Sat, 05 Dec 2020

The top Falcons headlines from around the country  Will McFadden

Carolina was without its best player the first time the Panthers and Falcons met, but there appears to be a shot that Christian McCaffrey returns to the field for Thursday night's matchup. McCaffrey was seen on the practice field on Monday, although he did not participate in the team's light workout, per ESPN's David Newton.

McCaffrey sustained a high ankle sprain early in the season, which landed him on injured reserve. The Panthers designated him to return from IR on Tuesday, giving him the ability to practice and the team a 21-day window in which to fully activate him. Speaking with the Atlanta media on Tuesday, Panthers coach Matt Rhule said McCaffrey practiced on Tuesday and they were hopeful he could return soon.

"He got out there and practiced today," Rhule said. "We're hopeful that he'll be able to play soon. They'll look at him and see how he feels tomorrow and see if it's this week that we can get him out there."

An All-Pro in 2019, McCaffrey is one of the most dynamic players in the league. He gained a combined 2,392 yards and scored 19 total touchdowns last season.

Morris' biggest challenge: Teaching Falcons to finish

The Falcons have a short week this week, and perhaps that's a good thing. Following another fourth-quarter loss, Atlanta will need to shake it off quicker than usual and get focused for its Thursday night game against the Carolina Panthers.

A big emphasis for the Falcons this week will be finishing games. On Monday, interim coach Raheem Morris spoke about the importance of ending the halves with the ball on offense, which would mean either defensive stops were made or the offense possessed the ball for a large amount of time. Whatever the case, if the Falcons are to make strides under Morris, it begins with learning to finish, which Michael Rothstein wrote about for ESPN.com.

"We've got to be better finishers," Morris said. "Our rushers got to get home. You've got to hit the quarterback in those moments. You've got to have the ability to pick up the ball when a guy is scrambling around, throwing it up in the air."

NFL Week 7 overreactions

Much attention will be paid to Todd Gurley's late-game touchdown run when the Falcons were within chip-shot range and the Lions had no timeouts remaining. He discussed the play after the game, saying he was wrong to score and the team had discussed him stopping short of the end zone to kill the remainder of the clock. In his weekly Monday piece for ESPN, however, Dan Graziano says it's an overreaction to lay blame solely at Gurley's feet.

"I never like the idea of not scoring when you're behind," Graziano writes. "The short field goal is nearly automatic, sure, but it's not actually automatic. What if the snap goes wrong? What if it's blocked? You're behind and you have a chance to take the lead, you do it. Plus, there's nothing in the rules that says the Falcons' defense isn't allowed to stop anybody in a big fourth-quarter situation.

"The Falcons told Gurley not to score there, so yeah, that's a bonehead play by him. But it's tough to rein in a player's instincts (especially one who scores as much as Gurley does) to get to the end zone. And again, they were behind in the game. If they were tied or ahead, I see the logic. But when you're behind and you have a chance to take the lead, I have always thought the right thing was to do it."

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Graziano wasn't the only ESPN writer to discuss Gurley falling into the end zone. In his piece explaining some of the odder occurrences from Sunday, Bill Barnwell discussed Atlanta's late-game rushing touchdown. Like his colleague, Barnwell also doesn't pin the outcome on Gurley's momentary lapse of judgement.

"To be clear, I don't fault Gurley for scoring," Barnwell writes. "[Dirk] Koetter never should have given Gurley the ball in the first place. In that Packers game two years ago, the Rams only needed to kneel after Gurley's run to wrap up the game. In this game, the Falcons still had to kick a field goal, which has a few moving parts. Once the Falcons gave Gurley the ball while they were trailing, they can't expect him not to run the ball in."

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