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After Falcons fizzle, coach Arthur Smith deflects when asked about his future

Following Atlanta’s second-half collapse against the rival Saints on Sunday, embattled Falcons coach Arthur Smith had opportunities to make a public case for his retention.

He wasn’t willing to address it.

The Falcons entered their game against the Saints with an outside chance to win the dismal NFC South but were outscored 31-0 after halftime, losing 48-17 to wind up 7-10 for the third time in Smith’s three-year tenure.

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“I understand the questions and appreciate them, but we just finished the game,” he said. “Obviously it wasn’t what we needed today. The second half got out of hand. Credit to New Orleans.”

Everything went wrong for Atlanta from the first series of the third quarter.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder threw an interception right to cornerback Alontae Taylor, who returned it to the Falcons’ 25. Saints receiver Chris Olave then caught a touchdown pass he tipped twice before grabbing in the end zone despite tight coverage from cornerback Clark Phillips.

“Obviously the pick didn’t help,” said Ridder, who started for the Falcons after Taylor Heinicke was a game-day scratch because of an ankle injury.

“I never saw the corner on the out route. I’ve got to be able to check the ball down there,” Ridder explained. “That’s kind of where you felt the momentum switch.”

The Falcons had a third-and-1 at their 34 on the next series when they elected to take a deep shot. Ridder threw into double coverage for an incomplete pass that led to a punt.

The Saints responded with a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, scoring on a 39-yard pass when receiver Rashid Shaheed outjumped safety Richie Grant.

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“Hindsight’s 20-20,” Smith said. “Clearly that was a big momentum shift. We took a risk. It didn’t work. They took advantage of it.”

The Falcons drove to a third-and-goal inside the Saints 1 on their next possession, but running back Cordarelle Patterson was stuffed for a 1-yard loss out of the shotgun and safety Ugo Amadi undercut Bijan Robinson to break up a fourth-down pass at the goal line.

New Orleans then drove 92 yards before Blake Grupe’s 24-yard field goal with 9:57 left made the score 34-17.

Atlanta, which scored touchdowns on its first two series, managed only a 30-yard field goal by Younghoo Kim on the last play of the first half during its last 11 possessions.

The Atlanta defense was on the field for 20:09 in the first half and could not slow down the Saints in the second half.

“We didn’t have the ball very long,” Smith said. “The defense was out there for a long time.”

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The question now is whether Smith will keep his job after the Falcons started 2-0 but lost 10 of their next 15 games. Falcons owner Arthur Blank attended Smith’s postgame session with reporters but did not comment on the coach’s status.

Even a victory would not have extended Atlanta’s season. They were eliminated from playoff contention during the fourth quarter when Tampa Bay finished off Carolina.

“At the end of the day I would love for coach (Smith) to be back,” said Ridder, who finished his second season with 12 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. “I would love for everyone to be back, but at the end of the day that’s not in my control or coach’s control.”

Atlanta has failed to reach the playoffs for six straight years — tied for the third-longest drought in the NFL. Smith is responsible for the last three, when only two other teams (Carolina and the New York Jets) have lost 10 or more games each time.

“I’m sure there are a bunch of question marks,” safety Jessie Bates said. “We put ourselves in this type of position.”

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