FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – That fateful Falcons interception near the goal line remained a hot topic the day after it essentially sealed a 19-13 loss to the Washington Commanders on Sunday at FedEx Field.
Arthur Smith was asked about the play several times in his Monday press conference and the head coach was measured and objective about the play call, its execution and the final result.
Doubt folks need a refresher, but here's one anyway. The Falcons had a second-and-goal at Washington's 2-yard line when Marcus Mariota dropped back to pass. A throw intended for a wide-open Cordarrelle Patterson was tipped by Daron Payne and intercepted by Kendall Fuller.
Not ideal, with roughly a minute left in the game and three downs to go four yards.
Smith was asked about the play after seeing the game film, a luxury he didn't have heading into a postgame press conference. Here's what he had to say, in its entirety, answering that question.
"There's a lot that goes into it," Smith said. "Certainly, your thought's different if you only need a field goal. If you're down three, being risk averse, if you score a touchdown you're still going to have to go defend. You'd love to have it where you score a touchdown with one second left, then you kick it, walk off and go home.
"Down six, you call a run the first play and lose two yards. Now it's 2nd-and-4. There are runs you like, but, do you pass it? You're probably going to have to throw it at some point if you don't run in, either on third or fourth down. Those are decisions you make. We were pretty confident in the look we were going to get and we got it. Unfortunately, they made a play and you live with that decision.
"It's different if it's a play extension and he throws a pick. People bring up big games where somebody throws a pick on second down. Those are different schemes, different situation, different amount of time left in the game. We feel like we schemed it up with two of our better players in Patterson and Drake [London]. They have good players on their side who battled all day. Daron Payne tipped it, and not only did he tip it but it bounced to Fuller."
Smith was then asked about the clock management of passing on second down with three timeouts, in that situation, referring to the debate between run and pass within the fan base.
"Those are great subjective arguments, and there's no perfect answer," Smith said. "When you need a touchdown, you have to find a way to score it. You'd love to have your cake and it eat, right? You'd love to call a play with a second left, score, kick the extra point and never put the defense out there. That sounds great. That said, there's a risk every time you make a play call. Let's say you dial a run and you score. You have the same position, with the three timeouts.
"I've been in that situation before. If you just need a field goal, you probably kneel right there, bang the timeout and walk off. Maybe that makes you a little more conservative there. I understand that. You're calling what you think is your best call, trying to get it to your best players. That's the risk you take and it's what you have to live with. Not only does it get tipped, but it gets picked. If it does hit the ground it would've stopped the clock. It didn't. It bounced to him and you live with that. If you call a run there and we score, you've got to defend.
"At least we had the timeouts. As painful as [the interception] was, we had to go play four-minute defense and then we got the penalty and we never got the ball back."
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Commanders during Week 12.