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Mike Smith’s fourth down call backfires on Falcons

Mike Smith AP

Remember all the discussion after Bill Belichick’s famous fourth-and-two call against the Colts two years ago? (Almost to the day.)

Yeah, we’re about to go through that all over again.

The Saints took charge of the NFC South with a 26-23 overtime win in Atlanta Sunday that turned on a very similar decision by Falcons coach Mike Smith.

It was a back-and-forth game that included an epic performance by Marques Colston and a terrific 10-point comeback in the final five minutes by Matt Ryan to force overtime. ¬†Years from now, however, we’re only going to remember Smith’s call.

The Falcons and Saints traded three-and-outs to start overtime before Atlanta faced a fourth-and-inches from their own 29-yard line.  With the Saints offense moving the ball well most of the day, Smith decided to go for it.

Shaun Rogers and Will Smith stuffed Michael Turner well behind the first down marker. It looked like every Saint on the roster was there for the stop. John Kasay kicked the game-winner from 26 yards out three plays later.

Mike Smith will get relentlessly criticized, but we have no problem with the decision despite the result. The Falcons ran well all day, including in short yardage. They should pick up that yard and the odds favor the Saints scoring if they get the ball back.

If the Falcons can’t pick up a few inches against New Orleans, they don’t deserve to win. The Falcons play smashmouth football. On that play, New Orleans was just tougher.

There were many plays in this game that could have swung the NFC South. Both teams had missed field goals. Saints safety Roman Harper dropped a potential interception that would have won the game in the final minute of regulation. Two plays later, Roddy White had a good chance to make the game-winning touchdown.

Those plays will get overlooked because of Smith’s decision. The Falcons coach had the guts to go for the win instead of hoping not to lose.

It didn’t work, and now the Saints are in charge of the NFC South race with a rematch looming in the Superdome on the day after Christmas.

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24 Responses to “Mike Smith’s fourth down call backfires on Falcons”
  1. scytherius says: Nov 13, 2011 5:16 PM

    I can’t say I’m too bothered by the call to go for it, but if it is “inches to go” (and it was inches), why do you hand it off 3 yards deep in your backfield and not sneak it or hand it to the FB?

    It’s the play call I don’t get.

  2. jimr10 says: Nov 13, 2011 5:19 PM

    I have seen some really dumb play calling, but Mike Smith goes to the head of the class.

  3. dkeyser says: Nov 13, 2011 5:23 PM

    I said to myself that there is no way they try and go for it from their own 30. I thought they were going to try the ol jump offsides play and if they couldnt, could call a timeout.. The Saints were in the backfield before Turner even got the ball.. As a Saints fan im glad they won today, but i also know how crappy it feels to not get those 3 inches.. brought back flashes of week 1 vs GB

  4. warvette says: Nov 13, 2011 5:28 PM

    never seen a worse decision.

  5. badtimeoutcaldwell says: Nov 13, 2011 5:29 PM

    The risk/ reward just wasn’t there. Best case they get the 1st down and they get a 1st and 10 from their own 32 and still another 40 yards to go to win the game.

    Worst case is you don’t get it and you lose the game because you’ve already given the ball to the Saints in field goal range.

    Theres a difference between taking a smart calculated risk, and just plain stupid. Unfortunately, this was just plain stupid.

  6. warvette says: Nov 13, 2011 5:37 PM

    after 70 or so offensive plays, why would they put the entire game on 1 play? if you punt, at least you can strategize later, but by not getting the 1st down, they gave the game away. indoors, a kicker can hit from where the ball was. really, really bad.

  7. phadedwun says: Nov 13, 2011 5:38 PM

    This seriously rivals the BB call for the Pats against the Colts for stupidest call ever. However, I think this one is actually much worse.

    Your first 6 plays of OT – you don’t run with Turner at all.

    Suddenly, you magically decide to go for it on 4th and inches in your own territory – if you don’t make it you basically gift wrap the win to the Saints and then they finally run with Turner.

    They seriously should have punted. Mike Smith is an idiot (I’m not even a Falcons fan – I’m a Raiders fan, so I know something about bad calls) – but this call was horrendous. Even to me.

  8. xxwhodatxx says: Nov 13, 2011 5:38 PM

    From all Saints fans.Thank You

  9. adirtyplayernamedsue says: Nov 13, 2011 5:39 PM

    Smith has been making horrible decisions all year long……..but this takes the cake.

  10. wethog66 says: Nov 13, 2011 5:54 PM

    That was a really stupid decision to go for it there. I would say as bad a decision as that Coach that elected to defer and kick in OT because of the wind. Wasn’t that Marty Mornhinweg? Well who ever that was, they need to thank Mike Smith for getting him off the hook for the dumbest decision to lose a game in NFL history.

  11. ehatem says: Nov 13, 2011 5:57 PM

    As a Saints fan I can tell you, it wasn’t a bad decision. Probably a bad play call, but honestly the Falcon line had been winning the battle against the Saints all afternoon long. I would have bet heavily against the Saints on that one and felt comfortable with it. But the Saints finally showed some grit on defense. Lost in all of this is that the result of the play wasn’t so much a bad play call as it was an amazing effort by the Saints Defense.

  12. frankiefiveangels says: Nov 13, 2011 6:00 PM

    As belichick has proven before, NFL coaches confuse “courage” with “stupidity”. If you make the fourth down conversion there is a SLIGHT advantage to you, but if you don’t there is a HUGE advantage to your opponent. Would you invest in a stock with a 50% chance of gaining 10% and a 50% chance of losing 60%?Of course not so why would you attempt to make a fourth down conversion if there is, in my opinion, half a chance you make it and half you don’t.

  13. buckifan4life says: Nov 13, 2011 6:14 PM

    Dumb call… You must punt in a sudden death situation. Anything could go wrong going for it. Just plain dumb.

  14. doe22us says: Nov 13, 2011 6:23 PM

    If you have no problem with the decision alas the outcome failed. Terrible, Terrible decision took the outcome of the game from his team. In other words i dont trust my defense that just held Brees to three and out. Bad Bad call.

  15. usmutts says: Nov 13, 2011 7:19 PM

    Smith made the decision because he was justifiably afraid to giving the ball to Drew Brees with the game on the line. This is a case of a great quarterback winning the game without even stepping on the field.

  16. lawrinson20 says: Nov 13, 2011 7:19 PM

    An inexcusable call, at that position on the field. Saying it was ‘just inches’ and that they had been running the ball well in short yardage situations all game long is obviated by the OT circumstances and the field position. And, oh- because as you also pointed out:

    “The Falcons and Saints traded three-and-outs to start overtime.”

    Why wouldn’t you believe you could punt and hold them without scoring when you JUST kept them from making a first down?

  17. pandebailey says: Nov 13, 2011 7:25 PM

    Smart move, going for 4th and 3 inches and keep the ball from Brees. Made sense – like the Patriots 4th down against Manning and the Colts. But call a slow reverse pivot and handoff to an I-back 7 yards deep? Wow, what a bad choice. Sneak it, who could argue? Or because they will overplay the run, a fake and naked bootleg…..or fake a run and throw for 5 yards. But the play called made it the worst idea ever.

  18. gdeli says: Nov 13, 2011 7:47 PM

    terrible call! you gave them the game dude. saints in an OT killer kick…thanks for the memories falcons from…the vikings. uh

  19. poopoodoodoohead says: Nov 13, 2011 7:55 PM

    That is why Smith will never lead Atlanta to the promised land!! He makes unwise choices in crucial games. We all know Turner is a beast, but that was not a very good risk/reward analysis by a Head Coach in the NFL.

    This team is one of the most talented in the league yet here they sit after a 14-2 season in risk of not making the playoffs.

  20. wicky888 says: Nov 13, 2011 8:24 PM

    They should have started running when OT started. Whenever ATL starts thinking Matt Ryan is Aaron Rodgers they always seems to lose. Thats because he isnt. Run the damn ball like you were built to do. Reminds me of the Ravens.

  21. tdrundmc says: Nov 13, 2011 8:37 PM

    nice drop in the end zone roddy white..

  22. goawayeverybody says: Nov 13, 2011 11:19 PM

    Failcons are DONE!

  23. 2ndaryinsanity says: Nov 13, 2011 11:44 PM

    If that play works, Smith is a genius with brass “golf” balls. But it didn’t, so he’s an idiot. On one level, I can understand his logic. Just because his defense forced a 3 and out once, what were the chances they would stop Brees a second time? Brees is known for being a “pretty good” clutch QB. HOWEVER…the play called when it was 4th and inches was pretty stupid. Why would you hand it off THAT far in the backfield?? Turner is a big back-if you hand the ball off right behind the line of scrimmage, couldn’t he have fallen forward for the 1st down? Couldn’t Ryan have done a QB sneak? Either one of those plays would have had a much higher % of success. This wasn’t necessarily a horrible decision, but it was a TERRIBLE play call.

  24. grimmlock42 says: Nov 14, 2011 12:29 AM

    If you can’t get a football length to get a first down, then let the punishment fit the crime. His team failed him. He trusted his team and they let him down. That’s Michael Turner back there. 9 outta 10 times he gets that first down. The play backfired, but I thought it was the right decision. I think the falcons defensive coordinator was begging him to go for it.

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