Dec 27, 2020; Kansas City, MO, USA;  Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) catches a pass between Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland (21) and free safety Daniel Sorensen (49) in the first half of a NFL game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs edge Falcons to clinch No. 1 seed in AFC

The Kansas City Chiefs overcame a sluggish offensive performance Sunday to clinch the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs by edging the visiting Atlanta Falcons, 17-14.

Patrick Mahomes completed 24 of 44 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and one of the Chiefs’ two interceptions against an Atlanta defense that came in ranked 31st in the NFL against the pass.

Mahomes’ 25-yard touchdown strike to Demarcus Robinson with 2:01 remaining proved to be the game-winner that enabled Kansas City (14-1) to set a franchise record for regular season wins.

Atlanta (4-11) put Younghoe Koo in position for a 39-yard field goal to force overtime but the Pro Bowl kicker missed with 9 seconds remaining. Before the misfire, Koo had made 35 of 36 field goals this season.

Matt Ryan completed 27 of 35 passes for 300 yards and two scores, including a 5-yard touchdown to Laquon Treadwell with 4:33 left for a 14-10 lead. Calvin Ridley finished with 130 yards on five receptions.

Despite 38 game-winning drives for his career, Ryan remains without such a march this season.

Travis Kelce grabbed seven receptions for 98 yards, including two grabs on the Chiefs’ game-winning drive. With 1,416 yards, Kelce broke George Kittle’s NFL single-season record (1,377 in 2018) for receiving yards by a tight end.

Tyreek Hill added four catches for 65 yards, though the Chiefs’ string of 28 games with at least 20 points was snapped.

The teams each posted five first downs and minimal yardage on their first three series before some Chiefs trickery backfired. Atlanta’s Keanu Neal intercepted a halfback pass thrown by Sammy Watkins and intended for Mahomes.

Although the fourth-down pick gave the Falcons possession on their 2, they drove 98 yards to go up 7-0 with 3:35 left in the first half. A 54-yard pass from Ryan to Ridley set up a 5-yard shovel score from Ryan to Hayden Hurst.

Kansas City forged a 7-7 halftime tie with a 78-yard drive Kelce capped with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes. On that drive, Kelce became the first NFL tight end to record multiple seasons with 100-plus receptions.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) is defended by New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) and safety Marcus Williams (43) preventing a touchdown on a fourth down play during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

WR Jones (hamstring) among four Falcons out vs. Chiefs

Receiver Julio Jones is among four Atlanta Falcons starters have been ruled for Sunday’s game against at Kansas City, the team announced Friday.

Jones’ injured hamstring prevented him from practicing this week and will cause him to miss his third straight game and fourth out of the past five.

Jones, 31, has caught 51 passes for 771 yards and three touchdowns in the nine games he’s been active in this season for the Falcons (4-10), who have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (quad), who has 28 solo tackles and an interception this season, and offensive linemen Alex Mack (concussion) and James Carpenter (groin) will also not play, according to the team’s injury report.

Receiver Brandon Powell (foot), safety Ricardo Allen (concussion) and defensive tackle Marlon Davidson (knee) are listed as questionable.

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (28) scores a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of a NFL game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers rally from 17 down to stymie Falcons

Tom Brady threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown with 6:19 remaining and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 31-27 on Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.

Brady completed 31 of 45 passes for a season-high 390 yards and tossed two touchdowns, with most of the production coming in the second half. The winning points came on Brown’s first touchdown since joining the team last month.

Matt Ryan threw for three touchdowns, but the Falcons failed to put a dent in the Buccaneers’ bid for a playoff spot. Instead, it was another lead that Atlanta (4-10) didn’t protect.

Ryan finished 34 of 49 for 356 yards in the first of two meetings scheduled across the final three weeks of the regular season. Atlanta ended its home slate with a 2-6 record.

The Buccaneers (9-5), who improved to 5-2 on the road, scored on their first five second-half possessions before punting, giving Atlanta the ball at the Falcons’ 12-yard line with 2:40 remaining. Four plays later, the Falcons were stopped on downs after picking up only 7 yards.

Tampa Bay wiped out a 17-0 halftime deficit in less than 19 minutes, tying the game at 24 on Ryan Succop’s 27-yard field goal with 11:15 remaining.

Younghoe Koo’s 52-yarder put the Falcons back on top. Barely more than two minutes later, the Buccaneers held their first lead as Brown broke free from the Atlanta secondary.

The Buccaneers rallied within 24-21 on the strength of Leonard Fournette’s two 1-yard touchdown runs and Chris Godwin’s 4-yard touchdown reception from Brady in the third quarter. Amid those touchdowns, the Falcons struck on Ryan’s 7-yard pass to Hayden Hurst.

The Falcons scored on the game’s first possession on Ryan’s 5-yard pass to Russell Gage. Atlanta doubled its lead on Ryan’s 12-yard pass play to Calvin Ridley in the second quarter, completing a 10-play drive that covered 65 yards.

Koo’s 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds to play in the opening half capped a 13-play, 75-yard possession.

In the first half, Brady was 10-for-16 passing for 70 yards and sacked twice. The Buccaneers had 60 yards of total offense by the break compared to Atlanta’s 261.

–Field Level Media

Nov 8, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches a touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos  during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons WR Jones (hamstring) ruled out for Sunday

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will miss his second straight game Sunday with a hamstring injury, interim head coach Raheem Morris confirmed Friday.

The seven-time Pro Bowl selection has missed four games, scattered through the season, with the nagging injury. The Falcons (4-9) are 1-3 with Jones on the sideline, including last Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Jones, 31, has 51 receptions for 771 yards in nine starts this season, his lowest totals since a foot injury limited him to five games in 2013.

He is the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions (848) and receiving yards (12,896) and ranks No. 2 in touchdown catches with 60, three behind Roddy White.

In Jones’ absence, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage will be Matt Ryan’s go-to targets Sunday against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5). Ridley was a limited participant in practice Thursday with a foot injury.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) passes against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Hill, Kamara pace streaking Saints past Falcons

Taysom Hill threw for two touchdowns as the visiting New Orleans Saints became the first NFL team to clinch a playoff berth by posting a 21-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Alvin Kamara added a rushing touchdown for the Saints (10-2), who won their ninth consecutive game and clinched their fourth consecutive playoff berth after Chicago dropped a 34-30 decision to Detroit.

The victory gave the first-place Saints a three-game lead over idle Tampa Bay (7-5) in the NFC South. New Orleans is seeking its fourth consecutive division title.

Hill improved to 3-0 while replacing Drew Brees, who is eligible to come off of injured reserve next week.

New Orleans beat Atlanta (4-8) for the second time in three weeks after Matt Ryan’s pass fell incomplete in the end zone as time expired.

Kamara’s 11-yard touchdown run increased New Orleans’ halftime lead to 21-9 with 9:01 remaining in the third quarter.

The Saints were driving toward another potential score when they reached the Atlanta 5-yard line, but Hill lost a fumble.

The Falcons drove 85 yards and Ryan threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage for the first touchdown against the Saints defense in 15 quarters. The score cut New Orleans’ lead to 21-16 with 7:43 remaining.

Atlanta reached the New Orleans’ 13-yard line in the final two minutes. Todd Gurley lost nine yards on third down and Ryan threw an incompletion on fourth down.

The Falcons got the ball back at their 15 after a New Orleans punt. Ryan drove them into Saints territory before D.J. Swearinger batted away the quarterback’s final pass attempt.

Ryan completed 19 of 39 for 273 yards with one touchdown. He was sacked three times after being sacked eight times in the first meeting.

New Orleans opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown reception by Tre’Quan Smith, with the throw serving as Hill’s first career touchdown pass. Younghoe Koo’s 53-yard field goal cut the lead to 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.

Koo kicked a 30-yard field goal before Hill threw a 28-yard touchdown to tight end Jared Cook to give the Saints a 14-6 lead. Koo’s 28-yard field goal cut the lead to 14-9 at halftime.

–Field Level Media

Nov 22, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) warms up prior to kickoff against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders look to rebound with visit to Falcons

After seeing their AFC West title hopes all but squashed with an emotional last-minute home loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, the Las Vegas Raiders will try to avoid a letdown when they travel to face the NFC South cellar-dwelling Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Las Vegas head coach Jon Gruden pulled out some of his best cliches after Wednesday’s practice to make sure the Raiders (6-4), who trail the first-place Chiefs (9-1) by three games with six to go, don’t overlook the Falcons (3-7), who enter off an ugly 24-9 loss at New Orleans.

“This is the best 3-7 team I’ve ever seen,” Gruden said. “I don’t know how they’ve lost some of those games, and I’m sure they don’t either.”

It was easy to pin the reason for Sunday night’s loss to the Chiefs for Las Vegas: Patrick Mahomes.

After the Raiders took a 31-28 lead on a one-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to tight end Jason Witten with 1:43 to go, Mahomes calmly drove the Chiefs 75 yards in seven plays, connecting with a wide-open Travis Kelce for a game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left to pull out the 35-31 victory.

Had Las Vegas been able to hold on, it would have closed to within one-game of the Chiefs and owned the head-to-head tiebreaker. Instead, the Raiders find themselves in a dogfight for a wild card playoff spot.

“We are what we are,” Gruden said. “We’re 6-4 with six games left, and we’ve got to be ready for Atlanta.”

The play of the offensive line was the biggest issue for Atlanta in its loss to the Saints. Quarterback Matt Ryan, who ranks third in the NFL with 2,978 passing yards and needs just 22 yards Sunday to become the eighth quarterback in NFL history with 11 consecutive seasons with 3,000 or more passing yards, was under constant duress, getting sacked eight times and taking 11 quarterback hits.

Ryan finished 19-of-37 for 232 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions and a passer rating of 48.5, his lowest since a 47.2 pass rating in a 27-13 loss to Arizona on Oct. 27, 2013.

The run game also struggled, garnering just 52 yards on 14 attempts with the longest rush covering just seven yards.

“A lot of those were combinations of coverage and rush,” interim head coach Raheem Morris said. “We don’t want to just blow blame on the (offensive) line all the way.”

The potentially good news for Atlanta is that the Raiders have sacked the quarterback just 11 times this season. Only Jacksonville (nine) has fewer sacks in the NFL.

Of more concern for the Falcons is the health of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones, who played just 35 percent of the snaps against New Orleans because of hamstring tightness. Jones, who has missed two games this season, has 45 receptions for 677 yards and three touchdowns.

“Obviously, we’ll take Julio into a game-time decision and give him the best opportunity in order to go out there and be able to compete as long as he’s healthy,” Morris said.

Jones and defensive end Dante Fowler, who came off the COVID-19 list on Wednesday, both were limited in practice on Wednesday with hamstring injuries while running back Todd Gurley II, tied for third in the league with nine rushing TDs to go along with 610 yards on 167 carries, sat out with a knee injury. Tight end Hayden Hurst (ankle) and running back Qadree Ollison (illness) also didn’t practice.

Cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Amik Robertson both missed practice for Las Vegas on Wednesday with illnesses. Gruden said starting defensive end Clelin Ferrell (COVID-19), who missed the Kansas City loss, could be back in the facility on Thursday but added, “I don’t know how he’s going to play, honestly.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 5, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA;  Atlanta Falcons defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (56) tries to tackle Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) in the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons put DE Fowler on the COVID-19 reserve list

The Atlanta Falcons have placed defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. on the COVID-19 reserve list.

The Falcons are idle this week, and the league typically administers COVID-19 tests during bye weeks. It’s unclear if Fowler, who has started eight games this season, tested positive or was in contact with someone who did. NFL teams are prohibited from commenting on a player’s medical status other than whether he is on the roster.

Fowler is the fourth Falcon to be placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, according to the NFL. The team shut down all in-person operations on Nov. 6 following a staff member’s positive test. The Falcons, however, played Denver as originally scheduled on Nov. 8.

Fowler, who signed a three-year, $48 million deal with the Falcons in March, has 16 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage, and two sacks in eight games. He sat out the Falcons’ 34-27 home win last week because of a hamstring injury.

Atlanta (3-6) plays at New Orleans (6-2) on Nov. 22.

–Field Level Media

Nov 1, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) looks to pass under pressure from Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (99) in the third quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Broncos, Falcons familiar with close games

Two teams that know all about close results and comebacks will meet Sunday afternoon when the Denver Broncos visit the Atlanta Falcons.

Their backgrounds in those types of games have varied dramatically.

One of the teams figures to at least show a continued upward trend when they face off.

The Broncos (3-4) rallied to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 on the last play this past Sunday.

The Falcons have been involved in a few notable collapses, coming out on the wrong end of games with significant comebacks. Two weeks ago in their most recent home game, they lost on the final play to the Detroit Lions, 23-22.

There’s certainly a contrast between quarterbacks in terms of experience. Denver’s Drew Lock is emerging into a productive player, while Atlanta continues to rely on veteran Matt Ryan.

“They’ve got a bunch of young guys that are talented,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said.

The Broncos came from 21 points down to beat the Chargers. It might be a horrible flashback for the Falcons when they study the Broncos, given Atlanta’s results from earlier this season.

The Broncos aren’t immune to frustration. Lock said he got up in front of the offense at halftime of the Chargers’ game with a message, much of it pointed toward himself.

“We just need to man-up, and when the plays come our way, we need to make them,” he said.

In the second-year quarterback’s mind, it could be a turning point to an inconsistent season. The Broncos have won three of their past four games, with a blowout setback to Kansas City the other game during that stretch.

“We’ve had three full games with this offense with normal personnel,” Lock said. “Maybe we’re just starting to click. … People just love to make opinions and jump too quick, and I hope we can keep proving them wrong.”

Atlanta (2-6) recovered for a 25-17 victory Oct. 29 at Carolina, winning for the second time in three games under Morris. They’ve had extra time to prepare for Denver’s visit while the Broncos have had a staggered practice schedule.

Still, the Falcons have been hampered by not finishing enough drives and settling for field goals.

“We have to score touchdowns, not dependent on who we’re playing but for our sake,” receiver Julio Jones said. “We have to score touchdowns.”

Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley has missed practice this week, and his status for Sunday looks shaky because of a foot injury. Ridley’s injury might not be as serious as initial reports suggested.

“We’ll see how he can progress throughout the week,” Morris said. “It’s on the up and up.”

The Broncos didn’t practice Wednesday based on concerns about recent increases in coronavirus cases. Offensive tackle Darrin Paulo, a practice-squad player, was added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, a day after team president Joe Ellis and general manager John Elway tested positive for the virus.

“We just felt it was the best thing to do,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said of taking a day off from practice. “There is always concern. The thing I feel good about, none of the positive tests we’ve had have originated from this building.”

The Broncos also called off a practice last week. As of Wednesday, the plan was to have a regular practice Thursday.

“We’re of the mind set that we would have to do some improvising and adjusting,” Fangio said. “This is all new for everybody, and we’re adjusting.”

Despite the revised workout schedule, it’s anticipated that cornerback A.J. Bouye could miss the next game after suffering a concussion against the Chargers.

It’s confirmed that Denver will be without tight end Jake Butt, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury and this week went on the injured reserve list.

Morris said Atlanta wants to become more consistent and physical in its rushing attack. He said the Falcons have failed in that category against other AFC opponents.

“We’ve got to add to our physical component,” he said.

Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, who is from Georgia, returns to his home area for this game. Chubb has 5.5 sacks this season, including at least one in each of the past four games.

The Falcons have been dealing with questions about defensive end Takk McKinley, who is injured but has been outspoken about the trade deadline. Morris said it’s a maturity issue and shouldn’t be a distraction for the team.

“When he’s playing football and playing at a high level, he’s a great person to have around,” Morris said.

–Field Level Media