NFL Wire News

McKay says Falcons can contend ‘very quickly’


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — After firing coach Mike Smith, the Atlanta Falcons stated that the new coach will be expected to compete for the Super Bowl “very quickly.”

With quarterback Matt Ryan in his prime, the Falcons do not view their roster and operation as one that needs to be blown up and thrown into rebuilding mode.

“We’ll look at different qualities since the foundation is very good and this person is not coming into a destabilized situation,” Falcons president Rich McKay said. “They are coming into a pretty good situation. We are very confident that we can compete for championships very quickly.”

The Falcons have requested permission to interview Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

When he was hired in 2008, Smith came into a much different situation. Michael Vick was headed off to prison in a dogfighting scandal and the veterans were about ready to revolt against coach Bobby Petrino, who quit with three games left in the season.

“The franchise was really destabilized,” McKay said. “The franchise quarterback, who was the hero of the town, was gone. The coach left. We were in a really tough spot.”

Smith emerged as the leading candidate and was hired to his first head-coaching position. He then went on to become the franchise’s winningest coach.

“He can’t get enough credit for a building that was really challenged, from a player side and organizational side,” McKay said. “Through his leadership and who he is, he really helped us create an environment that we are all happy to work in.”

The peak was reaching the NFC Championship Game after the 2012 season. The San Francisco 49ers rallied from a 17-0 deficit that day to win 28-24 at the Georgia Dome and advance to the Super Bowl.

It has been downhill for the Falcons ever since. After coaxing future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez out of retirement last year, the Falcons were expected to be Super Bowl contenders. But a rash of injuries and perceived lack of toughness greased the slide for a 4-12 skid, followed by this season’s 6-10 campaign.

The Falcons were beset with injuries this year as four offensive line starters and one reserve were lost. The revamped offensive line took a while to come together, but it was good enough to keep the Falcons in the hunt for the NFC South title in a down season for the division.

The Falcons blew a 21-point lead to Detroit on Oct. 26 in London when the Falcons left enough time on the clock for the Lions to score late. They later blew a late lead against Cleveland. A day after that 26-24 loss, Smith admitted to mismanaging the clock.

Also, the Falcons’ defense finished last in the league. Injuries played a part on that side of the ball as the team’s top two defenders — linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and safety William Moore — were out. Weatherspoon missed the entire season with an Achilles injury, while Moore was in and out of the lineup with a shoulder injury.

“The seven years I have been here, he has been first class,” Ryan said of Smith. “He shows up every day. He works really hard. He is incredibly consistent. You know where you stand with him as a player, and I think the guys respect that. I have nothing but a lot of respect for Mike.”

Smith also said he had some regrets.

“I wish I would’ve done a whole lot of things better,” Smith said. “Ultimately, I’m the one that’s held responsible. This is a 6-10 football team, and there’s one person that the record’s attributed to, and that’s the head football coach. We were 6-10 in 2014.

“There are a whole lot of things I could’ve done differently and better. They’re all learning experiences, and I will take those and in the future make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes that I made this season.”

NOTES: The team has retained search firm Korn Ferry, which was used by the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs in searches that culminated in the hirings of Bill O’Brien and Andy Reid. … The Falcons’ 2015 schedule includes non-division home games vs. the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts and road games vs. the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.


–PASSING OFFENSE: F — Matt Ryan completed 29 of 47 passes for 260 yards and no touchdowns. He was intercepted twice and both were returned for touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 58.8. Roddy White caught 8 of 12 targets for 104 yards but had a costly fumble. Harry Douglas didn’t give chase on Tre Boston’s interception return for a touchdown.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: F — With Steven Jackson out, backups Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman were held in check. They had just 33 yards rushing before picking up some yards in garbage time.

–PASS DEFENSE: B — The secondary was really tested as the Panthers completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards. The numbers could have been worse as Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin had two dropped passes — one on a deep pass.

–RUSH DEFENSE: F — The Panthers powered the ball at the Falcons as four players rushed for more than 40 yards. Quarterback Cam Newton had 51 yards. Running back Jonathan Stewart had 49 yards, wide receiver Philly Brown had 41 yards and Fozzy Whittaker had 41 yards.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — Devin Hester had a 66-yard return, but the offense couldn’t capitalize on the short field and had to settle for a field goal. Punter Matt Bosher averaged 48 yards net on five punts and placed four inside the 20.

–COACHING: F — During Mike Smith’s tenure, the Falcons normally played hard. This was one of the rare blowouts. The Falcons got behind 10-0 early and then 24-3 by halftime. The offense couldn’t block the Panthers and, with no running game, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had few options. The defense played the run well against Arizona, Pittsburgh and New Orleans, but it was pushed around by the Panthers.

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