Just two years ago, the Atlanta Falcons were the class of the National Football League, at least of the NFC, as an offensive juggernaut that dazzled the league and came within one errant pass from making the Super Bowl.
That magic carpet ride of a season crashed and burned against archrivals New Orleans Saints in the 2012 NFC Championship Game and the team has sputtered ever since, going 10-22 the past two seasons.
Their current state of affairs was crystallized Sunday when they had an opportunity to save not only their season, but perhaps the job of their coach, the reeling and embattled Mike Smith. With both the Falcons and the Carolina Panthers entering the weekend sporting losing records — but with a chance to win their division and get into the playoffs — the Falcons crapped the bed at home.
Behind two “pick 6” specialties by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and three interceptions overall, the Panthers demolished the Falcons 34-3 inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome in a game that was nearly half empty by halftime because of the bludgeoning of their home team.
With the Falcons’ quickly circling the drain with a 6-10 record after a 4-14 record last year, after being close to the summit in 2012, has unleashed a torrent of speculation that this will be Smith’s last season lording over a broken franchise with a toothless defense. Of course, Smith was not in the mood to entertain questions about his immediate future. But ESPN reported that the Falcons have hired a search firm to find Smith’s replacement.
“Look guys, I’m not going to comment about what you guys talk about and what you guys have,” Smith told reporters. “There are distractions every day you go to work. When you go to work, you have distractions at your work. When I go to work, I have distractions at my work. And I’m not going to comment about some report that probably has no validity to it.”
Smith defiantly tried to squash any speculation about his future, although the dots have all but been connected.
“I’ve answered this many times, and I’m here as the head football coach until Arthur Blank tells me anything different,” Smith said.