(AP) Coach Smith: Falcons could lose Jones for season
By GEORGE HENRY
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga.
Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith sounded dismayed while discussing his team’s latest major injury.
This time the bad news concerned Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones, who could miss the rest of the season after injuring his foot in Monday’s 30-28 home loss to the New York Jets.
“He saw our doctors this morning,” Smith said Tuesday. “He is going to have a second opinion tomorrow. The first reports were not encouraging, but we will wait and see what the second opinion comes back as.”
Atlanta (1-4) heads into its bye week riding a three-game losing streak, a tough reality check for a team that’s never dropped more than two straight regular season games in six seasons under Smith.
The Falcons’ four losses have come by an average of 4.8 points, dropping the defending NFC South champions four games behind division-leading New Orleans.
Offensively, Atlanta has faltered late in potential game-winning situations at New Orleans and at home against New England. Defensively, the Falcons have given up late leads at Miami and against the Jets.
“We’re disappointed,” Smith said. “We’re discouraged. I think we’re living proof of how close games are in the NFL. It comes down to a handful of plays, and we haven’t made them. In years past, we’ve been in games like these and we’ve made the plays.”
After five relatively healthy seasons under Smith, Atlanta has been bombarded with injuries this year.
Running back Steven Jackson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon have missed the last three games, and the team isn’t sure when they will return.
Two starters, defensive end Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing, were lost for the season in Week 1, and right tackle Mike Johnson’s year ended in training camp.
Three other starters _ Sam Baker, cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Akeem Dent _ have missed significant time, too.
And Roddy White, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, left Monday’s game and did not return after tweaking a hamstring. White has played since preseason with a high ankle sprain, and his 14 catches and 129 yards receiving are far below the average production of his first five games over the last six seasons.
Losing Jones only makes conditions worse.
Jones, the No. 6 overall draft pick of 2011, leads the NFL with 41 catches and ranks second with 580 yards receiving.
Smith said that Jones will see a foot specialist Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., for a second opinion. The coach refused to say which foot Jones hurt.
Jones was X-rayed after the game, and results were negative, but a CAT-scan Tuesday showed something more serious.
“He’s going to be a hard guy to replace if we have to replace him,” Smith said. “We’ve got guys that are on our roster in Kevin Cone and Drew Davis. Harry (Douglas) will be asked to step up and if we have to make a roster move, we will look at all options that are available to us there.”
Without Jones, White and Jackson, quarterback Matt Ryan has but one elite playmaker, tight end Tony Gonzalez, who’s healthy.
Gonzalez came out of retirement in March, announcing he would return to the Falcons for his final season. Atlanta finished 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl last January, losing as the No. 1 overall playoff seed to San Francisco.
The ground game has been hit with injuries also.
With Jackson sidelined, Atlanta has relied on running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling.
Snelling, though, left the Jets game with concussion symptoms and did not return.
“Every team has injuries, and we will not allow that to be an excuse,” Smith said. “As a coaching staff and as a team, we have to go out there and perform and we haven’t performed up to the abilities that we need to win football games and win them at the end thus far.”
After beginning the season with Super Bowl aspirations, the Falcons have joined Pittsburgh (0-5) and the New York Giants (0-5) as one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments.
Atlanta’s offensive line has struggled badly in protecting Ryan, who signed a $103.75 million contract extension on July 31, and the defense, which ranks last in third-down efficiency, isn’t pressuring opposing quarterbacks consistently.
The team returns to practice on Wednesday.
“We’re going to look at a lot of things, and nothing is sacred in terms of whether it’s scheme, whether it’s personnel _ we’ve got to evaluate everything,” Smith said.
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