NFC South: Monday Night Football

Today in NFC South history

March, 8, 2013
On this date in 2010, the Carolina Panthers released veteran fullback Brad Hoover.

The move stunned and angered fans because Hoover, who played high school and college football in North Carolina, was a fan favorite. He had spent 10 seasons with the Panthers and was a steady performer throughout that time.

But the highlight of Hoover’s career came in his rookie year when injuries forced him to move to tailback. In a “Monday Night Football’’ game against Green Bay, Hoover rushed for 117 yards and prompted the classic line (“Nice Move by The Hoov’’) from Dennis Miller.

Hoover’s release by the Panthers initially didn’t sit well with him or with many of his teammates. Hoover thought he still had something left in the tank. But he never signed anywhere else.

The relationship between the Panthers thawed considerably in 2011 when he agreed to travel to New York and announce the selection of one of the team’s draft picks.

Wrap-up: Panthers 30, Eagles 22

November, 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 30-22 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night:

What it means: Suddenly, there’s a ray of hope that coach Ron Rivera might be able to keep his job next season. One win against a very bad team isn’t going to change everything and neither is a 3-8 record. But this may be a starting point for Rivera and his team to finish the season on a bit of an upswing. I don’t think Jerry Richardson wants to pull the plug on Rivera, but he needs to see some progress the rest of the way. There are several more games on the schedule that look winnable. If Rivera can win a few of those, he may have a shot to stick around.

Newton’s big night: Cam Newton always seemed to be at his best in big games when he was at Auburn. Maybe he should be in prime time more often. In his “Monday Night Football” debut, Newton was both efficient and explosive. He threw two touchdown passes and had two touchdown runs and didn't make any major mistakes.

What I liked: The Panthers showed they actually can close out a game. Squandering fourth-quarter leads had been a problem all season, but Carolina got the job done this time.

What I didn’t like: Carolina’s run defense. Philadelphia rookie running back Bryce Brown had a huge night, rushing for 178 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers haven’t been very good against the run since the latter years of John Fox’s tenure.

Unsung hero: Backup tight end Gary Barnidge caught the first touchdown pass of his career in the first quarter. He also recovered a fumble on a Philadelphia kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

Milestone time: Carolina’s Steve Smith surpassed the 11,000-yard mark in career receiving.

What’s next: The Panthers play at Kansas City on Sunday.

Panthers-Eagles: It could be worse

November, 26, 2012
You have to look long and hard to find a worse "Monday Night Football" matchup than the contest between Philadelphia and Carolina.

Thankfully, the folks at ESPN Stats & Information did. The Eagles and Panthers are a combined 5-15 this season. That’s a .250 winning percentage.

But, believe it or not, this isn’t the worst game in the history of "Monday Night Football," although it’s pretty darn close.

Counting only matchups that came at least eight games into the season, the classic tilt between the 1-11 Chargers and the 3-9 Jets in 1975 (remember where you were that night?), ranks as the worst. The Chargers and Jets had a combined .167 wining percentage.

The only other matchup that was worse was a .200 winning percentage when the 3-7 Giants played the 1-9 Oilers in 1994.

Final Word: Panthers-Eagles

November, 24, 2012
Five nuggets of knowledge about the Monday night game between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles:

Hard road ahead. The Panthers are 1-3 on the road this season, but their three losses have come by a total of nine points. The game at Philadelphia is the start of a stretch in which the Panthers will play four of their final six games on the road.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Jeff Siner/Getty ImagesCam Newton has struggled in his second year in the NFL.
Sophomore slump. A quick look at Total QBR might be the best way to sum up Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s second NFL season. After ranking 17th in the league with a 55.0 Total QBR his rookie year, Newton ranks 29th this season with a 40.4 Total QBR. He’s had four games this season with a Total QBR lower than 20 after not having any games below that mark last season.

No need to blitz. The Eagles don’t blitz a lot to begin with. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no team has rushed four or fewer defenders more often than the Eagles, who have used that tactic 80.5 percent of the time over the past two seasons. But the Eagles might be wise to scrap the blitz completely against the Panthers. Newton has struggled far more against a pass rush of four or fewer than he has against the blitz. Over the past two seasons, Newton has a minus-4 touchdown-to-interception differential when facing four of fewer pass-rushers (only three quarterbacks have a worse differential). Over that same span, Newton has a plus-8 touchdown-to-interception differential when opponents have blitzed.

Milestone time. In a season in which there have been few positive milestones, the Panthers should hit one Monday night. Steve Smith needs just 12 receiving yards to become the fourth active player with 11,000 receiving yards. The only players ahead of him are Randy Moss (15,124), Tony Gonzalez (13,988) and Reggie Wayne (12,711).

Fourth-quarter woes. Over the past two seasons, the Panthers have lost five games in which they’ve held a lead entering the fourth quarter. But the good news is the Eagles have squandered a fourth-quarter lead six times in that same span. The Eagles and Dolphins are tied for the league lead in losing games in which they led at the start of the fourth quarter over the past two seasons. The Panthers are tied for third with the Cleveland Browns.

Statistical superlatives on the Saints

November, 6, 2012
Let’s turn to ESPN Stats & Information for some statistical superlatives on the New Orleans Saints after their 28-13 victory against Philadelphia on Monday night.
  • The Saints extended their winning streak on “Monday Night Football’’ to eight consecutive games. That’s the longest active streak and the third longest in history.
  • The Saints won for the 12th consecutive time in games played in the month of November.
  • Drew Brees extended his league record to 51 consecutive games in which he has had a touchdown pass.
  • Brees completed 21 of 27 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. It was Brees’ 93rd career game with two or more touchdown passes. That ranks him third among active players.
  • After starting the season 0-4, the Saints have won three of their last four games. Since 1990, seven teams have started 3-5 or worse, but made the playoffs.
  • Patrick Robinson’s 99-yard interception return for a touchdown tied him for the longest interception return in franchise history. Darren Sharper had a 99-yard return against the Jets in 2009.
  • For the first time since Week 6 of the 2002 season, the Saints had a game in which they recorded seven sacks and produced two turnovers.
  • The seven sacks against Michael Vick matched the most times he’s ever been sacked in one game.
  • The Saints got their running game going by mixing in Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory. That had a big impact on Brees, who had struggled with play-action passing early in the season. But, against the Eagles, Brees completed 10 of 12 play-action passes (83.3 percent) and threw for two touchdowns. Brees has completed 78.1 percent of his play-action passes in the last three games, after completing just 42.1 percent in the first five games.
  • The Eagles had four first-and-goal situations on Monday and failed to come away with a touchdown on any of them. The New Orleans defense produced two turnovers and forced two field goals in those situations.

NFC South programming notes

November, 5, 2012
ATLANTA -- I’m about to begin the trek back home to NFC South blog headquarters.

I’ll check in once I get home and we’ve got a big night ahead of us with the New Orleans Saints hosting the Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football." Colleague Ashley Fox will be covering the game from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and I’ll be providing halftime thoughts and a postgame wrap-up. Speaking of the Saints, if they win tonight, it will mark the first week this season in which all four NFC South teams have come away with a victory.

On the plane, I’ll be working on my All-NFC South midseason team, which will run a bit later this week. I had most of the team penciled in last week, but there were a couple of positions that were still up for grabs heading into the Week 9 games. There are several Saints who could also work their way onto the team Monday night, but I think it’s safe that unless New Orleans pitches a shutout against the Eagles, I’m leaning heavily toward not including any of their defensive players. That’s only because the New Orleans defense is off to a historically bad start.

Also, we’ve got a big week ahead as the Falcons prepare to play at New Orleans on Sunday. The Saints and Falcons have provided the division’s best rivalry in recent years. Even with New Orleans’ rough start, I’m sure the intensity will be high for this one.

The Falcons weren’t really happy with their loss in New Orleans late last season. In that game, some members of the Falcons felt the Saints ran up the score and left their starters in too long as they pursued several offensive records.

While I’m traveling, keep an eye on our main NFL page for any breaking news and I’ll weigh in on it once I’m back on the ground.

Saints don't need to blow up defense

November, 3, 2012
Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, Steve SpagnuoloStacy Revere/Getty ImagesIt is not time for the Saints to give up on Steve Spagnuolo's defense in New Orleans.
It’s so easy to sit back, look at the numbers and say the New Orleans Saints simply need to blow up their defense.

They are the first team in NFL history to allow 400 or more yards in each of its first seven games. The 3,323 yards the Saints have allowed are the most through seven games since the NFL first started tracking total yards in 1933. The Saints also are the only team to allow 24 points in each game this season.

It’s clear Steve Spagnuolo’s defense isn’t working. The Saints should just scrap it and go back to what (dare we say it?) Gregg Williams ran, right?

Wrong. That’s the worst thing the Saints, who host the Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football," could do for their future. Long before the bounty scandal broke, it became obvious that Williams had to go, and he did, leaving immediately after last season’s playoff loss to San Francisco.

When Sean Payton was making the switch, he realized the Saints needed something they’d never had in his tenure. They needed a consistently good defense.

“Listen, what we always win with around here is complementary offense and complementary defense," said Joe Vitt, who is the interim head coach as Payton serves a season-long suspension. “There have been, quite frankly, a lot of times around here since ’06 that we have struggled some defensively."

Yep, the Saints struggled so badly on defense in 2008 that Payton fired close friend Gary Gibbs and replaced him with Williams, even though the two men knew going in that their personalities and egos probably would clash.

For one beautiful season, things clicked. Williams’ defense, while not shutting everyone down, produced a bunch of turnovers and big plays, and the Saints won a Super Bowl. The next two seasons, the Saints got bounced in the playoffs because their defense wasn’t producing much.

Payton decided to, once and for all, fix his defense permanently. He hired Spagnuolo, who came with a proven system.

It’s not working as it should yet, but this is about the long term now, because the Saints aren’t going to the playoffs this season.

“I think with the veteran coaches [such as] Chuck Knox, Dick Vermeil, Ted Marchibroda, if you have dramatic changes and you have [radical] changes, that’s when panic sets in," Vitt said. “All of a sudden you’re going to create a scheme that you have not worked on in OTAs, that you have not worked on in training camp, and all of a sudden all of the things that looked good in OTAs and looked good in training camp all of a sudden start to look bad right now. If you put that panic in, the players can smell the house burning before the match is ever lit."

Leave the panic up to the fans. The Saints have to keep their eye on the ball and work through this or else they'll never get back to being the powerhouse they've been in recent years.

Sure, Spagnuolo can make a few minor tweaks. But the best thing he can do right now is to implement his system fully. The Saints already have decided rookie DT Akiem Hicks is a better fit than veteran Brodrick Bunkley

If safety Roman Harper can’t handle the coverage duties of Spagnuolo’s scheme, maybe it’s time to find out whether Isa Abdul-Quddus can. If Will Smith and Cameron Jordan can’t generate a consistent pass rush up front, maybe it’s time to figure out whether Junior Galette and Martez Wilson can.

Even if the younger guys do show they fit in Spagnuolo’s system, that’s not going to change everything overnight. The Saints faced salary-cap issues and a lack of draft picks in the offseason, and that’s why they weren’t able to stock Spagnuolo’s cupboard with the players he needed.

They’re going to face similar restrictions in the next offseason, but general manager Mickey Loomis is smart enough to work around that. It’s best to use the rest of this season to find out which guys do fit Spagnuolo’s system.

Then, fill the remaining holes in the offseason.

This might seem like a lost season for the Saints. But Payton is coming back next season and, if he has the kind of defense he’s always dreamed of, the Saints could be better than ever.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 2, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Surprising stat: The Falcons, who have been known for being great in the Georgia Dome for most of the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era, haven’t been very dominant at home this season. They’ve won their three home games by a combined 11 points. On the road, Atlanta has outscored opponents by 15 points per game.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/Mel EvansMatt Ryan is completing 78.8 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of each half.
Two-minute master: Here’s another sign that Ryan has taken a step into -- or near -- elite status. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has completed 78.8 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of the half (we’re talking both halves) this season. That’s the best percentage in the NFL. In his first four seasons, Ryan completed only 49.8 percent of his throws in those situations.

Historically bad: A lot of people thought the Panthers might make history this season. They are, but it’s for all the wrong reasons. The Panthers have lost five straight games, which gives them the longest active losing streak in the NFL. They're 1-6, and another loss would drop them to 1-7 for the fifth time in their history. Sad part is, the Panthers didn’t even hit 1-7 in their expansion year. But they started 1-7 in 2010, 2004, 2001 and 1998.

Another O-line shuffle: With All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks lost to a season-ending injury, the Bucs are going to have to make yet another change to their offensive line. That could slow rookie running back Doug Martin, who has been on a roll lately. Martin has averaged 4.5 yards when running to his left and 4.4 yards up the middle, but is gaining only 3.2 yards per carry when running to his right. Those numbers could fall, because whichever backup lineman the Bucs insert at left guard is likely to be a big drop-off from Nicks.

A positive note on the Saints: These have been tough to come up with this season. But this bodes well for the Saints on Monday night against the Eagles: The Saints have won seven straight “Monday Night Football’’ games. That’s the longest active streak in the NFL. The Saints also have won 11 straight games played in the month of November.
ATLANTA -- With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and Atlanta’s media relations department, let’s take a look at some statistical superlatives from the Falcons’ 27-21 win against the Denver Broncos at the Georgia Dome on Monday night.
  • Atlanta’s Matt Ryan didn’t have a spectacular night in a game that many anticipated would be a shootout with Denver’s Peyton Manning. But Ryan did outshine Manning in one key category. When it came to passing inside the numbers, Ryan completed 77.3 percent (17-of-22) of his passes, while Manning completed just 37.5 percent (6-of-16) of his attempts. Manning also threw all three of his interceptions inside the numbers. Also, Ryan was 5-of-6 for 75 yards when targeting Roddy White inside the numbers.
  • Although the Falcons didn’t get much out of their running game, they did well when it came to play-action passes. In those situations, Ryan was 12-of-13 for 95 yards and a touchdown.
  • The Falcons are now 27-6 under coach Mike Smith in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons also are 5-0 in Smith’s home openers.
  • The Falcons forced four turnovers. That marked the 35th time in the past 37 games that Atlanta has had at least one turnover.
  • Atlanta running back Michael Turner didn’t have a big night. But he scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. That was Turner’s 51st touchdown run, a franchise record, since joining the Falcons in 2008. In that same time span, only Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson has had more rushing touchdowns (54).
  • The Falcons intercepted Manning three times in the first quarter. The last time the Falcons had three interceptions in a game wasn’t that long ago. It came in the 2011 season finale against Tampa Bay. It also marked the first time in franchise history they’ve picked off three passes in the opening quarter. The Falcons previously had three interceptions in a quarter three times before. The first time was against Washington in the fourth quarter of a 1994 game. They also did it against Minnesota in the second quarter of a 2002 game and a 2003 game against Tampa Bay.
  • The Falcons had takeaways on three straight possessions for the second straight game. They also had two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the season opener against Kansas City.
  • In Smith’s tenure, the Falcons now are 19-1 when they have had three or more takeaways in a game.
  • This season, the Falcons lead the league with 26 points after takeaways.
  • Ryan had a 101.5 passer rating. Dating back to last season Ryan has had a passer rating above 100 in three straight games. In Ryan’s career, the Falcons are 25-0 when he has a passer rating of 100 or higher.
  • Ryan now has 100 career touchdown passes.
  • Since his entry into the league in 2008, the Falcons are 26-5 when Ryan has had two or more touchdown passes. He has at least one touchdown pass in 17 straight games and in 32 of his last 33 games.
  • Ryan now has a franchise record 233 consecutive passes without an interception. The previous record was 197 attempts by Steve Bartkowski in 1982 and ’83.
  • White had 102 receiving yards. He has a franchise record 29 games with at least 100 receiving yards.

Atlanta's defense winning with swagger

September, 18, 2012
William MooreKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWilliam Moore's first quarter interception set the tone for the defense Monday night.
ATLANTA -- They still are wearing disguises -- lots of them -- but the days of the Atlanta Falcons masquerading as a team capable of going deep into the postseason might be ready to end.

If you saw Atlanta's defense in Monday night’s 27-21 win against the Denver Broncos at the Georgia Dome, you probably didn't recognize it. It looked nothing like the Atlanta defense that spent the previous four seasons without establishing any sort of true identity.

The Falcons have an identity now under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. They're aggressive, they've got swagger, and, most important of all, the defense is capable of winning a game on a night when the offense never fully hit its stride.

The Falcons intercepted Peyton Manning on his first three drives, the first time in his career Manning has opened a game with three straight interceptions.

"It all came down to disguising things," said safety William Moore, who played what easily was the best game of his career.

Moore set up Atlanta's first touchdown with an interception and came up with a critical sack in the fourth quarter to help ice the game.

Let's begin with Moore's interception because that set the tone for the game. It started with a disguise. On Denver's third play of the game, Moore started off lining up at middle linebacker. As the ball was snapped, he quickly became a safety, dropping fast into coverage.

Moore picked off Manning’s pass at the Denver 34-yard line and returned it to the 1-yard line to set up Michael Turner's touchdown three plays later.

"It all comes down to looks," Moore said. "You can't show your hand to Peyton Manning, or he'll eat you alive."

The Falcons threw all sorts of looks at Manning, and he threw all sorts of uncharacteristic passes. They went almost all game with only two linebackers, sometimes only one, on the field. They lined up defensive backs at linebacker, sometimes dropping them into coverage and sometimes having them blitz.

Safety Thomas DeCoud picked off Manning on Denver's second drive, and cornerback Robert McClain, who played only briefly while a couple of corners were banged up, came up with the first interception of his career on Denver's third drive.

"We were able to disguise our coverages pretty well," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.

That’s an understatement. The Falcons (2-0) left a certain Hall of Famer looking hopelessly confused. That’s because the Falcons looked nothing like the play-not-to-lose defense they were under former coordinator Brian VanGorder. Under his watch, the Falcons played plenty of Cover 2 and always seemed to be on their heels.

[+] EnlargeSean Weatherspoon
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireSean Weatherspoon and an aggressive Falcons defense pressured the Broncos all night.
There’s nothing laid-back about Nolan’s defense. Outside linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas were all over the field, and the Falcons kept decent pressure on Manning. But it wasn't just Manning who was off balance.

Denver running back Knowshon Moreno lost a fumble near the end of the first quarter. Nicholas forced it and Weatherspoon recovered it as the Falcons finished the first quarter with four turnovers.

"It’s Peyton Manning," DeCoud said. “We weren't expecting to get three or four turnovers right off the bat."

It turned out to be a very fortunate thing that the Falcons got those early turnovers because their offense wasn't nearly as explosive as the defense. The Falcons managed only a touchdown and a field goal after the three Manning interceptions. They got only a field goal after the Moreno fumble. The offense seemed to go conservative at a time it could have been blowing the Broncos out of the building. Turner looked slow as he finished with 42 yards on 17 carries, and 15 of those yards came on a run late in the fourth quarter.

Wide receiver Julio Jones, who looked so good in the season opener, dropped several catchable passes and finished with four catches for 14 yards. Quarterback Matt Ryan (24-of-36 for 219 yards with two touchdowns), receiver Roddy White (eight catches for 102 yards and a touchdown) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (seven catches for 70 yards and a touchdown) were the bright spots for an offense that wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been.

But that's why the Falcons should take plenty of optimism out of this one. You look at their offensive talent and you know they'll usually be more productive on that side of the ball.

The defense? That's another story.

This is an entirely new defensive scheme and a whole different attitude. If the Atlanta defense can go out and almost single-handedly beat Manning, the Falcons should be able to win a lot more games and they won't have to do it with only offense.

They suddenly have a defensive swagger.

"Hopefully, we made a big statement around the league," Moore said. "We went out and played an excellent game against the best quarterback in the league. If we have that [swagger] all season, it's going to be a great season."

If the Falcons play defense like this all season, they could be more than the winning team they've been in the Ryan/Smith era. They could have an explosive offense and an explosive defense, and that -- at long last -- could take them a long way in the postseason.


Rapid Reaction: Falcons 27, Broncos 21

September, 18, 2012

ATLANTA -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 27-21 victory against the Denver Broncos at the Georgia Dome on Monday night:

What it means: It wasn’t the offensive shootout that many expected and it was far from the best game you’ll ever see. But the bottom line is the Falcons are 2-0 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC South. They already have a two-game lead on the New Orleans Saints, who were supposed to be their main competition in the division.

What I liked: Atlanta’s defense. The Falcons intercepted Peyton Manning three times in the first quarter. Aside from a touchdown drive at the end of the first half, Manning and the Broncos never really got into an offensive rhythm. This defense isn’t perfect, but new coordinator Mike Nolan definitely has brought a more aggressive attitude.

What I didn’t like: The officiating. It wasn’t like the replacement officials totally were wrong on a bunch of calls. It’s just that they didn’t seem to have control of the game (and there were a couple times when their math seemed to be a little off when marking off penalties). There were a lot of flags thrown, a lot of back and forth with coaches and a lot of replays. The first half took almost two hours and the game didn’t end until after midnight ET. The NFL is very conscious of its television audience. This was not a pretty game and, undoubtedly, a lot of viewers went to bed before it was over. If anything, this game might help prompt the league to resolve the labor situation with the regular officials.

What else I didn't like: The way Atlanta coach Mike Smith and/or offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter got so conservative with the play calling. The Falcons had a chance to blow the Broncos out early. Instead, they let them hang in way too late. It didn't result in disaster this time, but it's extremely dangerous to go conservative when you're playing against someone like Manning.

Game of his life: I thought Atlanta safety William Moore played as well as I’ve ever seen him play. He intercepted Manning on the first drive and returned the ball to the Denver 1-yard line, where the Falcons were able to punch it in for a quick touchdown. Moore also broke up another potential touchdown pass with a big hit on a receiver in the end zone and had good coverage all night. Moore also came up with a crucial sack midway through the fourth quarter.

Milestone time: The touchdown pass to Roddy White with 7:08 left in Matt Ryan's career.

Milestone-ending time: Atlanta receiver Julio Jones had the longest active streak in the league with at least one touchdown reception in his past five games. That streak is over. Jones didn’t catch a touchdown Monday and also had several drops. White picked up the slack and carried Atlanta’s receiving game. White topped the 100-yard mark in receiving for the 29th time in his career.

What’s next: The Falcons have a short week and a long road trip. They play at San Diego on Sunday afternoon. They’ll practice Friday at their facility before making the flight Friday afternoon.

Clabo, Weatherspoon active for Falcons

September, 17, 2012
ATLANTA – There was some concern the Falcons would be without injured right tackle Tyson Clabo (hip) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (hamstring) on Monday night.

Both players were listed as questionable, but there no longer is any question they’ll both be in the starting lineup against the Broncos.

The Falcons just announced their inactives and Clabo and Weatherspoon are not on the list.

The inactives are quarterback Dominique Davis, safety Charles Mitchell, cornerback Terrence Johnson, center Joe Hawley and defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi.

NFC South evening update

September, 17, 2012
ATLANTA -- Before we focus in fully on the “Monday Night Football" game between the Falcons and Broncos, let’s take a quick spin to see what’s going on elsewhere in the NFC South.
  • Although he’s been getting lots of heat for it, Tampa Bay Greg Schiano said he had no regrets about having his defense still playing hard as the Giants lined up in their victory formation Sunday. Schiano said that tactic worked for him at Rutgers. It’s easy to say he’s not at Rutgers anymore. But, if something has worked for you in the past, I don’t see anything wrong with sticking to it.
  • New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma arrived in New York for his meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday afternoon. I’d love to be a fly on that wall. No idea when Goodell will rule on discipline or if he’ll backtrack on the original season-long suspension for Vilma. But, given how everything else has worked throughout the bounty drama, I’d expect this to drag on for at least a few more days.
  • The Panthers have a couple of injuries and they have a short week as they face the Giants on Thursday night. Linebacker Thomas Davis’ hamstring is minor, according to coach Ron Rivera. But the ankle injury to Byron Bell sounds like it could be a bit more serious. If Bell has to miss time, the Panthers can turn to Bruce Campbell or Garry Williams.
ATLANTA – I just got into the Georgia Dome and had a preview of the “Monday Night Football’’ opening song waiting in my mailbox.

It’s a revised version of the 1979 “The Devil Went Down to Georgia’’ song by the Charlie Daniels Band.

You can see the full lyrics here. But let me share the first few lines with you because I think they’re pretty entertaining. Obviously, Daniels has changed the words to feature Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning.

Here you go:

Peyton went down to Georgia right out on the Falcons’ home field He was in a bind cause in the back of his mind he knew Ryan was the sho-nuff deal

The boy said my name’s Matty and it might be a sin
But I’ll make you a bet that you’re gonna regret cause I’m the best there’s ever been

Good stuff. But I will tell you this. I know Ryan fairly well. He has an inner confidence, but he’s probably the last quarterback in the NFL that would ever claim publicly he’s the best there’s ever been.

Again, those are Daniels’ words, not Ryan’s. But, as I pointed in this column, this game gives Ryan an opportunity to really improve his perception on the national stage with a good performance and a victory.

Headed for the Georgia Dome

September, 17, 2012
BUFORD, Ga. -- Since the traffic is probably the only thing I don’t like about Atlanta, I’m going to start making my way down toward the Georgia Dome now in hopes of getting there before the worst of rush hour gets started.

A couple of broadcast notes: First, I’m scheduled to do a phone interview with SportsCenter at approximately 4:20 p.m. ET. Then, I’ll follow that up at about 4:45 with an interview with Atlanta’s 680 (AM) The Fan.

Once I get settled into the Georgia Dome, I’ll check in to see what the other NFC South coaches had to say in their Monday media sessions. I’ll also work ahead on some stuff for Tuesday.

Heck, I might even have enough time to check the Facebook pages of all the replacement officials, just to make sure none of them are Atlanta or Denver fans.

As we get toward the evening hours, I’ll focus in on the “Monday Night Football’’ game between the Falcons and Broncos. I’ll get you the inactives about 90 minutes before kickoff and will weigh in if there is any pregame news or notes.

We’ll be doing our Countdown Live chat once the game starts and I’ll have Rapid Reaction right after the game and a full column a little bit later.

Meantime, I’ll leave you with a little suggested reading:
  • In this radio interview, Atlanta coach Mike Smith says he hasn’t noticed a change in quarterback Matt Ryan. A lot of people are talking about the “new’’ Ryan after his superb performance in Week 1. But I think Smith is right. Ryan hasn’t changed. He’s always been a hard worker, a leader and a good quarterback. People are just thinking he’s more than that now and he may be. But it’s not because he’s changed. It’s because the Falcons have surrounded Ryan with so much talent and they’ve brought in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to run a system that suits his quarterback’s skills very nicely.
  • And check out this radio interview in which Denver cornerback Champ Bailey compares Atlanta receiver Julio Jones to a young Terrell Owens. In terms of athletic ability, I think that’s a fair comparison. But I wouldn’t compare the personalities of the two. I’ve yet to see any of the “diva’’ attitude out of Jones that seems so common among Owens and many other big-name wide receivers.