If talent alone determined success, DeAngelo Hall would be destined to have a bust of his head stuck on a shelf in Canton, instead of his actual head so obviously being stuck somewhere else.
If football was a game determined by things other than character, work ethic and certainly leadership, we could debate who had the better the team Sunday, the Falcons or the Washington Redskins. Fortunately, Mike Smith doesn’t have to ask that question.
The Falcons responded to their first two-game losing streak under Smith by doing what good teams do. They beat a bad team. They left them doubled-over. They jumped out to a 24-3 lead over one of the NFL’s bottom-feeders, and when the Redskins showed signs of actual football, they responded accordingly. They won, 31-17. Next?
There was never a doubt. Why? Because the Falcons don’t set up as a crumbling act. It’s the way general manager Thomas Dimitroff wanted to build this roster. Big leads don’t turn into devastating losses. Two-game losing streaks don’t mutate into spiraling, endless slides. Success is defined by how a player reacts in heated moments, like when an opponent is trying to take his head off. It’s not about how fast he glides on an empty track.
And it’s about leadership.
The Falcons will be fine because they follow their leader. That is Mike Smith.
When Hall, who has gone from Atlanta to Oakland to Washington but still dresses for games in big shoes, a red nose and a squirting flower, tried to turn Sunday’s game into a second-grader’s rumble, it was Smith who stared him down.
Late in the second quarter, with the Falcons’ leading, 21-3, Matt Ryan scrambled for a first down out of bounds to the Falcons’ sideline. He was hit late by LaRon Landry, who drew a personal foul. The matter would’ve ended there. But when Landry walked away, Hall walked into the center of a scrum. Match, meet dynamite. Hall found himself in the middle of a circle of players who probably wanted to knock him out even when he was in their locker room. Yelling, pushing and swinging ensued.
Smith led the charge
Center Todd McClure laughed about it later. “When Smitty pokes that lip out, you know he’s pretty heated.”
“He got me juiced,” said Curtis Lofton.
“I know he’s a head coach now,” said Mike Peterson, who played for Smith in Jacksonville. “But he was a [defensive] coordinator and a linebackers coach before that. It’s still in him – that fire, that emotion. I love that man.”
Funny. While Hall later stopped just short of saying he feared for his life when confronted by the 50-year-old Smith, the Falcons’ coach denied even knowing it was Hall.
Play along. I guess Smith always wanted to be a defense attorney.
“Our quarterback was hit late and there was a skirmish over there and all I was trying to do was restore order,” Smith said. “I did not want to get into a situation where any of our guys were injured.”
Did he realize who it was?
“There were a bunch of guys on that sideline,” Smith said. “Some of them were wearing black helmets and some were wearing maroon helmets. I can’t tell you any more than that. It was very, very hectic on the sideline.”
Hall wasn’t confused. Deluded, maybe.
He rambled on about Smith “talking [stuff] to me, saying he’ll kick my [rear] and all this other [stuff]. … [If] Mike Smith wants to see me, he can find me.”
Hall claimed both Smith and strength coach Jeff Fish put their hands on him “in a harmful way.” He said he’s going to complain to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
He might as well do it in January. He’ll have time, since he won’t be in the playoffs again.
Smith will be busy for a while. The Falcons should be a post-season team again because they fight for their coach, and vice versa.
“He’s got our backs, and we have his,” McClure said. “He’s not going to let anything happen to his guys.”
It’s what leaders do.