Originally written December 29, 2011 on Fox Sports South:
Since taking over as head coach in January 2008, coach Mike Smith has taken the franchise to new heights in the regular season. The Falcons have posted winning seasons in each of his four seasons. They are set to make their third playoff appearance in the last four years. But they must rebound from a difficult-to-swallow 45-16 loss to archrival New Orleans with just one regular-season game to play. The 29-point margin of the defeat was the largest during Smith's tenure. The Falcons were drubbed by 27 points by the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs last season and by 27 points by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. "We obviously didn't play our best football," Smith said of the loss to the Saints. "We gave up way too many plays. Our third-down efficiency was not what it needs to be. We had some opportunities to score when we were down in the red zone and didn't get it done." Smith would not jump into the issue of whether the Saints ran up the score late while trying to get Drew Brees the single-season passing mark. With a 22-point lead, the Saints kept throwing late in the fourth quarter to help Brees break the record by three yards. "It's our job as a defense to stop the offense," Smith said. "It's the offense's job to try to gain yards and they're going to gain yards in whatever way that they think they need to do it and we didn't get it done." The Falcons close with the reeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then will likely either face New Orleans, the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants in the wild-card round of the playoffs. "I'll be quite frank with you, I'm not concerned about our seeding, who we're going to play," Smith said. "There's a lot of football to be played this last weekend. I think we have to focus on what we can control and that's going out and playing effective football against Tampa Bay." Then he can turn his attention to the playoffs. The Falcons are 0-2 in the playoffs under Smith. They were upset both times. In 2008, they were favored to beat Arizona, but loss. Last season, they were the NFC's No. 1 seed at 13-3, but were routed 48-21 by Green Bay at the Georgia Dome. "We'll find out after the game where we're going in terms of the second season," Smith said. "We're excited about the opportunity. It doesn't feel good right now after the performance that we had (against New Orleans), but we can't worry about the playoffs." This will be the first time in franchise history that the Falcons have made the playoffs in consecutive years. Smith will join Leeman Bennett as the only coaches in franchise history to take teams to the playoffs three times. Bennett guided the Falcons to the playoffs after the 1978, 1980 and 1982 seasons. Dan Reeves guided them to the playoffs twice and to their only Super Bowl appearance after the 1998 season. Jerry Glanville (1991), June Jones (1995) and Jim Mora (2004) each guided the Falcons to the playoffs once. "I can assure you, for our organization, our goal is not just to make the playoffs," Smith said. "Our goals are much higher than that and we have a roadmap that you have to follow to get there."
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