When a football team is 1-4 — regardless of whether that team was once considered a Super Bowl contender or never had much hope to being with — there can only be two reasons: 1) Bad players; 2) Bad coaching.
When a talented team like the Falcons is 1-4 — and even with injuries and obvious flaws on the offensive and defensive lines, they are talented — 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 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 or blow out the whole staff. But it has become clear that something is very wrong with this football team.
The Falcons just lost a game they desperately needed to win. They lost it at home and they lost it 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-one-yard-line bad.
Whatever precision and edge the Falcons have had before in the Smith era, they lack that now. They lost to the Jets, 30-28. Going into the bye week, the team with Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White has one more win than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Smith’s team has lost three straight for the first time in his tenure. He looked lost for answers afterward. That’s not a good sign.
An NFC teams 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, with a schedule that still includes Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans again.
Actually, can any game be penciled in as a likely win now?
“It don’t feel right. This just don’t feel right,” safety William Moore said. “This is like nothing I’ve ever been a part of.”
Osi Umenyiora didn’t come here for this. Steven Jackson, who has played one full game and part of a second, didn’t come here for this. Tony Gonzalez certainly didn’t come back for this.
Smith is catching heat in the world of social media. He should, even if his players are going to come to his defense.
Smith left himself open to second-guessing when he twice passed up on a field goal try near the end of the first half on first-and-goal from the one. The Falcons failed to score a touchdown and remained trailing 17-7. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the decision but rather the play-calling and the dreadful blocking.
Gonzalez on Smith catching heat in general: “I don’t know if [the criticism] is deserved, but fans are disappointed, and they should be. They had high expectations. So did we, all of us, everybody in this locker room. The fans are in the same boat, 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 asking ourselves those questions. 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 with the team during game weeks, neither in practices or in 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.
There’s a lot to question, on both sides of the ball. How do the Jets, who were averaging 17 points a game, roll a 30 in the Georgia Dome?
Falcons fans booed like they hadn’t done in the Georgia Dome since the team was shellacked by Green Bay 48-21 in the 2010 playoffs. The difference being, that was Green Bay. And it was a playoff game.
This was the Jets — in a season where their most recent fallback at quarterback is Geno Smith, who entered the evening with four touchdown passes, eight interceptions, two fumbles, 14 sacks and a rating of 68.6 (ranking 29th in the NFL). After three possessions, the Jets had 17 points.
The biggest issue remains the offensive line. Their starters Monday night, left to right: tackle Lamar Holmes (a third-round pick who can’t play, which is something neither management nor the coaching staff will publicly acknowledge); 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); guard Garrett Reynolds (who is just plain awful); and tackle Jeremy Trueblood (who was cut before the season by Washington).
The Falcons will go as their offense goes. But they can’t pass protect and they can’t run. Pretty pieces don’t matter when you can’t block. And suddenly, it seems like there are a lot of things they can’t do.