FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Coach Mike Smith can’t seem to pull the Atlanta Falcons from their two-year rut on the road.
The Falcons haven’t done much right since losing last year’s opener at New Orleans, dropping 10 of 11 road games as they prepare to visit Tampa Bay this weekend.
Smith hopes to reverse the trend by finishing games better. A fourth-quarter meltdown as the home team two weeks ago in London gave the Falcons a seven-game losing streak away from the Georgia Dome.
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”These guys have worked extremely hard,” Smith said Wednesday. ”During the week, they are doing what we ask them to do, but it’s not transferring to 60 minutes in a football game.”
The last-second loss to the Detroit Lions at Wembley Stadium has been hard for the team to shake.
Atlanta, which has been outscored 75-28 in the fourth quarter of its seven-game skid, blew a 21-0 halftime lead to Detroit.
The debacle set off another round of speculation that Smith could get fired – even before the season ends – but quarterback Matt Ryan insists that Smith has not lost the players’ attention.
”You can’t worry about all the things being said outside this building,” Ryan said. ”When things are not going your way and you’re not winning games, there is going to be criticism. We understand that.”
Before Smith was hired in January 2008, Atlanta was known mostly for losing. The franchise had never achieved consecutive winning records since its debut in 1966, but Smith pulled off the feat four times, leading the Falcons to a pair of NFC South titles and four playoff appearances.
On the road, Smith’s first five teams went 22-18, not including postseason losses at Arizona and the New York Giants, but it’s been a struggle ever since.
”We haven’t finished games on the road like we need to,” Smith said. ”I’d say that’s probably the thing that stands out over the span you’re talking about.”
These kinds of problems are nothing new for running back Steven Jackson, who, as the NFL’s leading active rusher, has never played on a team that finished the season above .500.
After getting drafted by St. Louis in the first round of 2004, Jackson played for Mike Martz, Scott Linehan, Steve Spagnuolo, Jeff Fisher and interim coaches Joe Vitt and Jim Haslett. Jackson’s teams have gone combined 50-117-1, but he’s hoping the Falcons play well enough for Smith keep his job.
”Unfortunately, I’m a veteran at the bad situations, so I’ve just got to encourage my teammates and the coaching staff that the 53 men in this locker room are going to get us out of this hole,” Jackson said. ”We’ve just got to continue to focus on that.”
Atlanta’s offense has been undermined by injuries on the line – four starters have been lost for the season – and Ryan can’t get in consistent rhythm with his receivers. Jackson and his three backups – Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and Devonta Freeman – have been inconsistent.
The defense is one of the NFL’s worst, ranking last in total yards, last in sacks, fifth-worst in scoring and eighth-worst against the run.
A trip to Tampa Bay (1-7) could be just what the Falcons (2-6) need as they try to draw confidence from Week 3, when they beat the Buccaneers 56-14.
But Ryan believes the team needs to stay focused on the present, not looking back and looking ahead.
”You can’t do it all in one week,” Ryan said. ”We’ve got to focus on this week, but I like the guys that we have, coaching staff and players included.”
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