FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Mike Smith is facing the biggest challenge of his six seasons as the Falcons’ coach.
The Falcons never lost back-to-back regular-season games during Smith’s first five seasons. Suddenly, the Falcons have lost three straight games as they prepare for Sunday’s visit from Tampa Bay.
Matt Ryan and other players say it has been important to see Smith’s demeanor remain steady during the crisis.
“Smitty, one thing about him in six years, he is consistent,” Ryan said Wednesday. “Day in and day out, he comes to work positive and ready to go. I think players appreciate that, respect that and I think feed off of that and understand he’s taken this approach and we need to do the same. We need to come in here positive and upbeat and ready to work.”
The Falcons are 1-4 one year after playing in the NFC championship game.
Injuries have added difficulty to Smith’s challenge.
Julio Jones, who was the NFL’s leading receiver, had surgery on Monday for his season-ending foot injury. Three more starters on offense – running back Steven Jackson, receiver Roddy White and left tackle Sam Baker – did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.
Linebacker Akeem Dent and backup tight end Chase Coffman also were held out.
The losses and injuries might be expected to cause signs of strain, especially since any losing streak is a new experience for Smith.
But Smith said he just tries to stay with the approach that earned him a 57-28 record to start with.
“You do what you always do,” Smith said. “My job is to prepare the football team for them to go out and play their best ... and I’ll continue to do that.”
The Falcons took a streak of three straight playoff seasons into 2013 and this week they’re playing to stay out of last place in the NFC South.
Safety Thomas DeCoud said players would panic though if they saw any changes to Smith’s day-to-day approach.
“That would be scary for us if we saw that coach Smith was changing his demeanor, and he’s not doing that at all,” DeCoud said. “He’s helping us keep that even keel. If he was panicking it would go against everything that he’s preaching.
“It’s really good to have a coach who knows how to keep his cool and makes sure the message stays clear for the team so we can work on getting this thing right.”