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.”
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 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.
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 →