Archive for December, 2012

Georgia needs to finish strong to avoid diminishing season

Mark Richt hopes his team can finish the season better than it has the last two years. (AP photo)

Mark Richt hopes his team can finish the season better than it has the last two years. (AP photo)

ORLANDO – The old comedian Steve Allen once said, “I used to be a heavy gambler. But now I just make mental bets. That’s how I lost my mind.”

He easily could have been talking about bowl games. As inexact sciences go, they fit somewhere between the “wheel of fortune” and “pick a number between one and 10.”

A college team’s best players often are upperclassmen who already have one foot and an entire head out the door. Some get lost in the vacation atmosphere of bowl week. Some can’t transition back from holiday break. Others just look, play and act like they would rather not be there. It’s why we are left with results like: Central Florida 10, Georgia Holograms 6 in the Liberty Bowl.

For Georgia’s sake, this next bowl needs to be different.

This isn’t some grand declaration that the Bulldogs’ program will be defined by whether or not they defeat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. …

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Aaron Murray may be playing his final game for Georgia

Aaron Murray hasn't told Mark Richt or anybody if this is his final game. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Aaron Murray and Mark Richt have been together for three seasons. This may be it. (Brant Sanderlin)

ORLANDO – Before this season began, Aaron Murray set a plan for the next two years — not for football, but for a doctorate program in industrial-organizational psychology. Call it an academic and career game plan.

“It’s a pretty big field nowadays,” Murray said in August. “A lot of companies are hiring I-O psychologists.”

Aaron Murray plays a football game Tuesday. There is a very good chance it will be his final football game for Georgia.

This is pure conjecture on my part. It is based on the fact that Murray, as much as he loves college football, has other things going on in his life. He has other things he wants to try. He’s a different kid.

“You mean mature?” Murray said, smiling.

“No,” I responded. (He laughed. Know your audience.)

I presented my theory to Murray, that Georgia’s game against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl would be the end of this chapter in his life. I …

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Progress pleases McGarity, but he’s still not ‘comfortable’

Greg McGarity is pleased but not content with Georgia's turnaround under Mark Richt. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Greg McGarity is pleased but not content with Georgia's turnaround under Mark Richt. (Curtis Compton)

Greg McGarity is avoiding amusement parks and costumed cartoon characters this week. He found his own “Happiest Place on Earth” in Orlando – roaming the aisles of a Barnes and Noble while clutching a gift card.

“I’m going to spend all of this,” he said by phone.

McGarity loves books, particularly anything on leadership. His favorite is, “Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All,” by Jim Collins.

“There’s a section in there on productive paranoia,” Georgia’s athletic director said. “I think all ADs have a level of that.”

It is why, despite the generally positive feelings that surround the Georgia football program these days, McGarity isn’t nearly satisfied. In fact, when asked if he felt comfortable about the program’s turnaround and direction, he all but chewed up the word and spit it out.

“I don’t think you ever get comfortable,” he …

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Predictions: It’s time for bowls(!), contest (!) and BCS (ugh)

chalk

Welcome to the next-to-last BCS bowl season, or as we like to call it: “The mole in the middle of our forehead that the plastic surgeon said he can’t remove for another two years because the deals are in place, conference commissioners have been bagged, athletic directors already have used the free golf clubs, the booze cruise just left port, it’s too late to cancel the caterers, and, dang it, Mike Slive just took the last shrimp!” So we’re stuck.

After 15 years, it’s almost gone. After 17 years, it will be. (How did the BCS get to vote before it was 18?) We’re left with a palatable title game (Alabama-Notre Dame) but a nonsensical way of getting there and zero postseason drama.

BCS road map looks something like this.

BCS road map looks something like this.

Well, except this: (Promotion coming. I feel so dirty.) There’s still time to enter the “Sack Schultz” Bowl Special. We’re giving away $200 in gift cards to Marlow’s, which should buy a lot of wings. Don’t worry that some of the 36 bowls have been played because …

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NFL playoffs about QBs, coaches — and Falcons have shot

Matt Ryan and Mike Smith will be looking to improve on their postseason resume in three weeks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Matt Ryan and Mike Smith will be looking to improve on their postseason resume in three weeks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

With few exceptions, Super Bowls are won by teams with a great quarterback and a great head coach. Or in the case of the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, a defense so great that it can overcome Trent Dilfer.

Results by Matt Ryan and the Mike Smith-coached Falcons this season suggest Atlanta is in a pretty good spot to go to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history, and possibly win it. Ryan is having the best season of his career. Smith has kept his team focused and ascending over the past four weeks (exception: the Carolina game) and upgraded his staff with coordinators Mike Nolan (defense) and Dirk Koetter (offense).

What Ryan and Smith both lack is a playoff resume. Here are my rankings of the potential 15 quarterback-coach combinations in the playoff field (10 teams that have clinched, five that are in the hunt):

1. Tom Brady-Bill Belichick (New …

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Falcons understand that wins, No. 1 seed only set stage

Calvin Johnson is a special player butthe Falcons may be a special team. (Detroit Free Press photo)

Calvin Johnson is a special player but the Falcons may be a special team. (Detroit Free Press photo)

DETROIT – The schedule says there is a game left. The coach, Mike Smith, says, “We’ve said all along that if there’s games left to be played, we’re going to play them to win.” (And in his head, he probably adds: “Even if we play them with Luke McCown.”)

But this is the reality: Nobody is thinking about Game 16 against Tampa Bay. It’s about what happens in three weeks and that’s where everybody’s thoughts are. There’s no pressure to win the regular season finale next Sunday, no requirement to play in the first round of the playoffs, no pressure to jazz up the resume.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said late Saturday night following his team’s 31-18 win over Detroit, which secured a bye and the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. “Now we just have to go do it.” In the playoffs, he means.

Imagine being outfitted with the best ski equipment and taking four …

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Short takes: Matt Ryan back to MVP level in last 2 games

Roddy White catches a 44-yard touchdown behind former Falcons cornerback Chris Houston. (AP photo)

Roddy White catches a 44-yard touchdown behind ex-Falcons cornerback Chris Houston. (AP photo)

DETROIT — You know by now that the Falcons beat  the Detroit Lions and clinched the No. 1 seed and home field through the NFC playoffs. Here’s a link to my column off the game, and I’ll have a new column later today with more comments from players. Until then, here are my three “Short takes” from the game:

1. Matt Ryan ascending to elite: The Falcons’ quarterback had a string of average-to-bad games beginning in November, including the five-interception day against Arizona. But for the last two weeks he has looked like the MVP candidate he was inthe season’s first-half. He was the Falcons’ best player in significant wins over the New York Giants and Detroit, combining for 48-of-60 passing (including 22 straight completions) for 549 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Tony Gonzalez said of Ryan: “The talent has always been there. It was just a matter of when, not if, he …

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Falcons respond as great teams should, beat Lions (updated)

Backup tight end Michael Palmer celebrates with Tony Gonzalez after his one-yard touchdown catch made it 21-3. (AP photo)

Michael Palmer celebrates with Tony Gonzalez after his one-yard touchdown catch made it 21-3. (AP)

(Updated: 1:15 a.m.)

DETROIT – With no guarantees for the future, the Falcons nonetheless did all they could Saturday night to comfort its fan base and fire a warning shot over the rest of the NFL’s playoff field. They are ready this time.

The bandwagon still seemed half-empty after 11 wins. The 34-0 bodyslam of the New York Giants last week caused a majority of skeptics to reconsider their position.

But after Saturday’s 31-18 win over the Detroit Lions, the doubters almost certainly represent an extreme minority, like those few purchasing the only sweater at full retail before Christmas.

This was a test for the Falcons. They passed. They didn’t “go cool,” as tight end Tony Gonzalez had put it days after the win over the Giants. They stepped on the gas. They jumped out to a 21-3 lead on three touchdown passes by Matt Ryan. They survived some hiccups in the third and rebounded …

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LIVE: Falcons seek No. 1 seed; AJC endures minus D-Led

An artist's rendering of Darryl Ledbetter's injury.

An artist's rendering of Darryl Ledbetter's injury. (Zazzle.com)

DETROIT — Good evening. Welcome to Monday night football on Saturday night. Because while the NFL sees nothing wrong with multiple Thursday games that increase the chance of concussion hangovers (shortened game weeks) and is pushing for an 18-game season, at least it won’t make teams play on Christmas Eve.

Before we get to the Falcons-Detroit game, I’d like to give a shout out to the captain of the AJC’s Falcons’ coverage, Darryl “Lightning Led” Ledbetter. He’s a former high school cornerback who claims to have patterned his game after Jack Tatum, the only difference being that Tatum took out opponents and

Here's actual updated look at Ledbetter's left leg.

Here's actual updated look at Ledbetter's left leg.

Ledbetter took out himself.

Last Saturday morning, while carrying three loads of laundry, he tripped on a book that was left on the stairs at the state Ledbetter manor. Down went Lightning. His left leg buckled.

An X-ray revealed no damage so D-Led toughed …

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If last week’s Falcons were for real, we’re about to find out

If Julio Jones, Matt Ryan can Falcons can avoid letdown at Detroit, they'll really have something to celebrate. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

If Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Falcons can avoid letdown at Detroit, they'll really have something to celebrate. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(Online readers: I’m taking the risk of posting this before 11:59.59 p.m. Friday on the assumption the world will still be here at 12:00.01 a.m. Saturday.)

DETROIT — Imagine if the world actually ended on Friday after everybody had finally started to buy into the Falcons?

Alas, life goes on. The Mayans are left to seek a refund from their director of world predictions, Danny Sheridan. The rest of us now watch and see how the Falcons react to acceptance.

That was no small victory last week when the Falcons doubled-over the New York Giants 34-0. If they couldn’t quite make up for last season’s 24-2 playoff loss at New York, they at least finally gave a glimpse of their ceiling. Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, came up big in a big moment. Their offensive line neutralized one of the best front fours in the NFL. Their defense, even without safety …

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