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Falcons can't afford any more slip-ups as they face Saints
Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn and his team watch as the Minnesota Vikings run out the clock for a 14-9 victory Sunday in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — If the Atlanta Falcons are going to make another run at the Super Bowl, there's no room for any more slip-ups.

The Falcons (7-5) began a short week of preparation for Thursday night's crucial game against NFC South-leading New Orleans, knowing a second straight loss would likely end any hope of taking another division crown.

"We've got to turn the page fast," coach Dan Quinn said. "It's all there for us."

Indeed, the Falcons will be right back in the thick of things if they can knock off the Saints (9-3), who claimed sole possession of first place with a victory over Carolina Panthers (8-4) on Sunday .

That works the other way, too.

A setback to Atlanta's biggest rival would be devastating, especially since the Falcons trail both Carolina and Seattle (8-4) in the race for a pair of wild-card spots.

There's certainly no time to linger over a 14-9 loss to Minnesota on Sunday .

"We were definitely disappointed in the locker room," Quinn said. "But I also know the resiliency in the group of guys we have. We're ready to get rolling."

The coach also knows from experience how quickly things can turn around. At this point a year ago, the Falcons were also 7-5 and coming off a devastating home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, who returned an interception the length of field on a two-point conversion attempt for what turned out to be the winning points in a 29-28 stunner.

Atlanta bounced back from that defeat to win its last four games of the regular season and a division title, riding that momentum all the way to the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

But the NFC South is much more competitive this season. Both the Saints and the Panthers have bounced back from losing campaigns, making it the only division to have three teams with winning records.

After an inconsistent start to the season, the Falcons seemed to be cranking up offensively during a three-game winning streak , looking more like the team that led the league in scoring a year ago.

But they bogged down badly against the Vikings, failing to score a touchdown for the first time in nearly two seasons. It also snapped Matt Ryan's streak of 30 consecutive games with at least one scoring pass.

The big problem was third down — on both sides of the line.

Atlanta kept getting into big holes offensively and wound up converting just 1 of 10 chances on third down — an especially glaring stat for a team that was leading the NFL in that category coming into the game. The Vikings were much more efficient and converted 6 of 12 third downs.

Quinn was still seething Monday about some of the huge numbers his offense faced.

Third-and-10. Third-and-12. Third-and-13. Third-and-17.

They can't let that happen against the Saints.

Minnesota held Ryan to just 173 yards passing — his lowest output since 2013 — and totally locked down his favorite target, Julio Jones. One week after going off for 253 yards receiving against Tampa Bay, Jones was limited to a pair of catches for 24 yards.

"We're way better than nine points," Jones said. "It's just not going to be given to you. People make adjustments and things like that. We just have to make adjustments and remember who we are and what we do."

They only have three days to sort it out.

"Maybe that's the best thing," Ryan said. "We'll get back to work, and I think we'll be just fine on Thursday. We just have to get our mindset right, and everything that we want is still in front of us."