Transcripts: Falcons vs. Panthers

Head coach Mike Smith

Opening Statement:

"That was definitely a hard fought football game. We didn't get the outcome that we wanted. It comes down to making plays, and there were a handful of plays that was the difference in the game today."

On the offensive line breaking down at the end:

"Obviously, we've got to protect our quarterback much better. You can't have him being hit. I think it shows the type of resiliency that he has and the grit to get up as many times as he was knocked down."

On being concerned about Matt Ryan's health:

"Matt is a tough football player. Some of those hits were situations where he was banged up, but he got up. He's our leader of our offensive football team, and I thought he did a great job of getting up. We definitely want to protect him much better than we did today."

On Tony Gonzalez' last game:

"I can't thank Tony Gonzalez enough for what he has brought to the Atlanta Falcons organization. He has been a great teammate, a great player and a great mentor to a lot of men that our going to play this game moving forward. There are a lot of lessons you can learn from Tony Gonzalez just by watching him. It has been a pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to coach, in my opinion, the greatest tight end to ever play the game."

On doing something about the offensive line in the offseason:

"I'm not going to talk personnel specifically. Obviously, we have not done a good job in protecting our quarterback all through the season; you guys have watched all 16 games. We have to do a better job, and it is not always the offensive line. There are other people involved in the protection as well."

On the positives of the season:

"Well, we had an opportunity to play a lot of young players. Let me say this, we are very disappointed in the way we played in all three phases and in coaching. It is not the type of outcomes that we were anticipating. It doesn't matter if you lose by one or you lose by 20, you lose, and we do not like to lose. There is not a man in that locker room that will accept it, and we will get better."

On his final message to the guys in the locker room:

"My final message will be tomorrow when we have our exit meeting. Again, we continue to not make the critical plays and when you don't' make critical plays and there is two or three of them in a football game, you're going to end up being on the wrong side of the scoreboard by a point or two or four or seven. You've got to make those plays, especially in one score games."

On the mistake with Joe Hawley on the snap:

"I'm not going to comment. Obviously, it was a miscommunication and we were re-identifying the front and the ball was snapped."

On going to the playoffs four out of five years and how he feels that the season has ended:

"Well, it's very difficult. This is the first time we've known when our season was going to end. There is an end date. We've always been in the playoffs or fighting for a playoff spot in the last week of the season. The guys are very disappointed, and I hope and believe that it will be a driving force for us as a football team and as an organization to get back to the type of football that we've played in our first five years."
On how much time he will take off before he gets back to work:
"I'll be in first thing tomorrow morning. The offseason, the non-game playing season, starts tomorrow with the sole purpose of being a better football team in 2014."

On time healing all wounds:

"I don't' think time heals all wounds. I think you get your confidence back by getting back on the horse so to speak, and go out there and play the game. Go out there and play efficiently, and when you start playing efficiently and start making plays then that confidence level comes back."

Tight end Tony Gonzalez

On this being his last game:

"It was great. Honestly, it went exactly as I thought it would go, except the winning part. We weren't able to pull it out. The pre-game, during the game; I'm so flattered and so thankful that I've been able to be a part of this organization for the last five years, and obviously the 12 years before that in Kansas City. My career it's turned out to be something more than I ever thought and more than I ever dreamed. It's been an unbelievable ride. It's amazing. I'm still looking back and saying; I can't believe this has happened to me, honestly. And I like I told you guys before, when I first got in the league, looking ahead... it's humbling. I'm just so lucky to be surrounded by such good people. The teammates that I've had, people like Tony Richardson, Jason Dunn, Trent Green. The list goes on and on. The coaches, Coach Vermeil, Coach Shottenheimer, when I first came in, and to end it with these guys, Roddy (White), Matt (Ryan) and Coach Smith and Thomas Dimitroff bringing me over here. I look back at myself and I say; what did I do to deserve this? Somebody pinch me because it's been a blast. It's like a dream and I'm thankful for it."

On having the halftime ceremony in the middle of the game and his family in attendance:

"It was great. It's just about snapping in and snapping out and trying to control those emotions because they were running through me today. I felt like crying at times. Then the game comes up and you're all intense, trying to go out there and do what you been doing for the last 17 years. To have them on the sideline, that's who I've been playing for. There a big piece of my puzzle. My family, these people have been with me since the beginning and I wouldn't be standing here if it wasn't for them. I'm so gracious to them. To just come out, I had about 40 people on that sideline it seemed like. My brother, my mom, my cousin and my wife and kids, that core group, I've been so lucky and there are people out there that can't say that. I'm surrounded by so much love and I'm thankful for it."

On not winning a Super Bowl during his career:

"The Super Bowl wasn't obviously in my cards and I'm ok with that. I did an interview with Peter King a couple of weeks ago, and that was one thing I wanted to emphasize: Don't ever look at me and say, well he never won the big game. I hope there's no glitch on my record because of that, and if you think that way I don't think you know what you're talking about. I really don't because this is the ultimate team sport. I've been on some really good teams, but we weren't able to get over the hump. Its offense, defense and special teams and then the ball has to go your way. We didn't have that this year. It seems like the horseshoe fell out of our butts. Even this game today, we're driving and everybody felt confident and we felt like we were going to go get the job done, just like last week in San Francisco, and then it's one of these plays...fluke type plays, I mean, stuff that's uncharacteristic of what we've done around here the past five years. The winning that we've done, it happened for a reason, and that's what I told the guys last night when I stood up in front of the team. Coach Smith asked me to talk to them; first of all, I was thankful for that. But my message was, learn something from this year. There's a lot of growing you can have when you're in adversity, when you're in a losing situation. I know that's what brought me
here today. My second year in the league when I dropped 17 balls and I had that horrible year, it made me the person I am today. That's what I wanted to stress to those guys, use this year. Make it count for something because the sky's the limit. There's so much talent on this team, and looking forward if they figure it out, how to work the right way, which I think they will because the core group of guys do that, guys like Matt, Julio (Jones), guys like a couple of the defensive players. It's a big deal. It's a big deal and it's going to make this organization great."

On his contribution to the tight end position:

"When I first came in I used to watch Shannon Sharpe. I used to watch tapes of Kellen Winslow Sr. I was just lucky to get that torch passed to me, and be in some offenses where they trusted me to move me out from that traditional tight end spot, where you're not just attached to the line, where they can put you out at receiver, put you in the slot. Put me in the backfield, I remember coming out of the backfield catching balls. I mean where you're just a weapon and it's just a matchup and you pose that matchup at all times. I'm proud of the guys that have come after me. Guys that are coming up now. Guys like Rob Gronkowski. Guys like Jimmy Graham and what they're doing with the position, and they're going to take it to new heights, I hope. I'm glad that I was a part of that. It's a good feeling. It's a humbling feeling."

On why he is retiring now:

"Because I'm old. Because my body hurts. Also, most you guys know the story, with my son Nikko, he's out in L.A. and he doesn't live with me. It's time for me to get back and devote everything because football has been up here for me. It always was. My family's here and football is right next to it. For better, for worse. That's just the way my mentality worked. I was obsessed with football, OCD about it. OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, but it's not a disorder if you channel it the right way in the right direction, it's a gift. I need to put that emphasis on my family now, and on the next part of my life. This is like graduating to me. I'm going to miss it. I'm going to miss my classmates – my teammates, my coaches – my teachers. I'm going to miss them, but at the same time, it's time for me to go onto the next stage of life like everybody else. Nobody is immune to this. Everybody that plays is going to have this day. The way that I've been able to go out, on my own terms, it's a blessing. Like I said, I have no regrets."

On it being 17 long seasons or 17 short seasons:

"Short. When you're having fun it's never work. I still haven't worked a day in my life. Maybe when I was younger, my first job passing out flyers. Now this is a dream come true to play in the NFL. It's such a gift. If somebody feels like this is long, you're not doing it the right way. You're not enjoying it. I've enjoyed it. I've enjoyed the hell out of it. I've had some great teammates, like I said and a couple of those guys are here that I've played with. I'm going to go out tonight. I'm going to have a great time tonight celebrating with a couple of my coaches, my teammates and my friends and family. That's what it's all about. You have to have fun with this, otherwise you won't enjoy the ride."

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