FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Nothing is going right for the Atlanta Falcons, and coach Mike Smith said he is fully to blame.
“The team is not being coached as well as it needs to be coached,” Smith said Monday, “and I take full responsibility for that.”
Riding a four-game losing streak, the Falcons (2-8) have just two days to practice before playing host to New Orleans (8-2) on Thursday night.
Atlanta endured a three-game skid earlier this season, but Smith considers this current streak to be the worst of his 15-year NFL career.
As an assistant coach for nine years with Baltimore and Jacksonville, Smith was part of two losing seasons. With the Falcons, he had never dropped consecutive games until this year.
“I’ve never experienced this many losses in a row, so it is a tough stretch,” he said. “But you have to continue to work hard and stay focused to win this next game because that’s the only way you stop this streak.”
Since Smith took charge in 2008, Atlanta is 3-8 against the Saints, but the team that lost in the final seconds at the Superdome in Week 1 has seemingly all but disappeared.
The Falcons aren’t winning battles on the line of scrimmage. They aren’t tackling well. They’re tied for next to last in turnover margin.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown nine interceptions in the past four games and seems to get hit on every passing attempt behind a porous offensive line.
Atlanta has allowed 900 total yards in the past two weeks, and opponents this season have averaged almost 29 points per game.
“It’s my responsibility as the head coach to make sure that our guys are prepared and motivated to play,” Smith said
Yes, the Falcons have suffered some critical injuries – the worst being receiver Julio Jones’ season-ending foot surgery last month – but nobody, including Smith, figured on a collapse of this magnitude.
“We were just sloppy across the board, not young guys or old guys, I think everybody,” Ryan said after Sunday’s 41-28 loss at Tampa Bay. “In order to play in this league (and) be competitive in this league, you have to take care of those things.”
Atlanta cut longtime veterans John Abraham, Dunta Robinson, Michael Turner and Tyson Clabo during the offseason. Center Todd McClure, a 13-year starter, and linebacker Mike Peterson, a locker room leader, weren’t offered contracts.
Even so, with a core of Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez, receiver Roddy White, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and strong safety William Moore, the Falcons still brought back most of the team that earned the NFC’s top playoff seed last year.
Adding free agents Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora only fueled Super Bowl expectations.
Injuries to Jones, White, Weatherspoon, left tackle Sam Baker and defensive end Kroy Biermann disrupted continuity, the Falcons lost confidence and a free fall ensued that Smith doesn’t know how to stop.
“Football is a game of winning the line of scrimmage, it’s a game of taking advantage of the momentum and it’s playing with confidence,” Smith said. “And right now, I don’t believe we’re playing with a whole lot of confidence as a football, and we need to change that.”
Smith was harping Monday on his team’s inability to manage momentum swings.
On the first offensive possession, Jackson ran for 15 yards and had a 12-yard catch. Ryan and Gonzalez connected for an 18-yard gain, and the Falcons stood at Tampa Bay’s 35.
Gerald McCoy, though, beat right guard Peter Konz for sacks on two straight snaps, and Atlanta was forced to punt.
On the second defensive series, Vincent Jackson caught a 43-yard pass and Bobby Rainey ran for 23 yards before breaking off a 43-yard touchdown run. Ryan followed with his first interception, which Mason Foster picked off for a 37-yard touchdown return, and Atlanta trailed 17-3 midway through the second quarter.
Smith hinted at personnel changes, but it’s unclear how much they might help.
Antone Smith, a fourth-year veteran who’s played most of his career on special teams, will get some snaps at running back. He ran for a 50-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter at Tampa Bay, but he began his game with one career attempt for minus-3 yards.
Konz, a second-round draft pick last year, began the season as the starting center, but Joe Hawley took the job last week as Konz was moved to right guard in favor of Garrett Reynolds. Konz played so poorly, though, that Reynolds was put back at right guard.
Free safety Thomas DeCoud was pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of rookie Zeke Motta. Rookie Ryan Schraeder took over at right tackle for Jeremy Trueblood.