Falcons still control their fate in 'crazy' NFC South
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) It's possible 5-8 never looked so good.
The Atlanta Falcons have played just well enough to control their fate in the much-ridiculed NFC South, even though they can't finish the regular season with a winning record.
Atlanta, which plays the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, is coming off a Monday night loss at Green Bay. Despite the loss, the Falcons still lead the division with a tiebreaker edge over the New Orleans Saints.
Wide receiver Roddy White calls the playoff race ''crazy'' - in part because he believes the Falcons could have put the division away.
''It's been crazy because we feel like we put ourselves in such a bad position this year, just doing crazy stuff and not going out there and playing up to expectations and stuff like that,'' White said Thursday. ''Just kind of giving away games and just feeling bad because we put ourselves in those positions.''
White said he has told teammates this isn't the time to mourn lost opportunities.
''I tell everybody instead of feeling that way, just go out there and play and win these last three games and then we'll have a home playoff game and we'll go from there,'' he said.
Offensive guard Justin Blalock said having two 5-8 teams sharing a division lead in December is ''not the way you would write it up.''
''Nonetheless, it's what we've earned at this point,'' Blalock said. ''To be in December and have each week your destiny be in your own hands, that's really all you can ask for. But would it be great to be sitting on eight or nine wins instead? Obviously. That's not what we've earned.''
A loss to the Steelers wouldn't end Atlanta's playoff hopes, but don't bother telling White. He said the Falcons better win now, especially with a game at New Orleans looming next week.
''You want to win all three of these games because New Orleans is such a hard place to go down there and win,'' White said. ''In the past we haven't gone down there and won a lot of the times. You just can't count on that. You've got to figure if you get all three, we'll be in. That's my goal and what I'm preaching to the guys.
''You just can't go and say if we lose this game we'll be all right. It's going to be a lot of pressure to win the last two.''
The Falcons were without receiver Julio Jones (hip) and safety William Moore (foot) for the second straight day. Jones left the 43-37 loss at Green Bay in the fourth quarter after setting a team record with 259 yards receiving.
Coach Mike Smith said he continues to hope Jones and Moore can play, but expects each will be a game-time decision on Sunday.
''I think that there's a chance both those guys will be ready to go,'' Smith said Thursday. ''Both of them have made a big turnaround in the first 48 hours, and usually the first 48 hours is a pretty good indicator.''
There has been speculation the Falcons might hold Jones out this week, since they have games against division rivals New Orleans and Carolina the following two weeks. When asked if the two division games might be a factor in a game-time decision on Jones this week, Smith said it wouldn't be his call.
''It's really going to be up to the team doctor, our athletic performance group,'' Smith said. ''They're going to be the ones who will make that decision. If there's any doubt, if there's potential that they're not ready to go, the doctor would make that call. I know both those guys are doing everything in their power to get back on the field.''
Cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) is not expected to practice this week.
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