Falcons, Smith know now is when they’re getting judged

Mike Smith knows he'll be judged on how the Falcons finish the season and playoffs.

Mike Smith knows he'll be judged by how the Falcons finish the season and the playoffs. (AP photo)

Mike Smith tries not to curse a lot, certainly not in public. Even when recounting those few times this week when he dropped verbal grenades during film sessions, he edited himself for public consumption, either because he was afraid his mother might be hiding behind a tree (”Sometimes I say things that my mother wouldn’t want me to say”) or because he was concerned that I wouldn’t edit for him.

“Like, ‘I can’t believe we (pause) did that. Or, ‘That was a bad (pause) call.’ Or, ‘Why did I make that (pause) decision?’”

And yes, he really paused.

It’s generally wise for a coach to have a self-edit button. Expletives, fist-pounding and thrown objects play well with a segment of the fan base and can make you a star on YouTube. But the act gets old real quick, particularly with players. It’s more important that a coach knows he can command his players’ attention when needed. And about that: We’re about to find out how successful Smith was in connecting with the relative zombies who walked onto the field at Carolina last Sunday.

The Falcons play host to the New York Giants. The last time the teams met, the Giants wiped their shoes on the Falcons to open the playoffs (24-2) and went on to win the Super Bowl.

It’s debatable what’s really on the line this game. In theory, the Falcons could get blown off the field at the Georgia Dome and it wouldn’t matter. They’re 11-2. They’ve clinched the NFC South and, even with a loss, would still be in a good position for a first-round bye and home field in the playoffs.

But for perception, it means everything. This isn’t just about how the most second-guessed 11-2 team in NFL history measures up against the Giants. It’s also how the Falcons rebound from last week’s 30-20 loss at Carolina (which saw the Falcons fall behind 23-0). Every team has bad games. Great teams generally don’t have them in December.

The Falcons have generally responded to defeat well under Smith. They haven’t lost consecutive games since losing to Philadelphia and New Orleans in 2009, a span of 47 games. Overall, they’re 19-3 following losses under Smith, including 11 straight wins.

“It’s important to see how we respond,” center Todd McClure said. “We know the Giants are good and in the last few years they’ve been really good in December and they’ve gone on to win championships. So I guess it’s somewhat of a measuring stick.”

Not just for the players, but for Smith.

He understands that the focus is less on his unprecedented regular season success as a franchise head coach (53-23) than it is his playoff record (0-3). The Giants game impacts everybody’s comfort level going into January.

Smith laid into his players after the game Sunday. Then again on Monday in a team meeting. On Wednesday, players could sense Smith was still upset, and it filtered down to the rest of the coaching staff. “Even in defensive meetings on Wednesday, [Mike Nolan] was like, ‘OK, what coach Smith said Monday …’”

McClure said it’s easy to tell when Smith is upset.

“His face turns red,” he said. “He sticks his lip out, his chin out. You don’t have to hear him talk to know he’s ticked off.”

“On a scale of one to 10, it wasn’t a 10-through the roof thing,” Tony Gonzalez said. “But it was up there.”

Logic says this is when Smith turns the screw on players. But he said he would do the same if the Falcons were coming off a miserable performance in September.

“Guys have to know when they do something that it’s not acceptable,” he said. “You can’t change just because something happened in a different month.”

But isn’t there a greater sense of urgency now?

“Sure, in terms of it being near the end of the season. People don’t remember you for September and October, they remember you for December and January. We know that. This is when we all get judged.”

– By Jeff Schultz




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155 comments Add your comment

Just Asking

December 14th, 2012
3:43 pm

dean

December 14th, 2012
3:46 pm

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re first. I’m second. What does that make me? I get the First Loser Trophy! Just like youth sports.

Now I’ll read the blog.

Just Asking

December 14th, 2012
3:47 pm

Me too Dean.

DP

December 14th, 2012
3:50 pm

Wow, a column by an AJC sportswriter that isn’t whining about the Alabama-Georgia game that was played almost 2 weeks ago.

Jeff, you must not have read the comments section on your whining column about Dial not getting suspended. I was wondering why you were all over Urban Meyer and Brandon Spikes for trying to gouge the eye of a Georgia player but are now dismissive of a Georgia player doing the same thing to Dee Milliner.

I was also wondering why you’d put up the link of Dial’s hit on Murray without putting up links to the 3 hits in the last 2 years that drew one game suspensions from the SEC. You try to be fair, don’t you?

dean

December 14th, 2012
3:50 pm

“But for perception, it means everything… Every team has bad games. Great teams generally don’t have them in December.”

Uh huh.

I will add, “Perception is reality.”

dean

December 14th, 2012
3:51 pm

Just Asking. I hate twitter. You twitter folks have the advantage now!

DP

December 14th, 2012
4:08 pm

Jeff, how do you reconcile what you wrote in this column on Brandon Spikes…

http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/2009/11/02/florida-suspends-spikes-for-only-one-half-of-game/

…with your virtual dismissal today of Georgia’s Dawson eye gouging Dee Milliner?

Tommy Maddox

December 14th, 2012
4:24 pm

I greatful that we are 11-2.

Sadly – and based upon the trends we’ve been seeing these past few weeks, no matter how much Mike emmotes to these guys, Dunta will still be several steps behind the receiver, Turner will still be falling down behind a stuffed offensive line, and opposing QBs will run amok. Now the Giants show up – oh swell!

Tommy Maddox

December 14th, 2012
4:24 pm

Excuse me – I am greatful!

John Ellison

December 14th, 2012
4:24 pm

The weakest link on offense is Turner. What is being done to address that? Every Sunday, turner gets the ball, then runs one yard and falls down. What purpose does that serve?

Banished to South Dakota

December 14th, 2012
4:27 pm

DP …this is a Falcons article. Thank you.

Anyways, Mike Smith will get his players ready to go …this is the most disciplined Falcon’s team I have ever seen. If we can get some passion with that discipline, look out New York.

Wrecker

December 14th, 2012
4:49 pm

So he was still mad later in the week? I thought there was a 24-hour rule.

LDawg

December 14th, 2012
4:54 pm

Uh, DP, this is a blog on the Falcons, not the Dawgs. Go vent your frustration there where it matters. Here, get off the bleeping blog!!!

LDawg

December 14th, 2012
4:56 pm

Turner doesn’t have Mughelli leading the way. He has to actually have some sort of hole in order to actually hit it.

Greatful, grateful...

December 14th, 2012
5:07 pm

So, we are still looking at 12-4, no home field except in the wild card round, and a rousing send off back home at the hands of Seattle and their rookie QB – so much for Ryan being a “good” QB.

And, wow, nothing gets past Coach Smith does it – D’OH

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 14th, 2012
5:34 pm

Mike should dial it up on the OC too. Offensively, the Falcons can’t run the ball so they need to do other things that gets the ball to play makers like…HAND the ball to J. Jones…HAND the ball to H. Douglas…Time to color outside the lines.

DP

December 14th, 2012
5:45 pm

Sorry Banished and LDawg, but if Schultz wants to join Mark Bradley in the smear and disappear club I’m going to call him out on it in his next blog.

Larry Bagby

December 14th, 2012
5:48 pm

here is a song relevant to the falcons season, its called
“where do I belong?” its a country song and it will make you feel good if you watched it. falcon fans can use a W sunday, and then thats where we will all say-
WHERE DO I BELONG?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWIq5TDew3c

tu87

December 14th, 2012
6:06 pm

Serious question. What do think happens if Falcons lose their first playoff game this year?

Nissan_shift

December 14th, 2012
6:26 pm

The Giants will throttle the Falcons on Sunday for the following reasons:
1) They’re the Falcons.
2) Giants can’t afford to lose ground in the NFC Least.
3) The Giants feel the need to live up to the media pressure of getting hot in December, and rolling that momentum into January.

Facing the Giants

December 14th, 2012
6:40 pm

The Giants are coming, The Giants are coming.

Please beat this team and GO FALCONS !

extremus

December 14th, 2012
7:13 pm

I expect the Falcons to try to make a statement Sunday against the Giants; it will likely be a very physical contest. The key thing to look for is as much about body language as it is about getting a “W”; if the Falcons own a big lead at halftime and the game ends as a nail-biter as so many others have, it may indicate that this team doesn’t have the makeup to keep the pedal down for four quarters and put opponents away. And if their performance turns out to be a hot steaming mess against the Giants as it was in Carolina, a lot of folks will question whether Mike Smith still has an actual hold on this team. Strange thing to be 11-2 and feel like every game is make-or-break, but then this is a bizarrely schizophrenic football team from a performance standpoint. With lofty regular season records come lofty championship expectations, and let’s face it; such expectations will be tempered until the Falcons win not only a playof game but a Lombardi Trophy.

Facing the Falcons

December 14th, 2012
7:30 pm

The Falcons will throttle the Giants for the following reasons.

1. The Giants are 3-3 on the road
2. The Falcons are 6-0 at home.
3. Mike Smith’s chin and lips are sticking out with a red face.

Big Daddy

December 14th, 2012
7:50 pm

If you play well, you play well. It doesn’t matter whether you are at home or away in that regards. The year we went to the Super Bowl, we did not play one playoff game at home. It was all on the road. What we are all conscious of is the history of this franchise and the lack of a playoff win despite our regular season record.

For that reason this is a big game. Everyone knows it. Now is the time for the Falcons to show what they can do. A lot of eyes around the league are going to be on this game and the Birds cannot be thinking about Detroit or Tampa. Just New York. Falcons by 3.

Mike

December 14th, 2012
8:17 pm

In 1998 on the way to the Super Bowl the SF game was a 20-18 victory in the Dome before going to MINN the next week.

JSS

December 14th, 2012
8:29 pm

3-3 with road wins in SF, Dallas, and of all places Carolina!!! Stop depending on that Dome like it is a secret elixir…

Sausage King of Chicago

December 14th, 2012
8:36 pm

We didn’t have a screen game last time the Giants whupped us.
Get the ball to Quizz in the flat for cripesakes, Dirk!
Diggler

Say what

December 14th, 2012
9:27 pm

“Turner doesn’t have Mughelli leading the way. He has to actually have some sort of hole in order to actually hit it.”

Yes, exactly. We aren’t that offense anymore, so why does Mike Smith still cling to it? (and it is Smith, not Koetter)

Say what

December 14th, 2012
9:27 pm

JSS, eff off, okay?

Say what

December 14th, 2012
9:31 pm

extremus at 7:13, good post.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

December 14th, 2012
9:35 pm

I told you fools since 2008 this loser CHOKE will only be hype. Now the whole world sees what I saw when he was drafted. So enjoy your loser, losers….ha ha :)

Say what

December 14th, 2012
9:38 pm

oh look, it’s another person filled with hate. Get help, MCR. Seriously.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

December 14th, 2012
9:40 pm

30-24 48-21 24-2….those are some great numbers if you are playing the lotto….ha ha :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

December 14th, 2012
9:49 pm

Superbowl frauds….ha ha :)

Mike "CHOKE" dogs to death

December 14th, 2012
9:51 pm

Thanks, buddy.

JSS

December 14th, 2012
10:22 pm

And on a day like today, the great orator (coughing) telling people folks about his interpretation of sodomy and “hate.” Sure clueless, you are too attached to a game… Good luck getting some perspective in that blind spot…

The Ghost of Norm Van Brocklin

December 14th, 2012
10:30 pm

Falcons Fan since ‘66…..glad to have Smitty and Ryan instead of Mora and Vick…

…but still, having sat in the old Fulton County Stadium and watched too many games…..

…I have a wait and see attitude…and losing to the Giants on Sunday ain’t gonna help it any.

DenQ

December 14th, 2012
11:10 pm

Jeff… “Expletives, fist-pounding and thrown objects play well with a segment of the fan base and can make you a star on YouTube.” I’d throw in playing well with a certain extremely talkative radio talk show host as well, you know, the one(s) who’s always talking about life in the locker room.

Are we talking sports here? How did politics sneak into the discussion?

agent7g

December 15th, 2012
12:02 am

It’s great how all the trolls on these blogs show up after a loss and toss around the record of this version of the Falcons as if history has anything to do with how a team will perform the next time that team is in the playoffs, etc. The FACTS are simple. Outside of 2-3 teams in the NFL any team would do anything to get Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and TD leading their squad. The Falcons time is going to come and when it does the sniveling maggots who scroll these pages and post with hate and sarcasm will have nothing left to say. Take your 5th grader emoticons and your garbage logic elsewhere. You’re losers and we dislike you. F**k off.

Whopper Dawg

December 15th, 2012
12:28 am

It is very important that we beat the Giants. If we don’t, and they make even trounce us, then things don’t bode so well.

I don’t think we can. They can run the ball, we can’t, they can rush the passer, we can’t, they can play the run, we can’t. The only hope is that Ryan outguns Eli big time, and I don’t think he can. Ryan is not playing well right now.

Samuel

December 15th, 2012
6:08 am

The running game and offensive line will be crucial, if Matt Ryan will have success Sunday. The defensive line has to stop the run, and somebody other than Abraham needs to come up with two sacks. Mainly P. Jerry this dude has not been that productive- since coming off an injury a few years ago. He has to step-up, we need a spark from Dominque Franks, he’s been real quiet of late. And what happen to knocking the ball loose, something we saw from the Falcons early on in the season. You know the Giants running back Wilson will fumble the ball. I think he was in the dog house early in the year. I hope Matty Ice doesn’t forget about Harry Douglas, a slot receiver that rarely get’s the ball.

Rick in Warner Robins

December 15th, 2012
6:11 am

I hate to say it, but last Sunday may be a sign of things to come. The ineptitude of the defense, particularly the defensive backs (i.e., Dunta Robinson) and lack of pass and run blocking will be the reason the Falcons are one and done in the playoffs.

JSS

December 15th, 2012
6:32 am

And you people wonder why terrorist watch list exists? 12:02 gets the prize for the mind meltdown of the week.. SMH…

Joey

December 15th, 2012
7:41 am

I’m not a believer yet, just a hoper.

A win tomorrow will convince me, because the Giants need it worse than we do.

E from Riverdale

December 15th, 2012
8:33 am

annot wat until the draft. Maybe then the Falcons will draft a corner or pick up one in free agency and get rid of the sorry a$$ Dunta Robinson. And please Mr. Dimitrioff no over paying for sorry a$$ free agents like Ray Edwards and Dunta Robinson. Draft players and let them play, hell you see now in college the coahes are lettting the freshman pay.

nbrdrdnk

December 15th, 2012
8:42 am

Paging SHAWN WILLIAMS… Paging SHAWN WILLIAMS…
Butt-kicking wake-up-call needed in Falcons locker room ASAP…
Paging SWAWN WILLIAMS…

TroutFalcon

December 15th, 2012
8:46 am

Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff are to the Falcons as Bobby Cox and John Schuerholtz were to the Braves. They are all about professionalism. I think the Falcons will get over this playoff hump this year and bring home a Championship.

SawThat1nce

December 15th, 2012
9:20 am

;Can the Falcons OLine hold up?

SawThat1nce

December 15th, 2012
9:23 am

Weak OLine was one of the biggest reasons for 1st round elimination last year.
Biggest problem and weakest link this year and last year.

Rise up

December 15th, 2012
9:25 am

Hey choke how is vick doing these days.I guess you will next hate the Eagles when they dump his overpriced butt. He has moved on from dogs to coach killer!!!!