Archive for September, 2012

A great escape shows us how special these Falcons can be

Ball in the air, game on the line: Who grabs it? Guess. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Ball in the air, game on the line. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

For three games they’d run nice and easy, never once trailing, facing only one gotta-have-this drive. (That came against Denver, and they got it.) But the Falcons play in the NFL, where nothing stays nice and easy, and Sunday they happened on an opponent who wouldn’t yield and a predicament that would have taxed the faith of a saint.

So it was that Matthew Thomas Ryan, named after two saints, took a snap at his 1 and backtracked into the end zone with 59 seconds remaining and his team, without a timeout to its name, down a point. Already Ryan had been sacked seven times, and as a nod to Carolina’s pressure the Falcons did something odd. At a moment of near-desperation, a time when you’d expect every receiver on the roster to be zigging this way or that, they dispatched only two men to run routes.

Roddy White down the left side, Julio Jones on the right. Everybody else stayed to block, and even as he retreated …

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Live from Falcons-Panthers: Is Cam still Carolina’s man?

Cam Newton: Is he the Panthers' leader or a man apart? (AP photo)

Cam Newton: Is the gifted quarterback the Panthers' leader or a man apart? (AP photo)

The Cam Newton backlash has begun, as if on cue. The man who was going to elevate the woebegone Carolina Panthers, similar to the way he’d lifted the Auburn Tigers on high, has been the subject of much criticism for his play and, most especially, his demeanor.

Cam takes losses hard. When you’re the team leader, you can’t take losses so hard that you depress the rest of the team. (This tends to lead, as night follows day, to more losing.) The wide receiver Steve Smith upbraided Newton on the sideline during the fourth quarter of Carolina’s awful Thursday-night loss to the Giants, and in the 10 days since that has become the talk of the Queen City.

(Side note: Charlotte is known as the Queen City. So is Cincinnati.)

About the Falcons: They’ve looked as good as any team in the league. They should win today. But Cam is capable of extraordinary things. One of his best days came in this building in …

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Middle Tennessee 49, Georgia Tech 28: What’s left to say?

These are the Blue Raiders. They won. By 21 points. (AP photo by Rich Addicks)

These are the Blue Raiders. They won. By 21 points. On the road. (AP photo by Rich Addicks)

Were Georgia Tech outrageously lucky, all its fans would be as circumspect as Dave Miller of Atlanta. Miller, a 1977 Tech grad, sat above the South end zone as Middle Tennessee was driving to Points No. 43-49 on Saturday, whereupon he rose without ceremony and moved toward the exit.

“We’re just young,” Miller said. “We had some injuries on defense. And Middle Tennessee is a good team.”

Miller’s summation: “We’ll get better.”

Not 20 feet away, another Tech fan watched the same game end and drew a different conclusion. “This was ugly,” said Jerry Kenney, also of Atlanta. “No pass rush, no tackling. I’m sure Clemson [Tech's next opponent] will be licking its chops.”

Kenney was asked if this had just been a bad day for the home team. “It’s not one bad day,” he said. “It’s two bad days in the week [the first being the overtime loss to Miami], and hope is going out the window.”

Here we offer …

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Chipper wasn’t the Braves’ first choice – just the best

He had something to do with a lot of those flags. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Chipper Jones had a lot to do with a lot of those flags out there. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Buzzard’s luck, one AJC writer called it. I  know. I was the writer, and I was describing the Braves’ plight in the 1990 draft. A forlorn franchise — its last winning season had been in 1983 — had finally been graced with the No. 1 overall pick, and the guy the Braves (and every other team) wanted most had scared them off.

So: Buzzard’s luck, which is what occurs when you can’t kill anything and nothing will die. Bobby Cox, then the Braves’ general manager, had spent the weekend before the draft in Texas, trying to convince the high school pitcher Todd Van Poppel to sign with the Braves. No sale. Van Poppel stuck to his stated position: He wanted to play college ball for the Texas Longhorns, meaning that any team drafting him would likely wind up with nothing.

Which, for an already forlorn franchise, would have been a new nadir: You get to exercise the No. 1 pick and you net a big fat …

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Why are these Braves playoff-bound? Credit steady Fredi

Chipper J. and Fredi G., awash in sweet victory. (AP photo by David Goldman)

Here are Chipper J. and Fredi G., awash in sweet victory. (AP photo by David Goldman)

Hours before Tuesday’s clinch that was, Fredi Gonzalez was asked about the clinch that wasn’t. How often in September 2012 had he reminded his men of September 2011?

“I haven’t,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve not mentioned it since spring training. And I don’t really remember what I said then.”

Even if the Braves’ manager had been inclined to offer a few words on the subject, what would they have been? Something inspirational? Something along the lines of, “Men, let’s try not to blow it this time”?

The only way to handle the disappointment of last season was — not to get all Zen on you — by handling it. Fredi Gonzalez, characterized by some as doing a Nero-on-his-fiddle number while his team burned to an epic collapsing crisp, hit every grace note this time. He kept it loose. He kept it steady. He did what a manager is paid to do.

Yeah, it helped that his team was healthier and that it has played a …

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Video: On the Braves and what making the playoffs means

Continue reading Video: On the Braves and what making the playoffs means »

A year after an epic collapse, the Braves offer an epic clinch

Marlins Braves Baseball

A night of deliverance, as delivered by that man Freddie. (AP photo by David Goldman)

They were characterized as choking dogs a year ago and, truth being the ultimate defense, they had no cause to sue for libel. They’d gone 9-18 in September and wasted an 8 1/2-game lead, finally losing the wild card in the 13th inning of the 162nd game. In the bitter days that followed, some among us wondered if this team could ever recover from a collapse so egregious.

Three hundred sixty-three days later, we got our answer. Yes, it could. Yes, it has.

The man who made the final out — the final two outs, having hit into a 3-6-3 double play — of  September 2011 hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to put the 2012 Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. “Probably the coolest thing ever,” Freddie Freeman said of his climactic blast to dead center field, and nobody felt moved to dispute the point.

Champagne flew afterward in the Braves’ clubhouse, and if you’re saying, “Champagne for a wild …

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Live from the Braves: There’s a wild card to be clinched

This is how it ended last season. It should go better this time. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This is how it ended last season. It should go better this time. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Three hundred sixty-three days after they last took the field with a chance to make the playoffs, the Braves are here again. The night of Sept. 28, 2011, went badly: They lost 4-3 to Philadelphia in 13 innings while the Cardinals were winning 8-0 in Houston, and the Braves went nowhere but home.

There’s reason to believe tonight will yield a better return. Kris Medlen is pitching, and the Braves haven’t lost a game he has started since May 23, 2010. The opponent is Miami, which quit on the season long ago and is apparently trying to decide who to fire when. But this is baseball, and as the famous philosopher/pitcher Joaquin Andujar once noted: “There is one word in America that says it all, and that word is ‘you never know.’ ”

The magic number for clinching a wild card is down to 1, so even if the Braves lose the deed would be done should both the Brewers and Dodgers lose. (The …

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After further review: Packers intercept pass, lose game

You've probably seen this image a time or two already. (AP photo/seattlepi.com by Joshua Trujillo)

I'm guessing you've seen this image already. (AP photo/seattlepi.com by Joshua Trujillo)

Gee, I don’t know. Looked like an OK call to me.

(Kidding! I’m a kidder!)

In all seriousness: Yes, the NFL looks awful, and yes, the NFL has it coming for putting its precious product — meaning, professional football — in a position to be compromised by a bunch of officials whose training in no way prepared them for this task. And yes, the NFL needs to end the lockout posthaste for the greater good of the NFL. But you knew that already.

What’s of greater interest (at least to me) is that the NFL’s famous “after-further-review” system, which was radical in its conception and implementation, failed at the moment it was needed most. Anyone who watched the Falcons-Broncos game of the previous Monday night grasped that the on-field officials were so cowed by the setting that they were scared to call anything, but replay — and there were a slew of replays that night — was there to set the record …

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Paul Johnson’s offense isn’t hurting Tech; his approach is

Paul Johnson on Saturday: Another close game, another rough loss. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Paul Johnson on Saturday: Another close game, another loss. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Because Paul Johnson’s stylized offense has become the public image of Georgia Tech football, it’s tempting to blame his creation whenever Tech loses. (Which, not incidentally, it has done seven times in its past 11 games.) But here’s where numbers rear their pesky head. The Jackets scored 36 points and gained 419 yards against Miami on Saturday. And we pin this loss on the offense?

Right about here, you’re probably expecting some Al-Groh-has-to-go screed. If so, you’ll be disappointed. Has this coordinator elevated Tech’s defense? Those 42 points and 609 yards yielded Saturday are all the answers we need, but to finger Groh and the D is to miss the bigger picture. What’s dragging Tech back to mediocrity is …

Paul Johnson.

Yes, he’s the same coach who went 20-7 his first two seasons here, beating Georgia in Year 1 and winning the ACC title (since vacated) in Year 2. That’s the trouble: …

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