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Blank says Falcons 'not where we need to be'

By Charles Odum

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 11 2012 5:00 p.m. MST

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, from left, owner and chairman Arthur M. Blank, and head coach Mike Smith hold a season in review NFL football news conference at the Arthur M. Blank Family Office on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, in Atlanta.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton, Associated Press

ATLANTA — Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Wednesday he is disappointed the team is "not where we need to be," but he said turnover on the coaching staff may help.

Following a 10-6 regular season, Atlanta lost at the New York Giants on Sunday, 24-2. The lopsided loss left the Falcons 0-3 in the playoffs in four seasons with general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith.

Since the loss, the Falcons have lost both coordinators. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left to head Auburn's defense, and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was hired as the Jacksonville Jaguars' coach.

Blank said the team didn't want to lose VanGorder and Mularkey.

The owner said Dimitroff and Smith should be "excited about bringing in some folks that will be able to give us maybe some new perspective, not only on scheme questions but on player issues they may have as well."

The Falcons' offense was led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who set a team record with 4,177 yards passing, running back Michael Turner, who finished third in the league with 1,340 yards rushing, and receiver Roddy White, who finished second in the league with 100 catches. Rookie Julio Jones tied for 11th in the league with eight TD catches.

Ryan, Turner, White and the offense was shut out by the Giants as Atlanta's only points came on a safety.

"I would say in 2011 we took a step back instead of forward," Blank said. "That doesn't mean we haven't taken a lot of steps forward in the last four years. We have, but that being said, we're not where we need to be.

"We have not performed well during the postseason. We have not been competitive at that time. I know there's a tremendous amount of disappointment with our fans, our sponsors and everybody connected with the organization."

Smith and Dimitroff joined Blank in the news conference at the owner's offices. It was an unusual setting for a season-review session with reporters.

"One of the reasons we feel necessary to talk with you today, we wanted to share with you our own disappointment," Blank said.

Blank said he remains confident in Smith and Dimitroff, who have brought four straight winning seasons to a franchise which had never before managed to deliver two straight winning records.

"I still feel blessed and I have great confidence, as great confidence as I've ever had, because of the intellectual honesty both of these gentlemen have," Blank said. "They're not defensive by nature. They don't need me to flog them. They've done plenty of flogging to themselves.

"They are self-critical, they will be honest in their evaluations of their own performance, of the coaches' performance and the personnel department's performance and the decisions we've made. They will do anything and everything they can in their power to move us to the next level, and I have complete faith and confidence in their abilities to do so."

Smith said he hoped to begin interviews with candidates to replace VanGorder and Mularkey "as quickly as possible."

Blank added that the input from new coordinators should help the offseason evaluations.

"Sometimes after a long period of time with a player, or an organization or a scheme, you tend to fall in love with them," he said. "Sometimes it's healthy to have somebody from the outside look at it as well and confirm your thinking or maybe ask some questions you were not asking. I think that will be healthy for us this year."

The Falcons have 17 unrestricted free agents, including four key starters on defense: end John Abraham, cornerback Brent Grimes, linebacker Curtis Lofton and safety Thomas DeCoud.

Dimitroff said more is needed than "a minor tweak here or there." But he said he doesn't want to start over.

"There's a foundation here in place," Dimitroff said. "I'm not suggesting at all we are going to blow anything up."

Dimitroff said he is "scrutinizing the entire team" and must make some difficult decisions on free agents. He suggested some popular players may not be back in 2012.

"We will analyze our roster," Dimitroff said before adding "There are no sacred cows."

Blank quickly added: "There may be some sacrificial cows, but no sacred cows."

Note: White was named Wednesday as a Pro Bowl injury replacement for Detroit's Calvin Johnson. White will join tight end Tony Gonzalez as Falcons on the NFC Pro Bowl team.

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