Falcons head coach Mike Smith went in-depth about what makes Eric Weems such a dangerous and reliable kick returner during his Monday news conference
"I said yesterday, sometimes you've got to find ways to win a football game when you're not playing your best and I think that was the case yesterday. That was a good Tampa Bay football team. Anytime you play in the NFC South you know it's going to be competitive but we had to find a way to do it and we did. All three phases contributed to the win but at the same time we also contributed to us not playing as well as we needed to play. Our guys didn't blink. We got to the fourth quarter with 10 minutes to go and we were down 10 points, which is a very good learning experience for our team because we had not been put in that situation this season. I think it's going to benefit us in the long run. We've got a lot of things that we've got to get corrected before we go to Carolina, another road game within the division."
On TE Tony Gonzalez's injury status after leaving the game Sunday:
"I think we're going to be in pretty good shape. Tony could have gone back in the ballgame if needed be. Fortunately, we were in a four-minute situation where we were only going to be running the football when we had an opportunity for the offense to go back on the field we felt it was in our best interest to hold him out in those situations. We could run our four-minute offense without him on the field."
On whether he has someone studying playoff scenarios:
"No, I haven't studied the playoff scenarios. I'm sure there are lots of people in the building and lots of people that are Atlanta Falcons fans that can probably tell you all the scenarios that could possibly happen. We like the position that we're in right now. I can assure you of that. Because going into this fourth quarter which to me is the most important quarter of the season. We've earned the 10 wins and we'll take it, we've been very fortunate to do that. As we get closer I think it will become more apparent of how the playoffs are going to fall into place. There's a lot of football to be played. There's a lot of division, there's a lot of conference games throughout the League that are going to be taking place over the next four weeks."
On how difficult winning on the road is in the NFL:
"It is very difficult. You look at teams that are in the hunt, you've got to win at home, dominate at home that's usually the formula and then be as close to splitting on the road. If you do that, if you dominate at home and say you go six and two and you split on the road and you're four and four, you're 10-6 and there's a pretty good chance you're going to be in the playoffs. That's conventional wisdom. Playing three on the road is tough, playing four out of five which is really the scenario that we're dealing with and we started our planning back two weeks ago prior to going to St. Louis, knowing we were going to have, four out of five on the road. As I said last week, we've changed what we're doing in practice, we've cut down the work load for our players physically and mentally. We want to try to keep these guys as fresh as possible especially when you have three consecutive road games."
On the importance of maintaining a balance between passing and running the football:
"I think it's very important to the success that we're able to have on the offensive side of the football. Philosophically that's what we want to do. We want to try to be as balanced as we can whether it's snaps in a game or whether it's the yardage that's gained. We try to make sure that we do a very good job self-scouting when we're putting together game plans that we're going to have an opportunity to be close to 50-50. Our offensive staff has done a good job. That can get skewed a little bit based on how people are trying to defend your offenses. I think we've got a very astute coaching staff that knows how to put guys in positions to win and our offense has gone out and executed even though I think yesterday was probably not one of our better performances of the season."
On who jumped out at him for blocking on WR Eric Weems' kickoff return:
"As we watched the film three guys really stood out. WR Brian Finneran was our off-returner, he got a block and then he peeled back there on the sideline and got two blocks and a screen. RB Gartrell Johnson had a very big block to spring him. It was a great individual effort by Eric but there were some guys taking care of what they needed to do. We were very fortunate because we were 10 points down with 10 minutes to go and we were talking about how we were going to move the football offensively. When you're 10 points down it's a little different than when you're three points down so in a span of 15 seconds we had to change our thought process in terms of how we were going to play the rest of the fourth quarter. DT Corey Peters is a very mature rookie and really from the first day he got here we saw that in him. He has a very good understanding of the game of football, not just the defensive line play. We feel comfortable, not only has he been on the wedge on kickoff return. I don't know if you guys have noticed but there have been a couple of times where he's had to cover kickoffs and that's a 300 pound man running down on kickoffs. That talks volumes about what we feel about his athleticism. There have been a number of occasions where he's had to run down on kickoffs earlier in the season."
On whether special teams is typically for younger players:
"It is. Most of the time you have your younger players and we've got some very unselfish players on our football team. Brian Finneran will do whatever it takes for us to be successful. On our punt team if you look out there you've got CB Brian Williams playing a slot, you've got LB Mike Peterson playing one of the tackles, DE Kroy Biermann who's a starter playing out on that team, FB Ovie Mughelli our starting fullback is on that team as well. We've got some unselfish guys who are going to do whatever we have to do to put the best guys out there. Even though most of the time special teams are manned by younger players we've got some experienced guys that are helping us and contributing in that area."
On whether he likes having some older guys on special teams:
"I think it's important to have your best players out there, but the thing that you have to guard against sometimes is you have to guard against someone getting hurt that will be contributing on the offensive or defensive snaps. So that kind of is the quandary that you get put in as a coach. We were not performing as well as we would have liked four weeks ago so we made some changes in terms of our personnel and brought some of the older players back into the fold. I think it really energized our special teams unit and the guys that we put in have been able to make some plays. It has also ramped up the energy level of some of our younger players. I thought that CB Christopher Owens had an outstanding game yesterday working as a vice, working in the holdup and also in our kickoff return. He had three really critical blocks for us. They were very physical plays. I think having those older guys in there they're mentors on and off the field whether it's offense, defense, or special teams."
On FB Ovie Mughelli's touchdown:
"That was a great read by both Ovie and QB Matt Ryan. They were on the same page based on the front and what the defense presented to us. It was one heck of a run and finish. We talk about finishing plays all the time and you could see the desire in Ovie that last five yards of that play. It's good to see Ovie have an opportunity to score some points. Sometimes the fullback position is a position where you're a little bit not noticed. He has had an opportunity this season to carry the ball and get some catches out the backfield and he's done a good job."
On C Todd McClure flying under the radar in terms of not getting attention:
"Todd is like a lot of our older players, they just seem to beat father time. He's playing very well for us. Todd is probably the most important guy on our offensive line simply because he and the quarterback have to set the protections in the passing game and based on the fronts they also have to make sure that we can get a hat on a hat in the run game. Todd just continues to play very efficient football for us. He has a very good understanding of the game of football. When he's finished playing I think he has an opportunity, if he wanted to, to be a very good coach because he has a very good understanding of offensive football."
On what winning close games means:
"We've been very fortunate to win the close games. As I mentioned earlier, this was a new situation for us and every game is a learning experience as I've said many times and this one we had to come back from a 10 point deficit. I think that will benefit us even though you want to go out and win and play more effectively but I think in the long run it will benefit us because we had to experience another situation that could possibly occur down the road. We made a lot of mistakes yesterday. We weren't on point like we needed to be in all three phases but we were able to pull that game out and that is a very good football team. They are improving week in and week out. Head coach Raheem Morris has that team going and after the game I told him that, I said that is a good football team, and Raheem said "yeah, let's try to do this for a long time". He's got a good group over there, and I said 'Amen'."
On how much of Weems' return was because of him and his athletic ability:
"It was a great individual effort by Eric to stay alive around the 30-yard line and then to keep his balance and stay in bounds and then to scoot through. His speed there you saw him able to break away, but that long speed if it would have been 110 yard field it probably wouldn't have been a touchdown. He made a heck of an individual effort. That doesn't surprise me about Eric Weems. Eric has been a contributor on special teams since we've been here."
On what makes a good returner:
"I think you have to be fearless. You have to have good vision and you've got to have no fear because there's guys running down sprinting full speed at you and you've got to have no fear about taking a big hit because you are going to take some big hits in the kicking and the return game. Eric is probably one of our toughest players."
On Weems and CB Brent Grimes being from small colleges and playing so well:
"I think it really says a lot about the ability of the scouting staffs to identify players regardless of where they play their ball collegiately. There are players all over this country and the scouting staff has done a great job in identifying those guys. We have some guys on our practice squad that fit that same m.o. in terms of being from small schools that have done a great job for us. We're really pleased with them on our practice squad which is only going to benefit our football team in the long run, maybe not this season but next year and beyond."
On his challenge in the second half:**
"The challenge on the interception with S Corey Lynch we felt like we didn't really get a good view of it. It was a close call but we felt like you had to challenge that with the possession of the ball being so close to the goal line, somewhere on the plus side of the 50. We felt like we didn't get a clean look at it, they did a very good job as the home team should, of not showing it up on the big scoreboard. Upstairs we got the feeds from the network, it was one of those we felt like a 50-50 challenge and we had to do it just to try to see if we could get it overturned. It was worth the possibility of losing the timeout. When you don't have a real good feel for it there in the fourth quarter often times you just have to go on a gut feeling and hope that it's going to work out for you. Unfortunately it didn't work out for us on the challenge but we were able to prevail there at the end of the ballgame."