Archive for December, 2012

LIVE: Falcons have chance to clinch playoff bye (or more)

Stopping Carolina starts with stopping Cam Newton for the Falcons. (AP photo)

Stopping the Carolina Panthers starts with stopping Cam Newton for the Falcons. (AP photo)

CHARLOTTE — Good morning. When I walked out of the deck parking lot toward the media entrance of the stadium (a healthy walk here at Bank of America Stadium), there was only a slight drizzle. But a few minutes later, the skies opened up, I got drenched and it totally ruined my coiffure.

(Go ahead, I’ll give you a few minutes to laugh. … Waiting. … Still waiting. … )

So yes, it is raining here in Charlotte. The forecast says there’s only a 10 percent chance of showers, but that 10 percent clearly resides on this block. So at the very least, the field will be slippery for the Falcons’ game against the Carolina Panthers today.

Some folks around the Falcons are worried about this game. The Panthers are only 3-9 but seven of those losses have come by six points or less (one in overtime). The Falcons were fortunate to rally and beat Carolina 30-28 on a last-minute field goal drive in Week …

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Even at 11-1, Falcons know they can’t afford to settle

Thomas DeCoud and the Falcons already have celebrated an NFC South Division title. So what's next? (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Thomas DeCoud and the Falcons already have celebrated a division title. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

With one-quarter of the season left to be played, the Falcons already have clinched a playoff berth and a division title. By the end of Sunday, there’s a chance they will have locked up the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home field through the playoffs, leaving nothing tangible to play for in the final three weeks.

Unless, well, you count the Super Bowl as tangible.

“If you’ve watched the past few years, the teams that are playing the best and have some momentum going into the playoffs are the ones going the deepest,” Falcons center Todd McClure said. “Momentum is a big thing going into the playoffs. Nobody remembers you for September and October. You remember teams for what they do in December and January, so we want to be playing our best ball in the next month.”

The Falcons (11-1), who have their best 12-game record in franchise history, play at Carolina on Sunday. They shouldn’t be …

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‘Sack Schultz’ unveils Bowl Blowout (from Potato to BCS)

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Welcome back.

The Sack Schultz contest continues to spread good cheer and free food. It has been another great Uneducated Guessing Season, as we’ve given away tickets to the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, a stay at the Hotel Indigo in Athens, tickets to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a $5,000 trip to Hawaii (yes, that Hawaii), gift cards to Marlow’s Tavern and Fat Heads (the product, not Ray Edwards).

About the only thing we haven’t given away is a coaching job for Bobby Petrino, who at this time next week will be on Groupon.

Now, we’re doing it again. Just go to AJC.com/go/sackschultzbowl2012 and it will take you to our bowl games pick page. Enter just like before and pick the winners of all 35 bowl games. The winner of the contest again will receive our admiration, as well as a relative Gorge-A-Thon. I define that as $200 in gift cards from Marlow’s.

Is shrimp and grits an acceptable appetizer ...

Is shrimp and grits an acceptable appetizer …

There are two great things about this contest: 1) I live pretty close to a Marlow’s in …

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Hawks are surviving nicely without Joe Johnson (go figure)

Josh Smith, Devin Harris and the Hawks have had a lot of reason to celebrate so far this season. (AP photo)

Josh Smith, Devin Harris and the surprising Hawks have had a lot of reasons to celebrate so far this season. (AP photo)

Notwithstanding that 15 games is a small sampling size, it’s worth noting that the Hawks don’t appear flummoxed or discombobulated this season, even without the former king of clutch and locker-room glue that was Joe Johnson.

(I thought I’d open with a joke. Try the veal.)

The Hawks are 10-5. They have the third best record in the Eastern Conference. They are running. They are moving the ball. They are playing unselfishly. They are having fun. They seem to actually like each other. So this is what it looks like.

Welcome to Fantasy Island.

“I’m surprised. I’m shocked,” Josh Smith said. “When teams have a lot of new faces like we do, it usually takes until about December or January to click and gel. But we’re doing it right away.”

There’s a temptation to suggest the Hawks have been greater than the sum of their parts. But that would suggest that when general …

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OK, critics: Find something wrong with John Abraham

John Abraham is in double-digits in sacks for the seventh time in his career -- and at the age of 34. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

John Abraham is in double-digits in sacks for the seventh time in his career — and at the age of 34. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

At the age of 34, in his 13th NFL season, in the 171st game of his career, after the generally mandated assortment of groin, ankle, back, shoulder, head and who-knew-I-even-had-a-body-part-there ailments, John Abraham made a play. Actually, he made the play. Again.

The Falcons were leading New Orleans 20-13 in the fourth quarter last Thursday on national television. The Saints had the ball, driving toward a possible tying score. But on third down from the Atlanta 36, Abraham — looking as if he had just been drinking from the Fountain of Red Bull — flew around the left corner, leaving Saints tackle Zach Strief spinning like a weather vane, and buried quarterback Drew Brees for a sack.

End of touchdown threat. End of field-goal threat.

Soon, end of Saints.

“He’s no different for us than Ray Lewis (is for Baltimore),” teammate Jonathan Babineaux …

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Brian Gregory may have Tech on way to something good

Brian Gregory's Jackets look far closer to be a potential NCAA tournament team than Mark Fox's Bulldogs do. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Early season report: Brian Gregory's Jackets are going up; Mark Fox's Bulldogs are going down. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

There hasn’t been much in the way of emotional real estate for Georgia Tech to lay claim to over Georgia lately.

The somewhat diametric fortunes of the school’s respective football teams and the fact Tech’s former athletic director grew weary of squeezing nickels and bolted for Clemson sums it up nicely.

So consider Tuesday some semblance of a 180. Or at least the beginning of one. Georgia Tech beat Georgia 62-54 in a basketball game at McCamish Pavilion. There is joy in Beeville.

The Yellow Jackets are 5-2 in non-conference play. It’s a bit early to start hyperventilating and tossing out labels like “ACC threat” or “NCAA dark horse.”

But forgive Tech if it milks this just a little bit. It finally has a chance to gloat. The team’s new arena is a jewel. It was sold out Tuesday night. It was loud. The Big Foot rival fell for the second straight year, the first time …

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Trying to win is only half the problem at Georgia State

Cheryl Levick hopes Trent Miles can jumpstart program on and off the field. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Cheryl Levick hopes Trent Miles can jump-start Georgia State on and off field. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Georgia State held a news conference Monday.

Or maybe it was more like a pep rally.

There was pre-recorded, whip-up-the-crowd music blaring through arena speakers. There were cheerleaders and a mascot named Pounce and a pep band in the bleachers and maybe 100 folks, many in the employ of the university, who stood up and applauded as if on cue.

Just as well. Because the job facing Trent Miles as Georgia State’s second football coach isn’t merely to win games, it’s to make sure more than just friends and family of the running back and the long-snapper are aware that a game is even being played.

All new programs lose games. They lack athletes, tradition and an identity. The most troubling aspect of the fledgling Panthers is not that their win totals were only 6, 3 and 1 in the first three seasons. It’s that their attendance dropped from just OK to off-the-radar during that same span. …

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Georgia earns respect in defeat, but loss not easy to take

Georgia's Kenarious Gates drops to a knee as Georgia lost SEC championship on last play of game. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Kenarious Gates drops to a knee as Georgia lost SEC title on game's final play. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

This was the day when representatives from every other conference, when every critic weary of the SEC’s six-year-plus rule in college football, should have come to the realization, “Oh. So that’s why they’re the best.”

Georgia and Alabama looked like the two best teams from the two best conference, if not the two best teams in the nation, and they just played a conference championship that saw four lead changes in the second half and the game not decided until the game’s final play.

What would happen if Georgia and Alabama played 10 times?

“It probably would look like that every game,” Bulldogs wide receiver Tavarres King said. “And there would be several different outcomes.”

Georgia doesn’t have that luxury. The Dogs lost the SEC championship game 32-28 at the Georgia Dome. They came that close to playing for a national championship.

They had a chance at the end, with …

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Georgia short takes: Dogs should’ve spiked the ball

Jay Rome's 19-yard touchdown catch gave Georgia 7-0 lead two plays following fake punt. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Jay Rome's touchdown catch gave Georgia 7-0 lead two plays after fake punt. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

(I’ll be back with my column on the Georgia-Alabama SEC championship soon. Until then, here are my three “short takes” on the game.)

1. Great drive until the last decision: Trialing 32-28, Georgia was given a second chance to drive for a winning touchdown when an Aaron Murray interception was turned over on replay, which showed the ball hit the ground. So with the ball at the Dogs’ 28 on second-and-10, Murray then capitalized when completed passes to Arthur Lynch (15 yards), Tavarres King (23) and Lynch again (26), moving the ball to the Alabama 8. However, with the final seconds (from :09 after Lynch’s second catch) ticking down, Murray did not take the ensuing snap and spike the ball to stop the clock. Instead, he ran a play and completed a tipped pass to Chris Conley, who was tackled at the Alabama 5 and time ran out. It was a great three plays and a dreadful fourth. While it’s …

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