FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Key players are hurting. Close games aren’t going their way. Practices are now closed.
The Atlanta Falcons weren’t counting on a start like this.
Surely no one is hitting the panic button – after all, the Falcons haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2009 – but there are sure signs of a team feeling a bit of desperation.
Most noticeably, the Falcons (1-2) announced Wednesday the media would be largely barred from watching practices the rest of the season – a first in Mike Smith’s six years as coach.
“I don’t want to get into the details,” Smith said, “but any decision we make is a football decision and what we feel like is in the best interest of our football team. We simply made an organizational decision.”
The Falcons head into Sunday’s prime-time game against Tom Brady and the unbeaten New England Patriots already two games behind in the NFC South and trying to avoid falling two games under .500 for the first time since Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and quarterback Matt Ryan arrived on the scene in unison, transforming a once-moribund franchise into one of the NFL’s best.
Coming into this season, the Falcons had spent a total of 35 days under .500 during Smith’s first five years as coach.
Under Smith, the Falcons have been able to avoid the sort of extended slumps that can ruin a season. They face the Patriots having won 14 in a row after losses. It’s been nearly four years since their last losing streak.
“It’s very early in the season,” the coach said. “Our sense of urgency is the same each and every week. You put the previous game behind you and move on to the next one.”
“I wouldn’t say there’s any real panic,” free safety Thomas DeCoud said. “If you start getting into panic mode or desperation mode, that’s when it can be kind of hindering to what you’re trying to do.”