Archive for August, 2009

Lofton on the Falcons’ D: “We’ve upgraded at every position”

Flowery Branch — The first question to Curtis Lofton: Should Falcons fans be worried about this defense?

Let the record reflect that his one-word answer is prefaced by a one-beat pause and a glare that could shatter plate glass. The one-word answer: “No.”

Curtis Lofton is the new leader of a remade defense. To be kind, there were moments in Detroit on Saturday when the D appeared less than fully formed. The Falcons yielded 454 yards against a team that finished 0-for-2008. Lofton’s take: “I’ve never seen a preseason game that counted.”

And that would, under different circumstances, be the operative reaction. To shrug. To say, “Hey, it’s preseason.” But when you’ve changed starters at five positions, shrugging comes a bit harder.

Thomas Dimitroff, architect of this reconfiguration, actually does shrug when asked about the exhibition opener. And then the general manager says: “We gave up 128 yards in the first half. Our subs were kind of running around after that.”

The Falcons …

Continue reading Lofton on the Falcons’ D: “We’ve upgraded at every position” »

The Favre monster returns … and returns … and returns

He’s Freddy Kruger. He’s Jason without the hockey mask. He’s Jaws from the James Bond movies, not to be confused with Jaws the former Philly quarterback who now works for ESPN, which exists only to inform the weary public of this bizarre man’s latest bizarre move.

He is Brett Favre, and he will not stay down. And he is, apparently, back in the NFL. Which is a good thing, for as we know there was no NFL pre-Favre and there can be none when finally he leaves. Which he’ll never do. He’ll be hemming and hawing and dithering at the age of 95, sure there’s one last stupid interception to be thrown.

He is the most overrated athlete of our era and maybe any era, and he becomes more overrated every time he un-retires. He was reported — by ESPN, natch — en route to Minnesota on Tuesday to sign with the Vikings, which is bad news for the Vikings. Because as bad as Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels might be, they aren’t as bad as the way-past-it Brett Favre.

He burned his bridges in …

Continue reading The Favre monster returns … and returns … and returns »

Live from the Branch: But first, a tale of keys and Krystal

Flowery Branch – I’m here to interview Mr. Curtis Lofton after the morning practice, for which I arrived later than usual. And therein hangs a tale, and I’m guessing some of you will know what I mean when I say …

Strange things happen when you go to Krystal at 2 a.m.

Some of you might remember that I covered the Braves’ Sunday-night-into-Monday-morning loss to the Phillies. From our live chat that night/morning, some might recall a discussion of food, and the lack thereof. Well, by the time I posted my last post and left the ballpark — around 1:40 a.m. — I was starved. So I got in the car and headed homeward and did something I haven’t done for 15 years.

I stopped at Krystal. I did this for a basic reason: It was open, and I was hungry. (As many of you know, this gourmand’s postgame eatery of choice is Taco Bell. But it was closed.) So I pulled into the drive-thru and ordered — the “3-Chik Combo Medium,” if I can quote from the receipt, which I somehow managed to retain — and …

Continue reading Live from the Branch: But first, a tale of keys and Krystal »

The Braves are fighting against time, and they might win

Bit by bit, the Braves are getting there. They followed a 5-2 California swing with a 4-2 homestand. They’re 18-11 since the All-Star break. If they keep playing at that pace, they’ll finish with 89 wins, and 90 wins would have won the National League wild card each of the past four seasons.

They’re 5 1/2 games behind the Phillies, but more important they’re three games back of Colorado, which leads the wild card race. The Braves probably won’t win the NL East. They have a very good chance of winning the wild card.

Because they’re hot, and they’re reasonably healthy, and they could get a further boost from Tim Hudson very soon, and the schedule the next 10 days is kind. Six of the nine games are against losing teams, and the other three are against Florida, one of three clubs ahead of the Braves in the wild card chase.

If they keep playing the way they have, they’ll enter the final fortnight in position to make the playoffs. And how do those last two weeks look? Only terrific. …

Continue reading The Braves are fighting against time, and they might win »

The Atlanta Spirit case: No decision is bad news for Belkin

Only in the tangled realm of the Atlanta Spirit can a no-decision be deemed a rousing victory for one side, but that’s what this is. The Atlanta/D.C. connection — essentially the Gearons and Bruce Levenson — cannot proceed with the proposed buyout of the battling Bostonian Steve Belkin, and somehow that’s better  for the party of the first part. (If this sounds like a Marx Brothers movie … well, it should.)

Much has changed between 2005, when this jerry-built partnership splintered over Joe Johnson, and August 2009. The economy has gone so far south that even wealthy men have lost real money, and the idea of not having to put up more cash — $145 million plus interest — to get rid of Belkin must seem mighty appealing to the seven other Spirit men right about now.

With Belkin long since removed as the Spirit’s representative on the NBA’s board of governors, there’s no pressing call to sign divorce papers. The Atlanta/D.C. bunch can simply continue to do as it did on Joe Johnson, …

Continue reading The Atlanta Spirit case: No decision is bad news for Belkin »

One big man + one fat pitch = one huge Braves loss

Say goodbye to the tie game, and the series. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Say goodbye to the tie, and the game, and the series. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One fat pitch. One hanging changeup to a big man who did what a big man should do with a hanging changeup. One fat pitch and one big loss on a rainy Sunday night that crept into Monday morning.

The Braves lost Game 3 to the Phillies the same way they lost Game 1 — by throwing the wrong pitch to the wrong man and watching Ryan Howard send it over the wall. The big man had two homers on the night and three for the weekend, and if you’re looking for the reason the Phils are apt to win a third consecutive NL East title and the Braves will have to hustle to grab the wild card, there it is.

The Braves have nobody who can make an opponent pay the way Ryan Howard made Rafael Soriano pay Friday and Javier Vazquez pay double on Sunday. They have some decent hitters who can put the ball in play, but they have to work hard to string an inning together. Their biggest innings of the weekend yielded two runs …

Continue reading One big man + one fat pitch = one huge Braves loss »

Michael Vick on “60 Minutes”: Contrition and a confession

I’m sure “60 Minutes” wasn’t thrilled with Michael Vick pre-empting himself and holding an introductory briefing two days before his taped interview with James Brown was scheduled to air. But the press conference in Philadelphia was a press conference, which serves a different purpose than the sitdown interview. And Vick was impressive in former, even more so in the latter.

I watched the interview in the press lounge at Turner Field, and there were the usual “Yeah, rights,” from a few of the skeptics behind me. But I felt no skepticism. I felt I was watching a humbled man admit to having been a fool and an ingrate and an all-around bad buy.

And let me ask this: When last did you own up to so many sins and failings? In the confessional box? Ever? And when last did you do it before an audience of millions?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: I’ve always liked the guy, and I felt almost personally disappointed when I read the indictment against him. I can only imagine how …

Continue reading Michael Vick on “60 Minutes”: Contrition and a confession »

Live from the ballpark, and there’s reason to be cheerful

Even if this postseason drive doesn’t wind up with the Braves playing postseason games — and I’m not saying it won’t — 2009 should still be viewed as a corner turned. The 2008 Braves lost 90 games, and so many aging pitchers got hurt that there was no cause to believe Frank Wren could cobble together a rotation in one offseason.

Turns out he cobbled pretty good. Who knew Frank Wren was a veritable Jimmy Choo?

The 2009 Braves have turned out to be pretty good, and they’ve gotten better as they’ve gone. The 2010 Braves could be something to see. All five starting pitchers are under contract for next season, and the team holds an option on Tim Hudson, who’s doing his due rehab diligence. Over the summer Wren has added two outfielders whom the Braves control until 2012.

The biggest free-agents-to-be on this roster are Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez and Adam LaRoche, and it’s fair to say that none is truly indispensable. (Figure the Braves will endeavor to keep one of the relievers …

Continue reading Live from the ballpark, and there’s reason to be cheerful »

The Falcons are playing, and we’re chatting live (via TV)

Over the past few days, It has been easy to forget that the franchise Michael Vick left behind is still preparing for its season. For those keeping score, this will be the Falcons’ third post-Vick campaign, and the previous two have ranged from morose (4-12 in 2007) to downright giddy (11-5 in ‘08).

But it is just the Falcons’ luck to open their exhibition season on the same day Vick partook of his first NFL practice as an Eagle. It’s weird how this keeps happening. Vick’s first Virginia court date came on Day 1 of Training Camp 2007 in Flowery Branch. Vick’s guilty plea came on the day the Falcons played a nationally televised exhibition. Vick’s sentencing came on the day the Falcons played the Saints on Monday night.

But here I make a pledge: I will not, in this post, mention that man’s name again. It’s time to focus on the Atlanta Falcons, who have a pretty fair quarterback in their own right. And today, from the lush splendor of Vinings Estates, I will see how Mr. Matt …

Continue reading The Falcons are playing, and we’re chatting live (via TV) »

Vick’s aim? Only the greatest comeback story ever written

Michael Dwayne Vick doesn’t dream small. He didn’t just want to be a NFL quarterback; he wanted to be the greatest quarterback the league has ever seen and to revolutionize his sport in the process. He knows he has been blessed with a rare and perhaps unprecedented skill-set. Indeed, he said as much in his introduction as an Eagle on Friday.

In that briefing, Vick used the right words and struck the proper chords, which was hardly surprising. (No matter what his detractors might insist, he has always been an effective speaker.) He made his apologies in the requisite amounts, and the thought occurred — just as it did two years ago in the ballroom of the Omni Hotel in Richmond — that it’s difficult to consider him a bad guy if you’re ever around him.

But as I heard Vick’s words, I got the feeling that the notion of a grand design still simmers within. As he eases back into the NFL and public life, there’s a part of Michael Vick that’s thinking: I can write the greatest comeback …

Continue reading Vick’s aim? Only the greatest comeback story ever written »