FOX Sports Exclusive
Ryan, Falcons reminiscent of '01 Patriots
Hey, what do you know? The Broncos and Pat Bowlen read my column last week on firing Josh McDaniels! Good work, fellas! It’s a great day to be a Broncos fan with the overmatched McDaniels out the door.
Tom Brady sealed the 2010 MVP.
And who do the Falcons remind you of?
But we do, SCHEIN 9 style.
1. Falcons flying high
There are haters. There are critics. There are skeptics. And you can count media, fans, opposing players and coaches under these umbrellas.
They are calling the Falcons lucky. They will want a piece of Atlanta in the playoffs, liking the chances of their roster against Atlanta’s 53 guys.
Keep poking holes and questioning. The Falcons will keep playing the game the right way, keep creating their own luck, and keep winning until February.
Actually, the Falcons very much remind me of the 2001-02 Patriots.
New England had a supremely clutch Tom Brady. Atlanta has the ultra cool Matt Ryan, and Matty Ice reminds me so much of a young Brady with his precision and toughness when it matters the most. Mike Smith, while he certainly doesn’t get the pub of a Bill Belichick, is an excellent coach. The Falcons offensive line is so good and underrated. Atlanta’s running attack is better than the Patriots' back in the day.
And jog the mental Rolodex. Remember when Belichick was the star of the defense, and you didn’t know who Mike Vrabel was and you didn’t appreciate Tedy Bruschi. That's Atlanta's defense. Atlanta doesn’t commit penalties. Atlanta creates turnovers. These are Patriot traits. And the haters say there is luck involved. They will say Roddy White pushed off against the Ravens. I say the Falcons, like the Patriots, create their own breaks.
Let’s examine ...
Did you see Matty Ice against Tampa in the fourth quarter? It was Brady-esque, again. The Falcons were down by double digits entering the quarter, on the road against a really good division team. “Ice” put the Falcons ahead for good with a perfect strike to Michael Jenkins. And to set it up, Ryan hit Roddy White on a ridiculous completion for 25 yards on a third-and-forever.
This is what Ryan does. This is what he did on the game-winning drive against the Packers last week. This is what he’s been doing since the brilliant Thomas Dimitroff (a former Patriots executive) drafted him.
The win against Tampa represents the sixth comeback of the season in the fourth quarter or overtime for Matty Ice. That’s just ridiculous. And even more amazing, it was the 13th game-winning drive of his career. Oh, by the way, Ryan is 6-1 in December in his three-year career. Matt Ryan is exactly what Brady was/is to the Patriots.
Unsung heroes (a 2001 Patriots trend) emerge. The immortal Eric Weems was making a seemingly innocuous return with the Falcons down 10 with 10 minutes to go in the game. Weems appeared to be on the road to nowhere, about to be tackled or run into a wall six different times. And he kept persisting and scampering and hugging the sideline and somehow, out of nowhere, gave the Falcons a 103-yard return and a gigantic score.
The haters are saying the Falcons were lucky, again, like they were with the White call against Baltimore. Brent Grimes never caught the interception tossed by the Bucs' Josh Freeman. They will cite our guy, the great Mike Pereira, saying he thought the ball hit the ground as Grimes rolled over. Just like they say the Patriots would’ve never been the Patriots if it wasn’t for the controversial “tuck rule.” Frankly, I never saw conclusive visual evidence that the ball was dislodged from Grimes’ grasp. They called it a pick on the field. I think it was an interception.
Quick – name a Falcon on defense.
It’s an unsung, underrated bunch that won’t ever be confused with the 1985 Bears. But like the 2001-02 Patriots, they play great team defense. Atlanta makes plays.
Curtis Lofton is an excellent linebacker. Grimes is a really good player, with four picks on the season. William Moore has four as well. Veteran Dunta Robinson adds talent and credibility to the defensive backfield. Jonathan Babineaux defined the clutch play on Sunday with a key fourth-quarter sack against the seemingly impossible-to-bring-down Freeman. Babineaux is a great example of the coaching that the Falcons — specifically the defense — get under Smith
You don’t think Smith is great? Do you watch football? Do you remember what the Falcons looked like after Bob Petrino quit like a coward? Did you think in the preseason that the Atlanta Falcons roster was one of the five best in pro football? This incredible achievement, and overachievement, defines great coaching. Smith is 30-14 coaching the Falcons. Amazing.
Atlanta is 10-2, best in the NFC. Mike Smith doesn’t lose at home. Matt Ryan is a legendary 18-1 in his career in the Georgia Dome. They are smart and tough. They don’t panic. Nobody is beating the Falcons in Atlanta in January.
The NFC has really strong teams, with the exception of whichever squad emerges in the NFC West. The Eagles are super confident with Mike Vick. The Giants have a great defense and will finally get healthy over the next few weeks. The Packers have a great quarterback and stingy defense. The Saints are the Super Bowl champs and remain ultra-dangerous. The Bears have found balance on offense and can shut you down on defense. And when any of these clubs come to Atlanta in January, they will look at the film, like foes did in the early Brady/Belichick years, and say that we can beat this team. New Orleans will say it missed field goals. Green Bay will say if Aaron Rodgers didn’t fumble, if there wasn’t a penalty on the kickoff on the Atlanta game-winning drive.
Keep hating. Keep questioning. And Atlanta will keep winning.
2. End of an era?
Brett Favre got knocked out. Tarvaris Jackson came in and lit up the Bills.
I would’ve picked the Vikings to win if I knew the better quarterback was going to play!
I penned a few weeks ago for FOX that Leslie Frazier should start Jackson over Favre. It is better for the 2010 Vikings and the 2011 Vikings. Better late than never, Leslie. The injury gives you the out. Do what is best for the team, the locker room and you as the new coach. Start Jackson. End the Favre drama.
3. End of an era II?
The Colts' annual journey to the playoffs is in serious jeopardy.
The Colts are 6-6 and frankly looked awful for the third straight game.
They can’t run. They can’t stop the run. The injuries on every level have caught up. As a result, Peyton Manning is playing the worst ball of his career.
Is Manning pressing? I think he absolutely is. There is no question about it. Jim Caldwell told us on Sirius NFL Radio, "The tendency for me, for all of us, is to do extra here or there. But I don't sense he's pressing. But his work load is unusual breaking in all of these new players."
The Colts still control their own destiny but are they good enough to win out? I don't think so. On the issues running the ball, Caldwell told us, "We have not been able to be consistent knocking people off of the ball. Some of it is inexperience. And maybe we need to stick with the run a bit more."
They are going to need the Jags to slip on the banana peel a few times.
4. America loves it
We lovingly call the Jaguars "America’s Team" since they are always ranked 32nd in the Harris Interactive Poll for most popular team in the NFL. And it is something that players like Maurice Jones-Drew, David Garrard and the fans love.
America's quarterback talked to us on Sirius NFL Radio on Monday morning. He says the team learned from its collapse last season and still has the utmost respect for Peyton Manning and the Colts.
But he told us a funny tale of the players following the Colts/Cowboys game online in the air after the win in Tennessee and Garrard's wife doing play by play over the phone once they landed.
The Jaguars are no lock to beat the Raiders this week. But lost in the heroic Maurice Jones-Drew career day was the dominant play of the defense in the cold Tennessee weather. If the Jags continue to run and stop the run, they will win the division.
5. Can’t make it up
You can spin the Chargers' unfathomable home loss to the Raiders any way you want. Fact is, Oakland had more energy and was more physical in the trenches, more physical running the ball. The Chargers missed a golden opportunity to be a game back of Kansas City heading into their showdown this weekend. Now they are tied with Oakland at 6-6. And that honestly is fitting. The Chargers' slow start had to doom them at some point.
San Diego catching K.C.? How about beating the Raiders? It's insane that the Raiders and Chargers have the same record.
6. Backseat coaching
I love Todd Haley. And he’s going to make me look good for my Week 2 prediction that the Chiefs will win the division. But his in-game decisions, his choices on when to go for it and when to put three on the scoreboard,are flat-out goofy.
7. My guys
Troy Polamalu – The Steelers safety made the play of the game, forcing the Joe Flacco fumble with three minutes to go, leading to Big Ben tossing the game-winner to Isaac Redman. It was only fitting that the defense-oriented, bone-crushing game was highlighted by Polamalu’s incredible play.
Maurice Jones-Drew – The Jaguars imposed their will on the Titans and got revenge for the disgraceful performance against them in October behind the running back’s career-high 186 yards.
Jay Cutler – He has had more eye-popping games. But Cutler didn’t make mistakes, rocked steady, and threw the go-ahead touchdown to Brandon Manumaleuna to give the Bears their ninth win of the year.
Giants offensive line – With the likes of Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe in the starting lineup because of injuries, the Giants linemen paved the way for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to rip up the Redskins to the tune of 200 rushing yards.
Jason Garrett – Give him a ton of credit. The Cowboys have responded. What a gigantic win in Indy! Garrett is going to coach the Cowboys for the foreseeable future.
8. My goats
Pat Sims – The Bengals defensive lineman jumped offsides on fourth-and-2 with a minute to go and the Saints trailing by three at the Cincy 7-yard line. Holy cow. As Lance Moore confirmed to us on Sirius NFL Radio, the Saints were never going to actually run a play! That can’t happen! Drew Brees took advantage and hit Marques Colston for the game-winning score.
Mike Shanahan – Oh, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have a problem with him making Albert Haynesworth inactive for showing up late. But you have to let the team know earlier so it doesn’t deflate them on game day. And this is why you had to cut Haynesworth in August instead of suspending him with just four weeks left. His nonsense has sucked the life out of the 'Skins.
Peyton Manning – It is the worst stretch of his career, with 11 picks in a three-week span.
Rex Ryan – He never had a chance of winning the challenge on the third-and-1 Sanchez run. What a waste. And since he kissed that challenge away, Rex couldn't challenge the Brandon Tate touchdown. Trotting out Nick Folk for a 53-yarder? Really? He missed the stadium. Rushing three against Tom Brady? Wow.
Norv Turner – Norv Turner!!
9. Three nuggets of wisdom
• I made a lot of brilliant calls in the preseason, including Minnesota and Dallas missing the playoffs. Calling 2010 a breakout season for Chad Henne was not one of my finest moments. He has really regressed.
• Say what you want about Ben Roethlisberger, and I've said it, but that performance on Sunday night defined toughness. How about avoiding the sack on the go-ahead drive when he held off Terrell Suggs with one arm and threw the ball away? Great stuff.
• I can't believe the refs didn't throw a flag on Jameel McClain's hit on Heath Miller. Give the league credit for fining him despite the missed call. That defined a brutal, illegal hit. If James Harrison made that hit ...