Falcons again need players to step up in wake of big-name injuries

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons just can't escape the injury bug, and it could set them back again moving forward.

This time, the Falcons saw receivers Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu, along with kicker Matt Bryant, get injured in Sunday's 34-29 win over Tampa Bay. Ridley suffered an ankle injury in the first half, and Sanu apparently aggravated the hip injury that limited him in practice leading up to the game. Meanwhile, Bryant appeared to injure his hamstring after nailing a 57-yard field goal that gave the Falcons the breathing room they needed for the win.

Coach Dan Quinn is likely to update news on the players' injuries during his Monday news conference. Neither Ridley nor Sanu were visible in the locker room after the game, and Bryant was noticeably hobbled before exiting the stadium near the end of the game.

Bryant, 43, is 9-for-9 on field goal attempts this season and is 16-for-17 on extra point attempts, so losing him would be a major blow for special teams. The Falcons had kickers Giorgio Tavecchio and David Marvin on the team during the preseason.

"He's meant everything to me," quarterback Matt Ryan said of Bryant. "He's been so reliable for the better part of nine-plus, 10 years of playing together. You don't even consider it when you put him in position to make something. He's automatic. And he does it over, and over, and over. His mindset, his approach, is the best of really anybody I've been around."

Quinn could decide to hold Ridley and Sanu from the Falcons' next game against New York Giants, a Monday night battle on Oct. 22. The Falcons have a bye following that game, which would give all the injured players extra time to heal.

If Ridley and Sanu miss any game action, Ryan expressed confidence in guys such as rookie Russell Gage, Marvin Hall, and Justin Hardy to step up at receiver.

"For me, I always try to make guys feel comfortable when they come in those situations," Ryan said. "[I say], 'Listen, you're prepared to do this. Just go out there, you don't need to do anything extraordinary. Just do what we ask you to do, do it the best you can do it, and you're going to be fine.' And I think our guys did that."

From an offensive perspective, the Falcons seem well-equipped to overcome injuries, provided Ryan and top receiver Julio Jones don't go down. Tight end Austin Hooper has gotten into a rhythm with consecutive nine-catch games. Rookie running back Ito Smith, who moved into the backup role behind Tevin Coleman with Devonta Freeman sidelined by foot and groin injuries, scored on a 14-yard run against the Buccaneers. Smith set a franchise rookie record by scoring a rushing touchdown in his third consecutive game.

It's unclear when Freeman will return to the lineup.

For the Falcons, it's just about executing with whatever offensive personnel is on the field or calling the right play in a certain situation. As happy as Ryan was about Sunday's win, he expressed disappointment about not being able to pick up the first down on the third-and-2 Coleman run play from the Buccaneers' 39-yard line, the play that preceded Bryant's 57-yard kick.

Outside of the injury concerns on offense, the Falcons continue to move forward with a depleted defense. They lost Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal (ACL) and free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles) to season-ending injuries, and Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones is on injured reserve following foot surgery but is eligible to return for the Dallas game on Nov. 18. Star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has missed the past two games because of an ankle injury but could return sooner than later.