After losing to the hated Saints in Week 1, the Atlanta Falcons have watched their 2013 season unravel five weeks in thanks to injuries, red-zone inefficiency, poor defense and atrocious offensive-line play.
Things only got worse for the Falcons on Monday, as they learned that star wide receiver Julio Jones may miss the remainder of the season with a foot injury on the heels of the team's 30-28 loss at home to the New York Jets.
Where do the 1-4 Falcons go from here? We'll begin to answer the question by taking our weekly look at the NFC South standings, the Falcons' injury report and where the Falcons need to improve before their Week 7 contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the bye week.
NFC SOUTH STANDINGS
As if the Falcons disappointing start wasn't enough, Atlanta fans are faced with the possibility that the undefeated Saints may end up getting a chance to host the NFC playoffs the way they did in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl. The more Atlanta's season spins out of control, the more Falcons fans on a weekly basis will likely root for whichever team is playing the Saints.
Atlanta's place in the standings speaks for itself. The Falcons would've faced long odds to defend their NFC South title before the news about Julio Jones' injury hit, and now it seems like the four games that separates the Saints from the Falcons may as well be six or eight.
For those still holding out hope for a miracle turnaround, the best thing the Falcons can do now is—brace for the cliche—take one game at a time and slowly try to inch back to .500 by the time November rolls around.
The Atlanta Falcons will eagerly await a second opinion on Jones' foot injury, but they do not sound too optimistic (UPDATE: Jones is officially out for the season via Chris Mortensen of ESPN). On the bright side, Steven Jackson and Akeem Dent could return to the lineup after the bye week to give the Falcons a boost. With Jones likely to miss significant time, the Falcons must hope that the bye week gives Roddy White the opportunity to return to Pro Bowl form.
WHAT NEEDS TO IMPROVE
Perhaps Atlanta's 1-4 start shouldn't be so much of a surprise after all. The same problems have hindered the Falcons for quite some time now, most of which were evident in the preseason.
At this point, it's not just about Atlanta's offensive tackles. The Falcons currently start five offensive linemen who would probably have a tough time getting on the field for most contending NFL teams, and Atlanta has no one to blame but itself for its failure to make a significant investment into the unit responsible for protecting Matt Ryan.
The lack of talent up front is at the root of many of Atlanta's problems on offense, including the team's inability to consistently run the ball when they need to.
Defensively, the Falcons haven't been able to generate consistent pressure since general manager Thomas Dimitroff arrived in 2008. Sure, new addition Osi Umenyiora has played well for the most part at defensive end, but essentially all he's done is replace John Abraham's production. The rest of Atlanta's defensive line, including Peria Jerry and a number of Dimitroff's mid- to late-round draft picks, have made little impact as pass-rushers. Jonathan Babineaux is even starting to show his age a little bit as evidenced by his missed tackle on Bilal Powell late in Monday's loss to the Jets.
Beyond the defensive line, Atlanta's linebacker corps was in need of depth in the offseason, but the Falcons opted to go with a pair of undrafted rookies behind their starters. Linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow have flashed some ability, but right now they don't look like quality starters. The word is out on them, and the Jets attacked them (particularly Bartu) quite a bit on Monday night.
Atlanta's issues don't stop there, but the most alarming problem is the perceived lack of urgency from this group. Each week you hear the same "coach speak" responses from this group. Perhaps everyone should've sensed that something was wrong with this group in Week 1 against New Orleans when Atlanta players got in Kenny Vaccaro's face after his late hit on Matt Ryan.
The situation seems dire, and mentioning the word "playoffs" in connection with this team is probably a sin at this point.
Nevertheless, Atlanta still has eleven games left to show some heart and get a few wins in spite of the hand they're forced to play. In order to do that, the Falcons are going to have regroup outside of the national spotlight and temper the expectations with which they entered this season.
Atlanta's long road back to respectability begins with a bye week to prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and another rookie quarterback.
We'll find out if they're up to the task soon enough.