FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Mike Smith is not giving up on the Falcons' season, just as he wouldn't give up in the closing minutes of a lopsided loss to Seattle.
Smith was criticized for exposing quarterback Matt Ryan and others to injuries by leaving them on the field late in Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Seahawks. The coach said he wouldn't abandon the idea of trying to win.
Similarly, Smith said Monday he hasn't given up on the season even when three straight ugly losses have left the Falcons 2-7.
The Falcons already have matched the high mark for losses in Smith's first five seasons — a 9-7 finish in 2009. Atlanta trails first-place New Orleans by five games in the NFC South.
Smith said he's heard plenty of negative talk about the outlook for the remainder of the season, including this week's game at Tampa Bay.
"This season is not over," Smith said. "I know people want to say doom and gloom. That's not the case. We've not played the type of football that we'd like to play in the first nine games. It is well below our expectations and we're going to continue to work and get ready to play the Buccaneers."
Smith acknowledged there must be improvement on both lines and in the running game.
In his third game back from a hamstring injury, Steven Jackson was held to 11 yards rushing on nine carries. Seattle's Marshawn Lynch ran for 145 yards and a touchdown, and Smith said Seattle dominated both lines.
"I think we did not win the physical battle ... they won that handily," Smith said. "I felt like they won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. That's where games are won and lost."
As a result, Jackson often had no chance.
"Of course I'm frustrated," Jackson said.
"The thing about it is you have to keep chipping away. No one is going to come in the locker room and save us. We have to save ourselves. ... We can't dwell on it. One thing about being a professional, you have to acknowledge the things you made a mistake on and move on to the next one."
The Falcons quickly fell so far behind that they abandoned any hope of balancing their offence in the second half. Ryan had to carry the load.
"On our first possession of the second half, we were down 26-3, and at that time your run game basically goes out the window," Smith said.
It was not a new problem.
"I know that Steven is a guy who gets stronger as the game goes on," Smith said. "Unfortunately, in the last three weeks the game has gotten so out of hand coming out after halftime we've had to basically ditch the run and start throwing the football, so we haven't had an opportunity to really concentrate on running the ball for 60 minutes."
Left tackle Sam Baker was held out with a knee injury. He has missed five games this season. He played on Nov. 3 against Carolina but couldn't stay off the inactive list two straight weeks.
"Yes, it is a concern when you're not able to play consecutive games," Smith said.
The offensive line lost centre Todd McClure, who retired, and right tackle Tyson Clabo, who was released, from the 2012 starting unit. Mike Johnson, who was expected to replace Clabo, was lost for the season when he dislocated his left ankle and broke his left leg in training camp.
With Baker's ongoing knee problem added to the mix, the lack of continuity on the line has been a constant issue that resurfaced against Seattle.
"A couple of our opportunities to run it, we never got a chance to get it going," Smith said. "There were some individuals and individual blocks and combination blocks that were executed very well and there were some blocks that were not executed very well on the same play. As a unit, you've got to hit on all your blocks if you're going to have a chance to have a successful running play."
Smith said linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will be activated off the injured reserve list by Wednesday. Weatherspoon, one of the defence's leaders, has been out since hurting his foot the second week of the season.
Smith said he had no update on tight end Tony Gonzalez, who briefly left Sunday's game with a toe injury.
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