Counting Down the Falcons' 10 Worst Losses of the Mike Smith Era in Atlanta

Al BruceContributor IDecember 6, 2013

Counting Down the Falcons' 10 Worst Losses of the Mike Smith Era in Atlanta

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    There's no doubt that this has been a disappointing year for the Atlanta Falcons and head coach Mike Smith. Instead of competing for a Super Bowl, the team finds itself in the midst of the race for the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

    While this will be the team's first losing season since 2007, the 59-33 career record Smith has built with the Falcons hasn't come without its share of embarrassing losses.

    Some fans may consider Sunday's game against Green Bay to be a favorable matchup for Atlanta since Green Bay may not have Aaron Rodgers, but the Falcons have proven they're capable in these kinds of games in the past.

    Given that, I decided to kick off our Friday conversation by opening the floor for discussion on Atlanta's 10 worst losses of the Mike Smith era.

    To come up with the rankings, I evaluated each loss based on the importance of the game, the opponent's margin of victory, the quality of the opponent, where the game was played and how the game was lost.

    After you've run down the list, the comments section is yours to agree or disagree.  Let's begin.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    All historical references are via Pro-Football-Reference.com, and all stats are via ESPN.com.

10. 2013 Regular Season, Week 3 at Miami Dolphins

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    Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    Final Score:  Dolphins 27, Falcons 23

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    The Falcons led this game the entire way until Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill found his tight end Dion Jones in the end zone for a game-winning one-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds remaining.

    It seemed like Atlanta did everything it could to lose this game, and that's why this game is on the list. 

    Just before the half, the Falcons chose to kick a field goal rather than try to convert a 4th-and-1 from the Miami 2-yard line that could have put the team up by 10 points. On the ensuing drive, the Dolphins knifed through the Atlanta defense with a well-executed two-minute drill that led to another field goal that quickly negated Atlanta's kick.

    In the second half, the Falcons fumbled a punt return deep in their own territory and missed a field goal in route to blowing a 20-10 lead they had built in the third quarter. Leading 23-20, the Falcons opted to go with soft coverage in the secondary that allowed Miami to march right down the field with another two-minute drill that looked eerily similar to the one they executed before the end of the first half.

    In the process of losing, Atlanta wasted a two-sack, two-forced-fumble effort from Osi Umenyiora and a nine-catch, 115-yard performance from Julio Jones.

    The Dolphins lost four straight games after winning this game against Atlanta.

9. 2013 NFC Championship Game vs. San Francisco 49ers

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Final Score:  49ers 28, Falcons 24

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Falcons jumped out 17-0 against the San Francisco 49ers in franchise's second appearance in the conference title game and looked like they were bound for New Orleans. Instead, Atlanta will be haunted by several missed opportunities in this game for some time.

    Early in the game, Matt Ryan couldn't connect with an open Jacquizz Rodgers for a score that would've put the Falcons up 14-0, and Atlanta was forced to kick a field goal. 

    With the Falcons leading 24-21 in the second half, Ryan fumbled a snap deep in San Francisco territory and threw an interception after Roddy White slipped on his route. Later, Harry Douglas appeared to have a clear path to the end zone before he fell down after catching a long pass from Matt Ryan.

    This heartbreaking loss was sealed when pressure caused Ryan to force a throw to a covered Roddy White on 4th-and-4 from around the San Francisco 10-yard line with the Niners leading 28-24.

    Atlanta's explosive offense didn't score a point in the second half of this game.

8. 2013 Regular Season, Week 10 vs. Seattle Seahawks

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Final Score:  Seahawks 33, Falcons 10

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    This loss makes this largely because of the Seattle Seahawks' margin of victory and the manner in which they beat what looked like an uninspired Falcons squad.

    The Seahawks dominated the Falcons physically in a game that oftentimes looked like a pro team playing a college team along both lines. Interestingly enough, the game looked that way even though Seattle played this game without both of its starting offensive tackles.

    Roddy White returned from a three-week absence for this contest, but Atlanta's offense couldn't do much of anything against Seattle.

    The 23-point margin of victory represented the largest road margin of victory of the season for Seattle and the biggest home loss for Atlanta since a 34-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 in a game that Matt Ryan and Michael Turner missed.

     

7. 2011 Regular Season, Week 1 at Chicago Bears

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Final Score:  Bears 30, Falcons 12

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    This was the first regular-season game of 2011, and many Falcons fans were eager to get a look at what Atlanta's offense would look like with newly acquired rookie Julio Jones.

    Atlanta came into this game as a road favorite against the Bears, but once the game started, it was clear that the experts in Vegas had this one wrong.

    The vaunted Falcons offense didn't score an offensive touchdown as Julius Peppers tossed Sam Baker around like a rag doll, and the Bears sacked Matt Ryan four times and forced him to cough up a fumble and an interception. 

    Defensively, Atlanta allowed a Bears offense that featured Matt Forte and lesser skill talents like Roy Williams, Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox to march up and down the field on the way to blasting the Falcons 30-12.

6. 2011 Regular Season, Week 13 at Houston Texans

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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    Final Score:  Texans 17, Falcons 10

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    It looked as though the 7-4 Falcons had a golden opportunity to gain some ground on the 8-3 Saints in the NFC South race headed into this contest because injuries had forced the Texans to start third-string quarterback and Marietta, Ga. native T.J. Yates at quarterback.

    Instead of seizing the opportunity, Atlanta allowed the Texans to keep the game close before the Falcons beat themselves with a combination of penalties, blown assignments, dropped passes and turnovers.

    In the face of constant pressure, Matt Ryan only completed 20 of his 47 pass attempts on the game as the Falcons lost a Week 13 game to a rookie quarterback who was making the first start of his career.

5. 2013 Regular Season, Week 5 vs. New York Jets

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Final Score:  Jets 30, Falcons 28

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    Through 12 games, New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith has an average passer rating of just 60.4. Thing is, Smith can thank the Falcons for eight of the points on his paltry rating. 

    That's because while Smith has thrown five touchdown passes and 19 interceptions against the other 11 teams he's played this year, he lit up Atlanta for three touchdowns and 199 yards during a Jets win that saw Smith complete 16 of his 20 pass attempts. 

    In fact, Smith has only thrown one touchdown pass in seven games since he played the Falcons.

    As if that's not embarrassing enough for Atlanta, this contest aired on ESPN's Monday Night Football at a time when the 1-3 Falcons needed a win in the worst way to save their 2013 season.

    What Smith did to Atlanta's defense, the Jets' defensive line did to Atlanta's offense. Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson practically lived in Atlanta's backfield, and the Falcons' offensive line couldn't get any push up front on short fourth-down attempt from the Jets' 1-yard line just before halftime.

    With this loss, the Falcons dropped to 1-4 and lost their second straight home game. 

     

4. 2011 Regular Season, Week 16 at New Orleans Saints

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Final Score:  Saints 45, Falcons 16

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    The Falcons are just 3-9 against the New Orleans Saints since Mike Smith took over in 2008, but 11 of the last 12 meetings between these teams have been competitive matchups. This game makes the list largely because it was the exception to that rule.

    In a nationally televised rematch of a game that New Orleans won in overtime a few weeks earlier, the Falcons fell flat on their faces at the Superdome in crucial Week 16 divisional contest.

    Atlanta led the game 10-7 after the first quarter, but the Saints outscored them 38-6 the rest of the way.

    The Saints put the icing on the cake when Drew Brees connected with Darren Sproles for a nine-yard touchdown pass that put Brees over Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season at the time.

    New Orleans clinched the NFC South title with the victory.

3. 2013 Regular Season, Week 11 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Final Score:  Buccaneers 41, Falcons 28

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    The Atlanta Falcons brought a 2-7 record into this Week 11 contest against Tampa Bay squad that had won only once in nine tries. Even though a depleted Falcons team had managed to beat Tampa at the Georgia Dome earlier in the season, a revamped Atlanta squad was no match for the Greg Schiano's Bucs on this day.

    Before this game, Tampa hadn't scored more than 30 points in any game this season (it should be noted that Tampa also hasn't scored more than 30 since this game). Nevertheless, midway through the third quarter of this game, Tampa held a 38-6 lead over an Atlanta team that looked like it had quit on Mike Smith before coming back to make the final score look somewhat respectable.

    Like Geno Smith before him, Bucs running back Bobby Rainey had a career day against Atlanta, tearing through the Falcons defense for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Rainey has a total 177 yards in 10 other career NFL games.

2. 2011 NFC Divisional Playoffs vs. Green Bay Packers

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Final Score:  Packers 48, Falcons 21

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    Everything seemed like it was going to turn out well for the Falcons in the team's first home playoff game under Mike Smith when Eric Weems ignited an eruption from the Georgia Dome crowd with 102-yard kick return for a touchdown that gave Atlanta a 14-7 lead over the visiting Green Bay Packers.

    Sadly, that was the end of the highlight reel for the Falcons on this fateful night. Aaron Rodgers took Green Bay's offense right back down the field for a touchdown to answer Weems' score for the first of 35 unanswered points by Green Bay.

    The most memorable moment from this game probably was when Packers cornerback Tramon Williams stepped in front of a pass Matt Ryan threw across his body to Roddy White and raced down the field for a 70-yard interception return that stole all of the game's momentum and put Green Bay up 28-14 at halftime.

    Green Bay didn't attempt a punt in this game.

     

1. 2012 NFC Wild Card Playoffs at New York Giants

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Final Score:  Giants 24, Falcons 2

    Why This Loss Makes the List

    It was close, but Atlanta's 2011 wild-card loss to the New York Giants edged out the 2010 divisional-playoff loss to the Packers for me mainly because Atlanta's offense failed to score a point in this game.

    The fact Atlanta failed to score an offensive point in this game was ironic because a few months earlier, the Falcons traded five draft picks to move up and take Julio Jones in an effort to make the offense more explosive for playoff matchups like this one with with New York.

    While Atlanta played with the Packers for almost all of the first half in the previous year's playoff defeat, the team looked like it didn't even belong in the postseason against the Giants.

    In what's been a common theme in a lot of the defeats we've discussed, New York beat the Falcons up in the trenches and stopped the Falcons on two key short fourth-down conversion attempts.

    Both of Atlanta's coordinators left to pursue other opportunities in the weeks following this loss.