Mike Smith clock management costs Atlanta Falcons in 26-24 loss


The Atlanta Falcons finally played a real home game against the Cleveland Browns in the Georgia Dome on Sunday. I say finally, because it had been 42 days since the Falcons set foot on friendly turf. That’s insane if you think about it, and it’s something the NFL should really consider when they make the schedules. No NFL team should be away from their own fans for 6 weeks. That’s just stupid from a marketing and money-making standpoint. But, the NFL doesn’t care and that’s why the Falcons had to play a “home” game in London. Even so, the Atlanta Falcons did not exactly look comfortable in the Dome on their way to a last-second loss.

In the first half, Matt Ryan looked off. He threw a bad interception in the second quarter, and then fumbled on a sack in the next series. However, the Browns weren’t in the mood to take advantage of those mistakes. They only managed to put up two field goals to capitalize on the Falcons’ errors, which was very chivalrous of them. Brian Hoyer really made the biggest mistake of the quarter, though. Hoyer threw a terrible interception right to an Atlanta defender, and that set up Matt Ryan’s drive down the field for the Falcons second touchdown. That made it 14-13 Falcons at the half.

In the second half, the Brown struck first with a field goal on their first possession to retake the lead 16-14. The Falcons stumbled on their first possession that ended with a curious Matt Ryan sack. I say curious because he managed to escape, then ran right back to where the defender was lying on the ground. Of course the defender got up and hit him. As the announcers put it, “It was like watching a deer run back in front of a car.” Very apt.

When Cleveland got the ball back, they engineered a very balanced drive down the field inside the Falcons red zone. That’s when Isiah Crowell got the ball on an inside pitch, and he managed to make five guys miss, and stayed on his feet long enough to get to the end zone. That would make it 23-14, and the home crowd suddenly very nervous. After all, Crowell is a home product since he used to play for the University of Georgia, before he was kicked off the team for various illegal activities. To see him suddenly break loose is bittersweet against the home team.

As the 4th quarter waned on, down by 9, the Falcons had to have a scoring drive. They answered with a long drive that went 14 plays and 80 yards, culminating in a Stephen Jackson touchdown run to punch it in. With that, the Falcons trailed by two points, and Cleveland would try to grind out some clock on their way to an answer. The question was whether the Falcons defense could get a stop, and set up a chance for another game-winning Matt Bryant field goal.

It didn’t seem like it. Cleveland methodically passed their way down the field to within the ten yard line. However, Brian Hoyer got flushed out of the pocket and tried to throw the ball away, but Desmond Trufant came down with the pass in the back of the end zone for an interception. That was a huge play for the Falcons since a touchdown would have likely put the game away. After so many mistakes by the Browns, and such awful play by the Falcons, could they pull this one out with one good drive?

Nope, the Falcons stalled out and had to punt to the Browns. Then, the Browns did the unthinkable. They ran the ball easy for 8 yards on first down, but took a false start on second down to make it 2nd and 8. You’d think they would still run given Hoyer’s struggles all day long. Nah, they decided to throw twice, stopping the clock on the first incompletely, and getting intercepted for the third time on the second attempt. Suddenly, the Falcons were in business with the ball on the 50 yard line, and a little over two minutes remaining.

The Falcons moved the chains to get them into range, but stumbled to get the second first down that would have iced the game away on a field goal try. Instead, Mike Smith called a timeout during that drive, saving the Browns from having to call a time out. Would that matter? Of course it would, because giving teams extra time outs in close games is about as smart as giving a five-year-old a nail gun. Matt Bryant ended up making the 53 yard field goal to give the Falcons the lead, but the important part was that Cleveland still had all their timeouts left and 44 seconds on the clock. Way too much time.

Cleveland managed to complete 11, 24, 15, and 11 yard passes in a row to get them into field goal range, using their three timeouts, and spiking the ball with five seconds left. They then kicked the game winning field goal to stun the Falcons in an astounding awful fashion in the Georgia dome. It defies logic how ridiculous Mike Smith’s timeout decisions were in this game, and it cost the team the win. He has proven time and again that he has zero understanding of clock management, and I don’t understand how the Falcons can continue to let him coach out the season when he’s been directly responsible for two of the worst losses in Falcons history.

I’ve never been so mad at a team this year. That includes the Braves, Hawks, Dawgs, everybody. The Falcons are taking terrible to new levels, playing Lucy to the fans Charlie Brown. First place? Kiss that goodbye. Even if they could finish on top, they still haven’t proven they can beat a team outside the division. At this point I question if the defense can stop anybody of consequence at all. In the end, it’s another loss, and I shouldn’t care as much as I do. But they fooled us all. We thought they had it, and the Falcons ripped defeat from the jaws of victory.

Rise up? Nah. This team fell down.