NFL Football

Resurgent Falcons back in playoff race with 3 straight wins

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

By CHARLES ODUM

AP Sports Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Coach Dan Quinn says losing six starters to injured reserve never forced him to lose faith in the Atlanta Falcons, even before three straight wins revived the team's playoff hopes.

The Falcons (4-4) have recovered from a 1-4 start despite losing both starting safeties, both first-team offensive guards, running back Devonta Freeman and linebacker Deion Jones.

Sunday's 38-14 win at NFC East-leading Washington showed the Falcons, who play at Cleveland this week, are back as a playoff contender.

Even after running back Devonta Freeman and right guard Brandon Fusco were the most recent starters to land on IR, Quinn continued to say the Falcons were a team on the rise who had not peaked.

"All along I've had real belief in what this `18 team can be," Quinn said Monday. "Although it started under some difficult circumstances, I like the way they've supported each other. I like the toughness they've shown and I feel like we're starting to play like we're capable of playing."

The Falcons iced the win over the Redskins by holding the ball for 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, when Washington didn't score. Quinn said the "ability to finish" was a highlight of the game.

With Ben Garland starting for Fusco and Wes Schweitzer continuing in his fill-in starting role for injured left guard Andy Levitre, the new-look offensive line played one of its best games.

The Falcons converted 10 of 13 third-down plays and scored touchdowns on two of three red-zone possessions. Matt Ryan threw for 350 yards with four touchdowns and one interception - only his third of the season and his first since a Week 2 win over Carolina.

Ryan said the Falcons have improved since losing four of their first five games.

"I think halfway through we were a better football team than we were at the start, and we have to keep it trending in that direction," Ryan said after Sunday's game.

Ryan has enjoyed a return to his 2016 form, when he was named the NFL MVP. Led by Ryan, the Falcons have scored touchdowns on 17 of their last 21 red-zone possessions since their opening loss at Philadelphia.

"I think red zone efficiency has been really good for us," Ryan said. "We didn't do a good job of that in the opener, but since then we've done a pretty good job of that. ... When you're scoring touchdowns and taking care of the ball, that's a good recipe for success."

Quinn said seeing Julio Jones finally score his first touchdown of the season "was probably the coolest part of the day" in the win over Washington.

Jones' teammates rushed down the sideline to celebrate with him following his 35-yard touchdown pass from Ryan.

"It was a great experience having the team come out there," Jones said.

Quinn said Jones "is the most selfless leader probably that any of us have been around."

"They were so excited for him because of all the work he does behind the scenes that people don't know about," Quinn said. "... They know what he stands for as a teammate."

Atlanta's daunting injury outlook could be improving.

The Falcons already have had defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who had a sack on Sunday, return after missing two games with an ankle injury.

Jones is eligible to come off IR when the Falcons play Dallas on Nov. 18, though there has been no word on when he'll be cleared from his foot injury. It's not known if Freeman will be able to return from his groin injury when eligible in December.

Placekicker Matt Bryant has missed two games with a hamstring injury. More will be known on Wednesday about his chances to return against the Browns.

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Updated November 5, 2018

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