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
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 it out last Sunday, covering the Falcons- New York Giants game with what he (and a mistaken doctor) believed was just a bad knee sprain. But a followup MRI
revealed D-Led had a ruptured quadriceps, which required surgery Thursday.
While the AJC is not required to declare our writers’ inactive list until 90 minutes before kickoff — competitive reasons — I’ll disclose that D-Led did not make the trip to Detroit, nor is he expected to cover next week’s regular season finale against Tampa Bay.
“I’m hoping to be back by the playoffs,” he said.
That still put him ahead of Ray Edwards.
So the able and fleet-footed Michael Cunningham has come in off the bench and is in Motown with me for tonight’s coverage. Michael told me he long had been dreaming of making a December trip to the tropical paradise that is Detroit. (I might have made that up.)
OK, about the game. The Falcons are coming off their biggest win and most impressive performance of the season, a 34-0 blowout of the Giants. This game can’t match that one in marquee value but there’s a lot on the line. A win over the Lions guarantees them a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, which would give several banged up players a week of needed rest. Here are the scenarios:
• They secure a first-round bye with: 1) A win or tie tonight; OR 2) a Green Bay loss or tie vs. Tennessee; OR 3) a San Francisco loss at Seattle.
• They secure the No. 1 seed with: 1) A win tonight; OR 2) a tie and a San Francisco loss or tie; OR 3) A Green Bay loss or tie and a San Francisco loss.
A strong performance against the Lions would be a good sign going into the postseason, whereas an emotional letdown would again make some wonder about what lies ahead. As tight end Tony Gonzalez said, “This is not the time to go cool. It’s not the time to think you’ve arrived. Actually, it’s the worst time to have that attitude.”
Stating the obvious: The Falcons’ defense likely will double-cover wide receiver Calvin Johnson (who has a chance to break Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record) because there is not much else on the Lions’ offense to worry about. Offensively, the team will be rematched against Mr. Wholesome, Ndamukong Suh, and the Lions’ defensive front. Detroit actually has been pretty solid defensively, especially for a 4-10 team, but the Lions have hurt themselves with turnovers (26) and penalties (6.9 per game).
That’s all I’ve got for now. The Falcons try to secure home field and the AJC endures without Lightning Led.
The cyber-venting lines are now open.
By Jeff Schultz