NFL Week 16: At last, a true “must-win” game

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.

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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.

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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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Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

fairleyALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back, taking a look at all the highs and lows of the latest round of football action.

College Football

Pregame:

  • 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.

The games:

  • 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

Roddy White TV

Roddy White jumped on the twitter horn Sunday morning to share his reactionary thoughts to the weird thing happening where San Francisco’s Aldon Smith was going to play despite having been arrested for DUI a few days prior. In particular, White didn’t like the way the pregame shows were covering the story:

The pregame shows didn’t like White’s tweets, unsurprisingly, and the message was that White, who has a history of tweeting sometimes cringe-worthy messages (telling the jurors in the George Zimmerman case to “kill themselves” being probably the most egregious example), should be quiet and focus on the game ahead.

While I can’t endorse White’s offseason tweet about the Zimmerman jurors, I think Roddy is thinking about the game ahead when posting tweets he knows will draw national attention to him during the season.

White is the ostensible “number one receiver” on the Falcons. True, Julio Jones would be the “number one receiver” on many other NFL teams, and Old Tony Gonzales and Harry Douglas aren’t bad options either. There’s a reason we refer to a team’s “receiving corps,” however: they function as a unit. The arithmetic of the game generally allows defenses to shut down the passing attack of a team with only one good passing option. (This fact makes Calvin Johnson’s accomplishments in Detroit all the more impressive.)

The important fact here is that White is playing with a high ankle sprain that appears to be significantly limiting him during games. He continues to play, though, because as the team’s ostensible “number one receiver,” he will draw defenders away from Jones, Gonzales, and Douglas. White’s decoy role is even more important following the injury to running back Steven Jackson.

White’s effectiveness as a decoy depends, in some part, on the extent to which he is on the minds of defensive coaches and players as they prepare for and play games against the Falcons. Within reason, anything White can do to draw attention to himself– even just keeping his name, but not his injury, of course, in the news– should result in some benefit to his team. That may be the reason his team has never (publicly) reprimanded him for his outspoken ways.

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tail3ALDLAND’s weekly football review returns after an infamous fall wedding weekend. Bear with us as we attempt to piece together the happenings of the last few days.

College Football

Pregame:

  • After the Game of the Century of the Season of the Week last week in College Station, everybody predicted a scheduling letdown this week. Sports predictions have become (always were?) completely useless and devoid of meaning, but once in a while, the wisdom of the crowd gets it right. Throwing out expired food? No, actually. A soft slate of week-four matchups? For the most part, yes.

The games — That 70s Show:

  • Clemson opened the week of play by getting punchy on Thursday night in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win over North Carolina State. So far as I can tell, the Tigers have played only fellow Carolinians to this point in the season. A check of their schedule confirms this, and the trend will continue this weekend. (EDIT: Except for that little game against UGA in week one.) Clemson 26, North Carolina State 14.
  • A number of teams posted gaudy scores and spreads. Since they already had their fun, they’re all getting grouped in this one paragraph. Ohio State 76, FAMU 0. Louisville 72, FIU 0. Miami 77, Savannah State 7. Washington 56, Idaho State 0. Baylor 70, Louisiana-Monroe 7 (that one’s actually a little surprising). Florida State 54, Bethune-Cook 6. Wisconsin 41, Purdue 10. UCLA 59, New Mexico State 13. Texas A&M 42, SMU 13. And others.