The good news for the Atlanta Falcons is that they remain in the hunt to win the NFC South with four games left to play in the 2023 season.
The bad news for Arthur Smith’s team is that it’s now dealing with a rash of injuries to key players at a particularly important point in the playoff race.
Atlanta (6-7, 3-1 NFC South) entered Sunday’s matchup with Tampa Bay without five starters: right tackle Kaleb McGary, center Drew Dalman, defensive tackle David Onyemata, linebacker Nate Landman and cornerback Jeff Okudah. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (torn ACL) and linebacker Troy Andersen (pectoral) are both already out for the year.
But in the 29-25 loss to the Bucs, the Falcons also lost left tackle Jake Matthews, right guard Chris Lindstrom and defensive tackle Kentavius Street, leaving the team decimated in the trenches prior to a crucial upcoming road game against the Carolina Panthers (1-12, 0-4).
Smith seemed optimistic about the return of Matthews and Lindstrom for this week’s upcoming game, but he wasn’t as confident when asked about the availability of Onyemata, Landman, McGary, Dalman and Okudah.
“I think (Matthews and Lindstrom) have a real chance to play this week,” Smith said. “We’ll know more later in the week on the others.”
Atlanta is still awaiting the results of a second opinion on Street, who suffered a pectoral injury. Street stepped into Jarrett’s spot along the defensive front after the Pro Bowler went down.
“It may not be as bad as we thought,” Smith said. “But we’ll see.”
Storm Norton started in place of McGary and Ryan Neuzil took by far his most snaps of the season Sunday in place of Dalman.
Tyler Vrabel, who was elevated from the practice squad on Saturday, filled in for Matthews when he went down. Kyle Hinton stepped up and replaced Lindstrom when he exited, which left the Falcons with just one regular starting O-lineman, left guard Matthew Bergeron, in the game in the second half.
Defensively, Andre Smith started in place of Landman and had eight tackles and a forced fumble. Rookie Clark Phillips III got the start in place of Okudah and was credited with five tackles and two passes defended. But he had a costly holding penalty on Tampa Bay’s game-winning drive shortly after Atlanta took a 25-22 lead with 3:23 left to play.
Two weeks ago, Phillips filled in for A.J. Terrell when he was ruled out with a concussion.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a run these last two weeks with injuries,” Smith said. “A lot of different O-linemen are playing, some D-linemen are playing and it’s our job to problem-solve and find ways to go win. We got to regroup and try to get back on track this week because we still have of opportunities ahead of us”
–Matthews has made a franchise-record 157 consecutive starts at left tackle. It is the longest active streak in the NFL. That streak could be in jeopardy if he is unable to play against Carolina.
–Drake London set career highs in catches (10) and yards (172) in the loss to the Bucs. It was the most yards by an Atlanta wideout since Julio Jones had 173 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018.
–Field Level Media