SUWANEE, Ga. -- Keith Brooking didn't have to think very long before comparing this year's Atlanta Falcons with any other football team in the young linebacker's career.
"We're 2-9 and I've never been 2-9 in my life," he said. "Obviously, we're not moving forward and that's something new for me. This is a totally new experience, and I hope I don't ever go through it again."
From recreation league to middle school to high school to college, Brooking has always been part of a winning team. That's what makes this season so difficult to understand.
"Last Sunday's game was a perfect example of how our season's gone: We had a lot of penalties and missed assignments, and every one of them seemed to come at a critical time," he said. "As a team, we keep putting ourselves in good situations, then we put ourselves in a big hole with one play. We do a lot of good things, but one bad thing, no matter how little, erases everything.
"We might have 10 guys busting their tails to make plays and only one guy who's either not busting his tail or he's missed an assignment. And it seems like that's exactly where the other team exploits. It's like everyone knows where our breakdown is going to be."
The Falcons, who play at the Georgia Dome for the first time in four weeks on Sunday, have dedicated themselves to a simple goal -- winning their third game of the year. The opponent is New Orleans, another team that's looking to improve on a 2-9 record.
"Both of us are searching for win No. 3, and this is where our focus is going to be is to get to win No. 3," said Atlanta coach Dan Reeves.
Ten months after a Super Bowl appearance, the last thing the Falcons expected was a wish list that included the third victory in the fourth month of the regular season. The idea the team would struggle this much caught everyone off guard, especially Brooking.
"I've never been around anything like this," he said. "It's gone beyond frustration."
Brooking said free agency and injuries have hit Atlanta hard, keeping the team from finding the kind of continuity that allows them to overcome obstacles.
"We lose players, we get new players in, and sometimes it's hard to get everything to mesh," he said. "We've also had a lot of key injuries. It seems like we have a new lineup every week."
The newest casualty to the injury bug is strong safety Marty Carter. The team's leading tackler suffered a tear to his medial collateral ligament in his right knee in last week's 34-28 loss at Carolina. He's expected to miss the team's final five games.
The Falcons had few changes to the starting lineup that played in Super Bowl XXXIII on Jan. 31. Strong safety William White and outside linebacker Cornelius Bennett were not retained by Atlanta on defense during the offseason and both became free agents. Carter was signed away from the Chicago Bears to replace White and Brooking, the Falcons' first round pick in 1998, was promoted to the starting lineup to replace Bennett.
Since the beginning of the season, defensive end Chuck Smith has been plagued with a sore toe and knee, linebacker Jessie Tuggle (thigh) and Brooking (knee) each missed at least two games and defensive tackle Travis Hall (hand) has played most of the year with a cast.
"Time in and time out, we get so close to digging ourselves out of a hole," Brooking said. "You fight, you scratch and you bleed out there and nothing seems to work.
"The defense is on the field a lot longer than we were last year and it's starting to wear on us. We're all tired of losing and there doesn't seem to be anything we can do about it."
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