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Falcons embarrassed on defense as Texans score at will – Atlanta Falcons Blog

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HOUSTON — There’s only one way to describe the Atlanta Falcons‘ defense from Sunday: embarrassing.

Coach Dan Quinn thought he saw a renewed sense of urgency in the unit following last Sunday’s miserable first half against the Tennessee Titans. But despite the talk in the locker room about staying on the fundamentals and going out and having fun, the Falcons had some of the same defensive lapses that have plagued them through the early part of the season.

At 1-4 and losers of three games in a row, the Falcons are running out of excuses following a 53-32 road loss to the Houston Texans. The latest embarrassment included surrendering way too many chunk plays to former Falcons ball boy Deshaun Watson and the Texans’ offense. Watson had 300 passing yards before the end of the third quarter. He capped a 426-yard, five-touchdown performance with a 44-yard touchdown hookup with Will Fuller, who beat Desmond Trufant with a double move. Fuller had 14 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns against the sieve-like Falcons defense. The Falcons gave up almost 600 yards of offense (592).

It seems like someone is having a career day against the Falcons every week.

Quinn said leading into the game that he had no plans of making a change at coordinator. Of course, that was interpreted to mean with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, since Quinn calls the defense. But the latest performance makes you wonder if there’s any dramatic change that can be made to ignite the defense.

Whether it’s zone or man-to-man, nickel or base, 3-4 or 4-3, the Falcons continue to make life easy on opposing quarterbacks. They knew Watson had the potential to be much more dangerous than Marcus Mariota and Jacoby Brissett in previous weeks, and he was with his scrambling and keeping plays alive. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett did all he could to keep up, but Jarrett can’t play every position on defense by himself.

Ponder this: The Falcons gave up plays of 21-plus yards to six different Texans, including a 51-yarder and the 44-yarder.

Just imagine, the Falcons still have Russell Wilson and the Seahawks and Jared Goff and the Rams coming up back to back, along with the return of Drew Brees.

Huge failure: That’s the way to sum up the game, because the Falcons really needed this one. They needed it from a confidence standpoint. Quinn needed it for his job security. And the Falcons, as a whole, needed to show they could win on the road. Instead, they are 0-3 on the road this season with a trip to Arizona next on the schedule.

Selling a breakout performance: At least Devonta Freeman was able to score his first touchdown of the season on a 9-yard touchdown reception from Matt Ryan. Freeman still can’t get going in the running game, but getting him in the end zone is a step in the right direction. Ito Smith is having better success than Freeman running the ball, but the Falcons won’t give up on Freeman, who was more involved in the passing game to get touches.

Promising trend: Receiver Julio Jones said leading into the game that the Falcons had the personnel to score 21 to 28 points per game. Well, they reached 30 for the first time this season. Before Sunday, the Falcons averaged a mere 17.5 points per game, which didn’t make sense based on the offensive firepower. Maybe the most promising offensive play was Ryan scoring on a quarterback sneak, showing the Falcons are capable of getting a push in short-yardage situations. But if you’re going to score 30 or more points, you have to win the game, and the Falcons didn’t.

Injury report: Safety Damontae Kazee was evaluated for a head injury and didn’t return to the game. If he misses some time, that accelerates the learning curve for rookie Kendall Sheffield, who has seen some spot action. Sheffield still has some maturing to do and picked up a key penalty in the second half.

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How to watch Monday Night Football classics: Le’Veon Bell’s walk-off TD beats Chargers – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

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Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t want to go for the tie.

So he went for the win, and with running back Le’Veon Bell lined up in the Wildcat, he got it.

With Bell’s outstretched arms, the Steelers beat the San Diego Chargers 24-20 on the final play of the 2015 Monday Night Football game.

The memorable game will be shown as part of the ongoing series of Monday Night Football classics. It kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN.

“It was time to go to the mattresses, if you will,” Tomlin said after the game. “We had to do what was required to win. Le’Veon gave us an opportunity to win, and we were trying to do everything we could to move the football.

“We have to run the football. We have Le’Veon Bell. We had an opportunity to win the game. We’re on the road in a hostile environment. We’ve got to play to win, and that’s what we did.”

With five seconds left, the Steelers lined up at the 1-inch line, thanks to a big play by quarterback Michael Vick and tight end Heath Miller and an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Chargers.

The Steelers had one timeout to set up for a tying field goal, but they went with a gutsy, winning playcall instead: Bell lined up 7 yards deep to take the direct snap.

He gathered the ball and sprinted to the goal line, muscling his way forward to fight for the final inch needed to score the touchdown. Diving, he broke the plane as his knee landed on a defender’s arm and time expired.

“I got to get it in,” Bell said in 2015. “We still had a timeout left. I was thinking we still have a timeout left, so I’m thinking, ‘OK, maybe if I get stopped, maybe run like 4 seconds off and get a timeout, and we could kick a field goal.’ I wanted to end the game right there.”

The touchdown gave the Steelers a win over the Chargers — and they did it with Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline.

While Roethlisberger worked through a left knee injury sustained in the third quarter of a Week 3 win against the Rams, Vick took over quarterback duties. His first three quarters were dismal, but a 24-yard scramble — his first rush of the night — on the final drive of the game helped set up Bell’s winning touchdown. Vick also had a 72-yard touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton with 7:42 left in the quarter to tie it at 17.

“It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish,” Vick said then. He completed just 13 of 26 attempts for 203 yards with one touchdown and one interception and was sacked three times.

The game also featured the return of Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, playing in his first game of the season following a four-week suspension for PEDs. He scored his 100th and 101st career touchdowns that night, with the second coming in the high-octane fourth quarter.

The Monday night game marked the Steelers’ first trip to San Diego since 2006 and their final game in Qualcomm Stadium before the Chargers’ relocation to Los Angeles.

With the win, the Steelers moved to 3-2 on the season, and the Chargers dropped to 2-3.

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Tiger Woods’ game, Tom Brady’s wild ride, Phil Mickelson’s antics and Peyton Manning’s interest made for a fun day of golf

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The weather did not cooperate, but that was about the only thing that went wrong Sunday during The Match: Champions for Charity. As Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods held an oversized cardboard check with a total of $20 million written in, they were soaking wet but smiling.

It was a soaked, but successful day at The Medalist in Hobe Sound, Florida, where the legends of golf and football sped around in their own carts, raised considerable funds for coronavirus relief, filled the airwaves with banter and played some good golf, too.

Here are a few takeaways:

Tiger’s game

For the first time in 98 days, we got to see Woods in action. And the last time we saw him, he didn’t look good. Woods shot 77 at Riviera Country Club on Feb. 16 and finished last among those who made the cut at the Genesis Invitational. And he complained that his back was stiff.

When he then skipped the WGC-Mexico Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, there was cause for concern. And when he then skipped the Players Championship, it was easy to wonder if he would be ready for his Masters title defense.

All of it became moot when the Players was canceled after one round and the coronavirus pandemic shut down the PGA Tour. Woods hasn’t played since but neither has anyone else. And the time off has done him some good.

Woods didn’t miss a fairway. His swing looked smooth and in rhythm. He hit some deft pitch shots and a really nice long bunker shot. And all of this in difficult, rainy conditions.

It was just a charity match, but he looked pretty good. Who knows when Woods will resume his schedule when the PGA Tour returns next month, but his game looks good to go.

Phil being Phil

Mickelson did his best to hype the match and went out of his way to say he’d be taking down Tiger — again — in the second of their made-for-TV match encounters. While that didn’t happen, it wasn’t without Lefty doing all he could to make it happen.

Mickelson gave a vintage description of how he would play a pitch shot early in the match when on-course reporter Justin Thomas asked him about it; was clearly on-brand when he gave a shoutout to one of his sponsors on a long-drive hole, then promptly airmailed his tee shot left into the trees; seemed to take great joy in zipping around in his golf cart; then launched a tee shot onto the par-4 11th to set up an eagle putt by Brady; and generally seemed to enjoy himself.

Mickelson hasn’t made it official, but he is expected to play the first event back next month at the Charles Schwab Championship.

Brady’s bounce back

The new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback started out as if he were playing golf in the old Bucs creamsicle jerseys, a comedy of errors at every turn. The weather didn’t help, and Brady got off to a shaky start.

Charles Barkley was giving him grief, and offered up a $50,000 donation to COVID-19 relief if Brady could hit a par-3 green. He missed badly. “I should have said if you could hit it on the planet,” Barkley bellowed.

But as Brady has been known to do, he gathered himself. Even after taking a penalty stroke on the par-5 seventh hole, he holed a 100-yard wedge shot — while his pants split and his microphone broke — to earn a $100,000 donation from Brooks Koepka, who wondered if Brady could even make a par.

And on the back nine, as he and Mickelson attempted to rally, Brady was solid, helping keep his team in the match.

Manning’s enthusiasm

The retired NFL quarterback brought a lot to the second edition of The Match. He was fun and engaging and self-deprecating. He admitted how difficult it was afterward to step into that arena with Tiger and Phil and play a sport for which he is not known. And he hit some great shots, making an early birdie putt to put his team 2-up and hitting a great iron approach shot late to help keep the team 1-up. The Augusta National member acquitted himself quite nicely.

Justin Thomas, announcer

The fourth-ranked player in the world has a lot of golf ahead of him, but the friend of Tiger proved his worth in a cameo TV role. He had no problem dishing on Woods and Mickelson — and Barkley — and he brought some excellent insight as a Medalist member. He came across smooth but is no doubt looking forward to getting back to his day job.

Modified alternate shot

The back-nine format was fun, and it helped keep the Match moving on the back nine as weather and darkness threatened. It also brought strategy to the competition, and allowed for some good drama when Mickelson drove the green at the par-4 11th and Brady drained the putt for an eagle. One scary thought: Imagine if there had been true alternate shot, meaning they could not pick the best drive.

The Match III

It’s almost inevitable. The first match, won by Mickelson in Las Vegas in 2018, came with a $9 million payday. It also had numerous technical glitches, and with just Woods and Mickelson involved, lacked the banter we saw Sunday. The second iteration was a marked improvement, and it was probably livelier and more fun because the players were competing for bragging rights and charity.

Woods and Mickelson formed this partnership a few years ago with an eye on these type of matches.

Next time, put Tiger and Phil together. How about taking on Rory McIlroy and Thomas? The young guys might be favored, but with a big payout on the line, who is to say the veterans won’t prevail?

The real thing

Two weeks. Two made-for-TV, sports-starved-viewer-filling events. All for charity.

Last week it was McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff at Seminole, and raising more than $10 million for relief efforts.

This time, Tiger, Phil, Manning and Brady doubled that amount in a similar event.

To criticize either would miss the point. Both served a great purpose, a welcome diversion while also offering a huge monetary boost to fight the pandemic.

But now the real thing beckons. Assuming all goes well, the PGA Tour returns in Texas in a little over two weeks. We expect Phil to be there. Tiger’s return is more of a mystery.

The golf will count, however, and a busy season beckons with plenty of obstacles in trying circumstances but plenty of cautious optimism.



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Rodney Smith well-seasoned to compete for RB job with Panthers – Carolina Panthers Blog

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rodney Smith was looking for a three-peat. The new Carolina Panthers running back tweaked his recipe for success from the previous two years, knowing you don’t improve without putting in the extra time and practice to get better. He thought he’d spiced things up with just the right blend of new with the old to remain on top.

But he lost. It wasn’t on the football field, where the former University of Minnesota running back had overcome two ACL injuries. It was the “Running Backs Top Chef Cook Off” held annually by Gophers running backs coach Kenni Burns.

“I rigged it,” Burns said with a laugh. “He couldn’t go out three years in a row as a winner.”

But the qualities that allowed Smith to overcome adversity in football are the same ones that make him a success grilling ribs. He adapts and doesn’t settle. He’s always looking for an edge that will take his game to the next level.

“I’m resilient,” Smith said from his home in Mundy’s Mill, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. “Anytime you get injured and have to bounce back, it’s tough. The unknown variables. Will I play football again?

“I can’t let the circumstance keep me down. That helped me grow into the young man I am now.”

Smith has no illusion of beating out Christian McCaffrey as Carolina’s starting running back. He understands that McCaffrey, who last season became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season, is special.

But Smith does have a chance to be the back who gives McCaffrey an occasional break and perhaps holds down the position in case of injury.

None of the players ahead of him on the depth chart are established — Reggie Bonnafon, Mike Davis and 2019 fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett, who is coming off knee and ankle injuries.

Burns believes Smith’s style, which is not much different than McCaffrey’s in terms of being an all-purpose back, gives him a chance.

“They both can do things outside. They both are great in space. They both have great top-end speed,” he said. “Christian is a little more refined than Rodney, but Rodney can get there for sure.”

The journey

Smith suffered his first ACL injury in his junior year of high school, a critical time for college recruits. Despite recovering to rush for more than 2,200 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior, his college options were limited to Minnesota, East Carolina and a few smaller schools.

“If you ask anyone I grew up with, I told them I wanted to go the farthest place away I could go,” Smith said.

That was Minnesota and a cold climate far from what he was accustomed to in the barbecue-friendly South. He was enjoying a stellar college career, too, before suffering his second ACL tear during his redshirt senior year.



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