Falcons coach Mike Smith has been scrambling to keep this season from falling apart. But it turns out this team has problems far beyond injuries.
What was Jonathan Babineaux doing out late on a Thursday night/Friday morning of a game week? What was one of the team’s defensive leaders, whom the team recently gave a $25 million extension to, doing with three bags of marijuana — at any time, but particularly two days before the Falcons’ biggest game of the season?
And what it does it say about the Falcons that they are leaning towards letting Babineaux play Sunday?
I know. It’s an important game. What was I thinking? Nothing like having a blazed defensive tackle to help your pass rush.
Babineaux officially is not guilty of anything yet. Except maybe for stupidity and an incredible lack of dedication, maturity and common sense. He was arrested following a traffic stop at 10:45 p.m Thursday night. He officially was booked at 1:01 a.m. Friday by Gwinnett County Police. There are five charges listed by his name (which is misspelled) on the docket: 1) No tag light visible; 2) Excessively tinted windshield; 3) Felony possession (over one ounce) of marijuana (changed from what police originally said would be felony intent to distribute); 4) No driver’s license; 5) Expired tag. Safe to say No. 3 stands out.
The Falcons are declining comment for now, beyond a two-sentence statement that says, in short, “Legal matter. Blah blah blah. No comment.”
But stating the obvious here. Smith, who is trying to hold his sliding 6-6 team together, didn’t need this. Owner Arthur Blank, who is struggling to market this team, didn’t need this. Not ever, but particularly not now. Not after all the franchise has overcome. Not after a playoff berth last season and a 4-1 start this year has been followed by a 2-5 oil slick. The Falcons logically need to sweep their final four games to make the playoffs, and that means starting with a monumental upset this week over unbeaten New Orleans. Now this.
Michael Turner has a high ankle sprain. Matt Ryan has turf toe. Babineaux just has turf — 40 grams of it.
Injuries we can understand. Not arrests. Not ever. Certainly not on a Thursday night before game 13 that could eliminate your team from playoff contention. Arrests turn bad teams turn into punch lines.
Injuries elicit sympathy. Arrests elicit scorn.
This isn’t the first time Babineaux has been in the news for the wrong reasons. In February of 2007, he was accused of killing his girlfriend’s pit bull, “Kilo” (an appropriate name given the current drug charge). Babineaux claimed self defense. The dog died of severe head trauma. In November of that year, he was cleared of the charges by Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter. But trouble doesn’t keep finding the same people for no reason.
The Falcons believed in Babineaux. That’s why they gave him the fat contract extension a year ago. He has been one of the few effective players on an otherwise dreadful defense. He plays the most snaps and makes the most tackles among linemen. He is tied for the team lead in sacks (five), leads in tackles-for-loss (eight) and has forced two fumbles. But a player the Falcons circled as a building block now has been circled by the NFL, as he relates to any potential violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.
If the Falcons let Babineaux play and they were speaking on this matter , they would tell you they’re doing nothing wrong. They’re just letting the legal situation play out. That’s fine. But somehow I get the feeling if this was the Buffalo game in two weeks and the race was over, Babineaux would be in street clothes. I guess now isn’t the time to take a moralistic stand.
Either way, it’s a mess the Falcons didn’t need.