FLOWERY BRANCH — Here are the five things we learned Friday about the Falcons (6-5), who play at Tampa Bay (5-6) in a big NFC South game at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The Falcons, who held a players-only meeting this week, have dropped four in a row and five of the last six.
1. CHESTER & HESTER BACK: Falcons right guard Chris Chester, who suffered a shoulder injury during the final drive against the Vikings, returned to practice and is probable to play. Dynamic return man Devin Hester was activated and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson was place on injured reserve. Kicker Matt Bryant (quadriceps) and tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring) were declared out. Linebacker Justin Durant (ankle) was a full participant was declared probable. Hester, running back Devonta Freeman (concussion), linebacker Nate Stupar (neck), defensive tackle Paul Soliai (calf) and linebacker Brooks Reed (knee) were also declared probable.
2. BUCCANEERS TO WATCH: Tampa Bay’s All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had left hand surgery and did not practice on Thursday. He leads the Bucs with seven sacks. McCoy hopes to play according to Roy Cummings on the Tampa Tribune. Tampa is the most penalized team in the league. They have committed 127 penalties for 894 nullified yards. They have 27 holding calls, 18 false starts and 11 neutral zone infractions. Buffalo is second with 124 penalties for 943 nullified yards.
3. GOING DEEP MORE: Matt Ryan has attempted just 31 deep passes all season, ranking 28th among all Quarterbacks. His accuracy percentage on these throws however is 48.4%, fifth highest, according to Pro Football Focus’ numbers. Wide receiver Julio Jones has been thrown 100 catchable balls so far, most in the league ahead of Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown with 90. He has dropped six, giving him a drop rate of 6 percent. By comparison, Mike Evans drops one in almost five catchable balls at 19.67 percent.
4. TRUFANT BALLING: Left cornerback Desmond Trufant has allowed just 49 total yards after the catch all season, third least among all cornerbacks in the league. He allows a reception once every 17.5 coverage snaps, second best behind only Patrick Peterson (22.2).
5. FALCONS PICKED TO WIN: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jeff Schultz has picked the Falcons to win again. (He picked them to beat the Vikings last week, too.) Here’s what Schultz has to say:
Falcons at Tampa Bay: The Falcons’ Super Bowl odds have dropped from 40-1 to 100-1, which happens when your quarterback throws five interceptions in the past two weeks, your team has the third-most turnovers in the NFL (21) and things are such a mess that your players hold a no-coaches meeting. Remember when the Falcons were 5-0 and dinosaurs roamed the earth? But, somehow: Falcons win, take the 1 1/2.
MINNESOTA GAME COVERAGE — Vikings 20, Falcons 10
FROM THE FIRST MEETING — TAMPA BAY GAME COVERAGE — Bucs 23, Falcons 20 in OT