OK, so it didn’t work, but Mike Smith made the right choice

Sometimes football is, as Michael Turner said, "a game of inches." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Sometimes football is, as Michael Turner said, "a game of inches." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I’d have gone for it. I’d go for it again. I might call a different play the next time, but I find no fault with Mike Smith’s reasoning. His choice was to try and keep possession by gaining six inches or to rely on his defense to halt the great Drew Brees yet again. That’s no choice at all.

Said Dunta Robinson, who we should note plays defense for the Falcons: “We were more bothered when we saw the punt team going out there [which it did before Smith called timeout and changed his mind] than when we saw the offense. We felt there was no way we weren’t going to get that first down.”

But they didn’t, and the Falcons lost another wild and crazy game in the series that leads the world in wild and crazy games, and now they’re 5-4 and trail New Orleans by 1 1/2 games in the NFC South. Give them this, though: They went down swinging, surging from 10 points behind in the final five minutes to force overtime, losing in overtime on their terms — not Drew Brees’.

We can and will debate whether these Falcons are as good as they should be, but we cannot question their guts. They out-dared the Saints, who as we know are a dauntless bunch, and came within an eyelash of stealing a game Brees and Co. should have locked away. That’s not to excuse the loss — there are no moral victories in the NFL — but it is to suggest that anyone who believes this excruciating game will crush the local team hasn’t been paying attention.

This is a feisty bunch, and this coach is a gutsy guy. Mike Smith made some curious decisions Sunday — a poor challenge that cost a timeout, an onside kick that came too early — but his team was in position not just to tie but to win at the end of regulation. (To me, Sean Payton messed up worse than Smitty did.) And that fourth-down call at the 29 in overtime wasn’t some flight of fancy but a considered decision based on, of all things, a grasp of history.

Said Smith: “We have had no success in giving them the ball back.”

He referred to two games: A five-point loss in the Superdome on Dec. 7, 2008, when the Falcons punted to the Saints with 3:15 remaining and saw New Orleans kill the clock, and the deflating game here on Dec. 27, 2010, when the Falcons, trailing by three, again punted with 2:44 left and never touched the ball again. Many among us ripped Smitty for a failure of nerve after the second game — that’s my hand you see raised — and we can’t have it both ways, can we? A coach can’t be half-daring, can he?

Smith again: “The message all week was that we were going to be an aggressive football team.”

As to the play itself: It was awful. Needing six inches, the Falcons eschewed a quarterback sneak and handed instead to Michael Turner, who had two lead blockers but had to wait for those blockers to array themselves. By that time, the Saints had him.

Said Turner: “If I didn’t like [the call], I would have walked off the field and let somebody else run the ball.”

The bottom line is that Smith’s daring gave the ball to Brees 40 yards closer than a punt would have, but there’s a line that undercuts even that bottom line: If you can’t get six inches in a game of this magnitude, you don’t deserve to win.

Said linebacker Curtis Lofton: “Fourth-and-inches, it being overtime — why not? You’ve got to go for it.”

Actually, you don’t. A skittish coach would have punted and, after the great Brees had driven his team to victory, have said, “Whaddaya want from me? I played the percentages!”

This is what we got from Mike Smith: “It’s something I take full responsibility for … It’s not anybody else’s fault. It’s my responsibility.”

Would you have gone for it?

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As Smith spoke, his employer sat five yards to his right. Asked if he’d have gone for it, Arthur Blank said: “It was absolutely the right thing to do. You can’t keep giving the ball back to that offense.”

Let’s say again that there are no quality losses in pro football, and the Falcons somehow lost a game in which they outgained the great Brees and his offense by 118 yards. But these teams will meet again the night after Christmas, and the Saints have the tougher schedule from here. This division race isn’t over, and I’m pretty sure this coach’s men aren’t going to quit on him. On the contrary.

“I’m behind Smitty,” said center Todd McClure. “In this situation we didn’t get it done, but I like that our head coach has faith in us to get it done.”

Maybe in December they’ll gain those six inches. But a few words to the daring Mr. Smith: Quarterback sneak next time.

By Mark Bradley

352 comments Add your comment

Herschel Talker

November 13th, 2011
6:03 pm

MB:

NO NOT THE RIGHT THING TO DO. EVEN IF YOU GET IT, YOU STILL NEED 40 YARDS. IF YOU DON’T GET IT, THE GAME IS OVER. THE RISK-REWARD RATIO IS NOT IN YOUR FAVOR. TERRIBLE CALL!

HT

Ron Roberts

November 13th, 2011
6:07 pm

1. The officials muffed the ball-spot before the infamous “4th and inches” call; IF, as they assert, the ball was fumbled and bounced a yard further before going out of bounds, then it was SUPPOSED to be spotted where it went out of bounds.

2. Mike Smith didn’t blow the game by going for it; I’d have done the same thing, knowing how rare it is to shut Drew Brees down back-to-back possessions. Where he failed was when he listened to his players instead of his eyes upstairs and blew a timeout with a foolish “replay” request on a Saints catch, early in the 2nd half when TV showed us the replay at home – three times BEFORE he threw the flag – and showed it was a catch. If we’d had that timeout late in the game, we might have scored a game-winning TD instead of settling for a game-tying FG.

3. Mike Mularkey’s play-calling was erratic and very “Mike Bobo-esque” today; dude was in LOVE with the run game, between the tackles, at inopportune moments – the 4th and inches play being one of them. Where was Jacquizz Rodgers with an end-around option in the backfield? You literally told the Saint defense what you were doing with one option in the backfield.

4. Eric Weems’ usefulness on this team evades me. Since the NFL moved kickoffs up the 35 yard line, he’s been ineffective in the return game, and lacks discipline, otherwise. His 15 yard penalties made for tougher circumstances to overcome all day.

Whiznot

November 13th, 2011
6:08 pm

Great call. Like when I lost my life savings betting black in roulette.

Andrew

November 13th, 2011
6:09 pm

Amazing video of a high school player from Columbia TN who kicks the ball dead straight 80-85 yards in the air. He was successful on 54 of 54 attempts this season….100%. Now he needs a college team.

Watch for yourself…it is unreal!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_JKwgwFY3g

Ron Roberts

November 13th, 2011
6:09 pm

I’m with Mark on this one.

Grip

November 13th, 2011
6:09 pm

Wrong. It’s called risk vs reward. The risk is you give the game away. The reward is you have the ball at your own 30. That seems worth it to you?

paveplanet

November 13th, 2011
6:09 pm

MB:
You’re right on the money here. It was the right call.

P.S. Notice the sentence case of a civilized comment.

David

November 13th, 2011
6:10 pm

I am fine with going for it, but I was screaming at the TV screen, “please do not run Turner up the middle”. No way that play is going to work there. No way. You showed some nads, now show some imagination with the play calling.

Kings of Mediocrity

November 13th, 2011
6:10 pm

Maybe we can get Mark Cuban to buy the Falcons. Blank and company just can’t figure it out.

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

November 13th, 2011
6:10 pm

100% agree

The right call

Smith didn’t drop passes- see Roddy, Julio & Douglas
Smith didn’t get ZERO sacks of Brees
Smith didn’t cause all those dumb penalties
Smith didn’t miss the FG before halftime

We just don’t have the players

And Ryan’s great … But so inaccurate on deep balls. Douglas was open twice deep and Ryan couldn’t get him the ball

Tom

November 13th, 2011
6:10 pm

It was the wrong thing to do. If there were a football bible the #1 commandment wiuld be do not go for fourth and anything during sudden death overtime from the shadows of your own goal. Not only was it wrong, it was stupid. Too much testerone. Dumb.

losersville

November 13th, 2011
6:11 pm

Bottom line is with all the penalties and dropped passes,we should not have had to be in that position to start with.

nola falcon fan

November 13th, 2011
6:11 pm

Thanks for great work as always MB. Living down here this one hurts, and not looking forward to work tomorrow having to deal with all thes johnny come lately saint fans (where were all of them 5 years ago?)

I am more upset about Roddy missing the TD in regulation. HAVE to catch that one… game over if he does

Nelson Muntz

November 13th, 2011
6:12 pm

Tough game. Plenty of blame to go around, but we really needed Roddy to start playing well before the last two minutes.

Buckeye

November 13th, 2011
6:12 pm

Love the quotes, hate the result.

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:13 pm

thanks mark…you are always the voice of reason among a bunch of fair weather fans who were so negative and offensive during the whole game.

DetroitBraves

November 13th, 2011
6:13 pm

I agree with Mark on every point. A lot of people aren’t, and some of them even wouldn’t have without hindsight. But that’s part of what makes this fun, right? Maybe it doesn’t feel so fun today.

Buckeye

November 13th, 2011
6:14 pm

Nelson,

You are right. Roddy needs to step up – from the first quarter.

Moorman

November 13th, 2011
6:15 pm

Right choice? Man , smith called the whole game being too afraid of new orleans offense. Think back, if that new orleans defender (forgot his name), hadnt dropped that ryan interception during regulation, the falcons wouldnt even have been on overtime. Those play calls at the endvof regulation showed how smith was giving new orleans too much respect. He didnt want to go to overtime. It wasnt aggressive plsycalling, it was fear and non respect for his defense….

Captain Obvious

November 13th, 2011
6:15 pm

The only thing you can’t do there is hand-off the ball 5 yards in the backfield. Penetration kills runs like that and you are going to have penetration when everyone in the world knows whats coming. You can justify the call to go for it but you can’t justify the play-call in that situation.

Objective fan

November 13th, 2011
6:15 pm

Wait wait wait… Dunta plays defense?

The Nature Boy

November 13th, 2011
6:15 pm

I’m mad we lost…but I knew when we went into OT we probably would..I wish Roddy could have snagged that TD at the end of regulation..In OT Smitty did the right thing, come on folks, 80% of the time the Falcons convert there…just not today…we need to win the next 2 and get to 7-4 and we’re fine….

Buckeye

November 13th, 2011
6:16 pm

This was a turning point game for Smith and Co. Too much talent, too much $$$. Blank expects results.

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:16 pm

wow..eli got lucky on that one..almost an interception

gabugman

November 13th, 2011
6:16 pm

Nekkid bootleg…

I’m just sayin.

George Stein

November 13th, 2011
6:17 pm

It was absolutely the right decision to go for it. I thought a QB sneak was probably a better play call, but I love having a head coach that isn’t afraid to go for it with the game on the line.

icedawg

November 13th, 2011
6:17 pm

Thought the Falcons played about as well as they are able. Brees’ passing was the biggest difference. He got the job done.

welikebaseball2

November 13th, 2011
6:17 pm

@Thomas…is a moron:

I’ve got to disagree. No, Smith didn’t drop passes, but he put the brakes on the offense until desperation time. At that point, we were in a closer game than we should’ve been. Smith didn’t get zero sacks, but he & his staff’s inability to draw up effective pass rush schemes sure didn’t help. Smith didn’t cause dumb penalties, but well-coached teams don’t have as many penalties in pivotal moments as the Falcons have had this season. Smith didn’t miss the FG before halftime but, again, his conservative playcalling relegated us to FG after FG attempt (instead of TD’s) in the 1st half when we could’ve/should’ve had a lead going into the half. I totally agree with you on Ryan & his inaccuracy on the deep balls. That’s been a sickening pattern.

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:18 pm

definitely not going to be able to watch a game and be on this blog anymore though….it is so negative and obnoxious

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:20 pm

seattle is making the ravens look really bad

Go Vols

November 13th, 2011
6:21 pm

Agree, katherine, but ignore the noise. The Falcons, as do most teams, have a few flaws to address, but they are a solid, dangerous team that can compete with anyone. Playoffs aren’t out of the question.

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:22 pm

wow…interception stafford….bears are winning 27 to 6……see even really great qbs have bad days

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:23 pm

Go Vols
November 13th, 2011
6:21 pm

Agree, katherine, but ignore the noise. The Falcons, as do most teams, have a few flaws to address, but they are a solid, dangerous team that can compete with anyone. Playoffs aren’t out of the question.

Finally a positive comment! Thanks, I totally agree.

JD

November 13th, 2011
6:24 pm

Gutsy call should have been either a sneak of set up to resemble Turner’s dive and run play action or QB scramble right to sideline. Not real impressed with ATL play calling all day…falcons are predictable. My wife even knew the Turner dive was being called at the 29yeard line…and she still calls points on the board “runs”.

MeToo

November 13th, 2011
6:24 pm

The game was lost when the Falcons didn’t score a touchdown at the end of the first long drive of the game. If you can’t score a touchdown at the end of that drive, you don’t deserve to win. A team has to take control when it has the opportunity.

The Truth

November 13th, 2011
6:25 pm

It was the right call. You can’t play or coach scared.

fu mikesmith and mattysue ryan

November 13th, 2011
6:25 pm

i am sick of the sissyass coaching and damsho sissyass qb play by matty sue ryan. the slightest little pressure and she wets the bed. gonzalez was wideass open for a td and matty sue threw it outta bounds. guess it’s hard to adjust from your usual outta bounds throw when u wet the bed to a real td pass. bye bye loser!!! u and mike smith can both pound sand !!!!LOSERS !!!!! I am sick of this loserass town!!! LOSERSVILLE USA !!!! LOSERSVILLE USA !!!!!!!!

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:26 pm

MeToo
November 13th, 2011
6:24 pm

The game was lost when the Falcons didn’t score a touchdown at the end of the first long drive of the game. If you can’t score a touchdown at the end of that drive, you don’t deserve to win. A team has to take control when it has the opportunity.

the saints didnt score a touchdown at the end of their first drive either…did they deserve to lose?

DetroitBraves

November 13th, 2011
6:26 pm

Not a good day for Matt Stafford.

WhoDAT FAN

November 13th, 2011
6:26 pm

The refs did their best to give ATL the game. In the end, Mike Smith’s terrible coaching gave us the game again. WHO DAT!!!!!!!!!

falconfan58

November 13th, 2011
6:27 pm

Here’s to hoping we trade Roddy White next year. He dropped the ball in the end zone, caused the lone turnover, and is good for at least one personal foul every game. We drafted his replacement this year and he should bring a quality draft pick. Not to mention he is the last remnant of the Jim Mora “I over team” era.

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:27 pm

o m g another interception by stafford…what is going on with him today? its 34 to 6

when the saints go marching in

November 13th, 2011
6:28 pm

the falcons will wet the bed…oh how i want to be in that numba…when mike smith and matty sue wet the bed !!! f u mike smith and mattysue…. and u 2 michael tippy toe turner

What was the Coach(s) Thinking?

November 13th, 2011
6:28 pm

I really believed that the Offense would have gotten the ball back if they had punted, and even if you are going go for it on 4th and 1 on your own 30 yard line in a sudden death situation, please don’t not run straight into the part of the field where literally the whole defense is waiting on you!!!!! The left side of the field was wide open, why not put Rodgers in there and run a toss to left? I’m still speechless over the bone headed play call at the end of this game!!!! If you are going to lose, make the opponents work for it, do not hand them a win on a silver platter!!!!!!!!!!!

ubah

November 13th, 2011
6:29 pm

Did Roddy White even play today?? Other than getting another unsportsmanlike penalty on the first drive, the all pro was really quiet. Maybe that’s his fault, maybe not.

katherine

November 13th, 2011
6:29 pm

when the saints go marching in
November 13th, 2011
6:28 pm

the falcons will wet the bed…oh how i want to be in that numba…when mike smith and matty sue wet the bed !!! f u mike smith and mattysue…. and u 2 michael tippy toe turner

how old are you 12? dont you need to go clean the basement before your mom cuts off your allowance?

What was the Coach(es) Thinking?

November 13th, 2011
6:30 pm

I really believed that the Offense would have gotten the ball back if they had punted, and even if you are going go for it on 4th and 1 on your own 30 yard line in a sudden death situation, please don’t not run straight into the part of the field where literally the whole defense is waiting on you!!!!!! The left side of the field was wide open, why not put Rodgers in there and run a toss to left? I’m still speechless over the bone headed play call at the end of this game!!!! If you are going to lose, make the opponents work for it, do not hand them a win on a silver platter!!!!!!!!!!!

balismith

November 13th, 2011
6:30 pm

great effort…thought qb sneak would have worked…hate to see the falcons lose such atough ballgame..think roddy white needs to get his act together thought he cost the falcons throughout the game with stupid plays….too good of a player to make the mistakes he did…hope he grows up…also wish the falcons would use their vertical game more….dang thought the birds were going to win the game

Glad I'm not coaching

November 13th, 2011
6:30 pm

Disney must have loaned us some coaches for the game: Goofy, Dopey, and Dumbo! Yeah, take chances, but NOT when it will 99.9% of the time give the other team the win. You went for first down on forth two previous times and tried a questionable onside kick. Please say you don’t play Vegas Casinos!!!!!!

ubah

November 13th, 2011
6:31 pm

On “the play” maybe a play action, roll out would have worked better. Everybody this side of Moscow knew they were going up the middle. But gotta agree with Bradley, can’t play scared.