I needed to take a few days off, but I finally am ready to write about what happened on Sunday night. Long story short, things got off to an amazing start, and then I really don’t know what happened. Continue reading
You’ve heard all the go-to Super Bowl “storylines” 1,000 times by now, including the one about how everyone playing in the game used be on the Cleveland Browns or something. With less than an hour to go until kickoff (6:30 pm, FOX), here are a few appetizers before we all get into the heavy stuff:
People have to understand: I felt like it was my fault, like it was my responsibility, that the Falcons franchise had been set back. And if Matt had been a bust … then my guilt over the harm I’d caused the city would have only grown worse. So, yeah, I’m human. It hurt when the Falcons drafted Matt. And for a while there, for sure, I was envious of Matt’s position. But Matt being such a success — that’s been a joy for me. For me, that’s been relief. It’s been peace of mind.
And the same thing goes for this MVP season of his (he’s got my vote), and this amazing Super Bowl run (I’ve got the Falcons winning, 23–16). Joy, and relief, and peace of mind. And that’s what I mean, when I say that Atlanta is family. Family isn’t just about when it’s good for you, or when it’s convenient, or when the love comes easy. Family is about when the love comes no matter what.
Enjoy the game!
To a very casual observer, a mid-December post on the 6-7 Atlanta Falcons would cry out for a Dickensian introduction, but it simply has not been a tale of two halves for these dirtier-than-anticipated birds.
Some, like MMQB’s Andy Benoit, really wanted to believe in that Victorian-era trope, though. Three weeks ago, Atlanta, which started the season 5-0, had lost four of five games, slipping to a 6-4 record. Falcons fans were beginning to lose hope, but Benoit told them not to panic, because “a closer look reveals a different story.” Benoit’s message was compelling in its simplicity:
On film, the 1-4, Stage 2 Falcons haven’t looked significantly different from the Stage 1 Falcons who started 5-0. And, OK, maybe the Stage 1 Falcons were not quite as good as their record indicated, but those five wins are a more accurate portrayal of the 2015 Falcons than the club’s four losses. The biggest difference between Stage 1 and 2 has been the dreaded turnover.
[T]he Falcons have beaten themselves with random fumbles and a few interceptions, of which only one was a truly bad offensive play. Ryan, cerebral as he is, has always had a slight tendency to take the bait and make a foolish throw or two into disguised or tight coverages. But interceptions have never been a major bugaboo. So unless you believe this will change in the final six games of Ryan’s eighth NFL season, there’s little reason to believe turnovers will continue to plague Atlanta.
Most likely, Atlanta’s fate hinges on how well its offense functions.
Combine the Stage 1 Falcons with the Stage 2 Falcons and what you’ll likely get is a Stage 3 Falcons club that finishes 10-6 and is a dangerous Wild-Card foe.
The seductive simplicity of Benoit’s thesis really is too good to be true. It seems easy to pick on him three weeks later, when Atlanta dropped all three games in that period and has an active six-game losing streak, but his reasoning would’ve been flawed regardless. Even if it’s true that turnovers– both fumbles and interceptions– fall within the realm of luck, and even if it also is true that the Falcons’ then-recent losses were due to turnovers, Benoit ignores the possibility that the team’s early successes also were due to luck. Instead, he simply assumes, without offering any evidence to that effect, that the team was playing closest to its true-talent level when it opened up 5-0, rather than when it went 1-4 (now 1-7, the same record with which the Detroit Lions opened the season). Couldn’t good luck have played just as much a part of Atlanta’s 5-0 opening as bad luck did in their subsequent losses? Of course, but in his overly rosy evaluation of the early season Falcons, Benoit apparently didn’t consider that.
At 6-7, Atlanta isn’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but, with another game against the Panthers remaining and the Seahawks surging, they’re very likely done for the year.
In erasing their 5-0 start, the Falcons’ poor play in the last few weeks likely is a closer approximation of their true talent level than their results in the first five weeks. Indeed, as these charts illustrate, they’ve been historically bad from Week Six onward.
For postseason purposes, Atlanta no longer controls its own destiny (scenarios), but, at a minimum, it will need to beat its three remaining opponents– Jacksonville, Carolina, and New Orleans– to have a shot. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Falcons have a two-percent chance of making the playoffs, and their projected win probability this week against the Jaguars is fifty percent. Not great, Bob.
The NFC South’s playoff representative probably will finish the regular season with a 6-10 record, unless Carolina defies the odds and makes it in at 6-9-1. And while NFL analysts often are too ready to call a game a “must-win” game (week 4?), with two regular-season games left, the NFC South has gifted everyone a true must-win game, at least for one participant.
If the currently 5-9 Atlanta Falcons want to make it to the playoffs, they simply must beat the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday.
New Orleans is just a win better than Atlanta at this point, but the Falcons beat the Saints in a fun overtime game back in week 1, and the Saints, which are the hosts of this weekend’s rematch, are just 3-4 at home. Of course, the Falcons, which are sort of weirdly 4-0 in the division, are just 2-5 on the road, so who knows. If Atlanta is going to win, as it must to keep its seemingly improbable postseason hopes alive, one has to think that it will need both of its star receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones, on the field on Sunday.
Detroit football fans living in Atlanta were treated to a fleeting moment of excitement upon the release of the 2014 NFL schedule, which showed the Lions and Falcons meeting in a Week 8 home game for Atlanta. That moment of excitement fleeted as those fans noticed the kickoff time, 9:30 am, and further investigation revealed the location of the game to be London, England, Great Britain, United Kingdom. Remind me again why we fought the Revolution?
After a hot start, the Falcons aren’t looking too good lately. Up in Motown, it’s the Lions who are looking like the UGA Bulldogs, putting together the pieces and winning with their best player on the sidelines. The Lions still should consider the Falcons a dangerous opponent this week– that is, assuming the Falcons even make it to the game:
The truth is, after their team’s disappointing start, Falcons fans probably are less worried about their team showing up in Spain for a game in London than they are about the fact that there apparently are no direct flights from Hartsfield-Jackson to Heathrow.
He’s done. He can’t take another year. The grind of football has exhausted him, and the grind is just now starting. It’s July. He’s in the weight room of his Huntington Beach home, in a gated community only miles from the projects where he was raised. He is about to work out, because his 37-year-old body might not last 16 games otherwise, because he has played in the NFL for 16 years and knows no other way. He is a physical wonder, sculpted to the last inch, but the imperative to work out is more draining than the workout itself. His body seems to be outlasting his will, rather than the reverse.
Tony Gonzalez has convinced himself that he can find happiness without football. Of course, he’s said that before. He all but filed retirement papers the past two years only to return. He exists in a state of conflict that he hates, of not being able to live with the game or without it. Now he’s tired. The energy required to train at his future Hall of Fame level is offset only by the certitude of finality. He looks around his weight room, littered with steel plates and bars. “I can’t wait to get rid of all this next year,” he says. “Should have gotten rid of it last year.”
“I’ll never need this shit again.” … Read More
(via ESPN The Magazine)
As reported, I was on hand to watch the Falcons host the Redskins (Monuments?) yesterday afternoon, and it was everything you’d hope a late-season pairing of three-win teams would be. Atlanta’s offense was boring but effective in the first half, relying primarily on Steven Jackson, back in action after an early season injury, and Tony Gonzales, who in the second half became just the fifth NFL player ever to tally 15,000 receiving yards. On the other side of the ball, Kirk Cousins’ performance was a mixed bag. Against Atlanta’s soft defense, Cousins posted better passing numbers than Robert Griffin III– spotted wearing warmups on the sideline– has this season, but a couple of interceptions proved costly. Washington nevertheless was in a position to take the game to overtime, or win it outright, thanks to a late touchdown that ran the score to 27-26. Opting to go for the regulation kill on the road, Mike Shanahan made like Brady Hoke and called for the two-point conversion, which failed. Atlanta recovered the sloppy onside kick to seal the one-point win.
Having read about far more NFL games than I’ve attended, the game experience was a bit odd. Even taking into account Atlanta fans’ reputation for lacking a feverish commitment to their teams, the vibe was beyond mellow in the Georgia Dome on Sunday. The noise level was somewhere between a Braves game and the Masters. One fan in our section who caught a free t-shirt used it as a pillow to rest. Another took a nap without similar support. And these weren’t alcohol-induced rests– the only even semi-drunk person we saw was a mom indulging in too much smuggled adult fruit punch– it really was that quiet. Our entire row, and most of our section, including the man pictured above who stood with his back to the field and wouldn’t get out of my picture even though I didn’t ask him to, left before the end of the third quarter, when the Falcons led by only four.
We didn’t find any of this upsetting, and our people-watching experience was further enhanced by the skilled camera operators feeding the nice video boards with fun fan shots. (The ushers probably could stand to lighten up a bit, though. 3-9 vs. 3-9 in December deserves a lighter touch from the regulatory folks.)
The biggest NFL story of the past week is Washington head-coach-for-the-moment Mike Shanahan’s decision to bench healthy starter Robert Griffin III in favor of backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Redskins are in Atlanta to play the Falcons today at 1:00, and ALDLAND will be there. I am excited to take in my first NFL game since a few Lions games at the Silverdome in the early 1990s. Most Falcons fans are hoping their team will lose out so as to ensure a high draft pick (Jadaveon Clowney is their preference), but I’d like to experience a home victory. I also am looking forward to seeing MSU-grad Cousins in action. I don’t know whether some or any of Cousins, Griffin, or Shanahan will be in Washington next season, but Cousins has a big professional opportunity to make the case that he deserves to be an NFL starter next year.
Stay tuned here and on twitter for updates from downtown Atlanta this afternoon.
The more-often-than-not decent MMQB used one of its “deep dives” to investigate what’s wrong with this year’s Atlanta Falcons, solidly in last place in their division with a 2-9 record after being a play away from the Super Bowl last year. A more difficult schedule meant that they were unlikely to match 2012’s 13-3 record, but they didn’t count on numerous early, crippling injuries on offense and defense. That’s the reason these Falcons have won just two games, and you only need a midseason “deep dive” to figure that out if you’ve been willfully ignorant of the team since August.
The article did include two pieces of barely second-level analysis. The first was a visual illustration of how quarterback Matt Ryan struggles with decision-making when he lacks competent linemen and receivers, to say nothing of a running game. The second was a reminder that teams shouldn’t fire their coaches when losing is directly and unequivocally the result of numerous injuries. The article’s final sentences could have been its only sentences:
Some believe Mike Smith and his staff will be fired. But that would be ludicrous. Smith’s .644 winning percentage is seventh best among active coaches. His Falcons are tied for third in victories since he took over in 2008, and this will be the first time during his tenure that they fail to finish above .500. A perfect storm of injuries is to blame, and nothing else.
ALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back, taking a look at all the highs and lows of the latest round of football action.
- Last week, I highlighted LSU-UGA as the game of the week, and ESPN agreed with me, siting College Gameday in Athens. I wasn’t able to watch, but their prediction segment featured two special guests, UGA graduate Bubba Watson and Louisiana native Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. (The Robertsons have legitimate football qualifications: Willie’s father, Phil, started at quarterback ahead of Terry Bradshaw at Louisiana Tech.)
- In anticipation of the LSU-UGA game, a secret-recipe cheesy bean dip was made. So much was made, in fact, that it lasted much longer than the game, although not quite as long as Georgia coach Mark Richt spent kissing his wife following a win over Kentucky.
- LSU-Georgia was a thriller. Georgia continues to lose important players to injury, but it doesn’t seem to slow them down. This week, star running back Todd Gurley sprained his ankle in the second quarter, but backup Keith Marshall filled in and had a career day. In the end, the Dwags outgunned the Tigers 44-41 and are in the driver’s seat on the road to the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
- I also thought Ole Miss-Alabama would be a good game, but it was not. The Rebels limited Alabama’s scoring early, but they were unable to do any scoring of their own, which is an easy-bake recipe for a loss. Ole Miss 0, Alabama 25. Continue reading