Falcons hoping for 0-0 fresh start in playoffs

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons players have been wearing 1-0 shirts in recent weeks as a reminder to focus on one game instead of their ugly record.

The winner of Sunday's game between the Falcons (6-9) and Carolina (6-8-1) will clinch the NFC South and have a home playoff game. Wide receiver Julio Jones says the losing record won't matter if the Falcons make the playoffs.

"People are going to jump on the bandwagon, they're going to jump off the bandwagon," Jones said after Sunday's 30-14 win at New Orleans. "But when you get to the postseason, it's 0-0."

The win over the Saints kept Atlanta in the playoff chase.

The Falcons may be playing to save coach Mike Smith's job. They are assured of their second straight losing record after five straight winning seasons under Smith.

Smith said Monday he has not been distracted by speculation about his status. It's unknown how advancing to the playoffs or winning at least one playoff game might affect owner Arthur Blank's decision on Smith's future.

"I know that's a subject that everybody wants to talk about," Smith said. "As I said four or five weeks ago, and I hope this is the last time I have to answer it, I'm going to prepare just like I've done for the seven years that I've been here. My focus is on winning football games and winning the next football game and I'm going to continue to do that until Arthur Blank tells me differently."

Tickets for a Falcons playoff game on Jan. 3 or 4 at the Georgia Dome were placed on sale Monday.

Smith said his team has been resilient but inconsistent as it has been hit with a large number of injuries for the second straight year.

Atlanta lost four starting offensive linemen and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon early in the year. More recently, cornerback Robert Alford was placed on IR. Safety William Moore missed seven games with a shoulder injury and left Sunday's game with another shoulder injury.

Running back Steve Jackson (quad) and cornerback Josh Wilson (hamstring) also left Sunday's game with injuries. Smith said Moore, Jackson and Wilson were having tests on Monday.

Smith said the Falcons regrouped during their bye week following a devastating 22-21 loss to Detroit in London on Oct. 26. The fifth-straight loss left Atlanta 2-6, and the team returned for back-to-back road wins at Tampa Bay and Carolina.

"We recommitted to one another," Smith said. "We had some collaboration in terms of what we need to do to put us in better positions to win. We approached it as one game at a time, to be 1-0 for the week. Here we are at Week 16 and I don't think it can be any clearer or any truer than being 1-0 this week."

The Falcons have remained in contention by winning each of their five games in the NFC South.

Carolina, at 3-2, is the only other team in the NFC South with a winning record in the division.

Now Atlanta needs one more win in the division to complete its improbable path to the playoffs.

"It doesn't matter how you get there — you just have to get in," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "And we've done it all kinds of different ways before, but it's no less sweet when you get it done.

"I mean, we have a game at home and for us, if you win, you're in. Obviously this year has shaken out a lot different than any other year I've been a part of in our division. But even saying that, it doesn't matter. We are where we are, and we're excited about our chances."


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