sistaff
Monday September 26th, 2011

The Falcons dropped to 1-2 with the loss to Tampa Bay. (Kim Klement/US Presswire)

The Falcons' two losses this season have come on the road against Chicago in Week 1 and today against Tampa Bay, a pair of talented teams. So, there's no reason for Atlanta to punch the big, red panic button yet.

But if there's, say, a smaller and less-threatening "Cause for concern" button, someone might want to give that a tap.

Right now, the Falcons have issues all over the field. The defense -- which came in to the eventual 16-13 loss to the Buccaneers giving up more than 30 points per game -- righted the ship a bit Sunday in Tampa, holding the Bucs under 300 yards. Atlanta's offense, though, looked further away from where it needs to be than ever.

Prior to a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives -- the first of which took all of two plays -- the Falcons had put up just three points and, other than Roddy White, showed no spark at all. The same problem haunted Atlanta in Week 1, when the Falcons mustered just three first-half points in a 30-12 loss to Chicago.

The problems start up front for Atlanta. Getting back from injury center Todd McClure, a fixture on the Falcons' offensive line since 2001, was supposed to help Sunday. It didn't.

Tampa Bay sacked Matt Ryan four times (two resulting in fumbles) and held Michael Turner to 20 yards on 11 carries. That's after the Eagles and Bears combined for nine sacks on Ryan. The 13 sacks Atlanta has allowed ranks right up there as one of the worst totals in the league.

The only way Atlanta has been able to counter the ever-present pressure has been by going to the no-huddle. The Falcons used it during their fourth-quarter rally Sunday, just as they did in their late comeback against Philadelphia. Even in the loss to Chicago, Ryan finished his day by driving the Falcons 70 yards before tossing four straight incompletions.

So why aren't the Falcons turning up the tempo more often?

Drafting Julio Jones in April gave Atlanta, at least on paper, one of the most explosive offenses in the entire NFL -- Ryan, Turner, Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez should give the Falcons an edge over just about every defense.

With the offensive line struggling so far and Atlanta seemingly content to grind it out for three quarters on the road, the Bears and Bucs -- both good defenses, mind you -- have been able to keep the Falcons from turning it on.

In the fourth quarter alone Sunday, with the Falcons in a two-minute offense, Ryan found Jones five times for 97 yards. Getting Jones involved isn't the be-all, end-all fix for Atlanta's woes, but it is definitely a start. The more the Falcons can use Jones to stretch the field, the more everything else opens up.

All that said, it's worth asking again if the Falcons' problems are as much mental as they are physical. The losses to Chicago and Tampa Bay are at least excusable. Even losing at home to Philadelphia could have fallen in that category.

Still, this is a Falcons team that came into 2011 expecting to win the Super Bowl. Not squeak into the playoffs, not challenge for the division. Win the Super Bowl.

Instead, they seem to have a complete absence of confidence against good teams. Only Michael Vick's injury in Week 2 prevented that game from ending the same as Atlanta's flops in Weeks 1 and 3. The schedule has been difficult, but this is not how this season was supposed to go for Atlanta. Unless they can solve their offensive problems and get some swagger back, the Falcons might not be able to turn this thing around.

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