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Falcons' Smith hopes to learn from losses
Buccaneers Falcons Fo Heal
Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner, left, and quarterback Matt Ryan smile after the Falcons defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Mike Smith wants his first two playoff losses with the Falcons to be "growing experiences" that will help his team prepare for Sunday's first-round game at the New York Giants.

With Smith in his first season as coach and Matt Ryan starting as a rookie quarterback, the Falcons lost to Arizona in the first round of the playoffs after the 2008 season. The Falcons had a first-round bye last year before losing 48-21 to Green Bay.

Smith said it's important the Falcons (10-6) learn from the losses. He said based on those lessons he is planning tweaks to the Falcons' practice this week.

"I know we've had two postseason games prior to this," Smith said. "We haven't gotten the outcome we've wanted. We are learning from those experiences. We're going to use those as growing experiences and we're looking forward to competing this week, and that's not just Matt Ryan.

"That's Mike Smith and every member of our team."

The Falcons, who never enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons before Smith's arrival in 2008, now have four straight winning seasons and the team's first back-to-back playoff berths. The obvious missing piece in Smith's otherwise impressive record is a playoff win.

Smith said he's glad the Falcons, who capped their regular season with Sunday's 45-24 win over Tampa Bay, can move straight into their playoff week.

"I think the way that it went down last year, I'd rather be up this week and go ahead and play," he said. "That was one of the things I don't know that we handled as well as we should of, the way that I structured it. I think if we get in that situation again we'll handle it a little bit differently."

Smith said he also discussed other changes for this week.

"In our staff meeting today, I brought out the notebook in terms of things we wrote down," Smith said, referring to his notes from the last two playoff games. "You learn from everything that you do in terms of how you prepare. In terms of the actual scheduling, we're not going to change that but there are some things we definitely are going to do a little bit differently."

He wouldn't provide details of his planned changes.

"Some things I'd rather not talk about in terms of subtle changes in our installation and how we're going to present things to our football team," he said.

The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement strictly limits the number of practices in full pads. Smith said the Falcons have not worked out in full pads since Week 13. He said his players could work in full pads in one practice this week.

"So it changes a little bit from what we've been doing in the last six or seven weeks of the season," he said.

The Falcons had four turnovers, including two interceptions by Ryan, in last year's playoff loss to Green Bay. They had three turnovers, including Ryan's two interceptions, in their 30-24 loss to Arizona.

"There was a common theme in terms of you can't turn the football over," Smith said. "That was the pressing thing.

"It's no different than regular-season football, but we've got to make sure that we have ball security. We cannot turn the ball over in the postseason. It's imperative."

The Falcons led the Buccaneers 42-0 on Sunday before pulling Ryan and other starters out of the game.

Ryan said the runaway win gave the offense momentum for the playoffs.

"I think it kind of put us in a little bit of a rhythm," Ryan said.

"We made the plays and that's what we need to do moving forward. I think everybody's confidence is very high heading into next week."

Notes: Smith said the Falcons have given the Jacksonville Jaguars permission to interview offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey for their head coach position. The interview is likely to take place next week. "I don't have any doubt in my mind Mike's sole focus for this week is on the New York Giants," Smith said. ... Linebacker Stephen Nicholas, held out of Sunday's game with a toe injury, worked on the practice field with trainers on Monday but is doubtful for the Giants game, according to Smith.