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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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.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

  • Editor’s Note: From time to time, the staff at DawgNation will answer direct questions from readers about subjects pertinent to UGA football. This installment reflects a very popular reader and viewer question that has come up numerous times. Disclaimer: This blog post would have been a good candidate for the sarcasm or the satire font. If there was such a thing.    Mecole Hardman, Jr. is easily one of the fastest Bulldogs on the team. He might be the fastest. Especially over a span of just 15 yards. Mecole Hardman Jr. is always the first Bulldog through the banner for every home game. Why? (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Is that why he’s always the first one through the black “Power G” banner prior to every home game? DawgNation deems this to be the time to unravel this mystery. We’ve proposed that question to three sources with strong internal knowledge of UGA football. Hard hitting. Deep Dives. On-the-record sources. That’s the play call for this topic. We will not be denied on short yardage for this one. Was that part of some secret wink-wink deal he made with Kirby Smart when committed and signed back on National Signing Day in February of 2016 ? Is it now a Bulldog tradition? Superstition? Is that why the Bulldogs have not lost a home game since Georgia Tech in 2016? First and foremost, let’s go to the source himself. DawgNation: Why are you always the first one through the banner every week?  Mecole Hardman: I don’t know. I think last year….Well, my freshman year Dom (Dominick Sanders) used to go through it and then I kind of fell into ‘I wanted to do it’ and I wanted to be the first one to come through it and every since then I don’t know whatever I started but I have always wanted to be the first one to go through it. Nobody has ever come to me and said ‘I’m going to go through it first’ and I guess I’ve done took that role to go through it. It is really hard to open [up] than they think it is. Like the banner. You just can’t run through it. You have got to like really open it so. I like the job. I like doing it so I am going to keep doing it. DawgNation: What if somebody said they want to do it? What would you say?  Mecole Hardman: It would have to be a senior. It would have to be a senior next week [for the Georgia Tech game] for a senior to go through it before me. That’s the only way.  J.R. Reed on Mecole Hardman’s banner-busting ways  J.R. Reed represented the Bulldogs at SEC Media Days. He’s the veteran of veterans on the team. His current streak of 26 straight starts leads the team. That is second only to Lamont Gaillard and his 39-straight starts. He was asked that question about Hardman’s role as the banner buster on this team. Hardman was rated as the nation’s No. 1 athlete coming out of Elbert County and the small city of Bowman in the class of 2015. DawgNation: Why is Mecole Hardman always the first Bulldog through the banner?   J.R. Reed: (Laughing.) That’s just Mecole. That’s something that Mecole likes to do. He likes to be the first one. At everything. It is a Mecole thing. That’s the only thing you can say about that. DawgNation: Hardman said that he’d let a senior go ahead of him next week for Senior Day at the Georgia Tech game. What do you think about that?  J.R. Reed: (Laughing. Again.) Oh, I don’t know about that. I’m pretty sure someone could bully Mecole out of the way to go first if they wanted to. (Laughing.) But I think he wants to go first and I don’t think anyone wants to fight him about that. I don’t have a problem with him jumping out first. I don’t really care who jumps out of the banner first before the game.  Has anyone challenged Mecole Hardman on this banner thing?  We’ve researched this topic. Clearly. The third source we spoke to unearthed that there was a “Beat Mecole to the Banner” movement during that magical 2017 season. Of course, it was a plan that could have only been devised by the specialists. The kicker-punter-holder-long snapper clan is known to come up with certain diabolical schemes of this nature. As it turns out, we have rare visual evidence that Mecole Hardman was not the first Bulldog through the banner for the Kentucky home game during the 2017 season. Hardman was mere steps behind the senior. (Curtis Compton/AJC) Former Georgia punter Cameron Nizialek shared the Intel here. His brilliant Ivy League undergrad degree was a part of the tactics to this caper. It does sound rather elementary. “He’s just the fastest guy,” Nizialek said when asked why Hardman always runs out first. “And he runs [out there] before everybody else.” That was the genesis of that plan during the 2017 season. “We had a couple of the specialists last year try to be the first ones out,” Nizialek said. “We got up to the front and he just ran past us. He’s just the fastest guy and from then I was the last guy out after that. Because I didn’t want to deal with it.” I’m not sure that any “Ask DawgNation” topic can be covered as thoroughly as this one. We have gotten down to the very Marianas Trench of this one. There you go, DawgNation. Now you know. The post Ask DawgNation: Why is Mecole Hardman the first Bulldog through the banner? appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Around the Dawg House will bring you daily updates from what people and publications are saying about Georgia,  from inside and outside of Athens. Deandre Baker a finalist for best defensive back award Georgia senior cornerback Deandre Baker has been one of the nation’s best defensive backs this season. He’s done an incredibly effective job of locking down his side of the field, and is a big reason Georgia has one of the best pass defenses in the country. On Wednesday, Baker was recognized for his outstanding season as he was named one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given out to college football’s top defensive back. The other two finalists for the award were LSU defensive back Greedy Williams and Notre Dame’s Julian Love. The winner of the award will be announced on Dec. 6 at ESPN’s Home Depot College Football Awards Show, which will be held at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. On the season, Baker has 2 interceptions and 27 tackles, along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His counting stats would likely be much higher if teams targeted him more often in pass coverage. He’s limited a number of the SEC’s best receivers including South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, Missouri’s Emmanuel Hall and Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb. Baker likely won’t be tested this weekend against Georgia Tech and its triple option. But if the Bulldogs are going to beat No. 1 Alabama in the SEC championship game on Dec. 1, the senior defensive back will likely play a very big role. ESPN ranks UGA-Georgia Tech game in terms of playoff importance There are a number of games that are critically important to the College Football Playoff. There No. 4 Michigan visiting No. 10 Ohio State. There’s No. 3 Notre Dame playing its last game of the season against USC. And there’s the Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama taking on Auburn. ESPN’s Heather Dinich ranked the big rivalry games this weekend, and had the Georgia-Georgia Tech game ranked No. 6. Georgia winning won’t do much for its College Football Playoff chances a loss would make things very interesting for the Bulldogs and for Alabama. “If Georgia loses to Georgia Tech, but beats Alabama to win the SEC title, it could become the first two-loss team to finish in the top four in the playoff era,” Dinich said. “Or … the SEC could be left out in favor of Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan and Oklahoma. A Georgia Tech win would also entirely change the perception of an Alabama loss to Georgia in the SEC championship, decreasing the chances that the Tide sneak in as the SEC runner-up.” The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets kickoff at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday. The game will broadcast on SEC Network and on the radio on WSB 750 AM/95.5 FM. Georgia has not beaten Georgia Tech at home since 2012, as the Bulldogs have lost the last two times in Athens. Best stories from around DawgNation Justin Fields named SEC Freshman of the week, earns high praise from national media WATCH: Georgia football WR Demetris Robertson breaks silence, Kirby Smart weighs in Making the case for why Georgia Tech is Georgia’s most important rival Georgia football freshman OG Jamaree Salyer impresses Kirby Smart, grades high Georgia cruises to victory against Illinois State in Cayman Islands Classic opener WATCH: Georgia football coach Kirby Smart downplays added pressure for offensive efficiency Justin Fields named SEC Freshman of the week, earns high praise from national media Georgia football podcast: Former player explains why Kirby Smart will be ready for Georgia Tech Georgia coach Kirby Smart: LB Monty Rice doubtful, OL Cade Mays questionable   The post Deandre Baker named a finalist for Jim Thorpe Award appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has allowed transfer Demetris Robertson to talk publicly this week, permitting him to take part in a school video featuring the Bulldogs’ receivers. “I feel like the room is a family,” said Robertson, who transferred back to his home-state school after winning FWAA Freshman All-American honors at Cal before an injured derailed his sophomore season. “Coach (Cortez) Hankton shows the way, he’s the leader of the room, he shows us how to be men, how to be good football players,” Robertson said. “He doesn’t take it lightly on us in practice, he gets on us in practice if we mess up, it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or senior or a veteran he expects us to play at that high standard.” Robertson caught 9 passes in a game against USC two years ago, but he has yet to catch even one pass this season for No. 5-ranked Georgia (10-1) as it marches into its regular-season finale against Georgia Tech (7-4) at noon Saturday at Sanford Stadium. The speedy Robertson, who many expected to be an impact player, opened the season with a 72-yard touchdown run in the opening game against Austin Peay. RELATED: ESPN analyst sees Robertson as “huge” addition to Georgia Since the opening game, Robertson has three carries for 37 yards and two dropped passes — juggling a ball out of bounds in the 36-16 loss at LSU, and allowing what would have been a 33-yard touchdown pass from Justin Fields against UMass to go through his hands in the end zone. To date, 18 players have caught a pass this season for the Bulldogs, including nine receivers. But Robertson has only been thrown to twice. Several Georgia receivers have emerged under Hankton this season, most notably Jeremiah Holloman and Tyler Simmons. But Hankton has yet to get the best out of Robertson, who had 50 catches for 767 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman at Cal after coming out of Savannah Christian. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart weighed in on Robertson following the 66-27 win over UMass, explaining the high expectations placed on the former 5-star and Freshman All-American were “outrageous.” “H e had a good week of practice, he had some high GPS numbers coming off the break he’s had where he wasn’t practicing when he was injured,” Smart said, referring to the three games Robertson missed on account of what was widely reported to be a concussion. “He was running really fast so we thought it would be a good game for him to get involved and do some things,” Smart said. “He continues to work, he works really hard, he had the bomb, and then he had the speed sweep, and he was in on some other plays.” Smart indicated earlier in the season that Robertson’s late arrival to Georgia — he missed spring drills — put him behind returning players in terms of conditioning and strength. Smart made it clear he likes the direction Robertson’s season is heading, even if it has been quiet from a statistical standpoint. “D-Rob is a hard worker, guys,” Smart said. “He keeps working and getting better. He’s in a talented room, and I’m glad D-Rob is on our team, he’s a great kid that works hard every day. The expectations some of you guys have or fans may be outrageous, but D-Rob is a great kid that works hard every day.”     “Whenever we’re on the field, we know it’s go time. We honor that and respect that. We know that those are things that are going to separate us from other teams.” Watch as we go behind the scenes with the @FootballUGA receivers. pic.twitter.com/OeJegJoSrH — Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) November 17, 2018 DawgNation Georgia football stories Another former 5-star freshman emerging for Dawgs on O-Line Tech, Georgia agree that hedge destruction should cease Kirby Smart downplays offensive pressure, but Jake Fromm knows Nick Chubb and Sony Michel predict Georgia will beat Alabama Georgia opens up as surprisingly big favorite over Georgia Tech Tyler Simmons latest UGA receiver to emerge from deep room Georgia football players react to Justin Fields breakout performance Bulldogs bring No. 5 AP ranking into rivalry game with Georgia Tech Former SEC national title coach explains why option so devastating   The post WATCH: Georgia football WR Demetris Robertson breaks silence, Kirby Smart weighs in appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATLANTA (AP) - Montrezl Harrell doesn't mind trailing on the road when the Los Angeles Clippers still have a chance in the fourth quarter. 'It definitely builds your character,' he said. 'We got the ball to the guys we wanted to get the ball to. We keep playing. We keep fighting.' Harrell had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Lou Williams added 16 points and a season-high 11 assists, and the Clippers rallied past the struggling Atlanta Hawks 127-119 on Monday night to win their fifth straight game. Tobias Harris scored 24 points and Mike Scott had a season-high 18 on six 3-pointers for the Clippers, who erased a 15-point deficit in the second half for the second consecutive game. The Clippers, playing without second-leading scorer Danilo Gallinari, improved to 11-5. At this point last season, after winning in Atlanta, they were 5-11. Trae Young scored 19 of his 25 points in the first half, and Taurean Prince had 21 points for the rebuilding Hawks, who dropped to 3-14 and have lost eight in a row. 'I know everybody in Atlanta wants us to win now,' Young said. 'It's tough because we're right there. It's just that finish, and we're going to get it done.' Los Angeles trailed 87-72 in the third quarter, but went on a 20-4 run to take a 97-96 lead early in the fourth. Young lost the ball on the Atlanta end, and Williams whipped a pass across the baseline to Scott for a 3 that prompted the Hawks to call a timeout. Atlanta quickly regrouped, taking the lead back when Prince, who missed the previous two games with an Achilles injury, dunked on the ensuing possession. A 3-pointer by Alex Len put the Hawks up by five. It was all Los Angeles from there. Scott hit a 3 off an assist from Williams to give the Clippers the lead for good with 4:08 remaining. Williams fed Harrell for a strong reverse layup and a three-point play, and Harrell followed by knocking away Young's pass before Scott hit another 3 to make it 117-110. Williams, in his 14th season and second with the Clippers, knows his younger teammates depend on him to set the tone as the leader off the bench. 'I've seen a lot in this league,' he said. 'I have probably been in every single position that you could be in. Whether it's being almost an All-Star, starting or coming off the bench, I have a lot of experience, and when I talk, guys listen.' Gallinari was sick and unable to play for the first time this season. Avery Bradley started in his spot after missing the last six games with a left ankle sprain, finishing with five points in 20 minutes. The Clippers have won seven of eight. Atlanta has dropped 12 of 13. Harris scored 12 points in the first period, but the Hawks were ahead by five entering the second. Young gave Atlanta its biggest lead at eight with a fast-break layup. Los Angeles went on a 15-3 run to take a 50-44 lead on Patrick Beverley's fast-break layup before the Hawks' 14-3 run put them up by seven on DeAndre' Bembry's free throws. Harris ended the first half with a long 3 that made it 64-61. 'We keep putting ourselves in holes, which is too dangerous,' Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. 'This is a really fun team to coach.' SOLID RETURN John Collins, in his second game back for Atlanta after missing the first 15 this season with a left ankle injury, had 18 points, six assists, three rebounds and five fouls in 21 minutes. Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce had Collins on a limit of playing in bursts of 3-4 minutes before coming out. HURTING Hawks forward Omari Spellman started but left after four minutes with a bruised right hip. POOR TIMING Beverley was called for a technical in the third after disputing a foul call with official Courtney Kirkland, and Atlanta scored the next 11 points to take an 87-72 lead. Early in the fourth while he was on the bench, Beverley and Rivers made gestures of disbelief that Kirkland called a foul on Scott even though Len had his arms around him. Beverley did not return to the game. UP NEXT Clippers: Visit Washington on Tuesday. Hawks: Host Toronto on Wednesday. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports