Coach Mike Smith says the team has no other choice after stumbling to a 1-3 start.
In losing consecutive regular season games for the first time in six years under Smith, the Falcons have myriad problems to correct.
Several starters are injured. Atlanta’s red zone offense and defensive sacks per pass attempt both rank 28th in the NFL. The Falcons’ defense ranks second-worst in third-down efficiency.
Quarterback Matt Ryan seems to be getting hit consistently in the pocket, and his throws are too often hurried.
“We had some protection issues, we had some routes that weren’t run right, we had some drops, we had some missed throws,” Smith said Monday. “I can assure you we are addressing it as a coaching staff with our team.”
White and Umenyiora say they’re looking forward to practice Tuesday when Smith will have the starting offense and starting defense work against each other.
Atlanta gets an extra day of work this week with the New York Jets (2-2) visiting the Georgia Dome next Monday night.
White, along with defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, is the longest-tenured Falcon at nine years and doesn’t like to think too much about the last time Atlanta was 1-3.
That was the infamous 2007 season under first-year coach Bobby Petrino, who quit after losing 10 of 13 games. It was also the year that quarterback Michael Vick was sent to federal prison on dogfighting charges.
White never imagined that the current team would lose three of its first four after beginning the season with Super Bowl aspirations, but he believes players can draw from the bitter experience of Petrino’s tenure and avoid a similar lapse in morale.
“You just don’t panic,” White said Monday. “You are what you earn in this league, so we’re 1-3. You just go out there and correct the problems that you have and get ready for the next game. We know at 1-3 that we can’t get back to .500 after one game.”
The biggest problem facing Ryan, White, fellow starting wideout Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez is in the red zone.
With running back Steven Jackson sidelined by a hamstring injury, the Falcons seem like a one-dimensional passing attack deep in opponent territory.
In Sunday’s 30-23 loss to New England, they scored just one touchdown in six trips to the Patriots’ 20-yard line.
White was particularly frustrated by two critical incompletions. On a fourth-and-two at New England 7, Ryan was flushed to his left and threw on the run to White near the left goal line marker, but the ball sailed too far outside.
On the last offensive play from scrimmage, Ryan’s pass in the end zone was too slightly too far for White to reach, and cornerback Aqib Talib batted the ball away.
“It’s killing us right now,” White said. “It’s something that we continue to work at, but we’ve got to do a little more and win some one-on-one battles, especially when it’s time for one person to make the play when it’s presented.”
Umenyiora, an 11-year veteran in his first season with Atlanta, was part of a pass rush that only hit quarterback Tom Brady twice all night, and the Patriots’ star was 6 of 8 passing for 137 yards and one touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The worst sequence came on the first two plays of the final period. Facing third-and-19 from the New England 12, Brady connected with Kenbrell Thompkins for a 26-yard pass, and the Patriots advanced another 15 yards when safety William Moore was penalized for a hit to the head on the same play.
On the next snap, LeGarrette Blount broke off a 47-yard run that pushed New England’s lead to 20-10.
“They had a very good scheme,” Umenyiora said. “Play-action throws. Quick passes. It was pretty good.”
Umenyiora was irritated that the defense allowed seven of 13 third-down attempts to be converted, but he believes the team will benefit from a return to fundamental work this week.
“We’ve got to correct them,” he said. “We don’t really have too much of an option.”