Under head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have made a living winning close games, but things changed last season. Ordinarily in those heart-rate-inducing games, the Falcons came out victorious, finding some way to win in the final moments. In 2013, the tables turned on the Falcons and they came out on the wrong end of close games more times than not.
After going 7-2 in seven-point games in 2012, the Falcons were 3-8 this past season in one-score games, including two one-point losses.
A losing record in close games hasn’t been the norm under Smith. In 2011, the Falcons finished 4-3 in one-score games. In 2010, they were 7-2. In 2009, the Falcons finished 3-2 in such games and were 6-2 in 2008, giving Smith a total record of 30-19.
These close wins are not a tribute to luck, but rather a testament to sound play on the football field that includes good protection of the quarterback, limiting turnovers and mistakes on offense and forcing turnovers on defense. These were three things missing for stretches of the 2013 season and the result is the first losing record in one-score games under Smith.
The trend of maintaining sustained success in close games is a short one in the NFL, a league that prides itself on parity. In 2011, the five teams with the best records in one-score games combined for a 27-8 record. In 2012, they dropped to 16-16-1, according to Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com, in games decided by seven points or less.
The results in ’08, ’10 and ’12 are good reminders the Falcons have consistently been one of the best teams in the league in close games. Even in ’09 and ’11, they won more than they lost. This season’s bundle of heart-breaking losses took it’s toll on the season’s final record and the Falcons’ chances for the playoffs, but it can also be considered an outlier. The Falcons’ history under Smith says they win more often than they lose in close games and there’s evidence that they’ll get things turned back around in 2014.