Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Sterling Moore (26) knocks a pass away from Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) in the end zone during the second quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Brian Blanco
December 07, 2015

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The history of the Atlanta Falcons is filled with misery.

Now, they're facing a collapse of epic proportions.

After starting 5-0 for rookie coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons have slid all the way to .500 with six losses in their last seven games, including a five-game losing streak. With two games still left against unbeaten Carolina, including Sunday, Atlanta (6-6) faces the very real possibility of finishing with a losing record.

According to STATS, no team in NFL history has done that after winning its first five games.

No wonder Quinn, when asked Monday if he was frustrated or angry, quickly responded, ''Angry.''

''We're not there yet,'' he said bluntly, ''in terms of the mindset of finishing and the attitude of where we want to go.''

For Quinn, whose first season as a head coach began so swimmingly, the strain is clearly starting to show. Several times during his session with the media, he paused before answering the question, as if wanting to make sure he didn't want to say anything out of line in the heat of the moment. He insisted that he still has faith in his team, but surely knows that time is running out on this season.

Once a virtual playoff lock - after all, 66 of 72 teams that started 5-0 since the 1970 merger went on to play in the postseason - the Falcons dropped out of the second NFC wild-card slot with Sunday's 23-19 loss at Tampa Bay. They are now one game behind surging Seattle (7-5), which has won three in a row, and actually trail the Buccaneers (6-6) as well, since Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker edge after beating the Falcons twice this season.

''What were things that we did well early on that we didn't do well in this stretch?'' Quinn said. ''I think the energy and style we want to play with, that mindset hasn't changed. But as we're going through, there's certainly a difference in some of things we did early on that we're not getting done now.''

Turnovers, penalties and shaky play by quarterback Matt Ryan have certainly contributed to the slide, but now it seems like every phase of the game is falling apart. On Tampa Bay's game-winning drive in the closing minutes, the defense surrendered a 20-yard run to rookie Jameis Winston when the Bucs faced third-and-19.

Most galling, Winston should've been stopped at least 8 yards short of the first down. The quarterback ran into Brooks Reed and Paul Worrilow and appeared to be going down, but Justin Durant delivered a hit that actually knocked Winston out of the pile, and two other defenders - Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley - squandered chances to get Winston down.

The Falcons have now lost four games during their skid by a total of 11 points.

''Yeah, there's bad things on the film, but there's also really good things,'' safety Ricardo Allen said. ''You've just got to keep going with the good things, just show that you've done it before, and just keep building from that. When we get down to those tough games, what we were doing at the beginning of the season was finishing. That's what we've got to get back to.''

There is increasing scrutiny of the Ryan's struggles and his relationship with first-year offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The veteran quarterback has looked lost at times, struggling to grasp what Shanahan wants to do. Ryan completed 30 of 45 for 269 yards against the Bucs, but another costly interception on a ball that never should have been thrown ended Atlanta's final possession.

Even though running back Devonta Freeman returned to the lineup after being sidelined with a concussion, the ground game wasn't a factor, either. Freeman had 47 yards on 14 carries; in all, the Falcons ran the ball just 18 times.

''We want to be balanced,'' Quinn said. ''We don't want to get away from that balance.''

Even Julio Jones, in the midst of another dynamic season, has gone four games without catching a touchdown pass.

''It's hard to believe that's the case,'' Quinn said. ''That's surprising.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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