ATLANTA — Mike Smith has done a lot of things right since he took over as coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Three consecutive winning seasons. Two trips to the playoffs. A division championship.
Smith insists that nothing has changed, even after a debated decision that went horribly wrong.
“Every day is a learning experience,” Smith said. “My confidence is never going to waver. The one thing I want to be is consistent every day that I wake up. That’s important not only as a coach, but as a person. I want to be a consistent person.”
The Falcons (5-4) head into today’s vital game against the Tennessee Titans (5-4) insisting they’ve moved on from last week’s jarring loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Atlanta overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then Smith made perhaps the biggest gamble of his career when the Falcons faced fourth down and about a foot to go, just short of their own 30-yard line.
Michael Turner was swarmed by Saints defenders as soon as he got the ball, actually losing a couple of feet. New Orleans took over, already in field-goal range, and knocked through the winning kick four plays later for a 26-23 victory.
Smith took full responsibility for the call. Now, he’s ready to move on.
“This is no different than any other week, I can assure you of that,” Smith said. “You put that one behind you, you learn from it and you go on to the next one. That’s what we’ve done since we’ve gotten here. I don’t think it will change. That’s the way our guys know we operate. They’ve done an outstanding job up to this point. I don’t anticipate it being any different this week.”
Tennessee, with a rookie coach, is poised to make a run at the playoffs in the suddenly depleted AFC South.
Indianapolis has fallen apart without Peyton Manning, and the Houston Texans could be without their quarterback, Matt Schaub, for the rest of the season.
After a sluggish start, the Falcons put together three wins in a row, giving them a shot at taking over first place when they faced the Saints. Instead, they were knocked back – and the way they lost only added to the sting.
“It’s getting down to crunch time,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “It’s getting to that point where you can’t afford to keep losing. We’ve got to put a couple together and make our run. We’ve got to hit our peak here pretty soon.”
The Falcons have shown their potential in spurts, such as their comeback against New Orleans. But an offense that was supposed to be high-powered has struggled to finish with touchdowns in the red zone, and receiver Roddy White is having an especially disappointing season.
“We had higher expectations,” White said. “But we are where we are right now. We’ve got to improve vastly these last seven games.”