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'Tremendous' Falcons Coach Arthur Smith Draws Praise from Commanders' Ron Rivera

Amidst public scrutiny, Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith received a boost of confidence from Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera after the team's matchup Sunday.

The Atlanta Falcons and Washington Commanders fought through the wet conditions at FedEx Field for 59 minutes, setting up a goal-to-go showdown between a pair of teams who pride themselves on their play at the line of scrimmage.

In the end, the Commanders walked away with a 19-13 victory after Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota's pass was tipped and intercepted in the endzone by Washington corner Kendall Fuller - and many have placed the blame on Falcons coach Arthur Smith's shoulders.

After six consecutive runs, the Falcons ran a variation of an option that had "several different options," per Smith, before following it up with the Mariota pass on 2nd and Goal from the four-yard line, all but bringing the team's hopes of victory to a close. Both calls were questionable when considering Atlanta had just picked up back-to-back first downs on straightforward downhill runs, where the only variation was inside versus outside zone.

As such, Smith has come under scrutiny - but not from Commanders coach Ron Rivera, who voiced support for the second-year coach entirely impromptu.

"That’s a very good football team, it really is," Rivera said. "What Arthur Smith is doing is tremendous - he’s bringing along a good group of football players, and as they continue to get their opportunities, they are going to be a better team, they really are, they’ve done some good things.”

As for the last offensive play, Mariota added that he "thought it was a great play call," noting that running back and intended target Cordarrelle Patterson was open, but Commanders defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne simply made a good play to knock the ball down.

It was the moment in what was a critical game for both sides, as the Falcons entered with a record of 5-6 and the Commanders at 6-5, both just on the outside looking in for the NFC playoff race.

And is it played out, Atlanta came up short, and Washington, which has now won six of its last seven games, continued its hot streak ... but the two teams proved to be quite similar throughout, with Rivera mentioning the shared identity both have when discussing how close the game was.

“Well, it's kind of emblematic of the two teams," said Rivera. "I mean, if you look at them, we’re both in the same category in my opinion. The character being they're going to be a downhill physical team on both sides of the ball."

Smith arrived in Atlanta with the intention of bringing physicality, particularly in the running game. The Falcons ran for 167 yards against the Commanders, averaging nearly six yards per carry.

And while they ultimately went away from it when the game was on the line, the identity Smith establishing with his offense and team as a whole is beginning to make rounds across the league.

On a day in which Rivera recorded his 100th win as an NFL head coach, he didn't have to give Smith this compliment - but he evidently felt strongly enough to do so, giving a ringing endorsement of the 40-year-old.

As Smith searches to guide the Falcons, who sit half a game out of the lead of the NFC South, back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017, the games will continue to grow in importance.

After being projected to go as low as 2-15 over the offseason, the Falcons are firmly in the mix - and for that, Smith has earned the "tremendous" bill.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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