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Falcons flying high again after rough start, face Browns
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Falcons flying high again after rough start, face Browns

Falcons flying high again after rough start, face Browns
Photo Credit: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) fakes a handoff to running back Ito Smith (25) during an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, in Landover, Md. Ryan is playing like he did as an MVP in 2016, throwing 10 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally, File)

FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) reacts during an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Cleveland. The Browns have dropped four in a row going into Sunday’s matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. (AP Photo/David Richard, File)

Falcons flying high again after rough start, face Browns

CLEVELAND (AP) - Quietly, steadily and with little fanfare, the Atlanta Falcons have gotten off the ground.

They're flying again - under the radar.

Despite numerous injuries at vital positions, the Falcons have shaken off a 1-4 start and carry a three-game winning streak into Sunday's matchup with the Browns (2-6-1). Cleveland has changed coaches, dropped four in a row and is trying not to let another season spiral completely out of control.

The Falcons (4-4) are coming off their best performance this season, a well-rounded 38-14 thrashing of the Washington Redskins that has pushed them back into contention in the wild-card race. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said the key to the team's turnaround has been persistence.

"The main thing for us was the message to be real consistent, to stay the course," Quinn said this week. "Although we got knocked down, defensively especially from the communication standpoint, we had to work hard to increase on that. There might be some new voices leading the way. We just tried to stay consistent with the guys. Make sure that we knew what we were doing was right and we had to do what we did better."

Nobody's doing it better than Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who is playing like he did as the league's MVP in 2016. Ryan has thrown 19 touchdown passes, only three interceptions, and is completing 71 percent of his passes. The 33-year-old leads the NFL with 335.6 yards passing per game, and he recently went 213 attempts between interceptions.

Matty Ice is on fire.

"He really is playing well. He is executing very well," said Browns interim coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. "You can see the comfort zone that he has with (Falcons offensive coordinator) Steve (Sarkisian) in Year 2. That usually is the way that it is in our league."

Last week, Ryan passed for 350 yards and four touchdowns, one to star receiver Julio Jones, who ended a 12-game scoreless drought and finished with seven catches for 121 yards.

Cleveland's defense will get another stiff test one week after dealing with Kansas City's high-flying aerial circus. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs scored 34 in three quarters before coasting through the final 15 minutes.

Williams knows Ryan's capabilities after facing him twice a season while he was defensive coordinator in New Orleans. Back then, Williams could take chances and blitz a young Ryan. Those tricks don't work as well on a savvy veteran.

"I look at it as an older quarterback - you start to get into the double-digit years, plus years and stuff - the influence of whoever is coordinating him and whoever is coaching him, he is having some say in some things and doing some really, really good things," Williams said. "He is very accurate. Our work is going to be cut out for us. You can't fool those kinds of guys that many times."

BROWNS DOWN

Cleveland's task of stopping Ryan, Jones and Co. got harder when starting linebacker Christian Kirksey and cornerback E.J. Gaines were lost to season-ending injuries.

The Browns should have rookie cornerback Denzel Ward and safety/corner Damarious Randall back from injuries. Randall may draw the assignment of covering Jones, who presents problems with his size and speed.

"Big, fast, strong. I mean, you name it," Randall said when asked to describe Jones. "He's pretty much what you want in your typical receiver nowadays. He's the guy that if you had to pick a receiver No. 1 in the league, I'm pretty sure probably all 32 teams would pick Julio Jones."

NEW RUNNING BACK TANDEM

With Devonta Freeman on injured reserve for at least six more weeks, Atlanta's distribution of carries has been unexpectedly balanced. Tevin Coleman is starting, but rookie Ito Smith's role is expanding. Proof came in last week's win when Coleman had 13 carries for 88 yards, and Smith added 10 for 60 yards and a touchdown.

"He's gotten better for us every week," Ryan said of Smith. "I've been really impressed with his growth from game to game. It's really cool to see that from young players, particularly rookies."

GO, BAKER, GO

The Browns want rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield to cut it loose.

Mayfield was tough on himself after some missed throws last week, but Williams' said his message to the No. 1 pick this week was to only look forward.

"We have his back. Now, let's go," Williams said. "You're a smart enough quarterback, instinctive enough quarterback. We understand that mistakes are going to be made. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Just cut it loose and play, and make faster and faster decisions.

"That's the No. 1 thing that I've tried to convey to him."

PERFECT FIT

Newly signed defensive end Bruce Irvin is expected to make his Falcons debut. Quinn said Irvin will play as a pass-rush specialist in the nickel package.

Quinn was Seattle's defensive coordinator for two seasons when Irvin played for the Seahawks. That familiarity, along with Irvin's desire to return to his hometown, helped the Falcons reach a deal when Irvin said he was offered more money elsewhere.

"I know Bruce," Quinn said. "I've known him for a long time. He'll fit in really well with this group."

___

AP Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed to this report.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Georgia Sports News

  • Georgia Tech jumped out to an early lead and held on against Georgia on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park, winning 8-6. The No. 11-ranked Yellow Jackets (28-13) did most of their damage in the first three innings against the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (33-9). The teams played in front of the largest crowd to attend a college baseball game this season (18,861) in a game that benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Georgia Tech was up 7-2 lead through three innings, scoring five runs in the second on the strength of Luke Wadell’s two-run double and Kyle McCann’s three-run homer. “When you get behind the eight ball like we did early, it’s tough to claw back,” UGA coach Scott Stricklin said in a school release. “We had our chances, but didn’t get it done.” The Bulldogs looked to rally with three runs in the top of the fourth inning, Aaron Schunk homering to start the frame. Georgia batted around in the lineup to draw to 7-5 before Riley King grounded out with the bases loaded to end the threat. The Yellow Jackets manufactured an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth despite not getting a hit, taking advantage of three walks and a hit batter. The Bulldogs final run came in the top of the sixth inning on a Tucker Maxwell solo home run. Schunk, Cam Shepherd and Chaney Rogers had two hits apiece as Georgia out-hit the Yellow Jackets 10-6. Pitcher Tim Elliott (5-2) took the loss, getting stunk for six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings pitched as a result of the four hits and four walks he surrendered. Georgia Tech took two of three from Georgia this season, winning 11-2 in March in Atlanta before UGA evened the series with a 12-2 win on April 9 in Athens. The Yellow Jackets are only the second team this season to take a series from the Bulldogs this season,  The SEC-leading Bulldogs (13-5 SEC) return to action at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against No. 8-ranked Mississippi State (33-9, 10-8). State beat No. 19 Ole Miss by an 8-1 count on Tuesday night. Georgia baseball notes — Schunk’s home run was his seventh this season and his second in the stadium the Atlanta Braves call home. Schunk homered in SunTrust Park last season in Georgia’s 3-1 victory. — Pitcher Logan Moody made his first appearance since throwing a career-high eight strikeouts in the 3-2 marathon win over Clemson last week. — John Cable hit his fifth home run of the season, giving UGA a 2-1 lead in the second inning.     The post Georgia baseball falls to Georgia Tech at SunTrust Park, drops rivalry series appeared first on DawgNation.
  • CINCINNATI (AP) - Yasiel Puig gave his fans reason to cheer with his first home run for the Reds in Cincinnati. Now he wants a dining recommendation from them. Puig hit a two-run homer in the first inning off the facade of the second deck in left-center field, and the Reds wasted an early lead and then rallied to beat the Atlanta Braves 7-6 Tuesday night. Jos Peraza had his first RBIs since homering on opening day, and Tucker Barnhart homered for the Reds, who have won four of five following a four-game losing streak. A crowd of about 50 fans, mostly teenagers, occupied seats in the right field corner and chanted 'We want Puig!' before the outfielder took the field for the first inning. Many waved Puig-oriented signs, one waved a flag of Puig's native Cuba and some wore horse headgear, a reference to his 'Wild Horse' nickname. 'I was surprised to see the fans in right field cheering for me,' Puig said. 'I want to thank them for supporting me and my teammates. I saw the horses, the Cuban flag. There must be a lot of Cuban people in Cincinnati. I have to meet some of them to find a good Cuban restaurant.' Cincinnati led 3-0 in the fifth inning, fell behind 4-3 in the sixth, then scored four runs in the bottom half. 'We had a lot of good at bats,' Reds manager David Bell said. Peraza hit a two-run double off Kevin Gausman (1-2) for a 5-4 lead, Jessie Biddle forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk to pinch-hitter Phillip Ervin and Puig hit a sacrifice fly against Wes Parsons. Robert Stephenson (2-0) struck out two batters with a runner on third to end the sixth. Atlanta scored on RBI doubles by Charlie Culberson against Wandy Peralta in the seventh and Dansby Swanson off Jared Hughes in the eighth. Raisel Iglesias allowed Matt Joyce's leadoff double in the ninth, then retired Ozzie Albies, Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman for his fifth save in six chances. Cincinnati scored its most runs since routing Miami 14-0 on April 9. The Reds entered last in the major leagues in batting average at .197. Joey Votto walked three times and singled in his first game after missing two games due to back tightness. Swanson also tripled for the Braves. Sonny Gray tied his season high with nine strikeouts but tired in the middle innings. He allowed four runs - three earned - and six hits in 5 1/3 innings as his ERA rose from 2.79 to 3.28. He is 0-3 in five starts in his first season since the Reds acquired him from the New York Yankees. 'He didn't make many mistakes,' Freeman said. 'It's hard to be perfect, but he was pretty much perfect until the sixth.' Gausman (1-2) gave up six runs - five earned - and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. 'His velocity was spiking up and down,' Braves manager Brian Snitker said. 'That was one of those games you grind through. He gave us a chance to win.' Puig's third home run of the season went 432 feet and was his first in Cincinnati this season, and Barnhart homered leading off the fourth. Ender Inciarte homered in the fifth and Atlanta went ahead in the sixth when Donaldson hit an RBI double and scored on a single by Freeman, who came home on Nick Markakis' sacrifice fly. ROTATIONS Snitker said LHP Max Fried (3-0, 1.38) will start Friday's series opener against visiting Colorado. The Reds have flipped the starts of right-handers Anthony DeSclafani (0-1, 5.59) and Luis Castillo (2-1), slotting Castillo will pitch against Atlanta on Thursday and DeSclafani at St. Louis on Friday. BALL FOUR Cincinnati batters had a season-high nine walks, which tied the Braves' most this season. TRAINER'S ROOM Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz, who hasn't pitched this season because of a right elbow bone spur, is expected to start Saturday against Colorado. Reds: OF Matt Kemp went on the 10-day IL with a broken left rib sustained when crashing into the outfield wall at San Diego on Sunday. UP NEXT Braves: RHP Mike Soroka (0-1, 1.80) is scheduled to make his first big league start on Wednesday against Cincinnati, with RHP Tanner Roark (1-0, 3.60) starting for the Reds. It will be Roark's 17th start against Atlanta, which has a .231 average against him. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • ATHENS — Georgia freshman safety Lewis Cine had a strong start to his college career at G-Day. He led all Bulldogs with his six solo tackles. The head coach also gave him some praise in the post-game media briefing. “He’s an exciting player,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s probably behind from a learning curve standpoint because we teach a lot of defense to our secondary.” Based on what he’s seen so far, Smart feels Cine can earn some playing time this fall. “He’s made some ‘Wow’ plays this spring but that doesn’t mean he is going to go out there and start,” he said. That means he is competing for playing time.” Here’s what we know about the nation’s No. 3 safety prospect from the last cycle: Cine is long and rangy and physical. He even tied for the team-high in total tackles with his eight stops on G-Day. Smart and new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren see he has an aptitude for versatility. It might even be necessary. Cine is one of only three defensive backs in the 2019 signing class for Georgia. That means what the fans saw at G-Day is what they will get. That’s at least in terms of new faces for 2019 in the secondary. That’s why Georgia is trying him in different roles. J.R. Reed is a fixture at one safety spot. Junior Richard LeCounte III and sophomore Otis Reese are also seen as the program’s other front-line safeties. Cine has the potential to add quality depth. “We’re making him play both safety spots which is probably more taxing on him but that gives us the ability to play him at either spot if anybody gets injured,” Smart added in response to a question about Cine’s progress. “He’s going to be competing with guys with playing time. I think where he is going to show up is on special teams. He is very physical. Likes contact. He is a hitter.” How many positions could Lewis Cine possibly play for Georgia this year? At least two. Maybe more. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) As Smart noted, that was no secret to watching Cine on film. The Boston native can run that alley. The ability he showed on Saturday already makes him one of the most fundamentally sound tacklers in the Georgia secondary at this time. He goes about 6 feet, 3 inches and weighs in around 195 pounds. The fact he is being cross-trained at the free and strong safety says something about his aptitude for absorbing the defensive playbook. “He is a guy that listens more than he talks so that’s always a good thing,” Richard LeCounte III said this spring. “He learns quick. He’s also learning two positions just like me so we’re really going through the same things and we [do] walkthroughs and do drills and stuff like that I sit there and talk to him and say such-and-such and this and stuff like that.” LeCounte added this: When Cine gets the mental aspects of the game dialed in, he can be an “awesome” player for Georgia. Lewis Cine has a heartfelt reason why he wears No. 16 for the Bulldogs. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) Fans already have a reaction to Lewis Cine  His last name will phonetically rhyme with “scene.” It seems like one which fans might want to get to know. DawgNation has noticed some chatter on its forums and other social media posts have fans called him that ‘Dawg in the “Six-Cine” jersey after G-Day. That meshes with the goals Cine had for himself before he enrolled in January. “What I see of myself is I am a problem solver,” Cine said back in December. “If there is a hole in the defense, then I can come up and be the solution.” He doesn’t mind obstacles. That includes placing bigger hurdles in his own path. That’s why he was a highly-rated recruit in Massachusetts after his junior year. He was getting offers and his size, speed and length got his name out there. RELATED: The remarkable personal story for Lewis Cine Lewis Cine was rated as the nation’s No. 3 safety prospect for 2019 in the last signing class on the 247Sports Composite ratings. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) It wasn’t enough. He transferred from the Boston Metro area to a region more known for big-time high school football. Cine moved to Texas. He found plenty of 110-degree training days playing for Trinity Christian about an hour outside of Dallas. That wasn’t enough. He was under the tutelage of a true NFL all-time great there in Deion Sanders. When it came time to make his college decision, he looked at big-time options like Florida, Michigan, Penn State and Texas. But Cine has an even better story than that. He wears No. 16 and plays safety for Georgia. That’s the same number and position that Kirby Smart once held down for the Bulldogs. But that’s not why that No. 16 he wears will be special. Not to him. Cine told DawgNation that specific story when he was a recruit. He wears No. 16 to honor his mother. She had him when she was 16 years old. Cine realizes her life was hard then. He knows she made many sacrifices back in her native Haiti. He wears No. 16 to honor her. If he makes it very big in football, his hope is to one day move her stateside to America. That is when he can see her again. Lewis Cine chose Georgia over Florida, Michigan, Penn State and Texas back in October of 2018. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) One more thing to know about Lewis Cine Cine had an unexpected reaction to Georgia’s tough loss to Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship game. The term “boundless optimism” applies. “The question is not ‘Can Georgia keep up and ball with Alabama?’” he wrote back in December. “Nah, that’s not it. Because no doubt in my mind we definitely can. The question is how can we chase perfection and what can make us the absolute best team we can be. To outwork yesterday and the past!” His words conveyed the stuff of a pep talk for his class. But it was one from an incoming recruit. “It is all in who believes and buys into what UGA is building,” he added. There were plenty of 2019 signees who felt the same way. “Ain’t no love lost for UGA even in a loss,” Cine stated. “I’m only ready to arrive on campus to work and be put in the right spots to help chase the goal of perfection. Then everything else will take care of itself.” The post Get to know that new safety Lewis Cine wearing No. 16 for Georgia football appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — One member of Georgia’s football recruiting office has been fired and another suspended for 30 days without pay, sources have confirmed to DawgNation. King Dacia King, who is listed as the Bulldogs’ recruiting program coordinator on the team’s website, was dismissed. Lukman Abdulai, who is director of on-campus recruiting, has been placed on a 30-day suspension without pay. The reason for the actions and whether they are related are not known at this time. “I’m not talking about any personnel stuff,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “Regardless of what the position is, I just don’t comment on personnel decisions or matters. Sorry.” McGarity also declined comment when asked whether violations of NCAA or SEC rules were involved. The personnel actions come on the heels of what was thought to be an exceptional recruiting weekend for the Bulldogs surrounding the annual G-Day spring game. Georgia got a commitment from 4-star offensive lineman Akinola Ogunbiyi of Sugar Land, Texas, on Saturday, and one from 4-star defensive back Jalen Kimber of Arlington two days before. Both players attended G-Day with their families. Abdulai Georgia’s 2020 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 10 in 247Sports.com’s composite team rankings. The Bulldogs have finished with national recruiting rankings of 6, 3, 1 and 2 in last four years. King was hired into her current position in May of 2018. A recruiting program coordinator typically serves as a liaison between prospective student-athletes and the Georgia coaching staff and helps plan visits and set itineraries. She holds double degrees from UGA in marketing and sport management. Abdulai has been with Georgia since 2013 but was named director of on-campus recruiting in January of 2016, shortly after Kirby Smart became head coach.  A University of Illinois graduate, Abdulai received a masters in kinesiology from UGA in 2014. DawgNation will provide more information when it comes available. The post One fired, another suspended from Georgia’s football recruiting office appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS —  What I’m writing today is going to be unpopular with most Georgia fans. I already know that. Nevertheless I believe it needs to be said. Players probably should be devalued if they choose to skip out on their team’s bowl games. I’ve already seen that the majority reaction of the Dawg Nation on social media to the criticism and predicted drop of Deandre Baker in this week’s NFL draft is to defend the Bulldogs’ talented senior cornerback. I’d expect nothing less of this fervent fan base, which is definitely one of the best in college football. Their reaction to this week’s draft news was predictable. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay predicted that Baker, a projected first-round pick, could fall because of decisions he’s made and how he has handled himself in pre-draft meetings with teams. Chief among those was a last-minute decision to skip the Sugar Bowl. When McShay’s thoughts were reported, some fans viewed them as character assassination. “That’s BS! … Didn’t want to risk future!” @KarenHa17217114 exclaimed. “That’s ridiculous. … Click bait!” @MelissaRabb1 echoed. “Give me a break. Dude is a stud!” @BulldawgRob said. “Why play in the bowl game when you could hurt yourself and risk your entire career?” @BenG added. I’d reply to that last one this way: If Baker does indeed drop, that’s why. As much as anything in the world, professional sports and their respective drafts are the ultimate free markets. Teams gather as much information as they possibly can, weigh them against things like cost and risk and gain and salary cap and make their calls, always with the intention of improving their teams. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. As for Baker, when he stood on stage and accepted the Jim Thorpe trophy for being named the nation’s top defensive back, his stock was sky high. In the weeks that followed, there were reports that Georgia’s senior cornerback from Miami might become a Top 10 pick. Then the NFL machine started doing its digging. Before the Bulldogs even got to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl, Baker reversed on his statement at the College Football Awards Show that he ended stick with his team. This came as a bit of surprise to Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who had until the week the Bulldogs got to the bowl site thought Baker was going to play right cornerback against the Texas Longhorns. “He has decided not to play in the game,” Smart said upon arrival in New Orleans. “That’s a decision that he came to … last week, somewhere around mid-week. He was very honest about it. He was very concerned about it. We at the University of Georgia support his decision. It’s a tough decision when you look at it. He was forced to make it. He probably spoke prematurely at the Thorpe Award.” That’s all well-documented and, frankly, ancient history at this point. But it’s important first note here to know exactly what McShay said when he was asked about Baker on Monday. “Really, really good football player,” McShay said. Then came a “but.” “If he falls, part of it is going to be frustration from the coaching staff about the way he finished his career,” McShay said. “In terms of not playing in the bowl game but being around and not being the best influence. That’s the best way I can put it.” “The best way I can put it,” is the most important part of that statement. It implies McShay knows more than he’s saying but chooses not expound. It’s also important to note that McShay is not the only one who cited negative feedback from NFL personnel on Baker’s pre-draft preparation and testing. So, let’s be clear: McShay has no dog in this hunt. He’s just doing the impossible job of trying to predict what’s going to happen in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Nashville. So he’s got no reason to value or de-value Baker. Him and Mel Kiper and guys like them simply parrot what they’ve been hearing among NFL personnel pros, and probably half of that is rhetoric. But McShay was pretty specific here when he cites “frustration from the coaching staff” and “not being the best influence.” And it meshes with what I heard while in New Orleans, and since then. Obviously he’s spoken with Georgia coaches. What is undeniable about Baker is his talent. He didn’t test well at the NFL Combine, but he did great at UGA’s Pro Day. After running a 4.52 40 in Indianapolis, he ran the 4.4 so coveted by NFL execs before 30-something scouts inside Georgia’s Payne Indoor Athletic Facility in Center in March. And then there’s always what Baker did on the field. Famously, he did not give up a touchdown pass his final two seasons with the Bulldogs. We’ll never know whether that streak would’ve been broken against Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Maybe that’s another reason he didn’t want to play. But facts are facts and stats are stats and there’s no quibbling about that. If Baker does drop, I’d wouldn’t expect it to be too far. Last time I checked, the NFL still covets corners that thrive in one-on-one coverage. But then there’s also this: Football is the ultimate team sport. All of us can recite the adage about chains never being stronger than their weakest links. That probably goes double in football. It takes the best player playing his best at every position to compete at the highest level. And while the Sugar Bowl might not be the College Football Playoff, it’s also not the Alamo Bowl. There’s no question Baker’s absence in that game severely handicapped the Bulldogs. I get the whole argument about college football’s free labor system and players risking their NFL futures. But injury risk happens every week during the season. A player is no more at risk at a bowl game than he is any other week of the year. The real examples of a potential high-draft pick being injured in a bowl are actually very few and far between. Baker was not alone in his decision. At last count, somewhere around 20 players chose to skip their teams’ bowl games due to the risk of potential injury to their bowl stock. The irony is, the choice not to play in a bowl could actually negatively impact some of these players’ stock, Baker’s included. But that’s only fair in a free market economy. The post Ironic that skipping bowls could lower stock of NFL draft prospects like Georgia’s Deandre Baker appeared first on DawgNation.