By Matthew Asher
At Coach Smith‘s usual Monday news conference, the main question was how the Falcons could win their first playoff game since 2004, when Michael Vick was the quarterback. Since Seattle defeated the Redskins less than 48 hours earlier, a new wrinkle has been thrown into the equation that gives the Falcons even more reason to believe they will be moving on to the NFC Championship game.
Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons will not be suiting up. Clemons tore his ACL and meniscus in the game against Washington and will require surgery. In a bit of inadvertent humor, Clemons’ agent claims the injury was caused by the “crappy” condition of FedEx Field. Whatever the case may be, the Falcons now do not have to worry about Clemons’ 40 tackles, 11.5 sacks or three forced fumbles that Chris was responsible for this season.
At the time of the press conference, Clemons had not been ruled out for the game, so Smith only spoke knowing that Clemons was injured. Smith still had nothing but good things to say about the defensive ends of Seattle.
Bruce Irvin will probably be the player to step in for Clemons against Atlanta. “Bruce is a guy that is very similar in stature to Clemons,” Smith said. “He had eight sacks in the regular season. Had one yesterday in the ballgame. He’s the 12th pick in the draft if I’m not mistaken. A guy that can get up the field very similar to Chris (Clemons).” For the record, Irvin was the 15th pick in the draft, but close enough.
Now the pressure is on Atlanta even more to win this game. How has his team been preparing? “The biggest thing when you get the Bye, you’ve got to make sure you get the right workload and the management part of keeping the guys focused on what they really need to be focused on that week,” Smith said. “This morning at our meeting, it was the first time we’ve met where we had an opportunity to really talk about who we were going to be playing.”
Smith believes that even though the same core group of Falcons have been with the team since 2008, this team is different from the 2008, 2010 and 2011 “one and done in the playoffs” Falcons. “We’re a much more mature team because of our experiences. I think you learn from your previous experiences in the playoffs,” Smitty said. “This is a team that’s been very focused from the beginning of the season. We’ve got a lot of guys that have experienced the playoff atmosphere and they’re going to be able to help some of these younger guys that haven’t.”
Smitty hopes that veterans with success in the playoffs like Asante Samuel will be able to share their keys towards victories in the postseason. So far, with a 13-3 record, Atlanta has definitely been doing something right.
“We feel very good about what we’ve accomplished thus far this year,” Smith said. “We have expectations. We set our goals and we’ve been clicking along pretty well this season. I like the way that we’ve played through the first season. The second season is getting ready to start and I know that we respect everybody that’s in this tournament because they’ve fought very hard to get in it.”
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.