Every season, Thanksgiving is about when we start figuring things out, and this year is no exception. Several teams made their playoff case last week, with the Saints, Panthers, Colts, and Eagles all gaining ground in either a division or wild-card race. But it’s also the time of year when teams finally come to the sad realization that it’s time to close up shop. Last week, with losses to a one-win Bucs team and a Matt McGloin–led Raiders team, respectively, those teams were the Falcons and Texans — two teams that came into this season with back-to-back trips to the playoffs.
Including Atlanta and Houston, there are currently eight teams down at least two games in the loss column for a playoff spot, and we know that for those fans, the holidays can be a cold, lonely stretch. So with Black Friday just around the corner, we wanted to give those teams a little something to keep them warm by putting together a holiday wish list for that one gift each needs as it looks forward to next year.
Matt Ryan has had a horrible year. Everyone associated with the Falcons has had a horrible year. Tony Gonzalez never should have come back, Julio Jones is out for the season, the defense is a mess, and we can't even make fun of Mike Smith screwing up fourth downs because the Falcons haven't played a relevant game in six weeks.
If everyone associated with this team could just cut their losses and move on to next year, you gotta think they'd all go for it. But NOPE, that's not how this works.
It's just going to keep getting more miserable. This was obvious early on Sunday against the Bucs. Matt Ryan took the Falcons down to the Tampa 35 on the opening drive, and then got crunched by Gerald McCoy for a four-yard loss.
In an ordinary season that isn't a total fucking nightmare, this would be a minor setback. In Matt Ryan's season ... the four-yard sack gave way to a 10-yard sack on the very next play, and the drive ended right there. Everything goes wrong, always. This is the law of the Falcons this year.
"Hey, basketball's back. The Hawks played tonight."
A friend said this to me, but I didn't look up to see who it was. I was sitting on the floor of a bar, hat partially over face, watching texts from lifelong friends fly in, most echoing the same sentiment: "What did we do to deserve this?" It's the only thing left to think at this point. It can't just be the athletes who are at fault. Somehow, the real fans — the diehards who are sprinkled about throughout the transplant-riddled Southern metropolis — have begun to believe this is simply our fate. The "selling our soul for the '96 Olympics" theory? That's one. There are others. But ultimately, no one knows.
Still on the floor, I searched for the Hawks score just to look for something positive and found the answer that I expected.
One of the NFL’s greatest traditions is the annual stream of quotes during the first organized team activities of the spring. Being back around teammates and back throwing and catching footballs is enough to get some players to say just about anything about why this year is their year. And no team was more bullish on itself this spring than the Miami Dolphins.
In case you were busy enjoying the satisfaction of ripping the perforated sides off of dot matrix printer paper, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Despite blowing a four-run ninth-inning lead, Washington beat the Pittsburgh Pirates as Bryce Harper hit his first walk-off home run in the Nationals' 9-7 win. "These are the situations you dream of as a kid," Harper said after the game. "Two outs, bottom of the ninth, tie ballgame, you're on the Nationals, up against the Pirates, everything's on the line. Just you, a corner outfielder for the Nationals, and the Pirates' closer facing each other down with the whole nation watching. A mano a mano battle at Nationals Park, the house that Walter Johnson Didn't Really Build. The history, the tradition, the pressure, the rivalry: One nation, against Pirates, with liberty and justice for me."
Reds starter Mat Latos was sharp into the eighth inning as Cincinnati topped the Dodgers, 5-2, stopping Los Angeles's winning streak at six. The game was also Vin Scully bobblehead night, honoring the broadcaster for his 64th year with the Dodgers organization. Now as you know, we here at About Last Night are all about debate, but I think the Vin Scully issue is a clear one: It's time to call games for another team. Am I saying that Scully's career is suspect if he doesn't join up with the Red Sox or Yankees? Yes. Sure he used to call World Series games, but until a broadcaster has handled the heat of an entire AL East season, can we really call them the greatest of all time? In a career that has been so improbable, is it impossible to suggest that Scully hasn't joined up with the Yankees because he can't handle the New York heat? Go east young man, fulfill your destiny, and for once in your otherwise unblemished career, try working out of New York City, Vin. Then, maybe, when you're calling the greatest city in the world, we'll call you the greatest announcer in the world.
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next month and a half providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
In what now seems like a weekly occurrence, another NFL quarterback has been handed an absurd amount and will be inextricably linked with the success of his franchise for the foreseeable future. Matt Ryan agreed to a five-year, $103.75 million (with $59 million guaranteed) contract extension with the Falcons this afternoon, becoming the latest QB to pull in a massive haul this offseason. Just to recap, we've also had:
Tony Romo: six years, $108 million, $55 million guaranteed
Matthew Stafford: three years, $53 million, $41.5 million guaranteed
Joe Flacco: six years, $120 million, $52 million guaranteed
Aaron Rodgers: five years, $110 million, $62.5 million guaranteed
As with all NFL deals, the most important number here is the last one. The massive nine-figure totals are fun for headlines, but the telling investment is the one teams can't get out of. With that number in mind, Ryan's deal falls right where it should among the ones already handed out — below Rodgers, but ahead of the rest. It's a deal that clearly suggests Atlanta believes that last year's Ryan — the upper-echelon production combined with a bit of playoff success — is the one they expect going forward. With the money that's getting thrown around right now, that version of Matt Ryan is among the more favorable options.
It’s that time of year — the time of year when snakes, auctions, ADPs, keepers, and sleepers start to rule our football hearts and minds. This season, last year’s Fantasy Island contest winner, Matt Borcas, will be providing some fantasy insight, starting with the tools you need for a league-winning draft. First off, a look at this year’s quarterbacks.
32. Mark Sanchez
31. Geno Smith
Two years ago, who would’ve thought that Sanchez’s signature accomplishment would be a DiMaggio-like streak on SportsCenter’s “Worst of the Worst” segment? Dude can’t seem to catch a break — his offseason has consisted of releasing an unrated Butt Fumble sequel on Vine, getting blown off by Smith at the not-so-vaunted “Jets West” camp, and this headline. Needless to say, the Sanchize’s fantasy value is comparable to that of a sick child. My heart goes out to you if you actually have salary-cap space committed to him in a keeper league. Get a therapist, stat.
After a decade of mostly familiar names, Super Bowl XLVII is set to provide some welcome new blood under center. Sunday will mark the first title game in five years to feature two quarterbacks who’ve never been here before, but that’s about where their similarities in experience end. For Colin Kaepernick, this start in New Orleans comes barely three months after the first of his NFL career. For Joe Flacco, it’s the next step in his playoff success. But even with all the pressure young Kaepernick is set to face, in my mind, and in terms of scheme, support, and circumstance, there will be more of it placed on Flacco.
Like the 49ers, previous versions of these Ravens relied on a bruising running game and great defense to buttress a young quarterback as he improved from week-to-week. This year, those areas of strength have lagged. After a long stretch of dominance, Baltimore's famed and historic defense fell to the middle of the pack in nearly every category, and although the Ray Rice–led running game is still formidable, its efficiency and production took a step back.
This means that for the first time, the Ravens have become Joe Flacco’s team, and more than ever, Baltimore has relied on its passing attack. Ray Rice has been a steady bailout option for most of Flacco’s career, but it’s Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, and Dennis Pitta who will be the keys come Sunday night.
On any given Sunday (or Monday or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
Anquan Boldin: Hall of Famer?
Anquan Boldin has not made a Pro Bowl since leaving the Arizona Cardinals at the end of the 2009 season. He has not had a 1,000-yard season in Baltimore, and the beast who caught 11 touchdowns in 2008 has been limited to a total of seven touchdowns in his past two seasons. Up until these playoffs, Boldin had mostly fallen off the casual fan's radar — if your interactions with the NFL come mostly from highlights, fantasy, and Red Zone, you might have even forgotten that Anquan Boldin was still in the league.
Last Friday, two days before the NFC divisional playoff game, I gave highly scientific, feelings-based reasons for why the Atlanta Falcons would defeat the Seattle Seahawks. These reasons included trusting the blind confidence of Mark Wahlberg and Big Boi, predicting that Nate "Sterling" Silver's luck had finally run out, and the fact that Seahawks fans were spending less time getting hyped up and more time discussing which franchise's bird was more ferocious.
And I was completely right.
Last week, the Falcons were favored, barely, but no one expected them to actually win. This week, these same Falcons, again playing at home, are not only expected to lose, but are actually underdogs.
It was Sunday, January 17, 1999. I was in Augusta, Georgia, for the first big junior tennis tournament of the season, the Mayor's Cup. Two days earlier, I walked onto the court, unseeded, for my first-round match with the 9-seed. The end result: a three-set loss. Ever the type to get down on myself, I was bummed, a feeling that continued through my first-round consolation match the following day. I lost that too. I had traveled all the way to Augusta, during my long MLK weekend, to go 0-2. I was devastated.
Then, to make matters worse, I couldn't leave. I had made the trek with a couple other players, and they were still in the tournament. So on Sunday, the penultimate day of the tournament, I showed up to the tennis center in street clothes, my racket back at the hotel. Coming empty-handed meant both spectators and participants alike were reminded that you're a loser. I was 11, and at that point in my life it got no worse than this.