2013 could be big for Tech, which could stand a big year

A day in the Sun brought much happiness. (AP photo)

One day in the Sun brought much joy to the Yellow Jackets. (AP photo)

For Georgia Tech, many things happened en route to 7-7. The Yellow Jackets barely got bowl-eligible, and then they got bowl-ineligible by losing the ACC Championship game, and then the NCAA granted a waiver that allowed Tech to be invited back to the Sun Bowl, which is where it became the only team ever to beat the preseason No. 1 after losing at home to Middle Tennessee.

When you lose seven games, you can’t say you’ve had a good season. (Unless you’re Duke, which in football nobody aspires to be.) When you win seven games after starting 2-4, neither can you say the whole thing was a total loss. The Jackets took a season going wrong and wrestled it into something that seemed better than mediocrity, even though .500 is the definition of mediocrity.

The sense now is that better days are ahead, but that sensation is largely the result of beating USC in El Paso, and bowl results aren’t always indicative of …

Continue reading 2013 could be big for Tech, which could stand a big year »

Clemson notches ‘a landmark win’ for itself and the ACC

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Clemson depicts the thrill of victory, LSU the agony of defeat. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Not to sound like the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, but the 45th Chick-fil-A Bowl featured the third-best matchup on this year’s cluttered postseason board. (Behind only Oregon-Kansas State in the Fiesta and Notre Dame-Alabama in the BCS title game.) You had LSU, which this time last year was preparing to play for a national championship, and Clemson, which at the dawn of 2012 was, er, readying to yield 70 points in the Orange Bowl.

And that recent history, divergent as it was, is what made the Chick-fil-A so enticing. LSU is a big-time program from The Only Conference That Matters, while Clemson remains a wild card from that basketball league. Clemson entered 10-2, same as LSU, but the orange Tigers closed their regular season by losing at home to a South Carolina team without both Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw.

This happened on the same day Florida State lost at home to Florida …

Continue reading Clemson notches ‘a landmark win’ for itself and the ACC »

As for the Falcons’ game itself: It was pretty crummy, too

The Falcons stopped Doug Martin once, but not this time. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Falcons stopped Doug Martin the first time around, but not the second. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This post is an adjunct to the game column, which can be found by clicking here.

1. Offensively, the Falcons were offensive. Matt Ryan’s longest completion — in 44 throws — was for 28 yards, this against an opponent that ranked last in the NFL in pass defense. Their longest run was a 17-yard touchdown burst by Michael Turner, who finished with only 18 yards on six carries. They converted three of 14 third downs. They managed but 278 total yards, their second-lowest yield of the season, and 17 points, a seasonal low. Good thing they played the starters, eh?

2. Defensively, they weren’t much better. The Falcons didn’t muster a sack. They intercepted only one pass by Josh Freeman, who’d thrown eight in the past two games. After holding the smallish rookie Doug Martin to 50 yards in a narrow victory in Tampa on Nov. 25, they saw him rush for 142 yards on 28 carries Sunday, …

Continue reading As for the Falcons’ game itself: It was pretty crummy, too »

In losing a nothing game, the Falcons risked losing far more

The scariest sight of a mostly splendid season. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Presenting the scariest sight of a mostly sublime regular season. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

For the coach of a team that cannot improve its playoff positioning, there’s no right way to approach a game that doesn’t matter. If you rest your starters, you chance an edge being lost. If you play them, you leave yourself open to the vagaries of football. Mike Smith stated his intentions — the Falcons would play to win — and stuck to his word. Give him that, if nothing else.

With 11:42 remaining in the regular season, the Falcons’ only real pass rusher was helped from the field after getting tangled with teammate Peria Jerry. John Abraham exited with a bad ankle, and right about here folks stopped seeing Smith as the coach who can’t get it right on fourth-and-1 and started castigating him as the guy who’d sacrificed a key asset in a game of no value.

Already cornerback Dunta Robinson had been taken the locker room with an injury — he’d led with his head yet again — and Asante …

Continue reading In losing a nothing game, the Falcons risked losing far more »

Live from Falcons-Bucs: A mighty tough game to manage

Were I coaching, this Falcon would do a lot of watching. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Were I coaching, this Falcon stalwart would do a lot of watching in Game 16. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Mike Smith, who coaches the Falcons, says he’s playing to win Game 16, even though Game 16 means absolutely nothing. The Falcons know when (two weeks hence) and where (here) they’ll be playing next, and they know they don’t have to leave town to qualify for the Super Bowl.

As much as you can say that winning sets a tone, I’d suggest that tone has been sounded in Games 1-15. And there’s no compelling history on whether winning a Game 16 that doesn’t matter makes one smidgen of difference come the playoffs.

In 2007 the Patriots won their final regular-season game to get to 16-0 … but a month later they lost the Super Bowl to the team they’d beaten in Game 16. Last year the Packers won Game 16 behind their backup quarterback Matt Flynn to get to 15-1 … and lost their first postseason game.

If the Falcons beat the Buccaneers 45-24 today — that was the score in Game 16 last …

Continue reading Live from Falcons-Bucs: A mighty tough game to manage »

UGA, Tech and the Falcons as division champs? I called it

In 2012, there was much cause for local football celebration. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

In 2012, there was much cause for football celebration in these environs. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

For a while there, I had to ask myself, “Old son, did you really change your first name to ‘Homer’?” Because that’s what I was getting called by many of y’all. Prompting this charge was my stated belief that Georgia, Georgia Tech and the Falcons would all win divisions. But with 2013 near at hand, this Homer must confess that he considers his prognosticating work of 2012 a triumphant odyssey.

Because Georgia won its division. And so did Georgia Tech. And so did the Falcons. And who called it way back when?

The jinx of all jinxing. The archduke of addled thinking. Dumb ol’ MB.

Usually the annual Accountability Scoreboard serves a three-course dinner of Crow Soup, Crow Mignon and Humble Pie. Not this time. And yes, I’m as surprised as you are.

I predicted every Georgia regular-season game correctly. I did miss on the bigger part of my UGA prediction: The Bulldogs will not …

Continue reading UGA, Tech and the Falcons as division champs? I called it »

Could Tech end its bowl skid against the preseason No. 1?

Give this genius a month to prepare and ... he'll probably lose. (AP photo)

Give this tactical genius a month to prepare and … he'll probably lose by two touchdowns. (AP photo)

If, on Labor Day morning, you’d have known Georgia Tech would be facing USC in a bowl, you’d have guessed that everything would have broken right for the Jackets. As it happened, Tech had a rough season, which is why it’s again headed to El Paso and not, say, Miami. But spare a thought for the Trojans, who have been the greatest flop in almost half a century.

Ranked No. 1 in preseason, USC finished its regular season 7-5. Not since Ole Miss in 1964 has a preseason No. 1 wound up unranked, and back then the Associated Press poll included only 10 teams. Today it has 25, and you still won’t still find the Trojans until you sift through the “also receiving votes” category. They’re 12th on that not-exactly-stellar list — behind the likes of Vanderbilt, San Diego State and Arkansas State.

So there’s your Sun Bowl matchup: A team that has gone from No. 1 to No. 37 in the time it …

Continue reading Could Tech end its bowl skid against the preseason No. 1? »

Heat Check: History says 14-2 Falcons would be Super lock

Go 14-2 and it's a lock! (AJC photo by Marlene Karas)

How the last 14-2 Falcons fared. (AJC photo by Marlene Karas)

Our weekly Heat Check commences with a team that just aced its final regular-season exam.

FALCONS: Beat the reigning Super Bowl champion 34-0, which, according to Elias, is the worst shutout loss ever suffered by a reigning Super Bowl champion (Elias also notes that only three previous teams in NFL history had been shut out the week after scoring 50 points. You mightn’t be surprised that the Falcons, who beat the Saints 62-7 in 1973 and then lost to the Rams 31-0, made that list.) Atmospheric reading: The Falcons can finish the regular season 14-2. Every single Falcons team to finish a regular season 14-2 has reached the Super Bowl. (OK, so that’s a grand total of one.)

HAWKS: Were briefly tied for first place in the NBA Southeast before losing here to Golden State by 22 points. Atmospheric reading: At hand is a case of extremes — tonight the Hawks play in Washington, owner of the league’s worst record, and …

Continue reading Heat Check: History says 14-2 Falcons would be Super lock »

A Super sign? The Falcons have flummoxed three elite QBs

Meet Asante Samuel, Eli Manning's not-so-favorite receiver. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Meet cornerback Asante Samuel, Eli Manning's not-so-favorite receiver. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I understand, sort of, the temptation to underrate the Falcons. Their numbers — well, apart from 12-2 — aren’t gaudy. They’re seventh in total offense, 20th in total defense. Of those 12 wins, eight have come against teams currently under .500. Of those 12 wins, seven have been by a touchdown or less. They really didn’t whomp anybody any good until Sunday, and even then …

On cue, Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders posted Monday on ESPN Insiders that the Falcons’ 34-0 drubbing of the Giants was nothing special. Wrote Verhei: “It was just one game in a long season, and a clear outlier at that, not a new standard of excellence.”

Again, some of this I understand. To watch this team week by week — though not this past week, I should stipulate — has been to wonder how it wins so many games. But we’re at the point where the Falcons have amassed a substantial body of work, and in the …

Continue reading A Super sign? The Falcons have flummoxed three elite QBs »

The Falcons’ domination, adroit Asante and one great play

Pretty good coverage, but a better throw by Matt Ryan and catch by Tony G. (AP photo by Rich Addicks)

Good coverage, but a better throw by Matt Ryan and catch by Tony G. (AP photo by Rich Addicks)

This post is an adjunct to the game column, which can be found by clicking here.

1. Stem to stern, that’s the most impressive Atlanta Falcons regular-season performance I’ve seen — and I’ve been following them since 1984. My standard for prove-it games has long been the 41-10 road thrashing of the Patriots on Nov. 8, 1998, and the 1998 Birds wound up in the Super Bowl. This year’s victory in Philadelphia ahead of Hurricane Sandy was the most comprehensive I’d covered since, but that one paled alongside this, which featured domination literally from the first. The Giants’ David Wilson chose to return the opening kickoff from six yards deep in the end zone, and reserve defensive end Cliff Matthews tackled him on the 13. Two plays later, the Falcons had the ball. Four plays after that, they had the lead.

2. That’s why the Falcons wanted Asante Samuel. Not only did the cornerback jump …

Continue reading The Falcons’ domination, adroit Asante and one great play »