Falcons running out of options to break losing streak

Updated: November 3, 2003, 8:48 PM ET
ESPN

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- They've flip-flopped the quarterbacks. They've changed the defense. What's next for the Atlanta Falcons?

Well, there aren't many options for escaping a seven-game losing streak, the team's longest stretch of futility since 1996.

Coach Dan Reeves hasn't decided who will start at quarterback -- Doug Johnson or Kurt Kittner -- for Sunday's game at New York against the Giants.

Not that it's likely to make much difference. Johnson started the first six games, leading the Falcons to one win. Kittner got the start in the last two games, both losses, and was pulled in the fourth quarter of a 23-16 loss to Philadelphia this past weekend.

"It's just hard to keep coming in here every week and talking about why you lost a football game," Reeves said Monday, getting his news conference off to a familiar start. "It's frustrating, really frustrating."

No kidding. The Falcons, within two victories of the Super Bowl a year ago, are now mired at the bottom of the standings.

It doesn't look as if a coaching change is coming. Once again, owner Arthur Blank expressed public confidence for Reeves, making it increasingly likely the venerable coach -- still stuck one win short of his 200th career victory -- will last at least until the end of the season.

"Dan has seen this before in the NFL," Blank said Monday. "He's kind of been there and done it and gotten to the other side of the mountain."

During a bye week, the Falcons made some big changes defensively, hoping to shore up a unit that has given up far more yards than any team in the league. The entire starting secondary was benched, and the scheme up front was switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

Against Philadelphia, the Falcons did manage to avoid getting blown out, a major accomplishment considering the previous two losses were by a combined score of 81-17. Still, it was a rather ugly showing.

The Eagles piled up 430 yards, actually increasing Atlanta's per-game average to 418.4. Donovan McNabb, who hadn't even thrown for 200 yards this season, broke loose for 312 yards. He hardly looked like the lowest-rated quarterback in the league, his status coming into the game.

Nevertheless, Reeves and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips were relatively happy with the play of cornerbacks Juran Bolden and Tod McBride. The new safeties -- Cory Hall and Bryan Scott -- looked confused at times, but all four are expected to start again this week.

At this point in the season, the Falcons are unlikely to find anyone who would be an upgrade over their current starters. And, because of several questionable roster decisions, Reeves doesn't have much flexibility to make further changes.

Atlanta has a bunch of guys -- utility man Woodrow Dantzler, safety Siddeeq Shabazz, tight end Sean Brewer, receivers LaTarence Dunbar and Terrence Edwards -- who are just taking up space.

Dantzler made a few appearances at quarterback, hoping to create a run-pass option; instead, he just made the Falcons look desperate. Brewer's main distinction is having the longest hair on the team. Shabazz, Dunbar and Edwards have barely played at all.

And don't forget receiver Quentin McCord and cornerback Tyrone Williams.

McCord, who made two starts while Brian Finneran was injured, didn't even dress Sunday. Neither did Williams, who got a $2.2 million bonus to sign with the Falcons. He was suspended one game for lashing out at the coaches, then got benched for giving up on a short pass that went for a long New Orleans touchdown two weeks ago.

While Williams is unlikely to get cut for salary cut reasons, he may not play again this season.

The Falcons sure could use linebacker Mark Simoneau, who was dumped off on Philadelphia during the offseason for a sixth-round draft pick. Atlanta used that choice for safety Waine Bacon, who didn't make the team. Simoneau was named the NFC defensive player of the month for October.

Atlanta plays its next two games on the road at New York and New Orleans, then Tennessee (6-2) visits the Georgia Dome. Three more losses -- and the Falcons will certainly be underdogs in all three -- would set a team record for consecutive futility.

"It's slipping out of our hands, and there's nothing we can do about it," Bolden said, shaking his head. "You hope to catch a wave that's going up. Instead, we caught a wave and got swallowed up."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index