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Atlanta Falcons halfway home to a perfect season

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Atlanta Falcons halfway home to a perfect season

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- Matt Ryan came up with two words to describe his performance Sunday night."Good enough," he said.It's a familiar summary for the 2012 Atlanta Falcons, who just keep winning -- even when they make a couple mistakes.Michael Turner had a tiebreaking 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Matt Bryant kicked four field goals and the Falcons beat the Dallas Cowboys 19-13 to extend their run as the NFL's only unbeaten team."I think at the end of the day it's a league that's based on wins and losses and tonight was a solid effort by this team and we did what we needed to do to come out with a win," Ryan said.Turner had 20 carries for 102 yards and Ryan had a season-high 342 yards passing for the Falcons (8-0), who took their first lead with 14:16 left in the game."We have a very good football team," coach Mike Smith said. "It says a lot about the resolve because there is going to be ebbs and flows in a football game, and there were a lot tonight. We did a nice job staying focused."Tony Romo completed 25 of 35 passes for 321 yards for the Cowboys (3-5), who have dropped four of their last five games. They were held to 65 yards rushing, including 39 yards on nine carries by Felix Jones."There's a reason they're undefeated halfway through the season," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "This is a challenging place to play at. I thought we did some good things in the ballgame. They did more good things. We didn't do enough to win this game in all three phases of our football team."The Cowboys trailed 16-6 before Romo tried to put together a comeback. He completed all six of his attempts on a big drive that ended with a 21-yard TD strike to Kevin Ogletree.The Falcons then worked the clock, holding the ball for 5 minutes, 4 seconds, leaving only 17 seconds after Bryant's 32-yard field goal.The Cowboys burned all their timeouts as Ryan kept the Falcons' offense on the field in the crucial time-consuming drive. Ryan passed to Jacquizz Rodgers for 31 yards and 11 yards on third-down plays. A defensive holding call against cornerback Orlando Scandrick on another third down prolonged the possession.Finally, the Cowboys stopped Turner on a third-down run at the Dallas 14.Romo never attempted a deep pass, though he had only 17 seconds to cover 80 yards. He found Jason Witten for passes of 7 and 11 yards, leaving 9 seconds. He passed to Felix Jones for 8 yards, leaving time for one play from the Cowboys 40.Romo scrambled before passing to Jones, who was dropped near the Atlanta 22 to end the game."I think any time you're in that situation you obviously want to get the ball back with a chance, and it's tough," Romo said. "That's why they're a good football team. They're tough to beat at home. They proved it when they were able to run the clock out at the end."Ryan was 24 for 34. Roddy White had seven catches for 118 yards and passed Terance Mathis for the most receptions in Falcons history. Julio Jones had five catches for 129 yards.There also is a new Dallas leader for career receptions. With seven catches for 51 yards, Witten has 754 for his career, passing Michael Irvin's record of 750.Miles Austin led the Cowboys with seven catches for 76 yards.Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was "extremely, extremely" disappointed."We certainly didn't plan to end up here at 3-5 halfway through the season," Jones said. "We've got some tough ballgames. We've got half our season left."For three quarters, it was a kicking contest -- and a pretty shaky one, too.Bryant kicked field goals of 45 and 46 yards in the second quarter for Atlanta's only points before Turner's score. Bryant also missed from 43 and 37 yards, wide right each time."Tonight was not a very good day as far as overall body of work," said Bryant, who made 27 of 29 attempts in 2011 and was 16 for 17 this season before Sunday night's game. "It was just one of those days where you have to have a short memory and get ready for the next game."Dan Bailey's field goals from 23 and 32 yards were the Cowboys' only points in the first half. He missed from 54 yards.Ryan was sacked three times and faced constant pressure.Ryan's 48-yard pass to Jones set up Bryant's 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, pushing the lead to 16-6.NOTES:NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conducted a fan forum for Falcons season-ticket holders before the game. Goodell attended the Steelers-Giants game in East Rutherford, N.J., earlier Sunday. ... Mathis, who began his career with the Jets, had 573 catches with the Falcons from 1994-2002. White now has 577. ... Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware had 1 sacks and a forced fumble. ... Dallas DT Jay Ratliff suffered an apparent left leg injury late in the first half but returned in the second half. ... Falcons DT Peria Jerry left in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. ... Playing behind Felix Jones, Lance Dunbar had eight carries for 26 yards, including an 18-yard run.

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.


 

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Bill Belichick’s never been shy about getting the players who play the best on the field as much as possible. 

So, when he looked at a crowded secondary this summer, the Patriots’ coach didn’t view every spot as a defined position. Instead, he analyzed the skill set of his players and decided that the Pats needed their top three safeties - Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung - on the field as much as possible. Just past the midway point of the season, Belichick and his defensive coaching staff have managed to do that quite a bit.

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McCourty missed one defensive snap all season, the last play of the opener (590). Harmon has often times found himself as that single-high safety (479) while - as illustrated earlier - Chung has played 83 percent of the snaps, although about a third of those designated as a cornerback (494 total/333 as safety). There are only two other teams in the NFL that play three safeties as often as the Patriots: the Chiefs (Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray) and Broncos (Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Will Parks). 

When I asked Belichick about all that the responsibilities he puts on that safety trio, the coach wouldn’t single out just those three. He also highlighted veterans Nate Ebner and Jordan Richards.

“That’s good group really with Pat, Devin, Duron, Jordan, Nate gives us a lot in the kicking game. That’s five guys that all help us in a lot of different ways…they all are pretty versatile,” said Belichick. 

Versatility is a critical element to the Patriots being able to put those players on the field and keep them there, no matter what the opposition throws New England’s way.

“You see Jordan play strong safety, you see Jordan come in in multiple defensive back sets. You see Chung play a corner type of role sometimes. I play a corner type of role. I  think it allows us to say ‘if they come out in this personnel, we’ll be ok’” said Devin McCourty. “We’ll just match up these guys in whatever different role in the defense and it’ll work.”

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done when you consider what personnel the opposing team can employ. In the opener against Kansas City, the Pats tried and failed to match up with an explosive grouping that including Tyreek Hill and DeAnthony Thomas, wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and take a handoff as well. 

The opponent Sunday, Oakland, doesn’t have those kinds of pieces, but the Raiders still have players in place that can keep defensive coordinators up at night. The suspicion here though is that Matt Patricia sleeps better than most, in part because of his secondary.

“A team like Oakland will come in what we call ‘oh 1’ personnel where they have four receivers and [tight end Jared] Cook on the field, which is kind of like a fifth receiver,” noted McCourty. “We can easily stay in different groups and say ‘all right, this is how we want to match that.’ Where if we didn’t have that versatility we’d have to start to run corners on and then they keep [Marshawn] Lynch on the field in place of Cook and run the ball. There’s so many different things that the offense can do to mismatch personnel. Having the versatility and players who understand different roles allows players to stay calm and match up.”

There’s also an unseen element to what this safety group brings to the field every week. That’s their experience, not just in the NFL, but together. There’s comfort in knowing the guy next to you has seen the same things you have and can go through their mental Rolodex to recall and adjust to personnel groupings and formation changes that maybe weren’t prepared for during the week (yes, even with Belichick as the coach that happens).

“I’ve been playing with Pat and Dev - all of us being together - this has been four years and you don’t catch that too often, especially three safeties,” said Harmon. “I just think us being able to be in a whole bunch of different positions, being able to learn from each other and playing together has allowed us to even been more versatile with each other and be able to run more things, have a better feel for the defense and put ourselves in maybe different positions that you wouldn’t put anyone else in.”

“We don’t have many groups like us that have been together for the last four or five years,” said McCourty. “We don’t always break things down as the strong safety, free safety, the money back, like a lot of things we did, it’s just a position, a spot on the field. I think we all understand that all three of us or all four of us on the field at any time can play at any of those positions. I think that allows us to say, ‘Remember last time we did this, in this game, you were here and you were there’ but this time because this is what they like you go here and I’ll go there. This that allows us to understand what we do defensively but also match it to whatever the offense does. Obviously, that’s what the coaches want to do. When the players can do that, it always helps.”

Belichick knows this and it’s pretty clear this trait - the ability to adjust on the fly - is something he appreciates a great deal. That’s why over the past five games, you haven’t noticed nearly as much movement and - let’s face it - confusion as there was in that first month. The players have shared history to fall back on and it’s smoothed out the communication and led to a much higher level of play.

“We can definitely go back to things that maybe we haven’t done in a while, talk about how we used this against Tampa or we used this against Buffalo or somebody and there’s good recall and good application of it,” Belichick said. “Yeah, there’s times where that definitely helps. Same thing on the offense, with guys like Tom [Brady], James White, Rob [Gronkowski], Danny [Amendola]  - guys that have done things together for multiple years. You got a situation that’s similar to a situation you had awhile back, you can go back and refer to that. You’re not going to be able to do that with Deatrich Wise or [Jacob] Hollister. They just haven’t had that kind of experience. But with experienced players, sure, that comes up from time to time. That’s a good reference.”

So, don’t be surprised Sunday in Mexico City if you see Harmon shaded over the top of Amari Cooper, or McCourty in the box providing an extra run fit, or Chung playing slot corner or linebacker. It’s old hat for a group that is asked to do more and routinely responds well to those challenges.