Mike Shanahan channels Brady Hoke, Falcons hang on to win 27-26

redskins-falcons 2013As 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.)

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ALDLAND goes live to Redskins-Falcons

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.

RGIII continues to flip the script

Yes, he’s only played one professional football game, and yes, the cases for his extraordinariness and ordinariness have been made and made and made, and yes, I’m a fan of his, but still, Robert Griffin III continues to impress.

Often, we are able to view an athlete’s greatness directly. Such has been the case for Griffin, who previously played major-conference college football and now plays in the NFL. Other times, we are able to detect evidence of an athlete’s greatness indirectly. Those times may be tougher to identify, but they also may be more illuminating and demonstrative of greatness.

If you just pulled your head out of your old pile of Sports Illustrated for Kids and haven’t really paid attention to the NFL over the last ten years, you might not realize that Griffin’s current head coach, Mike Shanahan, doesn’t really have a great reputation these days. In particular, he’s got a bad one for ruining quarterbacks. Just ask Donovan McNabb.

That’s why one of the most amazing results of RG3’s stellar debut on Sunday has been the evaporation of anti-Shanahan sentiment in the media. Far from destroying the great potential Griffin represents, Shanahan installed a plan that is being called “brilliant” and “beaut[iful]” and a lot of other nice things around the web.

Should things continue along the path Griffin started down on Sunday, the redemption of Mike Shanahan won’t be RG3’s greatest accomplishment, but it might be one of his most telling. At the very least, it will tell us what we knew all along: it’s the players who ultimately make the coach, not the other way around.