Mora defends record as Falcons shift focus to Eagles

Updated: December 26, 2006, 3:26 PM ET
Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Jim Mora was an acclaimed coach the last time Atlanta played at Philadelphia in the 2004 conference championship game after the Falcons won the NFC South.

Two years later, the heat is on Mora, his future with the Falcons (7-8) uncertain. The Falcons close a disappointing regular season Sunday at Philadelphia, but Mora's fate -- and the team's playoff hopes -- could be decided before the game begins.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said last month a second straight 8-8 finish is unacceptable. When asked about Mora's status after the Falcons' 10-3 loss to Carolina last Sunday, Blank reminded reporters about his November statement. By declining the chance to elaborate, Blank appeared to indicate he still would not accept a .500 record.

I'm proud of this football team. Our football team did some things that are overlooked when you lose a football game.
Jim Mora

If 8-8 isn't sufficient, then Mora's only hope may be for the Falcons to upset the Eagles, earn a wild-card berth by having Carolina, Green Bay and the New York Giants lose or tie this weekend, and then win at least one playoff game.

Considering the Falcons have lost six of their last eight games, the odds seem stacked against them. That may be why Mora defended his three-year record on Tuesday.

"I'm proud of this football team," he said. "Our football team did some things that are overlooked when you lose a football game. We've won the most games in the NFC South for three years. We've got the fourth-most wins in the NFC over the last three years. We've played in the NFC Championship Game. We've won the NFC South. We've been in the hunt through 15 weeks last year and we're still in the hunt through the last week this year."

Mora's regular-season record is 26-21. His third season has been perhaps the most difficult, thanks in part to injuries to Brian Finneran, Patrick Kerney and John Abraham.

Mora also has had to endure an unusual progression of off-field distractions, including the embarrassment he caused himself by telling a Seattle radio station this month he would pursue the University of Washington job, even if the Falcons were in the playoffs -- and without the job being open.

Mora's comments angered Blank, leading to an impromptu news conference at Blank's office. Mora stood alone for his apology and said his intended sarcasm in the radio interview was not understood. Blank's only comment came in a terse written statement.

Mora's apology was not the season's first for the team. Quarterback Michael Vick had to apologize the day after he made obscene gestures to Atlanta fans following a lopsided home loss to New Orleans on Nov. 26.

Mora also endured an awkward situation created by his father, former NFL coach Jim Mora, who on a radio show called Vick a "coach-killer." The comment hurt Vick, who like many had to wonder if the elder Mora's opinion was influenced by private comments from Atlanta's coach.

Vick and Mora have supported the other through the controversies, but Vick for the first time seemed to target Mora and the coaching staff following Sunday's loss.

"It's a question that needs to be answered," Vick said. "We're too good to be losing these games. We should be up there among the elite."

Vick questioned the direction of the offense. "You can't just come out there and try to wing it," he said.

"We either have to come out and throw the football or come out and try to establish the run."

Mora on Tuesday said Vick's comments came from "typical frustration" that follows a loss.

"When talking with Mike through the year, I know he's very happy with the offense," Mora said. "He's rushed for over 1,000 yards and thrown a career-high [19] touchdown passes. We were ranked in the top 10 going into that game in total offense, so we've been doing some good things offensively."

Mora said Tuesday that parity in the league "is not easy on coaches because the public scrutiny is so intense," but he insisted he has not had to survive more controversy than other coaches this season.

"I've been fine," he said. "It's not just me, it's most coaches in this season. I'm not worried about that. What I'm most proud of is the fact that our body of work over three years is impressive."

The Giants would eliminate the Falcons by winning at Washington on Saturday. Even if the Giants lose, Carolina would end Atlanta's playoff hopes by beating New Orleans early Sunday. The Falcons-Eagles game has been moved to a 4:15 p.m. kickoff.

Mora said he will advise his players against scoreboard-watching.

"I think it's important we don't do that, that we really pay attention to doing the best that we can do to win," Mora said. "It's human nature that you're going to take a peek."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE