Falcons coach admits mistakes in final minute
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — In a rare admission for a coach, Atlanta’s Mike Smith conceded Monday that his decisions in the final minute cost the Falcons a chance to beat the Cleveland Browns.
Smith faced intense criticism after calling a timeout with 55 seconds left to set up low-percentage pass along the sideline to fourth receiver Devin Hester on third-and-2.
After the throw was batted down, stopping the clock again, Matt Bryant kicked a 53-yard field goal that put the Falcons ahead. But Cleveland had all three timeouts and enough time to get in position for Billy Cundiff’s 37-yard field goal on the final play, giving the Browns a 26-24 victory.
Before taking any questions at his regular news conference, Smith said he wanted to address what happened.
“After reflecting on and analyzing how that played out, I would have done some things differently,” he said. “Given an opportunity to think about it through the night and doing some analyzing, I didn’t do the things that needed to be done to put our guys in the best position to win the game. There are a lot of plays in a football game that can affect the outcome, and I didn’t do my best to help us win.”
Smith already came under fire for his clock-management in a 22-21 loss to the Detroit Lions on Oct. 26.
The Falcons (4-7) squandered a 21-0 halftime lead in that game, but still had a chance to run out the clock after when they picked up a first down inside Detroit territory just before the 2-minute warning. The Lions only had one timeout remaining, but the Falcons stopped the clock two other times with a holding penalty and an incomplete pass.
That left Detroit with 1:38 after the Falcons punted, enough time to drive down the field for a game-winning field goal with no time on the clock.
Now, it’s happened again to Atlanta.
Put this one, Smith said, squarely on him.
“As a coach, your intention is always to put your players in the best position to win,” he said. “Usually, that comes down to a handful of plays, and I didn’t put the guys in the best position.”
Some of Smith’s players came to his defense, saying they didn’t do a good job of closing the game out after Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer threw three crucial interceptions.
The Falcons were largely outplayed, which was evident from the Browns’ commanding 475-315 edge in total yards. But Hoyer’s mistakes gave Atlanta a chance to steal a game.
“We have Smitty’s back,” linebacker Paul Worrilow said. “We need to do a better job out on the field.”
Indeed, on Cleveland’s final possession, Atlanta’s defense gave up four straight completions for 61 yards to set up Cundiff’s field goal.
“Everybody makes mistakes. Players make mistakes. Coaches make mistakes. That’s why it’s a team. It’s the ultimate team sport,” safety Dwight Lowery said. “These are just situations we have to learn from and, thankfully, we’re still in a position where we can have an impact this next week and in the weeks to come.”
The Falcons were only a half-game out of first place in the woeful NFC South as they awaited the Monday night game in New Orleans, where the Saints (4-6) were hosting the Baltimore Ravens.
But Atlanta knows it squandered an opportunity to gain an upper hand in the division race and take some of the heat off Smith, whose future in Atlanta is being questioned even though he’s the most successful coach in franchise history.
“There should be no finger-pointing,” Lowery said. “Your job is on the line every day. There’s somebody else that’s qualified to have your job. We approach it in the manner that this is our job, and we can lose this job quickly. So we’ve got to perform to the best of our ability at all times. As far as criticism and things of that nature, that’s going to happen whether you win or lose.
“You’ve got to take that with a grain of salt and just focus on the things you can control.”
Smith wouldn’t comment specifically on the questionable pass to Hester, a play that was apparently sent in by offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter after the Falcons had plenty of time to consider their options.
It doesn’t really matter now.
“We wanted to get what we felt like was the best play for us,” Smith said. “I didn’t do my job as the head football coach and put our guys in the best position they could possibly be in that situation. My responsibility as the head coach is to make sure that happens.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963