The two most common topics among coaches and players in the wake of Atlanta's embarrassing 24-2 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Wild Card round can best be grouped into two categories - stunned examinations of what happened Sunday and uncertain thoughts as to what's to come for the franchise and a host of its notable names (quotes courtesy of the AJC and official Falcons site):
First, the present: Mike Smith defended his team's empty backfield call on 4th-and-1 that signalled an obvious QB sneak that didn't convert:
"It was less than a yard. It was about a half of a yard, maybe even less than that. That was the play again, we go through and we sequence those things out all through the week. We felt that was the play we had up and we just didn’t execute. We felt like, at any point in time, we ought to be able to move the football less than a half a yard with a quarterback sneak."
The obvious response - what about a field goal to cut the lead to five (10-5), and create a one-possession game? Said Smith:
"It was considered because of the score at that time. You could have gone ahead and attempted the field goal, but I felt and we felt as a staff and as a offense that we could move the ball. We wanted to [get] seven points just like we did earlier in the ball game. On the first one, we were just about at the range with our kicker [for] the attempt. On the second one, it was definitely inside [his range] and we could have had a go at it if we wanted to attempt the field goal."
And then, what about the 4th-and-1 the Falcons didn't go for? Why not then?? Smith:
My thought on that is that we had a little bit more than a yard. It wasn’t a yard or less. It was a crucial time in the ball game. There were a handful of them that stood out in the ball game. I think one of the areas was the short yardage or not being able to convert on that third down and we ended up about a yard to a half a yard short.
Smith wouldn't address the "big picture" issues the franchise faces immediately after the game other than to defend the assertion that the Falcons took a step back in 2011, but several players were left wondering what's to come, especially those with contracts expiring and free agency looming, like veteran center Todd McClure:
"I’ve definitely had thoughts. I’ve been here my whole career and I’d love to be back. I’ll talk with my agent and with these guys (Monday) a little bit and see where that takes us."
John Abraham's future emerged as the first talking point after the game, as the Pro Bowl defensive end Tweeted a thank you to Atlanta fans if his future was somewhere else. Cornerback Dunta Robinson addressed the potential overhaul of several key positions on defense:
"We feel like we have a lot of very good players on this defense," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "Hopefully, some of these free-agent guys will be back on this team so that we can continue to gel, continue to grow and try to become a great defense. We have to keep working and we have to stay healthy."
One player whose immediate future is clear - veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez recently signed a one-year extension to return to the Falcons next season - clarified his reason for returning next fall. While scores of fans and even some players and staff might have their doubts, the future Hall Of Fame inductee believes the team can win a world title:
"I’m never going to get down on myself for not winning a football game. It’s just the luck of the draw. I’ve still got one more season. I’m coming back for a reason because it’s about winning the Super Bowl and I think we’ve got a shot here. That’s why I signed back."