Archive for the ‘Focal’ Category

Atlanta Falcons: Smith to ramp up bye-week practices

By Michael Cunningham

FLOWERY BRANCH–Phase one of coach Mike Smith’s plan to keep the Falcons rolling into the playoffs backfired badly.

The Falcons still can get the next part right.

The idea was that the Falcons would go all out to win against the Buccaneers on Sunday even though they already had the NFC’s No. 1 seed wrapped up. So the Falcons played their starters from start to finish and still suffered a 22-17 loss to NFC also-ran Tampa Bay in the Georgia Dome.

Instead of being buoyed by victory, the Falcons were cut down by a bad loss. Rather than maintain momentum, the Falcons saw it halted—and they couldn’t shrug it off to sending out their backups.

The Falcons won’t be able to do anything about it until opening the playoffs on Sunday, Jan. 13 against either Minnesota, Seattle or Washington at 1 p.m. at the Georgia Dome. But Smith has a plan to keep his players and coaches sharp until then.

The Falcons had a bye week in the 2010 playoffs before the Packers pounded …

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Atlanta Falcons: Falcons’ run defense will be tested in divisional round

Stephen Nicholas (right) joins fellow linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent during a training camp practice. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Stephen Nicholas (right) joins fellow linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent during a training camp practice. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

The Falcons, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, are set to face either Minnesota (sixth seed), Seattle (fifth) or Washington (fourth) in the divisional round of the playoffs at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13th at the Georgia Dome.

If Minnesota upsets Green Bay, they would face the Falcons. If Green Bay wins, the Falcons would host the Seattle-at-Washington winner. San Francisco is the No. 2 seed.

In order for the Falcons to advance past the divisional round, they must stop one of the league’s top rushers. They could face Minnesota and Adrian Peterson (2,091 yards, first in the league), Washington and running back Alfred Morris (1,413 yards, fourth) or Seattle and running back Marshawn Lynch (1,590 yards, second).

The Falcons’ run defense has been spotty all season. They held Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin to 50 yards on 21 carries in their first …

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GAMEDAY CENTRAL: Buccaneers (6-9) vs. Falcons (13-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome

By Michael Cunningham

QB corner: Matt Ryan discusses the Bucs

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and the passing game have hit their stride in the past two weeks. But he had an interception and a lost

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

fumble in the first meeting this season, a 24-23 Falcons victory.

Ryan talked about the offense and the rematch with Tampa Bay.

Q: What has to be better for you guys from the first game against Tampa Bay (a 24-23 Falcons victory on Nov. 25)?

A: Certainly one of the things, for me personally, we’ve got to protect the football better. I had two turnovers down there the last time we played. Ronde (Barber) did what he has done throughout his entire career. He’s a ballhawk and made a great play. And then I made a mental mistake in terms of …

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Falcons rewind: Reeves reflects on march to the Super Bowl

The recommended post-bypass regimen? Win the NFC title, do the Dirty Bird. (AJC file photo)

The recommended post-bypass regimen? Win the NFC title, do the Dirty Bird. (AJC file photo)

FIRST PERSON: Dan Reeves

In a weekly feature leading up to the playoffs, former Falcons coach Dan Reeves speaks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s staff writer D. Orlando Ledbetter about the team’s march to Super Bowl XXXIII during the 1998 season. After 15 games, like the 2012 Falcons, Reeves’ team was 13-2, and set to close out the regular season at home. They would face Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins at the Georgia Dome

“We were trying to make sure that we were going to have home-field advantage for that first game. We had already clinched, but it was still an important game. We

wanted to go into it, play well and win the football game. I was of course still out (after heart bypass surgery). They did good, and I think Steve DeBerg played some in that game (a 38-16 victory.)

“We played it like a regular game. Jack Burns, our offensive quarterback coach, called the plays and …

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Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez: ‘Proving people wrong’ makes 13th Pro Bowl sweetest

FLOWERY BRANCH—Going to the Pro Bowl isn’t getting old for Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez in part because it proves he’s not too old.

Gonzalez, 36, was voted to his 13th Pro Bowl team on Wednesday. He said this year’s honor might mean more than the others.

“Because the older you get the more people start to doubt you,” he said. “Just because of human nature. ‘You are getting old, there is no way you can move around like you used to.’ I’ve been hearing that. ‘Oh, he’s lost a step, he’s not as fast as he used to be.’

“It’s nice to go out there and play well and tell them, ‘What do you got to say now?’ That’s part of the fun is proving people wrong.”

Gonzalez reiterated his season-long stance that he’s most likely retiring after the season. When a reporter told him he’d said he’s “90 percent” sure, Gonzalez reminded him that he actually said he’s 95 percent sure.

“I see what you are trying to do,” Gonzalez joked. “Jedi mind trick.”

As Gonzalez’s career winds down, Julio …

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Atlanta Falcons: Finishing regular season ‘the right way’

FLOWERY BRANCH–The Falcons already have wrapped up the NFC’s No. 1 seed but they don’t plan to take their foot off the gas against the Buccaneers on Sunday.

The Falcons want to stay sharp heading into their bye week. They think the best way to do that is for the starters to play and try to win the regular-season finale even if it doesn’t affect their playoff standing.

“We are not going to change the way we approach this game,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “We are going to attack it like it’s week three. We’re all expecting to play and all expecting to play well. We have to put our best foot forward before the postseason.”

The Falcons turned in strong efforts in victories against the Giants and Lions. They think easing off now would set a bad precedent.

“We are trying to keep the momentum going,” center Todd McClure said. “I feel like offensively we’ve played well the past few games. And the more we can go out there and put on tape, whoever we have to prepare for the harder …

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Atlanta Falcons: Ryan, Gonzalez, Jones named to Pro Bowl

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez and second-year wide receiver Julio Jones were named to the NFC’s Pro Bowl team on Wednesday.

Ryan has guided the Falcons to a 13-2 mark, the NFC South title and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.

The 24-man rosters for each the AFC and NFC, plus five special-teams players were announced on NFL Network.

Atlanta’s star players hope to be occupied with preparing for the Super Bowl in New Orleans instead of the NFL’s all-star game in Hawaii. The teams playing in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 don’t send players to the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27.

The Falcons had several players who could have been honored as they have the best record in the NFC.

The AFC and NFC squads are based on the votes of players, coaches and fans with each group’s vote counting for one-third. The voting for all three groups ended last week.

In addition to Ryan, Gonzalez and Jones, other Atlanta candidates were wide receiver Roddy White, defensive end John Abraham and …

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Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan Q-and-A

By Michael Cunningham

FLOWERY BRANCH–Quarterback Matt Ryan is peaking at the perfect time for the Falcons. In victories against the Giants and Lions Ryan was 48 for 60 passing (80 percent) for 549 yards passing and seven touchdowns with no interceptions.

Here are some excerpts from Ryan’s session with reporters today.

Q: When you are feeling pressure in the pocket do you have guidelines as far as when to check down and when to stay with the play or is that more of a feel thing?

A: It’s a feel thing. I think you have to have an internal clock, a feel for when the ball needs to come out, whether sliding and making something happen and extending a play with your legs or checking that football down. That was something I thought was important for us last week.

Q: Is that one of the subtleties of playing your position?

A: I think that’s something that takes time to really learn. I think it’s something I’ve done better this year.

Q: From the time when you came into the league …

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Falcons wait for playoff picture to clear

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

FLOWERY BRANCH — After the Falcons earned the NFC’s top playoff seed on Saturday night, coach Mike Smith didn’t plan on watching the rest of the conference play on Sunday.

He figured there’s no use in checking in on Atlanta’s competition until the picture gets clearer.

“I don’t try to watch scoreboards,” Smith said the day after the Falcons won 31-18 at Detroit. “It’s going to fall into place. … There is a lot of football to be played. A lot of things happen this week and next week as far as who plays who and who plays where.”

Atlanta is the only team in the NFC that already knows the “where” part. The Falcons, on either Jan. 12 or 13, will play host to the lowest-seeded NFC team to advance from first round of the playoffs the week before.

The rest of the NFC contenders are still jockeying for position.

The Packers and 49ers are vying for the other first-round bye. The Packers can finish no worse than the third seed, which means Atlanta has no chance …

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Atlanta Falcons: ‘Different team’ vows to end playoff flops

The Falcons say this season won’t end like the one in 2008 . . . or 2010 . . . or 2011.

That’s three playoff busts in three tries for the Falcons with general manager Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan. That’s a lot of baggage for the Falcons to carry when they open the playoffs on Jan. 12 or 13 as the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Rather than pretend the weight isn’t there, the Falcons say they are ready to carry it.

“This is a very different team from last year, two years ago, three years ago,” Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said. “Our players are much more mature. I think we are ready to go. We feel like we’ve got a lot to prove in the playoffs because we haven’t won a game and we want to win one so bad.

“I don’t think anybody is pressing. We just want to go win.”

The Falcons (13-2) have done all they can to set themselves up with the easiest possible path to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

They secured the top seed with 31-18 victory at Detroit …

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