published Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Coach Mike Smith: Atlanta Falcons go backward

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After another one-and-done in the playoffs, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said Monday that the season cannot be called a success.

Smith delivered milestones for the franchise with the Falcons' fourth straight winning season and second straight playoff appearance, but he promised more in-depth evaluations of every player this offseason following Sunday's 24-2 loss to the New York Giants.

"It definitely needs a closer look because we did not advance any further than we did the previous year," Smith said. "To sit here and say that this season was a success or more successful than the previous year, it wasn't simply because we did not advance."

The loss to the Giants left Smith 0-3 in the playoffs in his four years in Atlanta. It was the second straight lopsided defeat in the playoffs, following last year's 48-21 home loss to Green Bay.

Smith said the two seasons were not the same. Last year's team had a first-round bye after winning 13 regular-season games. This year's team was 10-6 before the loss in the wild-card round.

"You're never really staying the same," he said. "You can say you lost in your first game last year, you lost in your first game this year. You're either getting better or you're going backward. There's no staying the same in this business. You're going in one or the other direction. There is no neutral."

Smith acknowledged the Falcons moved in the wrong direction.

"Obviously I said we didn't get better, so that would definitely be the case," he said. "We did not win as many football games. We were more consistent last year. We were inconsistent [this year]. We said it from the beginning of the season, the way that our games played out -- up, down, up, down, up, down."

It was a much less forgiving evaluation of his team than one day after last year's playoff loss to the Packers when the coach said "The sky has not fallen" and "I don't think we can overreact."

After a draft-day trade added Alabama receiver Julio Jones as a starter, the Falcons were expected to contend for a spot in the Super Bowl. Instead, they were swept by NFC South champion New Orleans, lost at home to Green Bay and were handed road losses at Chicago, Tampa Bay and Houston.

Only two of the Falcons' 10 wins came against teams that finished with winning records -- Detroit and Tennessee.

Smith said his meetings with players Monday were difficult.

"We were all disappointed in the outcome of the game," he said. "We didn't play up to our capabilities. That was obvious. We are disappointed, extremely disappointed in the way that we played as a football team. Our goal is to do everything in our power not to have that happen again. We want to make sure that we do that."

Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked only twice and did not throw an interception, but he was hit seven other times and faced continual pressure. He was stopped on two fourth-and-1 runs.

"They had pressure on me all day," Ryan said. "Their front line really played very well, but that's what we expected. We didn't make the plays on critical third and fourth downs. They have a very good defense and one of the best front fours we have played this year.

"We have to learn and move on. We had some opportunities, but we couldn't get it done. Our guys played hard up front, but we couldn't make any plays down the field like we usually do."

Ryan completed 24 of 41 passes for only 199 yards.

It was a painfully meager postseason showing for Ryan after he set the franchise record with 4,177 yards passing in the regular season.

"We never got into a rhythm," Ryan said. "We never moved the ball consistently. We had some opportunities. We fell short on two fourth downs. We just came up short. In a playoff game against a very good football team, you have to make those plays and we didn't make them."

Smith said players and coaches are frustrated "simply because we didn't get the job done."

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