Falcons Snatch Defeat from Jaws of Victory

Now where did I put Cowher's number?

Arthur Blank, likely wondering, “Now where did I put Cowher’s number?”

I got a text from a friend Sunday night. It read: “[The Falcons] will never win a SB with that coach/QB combo. Never.”

At first I dismissed this missive as lashing out by a depressed 49ers fan, who was likely ornery after the Indianapolis Colts  traveled across the country to put a whipping on a seriously regressing Colin Kaepernick.

But who am I kidding? I totally agree.

If a standard NFL game were only 15 minutes long, the Falcons would be the perennial favorites to win the Lombardi trophy. But games are  60 minutes long, and the Falcons coaching staff just can’t seem to keep their team motivated for that length of time. Leads are squandered. Mid-game lulls are commonplace. And the comebacks haven’t been coming—as they once did.

After five years of watching him play, I think I’m convinced that Matt Ryan is not the problem. I think a coach who “coaches up” players, who players desperately don’t want to disappoint, who makes smart gambles, etc., can win with Matt Ryan. Bill Cowher and Jim Harbaugh come to mind.

Mike Smith, is no Cowher or Harbaugh. He seems to get stuck on words, like “resiliency” and “explosiveness,” repeating them to a team that regularly showcases neither trait. His managerial echolalia isn’t even what annoys me most about him. It’s that he’s a defensive coach—prior to joining the Falcons, he was the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars—who has never really had a feared defense. He seems completely mismatched with the team he currently has, an on-paper offensive juggernaut that in real life is sort of ho hum and average.

I think Smith might be one of those coaches who can get you to the playoffs and no further. He’s Dan Reeves without the suit. He’s Andy Reid. For an in-state example, he’s the NFL version of Mark Richt.

Case in point: Falcons beat reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, D. Orlando Ledbetter, just tweeted that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has set a goal of turning 55 percent of red zone possessions into touchdowns. My question: Why isn’t the goal 100 percent? If you aspire to it and fall short, you’re still a damn good football team. Aspiring to mediocrity is what’s gotten this team to where it’s at now.

I just don’t see the Mike Smith regime leading us to a trophy.


Laughing Stock or Last Laugh?

Citi+BCS+National+Championship+Alabama+v+Texas+lUjc5A2-HyVl

According to sources, Chud thinks running backs are like tires on a car. Is the vehicle really going to run that much better with a shiny new one than it is with an old bald one? I don’t know. I don’t have a car.

Right now, my vote is for laughing stock, but that’s purely a matter of context, coming after 15 years of mismanagement and failure. I’m looking at you, Holmgren. You were just the latest, but you gave us Shurmur, so no one cares what you think.

Under other circumstances (i.e., anyone with a track record for good decision-making), this reaction would almost definitely have gone the other way. As a football decision, I’m ill-qualified to judge whether TRich was valuable, especially since I rarely get to see the Browns play. But many analysts seem to think this was a bold, courageous, and wise decision on the part of—what are their names again? Does it matter? Here, here, and here. I get their reasoning and why this could be good for the Browns. It’s going to be a couple of years before we know if TRich was middling all along, or injury prone, or will become another name on the list of unique and innovative ways (trading your schedule cover boy two games into a season? I mean, who does that?) that Cleveland franchises shoot themselves in the foot. But it is those few years that are the problem.

As an emotional decision, as a reminder that a new band of serious-looking old guys is asking for yet more patience out of a fan base—the whole thing feels like another punch in the stomach. Those are years that Browns fans will never get back. Just like the last 15. It was a year ago that I wrote this. I think the defense might be better, but the needle doesn’t seem to have moved much. What this management is missing is any ability to inspire confidence in their decisions and pleas for patience. And they know it. We fans can talk ourselves into anything, and while they make it hard for us to keep doing that, they still might get the last word and we’ll eat crow when they deliver us a winner in a couple of years. Right? I mean, right?

Desperation aside, the towel has once again been cast. We give up. Another draft will come, we’ll get a shot of hope for some reason and we’ll be right back where we started. And so we look once again for the comedy in deep spiritual resignation and remind ourselves it’s just a dumb game. We hope the Indians make the playoffs and enjoy watching the Steelers suck (for a little while). Small pleasures.

The text from atlswami about the trade was just minutes old when I logged on to our fantasy football league and dumped San Diego’s defense for Minnesota’s (vs. Cleveland). It’s a good play, man. I figure this kind of declaration of despair would knock the wind out of the whole team. Disloyal? Maybe. In three years of doing this, I’ve always had a Brown and no Ravens on my rosters. No, I prefer to see it as a different form of loyalty—mild, meaningless protest. At least that’s what I tell myself.

teddy-bridgewater-800

This gentleman’s name is Teddy Bridgewater and my understanding is that he is very good at athletic-type things. No one has yet coined a rhyming phrase for blowing your season for him or Clowney (ala, Suck for Luck, Riggin’ for Wiggins, etc.). Is he already looking for houses in Cleveland and Jacksonville?


Mariners’ Passed Ball Ensures 4th Straight Losing Season

The Mariners had little hope of avoiding yet another losing season. But how fitting, in a game they should have won, that their 82nd loss of the season came on a passed ball by Mike Zunino in the 10th inning?

Catcher Zunino lets another win pass the Mariners by.

The Mariners let another win pass them by.

The error ensured a fourth straight losing season for the underperforming Seattle nine.  That’s the longest stretch of losing seasons for the Mariners since their first 14 seasons, ending in 1991 when they eked out a .512 winning percentage. It also marked their fifth straight loss, including getting swept by the Majors’ worst team, Houston.

I cheer again the inclusion of the Astros in the AL West, without whom the Mariners would very likely end up again in the division cellar.


Hawks Come Up Small: Preseason Edition

Coach Bud, after a few too many Buds?

Coach Bud, after a few too many Buds?

With more than a full two months to go before the start of the 2013-2014 NBA season, one would figure the Atlanta Hawks had a good shot at not appearing on this site. After all, they’d pulled off another remodel this summer, headlined by shipping out flashy but challenging power forward Josh Smith and replacing him with the more workman-like and dependable Paul Milsap. Solid move, as judged by most basketball pundits.

They also hired Mike Budenholzer as their new coach. The top assistant and presumptive coach-in-waiting behind the legendary Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, he was hired to imbue the Hawks with some of the special powers of the Spurs. He joined Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who had previously been VP of basketball operations for the Spurs. True to Pop philosophy, in this year’s draft, the team eschewed American college stars in favor of two youngsters who had been plying their trade in the professional leagues of Europe, Brazilian Lucas Nogueira, who played in Spain, and German Dennis Schröder. Schröder, in particular, was impressive in summer league this year.

Last night, Budenholzer was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after being pulled over by the cops in Midtown Atlanta—in a particularly nightlife-rich bit of Midtown. He refused the breathalyzer, but the cop wrote in his report that, “I noticed that he had bloodshot and watery eyes and a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath.”

No word on what the Hawks plan to do about this situation, but Ferry has informed the media that he’s up-to-speed on the situation. But, really, this likely doesn’t bode well for a franchise that’s been in Atlanta for nearly 50 years and hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs. We still don’t really know what kind of leader of men Coach Bud is, but he isn’t doing himself any favors in the setting a good example department.

It’ll be interesting to see what he does to right the ship. If he doesn’t, Coach Bud won’t just be a clever way of truncating a long surname.


The Wheels Come Off

Brandon Maurer registered an 81 ERA at home after serving up volleyballs to the Houston Astros last night. That lowered his overall ERA to 16.20 and record to 0-2. Those aren’t good numbers. Oh, and the Mariners got spanked 16-9 by the worst team in baseball this season and one of the worst of all time.  Sure, you’re gonna lose a game here and there, but sheesh.

Fortunately, Maurer got a good talking to by pitchers Felix Hernandez and Kameron Loe. “I heard a story about Randy Johnson giving up a few in an inning,” Maurer told the Seattle Times. “That always makes me feel a little better, I guess. It happens.” Maybe Maurer should pick better mentors. Loe got tagged himself for six hits and five runs including three long balls in less than three innings.

Brandon Maurer

But at least the team still enjoys fan support. Fully 10,745 packed into Safeco for the second home game of the season. Wait, that’s not very many people. In fact, that’s the worst attendance in Safeco’s history. Dear god.


Cold. Blooded.

Meaningless game. Bad teams. References to the Canadian military. But damn!

Makes me wanna put the whole thing on my hot dog.


Falcons Fall Back to Earth, Perhaps Predictably

012113_falcons_bseThere’s a reason no writer representing San Francisco contributes to this blog: SF teams, more often than not, finish the drill. Atlanta teams, sigh, tend not to. The Hawks have never made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, much less the NBA Finals. The Braves went to the playoffs 14 years in a row and managed only one World Series win—the city’s sole championship. Now the Falcons have reached the NFC Championship game three times and will once again not win the Super Bowl.

But, through three quarters of yesterday’s thrilling NFC Championship Game, it looked like the latest edition of the Falcons could make the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance. That will not be the case. SF teams come up big. ATL teams come up small.

My worries with the new era of the Falcons, led by the Dimitroff-Smith-Ryan troika, crystallized on November  27, 2011. I never was too bothered by the first two playoff loses suffered by this regime. Losing to the eventual NFC Champion Cardinals on their turf with a rookie QB in his first playoff game was tough, but reasonable. The defeat to the Packers was harder to take, but that team was a buzzsaw.

But, the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2011 was foreboding: The Falcons piled up a 17-0 lead in the first half on the lowly Vikings, who came into the Georgia Dome sporting a feeble 2-8 record, a rookie quarterback who’s ceiling is probably Matt Schaub, and no Adrian Peterson. But, in about a five-minute span, the Falcons gave up two touchdowns, and the Vikings closed the gap to three points. The Falcons would eventually win, but I remember sending a text to a couple friends that read: “The Falcons have no killer instinct. We should have squashed this team. Why is this even a game?”

And, that’s been evident in their no-show in the Wild Card Game against the New York Football Giants last year; several skin-of-their-teeth victories this season over bad teams, including the Cardinals and Raiders; and their two most recent playoff games. The Falcons impressively fast starts against the Seahawks and the Niners have been tempered by equally shocking swoons.

A John Abraham Falcons jersey, on its hangar and heading back to  the closet until the fall.

A John Abraham Falcons jersey, on its hangar and heading back to the closet until the fall.

Against the Niners, they failed to score a single point in the second half, after having their way with the visitors in the first quarter of the game. Once again the Falcons only seemed to play offense for one-half of a football game; and however amped their defense was on the first couple series of the game, it was significantly more porous soon after. After letting the Niners recover from a 17-0 deficit and pull to within three points, the Falcons showed some pluck and put together a quick strike scoring drive to go into the half with a 10-point lead.

Maybe today would be different? Alas, it wasn’t. Matty Ice went cold, throwing an interception (that to be fair wasn’t his fault) and fumbling a snap. John Abraham was clearly ineffective—and I think someone needs to take a long look at why he was playing in the fourth quarter of a meaningless game on December 29. The better team, who’d been here before and squandered its opportunity last year, won. People seemed certain the 49ers would be back to avenge their loss; I get the impression that many think the Falcons just blew their one chance.

The fans, from what I hear from several people (including my parents) who went to the game, did their job for the entire 60 minutes. The city has risen up, as it is continually prodded to do, and embraced this team of talented underachievers. I’ve called the Falcons “the most considerate team in football.” They should be more considerate to their fans than to their opponents.


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