Falcons head coach Mike Smith concludes a season ending news conference at the Atlanta Falcons practice facility on Monday, one day after the New York Giants defeated the Falcons, 24-2, in an NFC wild-card game.
FLOWERY BRANCH — After another one-and-done in the playoffs, Falcons coach Mike Smith said Monday his team's season can't be called a success.
Smith delivered milestones for the franchise with the Falcons' fourth straight winning season and second straight playoff appearance. But he promised more in-depth evaluations of every player this offseason following Sunday's 24-2 loss to the New York Giants.
"It definitely needs a closer look because we did not advance any further than we did the previous year," Smith said. "To sit here and say that this season was a success or more successful than the previous year, it wasn't simply because we did not advance."
The loss to the Giants left Smith 0-3 in the playoffs in his four years in Atlanta. It was the second straight lopsided defeat in the playoffs, following last year's 48-21 home loss to Green Bay.
Smith said the two seasons were not the same. Last year's team had a first-round bye after winning 13 regular-season games. This year's team was 10-6 before the loss in the wild-card round.
"You're never really staying the same," he said. "You can say you lost in your first game last year, you lost in your first game this year. You're either getting better or you're going backward. There's no staying the same in this business. You're going in one or the other direction. There is no neutral."
Smith acknowledged the Falcons moved in the wrong direction.
"Obviously I said we didn't get better, so that would definitely be the case," he said. "We did not win as many football games. We were more consistent last year. We were inconsistent. We said it from the beginning of the season, the way that our games played out — up, down, up, down, up, down."
It was a much less forgiving evaluation of his team than one day after last year's playoff loss to the Packers when the coach said "The sky has not fallen" and "I don't think we can overreact."
After a draft-day trade added Alabama receiver Julio Jones as a starter, the Falcons were expected to contend for a spot in the Super Bowl. Instead, they were swept by NFC South champion New Orleans, lost at home to Green Bay and were handed road losses at Chicago, Tampa Bay and Houston.
Only two of the Falcons' 10 wins came against teams that finished with winning records — Detroit and Tennessee.
Smith said his meetings with players on Monday were difficult.
"We were all disappointed in the outcome of the game," he said. "We didn't play up to our capabilities. That was obvious. We are disappointed, extremely disappointed in the way that we played as a football team. Our goal is to do everything in our power not to have that happen again. We want to make sure that we do that."
The Falcons' only points against the Giants came on a safety.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked only twice and did not throw an interception but he was hit seven other times and faced constant pressure. He was stopped on two fourth-and-one runs.
"They had pressure on me all day," Ryan said. "Their front line really played very well, but that's what we expected. We didn't make the plays on critical third and fourth downs. They have a very good defense and one of the best front fours we have played this year.
"We have to learn and move on. We had some opportunities but we couldn't get it done. Our guys played hard up front, but we couldn't make any plays down the field like we usually do."
Ryan completed 24 of 41 passes for only 199 yards.
It was a painfully meager postseason showing for Ryan after he set the franchise record with 4,177 yards passing in the regular season.
"We never got into a rhythm," Ryan said. "We never moved the ball consistently. We had some opportunities. We fell short on two fourth downs. We just came up short. In a playoff game against a very good football team, you have to make those plays and we didn't make them."
Smith said players and coaches are frustrated "simply because we didn't get the job done."
At least one coach won't be back.
Smith announced he must replace defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who left to head Auburn's defense.
"Brian has been an integral part of our success here over the last four years," Smith said. "I want to thank Brian and his family for all that they've done for our organization. This is a decision Brian and his family have made and I want to personally thank Brian for of his hard work and all the work he has done to make us successful here in Atlanta."
Smith would not say if former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio would be a candidate to replace VanGorder. Smith was the Jaguars' defensive coordinator under Del Rio before he was hired by the Falcons.
Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has interviews to be the head coach with Miami and Jacksonville.
Falcons' VanGorder to take over Auburn's defense
AUBURN, Ala. — Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has returned to the college ranks to take the same job at Auburn.
Auburn announced the hiring Monday of VanGorder, who has run Atlanta's defense for four years.
VanGorder's move continues his pattern of moving back and forth between college and NFL positions. He is the former coach at Georgia Southern and former defensive coordinator at Georgia, where he won the 2003 Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach.
VanGorder left Georgia to become an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005 before coaching at Georgia Southern and moving back to the NFL with the Falcons.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family at this point in my career, both professionally and personally, to become the defensive coordinator at Auburn," he said. "I'm looking forward to working at a school with the success and tradition of Auburn, and for a coach like Gene Chizik, who has led the program to a national championship. I'm very appreciative to the Atlanta Falcons and Coach Mike Smith for the experience of the last four years. It's a great organization and will have continued success in the future."
The Falcons finished the regular season ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing defense and 12th in total defense. Their season ended with Sunday's 24-2 loss to the Giants in an NFC wild-card game.
"Brian has been an integral part of our success here over the last four years," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "This is a decision Brian and his family have made and I want to personally thank Brian for of his hard work and all the work he has done to make us successful here in Atlanta."
Chizik said he targeted VanGorder from the outset to replace Ted Roof, who took the same position at Central Florida.
"From the beginning of this process, I had one person in mind, and that was Brian," Chizik said. "He has achieved success at every level, both professionally and collegiately, which is a testament to his ability as a coach. He has been one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL, has won a Broyles Award at the college level, and understands what it takes to succeed in the Southeastern Conference."
The Tigers finished the regular season ranked 78th in total defense and 79th in scoring defense a year after a national title run.
VanGorder had already accepted a job on Steve Spurrier's staff at South Carolina when Smith hired him.
Auburn announced the hiring just 5 hours before rival Alabama faced LSU in the BCS championship game.
Chizik is still seeking a replacement for offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who left to become head coach at Arkansas State.