Skip to main content

Bair: Despite Arthur Smith taking blame, Falcons loss doesn't fall solely on him

Falcons head coach sets proper tone after season-opener by looking inward, though players must now follow suit


ATLANTA – Arthur Smith normally skips a preamble in his press conferences, heading straight to questions from reporters on hand.

Not this time.

The Falcons head coach put off the first inquiry after a 32-6 loss to Philadelphia in favor of an opening statement.

He took the extra time to take responsibility for what happened Sunday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, precious little of it good.

It was direct and to the point, as Smith is wont to do.

"I did a really poor job getting us ready to go," Smith said. "I feel awful for our fans and everybody who showed up today. We'll do a better job moving forward. That game is not going to define us. It's a long season to go, but I didn't do a good job getting us ready to go."


Smith isn't the first head coach to fall on the sword after a disappointing loss. Not even close. Some make it such a habit the words become hollow, a simple way to absorb heat and take pressure off the players without any soul behind it.

This, my friends, was not that.

Smith is not fake. He preaches the value of authenticity and practices it. He says what he feels, maybe not in such detail that he's giving things away, but tone and tenor generally make his feelings clear.

He was supremely disappointed by what happened against the Eagles. That could be seen and heard from the podium. It's an appropriate reaction to getting beat badly on your home field, to not scoring an offense touchdown, to failing to contain mobile, yet inexperienced Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

There was another point that felt like a spur in his side, one that prompted his opening statement above all else. The Falcons were penalized 12 times and here's the kicker: five flags came before the snap. One of them occurred on the 2-yard line, where the Falcons were poised to punch it in. They all hurt or hindered in their own way.

That, more than anything else, was why Smith took ownership for major gaffes in this loss. Smith despises undisciplined football. Hates it.

He made players run a lap for every pre-snap penalty in practice dating back to the offseason program. He underscored the importance of playing clean, focused football when it mattered most. Then the Falcons got themselves in trouble time and again, with small infractions that had major implications on Sunday's outcome.

As with any aspect of the ultimate team game, it's never one person's fault. This mess isn't all on Arthur Smith. It isn't all on Matt Ryan. It wasn't all on Jalen Mayfield or anyone else on the roster. It's a collective effort or in this case, a collective failure.

It's important to hear Smith's press conference in totally over extrapolating one quote from it and making a grand conclusion. He wasn't cliché. Not in any way.

It falls in line with the authenticity and accountability demanding from him and with this staff. Quarterback Matt Ryan understands what he meant, and that the players are not absolved from blame in this one.

"That's part of being a head coach, taking responsibilities for those things," Ryan said. "I appreciate Arthur saying that. I think that, from us as players, we have to do our part, too. We have to put in the work and make sure that we're ready to go. As disappointing as it is today, I think that your mindset has to be on what's in front of you.

"Collectively, we've all got to be better in terms of our preparation next week. We have to make sure we stay on schedule and are efficient. I thought that, when we were, we moved the ball effectively. We just need to be consistently efficient throughout the game."

It also isn't all Smith's fault what happened Sunday or with what will happen the rest of the season. The Falcons are a major work in progress, far closer to the starting line than the finish. The Falcons are woefully thin, a byproduct of salary-cap issues and draft misses of past years. There will be times where Smith simply doesn't have the talent to compete. Terry Fontenot needs more time to restock the war chest.

The Falcons need most everything to go right to win, and self-inflicted wounds are a surefire way to get this group beat. That's why Smith needs the Falcons to be disciplined and focused and avoid hurting themselves.

How does he get better out of a unit that must be to compete. That starts with his next step.

Accountability was key Sunday, and it will be while watching the tape on Monday. How Smith acts after those days are done and the page turns to Week 2 will determine the team's response to the opening loss.

"If we don't come in tomorrow and correct what needs to be corrected on this film," Smith said, "if we don't get focused on Tampa, who has had a couple days to work on us, then we've got issues."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles during Week 1 of 2021.