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The Atlanta Falcons were up 28-3 over the New England Patriots late in the third quarter of the Super Bowl. No team had ever come back from such a deficit in the big game, and the Patriots didn't look like they were going to be the ones to do it. All Atlanta had to do was keep doing what they had been doing for the better part of 2 hours, and they would be NFL champions.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you who won.
The Falcons were good enough this year; they should have been able to beat the Patriots. But the one thing holding back, the lead weight around their necks, was their own history. The 1999 Super Bowl. The 2011 Divisional game. Now the 2017 Super Bowl. When a few plays late in the game went wrong, you could see the Falcons lose confidence that they could win. If you think you're going to lose, you're right.
I'm not a Falcons fan, but I do consider myself an Atlantan. This loss hurt. It hurt bad. Like a second betrayal by an unfaithful lover, it's the sort of pain you never get over. You can forgive, but you'll never forget. You can only blame yourself for believing she wouldn't do it to you again. A loss like this, in a city seemingly incapable of escaping it's terrible luck at team sports (1 MLB title, 0 NFL titles, 0 NBA titles, 0 NHL franchises), this loss leaves a permanent scar on our soul.
As my friend Keith, a Falcons fan since birth, said at the start of the postseason, "I'll believe the Falcons can win a Super Bowl the day after they win a Super Bowl." After this game, I don't think either of us will live that long.
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Last year, the Atlanta Falcons were no better than an average team, finishing with an 8-8 record. The year before, they finished 6-10, and the year before that, they were 4-12. You might have noticed a trend. After four years of steady improvement, the Falcons are in the Super Bowl.
Why can't other teams do that? Specifically, why not the Miami Dolphins?
Assembling a successful pro football team is a challenge of (1.) recognizing talent, (2.) acquiring that talent, (3.) developing a competitive strategy, (4.) coaching talent to work together to achieve the strategy, and (5.) executing tactics on the field.
In recent years, the Falcons have done all those things well. For the past few decades, the Dolphins have rarely gotten past step one.
But this year the Dolphins broke out of mediocrity and made the postseason. The Dolphins lost primarily because the injury bug did more damage than their opponent, but that the Dolphins have any talent good enough to make the playoffs is a hopeful sign that perhaps the team is finally turning things around.
If the Falcons can make the Super Bowl in four years, I don't see any reason the same can't happen for the Dolphins. Maybe 2019 will be a super year for Miami.
The Miami Dolphins have made the NFL playoffs! They play the Pittsburgh Steelers at 1PM EST on Sunday.
The last time the Dolphins played a playoff game was January 4, 2009. They lost that game 27-9. I'm not convinced that this year will be any better.
In 2009, the team lost mainly because NFL Comeback Player of the Year Chad "Noodle-Arm" Pennington threw four interceptions. That can't happen again, right? I mean, Pennington has long retired, but starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is still out with a bum knee, leaving backup Matt Moore in his place. Moore has a fair arm, but he can be a bit reckless. Surely he won't be four interceptions worth of reckless. Right?
If the Dolphins do manage to get past round one — they did beat the Steelers 30-15 back in October — they'll head into a second week rematch against the New England Patriots. They've played the Patriots twice already this year, losing 31-24 (with Tannehill) and 35-14 (with Moore). Yeesh.
So go Dolphins! (And better luck next year!)
The Miami Dolphins are guaranteed a winning season for the first time since 2008. It's an unusual sensation. I'd forgotten what it felt like to cheer for a winning NFL team.
If the Dolphins win on Christmas Eve in Buffalo and on New Year's Day versus the New England Patriots, they'll definitely make the postseason. There are scenarios in which they could lose one or both of those games and and still have a shot at playing for the league title. Given the Dolphins' history of poor performance in the snow and against teams much, much better than they are, I'm not holding my breath.
(It doesn't help that starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill busted his ACL in week 14 and may or may not return before September 2017. Great timing, that.)
However, don't let my pessimism about the future fool you into thinking that I'm not excited about the present. I am, indeed, very happy that the Dolphins won't finish the season as losers, something I predicted before the season started.
That's the best thing about being a pessimist. It's always a pleasant surprise when you're wrong.
In 2014, Georgia Tech won in Sanford Stadium on a last second collapse by Georgia. Two years later, here we are again. Mark Richt was fired exactly a year after his mistake. Is Kirby Smart on the same path?
First of all, a word about Georgia Tech. The much maligned Paul Johnson brought crafty play calling and superior discipline to Athens and beat a team with superior talent 28-27. Congratulations. See that it never happens again.
Now back to Smart.
Before the season started, a friend asked me what I thought of Kirby Smart as the new head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. At the time, I wasn't nuts about some of the bad habits he brought over from his former employer (including hiding from the press, influencing the Georgia legislature to exempt his program from sunshine laws, and resisting the transfer of student athletes). However, I said I'd wait until the season ended to render an opinion. The season is now over, and I remain less than optimistic.
Fact: Despite playing all four of them most years for the better part of a century, Georgia has never lost football games to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, and Georgia Tech in the same season before. Not under Richt, not even under Donnan. Add in that we only squeaked by Auburn because they ran out of players and it gets worse. That's an incredibly inauspicious start to the Kirby Smart era.
All season, I've heard about how Georgia is losing because its talent is lacking. Somehow, that never came up while Richt was coach. Smart started the season with Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb, his talented roommate Sony Michel, and the most talked about quarterback recruit in the SEC. He ended the season ranked 12 of 14 SEC teams in total points per game. Maybe former Defensive Coordinator Smart needs time to adjust to learning to coach offense, but his defense still finished 7 out of 14 SEC teams in total points allowed. Maybe, as his defenders claim, Smart doesn't have the players with the skill sets necessary to play "The System" he brought over from Alabama, but that's not the fault of Richt or the kids he recruited. That's on the coach who chose a system and failed to adapt it to suit the talent he had available.
I hope that the problems of 2016 represented growing pains for a rookie head coach learning on the job. The good news for Smart is that it will be hard to do any worse in 2017. That is, unless he's determined to lose to Auburn, too.
Final score: University of Louisiana at Lafayette 21, UGA 35. It wasn't that close.
Let's see, what else was memorable about the game? It was really windy. The pregame included another flyover (C-130?). By the time we took our seats, Isaiah McKenzie had already scored two touchdowns.
Hmm. Was there anything else?
Oh, right. Black jerseys. No big deal. Can we let that go now? Please?
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Word on the street (ok, word via NFL.com) is that Jared Goff will be starting at quarterback for the LA Rams when the Miami Dolphins come to town this weekend.
I think that's probably a bad idea.
For those of you who haven't been paying attention, Goff was the first overall pick in the 2016 draft. That means the Rams thought he wasn't just the best quarterback available, but the best player available this year. The Rams have taken an old-school approach to rearing the young quarterback and let him ride the bench while he learns the ropes. Most teams these days throw their new quarterback prospects out on the field immediately to see if they sink or swim (*cough* Miami Dolphins *cough*). But not the Rams. At least not until now.
The reason I say this might not be the right week to start the Jared Goff experiment is because the Dolphins aren't the sort to play nice with opposition quarterbacks. No team in 2016 has spent more on their defensive linemen than the Dolphins (by a margin of nearly $4 million!). In the past 10 weeks, the Dolphins have broken Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger, accomplished journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Tom Brady stand-in Jimmy Garoppolo. Is that the sort of meat grinder you want to put an unproven $20 million man in? I wouldn't.
So why this week? Maybe coach Jeff Fisher thinks that his previous starter, Case Keenum, is too important to risk feeding to the Dolphins' D-line. Maybe Fisher is frustrated with Goff and wants to punish him. Whatever the case, good luck, Jared Goff. You're going to need it.
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Auburn was ranked 9. They were favored by 10 points. Yet they haven't won in Athens since 2005. Do I have to tell you what happened next?
The evening started well, with a rare US flag display in one end zone and an F-16 flyover. Then the fellow who sits next to me showed up drunk. A fight broke out between two UGA fans a few rows in front of me, and then a second scuffle erupted when someone spilled his nacho cheese on someone else's jacket. However, things didn't really get ugly until the teams started playing football.
Auburn began the game with a truly dominant rushing attack. Their first drive was derailed only by a fumble. Their second drive resulted in seven easy points. Georgia, on the other hand, had nothing. They couldn't even get a break on a clear pass interference non-call. Bulldogs fans were not happy. Through halftime, the score remained 7-0. It looked like the sun was setting on what was left of our season.
Then, after halftime, Auburn inexplicably moved away from their run game. Instead, they devoted themselves to a passing attack that was more pass than attack. Auburn eked out only 37 yards in 22 passing attempts for the game and never scored another point. (Next time Auburn fans want to make an argument about firing Gus Malzahn, this should be exhibit A. If quarterback Sean White was nursing an injury, why ask him to do more?)
Meanwhile, UGA intercepted and returned a pass 34 yards to tie the game. Auburn continued to struggle while, in consecutive drives, UGA managed one field goal, missed a second, then made a third. UGA won, 13-7, without ever scoring a single offensive touchdown.
In 2016, we'll take what we can get.
(Special thanks to Friend Randy, an FSU fan who bought me a Coke before the game started and another after the game was over. That's friendship!)
EDIT 2016-11-13: I've been informed that television audiences were informed that Auburn stopped running the ball because they ran out of healthy running backs. All I can say about that is that the running back attrition wasn't obvious to those of us in the stands. I still think Malzahn would have had more success calling running plays for the quarterbacks instead of passes, but I'll have to trust he knows his personnel better than I do.
Screenshot from my phone on election night:
When the BBC is showing a mushroom cloud, you know things are bad.