Originally created 01/03/06

Falcons face plenty of questions

ATLANTA - Keith Brooking refused to place blame after Atlanta's 44-11 loss to Carolina on Sunday, a loss that was the team's sixth in the final eight games.

Instead, the linebacker said everybody in the organization needed to evaluate their performance.

One thing's for sure: The owner is certain to do it.

Arthur Blank was disgusted with the way the Falcons closed out the season. Not only did the team go from first in the NFC South at midseason to out of the playoffs, Atlanta left the Georgia Dome to a smattering of boos and jeers from its fans. It could have been worse if there weren't about 20,000 no-shows before the game and twice that leaving by halftime.

"The first thing I'm going to do is look at myself," Brooking said. "That has to happen across the board."

Blank said everyone, including players, coaches and front office staff, would be evaluated after the 8-8 season.

Carolina's 33-point victory was the biggest margin in the team's 11-year history. It also sent the Panthers into the playoffs Sunday at the New York Giants.

The Falcons head home facing a lot of questions.

Warrick Dunn rushed for a season-low 29 yards Sunday. He not only sympathized with the fans' disappointment, he agreed with them.

"I know a lot of fans are disappointed with the way we played this season," he said. "Not just today. I remember a couple of years ago we ended at 5-11, and we played these guys at the end of the season and it was a packed house.

"But today and this season is different because of a lot of the expectations. When your main goal is to get to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl and you come up short on that and don't even make the playoffs, then getting your tail kicked in the last game is tough, and I know the fans are frustrated. The players are, too. There are going to be a lot of things in the off-season we're going to try and do as a team to get better."

Coach Jim Mora said it's important for his staff not to react too quickly about the way the season ended with six losses in eight games.

In fact, he put off season- ending individual meetings with the players until everyone had a chance to evaluate the season.

"I talked about taking some time to reflect on the season on their own," Mora said of Monday's team meeting. "I don't want them to just walk out of here and say, 'We had a bad season. I'm going to get better; we're going to get better; we're going to get back after it next year.' That's shallow. I want them to take some time to reflect on how they can get better."

Players got their season-ending physicals Monday, then Mora sent them home. They will be called back individually to talk about the future.

Before the season starts, Atlanta also must decide on what to do with the following free agents - safety Keion Carpenter, defensive tackle Antwan Lake, cornerback Omare Lowe, kicker Todd Peterson and tackle Kevin Shaffer.

The team has a much easier decision on often-injured veteran defensive end Brady Smith, who is expected to be cut to save the team money against the salary cap.

"The off-season has already started," Mora said.

2006 opponents

Here's a look at whom the Falcons will play next season. The dates and times will be decided in the spring.

Home: Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Dallas, N.Y. Giants, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Arizona

Away: Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit

Source: www.nfl.com


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