The Atlanta Falcons were one of six unbeaten teams in the NFL entering Week 6 but they were upset last Thursday in New Orleans. How will Coach Dan Quinn's club bounce back Sunday at Tennessee?
First Loss For New Coach Quinn
Atlanta (5-1) was a 3-point favorite for that game at the Saints but lost 31-21, the fewest points the Falcons have scored this season and most they have allowed. Atlanta had three turnovers to none for the Saints. New Orleans' defense recovered three fumbles, with two inside its own 20. And the Falcons had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown and a 14-0 Saints lead. Running back Devonta Freeman continued his stellar start to the season with 13 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown while also catching eight balls for 56 yards and a score. Matt Ryan completed 30-for-44 for 295 yards and two scores but was sacked five times. Star receiver Julio Jones was questionable for the game with a hamstring injury but played and caught six passes for 93 yards.
Defensively, strong safety William Moore and tackle Ra'Shede Hageman both had key defensive penalties that made scoring opportunities easier for the Saints. One resulted in a Drew Brees 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson and the other in a Mark Ingram 1-yard touchdown run. The Falcons just looked out of sync all game. Perhaps it was the quick turnaround. But they also didn't play great the week before when Ryan threw three interceptions and they needed a late rally for an overtime home win over the Redskins.
For what it's worth, and I'd say very little, Atlanta beat Tennessee 31-24 in the Georgia Dome to open the 2015 preseason. Mariota's first two series ended with an interception and a fumble. The teams also made a trade in the preseason, with the Titans sending guard Andy Levitre to Atlanta for a 2016 sixth-round pick and conditional 2017 pick. Levitre struggled with Tennessee after signing a six-year, $46.8 million free agent deal in 2013. He restructured that deal with the Falcons and has played better this season.
The Falcons are 4-2 against the spread on NFL odds and 2-3-1 'over/under.'
Will Mariota Be Able To Play?
Tennessee (1-4) looked like it might be much improved this season when it went to Tampa Bay and dominated the Buccaneers 42-14 in Week 1 behind a historic performance from Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman winner and No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft. Alas, the Titans have dropped four straight since then. They played their worst game of the season in Week 6, a 38-10 home blowout loss to Miami. Mariota, still your NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite, struggled a bit in that one, completing 21-for-33 for 219 yards, a touchdown and two picks.
The Titans nearly saw disaster happen to their franchise quarterback. Mariota was hit low in the second quarter by Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon. He was flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty for plowing into Mariota's left knee. The rookie did stay in the game -- he came out for one play -- but was very clearly hobbled and played the rest of the way with a knee brace. Mariota was sacked five times overall and also lost two fumbles.
"I think it was B.S.," Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the game of the Vernon hit. "That's not the way you play football. I think it was done with the idea of trying to hurt our quarterback, and that's bulls--- football."
Mariota had an MRI on Monday and it revealed a sprained MCL. That's often a multi-week injury -- Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger has missed the past three games with a similar injury -- but the Titans aren't saying yet if Mariota will play this week. Mariota said he expects to be a full-go for Wednesday's practice but it might not be his call: "We aren't going to do anything to put him into any kind of jeopardy," Whisenhunt said. Zach Mettenberger would start if Mariota can't play.
That Titans offensive line was overwhelmed by Miami. Rookie right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi fared so poorly against Cameron Wake that he was benched in favor of Jamon Meredith. Center Brian Schwenke suffered a broken left leg in the second quarter and was replaced by rookie Andy Gallik.
Tennessee’s two-year record under Whisenhunt is 3-18. There's a pretty decent chance that he's not back next season. GM Ruston Weber might not be around, either. Since Webster was elevated to general manager in 2012, the team is 16-37.
The Titans are 2-3 against the spread this season on NFL picks and 4-1 O/U.