Falcons focusing on what’s next in attempt to make playoffs

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

FLOWERY BRANCH — When Arthur Smith was a quality-control assistant for Washington, the team seemingly was out of the race for the 2007 playoffs following a loss at home to the Bills. It was the team’s fourth consecutive loss. There were four games remaining.

Washington, coached by Joe Gibbs, won its next four games to finish 9-7 to make the playoffs as a wild card.

The Falcons, with Smith as the coach, aren’t in as bad of a spot as Washington was then, but there are lessons that Smith has drawn from as he tries to lead his team on a five-game win streak in its last five games, which would give them a good chance to make the playoffs. The team (5-7) trails Tampa Bay by one game in the loss column. It will host Pittsburgh at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Smith said the key is to focus only on what’s next.

“Even if you feel like you’re down two games, reality is, nothing’s more important this one,” Smith said. “The first thing, you get a bye, and then you’ve got a whole quarter (of the season) left. So that’s why -- they’re all important -- but the reality of where we are, the opportunity available, is unique in my opinion.”

Some players are sharpening their focus even more.

“When it comes to practice, I’m worried about one rep,” kicker Younghoe Koo said. “Same thing on game day, just got to worry about that one rep, and then the same thing again, and then we’ll look back at it and just see what happened afterwards.”

Quarterback Marcus Mariota said that staying focused, while appreciating that the team is playing meaningful games, also is important. He said he frequently speaks with the team’s less-experienced players about the need to give everything they have in each rep in practice as well as the games.

He said understanding the big picture -- making the playoffs -- is how to balance playing urgently with being able to keep a focus on what’s the next thing that needs doing.

“I think Arthur does a great job of helping us understand where we’re at,” Mariota said. “And then from there, in order to achieve what you want to achieve, you’ve got to be focused on the present and taking care of your play and doing your job one job at a time.”

Even if the record doesn’t reflect progress, the Falcons seem to be doing mostly a good job. Smith said he thinks the team is executing much better. He said they don’t commit a lot of penalties (they have committed the fewest in the NFL). They don’t commit a lot of mental errors. They don’t beat themselves.

They just need to put four quarters together, and do it again, and again, and again.

“Does that make you feel better, that you’re 5-7, no, but we have a chance, and these guys no matter what’s happened, grind it out, and it’s going to pay off, and it has paid off,” Smith said. “Some of these young guys, they know what it’s like to be in pressure, and that’s the world that we live in. I’ve used this reference before, and where we are right now, we’ll play in the mud, and we’re going to fight you and do everything that we can to make sure that we can have a shot to win the game.”

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