FLOWERY BRANCH — Jason Elam felt worse than anyone in the Falcons' locker room Tuesday night.
A day after missing two field goals in New Orleans to contribute to Atlanta's first two-game losing streak under coach Mike Smith, Elam is still trying to figure out the source of his problems.
"I've hit the upright twice now (this season) inside of 40," Elam said. "The long one — you know, obviously, you want to make all your kicks — but the long one doesn't bother me as much as the short ones. I've got to make those short ones."
The Falcons' 35-27 defeat at the Louisiana Superdome wasn't surprising given Elam's performance and three interceptions by Matt Ryan, the second-year quarterback who's thrown seven picks over the past three games.
Atlanta's defense recovered each of the Saints' three fumbles while holding the NFL's most potent offense to seven points in the second half. Besides Elam, the special teams performed well on coverages and kicks.
But with just two days of practice this week, the Falcons (4-3) must correct their mistakes before Washington (2-5) visits the Georgia Dome on Sunday. After facing the Redskins, Atlanta will play its third and fourth road games in the past five with trips to Carolina and to New York to face the Giants.
"We're not hitting on all cylinders for 60 minutes," coach Mike Smith said. "I think that's evident over the last two weeks. We're putting together a great drive to start the game and a great drive to start the second half, but we're not sustaining that level of play."
Smith believes Ryan's problems over the past three weeks stem from trying too hard too often.
"A lot of times it's from being competitive and wanting to make plays," Smith said. "I think that's the thread that has run through the interceptions that have occurred over the last three games. Matt is very competitive and confident in himself and in his receiving corps that we can make plays."
Smith was encouraged that Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner gave his best performance this season with 151 yards and one touchdown. Though offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey tweaked a couple of formations to help create more space to run, Turner helped himself more by spending extra time watching film of his success last season as the league's No. 2 rusher.
"I think one of the biggest differences was that Michael was running hard and downhill," Smith said. "He was very decisive in his decision-making."
Cornerback Chris Houston, who gave up a 24-yard pass to Devery Henderson and a 17-yarder to Jeremy Shockey that led to touchdowns, believes the Falcons aren't playing too far under the level that helped them earn a wild-card spot last season.
"The little things that we may have did — like some missed tackles — can be the outcome of the game, but what I learned is that this team has fight," Houston said. "When we was down, everybody picked it up a step. We're learning that we got the heart. We just need to eliminate a couple of mistakes that we do, and we're right in there with everybody else."
Elam's difficulties in converting just six of 10 field-goal attempts are harder to diagnose. Despite becoming the first NFL player with 100 points in each of his first 16 seasons, Elam is struggling.
He placed no blame on Mike Schneck's snap, Michael Koenen's hold or the field-goal unit's blocking for hitting the left upright from 34 yards and in coming up short on a 51-yarder.
"It was all on me," Elam said. "Sometimes when I hit balls like that, mechanically I'm not getting a really solid plant foot. I'm just rushing through it a little bit sometimes, so I have to constantly slow down. I'm not sure. That's my gut feeling, but it's frustrating."