Falcons’ Lee Smith eager for his return to Buffalo

FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons tight end Lee Smith is eager for his return to Buffalo.

The Falcons (7-8) are set to face the Buffalo Bills (9-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

Over the offseason, the Falcons acquired Smith from the Bills for a seventh-round draft pick. The veteran played with the Bills from 2011-14 and from 2019-20. He was with the Raiders from 2015-18.

He has provided the Falcons with blocking power and has helped with the development of rookie tight end Kyle Pitts.

“So yeah, man, going up into this atmosphere that I was a part of for six years and playing against this group of men (whom) I consider if not the best roster in the league, one of the best rosters,” Smith said. “They are playing good football in December when you’re supposed to play good football.”

Smith was a popular member of the Bills.

“He’s made a mark on this organization (during) two different stints with the Bills,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “He’s a very well-liked guy in our building here. We really appreciate his leadership that he gave us when I was here.”

While mostly a blocker for the Falcons, Smith has caught nine of 11 targets for 65 yards and a touchdown. He has played 297 offensive snaps (33%).

“It’s always nice to see players go on and do great things,” McDermott said. “From the film that I’ve watched, he’s getting quite a bit of playing time. I know he’s closer to home as well down there, which is always good.”

Smith, who is from Knoxville, showed his worth on running back Cordarrelle Patterson’s 6-yard touchdown run against Detroit on Sunday. He cleared Patterson’s path with a pancake block.

Smith looks forward to returning to Buffalo as a key cog in the Falcons’ offense.

“I’ve always said that the best thing about pro football is the people,” Smith said. “Obviously a lot of great things come with this job. It’s the best job in the world. But for me personally, the best thing about this gig for the last 11 years for me has always been the people, the relationships with guys from every nook and cranny of this country. And that’s what’s special to me.”

He plans to see former teammates that he celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving with.

“It’s going to be a special deal for me and my family,” Smith said. “I love those guys. I’ll never deny it. I’ll pay plenty of fines for pregame hugs with all my buddies up there, and I’m willing to do it.

“Those are my dudes, and nobody’s happier for them when they win than me.”

The Falcons need a victory to keep their miniscule playoff hopes – 2% -- alive. Smith plans to do his part against his old buddies.

“I’m a Falcon now, so I’m going to bring a little (bit of an) angry man with me and have a little fun with those guys,” Smith said. “Micah Hyde especially, I’m coming after him No. 1.”

Smith, 34, knows this could be his last chance to return to the playoffs. He’s enjoyed working with rookie tight end Kyle Pitts.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Smith said. “He’s going to go to the Hall of Fame one day, if the good Lord keeps him healthy. He’s the total package.”

They have had to overcome the age difference. Pitts turned 21 this season.

“He’s closer in age to my kids,” Smith noted.

Pitts said, “He’s pretty hip, don’t let him fool you. I am younger, but we communicate well.”

Smith has admired how Pitts has handled his rookie season.

“You don’t know whether to (expletive) or go blind when you walk into this thing as a rookie,” Smith said. “You just don’t. You don’t know what it is. You don’t know what 17 weeks looks like? ... He has impressed me as much as any rookie I’ve ever been around.”

Smith noted Pitts’ progression within the offense.

“As you’ve watched him, there wasn’t no rookie wall,” Smith said. “It’s just been steady growth, and he’s a guy that turned 21 years old during the season with the pressure of replacing Julio Jones. Being a top-five pick. The highest picked tight end ever. All the guy does is just set records.”

Smith is genuine when discussing Pitts.

“The best thing about him is that he’s humble,” Smith said. “He doesn’t walk around here like he’s arrived because he went to the Pro Bowl, or that he’s about to hit 1,000 yards receiving this week in Buffalo, hopefully. He’s the same guy. He’s the same innocent, goofy rookie he was in minicamp before he caught a damn pass.”

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