Combine that situation with star receiver Julio Jones' season-ending foot injury, and fantasy owners can look for big numbers from Jones' fellow wideout Roddy White and ageless tight end wonder Tony Gonzalez.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirmed the ominous news about Jones on Tuesday:
Jones caught eight passes for 99 yards in the Falcons' 30-28 loss to the New York Jets on Monday night, putting him second in the league in receiving yards with 580 and first in receptions with 41.
As if it wasn't heartbreaking enough that the Falcons have lost all four games by seven points or fewer.
If Atlanta is to have any chance at salvaging a postseason berth, it must rely on quarterback Matt Ryan to continue shouldering the load, because the running game isn't getting it done.
Ryan has had a respectable 2013 campaign in which he's completed 69.3 percent of his passes, averaged 329.8 yards per game and tossed 10 touchdowns to go with a 100.9 passer rating.
The absence of Jones may result in Ryan forcing more passes and pressing, which could hurt his fantasy stock. In the case of White and Gonzalez, though, it will only help, since they are by far the two most reliable targets for Ryan to throw to.
White will be the new go-to target for Ryan—if he can stay on the field.
The All-Pro was already dealing with an ankle injury, and B/R injury expert Will Carroll implies that it contributed to White's newly ailing hamstring:
That leaves Gonzalez—who was on the brink of retiring before returning this season in the hopes of capturing his first Super bowl—to fight off double-teams and try to help keep the prolific passing attack afloat.
The Jets tried to smother Gonzalez on Monday, but the veteran still nabbed 10 receptions for 97 yards.
Although his yards per catch have hovered around 10 yards in the past season-plus, Gonzalez is now the best red-zone target for Ryan. That makes the future Hall of Famer even more of a fantasy asset than he already was.
But in order for Gonzalez to keep producing, it depends on the health of at least one key receiver.
White's status is unclear at the moment, but it's safe to presume he will gut it out as best he can. The 31-year-old has never missed a game in eight previous seasons.
With a bye week to lick their wounds and the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on tap for Week 7, there is at least some optimism for Atlanta to get back on track.
Everything—the season outlook, the fantasy prospects for White and Gonzalez—depends on the iron man White being a constant on the gridiron as he always has been.
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