Saturday, November 29, 2008

The College Football Blog: Week 13 Review

Week 13 Recap: After a very tame week 12, things heated up again as college football’s two week long Rivalry Week got underway in week 13. Along with the rivalries that are always interesting there were a few big games left to be played to determine conference champions and the like. There were some surprises and some great games as always. And just when it looked like the BCS might get lucky and work out with no controversy this year, the door was flung back open and chaos stepped through.

The Big Games

There were 4 games between ranked teams in week 13, each of them with conference championship and BCS implications. The one common theme that ran through all 4 games was that in each case the home team prevailed. The matchup of ranked teams getting the least attention was an important Big East battle between the #20 Pitt Panthers and the #19 Cincinnati Bearcats in Cincinnati on Saturday night. The teams have decided to call this new rivalry the River City Rivalry, and going into this season Pittsburgh had had the upper hand, winning all 3 of the meetings since the formation of the new Big East. The Bearcats were 0-7 vs. Pitt all-time going into this game but they had everything going for them on this night, with the first capacity crowd of the year at Nippert Stadium. Cinci came into the game 4-1 in the Big East while Pitt was 3-1 in conference and looking to throw a wrench into Cinci’s conference title plans. Early on it looked like they might well do that, as star RB LeSean McCoy scored on a 6 yard run to give Pitt a 7-0 1st quarter lead. But Tony Pike fired a pair of 2nd quarter TD passes to put Cinci up 14-7 at the half, and Pike threw a 3rd TD in the 3rd quarter as the Cats took a 21-7 lead into the 4th. They scored again early in the 4th to go up by a seemingly insurmountable 28-7 score, but Pitt made a late comeback. McCoy scored on a 16 yard run to make it 28-14 with 10:12 to play and Bill Stull threw a 41 yard TD to bring the Panthers within a TD with just 1:22 remaining. But the Bearcats recovered the onsides kick and by the time Pitt got the ball back at their 32 there were just 18 seconds left. A sack with 4 seconds left sent the Cincinnati fans rushing onto the field but a penalty on the defense extended the game for one play and the students had to clear the field. Pitt then ran one of those crazy lateral plays and the fans ran onto the field early again and began tearing the goal posts down as Pittsburgh crossed into Bearcat territory. If the Panthers had broken a few more tackles and gotten closer to the end zone there would have been a chance of a “band on the field” repeat. But eventually Pitt fumbled and Cincinnati recovered to secure a 28-21 win. The victory put the Bearcats on the verge of their first ever Big East title and BCS bowl. A win next week at home vs. bottom feeder Syracuse or a loss by West Virginia at Pittsburgh will clinch the title for the Cats. It’s not over yet, although Cincinnati students seemed to feel pretty confident, as they covered the field with oranges following the victory.

While sometimes would play for 2 more weeks following week 13, Big Ten play wrapped up in week 13. The most important game of the week was the annual battle for the Land Grant Trophy between #8 Penn State and #15 Michigan State, this year taking place at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. The Spartans had won a year before but the Nittany Lions had won 7 straight at home vs. Michigan State. Both teams came into the game 6-1 in the Big Ten. The Lions needed just to win this game to clinch a share for the conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans needed to beat Penn State and hope Ohio State lost to Michigan. If both things happened Michigan State would be the outright champion of the Big Ten and would go to the Rose Bowl. If Michigan State won and Ohio State won then they would tie for the title and Ohio State would go to the Rose Bowl by virtue of their win over the Spartans. All of that talk seemed a little unnecessary in the days leading up to this one, as most expected PSU to win and win easily. And as it turned out, the Lions would put the matter to bed before halftime. As they had in their other game against a top opponent this year (Ohio State), the Spartans wet themselves and fell into a huge hole that they never climbed halfway out of. PSU went ahead 7-0 midway through the 1st quarter and then scored 3 more touchdowns in the 2nd quarter as the Lions scored the game’s first 28 points. Michigan State got a TD right before the half but a pair of TD passes from Daryll Clark to Deon Butler in the 3rd quarter put the Lions up 42-7 and put the game away. It was 49-7 until the Spartans scored a FG, a TD, and a 2-pt conversion in the final 10 minutes to make the score slightly more respectable. PSU went on to win 49-11 to earn a share of the Big Ten title and the school’s first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1994. A day after announcing at a pep rally that he would be back as head coach in 2009, 81 year old Joe Paterno watched from the press box as his team racked up 557 yards of offense and held Javon Ringer to 42 yards rushing on 17 carries. Clark threw for 341 yards and 4 TD (3 of those to Butler) and he also scored a TD on the ground. PSU finished the regular season 11-1 with the 1 point loss at Iowa the only blemish.

There was an enormous game in the Mountain West Conference in week 13. As expected, both Utah and BYU entered the 84th Holy War with in contention for at least a piece of the MWC title. The Cougars came into the game 6-1 in conference play and a win for them would clinch at least a share of the conference title. The stakes were much greater for the Utes, who entered the game 7-0 in the MWC and 11-0 overall. At stake for Utah was a perfect season, the outright conference title, and in all likelihood a BCS bowl bid by virtue of being the highest of the highly ranked non-BCS teams. This was a home game for Utah and that figured to be a major advantage for them as usual. Utah was expected to win but BYU definitely had a shot. This one turned out to be as exciting as hoped but in the end the Utes proved again to be the stronger team and pulled away. Utah scored first and led 10-3 after the 1st quarter but the 2nd quarter was wild. Utah scored to go ahead 17-3 early in the quarter but BYU stormed back behind a pair of TD runs by Harvey Unga that tied the score with over 6 minutes left in the half. After a Louie Sakoda field goal with 1:41 left in the half put the Utes back up by 3, it looked like BYU was going to tie or take their first lead, but Max Hall was picked off in Utah territory, and moments later Brian Johnson tossed a long touchdown pass to put Utah back up by 10 with just 15 seconds left in the half. The Cougars stayed in it in the 3rd quarter, with Hall running for a TD to make it a 27-24 games midway through the quarter. But the 4th quarter was all Utah, as the Utes put the game away with 21 unanswered points and went on to double up the Cougs, 48-24. It was a nightmare game for Hall, as the one time Heisman dark horse completed just 21 of 41 passes for 205 yards and no touchdowns and was intercepted 5 times. Brian Johnson threw 4 TD passes for the Utes who finished the regular season undefeated at 12-0, champions of the MWC and bound for the BCS.

The biggest game of the week was yet another huge showdown in the Big XII. But like the majority of the primetime main event games this season, this one was over early and ugly late. Actually, it was ugly early too. #2 Texas Tech came into week 13 undefeated at 10-0 having defeated then #1 Texas on a last second touchdown at home back in week 10. But now they would have to prove they could beat a top opponent on the road. #5 Oklahoma was 9-1 and 5-1 in the Big XII and looking to inject themselves back into the Big XII South race and the National Championship conversation. Most people thought Oklahoma would win, as this game would be in Norman, where the Sooners had lost just 2 games this decade. Many people thought it would be close and surely even those who thought Oklahoma would win decisively could not have imagined things would turn out the way they did. The poor Red Raiders looked as if they had no idea what they were in for. Sure the Red Raiders had won the year before, but that was when Sam Bradford had been knocked out on the first play, and more importantly, that game was at home, not in Norman, on a Saturday night, when the Sooner Nation felt challenged. The Sooner fans rattled the Red Raiders and inspired the Oklahoma’s defense to play with lightening fast speed, as they corralled Tech’s offense in a way previously not thought possible. Oklahoma’s offense moved the ball at will against Tech’s defense and came at the Red Raiders with every weapon in their repertoire. The game was over before halftime and in the end the beating was so severe that it ended all consideration of Texas Tech as one of the elite teams in the country. The Sooners took the first lead in the game with just under 9 minutes left in the 1st quarter and they held Tech scoreless in the 1st. Oklahoma scored again early in the 2nd and then scored twice more over the next 6 and a half minutes to make it 28-0 with 7:45 remaining in the half. It was pretty much over at that point but because of Tech’s offense you couldn’t completely write them off and they were finally able to get into the end zone with 6:28 to play in the quarter. But Oklahoma put the game out of the reach with a pair of touchdowns in the final minute of the half to take an unfathomable 42-7 lead into intermission. The Sooners scored the first 10 points of the 2nd half and led 58-14 going to the 4th quarter. Oklahoma went on to win by 44 points, 65-21, but hard as this is to believe, it was not as close as that score would suggest. With reserves in the game and leading 65-14, Oklahoma had a 1st and goal at the 4 and looked to be on the verge of breaking the 70 point barrier. But they ended up getting held out of the end zone and turning the ball over on downs at the 1. Texas Tech then went on a 99 yard drive against Oklahoma’s reserves and scored a TD with 11 seconds left to make the final score 65-21. The score should have been more like 72-14. It would be difficult to explain in words how badly Oklahoma beat Texas Tech and the stats don’t tell the story ether. The Sooners put up 625 yards of offense and gained 32 first downs. Texas Tech was just 1 for 13 on 3rd down and 3 for 6 on 4th downs. Sam Bradford completed 14 of 19 passes for 304 yards and 4 TD. Oklahoma outrushed the Red Raiders 299-45. Tech turned it over 3 times and only turned the Sooners over once. Graham Harrell was intercepted and threw 22 incompletions, while Michael Crabtree’s streak of 13 games with a TD reception came to an end. Two Sooners rushed for over 100 yards. Oklahoma’s victory created a 3 team log jam atop the Big XII South, with all teams 6-1 in conference play. All 3 teams are still alive for the division title and a trip to the conference championship game but there is much to be determined in week 14. Regardless of what happens, the Red Raiders are going to find it hard to repair their reputation after the damage that Oklahoma did to it on Saturday night in week 13.

Four Teams Fall to Unranked Opponents

As usual there were a few ranked teams who went down to unranked opponents in week 13. There were 4 such cases in week 13, and not at all surprisingly, 3 of those games took place in the wacky ACC. The one such game that did not take place between ACC teams came in an SEC battle. The unranked Ole Miss Rebels went down to Baton Rouge in week 13 and laid a beating on #18 LSU at Tiger Stadium. This was a little big less surprising than it would have been had the Tigers not fallen down 31-0 at home to Troy in week 12 before coming back to win 40-31. People knew that the Bayou Bengals were cruising for a bruising and the Rebs came in on a role, having won 3 straight. Unlike in their somewhat fluky win over Florida, the Rebels dominated this game, outgaining the Tigers 409-215, throwing for 307 yards on the LSU defense, and limiting LSU to just 37 yards rushing. Jevan Snead fired 2 TD’s to Mike Wallace and Ole Miss intercepted Jarrett Lee and knocked him out of the game. Ole Miss led 7-0 at the end of the 1st quarter and it was 21-3 midway through the 2nd. The Tigers cut it to 21-10 before halftime behind 3rd string QB Jordan Jefferson, and a field goal early in the 3rd quarter made it an 8 point game. But Mississippi scored a TD with just under 8 minutes left in the 3rd to make it a 15 point game and the Rebs shut LSU out the rest of the way. Ole Miss put the game away with a field goal to make it a 3 score game with just over 4 minutes remaining on the clock. Ole Miss won 31-13 to snap a 6 game losing streak against LSU and move ahead of them into 2nd place in the SEC West.

The first ranked team to go down to an unranked opponent in week 13 was Miami, who got hammered, 41-23 on Thursday night by Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The Hurricanes needed a win to clinch a tie for the ACC Costal Division title but they were literally run over by a Tech team that found itself back in contention for a conference championship following their unexpected win. The Jackets led 3-0 after 1 and took an interception back for a TD early in the 2nd to go up 10-0. Miami got on the board with a field goal but the Jackets scored twice more before halftime to head to the lockers with a commanding 24-3 advantage. The final score was deceiving, as Tech led 41-10 heading to the 4th quarter. The Jackets outgained Miami 518-388, piling up 472 yards on the ground against the Caines on their way to a 41-23 win.

That Maryland lost to Florida State in week 13 wasn’t that surprising. That they lost 37-3 at home on Senior Day clearly was. Maryland was in the driver seat to win the Atlanta Division and play for the conference title in the championship game, but instead they were eliminated by the Seminoles, who now need Maryland to upset Boston College in week 14 in order to make the conference title game. FSU dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 36 minutes, and they forced 4 Terrapin turnovers. The game was scoreless after 1 but the Noles scored 21 unanswered points in the 2nd quarter to lead 21-0 at the half. FSU added a field goal to make it 24-0 before the Terps finally got on the board with a FG late in the 3rd. The Seminoles shutout the Terrapins 17-0 in the 4th and went on to hand Maryland their first home loss of the season, 37-3.

As surprising as the lopsided wins for GT and FSU were, they were not quite as strange as the one NC State recorded in week 13 on the road against their rivals from Chapel Hill. The Wolfpack smoked #22 North Carolina 41-10, ending the Heels’ chances of winning the Costal Divisions, and pulling within a win of bowl eligibility. With the win, NC State finished 4-0 against the other 4 major schools in North Carolina for the first time since 1986. NC State dominated UNC behind the efficient work of QB Russell Wilson and the opportunistic play of a defense that forced 6 turnovers. The Wolfpack did not turn the ball over and outgained UNC 466-203 while holding the ball for 38 minutes. The Pack scored the first 10 points in the game and led 10-3 at the half. It was 17-3 until a UNC TD midway through the 3rd made it a 1 score game, but the Wolfpack scored twice in the final minute and a half of the quarter to put the game away. They scored the game’s final 24 points to roll to a stunning 41-17 win that was the biggest so far in the Tom O’Brien era.

Four Relatively Significant Upsets

Four underdogs pulled off upsets over teams favored by at least 7 points in week 13. NC State was an 11 point underdog on the road against UNC in week 13 but the Wolfpack won, 41-10. In the Sun Belt, Louisiana-Monroe was an 8 points underdog on the road at Florida International but the Warhawks came up with a 31-27 victory. ULM’s Kinsman Lancaster threw for 2 TD’s and ran for another in the win. FIU led 3-0 after 1, but ULM scored 21 unanswered points in the 2nd and led 21-3 at the half. ULM led 28-10 midway through the 3rd and took a 31-17 lead to the 4th quarter. FIU mounted a comeback, scoring 10 points to cut the lead to 4 points and they got the ball back with 3:14 left and a chance to take the lead. But ULM sacked FIU’s QB 3 times and deflected a pass to stop the Panthers’ final drive and hang on for the upset win, 31-27.

This year’s version of the Apple Cup between the Washington Huskies and the Washington State Cougars was really a moment of humiliation for both schools, as their awful records were put on display in front of the nation. The combined record of the two in-state rivals was 1-20 and they were 0-20 vs. FBS competition. Though the game was in Pullman, Washington came in as a 7 point favorite. This was because while Washington was winless on the season, Wazu had been by far the worst team from a BCS conference this year. The only reason to watch this game was for the train wreck aspect of the whole thing, but it wasn’t like that for the two programs and fan bases involved. The crowd at Martin Stadium was fired up for this thing and the players were treating this game like the Super Bowl. The game was extremely ugly as you would expect but it turned out to be highly entertaining, particularly late in the game, and some of the more dramatic moments of week 13 would come from this battle of losers from the state of Washington. For most of the day the game played out as expected, with Washington being just a little less inept than Wazu. The game was scoreless until the Huskies went in for a score early in the 2nd quarter to take a 7-0 lead and then led 10-0 at halftime, having controlled the action for the entire first half. The Washington players taunted the Wazu fans as they headed for the lockers, and indeed it looked like the Huskies were in complete control. The Huskies continued to control the game throughout most of the 3rd quarter but then all of the sudden the Cougars got into the game when Logwone Mitz got loose for a 57 yard TD to get the lead to 10-7 with just 2:06 left in the 3rd. It was Wazu’s first TD in over 6 quarters. At the start of the 4th quarter the Huskies looked to make it a 6 point game with a 40 yard FG try by Jared Ballman but he missed it. Washington had a 1st and 10 at the Wazu 12 as the clock ticked under 5 minutes and it looked like they might put the game away but they couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. They ended up having to settle for a 28 yard field goal try that would have made it a 6 point game but Ryan Perkins somehow missed the chip shot to give Washington State the ball down just 3 with 3:24 to go. The Cougars faced a 4th and 7 at their own 37 and QB Kevin Lopina completed a pass that nearly kept the drive alive but Washington stopped the play a yard shy and took over on downs at the Washington State 43 with just 2:02 left on the clock. It looked like the Cougars were going to come up short to the dismay of their fans. But the Washington could not get a first down and Washington State called 3 timeouts. The Huskies decided to punt on 4th and 3 from the Wazu 36 and it went for a touchback to give the Cougars the ball at the 20 with no timeouts and 56 seconds on the clock. The Cougars converted a 3rd and 1 with a 5 yard completion to the 34 but they weren’t moving fast enough. They didn’t have a kicker who could hit from really far out so they would have to get deep into Washington territory. There was really no way they could do anything if the Huskies played smart defense. But then somehow, someway, Jared Karstetter got behind the Washington secondary down the right side and Kevin Lopina made his best throw of the day to hit Karstetter with a bomb. The play went for 48 yards and gave Wazu a first down at the Washington 18 with 24 seconds left. The Cougars called another play and Karstetter caught a pass for 7 yards but didn’t get out of bounds and the Cougars had to rush to the line to spike the ball with just 2 seconds left at the Washington 11. Wazu kicker Nico Grasu started his kick early but was able to get enough behind the kick to hit the 28 yarder with no time left to send it to OT tied at 10-10. The Cougars went first in OT and they converted on 3rd and 1 from the 16 and then on 4th and 1 from the 4, but they couldn’t get in the end zone after having a 2nd and goal from the 1. On 4th and goal from the 2 they kicked a 19 yard field goal to make it 13-10. The Huskies then appeared on the verge of winning the game with a TD, as they had a 2nd and 4 at the 6 against a worn out Cougar defense. But they lost 2 yards on 2nd down and then on 3rd and 6 they gained just 3 yards and had to settle for a 22 yard field goal to make it 13-13. Now Washington had to go on offense first and they had a 2nd and 3 from the 18 but they lost 2 yards and then on 3rd and 5 they threw incomplete to bring up 4th and 5 from the 20. Perkins came out to try a 37 yard field goal and he missed it to open the door for Wazu. The Cougars gained 5 yards and then on 4th and 5 from the 20 Grasu made his 37 yard try to give Washington State a 16-13 win in double overtime. The Washington State players and fans celebrated like they were going to the Rose Bowl. A shaken and defeated Tyrone Willingham walked off the field looking dazed while Washington players collapsed on the turf weeping. They were still losers.

The biggest upset spread wise in week 13 was one that happened fast and its affects are still being felt now and probably will be for months. No team from a BCS conference has been worse over the past 4 years than the Syracuse Orange. In week 13, the 2-8 Orange and their lame duck coach traveled to South Bend as 19.5 underdogs to be an automatic win for the struggling Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Notre Dame’s season had not turned out the way the fans had wanted and everyone expected they would be plastered by USC in the final game of the year to finish 7-5. But no one was considering that they might not beat Syracuse at home in week 13. Certainly their fans weren’t expecting it to happen, as the student section spent the entire first half throwing snowballs at their own players standing on the sidelines. Early on Notre Dame let Syracuse hang around. The Irish kicked a field goal on their first possession and then the Orange missed a field goal. ND went for it on 4th and 2 from the 35 on their next drive and got stopped for a loss of 2 to give the Cuse the ball, and the Orange turned it into a field goal to tie the game at 3-3 on the final play of the 1st quarter. Midway through the 2nd, the Orange stopped ND and then went on an 81 yard drive that was capped off by a 1 yard TD run that gave the Cuse a 10-3 lead with 6:48 left in the half. Notre Dame kicked a field goal to cut it to 10-6 with 2:19 left in the half, and then Syracuse suffered a serious let down right before intermission. ND took over at their own 24 with just 50 seconds left and no timeouts but the Orange allowed them to move down the field quickly and then Golden Tate caught a pass from Jimmy Claussen for 35 yards to score and give ND a 13-10 lead with just 2 seconds left on the clock Syracuse should have had the lead heading to halftime but they didn’t. In the 3rd quarter ND had plenty of chances to blow the game wide open. After a terrible punt the Irish took over at the Cuse 23 but after a series of penalties and mistakes, ND ended up with a 4th and 40 from their own 47 and had to punt. Another horrible punt moments later gave them 1st and 10 at the Cuse 21. They got a 1st and goal at the 9 but ended up settling for a 26 yard FG and Brandon Walker missed the chip shot to keep it 13-10. Finally Tate scored on a 36 yard reception to put the Irish up 20-10 with 2:49 remaining. So it looked like ND was in the clear and when the Orange fumbled on the first play of their next possession to give ND the ball at the 5 yard line it looked like the Irish might cover. But they couldn’t punch it in and had to settle for a 23 yard field goal. Still, with 1:34 left in the 3rd the Irish had a 13 point lead and no one thought Syracuse was in the game when the 4th quarter began with them still trailing 23-10. But then Antwan Bailey scampered 26 yards for a TD to make it 23-17 with 12:30 left and that made it a 1 score game. It still didn’t seem like ND was going down, not because of anything they were doing, but because it was so obvious to anyone watching how bad Syracuse was. ND drove into Cuse territory on their next possession and had a 1st and 10 at the 33. All they had to do was get points to basically put the game away, but Walker came up short on a 49 yard field goal try to keep it a 6 point game and give the Orangemen the ball at the ND 32 with 4:58 to go. The Cuse moved quickly into ND territory and then on 3rd and 1 a pass interference call on the Irish helped the Orange pick up a key first down. Still it looked bad for Syracuse when a holding penalty gave them a 2nd and 17 from the 20. But they got 9 yards on a completion on the next play and then on 3rd down and 8 from the 11, Cameron Dantley found Donte Davis over the middle in the end zone for a TD. Patrick Shadle’s extra point gave Syracuse the lead, 24-23, with just 42 seconds to play. After the Irish could only return the ball to the 26 they were in dire straights because they had no timeouts. Claussen began throwing the ball deep and nearly connected a couple times before the passes were broken up at the last moment. It was now 4th and 10 from the 26 and all Syracuse had to do was knock down one more pass, but on 4th down Tate went down the right sideline and went up and pulled a rainbow pass down at the 34 for a gain of 40. The Irish spiked it with 7 seconds left. Rather than trying to throw a pass to the sidelines for 5 more yards, the Irish decided to try the 53 yarder now. It seemed like Walker’s kick was in the air for 10 seconds, and a couple of times during the ball’s flight it looked like it was going to be good, but it came up short and Notre Dame fell to the 8 loss Orangemen, 24-23. The loss as 19.5 point favorites at home dropped ND to 6-5 on the season. What a glorious moment for all of us ND haters.

Number of Unbeaten Teams Shrinks From Five to Four

At the start of week 13 there were 5 FBS still without a loss. By week’s end that number would be down to 4 teams. Only 1 team lost for the first time in week 13. Texas Tech entered week 13 undefeated at 10-0, but the Red Raiders got crushed on the road at Oklahoma, 65-21, to fall to 10-1 on the season. Alabama was idle in week 13 and thus remained unbeaten at 11-0. The other 3 undefeated teams were in action in week 13 and got victories to stay perfect. Utah went into week 13 undefeated at 11-0 and smashed visiting BYU 48-24 to finish the regular season undefeated at 12-0.

Ball State was the first undefeated team to play in week 13, as the 10-0 Cardinals visited Central Michigan on Wednesday night for what was expected to be their biggest test of the season. Both teams went into the game 6-0 in MAC play and the two-time defending MAC champion Chippewas had their star QB Dan LeFevour back in the lineup. The Cardinals took the first lead in the game late in the 1st quarter on a TD pass by Nate Davis but CM tied it up early in the 2nd on a TD pass by LeFevour and then hit a FG to go up 10-7. BSU tied it up with less than a minute to go in the half on a FG. CM retook the lead with a TD early in the 3rd but the Cardinals answered with a TD a few minutes later and the game went to the 4th tied at 17-17. A 38 yard TD pass by LeFevour put the Cardinals behind by 7 again early in the 4th but Davis threw a 45 yard TD pass to tie it up again with 12:51 to play. On BSU’s next possession they drove deep into CM territory again and Davis fired an 11 yard TD to put the Cardinals ahead 31-24 with 7:29 left on the clock. CM drove into BSU territory on their next possession and had a 1st down at the 32 but Ball State stopped the Chippewas on downs with 5:08 to go. Central Michigan got the ball back for one final shot and they got a 1st down at the BSU 36, but Sean Baker intercepted LeFevour at the 9 with 35 seconds left to seal the win for Ball State. The victory got Ball State to 11-0 and clinched at least a share of 1st place in the MAC West. They would play Western Michigan the following week with a trip to the conference championship game on the line.

The final undefeated team to win in week 13 was Boise State, which came into week 13 without a loss on the season at 10-0, and facing a somewhat tough road game at Nevada. The Broncos dominated the first half and appeared in complete control midway through the 3rd quarter but their own mistakes and Nevada’s refusal to accept defeat combined to tighten things up late in the game. Kellen Moore put Boise on top with a 16 yard TD pass midway through the 1st and the Broncos led 14-0 after 1. Nevada got on the board with a field goal but the Broncos kicked one of their own to make 17-3 and then Moore threw an 18 yard TD late in the 2nd and Boise State took a commanding 24-3 lead into halftime on the road. Moore threw for 319 yards in the first half but he got into trouble by making some poor throws in the 2nd half. Boise State’s first drive of the 2nd half ended when Moore was intercepted at the Bronco 37, but Nevada got nothing out of it when Colin Kaepernick’s pass on 4th and 6 from the 33 fell incomplete. Moments later, Moore’s pass was intercepted by Jerome Johnson and returned 28 yards for a TD to make it 24-10 with 10 minutes left in the quarter. Ian Johnson got loose for a 66 yard TD run to make it a 31-10 game just a minute and 12 seconds later and it seemed that all was well. Nevada kept playing and Vai Taua scored on a 31 yard dash to the end zone to make it 31-17 with 6:24 left in the 3rd. When Moore’s 3rd interception of the quarter was returned 46 yards for a TD by Josh Mauga to make it 31-24 with 5:14 still on the clock in the 3rd, it was a brand new ball game. Nevada would get the ball right back after a bad punt, taking over at the Boise State 43 with 3:11 remaining in the 3rd, but Kaepernick threw incomplete on 4th and 3 from the 36 to turn it over on downs, and the game went to the 4th with Boise State still up 31-24. Moore made it a 14 point game again with 10 yard TD strike to make it 38-24 with 10:11 to go and Kyle Brotzman hit a 50 yard field goal to make it a 3 score game with only 7:20 remaining. It looked like Nevada’s opportunity had passed and the game was now out of reach. But the Wolf Pack went down into Boise State territory and on 4th and 5 from the 9 Kaepernick fired a TD pass to make it 41-31 with 4:36 to go. The Pack recovered an onsides kick and hit a FG to make it 41-34 with 2:36 on the clock. The second onsides kick was recovered by Boise State at the Nevada 40, but the defense forced a 48 yard try by Brotzman and he missed to give Nevada the ball at their own 31, down by 7, with 1:34 on the clock and no timeouts. On 4th and 6, Kaepernick completed a pass for 28 yards and a first down at the 26 of Boise State with 28 tics on the clock. But the Pack could get on further. The Broncos broke up Kaepernick’s pass on 4th and 10 from the 31 as time expired to hang on for a hard fought 41-34 victory. With the win the Broncos clinched the WAC title and remained perfect on the season at 11-0.

One Team Still Without a Win

The Washington Huskies entered week 13 as the only FBS team still without a win of any kind on the season at 0-10. At week’s end, Washington was still the lone winless team in the country, as they fell to their struggling rivals, Washington State, on the road, 16-13, in double overtime. The loss dropped the Huskies to 0-11 on the season. They have just one more chance to get a win this year, as they travel to Berkley to play the Cal Bears in week 15.

Number of Teams Without a Win vs. FBS Shrinks From Four to Three

Going into week 13 there were four teams without a win vs. FBS competition including Washington. The other 3 teams all had wins vs. teams from the FCS but were thus far winless against teams from the FBS. Only 1 of those 3 teams was in action in week 13 but that 1 team got its first win over an FBS team. SMU was idle in week 13 and thus stayed at 1-10, 0-10 vs. the FBS. Western Kentucky was likewise idle and stayed at 2-9, 0-9 vs. FBS teams. Washington State came into week 13 with a record of 1-10, 0-10 vs. FBS teams, but the Cougars beat their rivals, the winless Washington Huskies, at home, 16-13, in double OT for their first win over an FBS team this season. With the victory the Cougs moved to 2-10 on the season, 1-10 against FBS teams.

Three Games Last into Overtime

There were 3 overtime games in week 13. Washington State defeated Washington, 16-13, in double overtime to win the Apple Cup in Pullman. Earlier in the week there was an overtime game in the MAC. On Friday night, Buffalo played on the road at Bowling Green and the two teams battled into overtime. The Falcons were in control throughout the first half, scoring twice in the 2nd quarter to go up 14-0. With less than a minute to play in the half, BG had a 1st down at the Bulls’ 21 leading 14-0 but Tyler Sheehan’s pass was intercepted at the 2 with 23 seconds left and the score stayed 14-0 going to the half. The Falcons scored on their opening drive of the 2nd half to go up 21-0. Buffalo got on the board with a TD on their next drive but the Falcons led 21-7 going to the 4th quarter. Early in the 4th the Falcons scored again but missed the extra point to leave the score 27-7 with a little over 13 minutes to play. The Bulls score a TD just over 2 minutes later but they also missed the PAT to leave the score 27-13. Bowling Green was on the verge of putting the game away for good as they had the ball at the Buffalo 20 with just over 5 minutes to go but the Falcons decided to go for it rather than kick a field goal and the Bulls stopped them to take over at their own 29, still down 14, with 4:53 to play. The Bulls scored in just 2:24 and then recovered an onsides kick at their own 42 with 2:29 remaining. A 5 yard TD pass from Drew Willy to Naaman Roosevelt tied it up with 37 seconds to go and the game went into OT tied at 27-27. Buffalo had the ball first in OT and scored on their second play, with Willy throwing a 26 yard TD to make it 34-27. Sheehan fired a 23 yard TD on 3rd and 8 on BG’s possession to tie it up again and the game went to a second OT. BG had it first this time and they moved all the way to the goal line. But on 3rd and goal from the 1 they fumbled and lost a yard and then Sheehan threw incomplete on 4th and goal from the 2. On Buffalo’s first play, James Starkes went 25 yards on the ground for the TD to give the Bulls a 40-34 victory in double overtime.

The other overtime game in week 13 was the shocker that didn’t happen, although by all rights it should have. The Big Ten came oh so close to taking another embarrassing loss to an FCS team at home, as the slumping Wisconsin Badgers needed a number of miracles to defeat Cal-Poly of the FCS by a point in overtime on Senior Day at Camp Randall. The Mustangs rushed for 276 yards against the Badgers, putting up 371 yards of offense and achieving 23 first downs, while hogging the ball for 40 minutes. Cal-Poly recovered a fumble at their own 40 on Wisconsin’s first drive and the Mustangs then went 60 yards in 11 plays over 6:01 and scored on a 2 yard run to go up 7-0 with 6:13 to play in the 1st. They took that lead into the 2nd quarter and then Tredale Tolver returned a Wisconsin punt 40 yards for a TD to make it a 2 TD lead for the Mustangs with 8:42 to play in the 2nd. But kicker Andrew Gardner missed the extra point to keep it 13-0. Wisconsin then went on a quick 64 yard drive, with John Clay running in from 17 yards out to get the Badgers on the board. The Mustangs answered with a 10 play, 71 yard drive that took up 4:59, scoring on a 2 yard run to go up 20-7 with 1:15 left in the half. But Cal-Poly couldn’t hold the Badgers over the final 75 seconds, allowing Wisconsin to go 73 yards in just 32 seconds, with Nick Toon catching a 26 yard TD pass to cut it to 20-14 going into halftime. Early in the 3rd quarter the Mustangs embarked on a 15 play drive that gained just 58 yards and ended in a FG but it took 8:49 off the clock. It was 23-14 Cal-Poly with 2:32 to go in the 3rd. But the Badgers went 80 yards in just 4 plays, with PJ Hill running in from 10 yards out to make it a 23-21 game just a minute and 21 seconds later. The Mustangs still led by 2 at the start of the 4th when they went on a 15 play, 76 yard drive, taking 7:59 off the clock, scoring on a 2 yard run with 8:12 left in the game. It looked like Wisconsin was about to be down 2 scores with just over 8 minutes to play, but Gardner missed another extra point and that left the door open for the Badgers as it kept the score 29-21, an 8 point game. Cal-Poly’s defense then stepped up, breaking up Dustin Sherer’s pass on 4th and 7 from the 50 to take over on downs with 5:45 to play. But Wisconsin’s defense wouldn’t allow the Mustangs to move and the Badgers got the ball back at their own 11 with 4 minutes left. This time it took only 9 plays and 2 minutes and 18 seconds for the Badgers to go 89 yards for the score. Hill ran it in from 3 yards out and then did the same thing on the 2-pt conversion try to tie it up at 29-29 with 1:42 to play. Cal-Poly played to win and made it to the Wisconsin 29 but with their kicker having missed 2 extra points, the Mustangs decided to give their kickoff man a try from 46 yards out on 4th and 2. But Jake West came up about 20 yards short. The Badgers tried to do something with just seconds left but Sherer’s pass was picked off at the 47 and the game went to OT tied at 29-29. The Mustangs went on offense first in OT and you figured they would fold, but Jonathan Dally fired a 25 yard TD pass to Ramses Barden on the very first play to put Cal-Poly ahead once again. It was a bit surprising that the Mustangs didn’t try and go for 2, as they were having success moving the ball, and they had already missed 2 extra points. Also, Cal-Poly just wasn’t going to be able to stay up physically with the Badgers for that many more overtimes. There best chance might be to try and go up 8 and then force Wisconsin to score and get the 2 point conversion. But they tried to kick it and Gardner banged the PAT off the right upright to leave it a 35-29 game. Wisconsin now had its escape in sight and they cut through the Cal-Poly defense with ease, as Clay ran for 16, 3, and then for a 6 yard TD to tie the game 35-35. Philip Welch then kicked the extra point right down the middle and Wisconsin escaped with 36-35 win in overtime.

Notable Scores From Week 13

GT 41, Mia 23 (Miami falls to 4-4 in ACC.)
NIU 42, Kent St. 14 (NIU gets bowl eligible.)
BSU 31, CM 24 (BSU stays undefeated, CM loses first MAC game.)
Buf 40, BG 34 (OT-II) (Bulls got to 7-4, 5-2 in MAC.)
WV 35, Louis 21 (WV goes to 4-1 in conference.)
NC St. 41, UNC 10 (Pack drops rivals to 3-4 in ACC.)
Rut 30, Army 3 (Rut gets bowl eligible.)
Ohio St. 42, Mich 7 (Buck’s 5th straight over Mich, go to 10-2, 7-1; Mich 3-9, 2-6.)
Pur 62, Ind 10 (Last Oaken Bucket game for Tiller.)
Tenn 20, Vandy 10 (Vols avoid another embarrassment.)
Fla 70, Citadel 19 (Gators roll to 10-1).
Cuse 24, ND 23 (Cuse shocks ND as 19.5 point dog, drops ND to 6-5.)
CSU 31, WYO 20 (CSU gets bowl eligible.)
Tulsa 56, Tulane 7 (Tulsa goes to 9-2, 6-1 in C-USA.)
Miss St. 31, Ark 28 (Miss State breaks 9 game losing skid to Hogs.)
Wash St. 16, Wash 13 (OT-II) (Wash St. wins Apple Cup for first win vs. FBS; Wash remains only winless team in FBS.)
NW 27, Ill 10 (NW goes to 9-3; Illinois falls to 5-7.)
Cal 37, Stan 16 (Cal wins the Big Game.)
BC 23, WF 23 (BC now 4-3 in ACC.)
Miss 31, LSU 13 (Miss snaps 6 game losing streak vs. LSU.)
PSU 49, Mich St. 18 (PSU wins Land Grant Trophy, share of Big Ten title, Rose Bowl berth, goes to 11-1, 7-1 in conference.)
Hou 42, UTEP 37 (Hou 6-1 in C-USA.)
Rice 35, Marsh 10 (Rice 6-1 in C-USA.)
Wis 36, Cal-Poly 35 (OT) (Wisconsin escapes thanks to missed PAT’s.)
TCU 44, AF 10 (TCU finishes 10-2, 7-1 in MWC.)
Boise St. 41, Nev 34 (Broncos win WAC and stay undefeated.)
LT 35, NMS 31 (LT goes to 5-2 in WAC.)
Utah 48, BYU 24 (Utah wins MWC and finishes undefeated; BYU finishes 10-2, 6-2.)
Ore St. 19, Ariz 17 (Beavers now 7-1 in Pac-10.)
Cinn 28, Pitt 21 (Cinn’s first ever win over Pitt, now 9-2, 5-1.)
Iowa 55, Minn 0 (Floyd of Rosedale taken in a shit kicking.)
Troy 48, ULL 3 (Troy goes to 5-1 in SBC, ULL falls to 4-2.)
FSU 37, Mary 3 (FSU buries Maryland on the road.)
Haw 49, ID 17 (Haw gets bowl eligible.)
OK 65, Tex Tech 21 (Okla deals Tech first loss, goes to 10-1, 6-1.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Bulldawg Blog: Week 12 Review

Week 12: #10 Georgia @ Auburn, win, 17-13.

General Comments: This one wasn’t pretty and the Dawgs were fortunate to come away with a win. The same problems that have held the Dawgs back all year were present again in this narrow victory over the struggling Tigers. On the positive side, the Dawgs hung in and came up with a big stop when they needed it. On the negative side, they did a lot to keep Auburn in the game and nearly lost. This game shouldn’t have been close but it ended up being about as close as you can get.

The Dawgs came into this game favored by 9 points over an Auburn team that had already lost twice at home this season. The Tigers had lost 4 straight against FBS teams going into this one. The Tigers had gotten an unimpressive 37-20 win over Tennessee-Martin of the FCS the week before, while the Dawgs had been in a battle against Kentucky. It looked like Auburn was a little fresher for this game and they played like a team with nothing to lose. This was not a meaningless win by any means but in the end it seemed more important that we didn’t lose.

First Quarter Comments

Any hopes there were of Georgia putting together a complete game and dominating Auburn were pretty much dashed after the first drive. A number of the problems that have plagued the Dawgs all season showed up again on their first possession of the game. Right from the opening kickoff there were problems. Richard Samuel took the kick at the 6 and didn’t get past the 17 for a return of just 11 yards. But Georgia’s offense got off to a hot start. It looked like the Dawgs were going to score and go on top right away as they flew down the field alternating Knowshown Moreno runs with passes to AJ Green. A 20 yard pass completion from Matt Stafford to Green on 3rd and 5 from the 30 gave the Dawgs a 1st and 10 just outside the 10 yard line. Auburn’s defense hadn’t allowed a first quarter TD this season but the Dawgs but the Dawgs moved inside the 4 on back to back 4 yard gains by Moreno. That brought up 3rd and 3 from the 3 and a half but Georgia only needed 3 yards for another first down. The Dawgs tried a quick pass to AJ Green on 3rd down and it went incomplete to bring up by Walter McFadden to bring up 4th down. It was disappointing to march 80 yards like that and not be able to come away with a touchdown but the right call here was to kick the chip shot field goal and get on the board. Auburn’s offense had been anemic this year so any points the Dawgs could get would be worth it. Plus, the points were guaranteed here, as the field goal attempt was just 20 yards, the same length as an extra point. However, at this point nothing is a sure thing when it comes to Georgia special teams, and unbelievably, Blair Walsh kicked a low line drive and got his kick blocked. It was returned to the 22. So the Dawgs wasted the opening kick and an 80 yard drive and got no points.

The Dawgs stopped Auburn’s first drive after 1 first down and 16 net yards. Georgia almost helped Auburn with a penalty when Asher Allen got called for a personal foul but luckily the officials called one on both teams so it didn’t hurt. Unfortunately, Auburn pinned Georgia at their own 6 with a punt. The Dawgs moved the ball steadily again on their 2nd possession, taking the ball to the Auburn 40. But on 2nd and 4, Samuel lost a yard, and then on 3rd and 5 Mohamed Massaquoi was called for offensive pass interference. That pretty much killed the drive and on 3rd and 20 from their own 44 the Dawgs ran the ball and Moreno could only get to the 48 so they had to punt. But the Dawgs were able to turn the field position as the punt team had great coverage and Auburn had to start at their own 6. The defense forced a 3 and out and Auburn had to punt from the 6. The Dawgs were going to get great field position this time if they could just field the punt, but you can never assume when you’re dealing with UGA special teams. Amazingly, the Dawgs managed to do two things to give the ball back to Auburn on the same punt return. First, the Dawgs were coming after the punt but they didn’t get there in time and John Knox roughed the punter instead. That would have given Auburn a 1st down at their 21. However, Prince Miller muffed the punt at the 49 and Auburn recovered at the 48. So the Tigers just declined the roughing the kicker penalty. Unbelievable. Auburn now had the ball back at their 48 and they decided to go for it all on the first play after the quick change and it paid off. Kodi Burns threw a wobbly pass down the sidelines for Mario Fannin and he made the catch and then ran all the way to the end zone for a 52 yard TD reception to put Auburn on the board first. Auburn bobbled the snap on the extra point and missed it to keep the score 6-0. That would come in handy later but at the moment it only showed how ridiculous it was that the Dawgs were trailing to these guys. Georgia started their next possession at the 31, and on the first play of the drive Green caught a pass for 16 yards on the final play of the 1st quarter.

Second Quarter Comments

Though Dawgs hadn’t scored in the 1st quarter but they had moved the ball well. That stopped as soon as the 2nd quarter began. The Dawgs had a 1st down at the 47 but the next 3 plays amounted to a 2 yard loss and they had to punt. The punt pinned Auburn at their 16 but they would soon threaten to score again. Another idiotic penalty on the Dawgs helped Auburn’s drive get started. Burns scrambled out of bounds for no gain and it should have been 3rd and 10 from the 31, but Rashad Jones hit him out of bounds and got called for a personal foul that gave the Tigers a 1st down at the 46. A few plays later the Dawgs jumped offsides for 5 more yards and then Burns converted a 3rd and 10 into a 1st down with a 12 yard completion. The Tigers had a 2nd and 6 at the 14 but their drive was derailed by a holding penalty. On 3rd and 16 from the 24, Burns scrambled around looking for someone to throw to and the Dawgs knocked the ball loose and recovered at the 36 to keep Auburn from adding to their lead.

The defense gave the Dawgs the ball back still down only 6 but the offense ran 3 plays and lost a yard and had to punt. Mimbs got off a tremendous punt of 58 yards that went all the way to the 7. That was huge and the defense took advantage and got a 3 and out. The Dawgs took over at the 50 following the punt. On 2nd and 6, the Dawgs executed a beautiful screen pass to Moreno, who ran down the sidelines behind Cordy Glenn, and then split 2 Auburn defenders inside the 10 and went into the end zone for a 35 yard completion for a TD to put Georgia up by a point.

The Dawgs now had the lead and they should have been able to shutdown Auburn from here on but on the ensuing kickoff they helped Auburn again. The kick was returned to the 25 but Richard Samuel got called for a late hit, moving the ball all the way to the 40 after the 4th personal foul penalty of the day on Georgia. Auburn quickly moved to Georgia’s 30 with help from personal foul number 5, this one for a face mask. But after reaching the 24, Auburn was stopped for a loss of a yard and no gain on consecutive plays and had to settle for a 42 yard field goal try. Wes Bynum missed and the Dawgs had dodged another bullet. The half ended with the Dawgs leading 7-6. That wasn’t the position Georgia wanted to be in after a half of play. But you weren’t sure whether to be upset that Georgia wasn’t winning by more or feel grateful that they weren’t behind.

Third Quarter Comments

The second half started with yet another personal foul penalty on Georgia during the kick return by Auburn but again the Dawgs were fortunate that the officials called fouls on both teams. The defense forced a 3 and out and the Dawgs got the ball at their own 25 and started moving it again. 3 first downs helped the Dawgs move to the 30 and then Moreno gained 9 yards on 1st down to take the ball to the 21 and bring up a 2nd and 1. Once again the Dawgs were hurt by a mistake, as a false start penalty backed the Dawgs up 5 and turned a 2nd and 1 into a 2nd and 6. Samuel lost a yard on 2nd down and Moreno lost 2 more on 3rd and 7. That made it 4th and 9 from the 29. With strong winds and no confidence in the kicking game, Mark Richt had Georgia go for it and Stafford threw incomplete for Green to turn the ball over on downs. It looked like the Dawgs were going to keep Auburn in the game all day.

The defense came up big again at that point. Asher Allen forced an intentional grounding penalty on the first play of Auburn’s drive to make it 2nd and 25. Georgia’s defense eventually forced the Tigers back to their own 10 where they punted. A good return by Logan Gray gave Georgia the ball in Auburn territory at the 49. The Dawgs went for it on 4th and 1 from the 40 and Stafford picked it up with a sneak. Georgia had a 1st down at the Auburn 13 but again they couldn’t punch the ball in once they got close. An incompletion on 3rd and 7 from the 10 brought Walsh out for another short field goal try, this one from 27 yards. He actually made this one to give Georgia a 10-6 lead late in the quarter. A holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff gave Auburn bad starting field position at their own 10. On 3rd and 4 the Dawgs stopped Auburn a yard shy of the first down to bring up 4th and 1 from the 19. Auburn lined up to go for it and Georgia had to call a timeout with 2 seconds left in the quarter. After the timeout Auburn was still going for it and Burns ran a QB sneak and picked up a yard to give the Tigers a 1st down on the final play of the 3rd quarter.

Fourth Quarter Comments

Georgia only led by 4 at the start of the 4th quarter but that actually seemed like a good lead because it was hard to imagine Auburn scoring a touchdown. On 3rd and 5 from the 25 the Dawgs jumped offsides which would have given them a first down but it didn’t matter because they got 10 yards on a pass completion for a first down at the 35. A 21 yard pass play gave Auburn a 1st down at the Georgia 44. On 3rd and 1, Fannin rushed for the first down and then slid and shook through shoddy Georgia tackling all the way to the end zone for a 35 yard run to put Auburn back on top.

As bad as the Dawgs played at times in this game, Auburn was always there to remind you of why they had only 4 wins vs. FBS teams. After scoring to go ahead 13-10 early in the 4th, Auburn promptly kicked the ball out of bounds to give good field position at the 40. On the first play of the drive, a pass interference penalty on the Tigers gave Georgia a 1st down at the Auburn 45. Then Auburn got called for defensive delay of game and the Dawgs got 5 more yard to the 40. On 3rd and 7, Stafford got the ball to Moreno for 7 yards and a first down at the 18. Two plays later Stafford fired a laser over the middle into the end zone and AJ Green leapt high in the air and caught it over his back shoulder for a 17 yard TD to give Georgia a 17-13 lead with 8:24 remaining.

The Dawgs’ defense had gotten a mulligan and now all they had to do was keep Auburn out of the end zone the rest of the way in order to win. Unfortunately, they would have to overcome another mistake by Walsh and the special teams, as he kicked the ball out of bounds following the TD to give Auburn good field position at their 40. Auburn moved into UGA territory and converted on a 3rd and 10 from the 40 with a 12 yard pass play to get a 1st down at the 28. But the defense stiffened at that point, stopping Ben Tate for no gain on 3rd and 3 to bring up 4th down. The Tigers called timeout and then decided to go for it on 4th and 3 from the 21 and Burns threw deep down the right sideline incomplete to turn the ball over on downs.

The Dawgs took over at the 21 with 4:07 left leading by 4. Auburn had only 2 timeouts remaining. Moreno ran for 11 yards on 2nd and 8 to pick up 1 first down, but then on 2nd and 6 from the 38 disaster almost struck, as Stafford fumbled the snap and luckily fell on it to retain possession. The Dawgs had dodged another bullet but now it was 3rd and 8. After a timeout by Auburn, the Dawgs gave it to Knowshon needing a first down to ice the game, and Moreno nearly got it but he ended up picking up just 5 yards to bring up 4th and 3 from the 41. Auburn used their last timeout with 1:52 left. So the Dawgs defense would have to come up with one more stop. You had to feel good about Georgia’s chances of holding on but it should never have gotten to this point.

A false start backed the Dawgs up to the 36 and then Mimbs punted and Auburn started at their own 20 with 1:44 left. With a below average passer like Burns playing QB, you would think that the Tigers would be just about sunk in this spot, needing to go 80 yards in 1:44 with no timeouts. But actually this was the type of situation where I guy like him could be pretty dangerous because with the defense giving up everything underneath he could use his legs to move the chains. On 3rd and 5 from the 25 Burns took off and picked up 14 yards for a 1st down at the 39. A few plays later on 3rd and 4 from the 45 Burns ran for it and gained 17 yards to give the Tigers a 1st down at the Georgia 38. They spiked the clock to stop it. On 3rd and 10, Asher Allen was called for pass interference to give Auburn a 1st down at the 23. On 2nd down, Auburn picked up 9 yards on a pass and got out of bounds to make it 3rd and 1 at the Georgia 14 with less than 20 seconds to go. Auburn had no timeouts so they needed to go for the end zone and Burns’ pass on 3rd and 1 went incomplete, but the Dawgs were lucky that illegal contact or defensive holding was not called. That would only have moved the ball up 5 yards but it would have given Auburn a 1st down. Instead it was 4th and 1 from the 14 with 7 seconds left and they pretty much had to score on this play or it would be over. Also, if they had been closer it would have brought a scramble by Burns into play. But he had to throw it here and the Dawgs came after him. Luckily Justin Houston got pressure to force Burns to scramble back and get rid of the ball. He lofted a pass towards the right corner of the end zone intended for Tate. Rennie Curran had good coverage but Tate would have had a chance to make a play on it if it had been a better pass. The pass was overthrown and it floated out of bounds and out of the reach of Tate for an incompletion with 1 second left on the clock. The Dawgs took a knee and escaped with a 17-13 win. Who knows what would have happened if Auburn hadn’t messed up that extra point.

Good Numbers

The stats were way closer than they should have been. Georgia outgained Auburn by 48 yards (351-303), passing for 36 more yards (215-179) and rushing for 12 more yards than Auburn (136-124). The Dawgs had 1 more first down than Auburn (20-19). The time of possession was about equal and both teams turned it over once. The Dawgs ran 33 times for 136 yards, averaging 4.1 yards a carry. The Tigers ran 36 times for 124 yards, averaging 3.4 yards a carry. Matt Stafford was just 15 for 24 for 215 yards but he had 2 TD and no INT. Moreno had a big day for the Dawgs, rushing 22 times for 131 yards while averaging 6.0 yards a carry, and also catching 4 passes for 58 yards and a TD. AJ Green caught 5 passes for 81 yards and a TD. Massa caught 5 balls for 61 yards. Brian Mimbs put all 4 of his punts at the 20 or closer in, including 2 inside the 10. Auburn moved into Georgia territory 5 times but the defense allowed them to score on just 1 of those possessions, recovering a fumble, forcing a missed field goal, and stopping the Tigers on 4th down twice.

Bad Numbers

Allowing 303 yards to Auburn was actually not that impressive. The Tigers were able to convert on 7 of 17 third downs, although the Dawgs did hold them to 1 for 3 on 4th down. Georgia was just 3 for 11 on 3rd down and 1 for 2 on 4th down. Walsh made 1 FG of 27 yards but he had a 20 yarder blocked and had one kickoff go out of bounds. The Dawgs committed 9 penalties for 95 yards. They were flagged for 6 personal fouls. Georgia scored on just 3 of 6 trips inside Auburn territory and scored a TD on just 1 of 3 trips inside the red zone.

Final Comment

This was a lot closer than it should have been and Georgia was fortunate to end up winning but at this point that’s enough for me. Auburn has had a very disappointing year but a win over Auburn is still big. This was the 3rd year in a row that the Dawgs beat Auburn, something that hadn’t happened since the Herschel years of 1980 to 1982. With the win the Dawgs finished 6-2 in the SEC and that’s good any year. A 2nd place finish in the East isn’t what Georgia wanted but it ain’t bad. The Dawgs will finish with the 3rd best record in the SEC. The victory got the Dawgs to 9-2 and kept them in position to win 10 games and go to a New Year’s Day bowl. They have a chance to win 11 of 13 games in a season that will ultimately be labeled a disappointment.

The Falcons Blog: Review of Weeks 8-12

Due to technical difficulties and various other distractions, I haven’t done a Falcons blog in a long time. The last weekly review I did was after week 6, when the Falcons beat the Bears on the 11-second miracle. That was a while ago. A lot has happened since then but I’m going to try and get caught up all at once.

Week 8: @ Philadelphia, loss, 14-27.

General Comments: Going into the season I thought this was the Falcons’ 2nd most unwinnable game behind only the trip to San Diego in the last weekend of November. Now that the season is more than half over, I think we might be able to say that this was actually the most difficult game on the Falcons’ schedule. Going into week 8’s game at Philly, I was not optimistic about the Falcons’ chances. They would be coming off of a bye but so would the Eagles, and Philly needed the bye week much more than we did. The Eagles have always been tough when rested. They were 9-0 coming off of a bye week under Andy Reid coming into this game. And at this point in the year they really benefited from the week off. The rest allowed their greatest weapon—Brian Westbrook—to get healthy enough to play and play at a high level. They were also just getting some of their pass catchers back, with tight end LJ Smith having missed 2 games prior to this one, and receiver Kevin Curtis active for the first time all year in week 8. But there were plenty of other reasons not to feel confident about this game. The Falcons’ two losses so far had both been on the road against quality teams (Tampa and Carolina) and offensively the Falcons had been held down much more in those games than in their other 4 games. I thought that a rookie QB playing on the road in a place like Philly would find things more difficult than at home. Also, Jim Johnson is one of the Defensive Coordinators in the NFL that I would be most worried about going up against with an inexperienced QB. And the Falcons had also found it tougher to run on the road than they had at home, so that would put more pressure on Matt Ryan, and I thought Johnson would blitz him and confuse him. Finally, the Falcons just haven’t won in Philadelphia during the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era. The Falcons had lost 4 straight in Philly going into this game, including twice in the playoffs.

I think the fact that I didn’t think the Falcons had any shot to win this game was the main reason that I felt better about this loss than any of their other losses this year. To be honest, I was impressed that they were competitive and kept it close. Considering that they got hardly any of the breaks in this game, I thought they did fine. The Falcons were 9.5 point underdogs in this game; there’s no point at which you would expect this team to win at Philly, so you can live with a loss like this. Realistically, even when it became apparent that the Falcons were capable of being around .500 this year or maybe even contending for a playoff spot, you still chalked this game up as a loss.

1st Quarter Comments: I thought the Falcons did a great job hanging in there in the first period and not falling behind. They played the Eagles to a scoreless tie in the 1st quarter, and this was actually the only quarter in which the Falcons weren’t outscored. The defense was impressive early and I thought the Falcons did a good job playing the field position game. The biggest negative was that they could not get the run game going. It was basically just like the games at Tampa and Carolina, with the opposing defense gearing up towards stopping the run, and the Falcons not being able to establish the consistent ground game they’d had in their wins.

2nd Quarter Comments: Once again, I thought the Falcons did a good job of hanging around during the first half of the 2nd quarter, and for a moment there I even started to think that maybe they were going to outdo all reasonable expectations again and win the game. Curtis Lofton’s sack and forced fumble of McNabb was huge. The Falcons did a good job of capitalizing on the turnover, with Ryan taking a risk on 3rd and 10 from the ATL 45, firing a bullet between defenders to Roddy White. The Ryan-White connection sparkled again, as White ran through the vaunted Eagles secondary and took it to the house for a 55 yard TD to put the Birds up 7-0 with 9 minutes to play in the half. That’s when I started thinking that maybe winning this game wasn’t beyond what the Falcons were capable of doing. When the defense forced the Eagles to punt on their next possession I was right on the verge of believing the Falcons were going to have as much success in this game as they did against the Packers and Bears. But the game turned on Philly’s 54 yard punt that was downed at the 2. The Falcons had to go with some conservative run calls on first and second down and the Eagles knew it was coming and the Falcons only got 5 total yards on those 2 plays. Then on 3rd and 5 from the 7, Ryan threw incomplete and the Falcons had to punt out of their own end zone. Michael Koenen did an excellent job of getting the ball out and not allowing a return, punting the ball 53 yards and out of bounds at the Eagles’ 40. However, as good as Koenen’s punt was, the Eagles still had their best starting field position of the game. Up until this point, the Eagles had had 5 possessions and gained a total of 89 yards. Their starting field position on their 5 previous possessions had been at their 15, their 32, their 16, their 19, and their 24. Now they were starting at their 40 and all of the sudden they went 60 yards in 9 plays for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 2:25 left in the half.

The Falcons moved to midfield on their next possession and they tried to get into position for a field goal try but ended up having to punt. Over the course of this season I have come to realize that Mike Smith is not going to coach scared or try to hide his young quarterback or be satisfied with just being competitive. But there have been a few occasions where I would have preferred that he be a bit more cautious with consideration of the score and the time of the game. After the 2-minute warning, a 10 yard completion to Michael Jenkins gave the Falcons a 1st down at their 47 with 1:34 to play. Up to this point, the Falcons had had relatively little success offensively outside of the one big pass play to White. The Falcons might have been able to move the ball to the 35 and try a long field goal but it wasn’t all that likely. I’d rather have them run the ball a couple of times, hope to gain some good yards, but at the least you take time off the clock or force Philly to use their timeouts. Then you can still throw on 3rd down if it’s 3rd and long and if you get a first down you’d still have all your timeouts. It’s not like you need all that much time to get into field goal range. But the Falcons decided to throw the ball 3 straight times and they ended up facing a 4th and 3 from the Philly 46. They punted and the Eagles took over at their own 12 with 45 seconds left. Now, there’s no excuse for allowing a team to move out of that position and score right before the half, but if you make them use their timeouts to stop the clock rather than stopping the clock yourself with incompletions, it makes it much harder for them to do anything. This isn’t necessarily so in college football where the clock stops after every first down, but in pro football timeouts make more a of a difference in a two minute or one minute offense. If the Eagles only had 1 timeout, they wouldn’t be able to run the ball on first down like they did. Westbrook went up the middle for 20 yards to the 32 and they called a timeout. Then they threw to Westbrook for a gain of 9 and took another timeout. An illegal hands to the face penalty gave the Eagles a 1st down at the ATL 49 with 20 seconds left. They threw to Kevin Curtis for 11 yards and used their last timeout. Then McNabb was able to complete a 20 yard pass to Desean Jackson and he got out of bounds at the 18. That gave David Akers a relatively easy, 36 yard field goal, and he hit it to give the Eagles a 10-7 lead going into halftime. You can’t allow a team to move the ball like that against you late in the half, especially if it’s a good team, on the road, and you pretty much need to play your best game to be able to win.

3rd Quarter Comments: The Falcons were torched on Philly’s first drive of the 2nd half, as they went 69 yards in 8 plays for a TD to make the score 17-7. On the drive they converted a 3rd and 10 and a 1st and 20. Considering this start, I thought the Falcons again did a good job of hanging around in the 3rd quarter. They had great coverage on a punt later in the 3rd, brining Jackson down at the Philly 2 yard line. They got the ball back at their 43, and finally Turner broke off a good run, going for 22 yards. Then they got a gift pass interference call that moved the ball from the Philly 29 to the 4. Then a defensive holding penalty gave them a 1st and goal at the 2. Turner carried for a 1 yard gain on 1st down. But then on 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line, the Falcons ran a fade to the right to Roddy White and Ryan badly under threw it and Lito Sheppard intercepted in the end zone. Now, this was the one point in the game where I was pretty upset, because regardless of whether you’re expected to win or not, it’s annoying when you have a chance to get back into the game and you throw that chance away for absolutely no reason. If you have the ball at the 1 on 2nd down, you take your big running back and run him up the gut. If he gets stopped at the half yard line, you run a quarterback sneak. A fade from the 1 is something you might consider if there’s 7 seconds left and you don’t have any timeouts, or maybe if Darnell Walker is matched up in single coverage against Randy Moss. Otherwise, you don’t need to risk either wasting a down, or in the worst case, turning the ball over when you should have had a cinch touchdown. When you have a 2nd and goal at the 1, you must score a TD, and the Falcons didn’t even get a field goal out of it.

It looked like the Eagles were going to put the game away following the pick in the end zone, as Philly marched to the Falcons’ 35. But then the defense held and actually pushed the Eagles out of field goal range and forced a punt to keep the team in the game.

4th Quarter Comments: I thought the Falcons played very well in the 4th quarter, as they stayed in the game and gave themselves a chance to win. Unfortunately, that chance was taken away from them by the officials, but that doesn’t take away from what the team did. The Falcons had to punt back to Philly and they took over from their 45 and again it looked like they would put the game away. On 3rd and 9 from the Atlanta 34 yard line, McNabb threw deep down the middle of the field to LJ Smith who was basically running a fly route down the center of the field. The ball bounced off of Keith Brooking’s back incomplete and Lawyer Milloy leveled Smith, knocking him out. It was a clean hit, not dirty, and not late. But it was a wicked hit and the officials reacted to the violence of it and ruled that it was “unnecessary roughness.” Instead of having a 4th and 9 at the 34, the Eagles now had a 1st down at the 19. Milloy did not lead with his helmet and if McNabb hadn’t under thrown the ball so badly Smith would have been bringing the ball in just as Milloy got to him. It was a bullshit call, plain and simple. Again it looked like the Eagles would now put the game away, but the Falcons defense came up with a tremendous stand. The Eagles had a 1st and goal at the 9 and Westbrook to a pass 7 yards before the Falcons stopped him at the 2. On 2nd down from the 2, the Eagles gave it to Westbrook on a handoff and the Falcons stopped him for no gain but they were flagged for offsides and the Eagles got a 2nd down at the 1. On 2nd down from the 1, McNabb gave the ball to Westbrook on a shovel pass and the Falcons stopped him for no gain. On 3rd and goal from the 1, McNabb tried to take into the end zone himself up the gut but the Falcons stopped him shy of the goal line. I thought for sure that Reid would call for his team to go for it on 4th and goal from the 1. It was already a 2 score game, and a field goal would only mean that the Falcons needed 2 touchdowns instead of a touchdown and a field goal. But if the Eagles were able to score a TD the game would be 100% over, as it would be a 3 score game. But Reid called for a FG and Akers hit the chip shot and the Falcons were still alive, down 20-7 with 7:57 left.

Going back to the penalty, it turned out that the Eagles kicked a field goal, which is probably what they would have done on 4th and 9 from the 34. Akers can hit from 51 for sure but it’s possibly that he could have missed. But the main reason it still mattered was that the Eagles were able to take 4 more minutes off the clock. Anyway, at the time I wasn’t freaking out because I didn’t think the Falcons had any hope of winning the game. It felt similar to the Tampa Bay game when the Falcons were within striking distance almost throughout but you never thought they would win. However, at this point the Falcons put together an excellent drive, going 82 yards on 14 plays for a TD to make things interesting. They converted a 3rd and 15 form their own 13; a 3rd and 4 from the Philly 40 yard line; a 4th and 5 from the 15; and they scored on a great play on 2nd and goal from the 8, with Ryan buying time and then finding White in the back of the end zone for the score. The score was now 20-14 with still 3:55 left on the clock.

Again, I did not think the Falcons were going to win the game but they continued to pleasantly surprise, as the defense forced a 3 and out. They stopped Westbrook for a 1 yard gain on 2nd and 2, and then stopped him for no gain on 3rd and 1. They forced the punt and should have gotten the ball back at around the 40 yard line with 2:22 left on the clock, trailing by just 6 points. I didn’t think they’d be able to go down and score but they would at least have a chance to pull out a miracle like they had done against Chicago.

But of course they would not get that chance. Adam Jennings was unsure whether to try and field the punt with a fair catch, try and return it, or just get away from it, but he ended up holding up at the last second and letting it bounce in front of him at the 40. He never touched the ball and the ball didn’t bounce as if it had touched him and really it wasn’t that close to him. But for some reason, the officials ruled that it was a muffed punt and that it was Philly’s ball at the 37. Coach Smith wanted to challenge but he had no more timeouts and thus could not. The game was not under 2 minutes left so there could be no challenge made by the official in the booth. Essentially, there was clear, indisputable, conclusive video evidence that Jennings had not touched the ball but that evidence was useless because it could not be brought forth. I guess I had never really seen a situation like this before, presumably because normally when there’s more than 2 minutes left in a game a team would have a timeout. I’ve always thought that the NFL’s version of instant replay was tolerable at best but this made me realize how much better the college version is. You can complain all you want about officials stopping play unnecessarily or taking a couple minutes too long when looking at a seemingly clear cut case. But the fact is that there would never be a situation in college football where there was evidence that a call was missed but it couldn’t be used to correct the mistake. It’s pretty amazing that such a circumstance can occur in the NFL, which is almost universally considered to be the best run sports league in the world.

I have to tell you that I did not go ape shit when this thing happened and it’s hard for me to understand why right now. I just did not think the Falcons were going to score a TD. I don’t know why, I just didn’t think it was going to happen, so while I was obviously upset and angry, it didn’t send me into hysterics because I never thought we were going to win. However, I could not believe how little attention the incident got. It was barley even acknowledged by the sports media. I mean, I understand completely why more attention is paid to teams in Chicago, LA, New York, etc. But I have to say that there are probably 20 teams in the NFL that if this had happened to them it would have been a big deal, talked about on ESPN for days, and referred to throughout the rest of the season. And the fact that the NFL didn’t really come out and say anything about the incident bothered me as well. They’ve reacted strongly to a number of mistakes by officials this year but this one got no reaction. And I will tell you this: that rule about not being able to challenge without a timeout and no challenge from the booth until under 2 minutes is going to bite somebody in the ass at some point. In a big, important game, with everyone watching, there’s going to be a horrific call, on a fumble or a catch or a knee down or something and everyone in the world will see the replay and see that the call is wrong and no one will be able to do anything about it.

Having said all that about the officials blowing the call, I have to say that it would never have been an issue if Jennings hadn’t acted like he had never returned a punt before in his life. That’s not a kick that you get away from; you either fair catch it or you return it. I have to say that I’m glad Jennings is no longer with the team. He was a one-trick pony who wasn’t even good at the trick he was asked to perform. He was a poor possession return man and he didn’t gain enough yardage on returns to make up for his lack of judgment and tendency to muff and fumble. One last thing on this subject: I don’t know which generic, meathead, ex-lineman it was who was the color analyst on the broadcast of this game, but his comments about Mike Smith learning from this experience and realizing that it’s a good idea to hold on to a timeout in case of a situation where you want to challenge, were some of the dumbest I have ever heard expressed by a paid, supposedly professional commentator. If you honestly think that a coach should let 40 seconds run off the clock instead of calling a timeout just in case an official makes a bad call with over 2 minutes remaining on the clock, than you deserve to be thrown out of a window.

Once the officials ruled that it was the Eagles ball at the ATL 37 the game was finally over. The Falcons stopped Westbrook for a 2 yard loss on 1st down but then on the first play after the two minute warning, Westbrook went 37 yards for a TD. This was actually the best thing that could happen for the Falcons at that point, because while they had almost no chance of winning anymore, the only chance they had was to give up the TD, score quickly, recover an onsides kick, and score again. If the Eagles wanted to they could have just run the clock down to a few seconds. The game ended when it was ruled that the punt had been muffed.

Numbers: The Falcons were outgained by 97 yards in this game, 432-335; they had 5 fewer first downs than the Eagles (19-24); and they lost the turnover battle 3-1. The Falcons rushed for just 77 yards and an average of 3.2 yards a carry, while giving up 192 yards on the ground and allowing the Eagles to rush for an average of 6.0 yards a carry. The Falcons did a decent job on 3rd down conversions, converting 6 of 16 while forcing the Eagles to go just 3 for 12 on 3rd down conversions. Matt Ryan had a solid day other than the pick in the end zone. Ryan completed 23 of 44 passes for 277 yards, firing 2 TD and 2 INT. Michael Turner was never much of a factor, gaining just 58 yards on 17 carries, an average of 3.4 yards a carry, and scoring no TD’s. Roddy White had a great game, grabbing 8 balls for 113 yards and 2 TD. Brian Westbrook terrorized the Falcons, rushing 22 times for 167 yards and 2 TD and also catching 6 passes for 42 yards. The Falcons defense came up with some big stops at times but they also allowed 10 plays of 20 yards or more.

Final Comment: While it always sucks to lose, this was a game the Falcons couldn’t feel that bad about losing. It sucks that they were robbed of the chance to pull out a win in the end but the fact that they were able to get in position to have a chance for the win on the road against Philly was impressive.

Week 9: @ Oakland, win, 24-0.

General Comments: I was a little worried about this game going in because it was the first time where everyone was expecting the Falcons to win. It was the first time that it was going to be really disappointing and discouraging if they didn’t win. Sure, we can look back now and see that home games against Detroit and KC were games that the Falcons would be expected to win now, but in week 1 and week 3 we didn’t know what we do now about the Falcons, the Lions, and the Chiefs. By week 9, we knew that the Falcons were a capable team, and we knew that the Raiders were a dysfunctional wreck. So to lose to the Raiders would have sucked. However, I was a bit concerned about the fact that the Falcons would being going out to the other coast and playing in the Black Hole. The Falcons were only favored by 3 points. And the Raiders have occasionally given teams trouble on random occasions, like in week 7 when they beat the Jets in overtime. I was just hoping that the Falcons didn’t do things to hurt themselves because I felt confident that if they didn’t make mistakes they would beat the Raiders because they were obviously a much better team.

I have to say that in all my years of being a Falcons fan I’m pretty certain this was the easiest win I can ever remember. When it was over, I realized that a lot of teams could have beaten the Raiders on that day, but I was proud of the team for taking care of business.

1st Quarter Comments: Obviously things could not have started much better than they did in this game, as the Falcons took the opening kickoff and went on a 10 play, 88 yard drive for a TD to go up 7-0. The entire game went well for the Falcs but one of the high points of the season occurred early in this one, when Matty Ryan threw a perfect pass to Michael Jenkins down the right sideline to burn MeAngelo Hall for a 37 yard touchdown pass to put Atlanta ahead 7-0. I don’t know if the Falcons made any extra effort to victimize MeAngelo early, but on behalf of all real Falcons fans, I want to send out a heartfelt thank you to Jenks and Matty. Seeing Hall’s reaction to that early dusting--walking back and forth on the sideline, smiling awkwardly, and complaining about something to an official--made my month. How ridiculous is it that Hall was reportedly jawing with Falcons players in the tunnel as the teams went in for halftime. The guy must be completely oblivious of the fact that he is one of the great clowns in sports today. The guy’s an absolute joke. The defense forced a 3 and out on Oakland’s first possession and the Falcons got the ball back at the 30. On their second possession, the Falcons went 70 yards in 7 plays for a TD, with Jerrious Norwood going around left end on 3rd and 3 and taking it into the end zone from 12 yards out to put the Falcons up 14-0. Not a bad start. The defense then stopped the Raiders for a 3 and out again and the Falcons got the ball back at their 12. I was glad to see the Falcons go for it on 4th and 1 from the Oakland 46 late in the 1st. Turner got the first down and then some, going off left tackle for 8 yards. This opening quarter had to be one of the best in Falcons history.

2nd Quarter Comments: What can you say? Obviously things continued to go well for the Falcons in the 2nd. In the 2nd quarter the Falcons finished off a 13 play, 88 yard drive for a TD, with Ryan throwing a strike to Jenkins in the left corner of the end zone on 3rd and 11 for a 27 yard TD to put Atlanta up 21-0. The defense stopped Oakland for a 3 and out yet again on Oakland’s 3rd possession, with big John Abraham sacking JaMarcus Russell on 3rd down for an 8 yard loss. The Falcons got the ball back at their 28 and moved right back into Oakland territory. This time the drive stalled at the 31 but Jason Elam drilled a 48 yard field goal to put the Falcons up 24-0 with 6 and a half minutes to play in the half. Big John Abraham got his second sack on Oakland’s 4th possession as Atlanta’s defense again forced a 3 and out. The Falcons drove back inside the Oakland 20 but something finally went wrong, as Ryan was sacked and fumbled on 3rd and 8 from the Oakland 19 and the Raiders recovered to keep the Falcons from adding to their lead. There were just 16 seconds left in the half but the Raiders tried to do something and Abraham sacked Russell for a 3rd time to finish off a historically dominant first half by the Falcons.

3rd Quarter Comments: While the offense’s best work came on the first 4 drives of the game, I thought the Falcons defense had as great a game as any in team history. They held the Raiders to a 3 and out on the opening possession of the 2nd half, the 5th straight time the Falcons defense had forced a 3 and out. On the 2nd Raider possession of the 3rd, Justin Fargas ran for a gain of 13 on 2nd and 4 from the 25, taking the ball to the 38. Finally, at the 9 minute mark of the 3rd quarter, the Raiders had achieved a first down. But 3 plays later, the Falcons got to Russell again and jarred the ball loose and Jonathan Babineaux recovered at the 33. I was annoyed that the Falcons could not gain a yard on 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 from the 9 but at the same time there was no reason to think that scoring points would be any better than giving Oakland the ball inside their own 10. The Falcons stopped Oakland for a 3 and out yet again and got the ball right back.

4th Quarter Comments: If you wanted to be critical, you could find things to complain about in this game because the Falcons never added to their lead and the offense didn’t execute at times. It didn’t matter in this game but you still don’t like to see those things. First there was Ryan getting sacked and fumbling late in the first half. Then they couldn’t gain a yard on 3rd or 4th down inside the 10 in the 3rd quarter. And then on the first play of the 4th quarter, Ryan dropped back to throw on 3rd and 7 from the Oakland 24, and he took a sack for a loss of 9. That left a 51 yard field goal try for Elam and he missed wide right. The Raiders got their 2nd first down on their next drive and they moved into Atlanta territory for the first time in the game, but the Falcons stopped them on 4th down at the 42. This time the Falcons went 3 and out and then Michael Koenen’s punt was blocked and the Raiders took over at the Atlanta 46. The Raiders got their 3rd first down of the game and the shutout now looked to be in jeopardy, as Oakland had 2nd and 5 at the 10, but Eric Coleman intercepted a pass from Russell in the end zone to keep Oakland off the board. The Falcons drove from their own 20 to the Oakland 24 to run the final 7 minutes and 27 seconds off the clock and complete what was surely one of the most dominant performances in Atlanta Falcons history.

Numbers: There were some truly stunning statistics to come out of this game. The Falcons amassed 453 yards of offense while holding the Raiders to just 77 yards of total offense, outgaining them by 376 yards. The 77 yards gained by the Raiders was the lowest total for a team since December of 2004. The Falcons had a mind boggling 30 to 3 edge in first downs. Atlanta held Oakland to 1 for 9 on 3rd down conversions and 0 for 1 on 4th down. The Falcons went 9 for 17 on 3rd down conversions and 1 for 2 on 4th down. The Falcons passed for 201 yards while holding the Raiders to just 10 yards passing for a 191 yard edge in the air. The Falcons rushed for 252 yards while holding the Raiders to just 67 yards rushing for a 185 yard edge on the ground. The Falcons turned it over once while turning Oakland over twice. The Falcons controlled the ball for 45:15, holding a 30:30 edge in time of possession, the largest time of possession for a team in a regulation game since September of 1999. In the first half, the Falcons gained 309 yards of offense while holding the Raiders to minus 2 yards of offense, a 311 yard edge. It was the first time a team had been held to negative yards in the first half since 1992. The Falcons had a ridiculous 20-0 edge in first downs in the first half. For the Falcons, it was their first shutout since 2002, and the 77 yards of offense allowed was a franchise record. Matt Ryan was almost perfect, completing 17 of 22 passes for 220 yard, 2 TD, and no interceptions. Michael Turner carried the ball 30 times for 139 yards, averaging 4.6 a carry. Jerious Norwood ran 14 times for 63 yards and a TD, averaging 4.5 a carry, and he caught 2 passes for 20 yards. Folks, Jason Snelling rushed 8 times for 47 yards and caught a pass for 12 yards. Michael Jenkins made only 2 catches but they both went for touchdowns, totaling 64 yards. JaMarcus Russell ran twice for 46 yards, but other than that he was horrendous, completing just 6 of 19 passes for 31 yards, no TD, and a pick, and he lost a fumble and took 4 sacks.

Final Comment: You can talk all you want about how awful the Raiders were but the Falcons still had to go out there and take care of business. I know one thing, I’m so glad that we’re no longer a troubled franchise like Oakland, we’re becoming a franchise that feasts on such teams. And you gotta beat the bad teams if you wanna be good.

Week 10: vs. New Orleans, win, 34-20.

General Comments: The Falcons made another big statement with this win. The Falcons were favored by a point in this one but I was pretty concerned about the matchup. I thought Drew Brees would probably have a lot of success throwing the ball against Atlanta’s defense. The Saints had won all 4 games in this series since Brees came to New Orleans. I was worried about our secondary. And New Orleans had gotten a little healthier than they had been earlier in the year and they were coming off of a bye.

But man, the Falcons looked more prepared for this game than New Orleans and they sure played better than the Saints. Not only did the Falcons win, they won big. The defense gave up a lot of yards, particularly through the air, but in reality the Atlanta defense played a brilliant game. Brees had numbers but if you watched this game you knew that he did not have a good time playing against the Falcons defense. The defense harassed Brees, forced him into mistakes, and had the New Orleans offense confused, frustrated, and fighting amongst themselves. The Atlanta offense executed beautifully all day long, maintaining balance and avoiding mistakes. It was obvious that the Falcons now believed in themselves to the point where they weren’t surprised that they controlled the game throughout. The team believed it was a serious contender, and it was becoming harder and harder not to think of them in that way, even for those of us trying their best not to get their expectations up to high.

1st Quarter Comments: This one started off as well as you could have hoped. It was obvious that Brees and the Saints thought they were going to be able to attack the Falcons with the pass, as Brees dropped back on the first play of the game and carelessly threw deep downfield. But Eric Coleman played it beautifully and intercepted the pass moving to his right at the ATL 35. Coleman returned the ball back across midfield down the right side and took it 32 yards to the 33. I liked that the Falcons tried to establish the run immediately, giving the ball to Michael Turner on the first two plays of Atlanta’s first possession. Unfortunately, Turner lost 2 yards and then was stopped after a gain of 4 on 2nd down. But it was even worse than 3rd and 8, as Harvey Dahl was called for a chop block. Those penalties are always drive killers and it backed the Falcons up all the way to the 46 where it would be 2nd and 23. Ryan threw for a short gain and then threw incomplete to bring up 4th and 18 from the 41. They couldn’t kick a field goal from that far out but it was also too long to try and go for the first down. Obviously this was disappointing to waste that interception and good field position. However Michael Koenen did his best to try and keep it from being a total waste, getting off a punt that was downed at the 10. Then the defense came up big again, forcing a 3 and out. The Saints tried to go deep again on 2nd down but Dominique Foxworth had good coverage, and then on 3rd and 4, the Falcons stopped Deuce McAllister a yard shy of the first down marker to bring up 4th and 1 at the New Orleans 19. Harry Douglas then got off a nice punt return of 25 yards and the Falcons were right back in business with a first down at midfield.

This time they didn’t waste the good field position, as Ryan got it going, and the Falcons went 50 yards on 5 plays for the first score of the game, with Matty hitting Roddy White for 16 yards over the middle for the TD. Ryan was 3 for 3 for 43 yards on the drive and Atlanta led 7-0 early. You knew the defense wouldn’t be able to hold Brees down forever, and on the Saints next possession they began to move the ball, converting a couple 3rd downs and getting a first down at the Falcons’ 11. But the defense stiffened and forced New Orleans to settle for a chip shot field goal to make it 7-3. That was a victory for Atlanta considering that New Orleans had driven from the 23. There was one more key play at the very end of the 1st quarter. On 3rd and 5 from the 25, Ryan got the ball to Jerrious Norwood but he was brought down a yard shy of the first to bring up 4th down. But the Saints were called for an offsides penalty to give the Falcons a first down.

2nd Quarter Comments: Ryan threw to White for 15 yards and a first down at midfield on 3rd and 5 early in the 2nd. A few plays later Ryan threw a nice ball deep down the left side for Michael Jenkins and he made the catch for a gain of 32 before going out at the 2. Turner banged over the left side and into the end zone on the next play to make it 14-3. On the ensuing Saints drive, the Falcon defense again bowed up to hold for a field goal try after the Saints moved the ball right down the field easily on just a few plays. The Saints got the ball on an end around to Devery Henderson and he went for 30 yards on the first play of the drive. A few plays later the Saints has a 2nd and 2 at the 20, but Grady Jackson stuffed Pierre Thomas for no gain, and then on 3rd and 2, big John Abraham came up with a huge sack for a loss of 6 to bring up 4th down. The Saints again had to settle for a field goal to cut the score to 14-6.

Matt Ryan had gone 7 for 8 for 106 yards passing on the Falcons’ first 3 possessions, and when the Saints had to try and adjust to protect against the pass, the Falcons all of the sudden started being able to move the ball on the ground on their 4th possession. On 3rd and 1 from the 50, the Falcons gave the ball to Turner off left end and he burst through the line and went for 20 yards and a first down at the 30. Norwood took a short pass and skirted for 21 yards and a 1st and goal at the 8, but Ryan threw incomplete on 3rd down from the 4, and this time Elam had to come on and kick a short field goal to make it 17-6 with just over 3 minutes to play in the half.

The Falcons’ ability to hold the Saints to nothing on their final drive of the half was one of the keys to the game. The Saints had gotten 19 yards on the first play of the drive and then converted a 3rd and 4 with a 10 yard pass for a 1st down at the Atlanta 45 as the two minute warning hit. A holding penalty negated an 18 yard gain and made it 1st and 20 from the New Orleans 45, but the Saints picked up the first down on the next two plays. The Saints had a 3rd and 4 at the 28 with still over a minute to play but Chauncey Davis got a hand on Brees’ pass to bring up 4th down. New Orleans decided to go for it rather than try a 45 yard field goal. Brees dropped back and threw for Lance Moore but Chris Houston broke it up to stop the drive with the Saints getting nothing. Instead of the Saints perhaps getting within a field goal or at least getting within a score, the Falcons were able to go to halftime with a two score lead.

3rd Quarter Comments: Strangely, the 2nd half began exactly as the first half had started, with a great play and great field position being wasted. Norwood returned the kickoff 55 yards to the NO 44, but the Falcons got just 2 yards on a pass and a run and then Ryan threw incomplete on 3rd and 8 and they had to punt. Again, Koenen did a good job of making sure it wasn’t a total waste, getting off a punt that was downed at the 9. The Saints moved 25 yards in 3 plays for a 2nd and 1 at the 34, but then the Falcons drove Thomas for a 3 yard loss, and on 3rd and 4 Brees went deep again and again he couldn’t connect. The Falcons got it right back and this time they were able to move it, mixing runs by Turner and Norwood with the occasional short pass. The drive stalled at the 9, but a 27 yard field goal by Elam gave the Falcons a 2 TD lead with just 2:06 to play in the 3rd. If there was an offense you had to be worried about scoring quickly it was New Orleans’ but the Falcon defense came up with a big 3 and out on the Saints’ next possession. Brees missed on 3 straight passes and he blew up on Jeremy Shockey on the sideline after Shockey couldn’t come up with a catch on 3rd down. The Falcons got the ball back at their 20. On the final play of the quarter, Ryan threw to White for an 11 yard gain on 3rd and 10 to convert for a crucial first down.

4th Quarter Comments: On the first play of the 4th quarter the Falcons broke the game wide open. Ryan got the ball to Norwood on a short pass to the right and Norwood blew by a linebacker and then blew by the rest of the Saints as he took it up the sideline, 67 yards for a TD, high stepping for the last 30 yards to put the Falcons up by 21. On the ensuing Saints drive, New Orleans lined up to go for it on 4th and 1 from their own 29. Thomas rushed up the middle for 3 yards to get the first down and keep New Orleans alive. The Saints were throwing on pretty much every down now, and the Falcons were just concentrating on not giving up the big play and making New Orleans at least use clock while moving down the field. They converted on a 3rd and 10 from their own 32 and then moved down inside the Atlanta 20. On 3rd and 9 from the 15, the Saints set up a screen for Deuce McAllister and he was able to take it all the way up the right side for a TD to cut it two a two TD deficit again with 10 minutes to play. The Saints tried an onsides kick but they committed a penalty and then kicked the ball out of bounds and the Falcons ended up getting the ball at the 50. I liked the strategy of giving the ball to Turner on the first two downs, but with the Saints expecting the run, they forced a 3rd and 3. Ryan threw incomplete to bring up 4th down and the Falcons had to give the ball back after taking only about a minute and a half off the clock. Koenen got another one downed at the 10, and the Saints took over again down 14 with 8:10 to go. The Saints converted on a 3rd and 3 from the 17. They were moving the ball but the Falcons made them do it in small enough chunks to force them to run clock. With under 6 minutes to go, the Saints had a 4th and 5 from their 47 and Brees hit David Patten for a 19 yard gain and a first down at the 34. Brees threw a pass for 23 yards and a first down at the 11 on the next play. Then on 2nd and 10, the Saints got called for a huge offensive pass interference penalty, moving the ball back to the 21 for a 2nd and 20. On the next play, Brees dropped back, fired over the middle into the end zone for Lance Moore but Chris Houston made a sweet play, intercepting and then taking a knee and doing the Deion touchdown dance.

With just 4:21 on the clock the Falcons took over at their 20, still leading by 14. Turner ran for 9 on first down and then drove for a yard on 2nd down to get a big first down, forcing the Saints to use their 2nd timeout. Turner ran for 3 on the next play and the Saints used their last timeout. After running for a 1 yard loss on 2nd down, the Falcons for some reason decided to try and throw the ball on 3rd and 8 from the 32. This wasn’t my favorite decision of all-time, as Matty snapped the ball with 2:36 to go and threw incomplete to stop the clock with 2:32 left, bringing up a punting situation. If they had just run it the clock would have gone all the way down to the 2 minute warning. Anyway, Koenen did a good job getting some hang time to not allow any return and the Saints took over at their 24 with 2:23 left in the game. They got a first down at the 34, and then after the two-minute warning, Brees found Marcus Colston deep down the left side line and he went out of bounds at the 18 after a gain of 48. Brees threw for 10 more yards and a 1st and goal at the 8 with 1:30 still on the clock. It was looking more and more like the Falcons were going to have to recover another onsides kick in order to close this one out. But on the next play, Stephen Nicholas hit Brees from behind just as he was releasing a pass towards the left corner of the end zone. He got nothing on the throw and Chevis Jackson anticipated and red it like a book and picked it off in stride at the 5 and there was nobody with a shot at him. Jackson sprinted to midfield, dropped down a gear to a light trot, and then high stepped in from the 40, the third Deion tribute of the quarter. Jackson’s 95 yard INT return for a TD made it 34-13 with 1:17 on the clock. Now it was over for sure. Annoyingly, the Saints kept throwing the ball and on the final play of the game, Brees threw the ball up for grabs in the right side of the end zone and Lance Moore came down with it for a meaningless 32 yard touchdown. They even kicked the extra point with 0:00 showing on the clock. That made it 34-20, making the final score look a lot better than it should have. But what a win.

Numbers: A lot of the stats from this game were hollow. The Saints gained 521 yards of total offense, outgaining the Falcons by 160 yards. They had 25 first downs, 7 more than the Falcons, and went 7 for 15 on 3rd down conversions and 2 for 3 on 4th down. The Saints gained 416 yards in the air, 168 more than the Falcons. Atlanta gained 361 yards of offense, throwing for 248, and running for 113 yards, outrushing the Saints by 8 yards. The Falcons gained 18 first downs and went 5 for 11 on 3rd downs. The Falcons turned the Saints over 3 times while never committing a turnover themselves. Matty Ryan had a near perfect day, completing 16 of 23 passes for 248 yards, 2 TD, and no INT. Turner ran for 96 yards and a TD on 27 carries, averaging 3.6 yards a rush. Norwood ran 6 times for 17 yards and caught 2 passes for 88 yards and a TD. Michael Jenkins caught 6 passes for 72 yards. Roddy White grabbed 5 balls for 68 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons had great special teams play in this game. Norwood had a 55 yard kickoff return, Harry Douglas had a 25 yard punt return, Jason Elam went 2 for 2 on field goal tries, and Koenen pinned 3 punts inside the 10. Brees threw the ball 58 times, completing 31 passes for 422 yards, 2 TD, and 3 INT. Marquis Colston caught 7 passes for 140 yards. But the heroes of the day were the Falcons’ defensive players who had allowed all those yards to the Saints. Falcon defensive players harassed Brees, knocked down passes, broke up passes in the secondary, sacked Brees once, picked off 3 of his passes, 1 in the end zone, the other at the ATL 5 and returned for a TD. The Saints had the ball in the red zone 5 times and the Atlanta defense allowed just 1 TD and 2 FG. Another time the Saints had the ball inside the 30 and the Falcons stopped them on downs.

Final Comments: This was a fun win. It was another impressive performance by this Falcons team. Once again they surprised me by beating another solid team and doing it handedly. This game was a symbol of how much things had changed. Remember that this game was the low point of the 2006 season. Two years ago, the Falcons got embarrassed by the Saints at home, in a game that ended with Michael Vick flicking off the home town fans with both hands as he walked off the field. That’s when I said fuck that mother fucker. That was the day that my dad and I decided not to renew our season tickets that we had had since the second to last year in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It wasn’t just that the team was under achieving again and embarrassing us with their play against our biggest rivals. It was that the players didn’t care and didn’t appreciate the fans. It was that I didn’t like the guys who were occupying the uniforms representing my team. I know the things that happened over the next year we’re humiliating and tough to go through, but now that we’ve come out of it and come to this point, I’m so glad it all happened. But remember that last year things perhaps reached their lowest point during this game. The Falcons got embarrassed again by the Saints at home, this time on Monday Night Football, with MeAngelo and the other clowns showing their support for Vick with signs and shirts. This team had always been a loser, but now they were just a disgrace to the whole city and state. Remember that it was after that game that Bobby Petrino quit. Those were awful times but man things were different when the Saints came to town this year weren’t they! They made us proud and the old grey dome was a happy place to be that day. It was amazing how different things were, how long ago and far away those other days seemed. It was almost like the Nothing never was.

Week 11: vs. Denver, loss, 20-24.

General Comments: Well thankfully we don’t have to worry about the Falcons disappointing us off the field. But you knew eventually we were going to lose a game we were “supposed” to win. I could feel it coming during the week. It had gotten to the point where people had accepted that the Falcons were a solid team, and they were 6.5 point favorites over the Broncos. Nobody was giving Denver a chance. They were too beat up; they had no running backs left; couldn’t stop the run. I knew all those things were true and I was telling myself those things during the days leading up to the game to make myself stop worrying. But I still knew that those things don’t always end up mattering. And I had seen them come from behind and beat the Browns on the road on Thursday night in week 10. I knew that they still had Jay Cutler and a gang of dangerous receivers. All 3 of the Falcons’ losses this year had come in games they weren’t expected to win and they had been very understandable. But I was worried that a loss here might kill all the momentum and hurt the confidences of a team that had come to believe in itself.

As I had feared, that undermanned, underachieving Broncos team did come to play and the Falcons had their least impressive performance in a home game so far. It was the first home loss of the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era. It was also the first time this year that the Falcons lost a game they were supposed to win. You knew the Falcons shouldn’t have lost to Denver at home when they did and the Broncos’ 31-10 loss to the Raiders at home in week 12 made you feel even worse about it. If the Falcons keep playing well but end up staying home for the playoffs and winning one more game would have made the difference, this loss will be very regrettable. Then again, as it was pointed out to me a few days ago, we were due to lose a close game that we should have won at the end and it sort of evens things out after the 11-second miracle against Chicago.

And it’s not like the Falcons embarrassed themselves or played horribly. It’s just all about expectations. If the Falcons had opened the season with a 24-20 loss at home to the Broncos everyone would have said it was a pretty good effort by the team. Actually, it probably would have inspired hope for the season. But by the time that this game was played, the Falcons had driven up expectations with their own surprisingly good play, and the Broncos’ 3-0 start had been exposed as a fraud.

1st Quarter Comments: For the most part teams have taken the exact same approach defensively against the Falcons: stop the run and make Matt Ryan beat you. I understand why knowing that, the Falcons might think that they’d be better off starting the game throwing the ball. If the defense is gearing up for a run then the pass may catch them off guard. Also, if they are crowding and not respecting the pass and you run, the defense might keep you from gaining much and you’ll be in 3rd and long right off the bat, and that’s exactly what they want to do. Thus, we’ve seen the Falcons come out throwing early in the game a lot of the time. I admit that it has worked out fine a lot of the time. However, Denver was at the bottom of the League in terms of stopping the run, giving up over 145 yards a game on the ground (and those numbers included games in which San Diego and New Orleans rushed for 80 and 88 yards respectively, not because Denver was stopping the run well but because they couldn’t come close to stopping the pass). And if you are trying to establish yourself as a great power running team that will control the line and pound it out on the ground, and the other team comes out not respecting the pass and gearing for the run, then shouldn’t you come out and try and run it down their throats anyway? I don’t know; I just didn’t like it when the Falcons came out and threw on their first 3 plays. If Ryan had completed a pass for a first down I’m sure I would have felt differently. But he went for Roddy on short throws on the first two plays and Roddy couldn’t come up with either and that made it 3rd and long from the 20 right away. Matty got the ball to Michael Jenkins on 3rd down but it was only good for yards and we had to punt it away. Then Koenen only got off a punt of 34 yards and a 5 yard procedure penalty was added to give Denver the ball at their 45. I have to say that I had a bad feeling about things already.

Let me say at this time that as Denver’s offense came onto the field you were immediately reminded of why the Falcons were near touchdown favorites in this game. The Broncos started the game with rookie linebacker Spencer Larsen—a 6th round draft pick out of Arizona taken with the 183rd pick of the draft—lined up at fullback and rookie fullback Peyton Hillis—a 7th round draft pick out of Arkansas taken with the 227th pick of the draft—lined up at halfback. I would also add that one of the most significant things about all of this is that with Cutler, Larsen, and Hillis the Broncos had used a starting backfield that was all-Caucasian. Mentioning this may not be politically correct but for anyone willing to deal in reality, you realize how big of a deal this is. I’d be willing to bet that it hadn’t happened in the NFL in 20 years. Anyway, despite the unintimidating set of running backs, I knew the Falcons did not want to give Jay Cutler and his receivers this kind of field position. The Falcons got the Broncos in 3rd and 9 but I’d seen Cutler and his guys convert this sort of thing at will the previous week so I wasn’t surprised when Brandon Stokley took a pass of 12 yards for a first down at the Atlanta 42. A few plays later on 3rd and 6 from the 26, Stokley caught a pass for 10 yards and a first down at the 16. Then on 2nd and 1 from the 7, Hillis took the handoff and went up the middle to score easily and put Denver ahead 7-0.

This was worrisome, as one common theme of the Falcons 4-0 record at home this season was that they had gotten off to a quick start each game: against Detroit they outscored the Lions 21-0 in the 1st quarter; against KC they outscored the Chiefs 14-0 in the 1st quarter and eventually led 24-0; against the Bears they outscored Chicago 6-0 in the 1st quarter and eventually led 9-0; and against the Saints they got out to a 7-0 lead, led 7-3 after the 1st, led by 11 at halftime, and led 27-6 early in the 4th. The Falcons had scored first in every home game so far and this was the first TD they had allowed in the first quarter at home all year. They had only trailed at home for the 11 seconds between the time that the Bears kicked the extra point to go up by a point and Elam’s field goal went through the uprights with no time on the clock to win the game for the Falcons. Now they would have to come from behind early if they wanted to stay perfect at home. On the 2nd Atlanta possession they did try to establish the run but Turner gained only 3 yards on 2 carries to bring up 3rd and 7. Thankfully, Ryan found Finneran for 8 yards and a first down to save the Falcons from going 3 and out again. Ryan threw to White for 9 yards on 3rd and 6 for a first down inside Denver territory. The Falcons lost yards when a direct snap to Jason Snelling didn’t fool Denver’s defense and then on 3rd and 12 Ryan dropped a pass off to Norwood and he was tackled 4 yards shy of the first down at the 28. Jason Elam kicked a 46 yard field goal to get the Falcons on the board but they still trailed to the team Elam had spent his entire career with until this season.

On the ensuing Denver possession, the Falcons defense stuffed Tatum Bell for no gain on 3rd and 1 from the 28 to stop the Broncos for a 3 and out. The Falcons got the ball back and Ryan threw to White for a 35 yard gain up the left sideline to the Denver 36 on the final play of the quarter.

2nd Quarter Comments: Well, the first quarter hadn’t started well but the Falcons had the momentum at the start of the 2nd quarter. On 3rd and 9 from the 35, Ryan felt pressure, looked as if he might have to take off and then right as he got to the line of scrimmage he fired complete to Jenkins and he got to the 20 for a 15 yard gain and a first down. The Broncos challenged but the call was upheld. Right now Ryan was getting it done on 3rd and long but the Falcons were still having trouble getting anything on the ground. That was quite disconcerting, as it had been a key to the Falcons’ success most of the time this year, particularly at home. On 3rd and 7 from the 17, Ryan’s short pass for Norwood fell incomplete and the Falcons had to send the field goal unit out again. Elam kicked the 36 yarder good to make it a 1 point game.

The Falcons had moved the ball on their last two drives but they’d had to settle for field goals. That’s the sort of thing that happened early in the game against the Bears and for a moment it looked like it would come back to haunt the Falcons until the 11-second miracle occurred. You knew this time they might not be as lucky, and although the Falcons had stopped Denver for a 3 and out on their last possession, I had a feeling that the Falcons would need more than field goals. That feeling got stronger when Eddie Royal took the ensuing kickoff 58 yards all the way to the Atlanta 38. But on 3rd and 3 from the 31, Cutler’s pass for Brandon Marshall was knocked down to make it 4th down and 3. I was a little surprised that the Broncos didn’t try to go for it but they decided to send out Matt Prater for a 49 yard field goal try. He missed it just wide left. This was a huge stand by the defense to turn the Broncos away for no points to negate the long kickoff return.

The Falcons continued to try and get their rushing attack going and Turner gained 8 yards on the first play of the drive. But he was stopped after a gain of yard on 2nd down and then on 3rd and 1 he was stuffed for no gain to bring up a 4th and 1 from the Atlanta 48. I was hoping the Falcons would go for it and they lined up as if they were going to try for it. I don’t know if the Falcons were really going to go for it or if they were just going to try and draw the defense offsides, but Ryan did a great job with the hard count and he was indeed able to get the defense to jump, giving the Falcons a first down inside Denver territory. The Falcons found themselves facing 3rd and 9 again but Ryan moved to his right to escape pressure and threw on the run, lobbing a ball up to White who came back towards the ball and made the catch at the 32, avoided a tackle, and made a nice run all the way down to the 9 for a 37 yard gain. On the next play, Turner busted through the left side and trucked in to the end zone for a 9 yard TD run to put the Falcons ahead for the first time in the game.

Now I was starting to feel better about things. But Royal got another good return on the ensuing kickoff, taking the ball at the goal line and bringing it all the way out to the Denver 41. The Falcons could not keep giving up this kind of field position. However, on 3rd and 2 from the 49, the Broncos gave the ball to Royal on an end around to the left and Chauncey Davis snuffed it out and brought him down for a 2 yard loss to bring up 4th and 4. It was another excellent job by the defense to force a 3rd straight 3 and out and negate another great return. Again I thought the Broncos might go for it but they punted and the Falcons got it back at their 18. Now the Falcons started to gain a little bit on the ground. On 3rd and 1 from the 27, Norwood took a quick pitch around left end for 12 yards and a first down at the 39. On 3rd and 1 from the 48 right after the 2 minute warning, Ryan dropped back to throw, decided to run for it and picked up 9 yards and a first down in Denver territory at the 43. The Falcons got to the line with a minute and 20 or so and they had 2 timeouts in their pocket. Ryan threw for Justin Peele on first down but it was incomplete. He threw for Harry Douglas on 2nd down but it was incomplete. On 3rd and 10 Ryan dropped a short pass over the middle to Norwood but he couldn’t come up with it. Looking back, this was a key point in the game. It looked like the Falcons might be going in for another score right before the half. A TD would have been huge obviously but even a FG would have made it a 2 score game and would have made a very big difference. As it was, Koenen punted the ball down to the 15 and Denver took over with 55 seconds left. The Broncos thought they had a first down at the 25 with 30 seconds left but the officials reviewed the play and ruled that it was 3rd and 1. Once again the defense came up huge, as Jonathan Babineaux got to Cutler and brought him down for a sack and an 8 yard loss. The Falcons called a timeout with 15 seconds left in the half. Denver’s punter got the kick off but it wasn’t a spectacular punt and it looked like Harry Douglas would have a chance to return it but he called for a fair catch at the Atlanta 44. That was a little disappointing but then I thought it might be a blessing that Douglas didn’t return it because it left 9 seconds on the clock and the Falcons had a timeout in their pocket. Unfortunately, that timeout would remain in their pocket. For some reason Ryan took a knee and that was it for the half. I have no idea why the Falcons didn’t try to do anything. Someone might say “Well what could they really have done?” But the funny thing is, the Falcons knew exactly what they could do from this position. In the Chicago game, Douglas returned the Bears’ squib kick to the Atlanta 44—the exact yard line where the Falcons were now. In that game there had been just 6 seconds on the clock and the Falcons did not have a timeout but they had enough time to get to the Chicago 30 and then kick a 48 yard field goal. So it would be hard to make the case that the Falcons couldn’t do anything against Denver from the same place on the field with 3 more seconds and a timeout. The only thing you can imagine is that they thought the risk wasn’t worth the reward and I normal fall on that side of the fence when it comes to trying to score at the end of the half. But with 9 seconds left from the 44, there isn’t that much danger. There’s really only two things that can happen to hurt you. Ryan could get sacked and fumble and the Broncos could recover it and have time to try a long field goal. But with time for only one play, Ryan was going to be getting rid of the ball very quickly and the Broncos are going to be in a preventative defense so you feel good about your chances of providing Ryan decent protection. The other thing would be an interception for a touchdown. Now, a pick six to end the half would certainly suck, but it’s a risk you’ve got to take in my opinion. If you have a timeout the entire field is open to you and all you have to do is complete a pass of 21 yards in order to get to the 35 for a 52 yard field goal try. Elam’s leg isn’t what it used to be but he’s still capable of hitting from 52. A field goal in this situation would have been huge because it would have given the Falcons a 2 score lead. The Broncos would get the ball first in the 2nd half and right now they would only need a touchdown to take the lead. The Falcons probably wouldn’t have been able to gain enough yards to try the field goal even if they did go for it, or if they did Elam might have missed. But it was disappointing that they didn’t even try.

3rd Quarter Comments: I was definitely feeling better about things at the start of the 2nd half than I had been when Denver scored on their first drive to go up 7-0 but I was nervous about the fact that it was only a 6 point game. I thought stopping the Broncos on their first possession of the 2nd half was going to be important because Denver only needed a touchdown to retake the lead. The Broncos started at their 23 and right away they had a 3rd and 2 from the 31. The Falcons had been able to stop the Broncos on almost every one of these plays in the first half but this time Cutler threw a short pass to Hillis and he gained 5 yards for a first down. From that point forward, the Broncos pretty much moved the ball at will. Cutler completed passes for gains of 18 and 15 on the next 2 plays, then Hillis ran for 12 yards and a first down at the Atlanta 19. Two plays later, PJ Pope ran for 15 yards and a 1st and goal at the 4. On 3rd and goal from the 2, Hillis took a pitch to the right and went into the end zone for his 2nd touchdown of the game to put the Broncos back on top by a point.

The Falcons really needed to answer and for a while it looked like they would. The Falcons were backed up to their own 12 and had a 2nd and 12 after a holding penalty but Ryan threw to Norwood for 11 yards and then on 3rd and 1 he threw to Norwood again for 6 and a first down. Ryan got 2 yards on a QB sneak on 3rd and 1 from the 38 to give the Falcons a 1st down at the 40. A 15 yard completion to Jenkins setup a first and 10 at the Denver 45. But then Turner was stopped on back to back plays and it was 3rd and long again. Ryan took the shotgun snap on 3rd and 10 but the Broncos brought both linebacker on blitzes and there was massive pressure up the middle right away. Ryan had to move quickly straight back just to keep from being sacked and he did not even have time to set and throw the ball out of bounds. He had to get rid of the ball but by the time he did he was all the way back at the Atlanta 40. Ryan ended up just throwing it will back peddling, lobbing one up in the middle of the field for White. Earlier in the game Ryan had made a similar play and White had come down with the ball and broken free for a long gain. But this time Dre Bly was anticipating that something like this might happen and he blocked off Roddy and came back and intercepted at around the 35. Roddy actually made a nice play to bring Bly down right away at the 38 or else he might have returned it a long way.

Well now it was time to be nervous because you couldn’t at all be sure that the Falcons could stop Denver from scoring. The Broncos had moved the ball down the field easily on their first drive of the 2nd half and they did so again here. Cutler threw for 17 yards on the first play and then threw for 14 yards and all of the sudden the Broncos were at the Atlanta 31. Two plays later PJ Cobb ran for 15 yards and a first down at the 11. A pass interference penalty gave Denver a first and goal at the 5. It looked like the Broncos were going to score a touchdown but the Falcons would still be within a TD and a 2-PT conversion. Hillis ran the ball towards the goal line on 1st and goal but the Falcons stopped him short at the 1. Then for some reason the Broncos threw the ball on 2nd down and it was incomplete. On 3rd and goal from the 1, they gave it to Hillis and the Falcons defense stepped up again, cutting Hillis down in the backfield on the final play of the 3rd quarter.

4th Quarter Comments: Though the ball was now at the 2 and half, I still thought the Broncos might go for the touchdown. But they came out and kicked what amounted to a glorified extra point to make it 17-13 on the first play of the 4th quarter. The defense had somehow forced a field goal. The Falcons were still in trouble it was a lot better than it could have been. On the next Atlanta possession they got a 14 yard gain on a pass on the first play of the drive but soon they were facing 3rd and 8 from their 39. An offsides penalty against the Broncos helped shorten the distance and then on 3rd and 3 Ryan threw a dart to his right to Brian Finneran who made the catch and crossed midfield before going out of bounds at the Denver 42 after a gain of 14. They were still having trouble rushing the ball with consistency but Ryan was making the throws to move the ball anyway. On 3rd and 5 Ryan found Finneran over the middle for a gain of 9 and a first down at the 29. This time the Falcons would have to get in the end zone because they were down 4 and they didn’t want to give Denver the ball back still in the lead. On the next play, Ryan gave to Turner on a run up the middle and as soon as he got into the hole Turner cut it back to the right and turned on the jets. He out ran defenders going inside the 10 and then broke a tackle at the 5 and crossed into the end zone for a 29 yard touchdown run to put the Falcons back on top, 20-17. Now that was more like it.

The Falcons had the lead but there was so much time left. The coverage team did a great job on the kickoff, cutting down Royal at the 17. The Falcons defense forced a 3rd and 7 from the 20 and for a moment it looked like they might be about to get a 3 and out. The Falcons didn’t want to blitz Cutler. They would have to try and get pressure from the front 4 so that they could drop 7 back to deal Cutler’s receivers. On 3rd and 7 Cutler took the shotgun snap and dropped back. The Falcons needed someone on the D-line to get to Cutler and Jamaal Anderson nearly did, getting off quickly and beating the left tackle around the outside. Cutler was back at the 11 and looking downfield as Anderson came from around and just behind him and tried to swing his right arm around him. But at the last moment Cutler sensed the heat and moved forward to the 14 while Anderson came up empty behind him. That gave Cutler time to throw an arcing pass deep down the middle of the field for Brandon Marshall. Chris Houston had fine coverage. In fact it could have been called interference because since the ball was lofted Marshall kind of slowed up and Houston got to him before the ball got there. But Marshall was able to shield Houston off to a degree and all Houston could try and do was swing his arm in and try to knock it down. He was unable to swat it and it got through to Marshall and he made the catch falling down at the 33 of the Falcons for a 47 yard reception on 3rd and 7. Really it was just a good play by the QB and the receiver. Now all you could hope for was that the Falcons would be able to hold them to a field goal. But the Broncos made a smart change in strategy here, going to the run, and all of the sudden Denver was picking up chunks of yards on the ground. Hillis went for 6. Then Tatum Bell ran for 7 and then 9. On 2nd and 1 from the 11, the Falcons got a break when a first down run was negated by a holding penalty and the Broncos were backed up to the 22. But on the next play, Cutler dropped a pass off to Hillis and he scooted all the way inside the 10 before going out of bounds at the 8 for a gain of 14 on 2nd and 12. After Hillis ran to the 4 on 1st and goal, the Broncos made another mistake with a false start. When Cutler threw incomplete on 2nd down there was hope that the Falcons defense might force a field goal yet again. On 3rd and goal from the 9, Cutler took the shotgun snap and dropped way back but the Falcons got pressure from both sides and Cutler had to abandon the pocket. He stepped up and to his right and for a moment it looked like he might try and run for the TD but then he kind of hopped and then unleashed a laser straight ahead of him. There was nothing there; no one was open. Cutler simply saw Daniel Graham in the back of the end zone and threw a rocket towards him hoping it would get through the 5 Atlanta players without being tipped and it did. This pass was ridiculous. It nearly took Hillis’ head off at the five and by the time Graham caught it in the back of the end zone it was below his knees. The Broncos were now back on top, 24-20, with just 5:35 to play.

So now the Falcons were going to have to drive for a touchdown on this possession or else they would probably lose. A field goal would do no good. They would have to go 76 yards for the score. They started moving the ball right away, with White catching a 9 yard pass on the first play, Turner rushing for a first down, and then two plays later White caught a pass for 12 yards and a first down at the 47. The drive was going well, as the Falcons had the ball at the 50 yard line with 3 minutes still on the clock. But on 2nd and 7 from midfield, things almost came to a an abrupt end. Ryan went to throw a quick slant to White to the right side and he simply must not have seen Jamie Winborn because he literally threw it right at his face. Winborn got his hands up and the ball hit him in the hands. If he had intercepted the ball he would most likely have returned it for a touchdown but the ball bounced off his hands for an incompletion. The Falcons were still alive and Ryan took advantage right away, hitting Finneran near the left sideline for a gain of 13 and a first down at the 37. After the two minute warning, Ryan came under heavy pressure on 2nd and 10 and the Falcons got called for holding. That was a killer because now it would be 2nd and 20 from the 47. The Falcons tried to get part of it back on 2nd down but a pass to Jason Snelling only netted 2 yards. It was now 3rd and 18 from the 45. I’m not just saying this after the fact because we now know what happened but you really did get the feeling that if the Falcons didn’t do something big on this play they weren’t going to win. Ryan took the snap in the shotgun and dropped back but the Broncos were playing way off and so Ryan moved up and to his right and was running up field. For a moment it looked like he was going to abandon the throw and just run and if he had he probably would have gotten to the 35 or so but that would have made it 4th and 10. However, Roddy White was working downfield and moving with Ryan in the same direction, up (or downfield) and to the right. Ryan saw that he might have a play and he suddenly fired the ball deep downfield just as he reached the line of scrimmage at the 45. As the ball headed towards the right side of the end zone you saw that it was there. Roddy had a step on strong safety Marquand Manuel. The throw was perfect and it came in right over Roddy’s right shoulder. As White and then Manuel crossed the goal line just a few yards to the left of the sideline, Manuel strove to make up the step and he ended up losing his footing and falling. He could only hit White thigh with his arm as he fell down while the ball landed in Roddy’s hands. But the ball didn’t stick in Roddy’s hands. Instead it sort of stuck in his fingers and when he went to squeeze it the ball flew up and hit his chest. As he fell forward onto his chest Roddy tried to bring the ball into his chest with his arms but as he hit the ground it bounced away. Had he been able to bring the ball in after it bounced off his chest it might not have mattered anyway because he basically had to leave his feet and dive out of the side of the end zone. Had he been able to make the catch originally he definitely would have been in bounds. One annoying thing is that it’s pretty obvious that Manuel knew he was beaten and panicked and tried to pull Roddy down. But he stumbled as he did so and so his contact on White ended up being just a brush on his leg. My point is that it would have at least been pass interference and first and goal at the 1 but Manuel lost his footing. Anyway, I think everyone knew that that probably was the Falcons’ last shot. They hadn’t gotten anything on 3rd down and now it was 4th and 18 from the 45. Ryan dropped back to the 50 and he had time but the Broncos had everyone dropped back because they knew the Falcons had to go 18 yards. Eventually Ryan ran up and to the right like he did the play before but this time the defensive end closed fast on him from the right and Matty had to just throw it to somebody quickly and he fired to his left. He was trying to get the ball to Jenkins who was down the left sideline at the 20 but the ball went a few yards over his head out of bounds and that was it. The Broncos ran 3 plays to take the last 58 seconds off the clock and the Falcons couldn’t come up with a miracle fumble and it ended with the Falcons on the wrong end of the score, 24-20, for their first home loss of the year.

Numbers: The stats were very even in this game. The Falcons outgained the Broncos by 32 yards (364-332) and had 1 more first down (20-19). The Falcons held Denver to just 208 yards passing but Denver held Atlanta to 114 yards rushing on 35 carries, an average of 3.3 per carry. Meanwhile, the Broncos ran for 124 yards on 25 carries, an average of 5 yards a rush. The Falcons were 11 for 18 on 3rd down while the Broncos were 7 for 12. Matty Ryan played very well, completing 20 of 33 pass attempts for 250 yards but he did not throw a TD and he threw 1 pick. Michael Turner ended up rushing 25 times for 81 yards and 2 TD, averaging 3.2 yards a carry. Roddy White caught 5 passes for 102 yards. Jay Cutler went 19 for 27 for 216 yards and a touchdown without throwing a pick. Brandon Marshall caught 6 passes for 89 yards.

Final Comments: The worst thing about this loss was that you just felt like the Falcons could have gotten a win and they missed the opportunity. They made a lot of plays and they definitely didn’t play badly but they should have won this one and they didn’t. Clearly the loss did serious damage to the Falcons’ playoff chances but that wasn’t really what made this loss so tough for me. I was really worried that this loss would affect the team in a way that their other losses didn’t because it was a game they should have won, because they lost at home, and because of the way they came up just short in the end. I was really hoping that it wouldn’t kill the team’s confidence.

Week 12: vs. Carolina, win, 45-28.

General Comments: After the disturbing loss to Denver in week 11, I hoped that the Falcons would beat the Panthers but I did not really think they would. The Falcons were 1 point favorites and though the Panthers were 8-2 they had been less than impressive over the last month. But I’ve been leery of allowing myself to expect a lot from this Falcons team and the loss to Denver set me back. I was really hoping the Birds would win because I knew that if they were able to come back a week after coming up just short in the loss at home to Denver and beat the division leading Panthers it would negate a ton of the damage done by that defeat to the Broncos. There was another reason why I really, really wanted the Falcons to win this game. In a normal year, my main focus during the season is on whether or not they can or will or do or don’t make the playoffs. The record is important too but the main focus is on whether or not you get into the tournament. However, going into this year, for the first time in my life, I had absolutely no expectation or even consideration of the Falcons possibly making the playoffs. And even as the Falcons got off to their solid start and then continued to impress and win games, I have never really been too caught up in the idea of the playoffs. Now, part of that is because I’ve never really allowed myself to believe that they could or would make it. But honestly, even now, I have been and still am chiefly concerned with the record. If you’re a true Falcons fan then you understand that it isn’t exactly Super Bowl or bust around here. When the Falcons won 2 games, then won in Green Bay, then the miracle against Chicago, and on and on, I started thinking about and getting excited over what their record could end up being. When they got to 6-3 I knew that they could play a game under .500 the rest of the way and that would be enough for them to finish with a winning record. They would only need to win 2 more games to finish .500 and that would be a major accomplishment all things considered. But like with everything else, expectations had risen, and when the Falcons lost to the Broncos, I had to take away a win I had allowed myself to sort of count as if it were hatched in my head. That loss got me thinking and worrying. I was looking at the schedule and thinking about history and I started getting concerned that things might end badly and that combined with expectations might ruin a joyous season. I started wondering how many more wins were out there. If they lost to Carolina then they certainly weren’t going out to San Diego and winning. After that they would have to go on the road to play the Saints and then they’d be playing the Bucs, the team that beat them more handedly than any team this year. After that they were going up to Minnesota, a tough place to play, where they’d be going up against a team that was strong against the run and had the best running back in the game. So, I was getting worried that the record might not end up as good as I’d been thinking it might. And then there was that raised expectations thing. Before the season, if someone had asked you how you felt about a 7-9 season for the Falcons, you would have been excited. You would have thought “Wow! Yeah, that beat great!” But if the Falcons lost 6 out of 7 to finish the year after starting 6-3, nobody would be able to look at 7-9, they’d be disappointed. So I really wanted a win right away, the very next game, against the team with the best record in the division, just to make myself feel better about everything.

Like each win that came before it, this one was special. What a win. To come back and win what was a competitive game most of the day, a week after the heartbreaker against the Broncos, said a lot about the team. And the atmosphere at the Dome and in the stands seemed better than it had been all year in week 12. This team just keeps winning in different ways and just when you think they’ve hit the wall they impress again. There was a moment there where I was worried this one was going to end badly but in the end the Falcons hung on to the sort of lead they gave up against the Bears and Broncos.

1st Quarter Comments: I have to say that I liked the Falcons’ first play of the game a whole lot better this week. They gave the ball to Michael Turner. Of course, I also really liked the first play because Turner was able to take it over right tackle for a nice 7 yard gain. That gave the Falcons 2nd and 3, a good place to work from, and on the next play Matt Ryan dropped back to throw and went deep down the left side for Roddy White who made the catch and then went out of bounds at the Carolina 38 yard line after a gain of 30 yards. Now this was great. You had to be a little concerned about Roddy (and the whole team for that matter) after he dropped what would probably have been the game winning touchdown the week before. But Ryan went to him on the 2nd play of the game and he hauls in the long pass. This team is impressive. It was great to see Turner bust out for 19 yards on his 2nd carry to give the Falcons a 1st down at the 13. I was loving the game plan so far. Turner ran the ball for 6 yards down to the 7 but then he could only make 2 yards on the next play and that brought up a 3rd and 2 from the 5. I had wanted the Falcons to try and run the ball for the first down but passing should have worked but Finn couldn’t come up with a short-range bullet from Ryan in the end zone and the Falcons were left with a 4th and 2 from the 5. I kind of wanted to go for it but the Falcons settled for the chip shot to at least get some points out of the drive. It was nice to get ahead first like we had been until the week before. But settling for field goals might not be enough to win.

While I’m never really in fear of the Panthers, I was aware of the damage Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad had done to the Falcons over the years. I was worried about those two having big days, especially with the way that the Broncos had been able to move the ball in the 2nd half the week before. With that in mind, it was great to see the defense get off to a good start with a 3 and out on Carolina’s first series, as Delhomme’s pass on 3rd and 4 was broken up and the Panthers punted it to the Atlanta 25.

The first play of the 2nd Atlanta drive was excellently designed and executed, with Ryan rolling right and hitting Jason Snelling as he came across the field to the right at the same time. And Snelling did a great job of staying on his feet and not going down easily, taking it all the way to the Carolina 48 for a 27 yard gain. The Falcons steadily moved towards the end zone, getting a 1st down at the 14, but two plays later the Falcons were looking at a 3rd and 3 from the 7. It wouldn’t be good to get all the way down here and have to settle for a field goal again. This time the Falcons decided not to try and pick it up with a run into the line or with a pass. Instead they brought Harry Douglas on the end around from left to right and he took the pitch and got to the outside but he needed a block. He got one from reserve WR Eric Weems, who was playing for the first time after being activated from the practice squad earlier in the week. Weems cut down the Panther who had a good shot at stopping Douglas and HD did the rest, turning the corner to pick up the first down, keeping his feet in bounds inside the 5, and going into the end zone for a 7 yard TD run to put the Falcons up 10-0.

Now this was more like it. The Falcons had jumped out to a nice early 2 score lead the way they had against teams at home all year until last week. On the 2nd Panther possession of the game, the defense held up their end of things again, with Chauncey Davis sacking Delhomme on 3rd and 7 for a 9 yard loss all the way back at the 14. It was a 2nd straight 3 and out for the Panthers and Jason Baker punted again, but this time he was punting from his own end zone. He punted the ball far but without much hang time and Harry Douglas drifted back and made the catch at the Atlanta 36 but by the time the Panther coverage team got down there HD had a full head of steam coming right back at them and he found a seam down the middle of the field and then cut it back down the right side line before going out of bounds at the Carolina 37 after a 27 yard return. The end around play to Douglas is one that is awesome when it works and not so much when it doesn’t. But after Douglas lost 4 yards on the play on the Falcons’ 3rd possession, he caught a 10 yard pass on the very next play to convert a 3rd and 8 into a 1st down at the 25. It was looking like this would be HD’s coming out party.

2nd Quarter Comments: Finneran couldn’t hang on to the short pass on 3rd and goal on the 1st drive but on the 3rd drive he caught a ball on 3rd and 5 from the 10 and took it all the way to the 1 for a 1st and goal. Turner banged into the line and broke the plane on the next play to give Atlanta a 17-0 lead. Yes! This was exactly what we needed to see. The defense did the job once again on Carolina’s 3rd possession, with Big John Abraham swallowing DeAngelo Williams in the backfield on 3rd and 2 from the 29 to force another 3 and out. The Falcons got the ball back and this time they went back to the run game but they gained only 3 yards total on the first two plays to bring up 3rd and 7 from the Atlanta 33. But on 3rd and 7, Ryan found Roddy on a slant to the right for the first down and more. Everything was working for the Falcons and if they got another score here it was going to be tough for the Panthers to beat them. They looked to be headed for another score as Roddy took the ball all the way to midfield but then the Panthers made a play and got the break they needed to stop the Falcons’ momentum. Chris Gamble caught Roddy from behind and as he did so he got his arms around the ball and yanked hard and was able to rip the ball out. Carolina recovered at the Atlanta 48. There would be no run away.

They had saved themselves and now the Atlanta defense needed to come up big again to keep them from capitalizing on the turnover. But Delhomme hit Smith on the first play for a 9 yard gain and Williams ran for 5 yards on the next play to pick up Carolina’s first 1st down of the game. If the Falcons could force a field goal it would be huge and it looked like they might when Carolina faced 3rd and 8 from the 32, but then Delhomme threw deep down the left side and Smith came up with it and drove down to the goal line before Chevis Jackson finally brought him down at the 1. Carolina had a 1st and goal at the 1 but the Falcons stopped Jonathan Stewart for no gain to make it 2nd and goal. There seemed little chance of keeping the Panthers out of the end zone but at least they weren’t going to make it easy for Carolina. Then the Panthers rewarded the Falcons for their effort by committing a false start to back up to the 5. Now the Falcons had a real shot at holding them. The Falcons broke up a pass from Delhomme on 2nd down. Then on 3rd down, Jake saw Smith in the back of the end zone and tossed the ball to him but he lost his footing and dropped the ball to bring up 4th down from the 5. Carolina had to settle for a field goal. They were on the board but holding them out of the end zone in that situation was huge.

The Falcons botched the return on the ensuing kickoff and that doomed the drive. They started at their 8 and moved just 2 yards in 3 plays. After a 3 and out, Koenen got off a good punt but the Panthers would still start from their own 48. They were quickly in Atlanta territory again. But amazingly the defense held again, forcing Jake to throw incomplete on 3rd and 3 from the 39. I was a little surprised that the Panthers didn’t go for it on 4th and 3 but they decided to punt and Baker couldn’t even turn it into bad field position for Atlanta, punting it in the end zone for a TB. After the 2 minute warning, Ryan threw a deep out to White for what looked like a 20 yard gain to the 41 and out of bounds. But the refs reviewed the play and even though there was definitely not even close to enough evidence to overturn the original call made on the field, the zebras did just that. That killed the drive and the Falcons had to give it back to Carolina with plenty of time to score. The Panthers started at their 32 with 1:40 left and 2 timeouts. After 2 plays they were at the Atlanta 39. They had plenty of time but they bungled up their two minute offense, with a false start on Muhammad resulting in a 5 yard penalty and a 10 second runoff. Then on 3rd and 11 from the 40 with 29 seconds left, Delhomme dropped back to throw and big John Abraham came and got him for a sack back at the 48. The Falcons defense had held again and Atlanta would go to halftime with a 17-3 lead.

3rd Quarter Comments: Although the Falcons defense had come up with some key stops in the 2nd quarter, the Panthers had been moving the ball better towards the end of the half. With this in mind, and considering how well Denver moved the ball in the 2nd half the week before, I thought stopping Carolina on their opening drive of the 2nd half would be key. Unfortunately, the Panthers took the 2nd half kickoff and flew down the field, going 80 yards in 5 plays to score a TD just 2:39 into the 3rd quarter. The big play of the drive came on 2nd and 7 from the 23 when Delhomme fired deep down the middle of the field to Smith for a gain of 41. Smith later caught a ball for 22 yards and a 1st and goal at the 5. Williams ran off right tackle into the end zone on the next play to make it a 1 score game.

Now it was pretty important that the Falcons answer on their first possession of the 2nd half but Ryan threw incomplete on 1st and 2nd down and then got sacked on 3rd and 10 and the Falcons had to punt after going 3 and out. The Panthers would get the ball right back at their 42. Carolina marched right back into Atlanta territory. Jake threw for a 1st down on 3rd and 5 from the 47. Then it looked like the Falcons had managed to hold for a field goal try, as the Panthers ran the ball to Williams on a handoff from the shotgun on 3rd and 9 from the 32. But it turned out to be a brilliant play call by the Panthers, as Williams ran for 21 yards all the way to the 11. However, on 3rd and 6 from the 7, the Panthers gave it to Williams again and the Falcons stopped him at the 3 to bring up 4th and 2. I was almost shocked when the Panthers sent the FG team out and kicked the chip shot to make it 17-13. I was really surprised but I was glad they had settled and amazed that the defense had bowed up once again and not allowed a TD.

The defense had kept the team ahead for now but the offense really had to answer on this next possession and they did, expertly mixing the pass and the run as they moved the ball down field. The key play of the drive came on 3rd and 10 from the ATL 45. Ryan was under pressure and he eluded the rush to buy time, stepped up and threw on the run over the middle to Jenkins who made the grab for a 19 yard gain and a first down at the Carolina 36. On the last play of the 3rd, Ryan got the ball to MJ again for a 17 yard gain all the way down to the 9 and then a personal foul penalty on Carolina moved the ball to the 4.

4th Quarter Comments: On the first play of the 4th quarter Michael Turner banged up the middle into the end zone for a 4 yard TD to make it 24-13 Atlanta. That touchdown was huge because it seemed like Carolina was going to have an easier time moving the ball this half, the same way Denver had last week. Sure enough, the Panthers flew down the field on their next possession to get in the end zone again. The Falcons had them looking at a 3rd and 7 from their own 20 and they almost got to Jake on 3rd down but he got the throw off and found Smith for 27 yards to the Atlanta 47. Jake completed a pass for 21 yards on the next play. Then on 3rd and 5 from the 27 Smith made a catch for 15 yards to take the ball to the 12. On the next play Jake dropped all the way back to the 20 and then ran forward looking for someone to throw to and then decided to run and somehow made all the way for the score, stretching the ball across the goal line for a TD to cut it to 24-19. The Panthers went for 2 and gave the ball to Williams. He broke into the end zone but at almost the exact same time he fumbled and the Falcons recovered. It was ruled that he had crossed the line before losing control, however, and the Falcons didn’t challenge. It was now just 24-21 with 10:57 still to play.

This lead wasn’t going to hold up. The Falcons would have to add. But their ensuing possession did not start well. After a rush for no gain, a 5 yard illegal procedure penalty, and a short completion for 4 yards, the Falcons faced 3rd and 11 from their own 25. The Falcons needed Matt Ryan to make another play. And he did. The Panthers got quick pressure right up the middle pushing back into Ryan’s face and he had to get rid of the ball quickly and he did, firing the ball in the face of that rush to Harry Douglas near the left side line at the 40. The ball was there as soon as Douglas finished his route and turned back and the defensive back couldn’t do anything to stop it. HD quickly turned to advance the ball downfield and all of the sudden he was streaking down the left sideline into Carolina territory and heading for the end zone. Chris Harris finally ran him down and wrestled him out of bounds at the 6 but Douglas and Ryan had hooked up for a 69 yard throw and catch to turn the momentum around. I was obviously overjoyed by the play but as the teams ran down field and lined up for the next play I began really regretting the fact that Harry hadn’t taken it into the end zone. The Falcons really needed a TD. I felt it was 4 down territory as soon as they got the 1st and goal at the 6. Turner carried the ball down to the 3 on 1st down. Ryan threw incomplete on 2nd down and then took the shotgun snap on 3rd down and decided to try and run for it and got it down to the 1. Obviously Mike Smith was thinking the way I was because the offense stayed on the field for 4th and goal. The Panthers took a timeout to make sure they were set. I hoped that the Falcons wouldn’t change their mind during the break and they didn’t. This was a huge moment in the game. I hoped we would give it to Turner and pound the line and that’s what we did. If you’re going to try and be a blue collar, physical team built on a strong running game, you have to feel confident enough to give it to your back when you need a yard. The Falcons lined up with 8 men on the line tight and Turner in the backfield behind Ovie Mughelli. Ryan took the snap, turned, and handed the ball off to Turner running left. Mughelli got a nice kick out block and Turner ran into a hole on left end. A linebacker filled the hole and hit Turner at the 1 but the big back ran him over and chugged into the end zone for the score. That gave the Falcons a 10 point lead again with 7:13 to play.

The Falcons’ defense just needed to make Carolina spend time and try and hold them to a field goal on their next possession but they did much better than that. Chauncey Davis sacked Delhomme back at the 16 on 1st down and that was followed by back to back false starts. On 2nd and 24 from the 6, the Panthers ran to try and get some of the yardage back but the Falcons were ready for it and drove Williams all the way into his own end zone. The officials marked it at the 2. On 3rd and 28, Delhomme threw deep and incomplete to bring up 4th down. Jason Baker stood at the very back of his end zone to punt to Harry Douglas who stood at the Carolina 45. I was hoping that Harry would just call for a fair catch to be on the safe side, but the punt backed HD all the way back to the Atlanta 43 and that gave him a ton of space between himself and the Carolina punt coverage. Harry first backed up to the 38, then circled left and saw a seam and cut back into the middle of the field towards the right at the 50. He ran through 3 Panthers at the 40 without being touched and he was gone. Baker was the only man left and Harry just pointed at him at the 15 before blowing by him into the end zone for a 61 yard TD to put the game away. So this would be Harry Douglas’ introduction to the nation.

Leading by 17 with 4:47 left, the Falcons just needed to avoid giving up a quick score to the Panthers and they did a good job of making Carolina work for yards on their next possession. The Panthers converted on a 4th and 6 from midfield and then Jake threw a 16 yard TD to Muhammad to make it a 10 point game again with 2:23 to play. The Panthers tried an onsides kick but Finneran recovered. Typical Finneran, always there to do the little things that help get a win. It was now time for Turner to salt away the clock. Turner ran for 16 yards and a first down to run the clock to the 2 minute warning and then he carried 3 more times to force the Panthers to use their last 2 timeouts. The Falcons decided to go for it on 4th and 6 from the 16 and Turner rumbled into the end zone for his 4 touchdown of the day to put the finishing touches on a great win.

Numbers: The stats from this game were very even but the Panthers had the edge in most of the key stats. Carolina had more total yards than the Falcons (408-392); more 1st downs (22-21); more passing yards (274-259); more rushing yards (134-133); and more time of possession (31:11-28:49). The Panthers also forced the only turnover of the game. Obviously those statistics are really close. The Falcons went 6 for 13 on 3rd down conversions and 2 for 2 on 4th down. Carolina was 5 for 14 on 3rd down and 1 for 1 on 4th down. The Falcons ran for 133 yards on 33 carries, averaging 4.0 yards a carry; Carolina went for 134 on the ground on 26 carries, gaining 5.2 yards per rush. The Falcons had 3 sacks and only gave up 1. Both teams had plenty of big plays in this one. Carolina had 6 plays of 21 yards or more. The Falcons had 3 offensive plays of at least 27 yards and punt returns of 27 and 61 yards. This game was decided by the Falcons ability to capitalize on their opportunities and their ability to keep Carolina from maximizing their chances. Atlanta had the ball in Carolina territory 6 times and they got in the red zone all 6 times. On those 6 red zone opportunities, the Falcons scored 5 TD’s and 1 FG. Carolina had the ball in Atlanta territory 7 times. Twice they were forced to punt. They had 5 red zone chances and twice the Falcons forced them to settle for field goals. So Carolina only scored TD’s on 3 of 7 trips inside Atlanta territory, while the Falcons scored TD’s on 5 of 6 trips inside Carolina territory.

Final Comment: For the Falcons to come back the week after a tough loss and hammer the Panthers was huge. This win guaranteed that the Falcons will not lose 10 games this season, and considering the kind of year the Falcons were supposed to have, that’s remarkable. They need just one more win to clinch only the 14th non-losing season in the 43 year history of the franchise. Two more wins would give the Falcons a winning record for just the 11th time in team history. It will be tough to make the postseason but it’s late November and the Falcons are still part of the discussion, and that in itself is amazing.