Transcript: Smith Press Conference

Head coach Mike Smith Opening Statement:

"I was very proud of the way the guys played yesterday. We needed to play a 60-minute game and we did it. I think for 59:45 we really played some good football. That first 15 seconds was a… a little bit of a 'Whoa. What's going on?' But I thought that we responded extremely well, showed our resiliency. I thought the coaches put together a great game plan, and we got the outcome that we wanted. With that I'll open it up for questions."

On the pass rush yesterday:

"I thought we did a very good job rushing the passer. We got a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and I think it goes hand-in-hand. I thought that our secondary did a very good job in the coverage. We had the quarterback going to a second and third read at times, and when you do that you're going to get more opportunities to push at the pocket. We did a good job of pushing at the pocket. We gave him some different looks. There were multiple guys lining up at different places and rushing, and we were adding a fifth rusher from different areas of the defense."

On whether this is the most resilient team he's coached:

"This is a very resilient team. We've had to deal with a whole lot throughout the season. The guys come to work every day, go through the preparation. We haven't been as consistent as we would like to, but we have gone through the preparation week very well. We just haven't been able to get the number of wins that we would like to have, and I think that goes right back to the inconsistencies that we've had. But yesterday was a very good performance by our football team."

On whether it's surreal to still have an opportunity at the playoffs despite the season they're having:

"Well, I know coming off the bye-week we got together as a team and as a staff, and I've said this before, we recommitted to one another. We had some collaboration in terms of what we need to do put us in better positions to win. We approached it as one game at a time, be 1-0 for the week. Here we are in week 17, and I don't think it can be any clear, or truer than being 1-0 this week."

On Devonta Freeman:

"Devonta has improved every week. I think the biggest thing, as we said, if you go back and look at transcripts from training camp it was going to be about his ability to pick up pass protection, and he did an outstanding job. He was called upon because of the injury to Steven Jackson to play more snaps. He did a good job in his pass protection. He's a very good slash runner. He does a good job hitting the hole, and he made a very good run on the long touchdown run. He's got some sneaky speed. He's not super-fast, but he's fast enough to run away from guys in the secondary."

On whether he liked what he saw when Freeman lined up out wide:

"Absolutely. Again, formations tell you a story. They can tell you a story about what's going to happen before the ball is snapped, and that formation we saw some things we like, and we knew what was going to happen and it happened. He made some plays, and we definitely like the matchup that we had."

On the secondary play yesterday after the injuries:

"We were scrambling there. I think over a five minute period we were moving guys in and out. Shoot, had to bring in the second string doctor to see the guy out on the field because our team doctor was in the locker room working with someone else. It says a lot about these guys. They did a very good job. As I mentioned earlier, their ability to cover yesterday helped us rushing the passer. Again, it goes hand-in-hand. It's not just one unit. They all have to work together."

On moving on from last week and what this team needs to do against the Panthers:

"We absolutely have. What are we going to need this week? We're going to need to have a fast start. It's going to be very important for us to start fast in the Dome. It's going to be imperative that we eliminate the big plays. We did a fairly good job yesterday in the explosive play ratio. We've got to make sure that we take care of the football. That's a very good defense, and even though the quarterback was coming off a missed game because of a back injury and a car accident, he still rushed for 60 yards. So we're going to have to account for him as a rusher in the game. I think that we will definitely get their best shot, just like we're going to give them our best shot. It ought to be a helluva football game."

On the pass rush and whether that can carry over into next week:

"We'd love to have five sacks in the first 15 games, but the guys did a very good job. It's going to be important, we're going to have to finish it. Finishing on Cam Newton is a little different situation because of his size and his strength. Drew (Brees) is very good at moving subtly in the pocket; this guy is tough to get on the ground, and if he does break the pocket he's going to be able to run downfield much better than most quarterbacks in the League. That's why we have to account for him as a rusher in their running plays, and we've got to make sure we do a good job with our pass rush."

On whether he thinks Cam Newton has been held back by what happened in the accident:

"Absolutely not. He made some fantastic plays by improvising and extending the play. The last touchdown he kept that play alive for a number of seconds. Again, he had 60 yards rushing, so we're going to have to be prepared to handle the quarterback as an element in the run game. That definitely puts stress on your defense when you have to account for him as a runner."

On Jonathan Stewart's big game:

"He did. The last three games he's kind of become their lead rusher, lead back. He's a big, strong back. He had been injured when we last played them. He had missed some time earlier in the season. He's a big back that runs extremely well behind his pads. Mike Shula, I think has a very, very good offense, in terms of trying to attack the defenses in different ways and from different angles. It's going to be important for us to do a good job on Jonathan. We're going to have to get multiple pads on him."

On the defense stopping the run the last two weeks:

"We've played the run again very well yesterday. As we said going into the game, Sean (Payton) is going to want to run the football. It's part of what they do, and I thought we did a very good job of winning the line of scrimmage. It's about winning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football, and we did that defensively. I think their yards per carry show that we won that battle majority of the time. We had a couple of situations where we lost the edge as a defense, and they were able to get the ball outside and gain some yards."

Injury updates:

"We don't have any updates yet. All three of those guys as we said yesterday were not able to finish the ball game. If there is an announcement, and we need to do something, again, we will let you guys know as soon as we know something. Both of the guys that left the game there in the fist half: Steven (Jackson) left in the first half, and he left with a leg injury, and William (Moore) left with the shoulder injury, and Josh (Wilson) left with a leg injury. All three of them are having further testing done today."

Update on Jon Asamoah:

"Jon will be participating in practice on Wednesday in a limited basis. That is the plan right now is we'll get him out there and go. I'll tell you, Jon really fought like crazy to get back into the game last week. He was down with a back, did everything that we ask, and we just felt like with him not getting any practice time in was in our best interest to go with the guys that had practiced together all week. He was really close there at the end."

On Julio Jones' overall game:

"I thought we did a very good job as a group at the wide receiver position in our blocking. That was probably the most physical that we played. We blocked for not only the running backs on running plays, but we did a very good job of blocking in the screen game. Julio had a really tough two weeks, in terms of his rehabilitation protocol that he was going through. He spent a whole lot of time doing it. We were able to determine before the ball game when he ran that he was ready to go. I will say this, on Saturday when we came out for our walk-thru he looked real spry and looked like he was ready to go. Like that horse that's ready to run in that race, but we made the determination on Sunday. But he looked really good when he came out on Saturday. Had a look in his eye that he was ready to go. We are such a different type of football team when we have our best player, and Julio is one of our best players."

On how much pressure he feels on this game and whether this could decide whether or not he's here next year:

"I know that that's a subject that everyone wants to talk about, and as I said, I don't know, four or five weeks ago – I hope this is the last time I'm' going to have to answer it. I'm going to prepare just like I've done for the seven years that I've been here. My focus is on winning football games, and winning the next football game. I'm going to continue to do that until Arthur Blank tells me differently."

On the picture of him and Matt Ryan hugging and how close are they:

"We spend a lot of time together. The 53 guys that are in the locker room that are on our active roster, in addition to that you have eight guys on the practice squad. Right now, I think we have close to about a dozen, I think 11, on reserved-injured. You have trainers that work extremely hard. We all work together a lot of the time. We spend a lot of time together. I'm very close to all the guys on the team, and we know what we have to do and we know what we've got to get accomplished. I think yesterday we got it accomplished. I think everybody felt good about what we did there in New Orleans. It's going to have no bearing on what's going to happen on the game on Sunday. It's a completely different matchup. We're going to be a different team than we were on Sunday. They're going to be a team that was different than when we played them in Charlotte. As I've said, it's going to be a heck of a match. I've got a lot of respect for Ron Rivera, and what he's done for that football team and that coaching staff. They've got a very good coaching staff. We know each other very well from competing against one another. It should be fun. Mike Shula and I worked together in Jacksonville."

On what he expects from the Falcons fans this week:

"Well, I thought that they showed up there in New Orleans. We had a nice send off from our hotel, a little mini pep rally, which was nice. I think it was good for our players to see that. We had fans there at our hotel. I thought that they did a very good in the ball game. It was loud there, but we were able to communicate. It's going to be very important for us this week to make sure that we make it hard for the Carolina offense to communicate. We need to have the crowd cranked up as loud as we possibly can. As I said, we know what's at stake. They know what's at stake, and we need to go out and play our best football. If we play our best football and we play consistently it should be a heck of a game."

On the offensive line and the play of Gabe Carimi:

"Again, I thought Gabe Carimi did a nice job stepping in. I thought he did a much better job in the pass blocking. He did a good job. Playing guard is different than playing tackle, as I said earlier in the season. Gabe was our sixth man, he was a guy that can play guard and tackle. He was called on when we were going through a transition to play different spots, but he did a very good job of stepping in for Jon Asamoah. We feel comfortable that if something were to happen in the next month of the season that he could step in there and play for us."

On the biggest challenge this week heading feeling like it's a playoff game:

"They started last week without a doubt. We know where we're at. The great thing is the team that we're playing, they know what they have to accomplish. So it ought to be a great atmosphere. We just got a jump on it two weeks early here in the NFC South. That's how I look at it. Again, our division has been very competitive for the seven years that we've been here and this is no different. It's going to come down to week 17, and it's done that a number of times over the last seven years."

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