After another one-and-done in the playoffs, Falcons coach Mike Smith says his team's season can't be called a success.
Smith delivered milestones for the franchise with the Falcons' fourth straight winning season and second straight playoff appearance. But he promised more in-depth evaluations of every
player this offseason following Sunday's 24-2 loss to the New York Giants.
"It definitely needs a closer look because we did not advance any further than we did the previous year," Smith said. "To sit here and say that this season was a success or more successful than the previous year, it wasn't simply because we did not advance."
The loss to the Giants left Smith 0-3 in the playoffs in his four years in Atlanta. It was the second straight lopsided defeat in the playoffs, following last year's 48-21 home loss to Green
Smith said the two seasons were not the same. Last year's team had a first-round bye after winning 13 regular-season games. This year's team was 10-6 before the loss in the wild-card round.
"You're never really staying the same," he said. "You can say you lost in your first game last year, you lost in your first game this year. You're either getting better or you're going backward. There's no staying the same in this business. You're going in one
or the other direction. There is no neutral."
Smith acknowledged the Falcons moved in the wrong direction.
"Obviously I said we didn't get better, so that would definitely be the case," he said. "We did not win as many football games. We were more consistent last year. We were inconsistent. We said it from the beginning of the season, the way that our games played out -- up, down, up, down, up, down."
It was a much less forgiving evaluation of his team than one day after last year's playoff loss to the Packers when the coach said, "The sky has not fallen" and "I don't think we can overreact."
After a draft-day trade added Alabama receiver Julio Jones as a starter, the Falcons were expected to contend for a spot in the Super Bowl. Instead, they were swept by NFC South champion New Orleans, lost at home to Green Bay and were handed road losses at Chicago, Tampa Bay and Houston.
Only two of the Falcons' 10 wins came against teams that finished with winning records -- Detroit and Tennessee.
Smith said his meetings with players on Monday were difficult.
"We were all disappointed in the outcome of the game," he said. "We didn't play up to our capabilities. That was obvious. We are disappointed, extremely disappointed in the way that we played as a football team. Our goal is to do everything in our power not to have that happen again. We want to make sure that we do that."
The Falcons' only points against the Giants came on a safety.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked only twice and did not throw an interception but he was hit seven other times and faced constant pressure. He was stopped on two fourth-and-one runs.
"They had pressure on me all day," Ryan said. "Their front line really played very well, but that's what we expected. We didn't make the plays on critical third and fourth downs. They have
a very good defense and one of the best front fours we have played this year.
"We have to learn and move on. We had some opportunities but we couldn't get it done. Our guys played hard up front, but we couldn't make any plays down the field like we usually do."
Ryan completed 24 of 41 passes for only 199 yards.
It was a painfully meager postseason showing for Ryan after he set the franchise record with 4,177 yards passing in the regular season.
"We never got into a rhythm," Ryan said. "We never moved the ball consistently. We had some opportunities. We fell short on two fourth downs. We just came up short. In a playoff game against a very good football team, you have to make those plays and we didn't make them."
Smith said players and coaches are frustrated "simply because we didn't get the job done."
At least one coach won't be back.
Smith announced he must replace defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who left to head Auburn's defense.
"Brian has been an integral part of our success here over the last four years," Smith said. "I want to thank Brian and his family for all that they've done for our organization. This is a
decision Brian and his family have made and I want to personally thank Brian for of his hard work and all the work he has done to make us successful here in Atlanta."
Smith would not say if former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio would be a candidate to replace VanGorder. Smith was the Jaguars' defensive coordinator under Del Rio before he was hired by the Falcons.
Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has interviews to be the head coach with Miami and Jacksonville.
Below are Coach Smith's comments from his final news conference of the season at Flowery Branch:
"We are all disappointed in the outcome of the game yesterday. We didn't play up to our capabilities; that was obvious. We are disappointed, extremely disappointed, in the way that we played as a football team. Our goal is to do everything in our power not to have that happen again. We want to make sure that we do that. And before I take any questions, I've got some news that I would like to announce, not regarding Sunday's game. Coach Brian VanGorder has accepted the position of defensive coordinator at Auburn University. Brian has been an integral part of our success here over the last four years. I want to thank Brian and his family for all that they've done for our organization. This is a decision that Brian and his family have made and I want to personally thank Brian for all of his hard work and all the work that he's done to make us successful here in Atlanta."
On the evaluation process going forward and the team's calendar for evaluating the team:
"We've got a busy calendar coming up, in terms of what we need to get done as a team. It's not the offseason; it's the non-playing game season for our organization. We're not playing games, but we're working very hard. The first thing that we have to do is we have to evaluate our roster from top to bottom and have meetings in terms of the evaluations of our players from this season. We've got a lot of decisions to make in regards to players that are reaching free agency. The second thing is that the all-star games have already started. Some of our members of our staff have been down there watching the different all-star games. We have the East-West game and the Senior Bowl coming up at the end of the month and then we will turn our focus to the combine. The combine will take place at the end of February, six days in Indianapolis. And then after that, our focus will go to workouts, where we'll go out and watch guys in their workouts all around the country and put our draft plans together. So that's kind of our non-playing season routine for the next couple of months."
On whether Jack Del Rio will be a candidate for the vacant defensive coordinator position:
"I'm not going to comment on that position at this point in time. Again, it's something that just came about and we'll go through the due process of getting the best defensive coordinator for our football team."
On what he tells the fans that are frustrated with the recent playoff performances of the team:
"Well, that I'm very frustrated. Very frustrated. There's sixty-something guys in that meeting room today that are frustrated. We have set the bar very high here with what we have accomplished as a football team and the expectations and the markers are much higher now and we've got to reach those expectations. And that's what I'll tell the fans. We're very disappointed in the way that we performed in the playoff game yesterday."
On what kind of qualities he will look for in a defensive coordinator:
"Again, I'm not going to comment on that position at this point in time. We will do our due diligence as an organization and get the guy that's going to give us the best opportunity to take the next step."
On whether he will consider 3-4 and 4-3 defensive coordinators:
"Guys, all of those things are part of the process that we will go through. Obviously, our drafting has been for a 4-3 defense."
On the timeline of Auburn's talks with Brian VanGorder and whether he was aware of the talks:
"Yes, I was aware of it. I really don't want to get into the details and the timing of this news and the reason that I just wanted to let you guys know here today and announce it is because it's being announced simultaneously at Auburn University as we speak."
On how big of a concern the failures in the running game, especially in short-yardage situations will be moving forward:
"It's a big concern. You've got confidence in your football team that they're going to be able to move the football when it's half a yard and there were many times this season where we were not able to get that accomplished. In the past, our fourth down efficiency has been very good. This year, it's not so good."
On the reports that RB Jason Snelling broke his jaw in yesterday's game:
"Jason Snelling was injured in the ballgame yesterday. Jason is a very tough guy, played through a lot of pain and I'm not going to comment exactly on what happened. He is getting it taken care of today."
On whether there was permission granted for Offensive Coordinator Mike Mularkey to interview for the vacant Miami Dolphins' head coaching position:
"Again guys, to say that you have granted permission, you can't stop it from happening. So it's a forgone conclusion that if they are requesting permission that it's going to be granted. It's going to be a matter of the timing of it and that's set by NFL rules for the wild card teams. So it's really a process that the League sets. We are able to put some parameters on it in terms of the timing of when the interviews are going to take place."
On what the team's offensive philosophy was going into the season:
"The philosophy is no different than what we've had in the past. We want to control the line of scrimmage both in running and throwing the football. We wanted to be more explosive. I think the numbers will bear out that we were a more explosive football team in terms of creating explosive plays, plays of 20 yards or longer, this season compared to last season. Philosophically, we're going to try to take advantage of the strengths of our football team and what our guys are capable of doing and at the core, we want to put them in the best possible positions to be successful."
On whether the play calling on a fourth-and-one play was impacted because they did not have a lead blocker with Snelling injured:
"Again, I'm not going to comment on any specific play in the ballgame yesterday. We attempted the fourth-and-ones. Those decisions are made well in advance. They're not made by happen-stance. They're made well in advance. We made the decision that we were going to go for it and these were the plays that we were going to run in those situations and we have a group of them. Not just for fourth-and-one, but for all of our fourth down scenarios. Could be fourth-and-two, fourth-and-three, fourth-and-six. You've got to have those contingency plans for when they arise in a ballgame."
On whether the fact that Snelling was hurt dictated the play call:
"Well, I would say that the lead blocker is not healthy, it would dictate. And again, I don't want to talk about specific plays. I think that's talking strategy."
On whether there was miscommunication at the end of the half, in terms of calling a timeout on the final drive:
"No. At that point in time, the thought process, in my mind, was that we were going to have the ball at the start of the second half and that we were going to take a couple of opportunities. We didn't get it on first down. We got the ball down the field and then we made the decision to take one last shot for a hail mary."
On the strengths of the defense:
"I think the strengths of our defense is that our guys play hard, they have a very good understanding of run fits. We, statistically, were not where we want to be and where we need to be."
On how different this offseason will be moving forward with several free agents on the roster:
"Every offseason is different. This one has its unique set of circumstances that you have to work through and that's the great thing of being a coach and being a part of the organization, in terms of being the co-team builder with (General Manager) Thomas Dimitroff is that we have a unique situation each and every year. There's no two that are the same, just like there's no two weeks of preparation that are the same. We will do a very in-depth, diagnostic evaluation of everything that we do in our football operations and we'll go through that process. What is the timeframe on it; it happens every offseason. Certain decisions are made at different times based on the timeline of when the decision has to be made. You've got free agency as the first thing, you've got the draft, you've got, now, we have a decision on our coaching staff that we haven't had to make. We've never had to make it in the past. This will be the first year that we have to deal with that. It's always changing. Just a different set of circumstances each and every year."
On whether this is the first time that the team's "process" of moving forward has appeared to need a closer look:
"It definitely needs a closer look because we did not advance any further than we did the previous year. So, to sit here and say that this season was a success or was more successful than the previous year, it wasn't simply because we didn't advance. You're never really staying the same, so even though you can say, ‘Well, you lost in the first game last year. You lost in your first game this year.' Hey, you're either getting better or you're going backwards. There's no staying the same in this business. You're going in one or the other direction. There is no neutral."
On whether he would say the team took a step back from last season:
"Well, obviously, I said we didn't get better so that would definitely be the case. We did not win as many football games. We were more consistent last year. We were inconsistent. We've said it from the very beginning of the season, the way that our games played out: up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down. Had a little three-game win streak. Never put two back-to-back losses together but then we got going where we didn't put a long streak together like we did last season."
On whether last year's playoff loss or yesterday's playoff loss was more frustrating than the other:
"Every loss that we have is frustrating to me, to our players, to our fans, and it's hard to grade which one has more sense of frustration. I think that both of the games that you're talking about, because of the finality of them, are very frustrating. The way that we played in those two ballgames, very frustrating. We are a better football team than what we did show in the ballgame on Sunday in New York."
On whether beating teams with better records next year will help prepare them more for a playoff run:
"You can look at that. I don't know the exact numbers, but I think of the 12 teams, we were like number five or six in terms of records against winning teams that were participating in the playoffs. You want to beat the best teams in the League. You want to be in that upper echelon. You want to be considered an elite team, a sustainable team and to do that, you've got to beat the best in the League."
On whether anything has happened this year that would push him to evaluate the offense and the offensive philosophy of a run-first attack:
"Guys, in terms of the evaluation, we take a hard look and evaluate everything in every offseason and it's going to be no different this year. In terms of our offense, we were inconsistent this year. We were inconsistent running the ball at times. Obviously, we talked about it just last week that we kind of changed the trend and even though we threw the ball for a record-setting number of yards, our quarterback did, I still think that we left plays out there in the passing game. I think that we left plays out there in the running game and I believe that there's going to come a time in every season that you're going to have to be able to both run and throw the football. You cannot be one-dimensional. Every team that's still playing in the playoffs, they made be known that they are a passing team but when they have to run the football or when it dictates that they can run the football, they can run it."
On whether he was disappointed in the lack of explosive, game-changing plays in the game Sunday:
"Yes, we didn't make big plays. I think that we played solid in special teams yesterday. I thought that unit, basically, we got a push or possibly a win in there through the first half of the ballgame. I thought that our defense did a really good job except for run fit. We mis-fit a run. They ran the ball down inside the 10-yard line and ended up scoring their touchdown there in the first half. Through the third quarter, I thought that the defense did a very nice job until we gave up the 70-yard touchdown pass and then, from that point on, I don't think that we played very well defensively. Offensively, we did not score any touchdowns and, basically, that says it. When you don't score any touchdowns, you definitely decrease your chances of being successful."
On whether the potential replacing of both coordinators will key an overhaul in the staff:
"Again, I'm not going to comment on the two coordinators. We definitely know right now as we speak, that we will be having a new defensive coordinator and we'll start the process in terms of putting candidates together and getting guys in here to come and visit with us."
On how that coaching search will affect the offseason plans moving forward:
"It definitely changes it because it's going to be of the upmost importance. Normally at this time of the year, you are working with free agency, looking at free agents first. It's going to take priority number one in terms of the emphasis that I will be spending on it."
On any insight as to why VanGorder would make the decision to leave for Auburn:
"Again, guys, family decision. Brian felt it was best for him and his family. Brian has done an outstanding job. The arrow on our defense from the day that we got here has been going up and I believe it continues to go up. Again, I thank Brian for all of his hard work in everything that he's done. He's an outstanding football coach and even a better person."
On whether he will take some things from the players' frustrations:
"Again, I talk to our players all the time. That's the great thing that we have is that we have an open line of communication. It's very important that you're very communicative, starting with Mr. Blank. That's how he wants this organization to be run and I'm not going to comment about any of the conversations that I have with our players. Right now, we're all frustrated, simply because we didn't get the job done."
On the play of QB Matt Ryan and what facets he expects him to improve on for next season:
"I think Matt had a very good season for us; set the all-time passing record for the Atlanta Falcons. I think every quarterback has to always try to improve on his accuracy and his decision making and, sometimes, the accuracy is involved in whether you throw a ball or you don't throw a ball and the decision making is based on whether you throw it to this guy or you throw it to someone else."
On Ryan's play yesterday:
"Well, I thought Matt had a solid game. We had some tough situations that we weren't able to convert. We needed to do a better job of converting on third down."
On how much of the evaluation of the team will revolve around the offensive line:
"They'll get no more scrutiny than anybody else, including me. I can assure you that. Again, we're going to do a very thorough, diagnostic approach. We've got to be critical in all of our evaluations. I think it's very important for us and where we're at as a football team right now that we have an open mind in everything that we do in this evaluation process because we have set the markers much higher than where we finished this season."
On the status of DE John Abraham and whether he talked to Abraham today to gauge his mindset:
"Well, again, I've talked to all the guys today. My conversation with John was just like any other time when we don't get the success that we want to have. When you lose a football game and especially with the finality of it that you have when you're playing in the playoffs, it's not a fun day. It's not a good time. We're all disappointed. We're disappointed in the way that we performed as a football team. Our guys deserved better than that, our fans deserved better than that and our organization does."
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