Mike Smith has never started 1-3 in his time as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, but he could slip to that record tonight if the Falcons don’t find a way to beat the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — The Falcons, off to a 1-2 start for the second time in coach Mike Smith’s tenure, decided to close practice in order to fix the team’s woes.
Smith, who did not reveal the extent of Roddy White’s high ankle sprain, was not happy when some of the team’s personnel moves were reported. With Sam Baker out of the lineup, green right tackle Lamar Holmes moved over to left tackle, where he spent all of his rookie season.
Jeremy Trueblood, the former Tampa Bay Buc, moved to right tackle. Smith contended that move was not about personnel, but was un-reportable strategy.
Smith called the move a football decision, and the team announced that it was closing practice to the media other than the “at least the first 30 minutes or until the start of ‘team’ work” that is required by the NFL’s 2013 media relations policy.
He doesn’t believe the team is over-reacting to a bad start when they were projected by many to be a Super Bowl contender.
“Absolutely not!,” Smith said. “You can’t concern yourself with anything but this game, and that is the mindset that we take each and every week. We’ve doing it that way since we’ve been here, and we will continue to do it that way.”
The Falcons (1-2) face the second of three consecutive AFC East opponents with a game against New England (3-0) tonight at the Georgia Dome.
The Patriots earned narrow victories at Buffalo (23-21) and at home over the Jets (13-10) before thumping the Buccaneers 23-3 on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. New England is 3-0 for the first time since 2007.
The Falcons will be New England’s toughest test to date. The Bills (1-2) and Jets (2-1) each started rookie quarterbacks and the Buccaneers are winless.
With practice closed, now the Falcons can fix their many issues, including scoring more touchdowns in the red zone, protecting quarterback Matt Ryan and put a plan in place to defense New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who could return this week.
The Falcons have scored touchdowns on 50 percent (6 of 12) of their possessions inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.
In their 27-23 defeat at Miami, the Falcons scored touchdowns on just two of five trips inside Miami’s 20. They settled for two field goals and kicker Matt Bryant also missed a 35-yard attempt.
Ryan wasn’t sacked against the Dolphins after he was dropped three times in the opener at New Orleans and twice against St. Louis.
But that doesn’t mean Ryan didn’t feel Miami’s pass rush. The Dolphins hurried Ryan 13 times and hit him twice on 39 dropbacks. The Patriots totaled seven sacks in their past two games.
Gronkowski, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, could make his season debut after sitting out because of injury. Gronkowski had 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 11 games in 2012. In 2011, he totaled 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The Falcons have never opened a season 1-3 under Smith.
“Well this is the most important game for us because it is the next one,” Smith said. “You’re guaranteed 16 opportunities and you want to make the best out of each opportunity. I think everybody in this league has that same mindset where the next game is the most important one.”
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 6-6. The Patriots beat the Falcons, 26-10, on Sept. 27, 2009 as quarterback Matt Ryan completed 17 of 28 passes for 199 yards during his second season in the league. Ryan has won 10 of his past 12 games against AFC teams. The losses came last week against Miami and Houston (17-10) on Dec. 4, 2011.