FLOWERY BRANCH - With two weeks and 32 games left in the NFL schedule, Atlanta coach Mike Smith isn't considering how other teams could help the Falcons' playoff hopes.
'I am looking through my microscope instead of my telescope this week,' Smith said Monday. 'We can't concern ourselves with the different scenarios.'
Coming off a 13-10 overtime victory against Tampa Bay, the Falcons are one of the league's biggest surprises in their first season under Smith. Atlanta (9-5) was expected to stumble through another year of double-digit losses, but Smith, who's never worked as a head coach on any level of organized football, has delivered a major turnaround.
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, the third overall draft pick, matured fast enough to run a no-huddle attack in his first month. When they visit Minnesota (9-5) this week, the Falcons could have the No. 2-leading rusher in Michael Turner, the No. 2-leading receiver in Roddy White and the league's third-most productive sacks specialist in John Abraham.
But Smith doesn't want to risk leading his team into thinking the playoffs are a certainty despite Atlanta's six victories in its last eight NFC games. A 6-4 conference record that trails Dallas by two wins and Tampa Bay by one victory would leave the Falcons out of the race for the NFC's two wild-card spots if the season had ended in Week 14.
'We just need to go out and play well,' Smith said. 'At the end of it, the league will tell 12 teams that they will get an opportunity to continue playing. That is how we have to look at it. I don't think we need to concern ourselves with any of the scenarios.'
Offensively, defensively and on special teams, Atlanta still has many problems to solve.
In their last three games, the offense combined for eight turnovers, including three against the Buccaneers. The defense has created just one takeaway, cornerback Domonique Foxworth's third-quarter interception Sunday, over the last five games.
And special teams, which gave up a blocked punt that led to Tampa Bay's tying field goal with 2:29 left in regulation, could be without three important role players for the coverage and return units with David Irons, Thomas DeCoud, Brent Grimes and Laurent Robinson nursing injuries.
Strong-side linebacker Michael Boley, who last year was considered a player the Falcons could try to sign long-term, lost his starting job last week to career reserve Coy Wire. Smith, however, wouldn't indicate if the decision was because of problems on the field, off the field or both. Boley still faces domestic violence charges in nearby Gwinnett County for an incident with his wife at their home seven months ago.
After the game, Boley and Wire both said they didn't know if the change was permanent. Smith was noncommittal.
'That will really be based on the personnel grouping that the Vikings present,' Smith said. 'Again, it is very similar to what we do with our tight ends and our third receivers. It is just a matter of what kind of groupings there are. We have a plan in place that Coy will play in certain instances and Michael will play in the others. They should get equal time.'
Smith, coordinator Mike Mularkey and the rest of the offensive staff will spend Tuesday trying to figure ways to eliminate fumbles and interceptions.
Ryan is coming off a second difficult performance against the Bucs, averaging a passer rating 43.6, but problems in the red zone are a bigger concern. Reserve tight end Jason Rader fumbled away a third-quarter touchdown catch as Atlanta dropped to 49 percent this year scoring TDs inside opponents' 20-yard line.
'Like great teams do, we had to find ways to win the game even if it's ugly,' Ryan said. 'But at the end of the day, we will take it.'