FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Coach Mike Smith keeps searching for ways to fix the Atlanta Falcons, and nothing seems to work.
Since finishing 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl two years ago, the Falcons have been a model of dysfunction on the field.
They are 9-21 over the last two years and have lost three of five entering Sunday's game at New Orleans.
"Every time we go out there, we know what we're up against and how we're going to be evaluated," Smith said on Monday. "So it hurts, but we've learned from those losses and we've learned from what happened yesterday."
Victories over the Saints and Carolina would make Atlanta 7-9 and give Smith his third NFC South title in seven seasons.
That might be hard to imagine considering how poorly the Falcons have played this year, but their division is one of the weakest in league history.
"We all understand where we're at," Smith said. "We know we control our own destiny. It doesn't matter what anyone else does. The first thing we have to do is go down and play very well and win the game in New Orleans."
Falcons owner Arthur Blank hasn't said publicly if the coach will return next year, but Smith insists that he's not fretting about job security and is focused solely on helping Atlanta beat the Saints.
It won't be easy. Smith is 1-5 at New Orleans, 4-9 in the series.
"The playoffs start for us right away," running back Steven Jackson said. "It's going to be a tough one on the road, but we'll be ready for it."
Smith will need to coach a nearly perfect game and avoid clock management gaffes that allowed Detroit and Cleveland to kick last-second winning field goals.
Against the Steelers, Smith decided to punt from the Atlanta 25 on fourth-and-two late in the fourth quarter. Sending the NFL's most porous defense back on the field turned out to be the wrong move as the Steelers consumed the final 4 minutes, 34 seconds to win 27-20.
"When you don't win, it's not fun," Smith said. "It's not fun for the players. It's not fun for the coaches. It's not fun for our fans. Ultimately, there's one guy held accountable for it, and that's the head coach."
Quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw an interception against Pittsburgh that cornerback William Gay returned for a 52-yard touchdown, could help Smith's cause by playing a mistake-free game.
Ryan has thrown a pick in each of the last four games. It marked the third time this year that he's had an interception returned for a TD.
"It was just kind of a tough play," Ryan said. "I let it go and certainly that's a decision you can't make. I can't do that. It stops there."
Notes: Starting CB Robert Alford was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a broken wrist. Alford, a second-draft pick in 2013, was injured last month at Carolina and underwent surgery on Monday. ... Smith said he anticipates that WR Julio Jones, the NFL's second-leading receiver, will be "ready to go" Sunday. Jones suffered a hip injury late in a loss at Green Bay two weeks ago and didn't play in Sunday's home loss to Pittsburgh. ... Smith wasn't sure if SS William Moore (foot) and RG guard Jon Asamoah (back) will be able to practice this week.
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