Falcons’ Smith hoping to learn from playoff losses

Mike Smith wants his first two playoff losses with the Falcons

to be ”growing experiences” that will help his team prepare for

Sunday’s first-round game at the New York Giants.

With Smith in his first season as coach and Matt Ryan starting

as a rookie quarterback, the Falcons lost to Arizona in the first

round of the playoffs after the 2008 season. The Falcons had a

first-round bye last year before losing 48-21 to Green Bay.

Smith said it’s important the Falcons (10-6) learn from the

losses. He said based on those lessons he is planning tweaks to the

Falcons’ practice this week.

”I know we’ve had two postseason games prior to this,” Smith

said. ”We haven’t gotten the outcome we’ve wanted. We are learning

from those experiences. We’re going to use those as growing

experiences and we’re looking forward to competing this week, and

that’s not just Matt Ryan.

”That’s Mike Smith and every member of our team.”

The Falcons, who never enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons

before Smith’s arrival in 2008, now have four straight winning

seasons and the team’s first back-to-back playoff berths. The

obvious missing piece in Smith’s otherwise impressive record is a

playoff win.

Smith said he’s glad the Falcons, who capped their regular

season with Sunday’s 45-24 win over Tampa Bay, can move straight

into their playoff week.

”I think the way that it went down last year, I’d rather be up

this week and go ahead and play,” he said. ”That was one of the

things I don’t know that we handled as well as we should of, the

way that I structured it. I think if we get in that situation again

we’ll handle it a little bit differently.”

Smith said he also discussed other changes for this week.

”In our staff meeting today, I brought out the notebook in

terms of things we wrote down,” Smith said, referring to his notes

from the last two playoff games. ”You learn from everything that

you do in terms of how you prepare. In terms of the actual

scheduling, we’re not going to change that, but there are some

things we definitely are going to do a little bit

differently.”

He wouldn’t provide details of his planned changes.

”Some things I’d rather not talk about in terms of subtle

changes in our installation and how we’re going to present things

to our football team,” he said.

The NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement strictly limits

the number of practices in full pads. Smith said the Falcons have

not worked out in full pads since Week 13. He said his players

could work in full pads in one practice this week.

”So it changes a little bit from what we’ve been doing in the

last six or seven weeks of the season,” he said.

The Falcons had four turnovers, including two interceptions by

Ryan, in last year’s playoff loss to Green Bay. They had three

turnovers, including Ryan’s two interceptions, in their 30-24 loss

to Arizona.

”There was a common theme in terms of you can’t turn the

football over,” Smith said. ”That was the pressing thing.

”It’s no different than regular-season football, but we’ve got

to make sure that we have ball security. We cannot turn the ball

over in the postseason. It’s imperative.”

The Falcons led the Buccaneers 42-0 on Sunday before pulling

Ryan and other starters out of the game.

Ryan said the runaway win gave the offense momentum for the

playoffs.

”I think it kind of put us in a little bit of a rhythm,” Ryan

said.

”We made the plays and that’s what we need to do moving

forward. I think everybody’s confidence is very high heading into

next week.”

Notes: Smith said the Falcons have given the Jacksonville

Jaguars permission to interview offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey

for their head coach position. The interview is likely to take

place next week. ”I don’t have any doubt in my mind Mike’s sole

focus for this week is on the New York Giants,” Smith said. …

Linebacker Stephen Nicholas, held out of Sunday’s game with a toe

injury, worked on the practice field with trainers on Monday but is

doubtful for the Giants game, according to Smith.