Talk with coach gets White back to old form

October, 11, 2009
10/11/09
9:56
PM ET
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
Falcons receiver Roddy White finally found his stride in Atlanta’s win over the 49ers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas


SAN FRANCISCO -- On the practice field Monday morning, Roddy White and Mike Smith looked at each other and said the exact same thing to each other.

"I told him, 'I need to talk to you,' " White said. "And he said, 'I need to talk to you too.' "
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A couple of hours later, they sat down in Smith's second-floor office in the team's Flowery Branch, Ga., headquarters. The doors were closed and, if you've ever seen Smith's office, you know it looks like a very serious place. It's the size of a classroom and seems very corporate.

It's not.

What happened between the coach of the Atlanta Falcons and his slumping wide receiver was casual -- just a chat, really.

"Coach told me I was putting too much pressure on myself," White said. "He told me to just go out there and relax and do what I did last year."

On Sunday, White did more than any wide receiver has done in the franchise's 43 years. He caught 10 passes for a team-record 210 yards and two touchdowns as the Falcons defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 45-10, at Candlestick Park.

White scored on a 31-yard pass from Matt Ryan in the first quarter and broke off a 90-yard touchdown in the second. His output for the day was nearly double what White had in the first three games of the season -- 15 catches for 119 yards and one touchdown.

That start was low-lighted by a four-catch, 24-yard performance against New England in Week 4, and all that factored into why White and Smith had their little talk as the Falcons returned to work after the bye.

"I just felt like I wasn't playing like myself," White said.

White sure wasn't playing anything like last season, when he caught 88 passes for 1,382 yards and seven touchdowns and went to the Pro Bowl. And he sure wasn't playing anything like the wide receiver he or the Falcons were expecting when White signed a six-year, $48 million contract extension in August to end a training-camp holdout.

"I didn't think Roddy was playing bad," said quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw for a career-high 329 yards Sunday. "We had been close to making some big plays and some of that falls on me for not making them. It wasn't Roddy's fault. I have so much confidence in him going out there and making plays."

Ryan's confidence may not have wavered, but White can be his own worst critic and he wasn't at all happy with his start.

"I got off to a slow start," White said.

The reason?

Take your pick of a whole bunch of contributors. White said he was trying too hard and thinking too much and admitted the contract that made him one of the league's highest-paid receivers took a mental toll.

"I was going out there thinking about the contract and how I felt I had to prove I deserved it," White said. "You get that in your head and the next thing you know you're not yourself."

Thing is, the Falcons already thought White was one of the league's best receivers. That's why they gave him the deal even though he would have been only a restricted free agent in 2010.

White risked quite a bit when he decided not to report to training camp on time. At first, it seemed as if the sides were far apart and the peaceful atmosphere that followed last year's surprise playoff berth and a calm and quiet offseason suddenly seemed in danger.

But when Harry Douglas, who was supposed to be the third receiver, went down with a season-ending injury early in camp, the Falcons and White suddenly started talking and a deal was reached Aug. 8.

The "real" White didn't show up until Sunday. He started the season with five catches for 42 yards in a victory against Miami and followed that with six catches for 53 yards in a win against Carolina.

On talk radio in Atlanta and on message boards, the rumbles started that White had gotten too soft, fat and happy after getting his contract. White didn't hear or see any of that, but he was smart enough to sense that it probably was out there. White was busy doubting himself.

"I didn't have a clue what was going on," White said.

Until he sat down in Smith's office. As soon as the coach told him he was pressing too hard, White realized the problem. Once he got the message, everything suddenly changed.

On Sunday, White just went out and had fun -- lots of it as the Falcons set a franchise record by scoring 35 points in the first half.

"People always say coach Smith is a players' coach," White said. "Now, I realize why. I went in there and just talked to him because you can do that. I didn't know what was going on and he told me. I needed to just get back to being myself."

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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