MINNEAPOLIS -- One of the oddest sights from Sunday's Falcons-Vikings game was seeing lanky tight end Levine Toilolo, at 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, line up at right tackle for the Falcons to close out the game in a 41-28 loss.
"When you have tight ends playing offensive line for you, it limits what you can do, limits the playbooks,'' quarterback Matt Ryan said. "But I think our guys battled. I thought Levine stepped in and did a good job.
"It limits what you can do. It makes things a little more difficult. But I think we tried to make the best of that situation.''
The situation was created after the Falcons lost starting offensive linemen Joe Hawley, Justin Blalock and Lamar Holmes to injuries. Center Hawley was carted off the field with a knee injury and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday, as reported by ESPN's Adam Caplan. Hawley left the locker room on crutches and with his right leg in a brace, but there's optimism about his injury not being season-ending. Holmes, the right tackle, also exited the locker room on crutches and had his left foot in a boot. Blalock, the left guard, was sidelined with a back injury.
The Falcons dressed seven offensive linemen as tackle Ryan Schraeder and rookie center/guard James Stone were inactive. Peter Konz finished the game at center for Hawley while Gabe Carimi finished at left guard for Blalock.
"I think we just have to regroup,'' rookie left tackle Jake Matthews said. "We have to look back at the film and see what things we did well. Obviously, there was a lot that we needed to improve on. Losing three key guys like that is never easy. I've never been a part of a game where we're playing with just four offensive linemen.''
Like Ryan said, it significantly limited what the offense was able to accomplish in the fourth quarter as the Falcons tried to erase a 10-point deficit. Ryan was intercepted by Vikings safety Harrison Smith with 3 minutes, 30 seconds to play. He threw another interception on a desperation throw as time expired.
Now, the Falcons have to put this game behind and hope that the offensive line is healthy enough to move forward. Schraeder and Stone appear destined to be active for next Sunday's game against the New York Giants. Promoting guard Harland Gunn from the practice squad would be another option for more depth. And the team could look outside for help as well, if needed.
The Falcons already lost veteran tackle Sam Baker (knee) in the preseason, so they were shorthanded coming into the season. And protecting Ryan was the primary emphasis for 2014, and that goal might be hard to accomplish with so many moving parts. If he doesn't get proper protection, the offensive can't be as dynamic as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wants it to be.
"It's one of those things that we have to adjust and guys have to be ready to step up and play,'' right guard Jon Asamoah said. "I'm proud of the guys that came in today. Pete and Gabe came in there, as well as Levine, and competed.
"With Levine, that was a first. But Levine is a smart guy from Stanford. We communicated and he held up out there.''