ATLANTA -- Dan Quinn says it all the time, that injuries are a part of the game. But the Atlanta Falcons coach couldn't have imagined the injury bug hitting as hard as it did Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills.
Quinn saw top wide receiver Julio Jones plead to get back into the game, only to end up exiting to the locker room before halftime with a hip injury. Jones, who had three catches for 30 yards in the first quarter, never returned. Then, at the start of the second half, No. 2 receiver Mohamed Sanu was nowhere to be seen after an active first half, which included a Wildcat -- or 12-gauge -- play that set up Devonta Freeman's 1-yard touchdown run. Sanu was ruled out for the game with a hamstring injury.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was 6-of-8 for 56 yards when targeting his receivers in the first half, with Jones and Sanu on the field. In the second half without them, as pointed out by ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan was 3-of-12 for 19 yards with two interceptions targeting his wide receivers.
``Obviously, those guys are a big part of what we do,'' said Ryan, who finished 24-of-42 for 242 yards with a touchdown, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 61.8. ``So when you lose one of them, it's tough. When you lose two of them, it's difficult.''
When the Falcons faced fourth-and-1 in the final seconds without Jones or Sanu, Ryan turned to Taylor Gabriel but couldn't complete the pass. The end result was the Bills walking away with a 23-17 victory, ending the Falcons' three-game winning streak to start the season.
When the Falcons had a chance to drive for yet another go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter, they faced a crucial third-and-17 from the Bills' 49 without Jones or Sanu on the field. Ryan's target ended up being Nick Williams, and the ball off Williams' hand ended up being picked off by Micah Hyde. An official review confirmed the turnover, which was Ryan's fifth interception in the past two games.
No, Ryan didn't have his best game. And yes, the Bills entered the game as the league's top-scoring defense. But the injuries certainly didn't help the Falcons' quest to improve to 4-0.
The Falcons already entered the game down their top pass-rusher; Vic Beasley Jr. missed his second consecutive game while recovering from a calf strain. They were without their best offensive tackle with starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder sidelined again while recovering from a concussion. And the Falcons were without their best leader with starting free safety Ricardo Allen also sidelined by a concussion. Beasley was expected to be sidelined a month after being injured against Green Bay in Week 2.
Add the injuries of Jones, Sanu and defensive lineman Jack Crawford (biceps), along with defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee), and the Falcons could put together an all-injury All-Star team. But now it's about finding a way to recover and not allowing the injuries to throw off their focus on returning to the Super Bowl.
This coming week's bye gives the Falcons a chance to rest and recover. If Jones and Sanu are sidelined for any extended period of time, the formula of using the running back combo of Freeman and Tevin Coleman has to be in play once again. That formula almost helped the Falcons win the game Sunday, as the backs combined for 222 yards rushing and receiving. But this was the first time in eight games the Falcons have lost when Freeman and Coleman combined for 200-plus yards from scrimmage.
``Anytime the bye rolls around, it's an opportunity for guys to get healthy, regardless of what time of the year it is,'' Ryan said. ``We have some guys that need to get healthy. And hopefully, the week to rest will allow us to do that.
``We also have to take a look and where we're at and find ways to improve. I'm sure that something the coaching staff will work hard on this week. And from a players' standpoint, we need to do the same thing.''
The Falcons certainly need Beasley back to apply even more pressure to opposing quarterbacks, although the line has done a solid job collectively in that category. And based on some of the secondary issues the Falcons had against the Bills, Allen's presence as a field general definitely is needed.
We'll see how the Falcons respond to the adversity when they return to the field Oct. 15 at home against the Miami Dolphins.