Time to reboot? Falcons say no way
November, 10, 2013
By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsMike Smith received a vote of confidence from his boss on the day the Falcons dropped to 2-7..
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons are angry -- angry with themselves and angry with the season.
A 2-7 record is far from what was expected of a team that finished 13-3 in 2012 and came within one win of the Super Bowl.
Now, a season later, there is a negative vibe around the city. Matt Ryan no longer appears on the cusp of joining Tom Brady and Peyton Manning among the NFL's elite quarterbacks. Suddenly, coach Mike Smith's career .700 winning percentage coming into 2013 is a meaningless statistic.
Yes, the Falcons can understand why fans are angry because they're angry, too. But as Ryan put it, there's no reason to surrender and start anew.
"I don't think we need to reboot," Ryan said after a 33-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. "I think [we have] a model and scheme and those kinds of things that have been successful. I think as a player, you have to take the onus. You have to take responsibility for it.
"We've got to play better. And we know that the scheme that we have and the plays that we run are capable of getting the job done. We just need to do it. And as a player, that's the only way your mindset can be."
The coach and quarterback always are primary targets of criticism in times like these. Ryan continues to shoulder his share of the blame for a sputtering offense, and Smith talked about folks doing some reflection to get matters corrected. It obviously irritated him how Seattle dominated the Falcons at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"I think everyone in this organization and [on] our team needs to take a hard look at themselves, first," Smith said. "That's the most important thing that we need to do. And we will work through this together. When we've had success, we've done it together. And when we're not having success, we're going to do it together as well."
Of course, speculation about Smith's future has become a part of this disastrous season. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff dismissed such talk.
"Mike Smith is a hell of a football coach; he's the leader of this team," Dimitroff told ESPN.com on Sunday. "Mike's going nowhere."
The same unwavering support for Smith was expressed by his players. Safety William Moore surely wasn't going to blame Smith for the five plays of 30-plus yards surrendered by the defense on Sunday, including a 43-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse off a flea-flicker. And Moore wasn't blaming Smith for the defense allowing Marshawn Lynch to rush for 145 yards.
"I'm definitely standing behind Smitty," Moore said. "The type of guy Smitty is, he always says, 'Blame me.' But it's not Smitty. It's far from Smitty. He doesn't go out there and play. He calls the right calls. He puts us in the right position. We're coming up short as players."
Receiver Harry Douglas wasn't blaming Smith for the offense starting the game with two three-and-outs in its first three possessions, compiling just 226 yards in the game and going 4-for-12 on third down.
"We get paid to make plays and we've got to do a better job of it," Douglas said. "It surprises me when people blame [Smith], but that's our world we live in here in 2013. He's been a great coach."
Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez said critics of Smith shouldn't ignore the rash of injuries that have placed key players such as Julio Jones, Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon on injured reserve, although Weatherspoon is scheduled to return next week.
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsMatt Ryan and the Falcons' offense have averaged a mere 11 points over the past three weeks.
"It seems like it's the vogue thing to do: 'Oh, a team is losing, you've got to fire the coach; it's something wrong with our leadership,'" Gonzalez said. "There's nothing wrong with the leadership. It's nothing wrong with the effort. It's just that we got bit by the injury bug and we don't have the same players like we had last year.
"When you have injuries like that, it's tough to overcome. Not saying you can't overcome them, but we haven't been able to do it this year. And it has nothing to do with the coach."
That's not to say Smith should be absolved completely. He certainly has to shoulder some of the blame for calling a timeout that gave the Seahawks enough time to score a touchdown before halftime. And Smith might have to have one-on-one, heart-to-heart conversations with both offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to make the necessary changes in the game plan.
Whatever happens over the next few days, don't expect Smith just to blow everything up and start looking toward next season with the young players, even if the record indicates that would be the best move at this juncture. He didn't pull the starters at the end of Sunday's game, either.
"We're going to play every game to win," Smith said. "We owe that to the guys in that locker room. We owe that to our fans. We owe that to everybody that's associated with our football team. You only get 16 opportunities to go out and compete, and you want to win every single time you go out and play. And you want to put your best players out there."
The Falcons have seven more games to show they finally get the message. They should have gotten it seven games ago.