NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - INSIDE SLANT
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has no plans to fire coach Mike Smith despite a disappointing 2-9 record this season, according to multiple media outlets Thursday.
The reports circulated prior to the team's 17-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Blank has privately assured the sixth-year coach that he will be returning for the 2014 season, according to a report from the NFL Network.
The Falcons, coming off an NFC Championship Game appearance in 2012, had high expectations going into 2013.
Blank gave a vote of confidence to Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff following last Sunday's 41-28 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I absolutely, do," Blank said of his support. "They've earned it over the last five years. This is a tough business. We've had a lot of injuries and there have been a lot of issues on top of the injuries and that is pretty obvious.
"The guys are proven leaders and proven by success. Their records speak for themselves. They'll do the work that has to be done with my full support. We'll get back to what we have to do. Right now, we have (five) more games that we have to play this year and we plan on competing hard in those games, winning if not all, as many as we can."
Smith was hired in 2008 to take over a team that went 4-12 in 2007. With rookie quarterback Matt Ryan running the offense, the Falcons went 11-5 in 2008 and made the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Under Smith, the Falcons have made the playoffs four of the past five seasons, including three years in a row from 2010-12. Smith led the Falcons to a 13-3 regular season and a trip to the NFC championship last year.
Meanwhile, Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and the Saints' defense took care of business in Thursday's win.
Brees threw two touchdown passes, including a 44-yard strike to tight end Graham in the second quarter, leading the Saints to their sixth victory in their last seven meetings with the Falcons. Graham finished with five catches for 100 yards and his 10th touchdown of the season.
Atlanta lost its fifth consecutive game and was mathematically eliminated from the NFC South race.
The improved New Orleans defense kept the Falcons out of the end zone the final three quarters and ended quarterback Matt Ryan's 16-game streak with at least one touchdown pass. The Saints sacked Ryan five times.
Still, Atlanta was down only four and driving at the start of the fourth quarter. Saints linebacker Keyunta Dawson stripped Falcons wide receiver Darius Johnson, and cornerback Corey White recovered the fumble inside the Saints 20-yard line to thwart Atlanta's best scoring chance of the second half.
The Falcons' defense also played well, holding the Saints to three points in the second half, but the offense couldn't deliver a go-ahead score.
Ryan completed 30 of 39 passes for 297 yards.
Brees finished 23 of 33 for 278 yards and orchestrated a balanced attack that gained 103 yards on the ground.
The Falcons got off to a fast start, forcing a three-and-out on New Orleans' first series and scoring on their opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Steven Jackson. It was Jackson's first rushing touchdown of the season, a revealing stat for the league's 31st-ranked rushing offense.
The Saints answered with Brees touchdown passes on their next two drives. He found tight end Ben Watson in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown on third-and-goal and then connected with Graham for a 44-yard score that helped the Saints take a 14-13 lead into halftime.
NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - NOTES, QUOTES
--Falcons QB Matt Ryan was sacked by DT Akiem Hicks in the first half on a play that looked similar to the hit that San Francisco LB Ahmad Brooks put on Saints QB Drew Brees last week. Brooks was called for hitting the quarterback high and eventually was fined by the league. Hicks hit Ryan in the facemask, but no penalty was called.
--Falcons starting CB Desmond Trufant injured a thigh in the first half and left the game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just keep coming up short. As a veteran on this team, I have to be a leader and keep telling the guys to stay positive and keep working. I feel like we will turn around as long as we keep putting in the necessary work. It's only a matter of time" - Falcons S William Moore.
NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
What we learned
The Falcons will be looking to pinpoint some young players with potential as they play out the season. WR Darius Johnson appears to be one of those players. Johnson caught six passes for 67 yards, but did have a costly fumble in Saints' territory early in the fourth quarter. Johnson and Harry Douglas have both stepped up, since top wideout Julio Jones was lost to a foot injury in early October.
Falcons RB Steven Jackson had a season-high 63 yards and scored his first rushing touchdown of the season in the loss to the Saints. The veteran back was a prized offseason acquisition for the Falcons, but he's struggled to stay healthy, and the ground game has suffered. Atlanta entered the game ranked 31st in rushing yards per game.