Update: Mike Smith started his Monday press conference by saying he “would have done some things differently” in those final 55 seconds and that he “didn’t do my best” to put his players in position to win.
Today’s print column — it’s available on myajc — concluded with this correspondent asserting that the Atlanta Falcons need a new coach. I’d hinted around for a few weeks, but Sunday’s loss proved, at least for me, the point of no return.
For five years, Mike Smith made this team win. (At least in the regular season.) The Falcons’ past two losses — separated by 28 days and the Atlantic Ocean — have come because of time mismanagement. We can say the Falcons have a thin roster or a bad defense or an overmatched defensive coordinator and we’d be right on all accounts, but still: They’d be 6-5 if they hadn’t stopped the clock twice for the opponent on Oct. 26 in Wembley and on Sunday in the Dome.
They’d be 6-5, as opposed to 4-7, if the head coach had handled one of the few things that is entirely the head coach’s province. They’d be 6-5 if Mike Smith hadn’t become to clock-botching as Kleenex is to tissue — the brand name.
It brings no pleasure to say that Smith needs to go. I consider him a good man, and for five years he was the best coach this franchise has ever known. (Talk about Dan Reeves, another good man who led the Falcons to their one Super Bowl, all you want, but he had two winning seasons in seven. Smith went 5-for-his-first-5.) I was willing to grant Smith the benefit of the doubt after last season’s 4-12, but that benefit has been blown to smithereens.
The Falcons lost to the Browns, who themselves tried everything imaginable to lose, because they stopped the clock twice — first on a timeout at 0:55, then with an incompletion at 0:49 — before Matt Bryant put the home side ahead with a 53-yard field goal at 0:44. The two timeouts Cleveland was allowed to save were the difference in this game, just as the 70 seconds gifted the Lions (who were out of timeouts) were the difference in London. Even a good coach can have a bad day. But if you have nothing but bad days, are you still a good coach?
This is my 31st season tracking the Falcons. I’ve seen a lot of coaches — eight in all, not counting three interims — and a lot of lousy coaching. What Smith has done twice in a month is as egregious as anything Dan Henning ever managed, and I’ve long considered Henning the standard for bad NFL coaching.
Even if Smith were coaching the daylights out of every game, the record since 2012 — the Falcons are 8-19 the past 1.7 seasons — would probably have gotten him canned. But we can’t say he has become an innocent bystander, a dogged (borrowing from Dan Jenkins) victim of inexorable fate. Having turned two winnable games into beyond-belief losses, Smith deserves to be fired for cause.