Posts Tagged ‘Mike Smith’

Time’s up for Falcons: They need to win in postseason now

Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff understand they're being judged on playoffs now. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff know they're being judged on playoffs now. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

FLOWERY BRANCH – When Falcons coach Mike Smith was asked this week whether he could sense when a team was ready to take the next step, he gave a long, winding answer that never really arrived at “yes” or “no,” even if he spoke in well-crafted sentences.

It reminded me of middle school when I was faced with an essay question that I didn’t know the answer to, which led to something like, “The Taft-Hartley Act is considered one of the most important documents in history, written half by Taft and half by Hartley, both of whom were fine, distinguished gentlemen who liked to wear suits, and this had a big impact on the United States of America! You’re my favorite teacher! Oh, look at the birdies …”

This was Smith, on whether he knows when a team is ready to take the next step, or possibly the Taft-Hartley Act: “We feel very good about what we’ve accomplished thus far …

Continue reading Time’s up for Falcons: They need to win in postseason now »

NFL playoffs about QBs, coaches — and Falcons have shot

Matt Ryan and Mike Smith will be looking to improve on their postseason resume in three weeks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Matt Ryan and Mike Smith will be looking to improve on their postseason resume in three weeks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

With few exceptions, Super Bowls are won by teams with a great quarterback and a great head coach. Or in the case of the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, a defense so great that it can overcome Trent Dilfer.

Results by Matt Ryan and the Mike Smith-coached Falcons this season suggest Atlanta is in a pretty good spot to go to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history, and possibly win it. Ryan is having the best season of his career. Smith has kept his team focused and ascending over the past four weeks (exception: the Carolina game) and upgraded his staff with coordinators Mike Nolan (defense) and Dirk Koetter (offense).

What Ryan and Smith both lack is a playoff resume. Here are my rankings of the potential 15 quarterback-coach combinations in the playoff field (10 teams that have clinched, five that are in the hunt):

1. Tom Brady-Bill Belichick (New …

Continue reading NFL playoffs about QBs, coaches — and Falcons have shot »

Falcons understand that wins, No. 1 seed only set stage

Calvin Johnson is a special player butthe Falcons may be a special team. (Detroit Free Press photo)

Calvin Johnson is a special player but the Falcons may be a special team. (Detroit Free Press photo)

DETROIT – The schedule says there is a game left. The coach, Mike Smith, says, “We’ve said all along that if there’s games left to be played, we’re going to play them to win.” (And in his head, he probably adds: “Even if we play them with Luke McCown.”)

But this is the reality: Nobody is thinking about Game 16 against Tampa Bay. It’s about what happens in three weeks and that’s where everybody’s thoughts are. There’s no pressure to win the regular season finale next Sunday, no requirement to play in the first round of the playoffs, no pressure to jazz up the resume.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said late Saturday night following his team’s 31-18 win over Detroit, which secured a bye and the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. “Now we just have to go do it.” In the playoffs, he means.

Imagine being outfitted with the …

Continue reading Falcons understand that wins, No. 1 seed only set stage »

Falcons respond as great teams should, beat Lions (updated)

Backup tight end Michael Palmer celebrates with Tony Gonzalez after his one-yard touchdown catch made it 21-3. (AP photo)

Michael Palmer celebrates with Tony Gonzalez after his one-yard touchdown catch made it 21-3. (AP)

(Updated: 1:15 a.m.)

DETROIT – With no guarantees for the future, the Falcons nonetheless did all they could Saturday night to comfort its fan base and fire a warning shot over the rest of the NFL’s playoff field. They are ready this time.

The bandwagon still seemed half-empty after 11 wins. The 34-0 bodyslam of the New York Giants last week caused a majority of skeptics to reconsider their position.

But after Saturday’s 31-18 win over the Detroit Lions, the doubters almost certainly represent an extreme minority, like those few purchasing the only sweater at full retail before Christmas.

This was a test for the Falcons. They passed. They didn’t “go cool,” as tight end Tony Gonzalez had put it days after the win over the Giants. They stepped on the gas. They jumped out to a 21-3 lead on three touchdown passes by Matt Ryan. They survived some hiccups in the third and rebounded …

Continue reading Falcons respond as great teams should, beat Lions (updated) »

LIVE: Falcons seek No. 1 seed; AJC endures minus D-Led

An artist's rendering of Darryl Ledbetter's injury.

An artist's rendering of Darryl Ledbetter's injury. (Zazzle.com)

DETROIT — Good evening. Welcome to Monday night football on Saturday night. Because while the NFL sees nothing wrong with multiple Thursday games that increase the chance of concussion hangovers (shortened game weeks) and is pushing for an 18-game season, at least it won’t make teams play on Christmas Eve.

Before we get to the Falcons-Detroit game, I’d like to give a shout out to the captain of the AJC’s Falcons’ coverage, Darryl “Lightning Led” Ledbetter. He’s a former high school cornerback who claims to have patterned his game after Jack Tatum, the only difference being that Tatum took out opponents and

Here's actual updated look at Ledbetter's left leg.

Here's actual updated look at Ledbetter's left leg.

Ledbetter took out himself.

Last Saturday morning, while carrying three loads of laundry, he tripped on a book that was left on the stairs at the state Ledbetter manor. Down went Lightning. His left leg buckled.

An X-ray revealed no damage so D-Led toughed …

Continue reading LIVE: Falcons seek No. 1 seed; AJC endures minus D-Led »

If last week’s Falcons were for real, we’re about to find out

If Julio Jones, Matt Ryan can Falcons can avoid letdown at Detroit, they'll really have something to celebrate. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

If Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Falcons can avoid letdown at Detroit, they'll really have something to celebrate. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(Online readers: I’m taking the risk of posting this before 11:59.59 p.m. Friday on the assumption the world will still be here at 12:00.01 a.m. Saturday.)

DETROIT — Imagine if the world actually ended on Friday after everybody had finally started to buy into the Falcons?

Alas, life goes on. The Mayans are left to seek a refund from their director of world predictions, Danny Sheridan. The rest of us now watch and see how the Falcons react to acceptance.

That was no small victory last week when the Falcons doubled-over the New York Giants 34-0. If they couldn’t quite make up for last season’s 24-2 playoff loss at New York, they at least finally gave a glimpse of their ceiling. Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, came up big in a big moment. Their offensive line neutralized one of the best front fours in the NFL. Their defense, even without safety …

Continue reading If last week’s Falcons were for real, we’re about to find out »

LIVE: Falcons seek home field and, yes, respect

The last time Matt Ryan saw Eli Manning, he was congratulating him for a playoff win. (Getty Images)

The last time Matt Ryan saw Eli Manning, he was congratulating him for a playoff win. (Getty Images)

Let’s start with this: I’m thoroughly convinced that even if the Falcons  go out today and beat the New York Giants by two touchdowns, there is still going to be a segment of the fan base — a large segment — that says, “Just wait until the playoffs.”

And that’s fine. Because as we’ve discussed ad nauseam this season, the Falcons will be judged by how they do in the postseason, not the regular season, which again is going well (11-2). But a strong performance against the Giants would at least ease some of the concerns moving forward.

The Falcons, coming off their worst game of the season at Carolina (30-20 loss), lost to New York 24-2 in the last year’s playoffs. The Giants had a record of only 7-7 with two games left in the season but won their last two over the Jets and Dallas to win the NFC East and then beat four teams with better records than them — the Falcons (10-6), …

Continue reading LIVE: Falcons seek home field and, yes, respect »

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 …

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

Falcons give performance to leave us wondering again

DeAngelo Williams' 53-yard touchdown off a screen pass buried the Falcons late. (AP photo)

DeAngelo Williams' 53-yard touchdown off a screen pass buried the Falcons late. (AP photo)

CHARLOTTE – It started with the Carolina Panthers winning the coin flip for the first time this season. It ended with the Falcons being trash-talked off the field by a last-place team. Somewhere in between, we witnessed Atlanta’s worst four quarters of football of the season.

And the Falcons’ deserved it all – the loss, the mocking, the questions about what this means moving forward.

“I can hear everybody right now,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “They’re getting off the bandwagon. I can hear them jumping off. Looking at our history, people are going to go, ‘See, I told you.’”

OK. It’s a little premature for I-told-you-sos. The Falcons haven’t lost a playoff game yet. But it has to be concerning when an 11-1 team falls behind 23-0 to a 3-9 team, and at one point finds itself being outgained 356-66. It’s concerning any time a defensive front is so thoroughly …

Continue reading Falcons give performance to leave us wondering again »

Even at 11-1, Falcons know they can’t afford to settle

Thomas DeCoud and the Falcons already have celebrated an NFC South Division title. So what's next? (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Thomas DeCoud and the Falcons already have celebrated a division title. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

With one-quarter of the season left to be played, the Falcons already have clinched a playoff berth and a division title. By the end of Sunday, there’s a chance they will have locked up the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home field through the playoffs, leaving nothing tangible to play for in the final three weeks.

Unless, well, you count the Super Bowl as tangible.

“If you’ve watched the past few years, the teams that are playing the best and have some momentum going into the playoffs are the ones going the deepest,” Falcons center Todd McClure said. “Momentum is a big thing going into the playoffs. Nobody remembers you for September and October. You remember teams for what they do in December and January, so we want to be playing our best ball in the next month.”

The Falcons (11-1), who have their best 12-game record in franchise history, play at Carolina on Sunday. They shouldn’t be …

Continue reading Even at 11-1, Falcons know they can’t afford to settle »