ATLANTA (AP) – After watching the Atlanta Falcons lose their fourth straight game, owner Arthur Blank grabbed a front-row seat in the interview room to listen in on what Jim Mora and Michael Vick had to say.

Blank also pored over a stat sheet, whispering some thoughts to his top lieutenant while trying to figure out how another season that began with such promise has totally unraveled heading into the final month.

This owner demands immediate results. If things don’t turn around over the next five weeks, the Falcons are certainly headed for big changes – starting with several members of Mora’s staff and maybe extending all the way to the head coach himself.

“Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve had high expectations,” Blank said. “We did not build this team to be .500. We thought this team was capable of making a playoff run. Anytime you fall short of that, it’s disappointing.”

Technically, Atlanta (5-6) still has time to turns things around in the mediocre NFC, where 6-5 would be good enough for the wild card if the season ended today.

But after going 0-for-November, the Falcons are below .500 for the first time in Mora’s three-year tenure and giving off few signs of being a team that can pull out of its slide before it’s too late.

Three of the losses during past month were by double-figure margins – the only exception being an inexcusable 17-13 home loss to woeful Cleveland (3-8). The Falcons were blown out 30-14 at Detroit, one of only two games the Lions have won this season. Last Sunday, Atlanta was all but eliminated from the NFC West race by a 31-13 loss to the Saints, who essentially have a three-game lead on the Falcons when the tiebreaker is factored in.

What makes this all the more troubling is just how familiar it seems.

A year ago, coming off a giddy run to the NFC championship game in Mora’s rookie season as a head coach, the Falcons started 6-2 and were thinking Super Bowl. They wound up losing six of their last eight, extending the 40-year-old franchise’s inglorious streak of never having back-to-back winning seasons.

Now, it’s happening all over again. In one short month, the Falcons have gone from being 5-2 and angling for home-field advantage in the playoffs to showing all the telltale signs of a team in disarray.

Early last week, Mora’s father – the longtime NFL coach of the same name – criticized Vick’s passing skills and agreed that he’s a “coach killer.” As the quarterback headed toward the locker room after the loss to the Saints, he was heckled by some fans and responded with an obscene gesture.

As the face of the franchise, everything starts with Vick. But the blame for this downfall extends beyond No. 7.

The offense is a mess, an incompatible juxtaposition of coordinator Greg Knapp’s West Coast-style passing schemes and the zone-blocking tactics used by the guys up front, who answer to de facto line coach Alex Gibbs.

Vick has never taken to Knapp’s philosophy, which relies on short drops and quick reads that seem ill-suited for a 6-foot quarterback who has trouble seeing over his linemen and is more effective when he ad-libs. Vick is the 25th-rated quarterback in the NFL and, most stunning, has never put up better numbers playing in Knapp’s offense than he did in his one full season working with former coach Dan Reeves.

Meanwhile, the shadowy Gibbs – who’s technically a “consultant” – prefers smaller, quicker linemen who’ll carry out his controversial blocking tactics in the running game but are leakier than a colander when it comes to pass blocking. Vick may be the best running quarterback in NFL history, but he’s still managed to get sacked 29 times playing behind a no-name group that has zero Pro Bowls on its collective resume.

Mora insists he’s not planning any changes on his staff, but what else do you expect him to say about guys – several of them close friends -who are still on the payroll? Clearly, Knapp and receivers coach George Stewart are on shaky ground. And the Falcons wouldn’t be able to hire a competent replacement for Knapp as long as Gibbs is hanging around.


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