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Falcons' Mora under fire
FALCONS 6 col bw
A fan holds a sign registering their grievance with Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora during the second half of the Falcons' 10-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers Sunday in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press
    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Jim Mora was a hot coach the last time Atlanta played at Philadelphia — the NFC championship game after the Falcons won the NFC South in 2004.
    Two years later, the heat is on Mora as his future with the Falcons (7-8) is uncertain. The Falcons close a disappointing regular season Sunday at Philadelphia, but Mora’s fate — and the team’s playoff hopes — could be decided before the game begins.
    Falcons owner Arthur Blank said last month a second straight 8-8 finish is unacceptable. When asked about Mora’s status after the Falcons’ 10-3 loss to Carolina last Sunday, Blank reminded reporters about his November statement. By declining the chance to elaborate, Blank appeared to indicate he still would not accept a .500 record.
    If 8-8 isn’t sufficient, then Mora’s only hope may be for the Falcons to upset the Eagles, earn a wild-card berth by having Carolina, Green Bay and the New York Giants lose or tie this weekend, and then win at least one playoff game.
    Considering the Falcons have lost six of their last eight games, the odds seem to be stacked against the team.
    That may be why Mora defended his three-year record on Tuesday.
    ‘‘I’m proud of this football team,’’ he said. ‘‘Our football team did some things that are overlooked when you lose a football game. We’ve won the most games in the NFC South for three years. We’ve got the fourth-most wins in the NFC over the last three years. We’ve played in the NFC championship game. We’ve won the NFC South. We’ve been in the hunt through 15 weeks last year and we’re still in the hunt through the last week this year.’’
    Mora’s regular-season record is 26-21. His third season has been perhaps the most difficult, thanks in part to injuries to such players as Brian Finneran, Patrick Kerney and John Abraham.
    Mora also has had to endure an unusual progression of off-the-field distractions, including the embarrassment he caused himself by telling a Seattle radio station this month he would pursue the University of Washington job, even if the Falcons were in the playoffs.
    Mora’s comments angered Blank, leading to an impromptu news conference at Blank’s office. Mora stood alone for his apology and said his intended sarcasm in the radio interview was not understood. Blank’s only comment came in a terse written statement.
    Mora’s apology was not the season’s first for the team. Quarterback Michael Vick had to apologize the day after he made obscene gestures to Atlanta fans following a lopsided home loss to New Orleans on Nov. 26.
    Mora also endured an awkward situation created by his father, Jim Mora Sr., who on a radio show called Vick a ‘‘coach-killer.’’ The comment hurt Vick, who like many had to wonder if the elder Mora’s opinion was influenced by private comments from the Falcons coach.
    Vick and Mora have supported the other through the controversies, but Vick for the first time seemed to target Mora and the coaching staff following Sunday’s loss.
    ‘‘It’s a question that needs to be answered,’’ Vick said. ‘‘We’re too good to be losing these games. We should be up there among the elite.’’
    Vick questioned the direction of the offense. ‘‘You can’t just come out there and try to wing it,’’ he said.
    ‘‘We either have to come out and throw the football or come out and try to establish the run.’’
    Mora on Tuesday said Vick’s comments came from ‘‘typical frustration’’ that follows a loss.
    ‘‘When talking with Mike through the year, I know he’s very happy with the offense,’’ Mora said. ‘‘He’s rushed for over 1,000 yards and thrown a career-high (19) touchdown passes. We were ranked in the top 10 going into that game in total offense, so we’ve been doing some good things offensively.’’
    Mora said Tuesday that parity in the league ‘‘is not easy on coaches because the public scrutiny is so intense,’’ but he insisted he has not had to survive more controversy than other coaches this season.
    ‘‘I’ve been fine,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not just me, it’s most coaches in this season. I’m not worried about that. What I’m most proud of is the fact that our body of work over three years is impressive.’’
    The Giants would eliminate the Falcons by winning at Washington on Saturday. Even if the Giants lose, Carolina would end Atlanta’s playoff hopes by beating New Orleans early Sunday. The Falcons-Eagles game has been moved to a 4:15 p.m. kickoff.
    Mora said Tuesday he will advise his players against scoreboard-watching.
    ‘‘I think it’s important we don’t do that, that we really pay attention to doing the best that we can do to win,’’ Mora said. ‘‘It’s human nature that you’re going to take a peek.’’
    The Falcons lost their last four home games, but Mora said winning at Philadelphia is ‘‘not an overwhelming obstacle’’ because Atlanta won its last two road games at Washington and at Tampa Bay. Overall, the Falcons are 4-3 on the road.
    ‘‘Let’s see what happens,’’ Mora said. ‘‘Let’s finish the season at .500 and let the chips fall where they may.’’

Notes: Mora said starting receiver Ashley Lelie suffered a shoulder separation against Carolina and will miss the game at Philadelphia. Lelie, who has 28 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown, likely will be replaced by former starter Roddy White. Adam Jennings, who does not have a reception, will move up as the No. 3 receiver. Linebacker Michael Boley suffered what Mora said is a ‘‘slight’’ hamstring injury. ... After Sunday’s loss, Mora gave the team off until Wednesday.