Alone In First Place (Always Take the Points)

12 Sep


Okay, I’ve waited long enough. A few days to let that sink in, you understand. To watch the game on TV a couple times and that last 4th down play a few dozen. To revel in yet another wonderful, heartbreaking, last-second win over the Falcons that should feel commonplace by now but hasn’t lost its wonder even after 12 occurrences in 7.5 years.

I’m ready now. Ready to discuss that beautiful event that sparked a social media meltdown of unexpected proportion. On blogs and twitter accounts and facebook pages, our wonderful, jaded friends to the East showed their disgust – and like our schadenfreude, one would expect it to have become routine over the last three-quarters of a decade of utter dominance.

Yet the hurt remains strong.

I didn’t understand at first why some of my favorite Falcon fans – the ones who accept their situation for what it is, the ones who tolerate a little trash talk and even give back a little while confining themselves to the reality of three out of fifteen, began to tirade and block and pout.

Then I put a bit of thought into it, and it makes more than a little sense. Last year was supposed to be the turning point, right? That’s what I would have told myself had I been born in or around that nightmare of Waffle Houses and highway interchanges: this is it. This is the day things change for the better. Big brother spent a year without a head coach, finished with a losing record, sported the worst defense in the history of historic football defenses, lost a beloved touchdown record against this very team, and OMG ten yards from a Super Bowl!

And now this. The irreparable defense ends a season opener against the Falcons with a crucial stop, taking sole possession of first place in the blink of an eye, exposes Stephen Jackson (one long run involving a very turned-around cornerback aside) as the old, tired running back we all knew he was, relegating the Official NFC Super Bowl Favorite of Your Favorite Expert to second place, not only in the standings but in the mind of any objective and rational observer, and suddenly everything snaps back to, well, rightness.

2012 notwithstanding, the status quo is intact.

And that’s the plight of the Falcon fan in the second week of September 2013: for this era, the time of Mike Smith and Sean Payton, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, perhaps the highest height has already been achieved. A late-season home win over a division rival and a trip to the NFC Championship Game is simply as good as it gets.

That must be pretty frustrating. And it certainly explains the heightened state of meltdown I’ve experienced from the dozens of Falcon faithful on the message boards and the twitter.

Hey, let’s be honest here. It just doesn’t really get any better than this.

Meanwhile, back over here in first place, we have a lot to be thankful for (even setting aside schadenfreude for a moment). The defense, as expected, is better than last year. What remains to be seen is exactly how good they can be. Jenkins and Harper, every quarterback’s favorite whipping boys in 2012, can still be frustrating at times; yet, in Rob Ryan’s already-interesting scheme, it’s hard to tell who exactly is at fault for any particular miscommunication or missed coverage. Still, Sunday’s game saw at times: Roman Harper covering Tony Gonzalez like a blanket; Jenkins forcing a fumble and Harper recovering; Corey White (!) making consecutive form tackles that looked like they came out of an instructional video (get a copy of Teach Your Kid How To Tackle Without Diving Aimlessly At The Ballcarrier’s Feet With His Eyes Closed, for two easy payments of only $19.99!), and two defensive stops inside the 10-yard-line, one a game winner closed by a Roman Harper interception (!).

A PTOMAC of 17 against one of the Holy Crap Best Offenses In The League.

Yes, friends, we have plenty to celebrate this week. And we haven’t even discussed Kenny Dwayne Fucking Vaccaro, who we here at The Angry Who Dat agree may be the best defensive player on this team by playoff time. I’m not just talking about his spear of Defenseless Matt Ryan that drew a 15-yarder (loved that), or his tip and subsequent super-aware-of-what’s-happening-right-now mugging of Tony Gonzalez on the final defensive play of the game as Roman Harper dove for the ball (Hey, Kenny, grasping Tony’s facemask while he struggled to get up was a nice touch, but let’s ease up on that particular move, cool?). Nope. It’s more subtle than that.

Want to take a look at Kenny Dwayne Fucking Vaccaro the football player, as he immediately improves our defense? Go to just under nine minutes remaining in the third quarter*, and look for Stephen Jackson to get the ball. Cornerback, safety, cornerback dive at Jackson’s feet and are easily evaded. Three, four steps in the open field, and Vaccaro meets his guy’s body, taking him immediately to the ground.

*I hope this is correct, as I’m going from memory. I wrote that shit down and left it at home today. Sorry, I’m new to the Gamefilm Analysis game.

What does this prove? Well, that Vaccaro can tackle the shit out of people. But it goes beyond that – it seems he just brings basic football ability to the table. That sounds like a pretty shitty complement, but for all the years of message board discussion of the “right way” to use Harper, or the “correct scheme” to utilize Jenkins, Vaccaro just goes out there and does football shit right. Granted, we don’t have a 2012-style control group on Kenny Dwayne, but we’re talking about feelings here and it feels like he’s fucking good at this stuff.

Look at the tip on the final play – Roman Harper gets destroyed at the goal line by Gonzalez*, and Tony separates, coming over the middle. When Matt Ryan releases, Vaccaro is going the wrong way. He’s moving to the right! A change in direction, a barely-even-touched-that-damn-thing tip, and a legal mugging of the intended receiver later, the game is over. Don’t get me wrong, Harper looks good out there right now, and Ryan seems to know exactly what to do with him. And he should get credit for the interception. But that ball falls to the ground and the game is still over. So :bigbow: Vaccaro.

*Harper called it a push-off. But since the ball was not in the air, and last time I checked the goal line was within 5 yards of the 3-yard-line, I’m thinking it’s a safe bet that the refs are going to let that one go Every. Single. Time.

Moosedenied’s post this week covered some of the other nonsense I wanted to gripe about (especially the criticisms of Brees) so go read that if you haven’t already.
I know, you’ve read already, but I needed a good segue into the field goal vs. go-for-it argument, and since Grandmaster Wang got it completely fucking wrong, a link seemed like the way to do it.

Wang says that the decision to go for it on fourth down or kick a field goal can only be judged in hindsight. There is no wrong decision, he supposes, until you know the result. Ok. To be fair, he’s at least a hell of a lot more right than anyone who says Payton should have gone for it on fourth down, so there’s that.

Kicking the field goal in that situation is the right call. It’s the only call. No matter the result. You must take the points.

This is a two-part argument. First, the kick virtually always produces a positive result. Of course, Hartley could miss, and the kick could be blocked, and a bad snap is possible, but these results on a 20-yard kick are so rare that they don’t affect the argument. So stop it with that shit. It is safe to assume that the decision to kick makes it a 6-point game, and extends the length of the field for the defense.

The second part concerns what happens after the kick/go-for-it. The kick is a surety: you will likely place the other team around the 20 after a touchback with a 6-point lead. If you go for it, and succeed, the game is over. If you go for it and do not, you have a 3-point lead with 3 minutes remaining and an opponent with a pretty damn good kicker and a quarterback who is the fucking MASTER of Drop Back In My Own Endzone And Heave The Ball, Hoping Someone Runs Under It For A Bullshit 40-yard catch.

Hell no, I’ll forego the nebulous field-goal-distance line with 30 or 40 yards of open space behind it for the nice white chalk line backed by 10 yards of endzone any day. That’s a line you can put two safeties on to defend in case someone gets the ball in the open field, which is precisely what happened to set up the goal line stand in the first place.

The problem is that we’re conditioned to expect a breathtakingly terrible defense. We’re so accustomed to an earth-shattering, suicide-inducing burning garbage pile of a defense already that we figure “hell, there’s no difference between the goal line and the 30 any damn way, let’s just go for it and hope we can seal a win now”. Yes, the Falcons offense got to the 3. They didn’t get in. That’s how it works outside of Stockholm.

Because it was the right call. Take The Points.

Of course all this means shit if we convert the first down, and while it’s still the wrong decision it wins the game, because that happens sometimes, and of course kicking an onside kick in the Super Bowl is pretty much always a stupid idea but that worked too, and goddamnit, I just realized Payton’s going to go on fourth down and put a game on the line by probably week 4 because he’s an asshole and he hates my blood pressure.

So let’s just move on.

Right around the corner, we find easily the laziest, most uninspiring part of the schedule. Enjoy it! Bucs, Cardinals, Dolphins, Bears, before taking on New England. Another three or four weeks of rest before that bullshit Seattle-San Francisco-Atlanta run in something like 11 days, because fuck the League Office, all of them.

But for now, we should be looking at 5-1 as a strong possibility with a fair chance of 6-0 going into the bye, and if you’re a “Take One Week At A Time” kind of fan, look forward to this here road trip against a team who reportedly had a players-only meeting before week one even began to discuss the possibility of their fascist head coach rigging the votes for team captain like some kind of shitty Big East Jugo Chávez. Jesus.

Think about this. An NFL coach is suspected by his own players of staging a secret coup to overthrow his own quarterback as team captain against the wishes of the proletariat. These guys aren’t just staring a potential meltdown in the face, they’re in actual danger of dissolving into a police state. And you’re worried about Drew Brees underthrowing a rookie wide receiver? Fuck off.

Of course, Ralph thinks we lose. Shit. It takes all kinds.

Saints 86, Bucs -3

2 Responses to “Alone In First Place (Always Take the Points)”

  1. arcjones September 13, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    Saints 86, Bucs 3 love it,

  2. Himself September 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    Sean Payton is so far ahead of Mike Smith, every other coach, and all the New Orleans fans that it gives me a nosebleed.

    Take the points? Payton wasn’t thinking only of ending this one game. He was allowing his defense to grow up. “Here it is guys: you’re time is now. Save the season.” And they did. How do you think they’re going to play now? Like the bumbling sad sacks of 2012, or like the “I shit rainbows” defense of 2009?

    Of course, Payton could have been wrong, and that would have been unpleasant. But he wasn’t wrong, because, in the words of good King Harry, “God fought for us.” We’re Saints, after all.

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