Originally created 11/22/05

Falcons need to find winning formula - fast



ATLANTA - Jim Mora never hides his emotions, expressing himself with everything from expletive-filled rants to sarcastic smirks. So, everyone wondered how he would react to the first real losing streak of his head coaching career.

Well, get this: He's actually glad the Atlanta Falcons are going through a little adversity.

"It's great, quite frankly," Mora said Monday. "I know that sounds completely insane. But, if you are trying to build for the long haul, the only way you find out if you are doing it right is to go through some tough times."

Make no mistake, Mora and the Falcons are going through some tough times, losing two straight games at home to damage their playoff hopes in the highly competitive NFC South.

With six games left, Atlanta (6-4) trails co-leaders Carolina and Tampa Bay by a game in the division race. Four other NFC teams also have better records, which means the Falcons would miss out if the playoffs began today.

The remaining schedule is no cakewalk, either. Next up is a Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit (4-6), with two games against Carolina and road trips to Tampa Bay and North Division-leading Chicago still ahead. A home game against New Orleans is the only remaining contest that looks like a surefire win, not that there is such a thing in the NFL.

Bring it on, Mora said.

"Every team faces adversity," he said. "You find out about people at times like this. I know it's a cliche, and it's overused, but it's true. You find out about people. Hopefully I'm here for a lot of years. If I am, there will be other times like this. This just happens to be the first time."

Actually, the Falcons lost their final two regular-season games a year ago, but that skid came after they already had clinched the division championship and could afford to rest their starters for the playoffs.

Otherwise, Mora's still-not-2-year-old tenure has been remarkably smooth, considering he joined a franchise that's never had back-to-back winning seasons.

The Falcons began their coach's rookie year with four straight victories, coasted to the title in a division where no other team finished above.500 and made it all the way to the NFC championship game before losing at frigid Philadelphia.

With that in mind, Atlanta set a goal of not just having another winning season, but winning enough games to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Falcons were in good shape after winning six of their first eight this season, but now it's going to be a challenge just making it to the postseason.

"We're building something here," Mora said. "Part of building something strong is handling adversity. Every team goes through it."

In each of the losses, Atlanta got off to a miserable start.

Green Bay jumped to a 14-0 lead before the midway point of the first quarter and went on to a 33-25 victory. This past Sunday, Tampa Bay surged ahead 13-0 by early in the second quarter, though the Buccaneers needed a rally of their own to pull out a 30-27 win.

"It doesn't matter how you start," quarterback Michael Vick insisted. "It matters how you finish."

The Falcons scored on five straight possessions against Tampa Bay's highly rated defense, but they couldn't come through at the end. The Bucs scored twice in the final 1:55: Carnell "Cadillac" Williams with a tying touchdown run, then Matt Bryant with the winning field goal after Derrick Brooks forced Vick to fumble.

"We just dug ourselves a hole in the beginning," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "We climbed out of it and never gave up, but it came down to us (not being able) to stop the run. They got two tight ends and two backs and they were pounding us. We couldn't stop them."

That has been a disturbing trend for several weeks. The Bucs averaged 5.2 yards per carry and became the fifth team in the last six weeks to run for more than 100 yards against the Falcons. Clearly, injuries have taken a toll.

Middle linebacker Ed Hartwell is out for the season, end Brady Smith missed his third straight game with a dislocated toe and tackle Chad Lavalais didn't play against the Bucs because of an ailing foot.

"I just hate excuses," Mora said. "But things happen for a reason. Here's what I'm seeing: We have a lot of young guys, and as we are trying to build this organization, this team, we are building it for many years, not just one year. In order to do that, you sometimes have to make tough decisions."

The Falcons cut veteran linemen Travis Hall and Ed Jasper after last season in a salary-cap move. Their young replacements are going through some growing pains, just like the entire team.

"Experience-wise, you are taking a step back," Mora said. "Skill-wise, in the long run, you are taking a couple of big steps forward. So, we are in a little transition phase."