In recent meetings between the Falcons and Carolina Panthers, it’s been Atlanta near the top of the NFC South standings with an efficient passer at quarterback, healthy and dangerous weapons surrounding him, and a stout defense.
The situation has reversed for Sunday’s meeting.
The Falcons will enter Bank of America Stadium with a 2-5 record, injuries to key targets and a several close losses this season.
Of course, you won’t find much sympathy in the Panthers’ locker room.
“It’s hard. We know it, I know. I’ve been telling people it’s hard to win in this league,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “You’re going to have your moments. They’re a good football team with good football players, good coaching staff. But every now and then you have things like this happen. It’s a matter of time. What we have to do is be respectful of who they are as a football team with the players they have, and we have to come out and play our game. We cannot take this football team lightly.”
Atlanta is 0-4 in games decided by seven points or fewer this year. Carolina (4-3) is 2-14 with the same criteria under Rivera, and all four of the Panthers’ wins this season have been by at least 15 points.
“I’m very confident that we’ll play the type of football that we’re capable of playing,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We’ve not gotten the outcome that we wanted. We’ve had some very close football games, but that’s what the NFL is all about. It’s coming down and making plays at the end of ball games.”
The Falcons have won the NFC South twice since 2010 and have missed the playoffs just once since 2008. But at three games under .500, if the season ended today Atlanta would be six spots out of the final wild card.
Atlanta will be without Julio Jones for the rest of the season after he suffered a foot injury in Week 5. Fellow wide receiver Roddy White has missed two games this year with hamstring and ankle injuries, and he’s questionable for Sunday.
“The injury bug can get you,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “You can hide a lot of things in this league if you can score points. All of a sudden you lose guys like Julio Jones and Roddy White, I don’t care who you are, that’s tough.
“It’s a funny league. That’s why preseason predictions and all that stuff doesn’t mean a whole lot.
“That’s what makes the NFL so special.”
Despite the losses, the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan still have the fourth-best passing attack in the league at 300 passing yards per game. The Falcons have also struggled on the ground, running for a league-worst 62.4 yards per game.
Ryan was quick to point out the team still has nine games left, plenty for the Falcons to get back in the playoff hunt. But only three of those come against teams with a losing record.
“We’ve got to fight and claw and dig our way back into it,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be tough, there’s no doubt about that, but it all starts with the first one. We’ve got to do everything we can to get that first win, that win this week, to get us back rolling.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9