Falcons coach Mike Smith wouldn’t even entertain the notion.
Did Atlanta’s defense played too conservatively during Miami’s game-winning 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on Sunday?
“Absolutely not!,” said Smith Monday, when asked about defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s calls. “Absolutely not! Again, we have to go out and execute and we did not execute in those situations.”
The Falcons had been getting good pressure with their pass rush throughout the game, accumulating five sacks and six quarterback hits on Miami’s Ryan Tannehill. But guarding a three-point lead with the game on the line and 4:46 to play, the Falcons elected to drop seven player into pass coverage, abandon the blitzes and they were picked apart.
Tannehill, a second-year player, completed 9 of 12 passes for 69 yards in the Dolphins’ march to a 27-23 victory.
“We never really got them into and third-and-long situation in the last drive,” Smith said. “If you look at third downs, they were all third-and-mediums where they could get the ball out quickly.”
Falcons linebacker Akeem Dent, who was having a strong day blitzing, was not on the field during the key drive. Dent had 1 1/2 sacks and two quarterbacks hits, but rookie Paul Worrilow was sent on the field for his coverage skills.
Needing to make a stop to win the game, the Falcons kept one of their key players on the sideline.
“When it’s crunch time, of course, everybody on the team wants to be in the game,” Dent said. “But it was just something that we worked through. Everybody on this team has enough talent to go out there and make plays.”
The Falcons couldn’t find an answer for Tannehill, who converted on third-and-1 from Miami’s 34, third-and-2 from Atlanta’s 49 and third-and-4 from Atlanta’s 33 during the drive.
Smith didn’t want to second-guess the decision to play coverage instead of blitzing.
“We were in a situation where we had the lead in the ball game,” Smith said. “We went out there and played pretty tight coverage. When (they crossed) the 50, it becomes a challenge situation. We did not play as tight of coverage as we needed to in that situation.
“We’ve got to learn from that. We’ve got to play a lot tighter coverage when we are in a challenge situation and that was a challenge situation.”
By a “challenge situation,” Smith said he meant, “You want to get up there and challenge the receivers.”
Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant made two tackles in the drive. He brought down Miami’s Rishard Matthews after he gained 9 yards to pick up the first first down in the drive.
“They were in their quick-rhythm passing game,” Trufant said.
Worrilow also had a tackle on the drive on a six-yard Lamar Miller run up the middle. Joplo Bartu, another rookie linebacker, was in coverage on Chris Clay’s 21-yard reception that moved the ball down to the 8-yard line.
“It’s a learning curve for our young players,” Smith said. “They did a good job. There were a number of positives in that football game. We had a lot of young guys out there playing. They stepped up and made plays and made it a close ball game.”
It was not a good day all around for the secondary, which missed several tackles and had a blown coverage that led to Miami wide receiver Brian Hartline’s 18-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter.
“We’re the last line of defense in the secondary,” Trufant said. “So if we miss tackles, that leads to explosive plays. That gets back to the fundamentals of just wrapping up.”
He didn’t want to dwell on Hartline’s catch.
“It wasn’t just that play. The whole game was disheartening because we know that we can play a lot better,” Trufant said. “We had the lead and we still could have pulled it out.”
Free safety Thomas DeCoud, who had several missed tackles, did not dispute the defensive play-calling.
“When it’s crunch time, we have to make the plays that are needed,” DeCoud said. “There were a couple of plays that got us in that situation in the first place, but it’s a game of inches and we have to start winning those inches.
“We were able to apply some pressure, but we have to close game outs and find ways to win.”