Archive for August, 2012

Heat Check: Hot Braves, cold Honey Badger, a final #NBCfail

The Honey Badger will not be playing in the Dome on Dec. 1. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The Honey Badger will not be playing in the Dome on Dec. 1. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Our weekly Heat Check begins with baseball’s hottest team, and no, I don’t mean the Mets.

BRAVES: On July 5, the day the season’s second half officially began, manager Fredi Gonzalez assessed his team’s first half as “just OK.” They’re 24-9 since. They went 4-2 last week but managed to slide 4 1/2 games behind Washington, which went 6-1. Which leads us to say: No big deal.

There are two wild cards this season. Even if there were only one, the Braves are two games ahead of Pittsburgh, and the Pirates probably won’t hold up much longer. Baseball Prospectus gives the Braves only a 17.1 percent chance of winning the National League East but a 91.1 percent chance of making the playoffs.

The rest of August will be intriguing. Over the next 2 1/2 weeks, the Braves will play three games in Washington, three here against the Dodgers, four against the Giants and seven (four here, three there) …

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Atlanta’s Olympic legacy: It’s there, even if not always obvious

OK, so it wasn't all so great. We still haven't gotten over Izzy. (AJC photo by Joey Ivansco)

OK, so not everything about our Olympics was splendiferous. In 16 years, we still haven't gotten over Izzy. (AJC photo by Joey Ivansco)

Sixteen summers ago, we were London. The eyes of the world — and not just that segment of the population that cares about sports — were on Atlanta. Some critics found us wanting. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the head of the International Olympic Committee, denied the Atlanta Games his customary “best ever” benediction. No matter.

We had the Olympics. Big things happened. Michael Johnson ran really fast. Kerri Strug made her valorous vault. The U.S. men and women won in basketball, and the U.S. women won in soccer. And there was, sad to say, a bomb explosion in Centennial Olympic Park that killed a woman named Alice Hawthorne.

We, meaning all of us Atlantans, have an Olympic legacy. But there are times when you have to look hard to see it. “Usually the icon for the Olympics is the Olympic Stadium,” said Bob Hope, an Atlanta public relations …

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Opening night: A passing grade for the Falcons’ passing game

Julio Jones makes his touchdown snag. Impressive, eh? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Julio Jones makes his touchdown snag. Impressive, eh? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We cannot know in August what will happen, or not happen, in January. We can’t even know if the Falcons be playing then. Being human, we still look for clues. And what we saw Thursday night was most encouraging. The Falcons met the Baltimore Ravens, who played for the AFC title last season, and looked much the better side when both sets of starters were deployed.

The only number worth a second glance in an exhibition game is the score when the first starting quarterback exits. Here it was 14-7, and it was only that close because the Ravens’ Joe Flacco stayed in and led a touchdown drive against the Falcons’ second-string D.

The Falcons’ No. 1 offense had the ball four times and scored two touchdowns. Matt Ryan, who bulked up over the offseason, looked a little stronger and perhaps a bit quicker. He threw 13 passes, completing nine, for 155 yards. He hoisted a lovely fade to Julio Jones, …

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Live from the Dome: An important Falcons’ season begins

"Hut one! Hut two! Play football!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"Hut one! Hut two! Hut three! Play championship football!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

If you can win four seasons running and make the playoffs three times in four, you’re not far off. You’re not a team without talent or an organization without savvy. You are, as they say, in the mix.

The trouble with the Falcons is that, three times in four Januarys, they’ve played their worst game of that season (or very near) at the moment it mattered most and the watching world was paying rapt attention. Three times in four seasons they were eliminated by a team with a lesser record.

The Falcons have become, to invoke the British term, the NFL’s nearly men. They’ve almost made it. (Had the Falcons beaten Green Bay here in January 2011, they’d have won the Super Bowl.) They’ve gotten close enough to make you – well, maybe not you, but me for sure – think this time would be different, and to date it hasn’t been.

The offseason just past marked this franchise’s first …

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A tearful Bobby Petrino tells ESPN he’s sorry for everything

Bobby Petrino after the infamous fall but before the subsequent firing. (AP photo)

Bobby Petrino after the infamous fall, but before the subsequent firing. (AP photo)

I’m not good with other people’s remorse. I can’t tell if someone is sincerely sorry for a transgression or simply sorry for having been caught in it. So I’m not going to pass judgment on this four-minute video conversation between Bobby Petrino, who was once the Arkansas coach after having briefly been the Falcons’ coach, and Joe Schad of ESPN.

Cliff’s Notes: Petrino says he’s sorry for the affair with the woman that led to him falling off his motorcycle and getting fired from his “dream job.” (Arkansas, not the Falcons.) He cries a bit. He says he’s trying to put his marriage back together. He says he abandoned the principles by which he’d led his life. (Here I can hear folks saying, “What principles?”) He says he’ll be a better coach, assuming he gets another job, which seems a safe assumption.

Beyond that, I’ll let you judge. I actually was the one guy in the Atlanta media who kind of liked …

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Mike Smith on his Falcons: ‘We’ve got to do something better’

It's not a stretch to suggest that this is a big season for this man's team. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

It's no stretch to suggest that this is a big season for this team. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Mike Smith works hard to reveal little, but those who know the man consider him a terrible loser. When his team fails, he doesn’t just feel bad — he agonizes. It’s fair to say that the Falcons’ failure to win a playoff game under this coach bothers this coach, who won a Super Bowl as a Baltimore assistant, more than it does anyone else.

On a Wednesday in August, the day before the Falcons would begin their exhibition schedule, Smith spoke of January. Sometimes he would stop himself — he is still Mike Smith — and insert a boilerplate, “Can’t put the cart before the horse — we’ve got to get there first.” But mostly this was Smitty being as candid as Smitty ever gets, at least for public consumption.

“When we get there,” he said, meaning the postseason, “we’ve got to play better football. We’ve got to coach better football. Look at the past two years — teams that play well in December …

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Michael Bourn a Phillie or a Nat? Say it ain’t so, Scott Boras

Michael Bourn has been a big part of the Braves' rebuilt offense. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Michael Bourn has been a big part of the Braves' rebuilt offense. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

We all know that Michael Bourn will be a free agent at season’s end. We all know that he’s represented by the dreaded Scott Boras, meaning he won’t come cheap. We all know that the Braves haven’t been willing to pay for big-ticket free agents lately, unless you count Derek Lowe.

And now comes more good news: If Bourn doesn’t stay here, he’s apt to wind up playing for a team in the Braves’ division.

Buster Olney of ESPN Insider lists the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies (link requires registration) as likely-if-not-downright-ardent Bourn suitors. The Washington link has been around a while, and the Philly tie makes sense. Bourn came up in the Phillies’ organization.

On cue, Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer names Bourn as a probable target for the Phillies, who just dumped center fielder Shane Victorino and right fielder Hunter Pence. To his credit, Bourn …

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Video: Some nut here says the Falcons are Super Bowl bound

Continue reading Video: Some nut here says the Falcons are Super Bowl bound »

The Falcons in 2012: I foresee a breakthrough – or a bellyflop

Is the sky the limit for the 2012 Falcons? Or is there a lower ceiling? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Is the sky the limit for the Falcons? Or will the ceiling be lower? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

For four seasons the Falcons were essentially the same team, give or take. Since the arrival of Thomas Dimitroff (general manager), Mike Smith (coach), Matt Ryan (quarterback) and Michael Turner (running back), the franchise that had never known consecutive winning seasons had known nothing else — no fewer than nine victories in any year, three playoff appearances in four tries.

But also: No playoff success.

The belief here is that the steady-as-she-goes dynamic is about to change. The Falcons, I submit, will get really good in 2012 — and by “really good” I mean play-for-the-NFC-title-good — or they’ll slip below .500. No more 10-6 or 11-5 and lose to the eventual champ in Round 1. Either it’s the big breakthrough or the big bellyflop.

The oft-expressed belief here is that the Falcons had outgrown their coaching, and by this I don’t mean Smith. (He’s the best coach in Falcons annals

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Heat Check: The Braves are hot, and so is Dan Uggla (sort of)

Even the old codgers are excited by recent Braves' doings. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Even old codgers are excited by recent Braves' doings. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Our weekly Heat Check begins with the hottest team in town. Technically, it’s also the only team in town that’s actually playing games — the Dream is on Olympic hiatus — but never mind. We take our warmth where we find it.

BRAVES: They went 5-2 for the week and shaved a game off Washington’s lead. (Down to three games, as we speak.) They were 8-2 over the homestand that concluded Sunday, and we should probably prepare ourselves for similar surges the rest of the way.

Of the Braves’ remaining 54 games, only 16 will come against teams currently above .500. By way of contrast, Washington has 22 games left against plus-.500 teams. (Including three at Arizona and three at San Francisco over the next 10 days.) That’s not a major difference, but it is a difference. And with the new playoff format, there’s a major bonus to being division champ. It means you get to skip that terrifying play-in tilt …

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