When a football team is 1-4 — regardless of whether that team once was considered a Super Bowl contender or never had much hope to begin with — there can be only two reasons: 1) bad players; 2) bad coaching.
When a talented team like the Falcons is 1-4 — even with injuries and obvious flaws on the offensive and defensive lines — there can be only one reason for such a woeful start: bad coaching. Because right now, either Mike Smith and his assistants are making incorrect decisions or the team’s players aren’t listening to them. Both are equally bad.
This isn’t a “Fire Mike Smith” column. Nor is this meant to start a movement to dump offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter or defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. But it has become clear that something is very wrong with this team beyond some areas on the depth chart.
The Falcons lost a game Monday night that they desperately needed to win. They lost at home, and they lost to a bad team. The fact they lost it on a last-second field goal is secondary because no game against the New York Jets should’ve been that close to begin with.
Even with their flaws, the Falcons shouldn’t be so bad that they’re 1-4. They shouldn’t be allow-Geno Smith-to-lead-three-touchdown-drives bad. Or allow-the-Jets-to-drive-for-a-winning-field-goal bad. Or can’t-gain-a-yard-with-two-tries-from-the-opponent’s-1-yard-line bad.
Whatever precision and edge the Falcons have had during the Smith era is absent now. After losing to a punching bag of a franchise, the Falcons have one more win than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. So who’s the punching bag?
Smith’s team has lost three consecutive for the first time in his tenure. He looked lost for answers afterward. That’s not a good sign.
An NFC team isn’t likely to make the playoffs with fewer than 10 wins. Do the math. The Falcons would need to go 9-2 the rest of the season. Their remaining schedule includes Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans again. Good luck.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is as good as ever. Tight end Tony Gonzalez wasn’t great in the first three games, but he has been spectacular in the past two. But look at the rest of the expected pyrotechnic offense: wide receiver Julio Jones (foot injury) may be lost for the season. Wide receiver Roddy White has labored on an ankle sprain. Running back Steven Jackson has been out since the first quarter of the second game.
After the loss, safety William Moore bemoaned: “It don’t feel right. This just don’t feel right. This is like nothing I’ve ever been a part of.”
Jackson and Osi Umenyiora didn’t come here for this. Gonzalez certainly didn’t come back for this.
Smith is catching increasing heat among fans. He left himself open to second-guessing again when, trailing the Jets 17-7, he twice passed on an easy field-goal try near the end of the first half to go for a touchdown. The Falcons were stopped short. (I didn’t have a problem with the decision but rather the play-calling and the dreadful blocking.)
Gonzalez said he’s not surprised that Smith is getting criticized but said, “I don’t know if it’s deserved, but fans are disappointed, and they should be. They had high expectations. The fans are in the same boat (as us), especially considering everything that happened last year, being one play away from the Super Bowl. This is not what we envisioned, but this is reality.
“I know fans are going to react. Reporters are going to react. You guys are going to write your stories. You have your opinions, we have our opinions, and we may be thinking some of the same things, even if we’re not saying it publicly. We’re seeing what is it that’s not allowing us to be successful.
“We hurt as much as the fans. We hurt more than them. This is our livelihood. The only reason I came back was to be on a successful team.”
Gonzalez said nothing seems amiss in practices or meetings.
“Nothing feels out of sync until the game’s over when I look up at the scoreboard and we’re not ahead,” he said.
Fans in the Georgia Dome booed like they hadn’t since the 2010 playoffs, when the team was shellacked by Green Bay 48-21. The difference: That was Green Bay. And it was a playoff game.
This was the Jets, in October. Their most recent fallback at quarterback is Geno Smith, who entered the game with four touchdown passes, eight interceptions, two fumbles, 14 sacks and a rating of 68.6 (ranking 29th in the NFL). After three possessions against the Falcons, the Jets had 17 points.
Smith finished with 16-of-20 passing for 199 yards, three touchdowns and a 147.7 rating.
The Falcons’ biggest issue remains the offensive line. Their starters against the Jets: left tackle Lamar Holmes (a draft pick who can’t play, which is something neither Smith nor general manager Thomas Dimitroff will acknowledge); left guard Justin Blalock (the best player on the line but, unfortunately, not a take-charge, leader type, which the group desperately needs); center Peter Konz (who has not been the physical upgrade from Todd McClure that the team had hoped and obviously lacks McClure’s experience and intelligence); right guard Garrett Reynolds (not an NFL-caliber starter); and tackle Jeremy Trueblood (who was cut before the season by Washington).
The Falcons will go as their offense goes. But the line can’t pass protect or run block, and now so many of the pretty pieces around the line are falling.
Suddenly, there are a lot of things this team can’t do.