Falcons hold on to win (barely) in unusual way on an unusual day

Falcons owner Arthur Blank joins arms with his players during the playing of the national anthem prior to the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

DETROIT – It was not a normal game or a normal Sunday. The president of the United States, his work on far less important issues like national security, the economy and health care presumably completed for the week, had decided to take on a pro football league for not mandating that all of its players who silently protest the national anthem be excommunicated. Just drop kick the First Amendment.

The Trump vs. the NFL (and others in sports) rhetoric storm had become such a talking point going into Sunday that there was a level of concern from Falcons coach Dan Quinn and some players about focus.

“I’m not going to lie,” defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “It was hard in the pre-game, just trying to focus on the actual game. But once it started, I was locked in. Thank God I got my brain locked in. When you get so much hate, and so many people hate your guts just because of something you believe in, it’s crazy. But we locked in. We got it done.”

They did. They are 3-0. Somehow.

In a week that will be remembered for far more than wins and losses, the Falcons did both, depending on when you looked up.

They led Detroit 17-3. They ultimately rolled up 428 yards in offense and didn’t punt until there was just over three minutes left in the game. (Don’t go anywhere.) But a potential runaway was derailed by three turnovers — a pick-six and two others that bounced off receivers’ hands — the Lions clawed back to within 30-26 and seemingly won the game on a 1-yard touchdown with eight seconds remaining. But the touchdown was overturned on replay when it was ruled Golden Tate’s knee was down at the Falcons’ one. Since the Lions had no timeouts left, the mandatory 10-second runoff killed the final eight seconds of the game and the Falcons won.

Most of the team’s players had no idea about the rule.

Just like the script. In a cartoon.

“I wasn’t sure what to think, but I’ll take it,” Desmond Trufant said.

“I’m definitely happy about that rule right now. My emotions went from zero to 100,” said safety Brian Poole, who made the game-saving tackle on Tate.

“Everybody had their initial shocked face on,” Quinn said.

We are blindsided by so much these days. Just add this to the list.

There’s more.

There was a fire outside the Falcons’ locker room. Their post-game catering spread went up in flames, like bipartisanship.

It was accident, we think. The corridors in Ford Field outside both team’s locker rooms filled with smoke to the point that several people were coughing.

Just to affirm …

“We did not start the fire,” Matt Ryan said.

Apt words on this day.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank locked arms with players during the national anthem. Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett kneeled.

Jarrett’s explanation later: “Oh man, I’m a son of a queen.”

You know. Instead of a “son of a bitch,” to quote a resident of the White House.

Blank spoke to a few media members before the game, amplifying on a Tweet he sent Saturday. “Love conquers and that kind of divisiveness and calling out accomplishes nothing, satisfies nothing,” he said. “The issues that (athletes) point to are legitimate issues and they need to be talked about and we need to make progress and get the country moving forward again. But you don’t do it by creating walls.”

Trump’s comments from his speech in Alabama and assorted spewings on Twitter the past two days inflamed an already toxic situation nationally. But not in the Falcons’ locker room.

Don’t underestimate how the closeness of a team can help in situations like this.

Ryan: “I disagreed with some of the comments that were made a couple of days ago and it meant a lot to me to have Arthur down on the field. That statement says a lot.”

Quinn addressed the swirling controversy at a team meeting Saturday. He drew inspiration from comments that Clayborn made to the team a few weeks earlier, but wanted to make sure players ultimately would be focused on the game.

“I thought it was important to bring it up to our team and I did that last night,” Quinn said. “Adrian Clayborn had some comments that really stuck with me. He said I wish the rest of the world was like our locker room. We’re black. We’re white. We’re from the city. We’re from the country. And if more guys were like our locker room, the world would be a better place. What I took out of that is we can be a fantastic model for our community, and for Atlanta.”

The Falcons almost lost Sunday but it wasn’t because of any splintering. They almost lost because of three interceptions, including a pick-six that accounted for the Lions’ only touchdown until late in the third quarter, and another in the red zone off Mohamed Sanu’s hands that robbed them of certain points. They almost lost because of a seemingly tiring that “strained” to the end (Quinn’s word), playing without starters Vic Beasley and Courtney Upshaw and later losing defensive back Ricardo Allen with a concussion.

But they went 2-0 on replay: a touchdown where Sanu was initially ruled down at the one-yard line and the play at the end. And they held together.

“It’s so diverse in football,” Clayborn said. “We come from everywhere and it’s a shame we can’t all get along. I wish (the world) could be like that. If it was, it would be a way better place.”

It wasn’t a normal day. It wasn’t a normal game. It wasn’t a normal finish. But the Falcons got their point across and somehow came away with a victory. They could not have hoped for a better Sunday.

EARLIER: (Free blog) Sports, politics continue to intersect (with Blank transcript)

Subscribe to the,We Never Played The Game” podcast with the AJC’s Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes. Episodes also can be downloaded from on-demand link on WSBRadio.com.

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40 comments
vihowajoro
vihowajoro

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Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

How about a in depth round table discussion between the players taking a knee , Arthur Blank, Dan Quinn and the city leadership (mayor, police chief ,city council members) and have the AJC cover the story in depth, about what  ideas both sides   have to address the issues in the Atlanta community that the players are concerned about.

The Press (AJC included) just appears to want to cover the Public Pi$$ing contest between the players ,owners and the President, instead of focusing on what the exact issues the players are protesting and any remedies for these issues .

Public discourse is an American tradition, but there must come a time when both sides can come together stop demonizing each other and work to find a solution to the problem.

TideDawg
TideDawg

They didn't cover the line.......so what? The Falcons are 3-0. It doesn't matter how, why, what if, whatever, or the margin of victory. Winning, regardless of how you played the game is a good sign. If they move on and eventually make it to the playoffs who is going to look back and say what about those 2 games they should have lost. They do need to do something about those 4th quarter letdowns.

sacks
sacks

How in the hell did the falcons win this game?  How many times have we seen the refs call that same play a touchdown?

You turn the ball over 3 times..you can defend against the pass..cant seal the edges..

you almost lost at Chicago..should have!!

You could be 1-2..but the gods smiled on you and lo and behold you are 3-0..unbelieveable!!

Go falcons..

mark513
mark513

Hey Jeff why don't you ask Adrian Clayborn what he meant when he said "so many people hate your guts for something you believe in". Kapernick started this protest based on police brutality some thing that occurred under Obama's watch and with his DOJ investigating the various policy forces involved. Yet no changes where made, no conventions where had in Baltimore or Ferguson where all police officers where found innocent on criminal charges and any violations of civil rights. I do not hate Adrian Clayborn's guts, I love the guy he works hard and has over come a lot in his life. But why is it that Trump is the bad guy here who "wants to drop kick the First Amendment" but players have no responsibility for their actions. They kneel before the anthem and expect paying customers and fans on t.v. to just be fine with that and then can not articulate what it is they "believe in" God forbid you ask probing questions and get to the bottom of the debate that would require actual work, instead you pass judgement and cash your pay check. A check you get for covering sports which in the future may not be around to cover. 


TideDawg
TideDawg

Dontari Poe said he wanted to support his brothers when they kneel for the National Anthem. Why doesn't he want to support the ones that are standing in respect?

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KSU OWLS
KSU OWLS

Let me shorten this article for everyone.

I'm a Liberal AJC Sports Writer.

I hate Trump

I love Obama

Arthur Blank loves Obama

So I love Blank.

Got it? 

mgunter
mgunter

Schultz, I don't care what you think of President Trump! Keep your left leaning politics out of your silly articles. I also don't care what th Falcons did or any NFL team.

I've closely followed the Falcons and th NFL since 1968. That stopped last year when th league did not step up and stop th kneeling nonsence. NFL rating are falling faster than AJC subscription rates! Way more Americans take take their Flag more seriously than a silly game!!!

baconlegs
baconlegs

@mgunter Hey just so you know, the NFL could give two shits if you are watching, or attending. They don't need dinosaurs like you to support their product. You're on the wrong side of history, and you'll likely die having no idea.

Funny that you don't like the article or watch the NFL, yet here you are commenting. Fascinating.

tipstotips
tipstotips

Quinn always seems to think his defense will get a stop at the end of the game and goes conservative on offense. He has been right twice this year. Hope his luck continues.

TOJacket
TOJacket

Schultz...."your" POTUS is Donald Trump...learn to live with it and shut up about politics...I wouldn't care if the NFL tanks...it's absolutely mind boggling these owners are allowing these millionaire players to disrespect our flag.!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@baconlegs

Yet he spends most of his time on these blogs calling everyone else stupid.

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

The Falcons seemingly dominated the game against the Lions. Sark called an excellent game, but if I had to critic his play calling he should of stuck with the running game a little longer. Especially before The pass to Sanu when an interception happen.

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OH:IO
OH:IO

Listened to the entire game on Sirius w/ the Detroit local call. Very entertaining with a "War of the Worlds" finish. 


3-0

Wrecker
Wrecker

I would rather read about the game than snide comments about politics, regardless of your beliefs.

Ric1957
Ric1957

It really does seem like there are other issues that Mr Trump should be focusing on if he is President. He reminds me a little of the guy in North Korea. Maybe just a little nuts. 

mark513
mark513

@Ric1957 He is doing that I guess you are not playing close attention, you and Jeff should get together and compare notes. I imagine it would be a very quick session. 

NorwegianB
NorwegianB

My AJC subscription is hanging by a thread. This article may be the final straw.

mark513
mark513

@ATLJacket @NorwegianB It was a great article, at the end we still have no idea what the hell Adrian Clayborn believes in. Yup Pulitzer Prize writing for sure. 

baconlegs
baconlegs

@mark513 @ATLJacket @NorwegianB But, but, but, I thought we shouldn't care what these players care about? You want to know what Clayborn "cares about" so that you can tell him he's wrong. I'll tell you what Clayborn cares about...equality. 

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TuckyHawg
TuckyHawg

Keep politics out of the NFL. Thousand of young boys died, defending that flag and the freedom it represents, to those spoiled millionaire brats. 

baconlegs
baconlegs

@TuckyHawg Yes, they died so that these "spoiled millionaire brats" can take a knee. This isn't hard to understand.

Eric_C
Eric_C

Winning a game on the road after losing the turnover battle 3-0 is almost unheard of...especially against a good team like Detroit and one of the most clutch QBs in the game.  Winning a game like this just makes the Falcons stronger. 

MyronHoskins
MyronHoskins

I would say the Falcon's defense was good. They overcame three interceptions on the road. 

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Big Wally
Big Wally

Yep, the defense does not appear to be in shape.  They repeatedly run out of gas in the 4th quarters.

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

@Big Wally  It was very hot in that dome and with guys hurt I'm sure it effective the defensive line rotation.

EnforceTheLawOrChangeIt
EnforceTheLawOrChangeIt

@Big Wally Lions offense doesn't score a TD until after 40 min mark in this game.  Lions 1st and goal at the ATL 1 yard line.  3 attempts later and they dont enter the end zone.  Game over.

Don't be too critical.   This is a pretty good defense.  If not for the 3 ints, it would have been a blowout.



TideDawg
TideDawg

Once again the Falcons seemed to wear down in the 4th quarter. Not enough depth???? Not enough conditioning???? What? They start out building a good lead then spend it trying to hang on in the 4th. That is not vaguely familiar, that's all too familiar. If they can keep it up that's great, but the 4th quarter of the season is going to be like the 4th quarter of their games.