Archive for the ‘Focal’ Category

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez sticking to his ‘95 percent’ retirement pledge

101128 Atlanta - Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith celebrates on the sidelines with tight end Tony Gonzalez after he caught a Matt Ryan pass for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 10-3 lead over the Green Bay Packers in the final seconds of the 2nd quarter at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010.   Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

101128 Atlanta – Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith celebrates on the sidelines with tight end Tony Gonzalez after he caught a Matt Ryan pass for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 10-3 lead over the Green Bay Packers in the final seconds of the 2nd quarter at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is sticking to his pledge that he’s “95 percent” certain he will retire after the season.

That means Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the Seahawks, his 260th when including the playoffs, could be his last in the NFL.

“It’s one and done if we don’t win, (so) for me, this could be it,” he said. “There is no tomorrow. There is no saying, ‘We’ll get them next year.’ It’s about going out there and finishing on the right note.”

Gonzalez, 36, is winding down a career that’s still going strong. He recently was voted to his 14th …

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Atlanta Falcons: Koetter, Smith have had some playoff success together

Mike Nolan, Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter (Curtis Compton/CCompton@ajc.com)

Mike Nolan, Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter (Curtis Compton/CCompton@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH — In his first playoff game in the NFL, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter helped Jacksonville post a monumental victory.

On the way to the AFC title game, Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith, helped the Jaguars post a 31-29 victory over Pittsburgh on Jan. 5, 2008.

Koetter was quick to note that with the victory the Jaguars became the first team to beat the Steelers at home twice in the same season.

Things went downhill for Jacksonville after that big win. They lost to Tom Brady and New England 31-20 on Jan. 12, 2008 and haven’t made it back to the playoffs. Smith would move on and become the Falcons’ head coach.

Koetter later followed, joining the staff last offseason. He’s now preparing for his third playoff game and hasn’t been a part of the Falcons’ recent playoff failures.

“This is what you play for,” Koetter said. “This is why you’re doing it, to …

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Atlanta Falcons: Q&A with Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has dazzled despite questions about his small stature. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has dazzled despite questions about his small stature. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

FLOWERY BRANCH — Russell Wilson was the sixth quarterback selected in the 2012 draft, but he’s the only one to lead his team to the divisional playoff round.

The Seahawks took Wilson with the 75th pick out of Wisconsin and eventually made him the starter, despite signing free-agent Matt Flynn to a rich contract in the offseason. It has paid off as Wilson has become a dynamic offensive threat for the Seahawks, who play the Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Here are some excerpts from Wilson’s conference call with Atlanta reporters Wednesday:

Q: (Falcons defensive coordinator) Mike Nolan compared you to (Hall of Fame quarterback) Fran Tarkenton. That’s got to be something, right?

A: I know who he is. He’s a tremendous quarterback who played way back when and did a lot of great things and changed the game. I …

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Playoff buzz: Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson believes Falcons are ready

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

Falcons vs. Seahawks

Because of their recent playoff flops, the Falcons didn’t always receive a lot of accolades from national media this season, even as they posted the NFL’s best record. But Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson, the former Cowboys coach, is among those who believe the Falcons are finally ready to win a playoff game after going 0-3 in the past four seasons.

“I think a lot of it is that, not just the fans, but the coaches and players said ‘Let’s do what we have to do to get ready for the playoffs,’” Johnson said on a Wednesday conference call. “I think during the season there was a lull there. They had a pretty good run, they had a good record and they knew they’d be in the playoffs, so they were like, ‘Let’s hurry up and get to the playoffs.

“Now I think, especially with the bye — even though they’ve got a bear of a team with Seattle, as hot of a team as there is in the league — I think Atlanta will be ready for …

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Atlanta Falcons playoff rewind: Morten Andersen relives ‘The kick’

Kicker Morten Andersen makes the game-winning kick in the 1999 NFC Championship Game, sending the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII (Getty Images)

Kicker Morten Andersen makes the game-winning kick in the 1999 NFC Championship Game, sending the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII (Getty Images)

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

Who: Falcons kicker Morten Andersen

What: NFC Championship game, Falcons vs. Vikings

When: Jan. 17, 1999

Where: Metrodome

Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (OT)

What happened: After Gary Anderson finally missed a kick for Minnesota, Morten Andersen delivered a perfect kick for the Falcons.

Some Falcons players were on their knees, hands clasped in prayer. Others looked to the sky or held hands in a chain.

Morten Andersen, the guy who actually had to attempt the kick that could send the Falcons to their first Super Bowl, was not among them.

“I’m looking at them like, ‘I don’t think these guys think I’m going to make it,” Andersen said with a laugh. “To me, it was a foregone conclusion. I had no anxiety at all. It was weird.”

That’s because field-goal attempts don’t come with much more pressure than …

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Video: Falcons hope to end playoff drought that dates back to 2004 season

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons will attempt to avoid a fifth straight NFL playoff defeat in Sunday’s home matchup with the Seattle Seahawks. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter reports.

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Seattle Seahawks injury report: Marshawn Lynch did not practice today

Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch did not practice because of a foot injury on Wednesday.

Here’s the Seattle Times report. Lynch usually sets out practice on Wednesday.

Cornerback Byron Maxwell (hamstring) and safety Jeron Johnson (hamstring) also did not practice.

Lynch was listed on the injury report last weak with a back injury on Wednesday. He fully participated in practice on Thursday and Friday, so the foot injury is new and may have been incurred in the Washington game.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll has stated his displeasure over the playing conditions in Washington. The Seahawks lost defensive end Chris Clemons to a knee injury in that game.

Atlanta Falcons injury report: Moore and Abraham limited
FLOWERY BRANCH–Falcons cornerback Chris Owens (hamstring) and safety Charles Mitchell (calf) missed practice today and safety William Moore (hamstring) and defensive end John Abraham (ankle) participated on a limited basis.

Moore, a starter, missed the final four …

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Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan is under intense pressure to win a playoff game

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is fanatical about his weekly routine.

Despite three losses in the playoffs, he plans to stick to his routine while preparing for the Seattle Seahawks, including the meals his wife, Sarah, prepares for him.

However, Ryan, who’s guarded about the most mundane details of his personal life, wouldn’t reveal what’s on the menu at the Ryan house for dinner this week.

“Not Pizza,” he said.

Spinach? Lasagna? McDouble off the Dollar Menu?

While his routine will remain the same, he hopes for a different outcome. Ryan’s playoff failures have been heavily scrutinized and well-documented.

They’ve lost while favored on the road to Arizona after the 2008 season. They’ve lost at home as the No. 1 seed to Green Bay after the 2010 season. And, they lost on the road as a slight underdog to the New York Giants after the 2011 season.

Ryan has not passed for 200 yards in any of the playoff losses. The offense collapsed in the second …

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Playoff matchup: Falcons run offense vs. Seahawks run defense

Here's Michael Turner getting past New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma for yardage during 1st quarter action at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Thursday, November 29, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Here's Michael Turner getting past New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma for yardage during 1st quarter action at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Thursday, November 29, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

FLOWERY BRANCH — Here’s a look at how the Falcons run offense matches up against the Seahawks run defense.

Falcons’ starters: Running back Michael Turner and fullback Mike Cox.

Falcons’ key reserves: Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling and Antone Smith.

Seahawks’ starters: Outside linebacker Leroy Hill, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and  outside K.J. Wright.

Seahawks’ reserves: Malcolm Smith, Heath Farwell, Mike Morgan and Allen Bradford (Inactive for Washington playoff game).

Matchup to watch: Turner vs. Wagner

The Seahawks gave up 103.1 yards per game during the regular season, which ranked 10th in the league.

The Falcons, as they transformed into more of passing team this season, ran the ball just as a function of trying to keep defense’s honest.

The Falcons …

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Atlanta Falcons: Russell Wilson’s game has the respect of Smith, Nolan

FLOWERY BRANCH — First, in order to give the Falcons’ defense a really good scouting look, quarterback Dominique Davis has to shrink four inches.

The Falcons’ third-string quarterback is 6-foot-3, but he will impersonate the 5-11 Russell Wilson this week in preparation for the divisional playoff game against Seattle at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

“Dominique has gotten a lot of work for us this season,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We’ve played some running quarterbacks, and he’ll be the guy trying to simulate (Wilson).”

Davis was inactive for all 16 regular-season games, but he has earned his keep in practice. He has imitated Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick.

Wilson, a third-round pick from Wisconsin who started his career at N.C. State, has been one of the surprises of the 2012 season.

“Offensively, it starts with what their quarterback is doing,” Smith said. “He does a very good job of running their offense. You have to …

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