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Dismal year one game away from end

POSTED: January 4, 2008 5:03 a.m.
ATLANTA — Whether it’s a close game or blowout, the Atlanta Falcons can’t find a way to win.

The latest setback, losing in overtime at Arizona, was the Falcons’ sixth straight defeat. Players are so beaten down emotionally and physically that interim coach Emmitt Thomas gave them Monday off.

Promoted to replace Bobby Petrino two weeks ago, Thomas told the team to focus on what went right against the Cardinals. This time, at least, Atlanta played competitively after losing its last five by an average of almost 22 points per game.

"We just stressed to them that they’re pros," Thomas said. "We laid an egg last week, and we wanted to come out this week and play Falcon football, make the fans of Atlanta, our owner and our organization proud."

The Falcons ended the season with a 1-7 road record. Since winning at Miami in Week 9 of 2005, they have dropped 11 of 15 away from the Georgia Dome.

Not that home has been much kinder. Over the last three years in November and December, Atlanta has a combined 2-10 record at the dome, which was nearly empty in the closing minutes of a Week 15 loss to New Orleans.

The Falcons (3-12) end the season on Sunday against NFC West champion Seattle (10-5).

"We’ve got to figure out a way to get one more out there," said Chris Redman, the third quarterback to start this year after Michael Vick was indicted for dogfighting. "But I think a lot of guys played well, the offensive line blocked well, the receivers did a great job catching the ball."

Even the front office keeps losing. Atlanta still doesn’t still doesn’t have a permanent head coach, and Vick, who led the Falcons to playoff wins in 2002 and 2004, just began serving a 23-month sentence in federal prison.

General manager Rich McKay, who has had unfortunate results from his last two classes of draft picks and free agents, will soon give up control of personnel.

And owner Arthur Blank has been turned down in his attempts to bring in a recognizable, successful name following the sudden resignation of Petrino two weeks ago.

Bill Cowher turned down an interview request. Just three days later, Bill
Parcells backed out of a deal to become director of football operations, a role that would have made him the point man in hiring a coach.

Now Marty Schottenheimer might be the latest target of Blank’s interest. According to a report last week in the San Diego Tribune, the Falcons contacted Schottenheimer, whom the Chargers fired 10 months ago despite a 14-3 record last season.

"I guess you could say that bringing in a new coach or somebody who would take control of the team would at least give our fans some hope," running back Warrick Dunn said. "But for the players, there’s not much left for us. It’s been a complete disaster."

Atlanta, which began Week 16 with the NFL’s lowest scoring offense, finished with a season-high 27 points at Arizona. Redman recovered from a dreadful 0.0 passer rating at Tampa Bay, completing 28-of-42 passes for 315 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Roddy White and rookie Laurent Robinson each had 100 yards in receiving, but most of the team’s statistics were hardly impressive.

The defense had no sacks for the fifth time this season, no interceptions for the sixth time and no fumbles forced for the third.

"We came up a little short defensively," Thomas said, "but they played hard."

Offensively, the Falcons continue to show almost no resolve when entering the fourth quarter with a deficit. The loss at Arizona dropped them to 0-11 this season and 1-37 since the start of 2003 in such circumstances.

For players like Dunn, who has 10,000 yards rushing and three Pro Bowl selections in his career, there’s essentially nothing redeemable about this season.

But Redman, who faces an uncertain future, at least had a chance to play this season after going almost four full years without throwing a pass in an NFL game.

Redman, who took over the starting job after Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich struggled, hopes to return to Atlanta or play for another team in 2008.

"You hate to lose games," Redman said. "That’s no fun, but at the same time, it’s good to be out there. I feel comfortable, and I think that’s the biggest thing. I’m starting to ease into it, so we’re just going to go with the positives."



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