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Midseason report: Atlanta Falcons

The bigger, tougher, stronger mantra was catchy for the Atlanta Falcons at first, until they started getting pushed around routinely and fell flat on their faces.

Now, a team expected to improve from a 4-12 showing a year ago is right back where it was at the halfway point of 2013: sitting at 2-6 with very little to be optimistic about moving forward.

Coach Mike Smith's job is in jeopardy just two seasons after his team went 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship Game. Although the slim chance of winning the laughable NFC South remains, the Falcons simply don't have the talent -- and some would say the coaching -- to turn things around now while riding a five-game losing streak.

MVP: Antone Smith. It's hard to find many positives in such a dismal start, but Smith has been consistently good despite playing minimal snaps at running back. He has a team-leading five touchdowns on just 31 touches. Smith is expected to be healthy for the second half of the season despite suffering a neck stinger in London.

Biggest disappointment: The pass rush, hands-down. No one expected the Falcons to suddenly lead the league in sacks -- but it's obviously disappointing to be last, with seven. This forces defensive backs to cover longer. The lack of pressure contributed to 11 plays of 40-plus yards being surrendered through eight games. The Falcons should have targeted a pass-rusher in free agency or the draft.

Best moment: Devin Hester's 62-yard punt return against Tampa Bay in Week 3, which was his NFL-record 20th return score. Hester’s old coach, Lovie Smith, was on the opposite sideline, and his mentor, Deion Sanders, was in the building for NFL Network. In "Prime Time" fashion, Hester high-stepped his way to the end zone in celebration. He showed true emotion while in tears afterward.

Worst moment: Matt Ryan's uncharacteristic blunder against the Lions in London, when he threw the ball across the field right into the arms of Lions defender Cassius Vaughn. It epitomized the Falcons' implosion in a historic collapse from a 21-0 lead to a 22-21 loss.

Key to the second half: Not getting Ryan killed behind a makeshift offensive line. He is still the franchise quarterback despite some of his shortcomings this season. Ryan looked like a Top 5 quarterback in the season opener against the Saints, then he lost a few linemen and saw his receivers start to drop passes. With solid protection and healthy weapons around him, he can thrive -- next season -- even if that means adjusting to a new coaching staff.