Falcons fans seem to generally have a difficult time mustering any sort of optimism for the second half of the 2014 season, and to be fair, the team hasn't exactly given fans much to feel confident or excited about. The last time this team was on the field they blew a 21-point lead to lose on an international stage, and the loss wasn't an anomaly. They have consistently struggled in the second half of games this season. The receivers have contributed to the second-half sluggishness, dropping more balls than a group like this should. This unit is confident, however, that the team can get back on track.
The receivers are acutely aware that the drops have been a huge factor in the team's inability to sustain drives and maintain possession. Matt Ryan said earlier in the week that the drops don't bother him because physical mistakes are going to happen, but Roddy White acknowledged that the team can't afford to have so many physical mistakes, and pointed to sporadic practice as part of the reason.
"I feel like guys have been dinged up and not practicing as much, so it's different when you get in the game and the game speed is a whole lot different and things like that, so you could say that's some of the blame of it, but we know we've got to hold onto the ball and get out there and do what we're supposed to do as an offense," White said to the media Thursday, and the team is taking steps to address the chemistry. "Coming off the bye week, all of us have been out there practicing every day and just going out there and executing. We know what we've got to do, so we're going to get it done."
Harry Douglas emphasized that the receiving corps not only has confidence in themselves, but in each other. "Our group, we're a confident group. I mean, you never want to drop balls, period. I don't care what anybody says - you never want to drop balls," Douglas said. "But we have so much confidence in one another as individuals to the point of where if we if we do drop one, we have a third, we're going to come back and make a play on the next play. One thing - it's all about confidence. You can't drop a ball and then be thinking about it the next play and thinking about it the next series, because that's going to lead to more drops. So we have the mindset and we're so confident in that group that if we do drop one, which we don't want to do, but if we do, we're going to come back and be successful in the next play or the next drive."
Julio Jones, for his part, is getting back to the fundamentals and working on tracking each pass into his hands with his eyes after getting some rest and getting healthy after the bye week. "It feels great after the bye week. Took a little time and you heal up. I had an ankle, for me. I'm 100% now and just coming back and just focusing on what we need to focus on," Julio said. "Me personally, it's just me focusing on catching the ball, looking the ball in, just going out there and being the best teammate I can possibly be."
As far as Tampa Bay is concerned, the receivers have no illusions about this Sunday being an easy matchup based on the last time they faced the Bucs. Roddy White expects the Bucs to come out swinging. "Absolutely. Any time a team goes out there and kind of lays an egg or people say they got embarrassed, they come out here with a chip on their shoulders and want to go out there and play hard," White said, "so we're going to expect those guys to come out there and be fired up and ready to play, and plus, they're playing at home."
Julio Jones agreed, but acknowledged that the Falcons have a real opportunity on Sunday. "Tampa's a great team," Jones said. "They beat Pittsburgh - right after we whooped them, they went down there and beat Pittsburgh. The mindset going into this game is it's anybody's game. Who knows? We've just got to come to play. The first season is over with - this is the second season, and we've got to create a new identity for ourselves."
Harry Douglas thinks the last win has no bearing on Sunday. "You always have to expect a different team. The way we beat them the first time, we can't go out there and think they're just going to do the same thing again," Douglas said. "We know they have a chip on their shoulder and that game is in the back of their minds, and at the same time, we've got to know where number 93 is at all times. So that's their best player on defense."
Speaking of number 93, Gerald McCoy is definitely on the receivers' minds.
Roddy White respects McCoy's ability. "He's one of he better defensive tackles in the league, if not the best defensive tackle in the league," White said, "so he's going to be what he is. He's a game-wrecker and things like that, so he's going to make his plays. We've got a game plan to keep him out of the backfield and things like that and put double teams and things like that on him to kind of keep him out of the way, keep him off the quarterback and things like that. But he's a great player. He's going to make plays in the game. That's just who he is. So we've just got to balance that out and just continue to do what we do and stay on task."
Julio Jones said they're going to have double teams on McCoy consistently. "You know, McCoy's back, and he's going to be a problem," Jones said. "We've got to get four hands on him and keep four hands on him at all times. But like I said, we've just got to go out there and do our job."
As far as the state of the division, the receivers unanimously agree that it's well within their reach. Julio Jones said, "We just have to be positive here...we've just got to be positive and keep working. We're going to try to go out here and win all these games. All eight games we have left we're going to try to go win. It's two games [that we've won], but we're taking it one game at a time. Our mindset is win all eight."
Roddy White's keeping things in perspectives R counting on veteran leadership to get things turned around. "Nobody's blowing away our division as of today, so we've got a chance to get ourselves back in the race," White said. "We've just got to...take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time, and then go out there and execute and we could be right there at the end. So we're just basically depending on our leaders to go out there and get our guys going and actually show the young guys how to win football games. We haven't closed out football games, and we do have a young team, but the older guys around here, they've won a lot of ballgames, and we've got to show the guys how to win them."
Harry Douglas said the receiving corps has the confidence to turn things around. "We're a confident team," Douglas said. We're a confident group, so we've just got to go out and handle our business and do what we do."
As far as sustaining drives, Roddy White said the team has to stop putting themselves is unfavorable down and distance situations. "We've just got to stay ahead of the chains, White said. "I feel like we had gotten ourselves - we've kind of dug ourselves a hole just getting behind the chains. And when you come back off a break, everybody does the evaluation of the first eight games of the season and things like that, and you look at our statistics and it's hard to play from behind the chains. And you had a whole lot more third-and-tens or third-and-longers than we had in the last three or four years, so we've got to fix that problem and just get ourselves ahead of the chains and giving ourselves opportunities to just be successful in third-down conversions and stay on the field."
Julio Jones said that staying up tempo, and practicing that way, will help the team finish strong. "Yeah, we've just got to continue to keep practicing those that way. Even at practice, we kind of sped up the tempo throughout the whole day," Jones said. "Up tempo, up tempo, up tempo, so when the second half comes along guys still have energy and still being able to make those plays in the second half of the game."
Harry Douglas says it's very simple. "Finish the game. It's that simple - we've just got to finish," Douglas said. "We've got to finish. Like you said, we got off to a fast start against Detroit. That's in the past, so I don't really want to harp on it too much, but all we can do is finish. I mean - from this point, we want to look ahead to what we've got now. So we've got Tampa this week, and we want to put four quarters together, sixty minutes, and play Falcons football."