Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
“Anything short of a firing would be shocking. Owner Arthur Blank isn’t a big fan of the work being done by Coach Arthur Smith, and plenty of people around Blank at the most recent league meetings came away thinking a coaching search was imminent. Smith’s series of painful losses since then haven’t helped, nor has the revolving door at quarterback. “I don’t care what anybody writes, Arthur Smith isn’t safe,” the first GM said. “He’s there for one more week.” The other GM said: “They can’t sell tickets, man. They have all these first-round picks on offense and they can’t score. He has to make a change. You can’t sell Arthur Smith anymore.”
Smith has been open about his job status in recent weeks.
“When you lose games like this and we’ve lost some close games,” Smith said. “I know most games are close in this league. Certainly we’ve had chances. I think everybody gets frustrated right after. You put a lot into it. Does it break anybody’s spirit here? No. That’s what we’ve proven over and over again. We’ve done this to ourselves. It’s nobody’s fault, but your own. It starts with me, as it should. That’s what gives you a lot of confidence.”
The 9-7 loss to Carolina was the low point of this season. The Falcons rebounded with their best performance of the season and beat the Colts 29-10.
“We’ll let the season play out and go from there,” Blank said of coach Arthur Smith’s status in an interview with Jeff Hullinger of Georgia Public Broadcasting after the loss to the Panthers. He was not available to the media who regularly cover the team after the Falcons’ 37-17 loss to the Bears on Sunday.
The loss to the Bears was the fourth worst defeat during Smith’s tenure. They were beaten 43-3 by Dallas on Nov. 14, 2021, 25-0 by New England on Nov. 18, 2021 and 48-25 by Tom Brady and Tampa Bay on Sept. 18, 2021.
The three losses by 40, 25 and 23 points all occurred in Smith’s first season. The Falcons have played in a lot of close games over the past two seasons before things got out of hand late against the Bears.
We attended the Falcons’ community-service program at the Buckhead Theatre on Dec. 21. We approached Blank as he was taking his seat in the first row before the program started.
“How’s our coach doing?” Blank asked me.
I said, “Progress has been made. …”
Then I was politely told that he wanted to just enjoy the evening. So, there was nothing to report at that time.
Now, it seems like the Falcons must make the playoffs and go on a run. Perhaps nothing short of a trip the NFC Championship game likely would save Smith.
If Blank does fire Smith, he’ll have to explain why and who facilitated the pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson, which derailed the plan to have Matt Ryan groom his eventual successor.
It’s ironic that Ryan will be calling the game against the Saints for CBS on Sunday.
If the Falcons elect to retain Smith, he’ll have to make changes on the offense and be allowed to get a veteran signal-caller and draft one of the top prospects. Also, he’ll need to hire a passing-game coordinator to spruce up the passing attack.
Too many times this season, the spacing was been bad with receivers in the same area. Utilizing all of the weapons, including tight end Kyle Pitts, should be stressed. They’ll also have to add a top-flight wide receiver to play opposite of Drake London.
The defense has made strides this season and that work should continue.
“Nobody like what happened (on Sunday),” Smith said. “We’ve got life. However, crazy that it played out. That is what the situation is. Anytime that we play New Orleans it’s a big deal. Certainly, this game has a lot on the line. Some of it is out of our control. But again, that’s our own doing. To not control your own, we’ve got to get ready to go. Give everything we’ve got and go and beat New Orleans.”
2. Carr is on a heater: Saints quarterback Derek Carr is hot and is trying to carry the Saints to the playoffs.
The Saints and the Falcons, who are set to play at 1 p.m. Sunday at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, are in the same boat. Both need a win and some help to get into the playoffs. The Saints (8-8) have a shot as the division winner or possibly as one of the wild-card teams. The Falcons (7-9) have a shot as the division winner.
Carr is on a late-season heater. He’s completed 73% of his passes for 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions over the past four games. The Saints have won three of the past four games as Carr has completed 92 of 126 passes for 853 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s thrown only two interceptions over that stretch and has been sacked five times without fumbling.
“I think the protection has improved, and that also leads to him being a little bit more comfortable in the pocket,” Saints coach Dennis Allen told the New Orleans media Monday. “There are still some times I think we need to do a little better job of being on the same page with everything. But for the most part, we’ve been on the same page with what we’re seeing in the passing game.”
3. Saints blasted Bucs: Either the Saints or the Bucs have won the NFC South since 2016.
The Saints jumped to a 20-0 lead Sunday and went on to beat the Bucs 23-13 in Tampa to improve to 8-8 on the season.
Carr led the way, and the Saints received strong games from running backs Jamaal Williams and Alvin Kamara.
Carr completed 24 of 32 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 111.1.
Williams rushed 19 times for 58 yards and Kamara had 45 yards on 10 carries. The Saints stayed dedicated to the run, as they rushed 35 times for 108 yards.
Carr leaned on tight end Juwan Johnson in the passing game. Johnson caught 8 of 12 targets for 90 yards and a touchdown.
4. Taysom Hill is a problem: The Saints also used Taysom Hill in the backfield and at tight end. He was also 1-of-2 passing for 11 yards. He caught two passes for 30 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown. He rushed two times for 1 yard.
5. Series history: This will be the 109th regular-season meeting. The series is tied 54-54.
The Falcons won the previous meeting, 24-15 on Nov. 26. The Falcons have not swept the Saints since the 2016 season.
“It’s definitely a big game this week,” Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell said. “We are just going to take it how it is. We still control our own destiny. Just preparing for the Saints. We feel like it’s just a playoff game before the playoffs. We both have a lot at stake. It’s a must-win for us.”
In the previous meeting, the Falcons got a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown from safety Jessie Bates III.
6. Playoff miracle: The Falcons have not made the playoffs since the 2017 season.
The Saints last made the playoffs after the 2020 season, when they were 12-4 and lost in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“It would mean a lot,” Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell said. “The first time for me. It’s something that we’ve definitely been striving for. We’ve had the playoffs as a goal at the beginning of the season. There were some new faces on the roster. It’s about that time to break through and make this push and do the things we planned to do earlier this season.”
7. Saints’ playoff scenarios: The Saints can win the NFC South and earn the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs with a win over the Falcons and a loss or tie by Tampa Bay (8-8) against Carolina (2-14). If New Orleans ties the Falcons and the Buccaneers lose to the Panthers the Saints also will win the division.
The Saints can earn a wild-card spot with a win over the Falcons and losses or ties by Seattle (8-8) and Green Bay (8-8). If New Orleans ties the Falcons it will need Seattle and Green Bay to lose. Seattle plays Arizona (4-12) and Green Bay plays Chicago (7-9).
8. Where to watch, listen and livestream: What you should know about Sunday’s game between the Falcons (7-9) and the New Orleans Saints (8-8), which is set for 1 p.m. Sunday at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
TV: CBS. Play-by-Play: Andrew Catalon. Analysts: Tiki Barber and Matt Ryan. Sideline: Ashley Ross.
Local radio: 92.9 The Game. Play-by-play: Wes Durham. Analyst: Dave Archer. Executive producer: Beau Morgan. Engineer: Miller Pope. Pregame/postgame show – Hosts: Chris Goforth and Mike Johnson, with Dylan Matthews and Orin Romain as studio producers at 11 a.m.
Satellite radio: SiriusXM NFL Radio. Falcons channel 85, 225 or the app Colts 137, 380 or the app. (Games also are available on the SiriusXM app. Fans can find their team’s channel under the “NFL Play-by-Play” tab or by searching for their team’s name.)
Livestream: Streaming inside the Atlanta market: Fans in the Atlanta market can stream the game on the Atlanta Falcons app, NFL app (subscription required). Out of the country: GamePass International.
9. Depth chart: Here’s the depth chart for the Saints’ game:
WR Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge
TE Kyle Pitts, John FitzPatrick
LT Jake Matthews
LG Matthew Bergeron, Jovaughn Gwyn
C Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil
RG Chris Lindstrom, Kyle Hinton
RT Kaleb McGary, Storm Norton
TE Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt
WR Drake London, Scotty Miller, Van Jefferson
FB Tucker Fisk
RB Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier
Joker Cordarrelle Patterson
QB Taylor Heinicke, Desmond Ridder, Logan Woodside
DL Albert Huggins, LaCale London, Tommy Togiai
DL David Onyemata, Ta’Quon Graham
DE Calais Campbell, Zach Harrison, Joe Gaziano
OLB Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter
ILB Kaden Elliss
ILB Nate Landman, Andre Smith Jr.
OLB Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone
CB A.J. Terrell, Mike Hughes
S Jessie Bates III, Micah Abernathy
S DeMarcco Hellams, Richie Grant
NB Mike Hughes, Dee Alford
CB Clark Phillips III, Jeff Okudah, Tre Flowers
K Younghoe Koo
P Bradley Pinion
LS Liam McCullough
H Bradley Pinion
PR Dee Alford, Scotty Miller, Mike Hughes, Bijan Robinson
KOR Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Hughes
Th Bow Tie Chronicles