Here’s what Falcons coach Arthur Smith had to say after the 37-34 win over the Panthers in overtime on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium:
Opening statement: “Proud of our team and the resiliency, and just want to give a lot of the credit to Steve Wilks. That’s a tough situation to be in. He’s a (heck) of a coach, and I can’t give Carolina enough credit. What he’s done as interim, that’s not easy. Didn’t get a real long shot in Arizona, especially. That guy is a (heck) of a football coach, and got to give Carolina and Steve Wilks a lot of credit.”
On the emotional toll of the final 15 minutes of the game: “Well, you just try to stay as even as possible. That’s what you train yourself to do as a play caller, a head coach, and you try as best you can to stay neutral. Only think I got upset – I let my emotions (out on the) possible call, trying to take a chunk to get in field-goal range. I didn’t get a good look at it, but that was the only time I wasn’t real happy with myself to show that emotion. You’ve got to make a lot of decisions. There were a lot of things that came up. Do you take the penalty on the extra point, or do you try to take it (on the kickoff) because you’re potentially down one, got 12 seconds, one timeout? Do you take it for field position and see if you can get a chunk, use the timeout and let (Younghoe) Koo win it there?
“A lot of things going on, so you (choose) to move them back, you happen to miss it, take a shot. We didn’t think – kind of blocked it up to try to take one (and) see what would happen. Took it to overtime, took the ball, you know, tried to take another shot off a look we had seen and they played it well, and they hit Marcus (Mariota) as he threw it. They got the ball back. Decided to freeze them.
“I mean, there is a lot going on there, and you got to stay even, because if you don’t, you’re going to hurt the team. That’s what I pride myself on is being neutral.”
On whether he talked to special teams coordinator Marquice Williams when deciding whether to enforce the penalty on the PAT or kickoff: “We were.”
On the decision to enforce the penalty on the PAT: “That situation there. I mean, that was one of those decisions you get paid to make. Whether you take the penalty there, move them back, which is a longer extra point, or – because, again, if he makes it, if you don’t take it, it’s a one-point game and do you think your odds are better with 12 seconds and a timeout to get a chunk and see if Koo could go win it? You’re weighing those, and then obviously we made the right call because it went our way. I’m sure you guys had a million stories you could have gone with. Good luck tonight. Probably had to delete a lot of different stories there.”
On the composure of the team: “I mean, we got a group of guys that it can – it’s never one side. We feel like we’re a team, and we (are) all three phases, and we got guys that have stepped up. I’m very proud of them. I don’t give a crap what the stats say. I’m proud of Cornell Armstrong and (Darren) Hall. Guys kept swinging. Get in the situation and it wasn’t a true Hail Mary, so you’re backed up trying to keep the ball in bounds and give P.J. (Walker) credit, because you’re not in a true Hail Mary situation, so you’re in a deep Cover-2, trying to keep inbounds because you’re protecting a touchdown, and holy (heck), he rolled out and launched it. That’s what you’re seeing, risk/reward. Three-man rush, pressure, four-man rush.
“He made a (heck) of a throw, but that was the situation there. If we weren’t in a pure Hail Mary, they still had plenty of time. He was able to get the play extension and launched it.”
On QB Marcus Mariota and WR Damiere Byrd making big plays Sunday: “Yeah, both those guys. Obviously, the game, we came out, something we had been working on. Didn’t start very great for us early on. Had the drop, took the shot, they picked it, came back, and I thought played pretty (darn) good football. He’s a resilient guy.
“Same thing in overtime. Tried to take a shot, risk/reward. Obviously, they played it better than we did. For him to come back, get the ball back in that play, that was – that’s why we believe in Marcus. Not many guys can make that play, and the moment is never too big for him.
“Damiere, another guy, been in our program. Guy that has been around the league. Just kept working, and Damiere is a guy we got a lot of faith in. He’s proved himself the last two weeks. Caught the 75-yarder in Cincy and then today on that one. Marcus was able to extend that play.
“And then really the finish and the effort on the guys not only when Damiere caught it, when he put his foot in the ground, the guys and the effort of the whole team there was pretty cool to watch.”
On the value of having a kicker such as Younghoe Koo: “It’s really all three of those guys. Liam (McCullough), and Bradley (Pinion) and Koo. Those are – you hope you’re never talking on extra point about your holder and snapper, so you got to give them credit. Bradley Pinion has been a (heck) of an acquisition for us, a guy that can go in there if you want to to kick touchbacks. I think he hit the goal post on one of them. I believe he hit the back of it. He’s got different club selections as a punter. We are happy Bradley is on this team. He’s a (darn) good holder, too. And then Younghoe, like I said, we got all the faith in the world in Younghoe. That’s why I called it on third down. Something happens, get back up and we’ll kick it again. Just happy for these guys and this team.”
On having opportunities to end the game and how he weighs winning with missing opportunities to end the game earlier: “There is a lot of them, right? I mean, got a chance to end it, and I have to look at the tape. Thought we had a pretty good look at it. We ended up fourth-and-3 and you’re weighing, do you go for it? Again, you’re protecting a field goal. They’ve got no timeouts. So, make them go score a touchdown, right? You kick it there. I would have to look at that, too. I thought we had them drawing offside; obviously that’s not the case. You feel pretty good because it’s really going to be checkdowns, but when he’s able to extend that play, that was an unbelievable throw. He got behind us and – but there is always things like that to correct. The way we started the game, that’s a good defense, and we had a turnover early, and they were playing the field-position game. Always, always stuff to look at.”
On the resilience of Mariota, particularly in overtime coming back from an interception and leading a game-winning drive: “Yeah, I mean, guy that has been through a lot. Win the Heisman, you’re a No. 2 pick, goes through a million staff changes in Tennessee. Going into a contract year, gets benched. Can’t say enough about how he handled that situation. Come back and he goes out to Vegas and sits and watches and didn’t think he would ever get another opportunity.
“It’s a unique situation here. He’s got such a calm demeanor and understands that you’re never out it. All of our guys believe that. You’re never out of it. That was one of the craziest games I think I’ve ever been a part of. Happy to get the win any way we can, but I think I got a little grayer today.”
On Mariota’s pocket elusiveness and ability to find the open man Sunday: “Yeah, you got to pick a certain way to rush him. You can’t just go up the middle. You turn your back to him too much he can hurt you, which happened in San Francisco when they pressured and essentially had their back to them in a hybrid zone pressure. So, the way they rush him sometimes they’ll try to dent the pocket in, which allows you to get around it. If you go around it and he steps up and he finds it, it’s like pick your poison. The rush plans you’re seeing on third down and the schemes, whether they pressure or how they rush the tackles, that allowed him to get out there.”
On being in first in the NFC South eight weeks in: “Just happy to get the win. Like I said, Monday or really tonight, got to look at the tape, and we got to get on to the Chargers. It’s hard to win in this league, and we’ll enjoy the win, but there is a lot of football left.”
On keeping the team even-keeled after a crazy game like this one: “There is a lot to learn from, right? It broke our way, and sometimes you need that to happen. So, I mean, you hope you learned a lesson after the San Francisco game, and I think our guys have. It’s hard. It’s a challenge every week. That’s what we love about the NFL and I love coaching in it. It’s the most competitive league in professional sports, and every game is so important.”
On calling a timeout to ice Panthers K Eddy Pineiro in overtime: “Only thing you got left in your pocket. As I said, you go down with everything you got. It’s like that’s the only analogy I can give. Hadn’t rung the bell yet, right, so one more punch. Last available tactic, and thankfully went our way.”
On whether he thought icing Pineiro would work: “Yeah. Wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t.”
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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule
Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26
Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27
Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23
Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20
Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15
Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14
Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17
Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT
Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.
Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.
Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.
Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD
Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.
Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD
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