Eagles

Falcons' flop a new low for Atlanta's sad sporting history

Falcons' flop a new low for Atlanta's sad sporting history

HOUSTON -- Well, Atlanta, there's nothing left to say.

The city once known as "Loserville" was cruising toward its first Super Bowl championship, leading Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots by 25 points.

TWENTY-FIVE!

Back in Atlanta, the city was all ready to bust loose in a celebration like no other, seemingly assured of finally putting to rest its history of sports flops.

Then, it happened.

The greatest flop of them all.

This one will take a long, long time to get over.

"I'm kind of numb," said Falcons safety Ricardo Allen, who might as well been speaking for an entire city. "I don't really know what to feel. I'm broken inside, because this is not us. I'm kind of numb to the feeling, man. It's terrible. It's one of the worst feelings ever. I'm not a guy that forgets very easy. I'll probably never forget this. It will always be haunting."

Brady engineered a stunning comeback, leading the Patriots to a pair of touchdowns and a pair of 2-point conversions that sent the Super Bowl to overtime for the first time.

At that point, it was a mere formality.

The Patriots won the coin toss.

Of course.

The Patriots drove right down the field for the championship-winning touchdown.

Of course.

The final: New England 34, Atlanta 28.

Brady will long be remembered for his record-breaking performance, completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards, and this will certainly go down as one of the greatest title games in NFL history.

That's little consolation to the Falcons.

"That's a hard one in the locker room," coach Dan Quinn said. "No place to put that one mentally for us. But I am proud of the fight these guys have. The brotherhood this group has built, it's as strong as I've ever seen."

In the A-T-L, this will join the Braves blowing a 6-0 lead in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, the Hawks squandering a chance to eliminate Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics in the 1988 NBA playoffs, and Danny White leading the Dallas Cowboys back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Falcons in a 1981 playoff game.

But, really, nothing comes close to this level of sporting disappointment.

The Falcons spent nearly three quarters playing with the swagger and confidence of a team that wasn't the least bit concerned about their city's history. Heading to the fourth quarter, they were still up 28-9. The Patriots tacked on a field goal early in the fourth, but Atlanta was still comfortably ahead.

Then, the play that turned the momentum solidly in New England's favor.

MVP Matt Ryan dropped back to pass, was hit by Dont'a Hightower just before his arm came forward to pass, and the ball popped lose. The Patriots recovered at the Atlanta 25.

It was the only Falcons' turnover of the postseason.

"We had some opportunities to make plays," Ryan said. "We just missed on a couple of things and just made a few mistakes and ultimately, when you're playing a real good football team like New England, those mistakes ended up costing us."

Even after Ryan's turnover and the ensuing Patriots touchdown, Atlanta was still in position to put the victory away when Julio Jones made a stunning catch along the sideline, ripping the ball away from a defender and somehow getting both feet down before tumbling out of bounds at the New England 22.

With under 5 minutes remaining and the Falcons still up 28-20, all they needed to do was run three more plays and set up for a field goal by Pro Bowl kicker Matt Bryant that would finally put the Patriots away.

Devonta Freeman was thrown for a 1-yard loss, but that wasn't a huge deal.

What happened next was a big deal.

Instead of another run, Ryan set up for a pass. He was thrown for a 12-yard loss and, just like that, the Falcons were on the fringe of Bryant's range.

Any hope for a field goal was lost when Jake Matthews was called for a holding penalty that set Atlanta back another 10 yards.

That sequence will surely haunt outgoing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan , who was acclaimed for his work with the league's highest-scoring team and will shortly be named head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

"You always want to run the ball if you can," Shanahan said. "We got into field-goal range, where we would've ended it. But getting that sack and that hold call was tough."

The Falcons were forced to punt it back to Brady and a Patriots team that was brimming with bravado.

It wasn't the least bit shocking when they marched right down the field, 91 yards, for James White's short touchdown run.

It wasn't the least bit shocking when Brady hooked up with Danny Amendola on a 2-point pass that tied the game with 57 seconds remaining.

It wasn't the least bit shocking when the Falcons, without any timeouts, failed to muster anything on their final offensive possession.

It wasn't the least bit shocking when the Patriots won the toss and drove down the field one more time, 75 yards in just eight plays, and finished off the Falcons with a 2-yard touchdown run.

The city of Atlanta had seen it all before.

For complete Super Bowl LI coverage, see CSNNE.com.

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

With a 5-1 record, the Eagles sit all alone atop the division and conference standings, and are tied for the best mark in the NFL. Their quarterback was recently given the best odds of winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. So, yes, right now, a trip to the Super Bowl seems to be very much on the table for this squad.

But take it from LeGarrette Blount, somebody who’s won a couple of world championships — the Eagles can’t afford to get caught up in the hysteria right now.

“We could lose 10 in a row,” Blount said Tuesday. “We could go 6-10, so we don't want to jump the gun, jump to conclusions. We want to make sure we take it week by week, day by day, keep a level head and make sure we're going to be ready for whoever the next opponent is.”

Blount is one of only five Eagles players with a Super Bowl ring, and the only member of the roster who owns multiple. The veteran running back won two of the last three years with the New England Patriots organization, which has been a perennial championship contender for the better part of the last two decades.

In other words, Blount knows better than anybody inside the Eagles’ locker room exactly what it takes to not only reach the big game and come away victorious, but also how to sustain that success.

“You have to stay grounded,” Blount. “You have to stay humble and make sure that all the guys that are in the building are on the same page. The coaches, the staff, everybody is on the same page, ignoring the noise, not worrying about what other teams are doing, what other teams' records are – just worrying about ourselves and locked into us.”

Easier said than done given the week the Eagles just had.

After going to Carolina and upending a tough Panthers squad on Thursday night, the Eagles watched as massive blows were being dealt to some of their stiffest competition over the weekend. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on Sunday, potentially crippling one of the NFC’s elites for the remainder of the season. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is awaiting word on the status of a six-game suspension that could seriously hamper the division rival.

But the noise can also be Eagles fans and their exponentially rising expectations, or a media that’s quick to point out any tiny flaw and raise controversy.

Blount has experienced the latter firsthand. Two weeks into the 2017 campaign, he finished a game without a carry — an Eagles’ loss — and was averaging 3.0 yards per carry going back to the preseason. The constant questions coming from reporters about his role easily could have become a distraction.

In the four weeks since, Blount has 344 yards on 56 carries for a 6.1 average. He never allowed the noise to get to him, instead becoming a big reason behind the ongoing four-game winning streak.

“We know what we've been doing to get to this point,” Blount said. “We know what it takes, so we just have to buy in to continue to do that, and continue to do every that it takes to continue winning games.

“A big part of it is just making sure you ignore the noise, don't listen to the outsiders, everything that is in house stays in house, and that you make sure and know that everybody that you see on TV isn't in your corner. Sometimes that can discourage the younger guys. Every now and then you'll hear them say, 'Oh, did you hear them say this,' or, 'Did you hear them say that? Or, 'Did you see this,' or 'Did you see that?'

“The big part is making sure that everybody ignores that stuff.”

Blount has been through extraordinary highs and lows in his football career and learned to maintain an even keel. But Eagles leadership has also done a tremendous job insulating players from the kinds of rumblings that have a tendency to create discord and cause entire seasons to come off the rails.

For evidence, look no further than rumors that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was trying to undermine head coach Doug Pederson — and how quickly such talk dissipated.

“The veteran groups have a lot to do with it,” Blount said. “I also think the coaches have a lot to do with it — keeping the guys grounded, keeping the guys to where we have to continue to come here and work if we want to continue the success.

“Most of the young guys, all of them have bought into the program, and everybody's locked in and knows their role and what they want to do.”

While Blount wouldn’t go so far as to draw parallels between the ways the Eagles and the Patriots handle distractions, it’s clear he’s been able to quickly establish a bond with his new teammates and coaches since signing in May.

“Every team is different,” Blount said. “I can't compare this team to the New England teams, or any other team. We have a really close-knit team. We believe in each other. Everybody loves each other and we have each other’s backs.”

As far as Blount’s performance on the field is concerned, the best may be still to come. He’s finished with at least 12 carries in each of the last four games, and looked explosive and elusive while doing it. And with extra rest between a Thursday night game in Carolina and this Monday’s contest at home against Washington, the bruising runner said he’s feeling refreshed.

Most of all, it sounds as though Blount is in a great frame of mind and feeling comfortable with all of his surroundings. And if you’re looking for a great read on the Eagles’ situation through six games, just listen to the guy who’s come to expect confetti and parades in February.

Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

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USA Today Images

Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

NEW YORK -- Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott was granted another legal reprieve Tuesday night in the running back's fight to avoid a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

A New York federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the league's suspension, clearing Elliott to play Sunday at San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty's ruling came five days after a federal appeals court overturned a Texas court's injunction that had kept Elliott on the field.

Crotty granted the request for the restraining order pending a hearing before the presiding judge, Katherine Polk Failla, who is on vacation.

The NFL was ordered to appear before Failla on or before Oct. 30 to argue why the suspension should not be blocked by a preliminary injunction -- the next step in the legal process -- until the court can rule on challenges the players' union brought against the suspension.

"We are confident our arguments will prevail in court when they are taken up again later this month," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Elliott, last year's NFL rushing leader as a rookie, was barred from the team's facility Tuesday as players returned from their off week. The NFL placed him on the suspended list Friday, a day after the league's favorable ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended in August by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time.

Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence, but the NFL did its own investigation. Elliott denied the allegations under oath during his NFL appeal.

The suspension's announcement in August led to weeks of court filings, with NFLPA lawyers contending that league investigators withheld key evidence from Goodell and that the appeal hearing was unfair because arbitrator Harold Henderson refused to call Goodell and Thompson as witnesses.

In an opinion accompanying the ruling, Crotty agreed with the Texas judge who had backed the claims of Elliott's attorneys. Crotty wrote that Henderson's denial of testimony from Goodell and Thompson was significant because of credibility issues related to Thompson.

"In effect, (Elliott) was deprived of opportunities to explore pertinent and material evidence, which raises sufficiently serious questions," Crotty wrote.

Attorney Daniel Nash, arguing for the NFL, accused Elliott's legal team of seeking relief from courts in Texas to evade courts in New York and the effect of the April 2016 ruling that reinstated a four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady in the "Deflategate" scandal.

Nash warned Crotty that allowing the union to continue to delay the suspension would invite "every player who's suspended" to go to court for relief.

"They know under the Brady decision they have no chance of success. None," Nash said.

Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, representing the players' union, said the harm to a player's short career was serious when a suspension is served.

"He can never get that back," Kessler said, arguing that the irreparable harm -- among issues of law considered before a temporary restraining order is granted -- faced by a player is much greater than harm claimed by the league when a suspension is delayed. In his opinion, Crotty agreed.

Nash suggested during the hearing that the union was overstating its claims of irreparable harm.

"In their view, an NFL player missing six games is the end of the world," he said.

Brady managed to delay his suspension for a year through the union's court challenges. He served it to start last season, when the Patriots went 3-1 without him and later won the Super Bowl.

Elliott's case shifted to New York after the appeals court ordered the Texas court to dismiss Elliott's lawsuit, which Judge Amos Mazzant did earlier Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the New Orleans court ruled 2-1 last week that Elliott's attorneys filed the Texas lawsuit prematurely because Henderson had yet to decide on the running back's NFL appeal.

Elliott's legal team indicated it intended to pursue rehearing before a larger panel of the appeals court while also filing for the restraining order in the Southern District of New York.

The NFL filed in the New York court after Elliott's NFL appeal was denied because the league considers it the proper venue as the home of its headquarters and the site of the hearings before Henderson. It's also where the NFL won the Brady case in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Eagles visit Dallas in Week 11 on Sunday night, Nov. 19. They host the Cowboys in Week 17 on New Year’s Eve.