(Reuters) – For the fourth straight year, the Atlanta Falcons will miss the postseason.
Their 29-15 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday coupled with other results in the NFC meant that their 7-9 record with one game to go will not be enough to earn one of three wild-card spots.
While some onlookers might view Atlanta’s season finale at home against the New Orleans Saints as a so-called “meaningless” game, first-year coach Arthur Smith will make sure the Falcons are playing out the remainder of the schedule.
Smith was asked Monday if he’d use the Week 18 tilt to start playing different players in an effort to evaluate them for next year.
“Our approach is to win the game,” Smith said. “Every game we go out, that’s our job description.”
That extends to a player like rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, one of the biggest silver linings of the Falcons’ season. Pitts totaled another 69 receiving yards on just two catches against Buffalo to hit 1,017 on the season — becoming the first tight end since Mike Ditka in 1961 to eclipse 1,000 yards as a rookie.
Ditka finished that season with 1,076 (back when the regular season included just 14 games), and it still stands as a record. Pitts could set a new mark in Week 18, but he tweaked his hamstring during the Buffalo game and left early.
Smith said Pitts has not been ruled out for the Saints game yet — but him being in shouting distance of Ditka’s record would not have any bearing on the team’s decision.
“Those things are nice. I’m not disregarding those things, those stats,” Smith said. “But the only stat that matters (is), can we go out there and beat the Saints? That’s why we like Kyle … He wants to help the team. That’s your goal as a football player and a football coach.”
The Falcons will wrap up their season without running backs coach Desmond Kitchings. Smith announced that Kitchings accepted an offer to be the offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia under new coach Tony Elliott, effective immediately.
“He’s a smart coach, communicates well, understands how to provide value every week in terms of strategically coming up with ideas and getting his guys ready to go,” Smith said. “He’s a good, smart coach. He’ll be missed around here but it’s a heck of an opportunity for him.”
Smith said other coaches on the staff, including himself, will pitch in as a running back room “by committee” to finish out the year.
–Field Level Media