Mike Smith picked wrong time to take a huge gamble

Mike Smith made the surprising decision to go for it on fourth down in overtime. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Mike Smith's surprising decision: Go for it on fourth down in overtime. (Curtis Compton)

Let’s put aside for now that the Falcons probably got jobbed by a replay official. And that the wrong play may have been called on fourth down. And that, yes, no matter what the circumstances are, an offensive line and a 247-pound running back should be able to bulldoze their way to a one-foot gain.

Mike Smith picked a very strange time to get bold. The wrong time.

The Falcons lost to the New Orleans Saints 26-23 in overtime on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. It was a three-point game won in the 67th minute between two division rivals who may battle for first place for seven more weeks. So this certainly is no time to make grand proclamations about one team being superior over the other.

Simply, the Falcons lost because they made more mistakes. They had too many too penalties (10, including four 15-yarders), too many drops (two alone by Roddy White, one of which led to an interception and a field goal) and too many missed opportunities (three of the offense’s red-zone possessions resulted in six points).

But the biggest mistake was made by the head coach.

Smith was aggressive when he decided to go for it on fourth-and-a-foot from the Falcons’ almost-30 in overtime. We like aggressive coaches. This is the NFL. Passivity doesn’t win.

But when Turner was stuffed three feet short of a one-foot gain, the Falcons knew they basically were giving the Saints the game. New Orleans has one of the best kickers in the league (John Kasay), The resulting 26-yard field was  almost an afterthought.

The Falcons had a first down taken away by replay when Mike Cox’s 2-yard gain was changed to no gain. Smith sent out the punt team on fourth down, but then “had a change of heart.”

Despite his claims that his decision was not rooted partly in a lack of faith in his defense but rather out of respect for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, that’s really saying the same thing.

If the Falcons punt from their own almost-30, New Orleans probably gets the ball back at its own 25 to 30. So Smith effectively told his defense, “You can’t stop Brees from going 40 to 45 yards to reach field-goal range.” This is the same defense had just forced the Saints to go three and out in the previous overtime possession and held them scoreless and to one first down and a net 21 yards in the previous two drives.

Predictably, Falcons’ players supported their coach, as they should. One of the strongest comments came from tackle Tyson Clabo, who said: “I wasn’t surprised by the decision — I was one of the guys on the sideline telling him to go for it. I thought it was the right call. We just didn’t do our job. All of the talking-head dummies and Monday morning quarterbacks will second-guess but I still think it was the right call.”

Some of the Saints had a slightly different view. Defensive end Will Smith, one of the first defenders to smack into Turner, was stunned.

When a reporter remarked that the Falcons have been known to go for it on fourth down, Smith responded: “But not on the 30. In overtime. I mean, if they don’t get it, it’s game over. If it was at the 50, we imagine they would’ve gone for it. But at the 30? No.”

Mike Smith is a terrific football coach. He is certain to direct the Falcons to their fourth straight winning season and possibly their third playoff appearance in that span. The fact that the Falcons were able to rebound from a 23-13 deficit to tie it in the final 4:13 of regulation on a Tony Gonzalez touchdown and a Matt Bryant field goal is a testament to Smith’s leadership and the fact his players believe in him.

But it’s rare to see Smith take an all-or-nothing position. It’s unfathomable he would take that position near his own 30 and in overtime. If it worked, of course, he would’ve been a hero. But that wouldn’t have made this less of an extreme roll of the dice.

Ever the stand-up guy, the coach said afterward: “It’s something I take full responsibility for. It’s my decision and my decision solely.”

On that, there is no debate.

By Jeff Schultz

257 comments Add your comment

just sayin'

November 13th, 2011
6:44 pm

coach clean shot messed this one up..GREAT call…hehe…

Tim

November 13th, 2011
6:48 pm

It was the wrong call to go for it. It was the wrong call to call for a deep hand-off play vs. a QB sneak. And it was the wrong call to pull lineman rather than try to go straight forward. Really, it was three mistakes in one. Culminated a day of sloppy play. Way too many penalties. Roddy White was atrocious.

ROD

November 13th, 2011
6:49 pm

Right call, wrong play. Anyone who played football or coach football knows the play to call is a quarterback sneak. Turner is too slow and fat to make that run. You can’t give a ball to him 4yrds behind the line. Why not do a toss sweep to Rodgers? Why not play action to the Tight end or running back out the backfield. I still like our schedule, and we will see them down the road. Please, please, can someone listen!!! Please go out and get T.O. At least he will make the plays that Roddy isn’t making. What’s up with Julio, hamstring? If you can’t play, don’t dress up. Arthur and T.D. please sign T.O. to a one year contract. The Aints won this one, but we will see them down the road. We will still win the division.

Herschel Talker

November 13th, 2011
6:52 pm

Schultzie:

You’re right and Mark Bradley is wrong. Terrible call because even if you get it, you still have to go almost half the field to get in FG range. And if you don’t get it, you’re cooked. Smith did a terrible job weighing the pros and cons of the decision.

HT

David

November 13th, 2011
6:54 pm

The replay booth makes the right call on the reversal of the first down and we don’t even have to debate this play call. Our fullback had a first down before he fumbled and they reverse the call made on the field? Without video evidence? Because pain pill Payton cries a river? Give me a break.

JSS

November 13th, 2011
6:55 pm

His wasting of a time out with another foolish challenge finally came home to haunt Fred Flintstone’s next door neighbor!!! That was the difference between them being able to take real shots at a winning TD at the end of the game!!! Barney Rubble had a real bad day!!!

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
6:59 pm

This isnt a rivalry. were freaking 9-2 in the payton Brees era. Falcons are a joke

JSS

November 13th, 2011
6:59 pm

David, learn the rule before commenting on it… You have to control the ball to the ground now…. If you fumble it, iit goes to the point of lost true control… The Dave Casper rule… The only play you can fumble like that is in the end zone…

TrishaDishaWarEagle

November 13th, 2011
6:59 pm

I’ m not upset at Coach for that cal.. I am bewildered why it was not a Qb sneak, though. The think I wanted to comment on is this..Matty ICE took the team 94 yrds in the no huddle to tie the game, we win the coin toss, then Mularky goes back to the conventional offense..why not stay with what had just proven to work.. matty ICE, no huddle, mid-range passing game..

Sid

November 13th, 2011
7:00 pm

until the QB play and the offensive play calling improves they will be a good team…not elite. Still a shot at the division…wild card will be tough…the Bears playing really well.

David

November 13th, 2011
7:00 pm

Aints Trolls, go back to your toilet bowl of a so called city and flush twice.

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
7:01 pm

Oh Matty Ice is unbeatable in the georgia dome. LOL. We’ve beaten you a home 3 years in a row. Falcons have no shot at beating us at home. Another sweep

David

November 13th, 2011
7:02 pm

JSS open your eyes. He had control as he broke the plane, fumbled afterwards. Sure as h3ll wasn’t enough video evidence to reverse it.

David

November 13th, 2011
7:02 pm

Another sympathy call I guess.

David

November 13th, 2011
7:04 pm

Pain pill Payton seems to always get the call when he cries.

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
7:04 pm

Oh David your comments hurt me so. Just call the Saints General Sherman……cause everytime we go into Atlanta we burn them!!!

TrishaDishaWarEagle

November 13th, 2011
7:05 pm

Oh well, we can just go beat them in the FEMAdome..

kathlatrine

November 13th, 2011
7:05 pm

Nobody’s talking about the lack of pressure on Brees by the defense. He had all day to pass. Abraham & Edwards did nothing.

David

November 13th, 2011
7:05 pm

I like that. FEMADOME. Good one.

AL

November 13th, 2011
7:06 pm

This is all about playcalling. As soon as I saw the guard pulling to the play side I knew it was over.. You’re delaying Mike and putting another linemen in front of him while the Saints are diving at our knees. You run a straight dive or a QB sneak, period. The good news is we won’t see them try that dumb idea again.

kathlatrine

November 13th, 2011
7:07 pm

Main page photo still says Falcons beat Saints.

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
7:08 pm

Drew Brees = William T. Sherman! LOL

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
7:10 pm

Falcons will not beat us on a monday night at home! Have you seen our home record this year. This was your only shot

TrishaDishaWarEagle

November 13th, 2011
7:10 pm

Drew Brees= “the mole” from Austin Powers

TrishaDishaWarEagle

November 13th, 2011
7:12 pm

@Dolamyte, yeah thats true..you lost on the road to the mighty rams..not at the FEMAdome

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
7:13 pm

Wareagle? What was the score of the lsu auburn game again? lol

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
7:16 pm

Man we own Georgia in Pro and college football! I really hope Georgia makes it to the sec title game this year. LSU will destroy them. lol

Scott Anderson

November 13th, 2011
7:17 pm

Turner the Burner needs to go.

Roddy white and his stupid personal fouls needs to go.

Julio Jones should not have been playing last week. Now Jones is probably done for 4 or 5 games

Smith stinks with his play calling and time outs.

JSS

November 13th, 2011
7:17 pm

Open your brain, there is no “breaking the plane” of the first down in the field of play except when a wide out or a runner establishes himself beyond the yard marker on a pass or a run… You just don’t know and choose to be ignorant of the difference between the NFL and the college rule… Cox did not maintain control of the ball to the ground… He tried to stretch to the first down… He lost control… You are the only person who doesn’t understand that…

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
7:18 pm

How many Superbowls have the Falcons won? How many national titles have the Bulldogs won? lol………………Your whole state should just give up football.

5150 UOAD

November 13th, 2011
7:18 pm

FEMAdome? I thought that was the new TOILET BOWL for all the crap in NoLa

Terry

November 13th, 2011
7:20 pm

My one disagreement, Jeff: How is Smith a “hero” if they make it? It’s not 4th & G, it just puts ATL at their own 30.

Dolamyte

November 13th, 2011
7:20 pm

HMMMMMM. ya’ll pretty quick with the FEMA comments. Who rebuilt Atlanta during reconstruction? I bet It was the federal Govt.

Burgess

November 13th, 2011
7:20 pm

Was that not the WORST play calling you’ve ever seen in OT. 8 yards on 1st down in OT’s first possession and the 2 incomplete passes ?????? Did he forget we had Turner and Snelling ?
What tip toeing by Turner on the 4th down play ! Terrible Loss that goes to Smith and offensive play caller.

Kyle

November 13th, 2011
7:21 pm

I think everyone agrees the call is fine but the play was as bad as it gets. You never know what Turner you are going to get but in a life and death situation you have to gamble that you are going to get the one that if someone barely touches him that he is going down. You only needed a couple of inches so just do the QB sneak and odds are you get it, but with this team playing a team that is average or above the result will always be what it was 95% of the time.

matt from mn

November 13th, 2011
7:23 pm

BENCH RODDY WHITE. His play is inexcusable and amounts to theft from Arthur Blank’s wallet.

Moorman

November 13th, 2011
7:27 pm

Foulcans…..

TrishaDishaWarEagle

November 13th, 2011
7:28 pm

Ah well, on the bright side, the DREAM TEAM and Section 8 fans favorite son eliminated themselves from any discussion the rest of the season today..could not happen to a more deserving city..unless it was New Orleans..

War Eagle and Go Falcons..win or lose ..I’m true orange and blue, red and black

Moorman

November 13th, 2011
7:31 pm

Smith played the whole game afraid of the saints offense. Dont forget how he kept having ryan take those shots to the endzone at the end of regulation, instead of taking the easy field goal. Had that new orleans defender not dropped that interception, the debate wouldve been WHY smith kept throwing down there instead of taking the field goal and going to overtime..

The truth

November 13th, 2011
7:32 pm

More white people on food stamps and section 8 than black…trisha…….

David

November 13th, 2011
7:35 pm

Section 8 fans favorite son, and FEMADOME. That’s just all good stuff Trisha. Pretty good for an Auburn fan. Can I use those? Go Falcons and Go Dawgs.

Jack D' Costa

November 13th, 2011
7:36 pm

Go dwags go cats….blah blah…

David

November 13th, 2011
7:37 pm

Go away trolls.

David

November 13th, 2011
7:39 pm

Jack, go back to your Fema trailer in that rats nest of a city you live in and shut your pie hole.

You are right on this one, Mr. Schultz...

November 13th, 2011
7:41 pm

…as for your cohort, do you guys flip to see who gets to take which side – Smitty is not Belichek so he gets no benefit of the doubt until he wins 3 Super Bowls -

On the other hand, CPJ did this last Thursday and he is just an arrogant SOB, so he made the wrong decision, too, with the same results, I might add. And he still had about 7 minutes left even if VT scored again, unlike Smitty who just gave N.O. a chip shot to win the game, dumb, dumb, dumb…

And then he goes on TV and takes the blame, like there was anyone else to make that decision – well, A Blank was on the sideline, so I guess he could have told Smitty to go for it…

JSS

November 13th, 2011
7:41 pm

Two fools in here crying about things they know absolutely nothing about trying to deflect from their vaunted “domefield advantage” going up in cloud of smoke like after a RB meeting in Athens…

5150 UOAD

November 13th, 2011
7:42 pm

the Truth do you think that could be because there are still more white people in the US? The real number is the % needing govt assistance compared to the number citizens of a certain race.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

November 13th, 2011
7:44 pm

BS call on 4th and inches….ever hear of a qb sneak?? we had the game and blew it!!!

The truth

November 13th, 2011
7:45 pm

5150……white people are not the majority, thats a lie to keep other races thinking that whites outnumber them, when In reality, its the other way around…….

Rickey F

November 13th, 2011
7:45 pm

Going for it was the right call. If they call a jump pass like Tebow used to do at Florida the guy is still running cause the Saints had sold out on the draw. Unimaginative call.