Three years ago when Thomas Dimitroff faced the task of picking his first head coach, he had certain criteria in mind.
He wanted a coach who obviously knew what he was doing. He wanted someone who could work in concert with the Falcons’ general manager on personnel decisions. Also, he didn’t want an idiot who would shout from the rooftop, “I’m king of the world! Eat my shorts, Packers!” Seemed reasonable enough.
“Understand, I’m coming from a situation where we were hypersensitive to comments,” Dimitroff said, referencing New England days. “Our head coach [Bill Belichick] was very guarded about how he presented his thoughts. Mike Smith approaches the game competitively, but his aim is not to incite.”
Raheem Morris has a different approach. He prefers a blow torch.
This week, the Falcons play the best team in the NFC, or so we have been told. Morris coaches Tampa Bay. He exclaimed last week, “We’re the best team in the NFC. Yeah, I said it.”
The first sentence led everybody to think he was loony. The second sentence confirmed it.
Football coaches generally don’t make grand proclamations. They’re too paranoid. The fact Morris’s words came following the modest feat of an 18-17 win over the St. Louis Rams, and six games into a season, and following a 3-13 season — well, that’s kind of goofy.
Maybe he was just firing up his players. Maybe he really believes it. Maybe it’s just the new wave of smack-talk coaches — Morris, Josh McDaniels, Rex Ryan — who approach press conferences the way Chad Ochocinco approaches Twitter: So much in the cranium, so little time.
This much is certain: The Falcons are entering a stretch where we’re going to find out just how good they are. They are 5-2 – and possibly the best team in the NFC. They have the NFC South showdown with Tampa Bay, then a meeting with Baltimore only four days later on Thursday night. Games against Green Bay and the Bucs again soon follow.
They’re not without blemishes. They blew a three-touchdown lead against Cincinnati last week but recovered. They won unimpressively against two unimpressive teams: San Francisco and Cleveland. They were smacked in Philadelphia.
They are coming off a bye. This is when problems need to be straightened out.
As for motivation: It wasn’t a problem before Morris spoke, so it’s even less of a problem now. Most players just smiled when asked about his comments but declined to rebut. Linebacker Mike Peterson was an exception.
“Very unusual,” he said. “Coaches don’t play a down. They don’t play one down.”
He was at home when a news clip of Morris’ press conference came on the TV screen. Then came the whiplash.
“I was like, whoa,” Peterson said. “All of this technology now, you can back it up. [I thought], ‘Let me back that up.’ I was sitting with a couple of my friends and I was like, ‘Did he really say that?’ So I should thank him. We definitely have another motivating factor.”
Wide receiver Roddy White said, “We’re playing the best team in the NFC this week. Lucky us.” Then he laughed and walked away.
Center Todd McClure: “I tell you what: We’ll see in December and January if they’re the best team in the NFC.”
You’ll not hear such talk from Smith this week. When cameras go on, he turns vanilla. Dimitroff likes it that way.
“He’s not beating his chest. He not out there on a pedestal, raving about the success of his team.”
Asked about Morris’ comments, Dimitroff chose his words carefully: “I was schooled quite well not to provide bulletin board material. Those kind of quotes are counter-intuitive to me.”
Then this: “We are looking forward to playing ostensibly the best team in the NFC.”
Just a slight tweak.
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