Tag Archives: Matt Ryan

What Tampa Bay is Getting with Dirk Koetter, If He’s Named The Buccaneers Head Coach

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only team to the play fast and loose with their head coaching position, but the Glazers have certainly made some eyebrow-raising moves since winning the Super Bowl with Jon Gruden thirteen years ago. It began with Gruden, currently ESPN’s color analyst for Monday Night Football, being shown the door after consecutive 9-7 seasons, and there’s been a folly of errors with the Bucs top job, including the questionable dismissal of Lovie Smith earlier this week.

The team’s improvement to 6-10, from 2-14 in Smith’s first season, apparently wasn’t enough, so the core of Gerald McCoy, Jameis Winston, and Mike Evans will get their marching orders from a new leader when mini-camps and OTAs begin later this year. We’ve heard rumors from the ridiculous to the absolutely reasonable, so you can rule out Alabama head coach Nick Saban, but there are other candidates not named Dirk Koetter interviewing for a job they like won’t be offered when it’s all said and done.

Say what you will about the Rooney Rule, I personally understand the spirit behind it, but I don’t feel the mandate for a minority candidate interview fulfills its purpose, nor do I feel its necessary, given how much we’ve evolved since Art Shell was hired in 19891Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928. It’s difficult to put a name to this, and I don’t care to insult the man, but with Koetter being the in-house favorite, we’re going to label Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin as the Rooney Rule candidate.

It isn’t fair to Goodwin, available to interview during the Cardinals’ bye week, but all parties involved can get something out of this. Best case scenario, speaking to supporters of the Rooney Rule, Goodwin blows them away, and gets the job. Under this scenario, Koetter walks, which is something of a wash, because Goodwin will certainly want to be the architect of the offense, in his first steps away from the shadow of Bruce Arians, aka “The Quarterback Whisperer”. Bottom line: This is an interview Goodwin deserves, but many will see it as a farce, and only the ones in the room will ever really have a feel for how legitimate the process is.

Until Cam Newton started to make Riverboat Ron Rivera’s offense tick, the strength of Carolina’s game is what you see when the Panthers don’t have the football. Sean McDermott has been coordinating that defensive unit since 2011. Give him credit for knowing how to utilize Luke Kuchely, and how to disrupt in the trenches, his defense is the reason they sit on the 1-line in the NFC as we enter the playoffs. He’s a candidate, but he’d have his work cut out for him with the 7th-worst scoring defense in the game, and that was in Year 2 of Lovie Smith.2This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.

I could get hit by a bus, but I’ll probably be home for dinner.

Barring a very genuine surprise, the former Arizona State head coach will be promoted by the Tampa Bay brass from Offensive Coordinator to Head Coach very soon, but they have to complete the process. Honestly, what does it hurt to talk to viable candidates, even when you’re 99% of the direction you want to go? In Jacksonville, Atlanta, and now Tampa Bay, Dirk Koetter has received a lot of praise for the way he calls an offensive game for whoever was featured on the Jaguars offense from 2007 to 2011, for Matt Ryan, and for the very talented Jameis Winston.

One area of concern remains; there’s a big difference between being the Skipper and the First mate. The Glazer family, Jason Licht, and everyone involved with this rumored decision to put Koetter in charge of the show are willing to make a leap that no has dared to attempt since failing to elevate the Arizona State over six seasons3Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.. Koetter put a few players in the NFL, most notably Terrell Suggs and Zach Miller, but the Sun Devil football program never could conquer the Pac-10 on his watch.

He may be another Norv Turner, a guy who is brilliant until he gets the big whistle and a challenge flag, but I have to commend the Buccaneers commitment to stability for Jameis Winston, even if you might want to denigrate them for pink-slipping Smith after two seasons, and just one with the services of Winston. After all, you usually hear about the head coach/quarterback tandem more than the chemistry between the signal caller and the OC.

You might hear conversations about Brady and Weis, McDaniels, and O’Brien, but none of them roll off the tongue like Brady & Belichick or Belichick & Brady do. Things tend to change over time. Maybe under the guidance of Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith, he understands the head coaching role better now, as well as the NFL game. There’s a precedent for that with the aforementioned Belichick. He didn’t get it done with the Browns, spent more time with Bill Parcells, and quickly took the Patriots to the promised land with his first second chance. I might believe Josh McDaniels was on the verge of that, but he’s got some work to do if he ends up in Nashville.

If any of these jobs were easy or “good”, there probably wouldn’t be vacancies, so they’re all difficult undertakings. Keep in mind, there are no exclusive rights to Koetter’s service, despite the Bucs being his current employer. He’s talking to San Francisco and perhaps Philadelphia, but probably isn’t the favorite to land either of those jobs. The move makes sense, and honestly, Goodwin and McDermott are logical targets, but potentially giving Jameis Winston the same voice for the foreseeable future carries a value that can’t be matched. Sun Devil fans won’t believe they’re watching the same guy when they see the pewter, orange, and red on their screen on Sundays.

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1. Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928.
2. This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.
3. Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.

11-on-11: Near-Perfect NFL Quarterback Play

In the era of shovel passes, bubble screens, and dink & dunk, it seems as though completion percentage should be an afterthought. So many quarterbacks start their days so perfect, or near-perfection anyway. It’s really no wonder that “video game numbers” have become the standard.

This is what you get from the out-of-town overlay, just statistics, no story. Sure, you’ll see Andy Dalton and Alex Smith missed on just one or two pass attempts early en route to victory, but make sure you don’t read too much into Austin Davis’s 5-of-7 start against the Chiefs.

These amazing performances don’t seem to dazzle these days, even on paper. Ben Roethlisberger threw just nine passes that didn’t land in the hands of a bumble-bee-outfitted receiver on Sunday. Considering the fact he threw six touchdown passes and accrued over 500 yards in the process, you wonder how high the bar will be set in the next couple of years. Andrew Luck threw for 400 yards for the Steelers opponent, in what we’ll likely consider a forgettable performance.

Is any of it even real any more?

Game I Anticipated Most

When you get a non-traditional power like the Arizona Cardinals in a marquee game this late in the season, it sometimes seems forced. That’s not the case with these Cardinals. They really look like they belong. They’re built with a certain edge to them on defense and hold their own when they have the ball. Injuries matter, but Bruce Arians has shown an ability to adapt and overcome. Take all of their positives, tack a bad afternoon in Denver on there, and that’s how Arizona was 5-1 entering play on Sunday.

The Eagle bring Chip Kelly’s fast-paced Saturday style to the Sunday game. Their offense moves fast and they run a lot of plays. A threat to score every time they have the ball, it’s all about possessions for them. Defense isn’t the first thing you think of with this team, nor should it be. The architecture of Bill Davis’s defensive unit is to stop teams built like the Eagles, a built that is consistent with the new direction of the league. Strong secondary play has netted them a shut out against the Giants. A trip to San Francisco last month netted them their only loss.

So much has been made about Larry Fitzgerald's best days being behind him.  It didn't show in Arizona's 24-20 win over the Eagles.
So much has been made about Larry Fitzgerald’s best days being behind him. It didn’t show in Arizona’s 24-20 win over the Eagles.

The Cardinals out-lasted their brotherly loving opponents by stepping up with the big play. Antonio Cromartie picked off Nick Foles twice at the most inopportune moments for the Eagles. On the ground, Andre Ellington did just enough to set up the big play for Carson Palmer and his receiving corps. His two touchdowns passes each went for 75 yards or better. If Larry Fitzgerald is getting long in the tooth, it didn’t show on his classic Fitz 80-yard catch-and-run to put the Cardinals up 14-7 to break a halftime tie.

After the Eagles added a field goal to take 20-17 lead just inside the two-minute warning, the hero of training camp John Brown ran under a ball that I can only assume was thrown as far as Carson Palmer can throw the pigskin. When it came down in the arms of the rookie from Pittsburg State, it only took a few strides for him to reach the endzone for the game-winning touchdown. Of his 4 scoring catches this season, 3 have been of the game-winning variety. Cardinals win 24-20.

Thursday Is My Garbage Day

You notice you don’t hear too much griping about player safety and the road team being at such a disadvantage in the Thursdy Night tilts, now that a couple of them have been competitive. My trash still gets picked up on Thursday though, so this section will keep its name. Not many teams have belonged on the same field as Peyton Manning’s Broncos this season, but the Chargers promised to be a worthy adversary.

The X-Factor here was our defending champion Sea Chickens. They went into San Diego in Week 2, and left with a 30-21 defeat at the hands of the very legitimate Chargers. The Broncos, on the other hand, have lost just twice in the 2014 calendar year. A week after taking that loss, Seattle hosted Denver in a game much closer than the laughable Super Bowl we all witnessed in February, but still a 26-20 loss for Denver.

Emmanuel Sanders game has helped Denver fans cope with the loss of Eric Decker

On the strength of three Emmanuel Sanders touchdown receptions, the Broncos won 35-21, but the Chargers didn’t play an awful game. They just ran into a buzzsaw in Peyton Manning, who had the convenience of playing at home. Even in a 21-point hole at various points in the game, you never counted out San Diego. The unstoppable passing game that Manning leads sets up the running game.

Forget that Knowshon Moreno is gone and that Montee Ball was not available, the Chargers weren’t honest to the run. Ronnie Hillman gashed them for over 5 yards per carry and Juwan Thompson had two short scoring runs to take the wind out of San Diego’s sails to move to 6-1 on the season.

House of Sea Chicken-East

Speaking of the champs, we generally tend to think their strength resides in their stadium. Opposing fans call it the belly of the beast, but the NFL makes the Sea Chickens play half their games away from Phone Company Field. In Week 8, they may have been lucky to pull one out in Charlotte, but isn’t that always the case when they visit the Panthers?

On Sunday, they treaded water in an early candidate for the week’s Actual Worst Game, but Russell Wilson led his team on a 10-play 80 -yard drive to score the first touchdown of the game with 53 seconds left. The Panthers counted on their kicker Graham Gano for all of their points, outscoring the visitors 9-6, until Wilson hit Luke Willson for the game-winner in the game’s final minute.

Wilson to Willson for the win away from home for the Sea Chickens

For the third time in three years, Seattle won ugly at Carolina. When Steven Hauschka added the extra point after Willson’s touchdown, it was the first one-pointer the Sea Chickens scored in Charlotte since he nailed the conversion after Golden Tate’s third quarter score in 2012. They won that one 16-12 at Bank of America Stadium, edged them 12-7 in 2014, and added the 4-point win on Sunday. If they play in 2015, that one will be played in the Pacific Northwest.

AFC North Pride

While the broadcast maps suggests most of you did get Pittsburgh’s rout of the Colts in your local market, many were denied the second edition of Ravens-Bengals in favor of that field goal fest in Charlotte. You were probably spared the Raiders and Browns if you weren’t local to either of the teams, unless you sought that game out.

The AFC North has been strong this season. Part of it is the Browns somewhat pulling their weight, but the schedule is a big aid as well. The division games all promise to be scrappy affairs for Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, but they’ve all been afforded the luxury of games against all of the teams in the league’s two worst divsions.

Every team in the NFC South has a losing record, while Indianapolis is the only team in the AFC South with a winning record. Having one-win teams like Jacksonville and Tampa Bay pulling up the rear doesn’t help either. On the flip-side, every team in the AFC North currently sports a winning record.

Does Cincinnati have Baltimore’s number? In Week 1, they dominated most of the way, let the Ravens back in the game, and then won it in the end. It was the same story on Sunday in Cincinnati, only a little more scary. It appeared that Baltimore had done it again with an improbable 80-yard game-winning touchdown to Steve Smith Sr., but it was more improbable that the play was executed within the boundaries of the rules. The play was called back and Cincinnati hung on.

Win or not, that's some ugly-ass garb.
Win or not, that’s some ugly-ass garb.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers reminded us that we simply cannot write them off. On a positive note for Ben and company, it’s more than just playing pitch & catch with Antonio Brown. Brown got his, but Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are emerging as targets for Roethlisberger, as is Le’Veon Bell out of the backfield. For a team written off by their own fans, the Steelers are right in the thick of things at 4-3.

Wembley Wake-Up

Under no circumstances would I go out of my way to watch the 2014 Lions and Falcons play. Wait, what? Alright NFL, if you’re going to put a game on at 6:30 AM in the west, I’ll wake up for it. The game appeared to be all Atlanta, but still somehow came down to a last-second field goal attempt. This is part of why the AFC South is awful.

Me, I’m no fan of shenanigans when a field goal that will determine the game is imminent. I pay homage to Mike Shannahan for his strategy of calling a timeout a split-second before the ball is snapped, forcing a kicker to try the boot a second time. I call it “Shannahanigans”, but it wasn’t that type of nonsense for the Lions in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Detroit got two tries and needed the second one for their 22-21 comeback win over the Falcons in London. It appeared as though the Falcons would hang on when Matt Prater’s kick sailed wide right from 43, but the Lions were actually rewarded a reprieve by their own penalty. Since delay-of-game is a pre-snap penalty, Atlanta was left with no choice but to hope Prater would miss again from 48. He didn’t.

This lends itself to an argument against the whole idea of the aforementioned shenanigans. Many coaches have gone on record to say they don’t like the strategy. Why give the kicker a practice kick? Doesn’t the first kick just give the kicker a better feel for the task at hand? Sure, we’ve seen kickers whiff on the one that counts, but it seems fate is a better strategy then playing God in this situation. If the rules can’t prevent it, maybe common sense will.

Home Sweet Dome

It’s not just playing inside, Bill Simmons. Losses in Atlanta, Dallas, and Detroit should paint that picture as clearly as the Saints’ 3-0 record in the Superdome. Even a team as hot as the Packers are no match for what New Orleans can do in front of their home crowd.

Drew Brees is special and his performance in Sunday Night’s 44-23 win was no exception, but how about a nod for his supporting cast? Mark Ingram put up a very Trent Richarson-esque 16 yards on 10 carries in the Saints loss to Detroit last week, and his 83 rushing yards against Cleveland stood as his season-best before Sunday. The former Heisman winner ran the ball 24 times for 172 yards, ate up clock, and kept Aaron Rodgers on the sideline long enough to tilt the needle towards the home team on time of possession.

Who’s Whack for Dak

It’s not likely that anyone is going to unseat Marcus Mariota for the meaningless title of consensus #1 in the mocks, but we’re going to change it up each week here. Prescott still has Mississippi State undefeated and ranked #1 in the polls, and he will likely help an NFL team, even if not taken with the top overall selection.

Can he and will he play on Sundays?  Right now, Dak Prescott owns the Saturday game.
Can he and will he play on Sundays? Right now, Dak Prescott owns the Saturday game.

At this point, given their failure to achieve victory, the Raiders are in the driver’s seat to pick at the top. I don’t believe they’re poorly coached by Tony Sparano or poorly quarterbacked by rookie Derek Carr. At this point, they just lack talent in so many areas. They need to uncluster decades of bad football work by Al Davis and rebuild this team.

Actual Worst Game

Hard to go in any direction other than Oakland-Cleveland here. It was an ugly game all around that the Browns made more aesthetically pleasing on the scoreboard with a pair of 4th quarter touchdowns, but this was basically a field goal struggle for three quarters. Nobody wants to pay to see Janikowski v. Cundiff.

The same could be said for the Hauscka v. Gano game in Carolina, but struggling to find the endzone against Seattle is a different animal than what took place in Cleveland.

Dirty Laundry Award

Usually, this honor is bestowed on a team, but Walt Anderson’s crew really earned it this week, with Philadelphia and Arizona each being penalized more than any team in the league on Sunday. 11 flags on the Eagles awarded the Cardinals 103 penalty yards. Arizona gave their visitors 95 yards on 10 infractions.

For the Degenerates

The Cowboys look like world-beaters. The Redskins look inept in every phase of the game, but everyone is focused on the quarterback position. With Colt McCoy starting for Washington, it’s no wonder they’re a 9 and a half point dog on the road. Ordinarily, I might suggest throwing out everything you know and anticipating a close game. Not tonight.

coltmccoy

Don’t expect the visiting team to do much in the way of scoring points, but anticipate them turning the ball over. This is what McCoy does. Even if the Cowboys are firing on all cylinders, total points should stay under 50. There is an added element for Browns fans here with Tony Romo’s understudy being Brandon Weeden. If I were to predict a battle of Cleveland cast-offs here, I’d take the Redskins and the points, and also bet the farm on the under.

Random, Perhaps Unimportant

Peyton Manning wasn’t all smiles after Denver’s big division win over San Diego. He took exception to the actions of his scoreboard operator, who apparently amped up the crowd at the wrong moment(s). The expectation of the home crowd when Manning is on the field is complete and utter silence. He voiced his frustration through the media, which some people didn’t care to hear. I’m left to wonder if he’s tried to quietly voice this internally previously and became the grease-seeking squeaky wheel after it continued.

Nice one-armed grab and run by Theo Riddick in the final minute of Detroit’s win over Atlanta in London. He corralled the overthrown ball from Matt Stafford with his extended left arm and hustled to the Falcons 41, just outside of field goal range.

Sammy Watkins made the most of his three catches (for 157 yards) in Buffalo’s 43-23 win over the Jets on Sunday, but 84 yards is a long way to run to be denied a touchdown. Finish the play, and then you can celebrate.

On the flip-side of the near-perfect quarterback efficiency we’ve seen early in games so far, Geno Smith more than deserved to be benched with a line that read 2-for-8 with 5 yards passing. Good luck, Michael Vick.

These Jack-in-the-Box commercials don’t even pretend to market their product to the non-stoner.

I’m a little inspired by Denard Robinson’s first 11 carries for 90 yards against the Dolphins. I’m back to earth about his final 7 carries for 18 yards in the Jaguars 27-13 loss.

Ninkovich’s scoop and score was the Patriots third touchdown in 57 seconds, part of a 31 point 3rd quarter in Foxboro.
We can stop talking about how much better the Bears are away from Soldier Field, where they own an 0-3 home record. They stuck on the road Sunday, losing 51-23 to New England.

The Patriots scored three times in 57 seconds in the second quarter of their blowout win over the Bears. With a 17-7 lead, Tom Brady hooked up with Rob Gronkowski from two yards out, just inside the two-minute warning. Jay Cutler and the Bears offense killed just 41 seconds on a three-and-out, before Julian Edelman’s punt return put the Patriots back in businss at the Chicago 9. Brady got his fourth touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage, and New England scored again on the Bears’ next offenseive play when Ray Ninkovich did the scoop and score on a Cutler fumble.

Rest in peace, Martha Miles and Oscar Taveras. The mother of LSU head coach Les Miles passed away on Friday. On Saturday night, an emotional Miles led his team past #3 Ole Miss at home. Taveras, a 22 year-old prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic this weekend. Taveras never had much more than a cup of coffee at the big league level, but had a bright future with the club. So young, so tragic.

Next week’s slate includes Cardinals at Cowboys, Broncos at Patriots, and Ravens at Steelers. Until we get there, enjoy the week ahead.

Cleveland Browns: The Good, Bad and Ugly Through Week Five

Going into week six of the NFL season the Cleveland Browns are currently 2-2. As you would expect from a .500 team, the Browns season so far has been an up and down ride. As a team, their largest margin of victory has been two points while their largest defeat was only three points. However that really doesn’t tell the true story of the short season so far. On any given Sunday this year the Browns have looked like both a legitimate playoff team and a team that will own a top five draft pick. To recap this rollercoaster ride, let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly for the Cleveland Browns as they’ve played a quarter of their games so far this year.

The Good

Offensively, the Browns are averaging 25.8 points per game so far this year. Last year’s offense averaged 19.2 points per game meaning that (so far) this team has increased its scoring by about a touchdown per game. Their 25.8 points per game average ranks them 11th in the league. On top of that the Browns are averaging 387 total yards per game (9th overall), 5.8 yards per play (9th) and 23 first downs per game (6th). Leading the way is Brian Hoyer and a strong ground attack. Statistically Hoyer hasn’t been dazzling. He’s completed 62.1% of his passes (21st) and has only thrown for 1,008 yards (20th) and 6 touchdowns (tied for 17th) on 132 pass attempts (23rd). Despite these rather pedestrian numbers, Hoyer has a passer rating of 97.7, which is 9th among qualified quarterbacks this season and ahead of guys like Matt Ryan (11th), Cam Newton (14th), Drew Brees (15th) and Matt Stafford (19th). He’s also been good when it matters. Hoyer has led two game winning drives for the Browns this year is extremely efficient late in games when behind. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Hoyer is 7/9 for 56 yards, 1 touchdown and has 5 passing first downs when trailing with less than four minutes to play. When trailing with less than two minutes to play Hoyer is 5/5 for 29 yards, a touchdown and 2 passing first downs.

Hoyer has been greatly aided by an impressive ground game. While his playing time has been limited due to injury, Ben Tate is currently averaging 5.9 yards per carry which ties his for second best in the league (with Baltimore’s Justin Forsett). Rookie Isaiah Crowell is averaging 4.8 yards per carry (12th) and fellow rookie Terrance West is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. As a team the Browns are 12th in the league in average yards per carry at 4.5 and 4th overall in rushing yards per game, averaging 143.3.

West (left), Crowell (right) and Tate (not pictured) have ran hard for Cleveland
West (left), Crowell (right) and Tate (not pictured) have ran hard for Cleveland so far

While Tate, Crowell, West and Hoyer deserve a lot of credit so does the Browns offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranked the Browns offensive line the best in football, giving every starter (yes, including Mitchell Schwartz) a positive grade.

The Bad

Despite the good overall rankings, the Browns offense has been a tale of two halves. Despite being second in the league in second half points per game (16.8) the Browns are only averaging 9 points per game in the first half (24th overall). The offense also has struggled to convert on third down, converting just 36% of their attempts (26th in the league).

While he has been battling injuries, Jordan Cameron has been unimpressive so far this season. Perhaps it’s due to (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, or maybe opposing defenses are game planning for him but regardless Cameron hasn’t been a big factor in the Browns offense so far. Currently he has 6 receptions for 103 yards and is without a touchdown on 15 targets.

Overall, the Cleveland Browns have looked like a different team from half to half all season. It took a historic comeback for them to win last week and they routinely find themselves behind the eight ball at halftime. While it’s good that they are 2-2 it’s hard to believe that the Browns will consistently dig themselves out of trouble all year long.

The Ugly

Defensively, the Browns have been a train wreck. The pass defense is allowing an average of 269.3 passing yards and 152.5 rushing yards per game (28th and 30th respectively). The defense has only managed 8 sacks and is failing to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. Furthermore, the Browns defense at times seems to have forgotten how to tackle.

HadenIndividually the biggest disappoint might be Joe Haden, who has been awful. Through four games Haden has only defensed (broken up) one pass and has been routinely beaten by opposing receivers. He is questionable for this Sunday with a hip injury so maybe that has something to do with his struggles this year (although reports are he injured it during last Sunday’s game) but regardless, Haden must play better.

Last year the defensive line was a strength for the Browns. For a detailed analysis click here, but in short the Browns big men on defense are failing to control the line of scrimmage (watch closely and you’ll see them regularly getting blown off of the line at the point of attack) and aren’t getting pressure on the quarterback.

In Conclusion

Despite the offensive inconsistencies and the defensive woes the Browns are still 2-2. It’s hard to say if they are 2-2 because they’ve overcame themselves or shot themselves in the foot. Perhaps it’s taking this team longer to adjust to new coaching schemes. Or maybe they are actually growing and the frustration and inconsistencies are a byproduct of that. The coming weeks will tell.

Tony Gonzalez Gives Me Reason to Root for the Falcons

by Ryan Isley

After 17 weeks of the regular season and eight playoff games, the NFL is down to their last four teams: the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC and the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers in the NFC.

While Matt wrote for MTAF earlier this week that there isn’t a team left to root for, picking a team out of those four was actually pretty simple for me.

I can’t root for San Francisco or Baltimore because I just cannot stand to watch the Harbaugh brothers and their act any longer than we have to this season. Watching them on the sidelines continually talking to officials and opposing players has just gotten old.

While some are finding it impossible to root for Baltimore because of Ray Lewis – and I understand the reasons – I am not in that group. Personally, I am a fan of Ray Lewis and feel that he is one of the best players in my lifetime.

Rooting for the Patriots would just seem dirty – and how fun would it be to see Bill Belichick and Tom Brady make it to another Super Bowl only to lose again?

That leaves me with the Atlanta Falcons.  And this was easy for a couple of reasons, neither of which revolves around their two-time Pro Bowl running back looking like he should be playing right guard. But I digress.

First of all, I like Matt Ryan. With a record of 56-24 and two seasons of 13-3, Ryan has consistently been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL since he entered in 2008. 2012 was a career season for Ryan, as he set new career highs in completion percentage (68.6%), passing yards (4,719), passing touchdowns (32) and quarterback rating (99.1).

The one knock on Ryan has been that he just couldn’t get over the hump in the postseason because he had lost the first three playoff games in his career. That may have changed this past weekend when the Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

By leading the Falcons into field goal range for a Matt Bryant game-winning kick after the Seahawks had taken the lead, Ryan conducted his league-leading sixt game-winning drive in the fourth quarter this season.

Maybe that win over the Seahawks will be exactly what Ryan needed to start compiling an impressive postseason resume. Remember – Eli Manning lost his first two career playoff games before winning eight of his last nine, including two Super Bowls.

While I like Ryan and want to see him succeed, the number one reason I want to see the Falcons win the Super Bowl is because of Tony Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is arguably the greatest tight end to ever play in the NFL and has said that this would be his swan song, as he will hang up the cleats after the season and wait the five years before he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

With his 1,242 career catches, Gonzalez sits second in receptions in NFL history. That isn’t second all-time for tight ends – that is second all-time for ALL PLAYERS. He trails only Jerry Rice, who was voted as the best player in the history of the NFL by the NFL Network in 2010. His 103 receiving touchdowns are the most all-time by a tight end and ranks sixth among all players. He is also seventh all-time in receiving yards and his 14,268 yards leads all tight ends by over 4,000 yards.

Unlike a number of players who leave the game after having down seasons to end their career, Gonzalez is still playing at as high of a level as any tight end in the NFL. In 2012, he was second only to Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys in receptions (110 to 93) and was third among tight ends in receiving yards (930) behind Witten (1,039) and Jimmy Graham (982) of the New Orleans Saints. He also had eight touchdown catches, which was tied for fourth among tight ends. Because of his play this season, Gonzalez was voted to the Pro Bowl for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons.

Not bad for a 36-year-old player on the verge of retirement.

Despite all of those numbers, the most amazing stat about Gonzalez might be that he entered the 2012 season – the 16th of his career – never having won a playoff game.  He was 0-3 with the Kansas City Chiefs and 0-2 with the Falcons.

And for a few moments against Seattle, it looked like he was going to finish his career winless in the postseason. When Marshawn Lynch scored from two yards out in the final minute of the fourth quarter, the Falcons trailed 28-27 after leading the game 20-0 at halftime and 27-7 entering the fourth quarter.

With 25 seconds left and the ball at the Falcons 28-yard-line, Ryan hit Harry Douglass with a 22-yard pass to start the drive and give the Falcons hope with the ball at midfield.

Then Ryan and Gonzalez stepped up with the season – and Gonzalez’s career – in the balance. Ryan hit Gonzalez over the middle for what should have been a 14-yard gain, but the future Hall of Famer slipped a tackle and then drug another defender to turn it into a 19-yard gain which moved the field goal attempt from what would have been 53 yards to a 49-yard attempt and Bryant split the uprights. It was just another defining play in a great career for Gonzalez, who earlier in the game had a highlight reel catch for a touchdown in the back of the endzone. Well it would have been a highlight for almost anyone else, but for Gonzalez, it has become routine.

Not only is Gonzalez a great player, but he is also a consummate professional by all accounts. You never read anything negative about Gonzalez from anyone – a rare feat in today’s world of sports.

So while other people are busy rooting against players like Ray Lewis or Tom Brady for their own reasons, I will spend this weekend rooting for players like Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez.

But mainly for Gonzalez – a great player who has always done it the right way. Those players are so few and far between anymore.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]