Although they won’t get a chance to make a playoff run this season, the Atlanta Falcons still have something to play for in their final two games.
With a chance at the first back-to-back winning seasons in the 44-year history of the franchise, Atlanta (7-7) hosts the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
The Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention last Saturday when Dallas knocked off previously unbeaten New Orleans. Atlanta took a step back this year after going 11-5 in 2008, when it made its first playoff appearance in four seasons.
“We’re disappointed in terms of not having an opportunity to play past 16 regular-season games,” coach Mike Smith(notes) said. “We still have a lot of internal goals that can be reached. Those are things we talk about as a team. We don’t talk about them publicly.”
Smith’s team snapped a two-game skid with a 10-7 road victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.
“As a man taking pride in what you do for a living and loving what you do,” said Gonzalez, who caught the winning TD against the Jets with 1:38 remaining. “You owe it to yourself and the fans and the organization to go out there and play your butt off. That’s what we did.”
After missing two games with a toe injury, Matt Ryan(notes) went 16 of 34 for 152 yards and threw his career-high 17th TD pass Sunday. He needs 557 passing yards to reach 3,000 for the second straight year.
Ryan has been limited in practice this week due to the toe problem but hopes to start Sunday.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I’m getting a little better every day, which is a good thing,” Ryan said Thursday. “I’m just doing everything that I can at this point to get it back to where I can go back out there and play well.”
While Ryan can lead the Falcons to another winning season, the Bills’ quarterback situation is less certain. Buffalo (5-9) re-signed Gibran Hamdan(notes) this week after Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) and backup Trent Edwards(notes) suffered ankle injuries in a 17-10 loss to New England on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick was limited in practice Friday, opening the possibility for second-year pro Brian Brohm(notes) to make his NFL debut. Brohm spent a majority of practice working with the first-team offense, ahead of Hamdan.
While Edwards has been ruled out, interim coach Perry Fewell said he hopes Fitzpatrick will be available but has made him a gametime decision.
Whoever starts at quarterback will have no chance of leading Buffalo to the postseason. The Bills were eliminated from contention Sunday and missed the playoffs for the 10th straight year, tying Detroit for the longest active drought in the league.
There doesn’t seem to be much for the Bills to play for in the last two games besides individual accomplishments. Running back Fred Jackson(notes) needs 189 yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his three-year career.
“It’s something I’m aware of,” Jackson told the team’s official Web site. “My (twin) brother (Patrick) more than anybody keeps me updated on how close I am. It would be a good way to finish the season. With us not being able to go to the playoffs, that’s definitely something that’s in striking distance.”
Atlanta ranks 20th against the run, allowing 116.5 yards per game.
Suffering through one of his worst seasons, Terrell Owens(notes) is two receptions shy of become the sixth player in history with 1,000. Owens, on pace for 54 catches, needs 88 receiving yards to pass Tim Brown(notes) for third all-time with 14,935.
Michael Turner(notes), second in the NFL with 1,699 rushing yards in 2008, may not play the rest of the season due to an ankle injury. After missing the previous two games, he was injured on his first carry against the Jets and did not return.
The Falcons, looking to snap a two-game slide at the Georgia Dome, have won three straight at home against Buffalo. The teams have not met there since 2001.