Falcons Crumble at Home to Panthers: Three Things We Learned
Following a 34-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons season has finally come to an end. And with the loss the career of Mike Smith as the team’s head coach may too have come to an end.
A game that was a “must win” for both sides turned out to be as big a blowout as any game that has been played in the NFL this season. The winner goes on to the playoffs as the fourth seed, the loser stays home and tries to figure out how to put together a winning record and whether there should be wholesale changes across the board.
Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned interceptions for touchdowns as Carolina's defense led the Panthers to a 34-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to win the NFC South.
Carolina (7-8-1) will host a wild-card playoff game next week. The Panthers have won four straight, but still are the first team to enter the playoffs with a losing record since 2010, when Seattle was 7-9.
Harper scored on a 31-yard return in the second quarter and Boston helped clinch the win with his 84-yard interception return late in the third quarter. A 33-yard fumble return by Thomas Davis set up another touchdown.
Here is what we learned about this game.
A REPEAT PERFORMANCE
Because the Panthers won the NFC South they will became the first team in the history of that division (since 2002) to repeat as champion. In fact, none of the four current NFC South teams ever won its division in consecutive seasons even prior to 2002.
SMITH’S FATE IS NOW UP TO MANAGEMENT
According to a report on ESPN.com, the Falcons have hired the search firm Korn Ferry to identify head-coaching candidates in the event the team makes a head-coaching change, league sources told ESPN.
Current coach Mike Smith was hired in 2008 after serving as the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator from 2003-07.
Smith was asked Monday if the regular-season finale could decide his future.
"I know that that's a subject that everybody wants to talk about and I said, I don't know four or five weeks ago -- I hope this is the last time that I have to answer it -- I'm going to prepare just like I've done for the seven years that I've been here," Smith said. "My focus is on winning football games and winning the next football game. And I'm going to continue to do that until Arthur Blank tells me differently."
During his first five seasons at the helm from 2008-12, Smith compiled a 56-24 regular-season record, which was the second-best mark over that time period. His total included three consecutive playoff appearances and two NFC South titles. Smith has a 1-4 postseason record.
RYAN’S EXPRESS HALTED
The main reason the Falcons have remained in contention for the NFC South division title has been the play of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense. On Sunday, it failed.
Ryan threw for 260 yards on the day, but suffered two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. He was also under constant pressure by the Carolina defense that sacked him on six occasions on Sunday.