the training room after leaving the game with injuries. White suffered a hamstring injury, while Snelling sustained a concussion. "I think it is difficult to see guys get nicked up,’’ Ryan said. "Thought our guys that came in stepped up and did a great job."

Rush to judgment: The Falcons sacked Smith four times, led by Osi Umenyiora with two. However, they needed more pressure on Smith during the final drive. Corey Peters had a sack, too, but downplayed the four sacks. "Honestly when you lose a game, especially the way we did ... the defense had an opportunity to be on the field at the end of the game. We’ve got to come up with a stop, keep them out of field-goal range,’’ Peters said. "At least right now, everything’s kind of a wash. We didn’t play well enough to win. I’m sure after we get to the film, we can find some positives in it. But right now, it’s really all bad."

Rapid Reaction: New York Jets

October, 7, 2013

ATLANTA -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 30-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome:

What it means: The Jets (3-2), rebounding from an awul performance last week, moved into a second-place tie with the Miami Dolphins -- only one game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East. They scored on their first three drives for the first time since 2008 and finished it off in dramatic fashion, as rookie quarterback Geno Smith led a game-winning, field-goal drive in the final two minutes. Nick Folk kicked the winner from 43 yards as time expired. This was a huge upset, one of Rex Ryan's biggest wins in a long time. They blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, but rallied behind their rookie.

Stock Watch: Smith has arrived. After 11 turnovers in four games, Smith was flawless (no turnovers) and showed his cool in the final 1:54, completing four passes to set up Folk. This was the performance the Jets had been awaiting, absolute poise in a hostile environment. Smith completed 16 of 20 for 199 yards, throwing three touchdowns. This in no way resembled the rattled kid who stunk it up last week. Ladies and gentlemen, the Jets found their quarterback.

Night of the Tight End: The Falcons' Tony Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer, was virtually unstoppable -- 10 catches for 97 yards. Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow are not going to Canton, but they came up huge for the Jets. Cumberland and Winslow each scored a touchdown, compensating for a banged-up receiving corps. Cumberland (three catches for 79 yards) killed the Falcons with deep seams in the first half. Winslow, who almost did not play because of chronic knee pain, was targeted only once, but it was a one-yard touchdown reception on a play-action bootleg. Winslow did a toe-tap to keep both feet in the end zone, a wily veteran delivering a clutch play in the fourth quarter.

America, meet Mo: Folks in New York know all about defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson; now the entire country does, too. Wilkerson, exploiting a suspect offensive line, staged a dominating performance. The Falcons, with a new starter at left tackle, could not block Wilkerson, who created the Jets' first takeaway since Week 1 -- a strip sack in the third quarter that set up a field goal. He felt he deserved Pro Bowl recognition last season. He may have earned a trip to Hawaii on the Monday night stage, spearheading a defensive effort that included a goal-line stand at the end of the first half.

Defensive wrinkle: Ryan changed his approach, using more two-high safety looks than usual. That's not a staple of the Ryan playbook, but he took the conservative approach on the back end with the hope of eliminating big plays. It worked, as the Jets held wide receiver Julio Jones to eight catches for 99 yards, but they got gashed underneath by Matt Ryan who completed 36 of 45 passes with 319 yards.

What's ahead: The Jets return home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4), who are coming off a bye week.

Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons

October, 7, 2013

ATLANTA -- A few thoughts following the Atlanta Falcons' 30-28 loss to the New York Jets on Monday night:

What it means: With the loss, the Falcons fell to 1-4 and possibly out of the playoff picture. Not to say that they can't rattle off a long winning streak, but games remaining against the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and rival New Orleans Saints will make that a very difficult task. This was far from expected from a team that finished 13-3 a year ago and fell one step shy of the Super Bowl.

Red zone remedy: Speedy running back Jacquizz Rodgers vowed to make more of an impact this week. He followed through on his promise with a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and a 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth. Those scores were Rodgers’ first rushing touchdowns of the season. With Steven Jackson (hamstring) still ailing, the Falcons needed both Rodgers and Jason Snelling to step up. Snelling also had a 4-yard touchdown reception off a shovel pass from Ryan.

Stock watch: Tony Gonzalez continues to rise as he inches closer to retirement. He reached a milestone four plays into the game with his 200th consecutive game with a catch. Gonzalez ran perfect routes all night and blazed linebackers in one-on-one coverage. And he also drew a couple of penalties against the Jets. Gonzalez was Matt Ryan’s safety net on a key fourth-down conversion late in regulation.

M.A.S.H. unit: No matter the outcome Monday night, the Falcons suffered a few losses. Receiver Roddy White, who entered the game still recovering from a high-ankle sprain, exited with a hamstring injury and never returned. White caught four passes for 45 before leaving. Also, Snelling left with a concussion.

Decimated defense: The Falcons had a few moments on defense, but they still surrendered too many big plays. They gave up a 47-yard pass play from Geno Smith to tight end Jeff Cumberland in the first half. It was the eighth play of 40-plus yards given up by the defense this season. Then the defense absolutely fell apart on the Jets’ final drive, allowing the rookie Smith to drive his team down with ease to set up Nick Folk’s game-winning 43-yard field goal.

What’s next: The Falcons have a much-needed bye in Week 6, which should allow them to get somewhat healthy. Maybe Jackson returns for Week 7 as the Falcons face NFC South foe Tampa Bay (Oct. 20). But will it really matter now?

Asante Samuel active for Falcons

October, 7, 2013
ATLANTA -- Asante Samuel, who missed two games this season with a thigh injury, is active for the Atlanta Falcons as they prepare to face the New York Jets.

All signs pointed to Samuel playing despite being limited in practice last week. He missed the last game against the New England Patriots and the season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

Also active for the Falcons is linebacker Paul Worrilow, who suffered a knee injury in the last game. He could see most of his work on special teams. The Falcons are thin at linebacker with Akeem Dent (ankle) inactive and Sean Weatherspoon (foot) out until Week 11. Omar Gaither is slated to start at middle linebacker, while fellow newcomer Jamar Chaney was activated to give more depth at linebacker.

Also inactive for the Falcons are running back Steven Jackson (hamstring), left tackle Sam Baker (knee), safety Kemal Ishmael, safety Zeke Motta, guard Harland Gunn, and tight end Chase Coffman.

Jacquizz Rodgers will start at running back for Jackson while Lamar Holmes will start at left tackle for Baker.

Inactive for the Jets are Santonio Holmes, Dee Milliner, Brady Quinn, Vladimir Ducasse, Ben Ijalana, Oday Aboushi, and Zach Sudfeld.

Winslow, Nelson active for Jets

October, 7, 2013
ATLANTA -- Tight end Kellen Winslow, who listed as questionable after missing significant practice time due to a chronic knee condition, is active for the New York Jets Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons.

Recently signed wide receiver David Nelson, who did not arrive until last week, also is active. Without Santonio Holmes (hamstring), the Jets' receiving corps is Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates, Nelson and Michael Campbell, who was promoted last Saturday from the practice squad. Gates, too, was questionable with a knee injury.

Rookie wide receiver Ryan Spadola, who was cut last Saturday amid a flurry of roster moves, cleared waivers at 4 p.m. ET Monday, according to a league source. He's a free agent and could wind up returning to the Jets.

Aside from Holmes, the Jets' inactives are QB Brady Quinn, CB Dee Milliner, G Will Campbell, OT Oday Aboushi, OT Ben Ijalana and TE Zach Sudfeld.

For the Falcons, the news is that CB Asante Samuel is active after missing time with a thigh injury. The Falcons' inactives are RB Steven Jackson, LB Akeem Dent, LT Sam Baker, S Kemal Ishmael, S Zeke Motta, G Harland Gunn and TE Chase Coffman.


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