With their longest losing streak in six seasons behind them, the Atlanta Falcons appear ready to move forward with confidence.
Hoping to avoid their first 0-3 road start since 2007, the Falcons look to win consecutive games for the first time this season while trying to hand the Arizona Cardinals a third straight defeat Sunday.
Minus injured stars Julio Jones, Roddy White and Steven Jackson, Atlanta (2-4) used some bye-week adjustments to snap a three-game slide by posting a 31-23 victory over Tampa Bay last Sunday.
"We talked during the bye week, if you had a Falcons logo on your helmet you were expected to step up and make plays," coach Mike Smith told the team's official website. "Whether a young guy, old guy, we all needed to do that, and I thought we did that.
"We are going to continue to work."
Harry Douglas caught seven passes for a career-high 149 yards with a touchdown, and Jacquizz Rodgers had eight receptions out of the backfield for 46 yards and two scores.
Defensively, the Falcons used a deeper rotation across the line to help record three sacks. Defensive back Thomas DeCoud gave Atlanta a boost early with a fumble he returned 30 yards for the opening touchdown.
"Confidence is a beast," said tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had two catches for 30 yards after recording 22 for 246 in the previous two contests.
"Hopefully this is something we can build on."
While White will miss a second straight game due to hamstring and ankle problems, Jackson is probable to return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him the last four contests. He participated fully in practice Friday.
Jackson has carried the ball 14 times for 77 yards in a little over four quarters of action since signing with the Falcons in March.
Though Rodgers is a versatile threat who leads the team with four overall touchdowns, Atlanta rushed for 18 yards on 18 attempts last Sunday. The Falcons' 410 rushing yards and 115 carries are both the fewest in the NFL.
"As a group, running backs have to run harder," said Rodgers, who has averaged 2.7 yards per carry in the last two games. "Everybody's got to be on the same page, blocking the right man, and us as running backs have to get downhill faster, so we can be efficient going down the stretch."
With Jackson's likely return and facing ex-Falcons linebacker John Abraham, Atlanta might have a good chance to improve its run game against an Arizona team that's allowed 284 rushing yards in consecutive losses to San Francisco and Seattle. The Cardinals (3-4) gave up an average of 79.0 in their first five contests.
"We've done a good job of not giving up a lot yards on the ground, but things happen," Abraham said after recording two sacks and forcing two fumbles during last Thursday's 34-22 loss during which the Seahawks rushed for 135 yards.
The Cardinals' own rushing woes continued with a season-low 30 yards versus Seattle. Arizona is tied for 26th, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, right behind Atlanta (3.6).
"Anytime you put yourself in position where you've got to pass in this league and they know what's coming, you're going to be in for a long day," tackle Eric Winston said.
Carson Palmer has not helped matters by throwing 11 of his 13 interceptions in the last five weeks. He also was sacked seven times against the Seahawks after absorbing 13 in the previous five contests.
"Everybody needs to step up their game, mainly me being the quarterback - that's your job," said Palmer, whose 69.5 passer rating is better only than Brandon Weeden, Eli Manning, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman.
"We've got to keep growing."
Larry Fitzgerald, meanwhile, continues to play through hamstring issues. The star receiver was held to two receptions for 17 yards last week after catching six passes for a season-high 117 and a TD during the 32-20 loss to the 49ers on Oct. 13.
Fitzgerald managed one catch for 11 yards during last season's 23-19 loss at Atlanta. He had 13 receptions for 184 yards in his previous two games against the Falcons, including 101 and a TD during the Cardinals' 30-24 wild-card playoff victory Jan. 3, 2009, in the teams' most recent meeting in Arizona.
Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw two touchdowns and two interceptions in that playoff defeat, but has won both ensuing games against the Cardinals. The Falcons prevailed in last season's meeting despite Ryan throwing no TDs and a career-high five picks.
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