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Falcons aiming to cage Bengals

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATLANTA -- The Cincinnati Bengals already were feeling the pressure in the tough AFC North.

Leave it to receiver Chad Ochocinco to raise the stakes even more with some tough talk -- and a little baiting -- as the Bengals prepare for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Bengals, coming off a bye week, have lost two straight to fall to 2-3. They trail Pittsburgh (4-1) and Baltimore (4-2) in their division. Ochocinco said a third straight loss would be devastating.

"It's do or die," Ochocinco said. "We're 2-3. To get into a hole at 2-4 is a no-no. This is a must-win. I'm sure people are not going to take it like that, but it is, to salvage what we do have left of our season. And that's it."

The Falcons (4-2) didn't make any do-or-die declarations this week, but they're determined to bounce back from last week's 31-17 loss at Philadelphia. The Falcons fell into a tie with New Orleans for the NFC South lead.

Atlanta will be short-handed on defense. Rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will miss his second straight game with a sprained right knee. Cornerback Dunta Robinson's status is uncertain after he sustained a concussion with his hit on Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson.

Robinson is appealing the $50,000 fine from the league for the hit that also left Jackson with a concussion.

The loss of Robinson could be crucial as the Falcons' secondary faces difficult matchups against Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. Robinson signed a six-year contact worth about $22.5 million to be the team's shutdown corner.

The Falcons likely would start Christopher Owens with Brent Grimes at cornerback and move Brian Williams into the rotation at nickel back if Robinson can't play.

"They have a good group of corners and some good safeties, too," said Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. "So if (Robinson) is not in there -- he's obviously probably their No. 1 guy -- but if he's not in there, they have very capable backups and guys that play fast, play hard and understand their schemes."

Ochocinco tried to give the defensive backs a little more to think about when he announced he sent gifts -- apparently T-shirts -- through the mail.

"It's no big thing. Nobody is paying much attention to it," said safety Thomas DeCoud.

Nobody? Not quite.

The defensive backs shrugged off questions about Ochocinco's ploy, but Falcons receiver Roddy White took the bait.

"We're going to go out there and want to run the score up on him for doing that, whatever the circumstances are in the game," White said. "It's just, I don't think it's cool. I don't think Terrell Owens ever did that to anybody. But that's (Ochocinco's) antics. That's kind of what he does. We'll see on Sunday. We'll see how it goes."

Added White: "I don't like it, period. Those are my teammates. I'm going to defend them for anything. ... If they knock him out of the game, who cares?"

If Ochocinco was seeking attention, he was successful. He was pictured on the front page of the Falcons' Web site on Thursday over the headline "Silencio On Ochocinco."

Ochocinco said he was trying to motivate himself by sending the gifts. He has 26 catches for 316 yards and only one touchdown. Owens leads the team with 31 catches for 476 yards and two touchdowns.

"They're good players, both Terrell and Ocho," Christopher Owens said. "I've been watching them since I was a kid. Not much bad I can say about them."

The Falcons will try to extend their record of success in the Georgia Dome in their three seasons with coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan is 15-1 as a starter in home games, including wins this season over Arizona and San Francisco.

Smith has stressed fast starts -- in games and in seasons. That was a key to the team's success in its first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history the last two years, but suddenly the Falcons have lost their first-quarter spark.

The Falcons fell behind 21-0 in the loss to the Eagles and have been outscored 45-14 in the first quarter this year. They have won the fourth quarter, 34-9, and are the only team in the league to not allow a touchdown in the final 15 minutes.

Smith has renewed his emphasis on a good start against Cincinnati.

"We've got to start faster," Smith said. "Historically since we've been here this is a team that has started fast. We've outscored our opponents significantly in the first quarter. We are not doing it right now. It's something that we have to continue to work on. ... We've got to make sure that we put our guys in the best opportunity to be successful."

The Falcons were successful on only 4 of 13 third-down plays against the Eagles. Michael Turner was held to 45 yards rushing on 15 carries, one week after he gained 140 yards in a win at Cleveland.