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Instant Debate

Smith's gamble hurt Falcons, but was going for it the right call?

With the Falcons in overtime against the Saints, Atlanta coach Mike Smith made the decision to go for a fourth-and-1 on his own 29-yard line. You know the rest of the story -- Michael Turner was stuffed, the Saints got the ball and soon kicked the game-winning field goal. Smith took all the blame for the decision after the loss, but the question remains: How much of a disservice did he do to his team?

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  • Michael Lombardi NFL Network
  • Reward not worth the risk

I hated Mike Smith's decision to go for it. Yes, I know it was fourth and inches, and any good team should be able to get inches for a first down. But why take the risk? All a first down would have meant was the Falcons would be entitled to three more plays. Not picking it up meant the Saints would probably win.

I initially thought the Falcons were going to try and get the Saints to jump offsides, but clearly they intended to win the game on that drive. At midfield, it might make sense, but at their own 29, I hated it. A loss to the Saints put the Falcons two games behind New Orleans in the win column as the second half of the season starts.

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  • Charles DavisNFL Network
  • True impact of call will have to wait

Not sure Smith did a disservice to his team. Yes, the Falcons lost a big divisional game. Yes, a strong case can be made that they should have punted after Atlanta's defense had put together a few stops. However, a confidence call by the coach (successful or not) can also galvanize a team for the future. We will soon find out.

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  • Jason La Canfora NFL Network
  • Stakes were too high to gamble

You can't go for it there, then, against that team, with so much at stake. Doesn't make sense.

I love the overall approach of being aggressive and bold and playing to your strengths ... but there is a time and place for everything. Not at your own 29-yard line against a division foe in overtime of what amounts to a playoff game.

The Falcons love the power run game and the Saints have suffered against the run, particularly against big backs, I get all of that. But the Atlanta defense had been playing well and there was plenty of time left in overtime. With a good punt, field position would be anything but hopeless.

It wasn't necessary and the risk-reward factor was out of whack. No need to force it there. Punt and see if Drew Brees throws a pick (he's thrown quite a few the past two years) or give your defense a chance to bottle them up. Get another crack at that Saints defense that you obviously think you can overpower.

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  • Steve Wyche
  • Decision could look worse in time

I was stunned that Smith, a coach who tends to play things more conservatively, went for it. His "Moneyball" excuse, of the Saints converting in previous games when the Falcons gave them a possession, doesn't wash. He should have punted and made the Saints work harder for the win. Smith is a defensive coach who came up with a plan that limited New Orleans to 23 points before the winning field goal. His defense played well in the fourth quarter and forced New Orleans to punt once already in overtime. Delving into the past for his rationale to go for it when the flow of this particular game proved his defense was worthy was the wrong move.

Instead, he gave the Saints the ball in field-goal range -- John Kasay, a dome kicker, already had three field goals in the game -- teeing up Atlanta's doom. Players have too much faith in Smith to ever lose confidence in him. They'll blame themselves for not converting on fourth down. If Atlanta doesn't reach the playoffs, though, this decision is going to look a lot worse than it does now.

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  • Bucky Brooks
  • Smith's confidence backfires

Mike Smith made a gutsy call that didn't work. Although conventional wisdom suggests that you should punt in that situation, the fact that the Falcons needed inches makes the decision to go for it reasonable. The Falcons are supposed to be an old-school, smash-mouth offense, so gaining less than a yard should never be an issue. Smith showed the utmost confidence in his players by going for it. While the Falcons came up short, I applaud Smith for playing to win and putting the onus on his offense to get it done.

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  • Pat Kirwan
  • Play-call bigger issue than going for it

Ask most players if they want to go for it and they will cry out, yes! When an offense has less than a yard to go, the sentiment usually is if we can't make it, we don't deserve to win. Not sure I believe in that kind of logic and the field position would have forced me to punt. Heading into this weekend, teams successfully converted 41 of 72 on fourth-and-1 situations, but the Falcons hadn't attempted one.

Smith factored into his decision that the Saints scored on three of the five previous series and believed he had to keep the ball. He might lose some sleep thinking about the play-call rather than the decision to go for it. The players will not think of their coach as a man who did them a disservice because they respect Smith and are a very tight group. Atlanta gets another shot at New Orleans in Week 16 and the Falcons also have five very winnable games remaining.

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