FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Terance Mathis has a message for the entire offense for the Atlanta Falcons: Either get excited about playing or get off the field.
The fiery wide receiver, a veteran of 11 seasons in the National Football League, has seen too many missed assignments, too many half-hearted efforts, too many losses. Now it's time to try it his way.
"We've tried everything else," Mathis said moments after the Falcons sunk to a new low on offense in a 13-6 loss Sunday to the New York Giants. "Somebody needs to make a play, an exciting play, and get it in the end zone and see what happens. You've got to have some fun, and if we don't start having some fun, it's going to be a long year.
"All we have to do is go out there and whatever's called, run it and execute it. (Teammates) are going to follow. Somebody's going to get mad, but they're going to follow. It starts with me. I've been playing long enough and I have a voice. They're either going to follow or they're going to be mad at me.
"Let's have fun, let it loose, let it go. Whatever happens, happens."
Atlanta posted a club-record-low 13 rushing yards against the Giants. The Falcons also had three possessions at or inside the New York 10-yard line, but only managed one Morten Andersen field goal.
For the season, the Falcons have scored a touchdown only one time in 13 possessions inside the opponent's 20-yardline.
"Dan doesn't like to lose," said running back Jamal Anderson of head coach Dan Reeves. "I don't know anybody who's more competitive. He doesn't like to lose games. He doesn't want excuses; he just wants to win. That is the bottom line for him, and I think it's the same mentality for most of the guys on this team. We've just got to find a way to get it done. Whatever changes and transitions we have to go through, we have to make them work and do it."
One change, according to Mathis, is to stop going through the motions. Until Danny Kanell was forced into Sunday's game when starting quarterback Chris Chandler was sidelined in the second quarter with sore ribs, Mathis didn't realize the offense had long ago lost its emotional fire.
"I can't say enough about the way Danny Kanell played," Mathis said. "He played fearless. He was awesome. If 10 guys, offensively, get excited like he did, and have fun like he did, we're going to have some fun and turn it around. I know it starts with me. I'm going to have to do some things different. I have to have a different passion toward this game."
Kanell was 15-for-36 for 166 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in relief. He drove the Falcons 64 yards on their final possession with a chance to tie the game in the final two minutes. Atlanta had a first-and-10 at the Giants' 10-yardline, with 1:55 to play, but a sack and three incomplete passes killed the drive -- and the Falcons' hopes.
The extent of Chandler's injury, or if he will be able to play next Sunday when Atlanta travels to St. Louis, will be determined later in the week.
"We will have a better idea on Wednesday," Reeves said. "Dr. (Andrew) Bishop just said that he was extremely sore, and in his opinion he would be doubtful for this week. He said he could make some progress and we would have a better idea on Wednesday."
There are other problems for the Falcons. Rookie tackle Michael Thompson, who's started the last two games, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon in his right foot. Wide receiver Tim Dwight may have a broken rib and defensive back/kick returner Darrick Vaughn may have a broken hand.
The offense, however, is on the critical list. Reeves, the winningest active coach in the NFL with 169 victories, admits the team's current slump, which also includes two consecutive games without an offensive touchdown, is the worst in his career.
"I thought we have always been a pretty good team down in the red zone," he said. "It certainly was a problem in the Super Bowl (in 1998). I've had games, but not over a period of time where we struggled as much as we have in trying to get the ball in the end zone. If you could run it, it is a heck of a lot easier."
If the rest of the Falcons want to run the ball, they need to get behind Terance Mathis, a 5-foot-10, 186-pound wide receiver. If not, get out of the way.