Archive for January, 2011

A study in social media: The misTweetment of Jay Cutler

I had no real feelings about Jay Cutler before Sunday, but now I do. And the feeling I have is pity for having been tried and found guilty of dereliction of duty in the high court of …

Twitter.

Social media allows us to type anything at any time for the consumption of a ravenous public. Anything a famous person types is treated seriously because that person happens to be … well, famous. (Not necessarily smart or wise or expert in grammar, but famous nonetheless.) When Cutler was unable to finish the NFC championship game, a host of pro football players — some current, some former, none of whom happened to be otherwise occupied with a game of their own — ganged up on Cutler via Twitter.

From Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville: “All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee … I played the whole season on one.”

Also from Jones-Drew: “Hey, I think the Urban Meyer rule is in effect right now. When the going gets tough … QUIT.”

From Derrick Brooks, formerly of Tampa …

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Atlanta’s sad sports history: One lousy title in 149 pro seasons

The initial response to the sight of Atlanta patrons leaving an NFL playoff game with a quarter still to play — this happened only last weekend — was to loose the boilerplate harrumph. “Nothing new here! These people are the fairest of fair-weather fans in all the land!”

That’s always the reaction from national voices, and there was a time when it was the belief of this correspondent. Atlanta’s the city that can’t sell out playoff games and then, when finally it does, the crowd goes home early when the scoreboard gets ugly, et cetera. But 26 years and 10 months of residency have had an erosive effect, and now this neutral-by-profession can say:

Folks, I feel your pain.

Since big-time professional sports arrived in 1966, teams sailing under the Atlanta flag have completed 149 seasons. (We won’t count baseball in 1994, when the World Series was canceled by a players’ strike, or the 2004-2005 NHL campaign, which was scrubbed due to a lockout.) Only one has yielded a championship. …

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Inquiring minds are asking: Is Matt Ryan overrated or what?

Against Green Bay, the Iceman stunketh. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

On Saturday, the Iceman stunketh. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

A month ago we wondered if Matt Ryan might be the NFL’s MVP. Now we get to spend the next eight months pondering whether Matty Ice might be overhyped. (Google his name and “overrated.” You’ll get the drift.) He has led the Falcons to three consecutive winning seasons — before Ryan arrived, no Atlanta quarterback had managed even two — but twice he has saved his worst for last.

Ryan’s playoff numbers: A total of 385 yards passing; an average of 5.7 yards per pass (which is awful); three touchdowns; four interceptions; two fumbles lost; eight sacks. He was a rookie on the road against Arizona in January 2009, but Saturday he was a fully blooded professional working  in the building he has made his own.

Yes, winning in postseason is hard. (Peyton Manning needed six seasons to win his first playoff game; John Elway needed four.) But the magnitude of the loss to Green Bay has forced us to look harder at the 13-3 Falcons, …

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You be the GM: What position should the Falcons target?

Should the Falcons shake hands with UGA's Justin Houston? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Should the Falcons shake hands with UGA's Justin Houston? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

You might think you’re smarter than Thomas Dimitroff, but you’re probably wrong. TD the GM is so sharp his name ought to be … well, Darren Sharper. But enough football wordplay.

The Falcons — and 31 other teams — have free agency and a draft upcoming. (They might also have a lockout, but that’s another story for another day. And I continue to believe any lockout won’t amount to much.) The misdoings of Saturday night indicate the Falcons have deeper needs than you’d figure a 13-3 team would. So: Here’s your chance to be Dimitty for a day.

Tell the world what position most needs punching up posthaste. You can attach names to this if you want – yesterday I  mentioned Justin Houston, the Georgia pass rusher, and Malcom Floyd, the San Diego receiver – as possible targets for the draft and free agency, respectively, but that’s just me. And I’m not nearly as smart as Dimitroff. (Or anybody in …

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Here’s the 5-step method for a Falcons’ Super Bowl surge

Roddy White wonders, "How come we don't throw it deep?" (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Roddy White wonders, "How come we don't throw it deep?" (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The Falcons remain a team on the rise, Saturday night’s cliff-dive notwithstanding. They’ve gone from 4-12 to 13-3 in four seasons. They should grace a Super Bowl very soon.  They don’t need wholesale change, but they do require the following nips/tucks.

1. Cut the malarkey. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was named the NFL’s top assistant by Sporting News, but let’s check the numbers: The Falcons were sixth among 32 NFL teams in total offense in 2008, Mularkey’s first season here; they were 16th last season, which could be partially ascribed to the injuries suffered by quarterback Matt Ryan and tailback Michael Turner. They were 16th again in 2010 — 16th with five Pro Bowlers.

Yes, Mularkey’s method has merit: When his offense is allowed to control the clock, the Falcons are nigh-unbeatable. But the better opponents didn’t allow Turner to break them down, and those were the games the …

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So: Were the Falcons as good as 13-3 or as bad as 48-21?

Not exactly precision football at its finest. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This wouldn't seem an example of precision football. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

When a 13-3 season unravels in a 27-point home loss, we’re forced to ask: Which was real — four months of stout work or one outrageously inept playoff showing? Late Saturday night, coach Mike Smith said of his suddenly forlorn Falcons: “There’s a whole body of work we put out there. We can’t forget that.”

We can’t. Neither can we ignore what happened — and what didn’t happen — against Green Bay. And to answer the question just posed: Both the regular season and the 48-21 drubbing were real, but the latter was so comprehensive as to suggest this 13-3 team mightn’t have been 13-3 good.

The defense collapsed so comprehensively Saturday as to make it seem the Falcons played the entire game with two men in the penalty box. Their opponents averaged 309 yards in the regular season; the Packers amassed 333 yards on four consecutive touchdown drives that were epic in scope and precision.

Said Smith: …

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For the Falcons, the ‘D’ in ‘defense’ also stands for ‘dud’

One photo of John Abraham tells us all we need know. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One photo of John Abraham tells us all we need know. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Since Oct. 24, the day the Bengals had scored 32 points in the Dome, the Falcons’ defense had been more consistent than their star-spangled offense. (Five offensive Falcons to the Pro Bowl, only one defender.) It had held Baltimore to 21 points, Green Bay and New Orleans to 17. It was becoming the fleet and fierce unit general manager Thomas Dimitroff had envisioned as he was building.

Suffice it to say that TD the GM never envisioned what happened Saturday. Nobody did. Nobody could have.

A defense that didn’t yield more than 32 points in any game this regular season was overrun for 42 points — in the first three quarters. The D had made a big early play, Stephen Nicholas forcing a Greg Jennings fumble that Brent Grimes gathered. That enabled the Falcons to take a 7-0 lead. That would also be the last time over the next five Green Bay drives that the Packers didn’t score a touchdown.

Five …

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Live from the Dome: OK, I’ve decided – I’m picking the …

All is in readiness in the city where snow and ice never descend. (M. Bradley photo)

All is in readiness in the city where snow and ice never descend. (Photo by M. Bradley)

True confession: I’ve actually spent a lot of time thinking about who’s going to win this game. (Ordinarily I just go with my gut, which can prove problematic. Perhaps you knew that already.) And I, at the risk of blowing it for everyone, am picking the Falcons. My rationale:

The Falcons have been the better team. The Falcons are playing at home. The Falcons have already proved they can beat Green Bay.

Ergo, the better team/home team/proven team should win. By the count of 20-17, let’s say. And now, having said that …

Green Bay is the only team remaining in the NFC bracket capable of coming here and stealing one. The Bears? No. The Seahawks? Get real. The Packers are a good team capable of winning if the Falcons perform the way they did against New Orleans on Dec. 27. But I’m thinking the Falcons won’t. I’m thinking they’ll learn from that night that a game of such magnitude is no place …

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Eight years later, the Packers must come to Mr. Blank’s house

That happy night in Green Bay: Blank, Vick and Sonny Perdue. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

That giddy night in Green Bay: Blank, Vick and Sonny Perdue. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Eight years ago, the rookie owner saw his sixth-seeded team upset Green Bay at Lambeau Field on a snowy Saturday night. This Saturday night, Green Bay will play here as the lower seed, as an underdog seeking to unseat a member of the NFL’s upper crust. Because that’s what Arthur Blank’s Falcons have become.

“We’re a relevant team in the NFL now,” Blank said this week. “This is an important team in the NFL.”

Note that Blank chose to use one word twice — “team.”

On the night of Jan. 4, 2003, the emphasis wasn’t so much on the collective as an individual. That famous upset was seen as a function of Michael Vick, described in the fifth paragraph of the Associated Press game report as “the 22-year-old improvisational genius.” But Vick would preside over only one more playoff victory as a Falcon, and he took his final snap for this franchise on Dec. 31, 2006.

Yet here the Falcons sit, the …

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An early line on the SEC in 2011, and UGA is … well, not No. 1

With the SEC having generated the BCS titlist five years running, the moral of our story — if indeed morals apply in this cutthroat conference — is this: Win the league, win it all. But that mightn’t be the case come Jan. 9, 2102. (Though the championship game will be played in New Orleans, smack in the heart of SEC country.)

Oklahoma figures to start next season ranked No. 1, and that would be a departure. The past three preseason No. 1’s have hailed from guess where: Georgia in 2008, Florida in 2009, Alabama in 2010. (As we know, none finished No. 1.) Eyeballing it from this distance, the SEC would appear slightly lessened in 2011, but is the Tiffany League ever truly down?

Herewith we offer a look-ahead, the 12 programs ranked in ascending order:

12. Vanderbilt: The Commodores have a new coach. So they’ve got that going for them.

11. Kentucky: The Wildcats seemed onto something when they played Auburn close and beat South Carolina, but they lost four of their final six …

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