Recent history of the Falcons under head coach Mike Smith says there's no need to be alarmed. A season-opening loss is tough and a season-opening loss to a division rival like the New Orleans Saints is even tougher, but even in the moments after the game on Sunday night, Smith was already preaching to his players to stop the streak at one.
Smith has a few rules after a loss and that's one of them. It's a big reason they've gone 21-4 following a loss under the head coach. That approach is reinforced in the week following a game with Smith's 24-hour rule. On Monday back at the team's facility following the 23-17 loss, the hours couldn't tick away quick enough.
"It's going to be important for us to put this game behind us after we make the corrections and finish the corrections today and get prepared for St. Louis, because they had a big win," Smith said, looking ahead to his team's Week 2 opponent.
Bright spots were few and far between even though the game remained close for its entirety. The end result was a loss and that's the kind of result that puts a damper on everything. Smith said a team is never as bad as you think or as good as you think in a single-game performance, but if you're looking for positives he offered up a few.
The head coach was pleased with the tackling on defense and many of the players on that side of the ball reinforced that. Smith felt the play of his special teams unit was excellent, highlighting an improvement from the preseason to Sunday's season opener, and in general he was happy with his team's effort for the entire game.
The three sacks they allowed and six additional QB hits interfered with the offense's efficiency and it showed. Smith said protecting the QB is a team effort and the blame should be spread around to everyone, but what happened in protection is a good way to lose some more ball games.
"We had entirely too much pressure on our quarterback throughout the entire game," Smith said. "Whether it was five-man pressures, six-man pressures, four-man rushes, three-man rushes, we've got to do a better job in protecting our quarterback. It's everybody on the offense that is going to be a part of that; it's not just the offensive line."
But don't anticipate sweeping changes at any position, offensive line or otherwise. Smith is 4-1 in Week 2 of the regular season in his career and his Falcons' average margin of victory in those games is 13 points. Smith said he traditionally sees the largest gain in improvement from the first week of the regular season to the second and he anticipates a similar scenario this year.
"I think we will see a large improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, in terms of not only our offensive line, but our football team," Smith said. "I think it's the biggest jump that you have during the season is from Week 1 to Week 2. We were playing a lot of younger guys that have not played as much. It was a great learning experience for them, but unfortunately we didn't get the outcome that we wanted in the ball game."
A rematch against the Saints will come later this year in Week 12, but that's a ways off and no one is thinking about that right now. They're learning what they can about the Saints loss in the last few hours of Monday so they can prevent it next time, but they're already beginning to move towards St. Louis and the home opener this coming Sunday.
When they leave the team facility Monday evening, the clock will reset on a new week and a new chance to get a win.
"We're upset because we played the Saints and that's one of the biggest games of the year for us," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "We'll get a chance to go at them again, but right now our mindset is just focused on flushing it. We just watched it so when we walk out of the building we have to leave it in here and just focus on the next one."