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Falcons’ Smith shaves mustache in sleepless night but keeps Heinicke as starting QB

ATLANTA (AP) — Arthur Smith has shaved his mustache and is keeping Taylor Heinicke as the Atlanta Falcons’ starting quarterback.

Smith is having second thoughts about one of those decisions.

Smith promised change after Sunday’s 31-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The coach’s facial hair was the victim in the middle of a sleepless night after the Falcons’ third loss in four games.

“I kind of regret it already,” Smith said Monday, adding he made the impromptu decision to shave at about 3:45 a.m.

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A 4-5 record led to the mustache getting axed. Atlanta led the NFC South before back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Minnesota by a combined eight points.

The Falcons were at .500 when Desmond Ridder was replaced by Heinicke. Ridder lost his starting job after committing 10 turnovers in his last five games.

Smith said Monday he is sticking with Heinicke for this week’s game at Arizona after the veteran produced mixed results in his first start for Atlanta. Heinicke completed 21 of 38 passes for 268 yards with one touchdown and one interception against the Vikings.

Following the game, Smith said “we have to change something to get over the hump.” He acknowledged the loss to Minnesota, which turned to quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the second quarter after rookie starter Jaren Hall suffered a concussion, was “certainly a missed opportunity.”

Dobbs was acquired by Minnesota from Arizona on Tuesday and passed for two touchdowns while running for 66 yards and another score.

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The loss could prove to be devastating to the Falcons’ hopes of ending their streak of five consecutive losing seasons and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

“Give them credit, but yes, you can’t sugarcoat it or make excuses,” Smith said. “We had our chances, and we didn’t get it done.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Atlanta’s 55.6% third-down conversion rate was its highest of the season. The Falcons got 370 total yards on a day they went 10 for 18 on third downs. Tight end Jonnu Smith’s 60-yard touchdown catch was the highlight for the offense and helped him set a personal high with 100 yards on five catches. KhaDarel Hodge helped fill in for the injured Drake London by adding three catches for 60 yards. Kyle Pitts had four catches for 56 yards on five targets.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

One week after the Atlanta defense gave up four touchdown passes to Tennessee rookie Will Levis, the unit was unable to stop Dobbs, the Vikings’ third choice at quarterback in the last week. The Falcons recorded four sacks but missed opportunities to stop Dobbs on other runs that turned into big gains. Even on a day when he sacked Dobbs for a safety, Calais Campbell said: “We didn’t take advantage of opportunities. We need to tackle better on defense.”

STOCK UP

The defensive front produced big plays in Atlanta’s first game after Grady Jarrett’s season-ending knee injury. Campbell has three sacks in the last five games and his third career safety ranks second among active players. David Onyemata set a career high with 10 tackles and added a sack and forced fumble. Kentavius Street had five stops and a fumble recovery.

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STOCK DOWN

Running back Bijan Robinson watched as the offense flopped when given possession at the Minnesota 1 in the second quarter. A false start penalty on right guard Chris Lindstrom on first down was the first mistake. Tyler Allgeier was stopped on a third-down run from the 1, forcing a field goal by Younghoe Koo. Robinson, who lost a fumble in the third quarter, has been held to under 65 yards in five straight games.

INJURIES

The Falcons, already missing London with a groin injury, saw Mack Hollins leave the game with an ankle injury. Cornerback Dee Alford also will be trying to return from an ankle injury this week. Smith said he hoped London can return this week but Hollins’ status is a concern.

KEY NUMBER

10 — Koo was 4 for 4 on field-goal attempts, giving him 10 in the last three games and 20 for the season. It was his second game of the season with four field goals. Koo has been reliable, making 20 of 21 attempts, but the 10 field goals in three games reflect the offense’s inability to score touchdowns.

NEXT STEPS

The Falcons face a must-win game at Arizona (1-8), which boasts the league’s worst record but could have Kyler Murray back as its starting quarterback. Atlanta has its bye week following the game against the Cardinals and would feel much better about its chances in the mediocre NFC South if it can snap its two-game skid.

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