Smith gives positive report on injured players

GEORGE HENRY Associated Press Published:

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- Cornerback Dunta Robinson is in the NFL's mandated concussion protocol, and defensive end John Abraham is nursing a sore left ankle.

Another concern for the Atlanta Falcons is that strong safety William Moore has been sidelined by a strained hamstring since late last month.

Even so, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith expects his team to be nearly at full strength for the playoffs.

Smith says early reports on Abraham and Robinson, both injured in the season finale against Tampa Bay, are positive.

And Smith believes Moore could be ready to return and practice this week.

"I can tell you this," Smith said Monday, "with both of the players that left the game yesterday, I fully anticipate they will be ready to go on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m."

Having two weeks to practice will allow the Falcons to spend Wednesday through Sunday working on fundamentals and timing. When they return to the field next week, the coaching staff will install a game plan for either No. 4 seed Washington, No. 5 seed Seattle or sixth-seeded Minnesota.

The staff will spend Wednesday and Thursday setting game-plan contingencies on Seattle and Minnesota. Because the coaches are already familiar Washington following Atlanta's Week 5 road win, they will wait until Friday to work on the Redskins.

Smith was disappointed with the team's sloppy performance Sunday. Losing 22-17 at home to Tampa Bay showed some of the weaknesses that have been problems this year even though the Falcons tied for the league's best record at 13-3 and earned the NFC's top playoff seed.

Inconsistencies running the ball, defending the run, rushing the passer, protecting quarterback Matt Ryan and creating turnovers have hurt Atlanta this year. Sunday's defeat looked similar to those home games that the Falcons narrowly won against struggling opponents Carolina, Oakland and Arizona.

Atlanta managed just 65 yards rushing while the Buccaneers gained 144. Ryan was sacked twice, hit six times and harassed into escaping the pocket several times.

The offense converted just 3 of 14 third downs. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman was picked off once, by cornerback Asante Samuel, after throwing four interceptions in each of his last two games.

It's no wonder the Bucs snapped a five-game skid.

"You get what you earn in this league, and yesterday we didn't earn the win," Smith said. "But you've got to consider it was the final week of the regular season. And I think we've got to be proud of what we've accomplished in the regular season. As I told the guys yesterday, the new season starts and everybody is 0-0."

Injury-wise, if Smith's prediction comes true, the Falcons will have dodged a major problem by getting Abraham, Robinson and Moore back in time for the playoffs.

Since losing former Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes for the season in Week 1, Atlanta made it through the regular season without a long-term injury to a starter. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon missed three games and Samuel played just one series in Weeks 14-15, but both returned without missing a proverbial beat.

"It's good to have a week off to get our guys back healthy," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "Believe it or not, it's an advantage. It's good for us to be at home. We are extremely tough to beat at home. I know the dome will be rocking in our first playoff game. We just have to make sure we match and exceed our opponent's intensity that we've had all season that has got us to this point to be a No. 1 seed."

Whether the few thousand empty seats and resulting flat atmosphere affected the team is hard to say. But in having their 11-game home winning streak ended, the Falcons were playing essentially a meaningless game with no chance of improving their playoff seed and Tampa Bay already eliminated from the postseason.

"We have a lot of pride about ourselves, so we want to win," Samuel said. "We lost, and it really hurt. We really thought we were going to pull it off, but we have bigger fish to fry."

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