FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons have won five of six games and are right in the think of the NFC playoff race.
But Falcons head coach Dan Quinn knows his team must play better in order to win at least one more game and reach the playoffs. If they can win out against the Saints and the Panthers, they can reclaim their NFC South title.
"Heading into this game, as division games go, I just had a sense that this one was going to go all the way (to the end)," Quinn said of the 24-21 win Monday night over the Buccaneers. "When we talked, way back, I thought this division was going to be a battle. The teams were going to fight like hell against one another and that's been the case so far."
Quinn didn't like the film review of the Bucs game. The Falcons know they'll need a much better game against the Saints.
"(There are) some things, as we went through the film this morning, that we need to get cleaned up for sure," Quinn said. "But I thought creating a turnover in the red zone by (Keanu) Neal with the fumble recovery and that one and Levine (Toilolo) taking care of the ball and getting it in the end zone on Devonta (Freeman's) fumble, I thought that was a real factor for us."
Quinn was not pleased with the missed tackles on defense, heading into what will be an open-field game against the Saints.
"I don't have the total number of missed tackles, but it was way too high in our opinion," Quinn said.
On special teams, the Falcons had a blocked field-goal attempt when guard Austin Pasztor got steamrolled by William Gholston.
"We are going to turn the page quick to New Orleans," Quinn said.
Falcons starting left guard Andy Levitre, who has a triceps injury, is expected to return to practice, while running back Tevin Coleman remains in the NFL concussion protocol, Quinn said.
"We'll likely see (Andy) Levitre getting some work heading into this week," Quinn said. "I'll give you an update on him (Wednesday) and where we'll go. ... There's no change in the status of Tevin Coleman at the moment. I'll give you an update on him as it goes through the week."
With the Bucs determined to slow down wide receiver Julio Jones, Freeman had to make them pay. He rushed 22 times for 126 yards and caught five passes for 68 yards as he combined for 194 total yards.
"I was just trying to do what I do," Freeman said.
With Coleman out in the concussion protocol, Freeman had to carry most of the load against the Bucs and may have to do so against the Saints.
"I have a lot of work to do," Freeman said. "I still feel like we've got a lot of work to do. We have not played our best ball. There's a lot of football out there for us."
It wasn't a perfect day for Freeman, who had two fumbles.
"I feel like it was just the overall, complete game for me other than the two fumbles I had," Freeman said. "I could definitely get better there and not even put our team in a situation like that."
Quinn said the Falcons did not suffer any major injuries in the win over Tampa Bay. However, wide receiver Justin Hardy left the locker room with a big ice pack on his right shoulder.
The Falcons had another turnover nullified by penalty against Tampa Bay.
"We were disappointed that we lost another interception," Quinn said. "That's either five or six on the year on some fouls. Lost one from (Ricardo) Allen. As it went back to the end, we thought it could come down to the football. ... you know how important that is and how we talk about it."
REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS
--PASSING OFFENSE: B - Justin Hardy scored on a 6-yard touchdown catch on the Falcons' second possession. His score capped a 9-play, 62-yard drive. Julio Jones set up the Falcons second score with a power 17-yard run and catch from the 19-yard line. The Bucs shadowed Jones with a safety and were determined not to let him take over the game. Jones was held to three catches for 54 yards. Matt Ryan was 17 of 31 for 212 yards and one touchdown. Ryan had a passer rating of 87, which was his second straight game with a sub-100 passer rating. Ryan was heard yelling at wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to get set instead of playing around.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B - The two fumbles by Devonta Freeman marred an otherwise sterling effort. Both were recovered by the Falcons. Freeman botched his first possible rushing touchdown by fumbling in the end zone. Tight end Levine Toilolo recovered for the score. Freeman broke loose for a 32-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to help the Falcons ice the game. He shook safety Keith Tandy to get into the end zone. Freeman had his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 3 against the Packers when he rushed for 106 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. Freeman rushed 22 times for 126 yards against the Bucs.
--PASS DEFENSE: C-plus - The Falcons were slipping around Tampa Bay's field. Keanu Neal and Desmond Trufant slipped while giving up touchdown passes. Neal went to longer cleats to get better footing. Free safety Ricardo Allen was called for a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty to keep the Buccaneers' second possession alive. They ended the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard, who scored after Neal slipped while in pursuit. On a third-and-4 from Tampa Bay's 45, tight end Alan Cross got behind linebacker De'Vondre Campbell for a 23-yard catch. Mike Evans caught a 42-yard touchdown pass between cornerback Desmond Trufant and Allen. Neal missed quarterback Jameis Winston on a blitz. The Falcons had trouble with their footing all night.
--RUSH DEFENSE: A - With the Falcons up 14-7, the Bucs were on the move until Keanu Neal walloped running back Peyton Barber and caused a fumble at the Falcons' 4-yard line. He recovered it, too. It was Neal's third forced fumble of the season. He has eight over his career. The Falcons held Barber to 53 yards on 13 carries.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus - Returner Andre Roberts opened the game with a 31-yard kickoff return. Matt Bryant made a 57-yard field goal to put the Falcons up 17-7 in the second quarter. Punter Matt Bosher had 3.4 seconds of hang time on a 26-yard punt he was trying to place inside the 20 late in the second quarter. With the Falcons up 17-14, the Bucs' William Gholston blocked a 33-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter as he over-powered lineman Austin Pasztor. You can't give up ground up the middle on the field-goal unit.
--COACHING: C - The Falcons play hard, but are making too many mistakes. Their execution leaves a great deal to be desired offensively, defensively and on special teams. In a must-win situation, it was not an inspiring performance. Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith got the best of Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The Bucs, with players dropping like flies to injuries, were able to contain Jones and keep him from turning in a monster game. The Bucs pursued well against the Falcons' toss sweeps and made things difficult for the run game. Offensively, Winston attacked the Falcons' zones and kept it close until the end.