I’ll go ahead and say this: I was a big fan of Mike Smith electing to play the starters throughout the game.
In 2010, the Falcons blew out the Carolina Panthers 31-10, and the starters were pulled after the third quarter. Last season, the Falcons jumped on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as soon as the game started and took a 42-7 by halftime. Some of the starters were pulled after they took a 42-0 lead in the second quarter.
Both instances saw Atlanta come away with a commanding win to end the season, only to get demolished in the playoffs.
I believe the fact the starters played the entire game on Sunday keeps them a little fresh and in the football mindset. If the starters hadn’t played, it would have been three weeks since they had played a game once the divisional round of the playoffs came around. Undoubtedly, they would’ve been rusty.
With that said, I wasn’t thrilled with the way the Falcons performed against the Bucs; the starters looked wholly uninterested. They were outperformed by a Bucs team that had lost six in a row.
Before the game, Smith said the team was going to “play to win,” yet I’m unsure if the Falcons really cared about winning – or playing, for that matter. By playing the starters, you risked injuries to key players, and you got injuries to a couple of key players: John Abraham and Dunta Robinson were injured, but they will be available for the playoffs.
A positive tidbit that can be taken away from the loss is the fact the Falcons rarely lose back-to-back games under Smith: Since 2008, Atlanta is 20-3 after losing a game. Those three back-to-back losses all came in 2009 – a year in which both Matt Ryan and Michael Turner get hurt. Is a playoff victory on the horizon? I think so.