Archive for October, 2012

The Falcons’ bye, the run defense and Abe’s honest effort

The un-blockable John Abraham slams Carson Palmer. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The "un-blockable" John Abraham slams into Carson Palmer. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Note: This post is an adjunct to the game column off the Falcons’ 23-20 victory over Oakland, which can be found here.

1. The Falcons’ bye week comes at a propitious moment. They’re 6-0 and riding high, and after three fourth-quarter escapes they’re getting the feeling they can win without playing their best. They need to disabuse themselves of that notion posthaste, and having a week away from football might serve as a reality check. If not, the guess is that Mike Smith will remind them that these past three games could easily have been lost when the team reconvenes next week in Flowery Branch.

2. The run defense is getting offensive, as it were. The Falcons ranked 28th among 32 NFL clubs in rushing defense entering Sunday’s game, and the Raiders, possessors of the league’s lowest-ranked running attack, ground out 149 yards. If that’s not a red flag, then Betsy Ross wasn’t a seamstress. …

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The Falcons stay undefeated, but there’s cause for concern

Matt Bryant boots the winner from 55 yards out. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Matt Bryant boots the winner from 55 yards out. This team never loses! (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It’s better to be 6-0 and picking nits than to be 0-6 and searching for bright spots. We’re agreed on that. But even the unbeaten Falcons conceded that Victory No. 6 was lovely only in its final score.

“We can’t make it hard on ourselves,” said defensive end John Abraham, whose irresistible presence kept this one close enough to win. “Take the stuff we did to ourselves out of the game and we win easy.”

Said Thomas DeCoud, the free safety: “We know the longer we stay undefeated, the better teams are going to be playing against us.”

For 3 4/5 quarters Sunday, the Falcons appeared to know no such thing. They’d been roundly outplayed by the 1-3 Raiders, and the only reason Oakland didn’t build an unassailable lead was that it couldn’t stop performing illegal acts. The visitors were flagged 12 times, many of the penalties holds on Abraham. The Raiders outgained the Falcons 474 yards …

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Baseball’s postseason: It’s fun, but what does it all mean?

Here they go again, the wild-card Redbirds refusing to lose. (AP photo)

Here they go again: Wild-card Cardinals refuse to lose. (AP/Post-Dispatch photo by Chris Lee)

Time was, the World Series represented and rewarded excellence. At worst, the champion of baseball was the team that finished first in its league over a six-month season. Even when there was a perceived upset, it wasn’t Douglas over Tyson. The 97-win Giants unhorsed the 111-win Indians in 1954, but the Giants had Willie Mays.The Pirates won in 1960 despite being outscored 55-27 by the Yankees, but Pittsburgh had won 95 games to New York’s 97. Heck, the Miracle Mets were 100-game winners.

But the playoffs expanded in 1969, the year those Mets won it all, and baseball’s postseason changed. From 1944 through 1968, the team that had baseball’s best record won the World Series 13 times in 25 years (52 percent). After the two league championship series were added in ‘69, the World Series was won by the team with baseball’s best record seven times in 25 years (28 percent). And then, once the …

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Two years after a BCS title, could Auburn’s Chizik get fired?

Brian VanGorder (right) watches his career path take a sudden downturn. (AP photo)

Brian VanGorder (right) watches his career path take a discernible downturn. (AP photo)

Even as Auburn was en route to the BCS title, there was something unreal about the journey. Not that the 2010 Tigers weren’t the nation’s best team. But you wondered how they got that way.

This is a reference to Cam Newton, but not in the way you’d think. Nearly two years after it was reported that Newton’s dad had sought $180,000 to send his son to Mississippi State, we await the first bit of evidence that Auburn paid, or even offered, anything beyond a scholarship. The NCAA investigated at length and found nothing untoward. So far as can be discerned, Auburn won with Newton fair and square. That said …

Newton blew across the Plains in the time it takes to change, er, planes at Hartsfield-Jackson. (OK, slight exaggeration. But only slight.) He arrived from Blinn Junior College in January 2010, took his team to 14-0 the next January and, Heisman Trophy in tow, was gone. He was an Auburn …

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Video: On Al Groh’s firing and Georgia Tech’s future

Continue reading Video: On Al Groh’s firing and Georgia Tech’s future »

Al Groh goes, but the question about Tech’s talent remains

A sight seldom seen: Georgia Tech actually tackles somebody. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

A sight seldom seen in recent months: Georgia Tech actually tackles somebody. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Paul Johnson had two options: Keep losing the same game the same way or try something different. Not much of a choice if your job depends on winning, is it?

Said Johnson, speaking Monday afternoon: “We’ve been ahead in some games and we haven’t seemed to win any of them.”

Also this: “The way we’ve played is not acceptable. That’s not why I came here.”

It is, however, why Al Groh is gone. To fault the defensive coordinator for everything that has gone wrong at Georgia Tech would be a gross overstatement. (Pretty sure Groh hadn’t been tutoring the Jackets in the art of turning a kickoff into a safety.) But he was given a task to perform, and he failed. A team that’s 90th in the land in total defense, 89th in scoring defense and 103rd in third-down defense — and, as Johnson noted of the latter category, “we tried to make that a point of emphasis” — cannot be said to have …

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Unless it beats the Gators, UGA will be a 10-2 underachiever

Wait! Isn't that the signal for the infield fly? (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

"Wait just a doggone minute! Isn't that the signal for the infield fly?" (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

At the absolute worst, Georgia figures to finish its regular season 10-2. Just last year, a 10-2 regular season yielded an SEC East title and bought Mark Richt a contract extension and was taken as a sign that Georgia football was on the ascent. To go 10-2 again, assuming this 10-2 includes a loss to Florida and the absence of another division title, would be taken as an abject reversal.

Here’s where the Bulldogs’ bunny schedule serves as both boon and burden. Georgia still must play Kentucky, Ole Miss, Auburn and Georgia Tech; the aggregate record of those teams is 7-16. The Bulldogs also will face Georgia Southern, which plays at a lesser level. If Georgia beats those five but loses to Florida, it will be described, oddly but accurately, as a 10-2 underachiever.

When the Bulldogs were going 8-5 in 2009 and  6-7 the next season, the question became: Would they ever win big …

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A chilly Heat Check: Bad losses, bad behavior, bad times

Visual verification that happy days aren't here again. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We offer visual verification that happy days aren't here again. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We begin our weekly Heat Check by noting that the Falcons are 5-0 for the first time in franchise annals and that the Hawks opened their exhibition season by beating the reigning NBA champs, and then we turn to more dire matters. Which is to say, everything else in local sports.

GEORGIA: Played its biggest game of the season and lost by 28 points, and that only after what even the head coach conceded was a “consolation” touchdown. Linebacker Christian Robinson took to Twitter to report that the house he shares with quarterback Aaron Murray had been “egged and rolled.” Chill Factor: There have been more depressing weekends in the long history of Georgia football, but not many.

BRAVES: Played its biggest game of the postseason and made three errors that generated four unearned runs, thereby ensuring that this would be their only game of the postseason. Also messed up a strange safety …

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3 points about Georgia’s 28-point loss at South Carolina

Connor Shaw ran. He also passed. His team won. (AP photo by Brett Flashnick)

Connor Shaw ran. He also passed. Not coincidentally, his team won. (AP photo by Brett Flashnick)

1. Aaron Murray didn’t exactly grab his star-making moment by the throat. Delivering a tipped interception on Georgia’s third snap was the worst possible start for the quarterback who still hasn’t presided over a victory against a team of substance. (Florida 2011 doesn’t count.) Murray had maybe his worst night as a Bulldog, completing 11 of 31 passes for 109 yards. In his defense, his line couldn’t block South Carolina’s defensive front. As offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said: “When a guy’s getting hit, he has a tendency not to trust his protection.”

2. The “Gurshall” groundswell got, er, grounded. Freshmen tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 76 yards on 15 carries — this after each had 100-yard games against Tennessee. Again, the Gamecocks’ defensive line overpowered Georgia up front, often pushing blockers backwards into the guys for whom they were supposed to …

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A sobering night: Georgia is outclassed and overwhelmed

Kind of indicative of the night itself, wouldn't you say? (AP photo by Brett Flashnick)

This forlorn shot is somewhat indicative of the night itself, wouldn't you say? (AP photo by Brett Flashnick)

Columbia, S.C. – Billed as a prove-it game, Georgia can only hope this was instead a case of false advertising. If the nation’s No. 5 team proved anything Saturday night, it’s that it shouldn’t be ranked that high, or perhaps at all.

South Carolina was primed to make a point. It took Georgia, which had averaged 48 points in its first five games, 58 minutes just to score a point here. To say the Bulldogs looked a step slow from the get-go is to suggest that “Ishtar” slightly underperformed at the box office. In the first 10 minutes, Georgia managed to get outclassed across the board — on offense, on defense, even on special teams. Not coincidentally, South Carolina had mustered three touchdowns before the visitors managed their second first down.

In a way, this recalled the infamous first half against Alabama in September 2008, the night the Bulldogs wore their black …

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