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The Pro Game

Little behind Falcons' KO punch

About the Author

Tom Danyluk
Contributing writer

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Posted Dec. 19, 2012 @ 9:33 a.m. ET
By Tom Danyluk

I guess the Falcons got sick of hearing how they were just a troupe of pastry chefs and featherweights. Maybe you could tell by their reaction last Sunday, the way they sent a fist into the jaw of the elite Giants, the same bullyboys who messed up their hair and spanked them out of the playoffs last January.

I mean, 34-nothing is 34-nothing, and it was glorious payback as the 12-2 Falcons delivered the worst Giants shutout in more than 15 years.

But that punch never really knocked the New Yorkers cold. Oddly, the Giants stood there and took it. Like that silly scene in Hooper, where Burt Reynolds hauls back and clocks Terry Bradshaw on the chin, and Bradshaw just stares back and smiles and spits out a tooth. On Sunda, the Giants winced and spit out a tooth.

People are talking about how this is a free year for the Giants, that the defending champs get a pass no matter how their season winds up. But we have to assume they’re still playing hard and trying to win these games, so what happened to them in Atlanta isn’t something to be laughed off. I just think everyone expected a helluva better fight than the one we got.

We saw Eli Manning cram in a pair of interceptions and there was a New York fumble, and the Giants' pass rushers never belted QB Matt Ryan around, and overall it was another one of those rainy day, la-di-da showings for the Giants.

Meanwhile, the Falcons threw a lot at rookie CB Jayron Hosley and rattled his tree and ran up a big score without being too impolite or abusive. “We didn’t play our best football,” conceded Ryan.

Nope. The Falcons delivered a mid-grade punch and the Giants took it. They didn’t hit the ground and they didn’t hit back. They walked away. “It was just another win,” Falcons DE John Abraham said.

Translation: the Falcons learned nothing from the outcome.

Twenty seven years ago, I remember watching a man roar through the middle of the Atlanta defensive line, and the great Earl Campbell had an open runway before him.

In younger days you didn’t catch Campbell when got going like that. But after a healthy sprint the Falcons trapped him from behind and hauled him down before the endzone. I felt sad watching that. I felt sad because that was proof it was finally over for Earl, the most devastating power back I had ever seen. It was like seeing Ali in his last fight, the old ghost cowering and retreating as Berbick machine-gunned in the blows.

I felt that same kind of heaviness again last weekend, during that terrific Steelers-Cowboys battle. The final days of Troy Polamalu on display. Polamalu, the great destroyer, who once played strong safety the way Campbell delivered the football. He was back in the lineup after a long stretch of injuries, and on one series his eyes found a Cowboy who was cruising down the left sideline with the ball.

Not so long ago Troy would have hit this guy like a Trident missile and blew him into the Gatorade table. No longer. Anyway, Polamalu found his target and launched.

He missed everything. A complete whiff. From his knees he simply looked around to see what had happened. We could see what happened. He didn’t belong out there anymore. The end of a legendary Steeler. It was sad to watch. 

I understand they recharged his contract back in June, but head coach Jim Schwartz has allowed the Lions to completely decompose this season. You wonder if someone has the nerve to sneak in the locker room and hang one of those management parody signs: “The wheels are turning but the hamsters are all dead.”

The Lions have 10-win talent but they have now dropped six games in a row to hit 4-10, with Atlanta and Chicago still on the schedule. Either the players have stopped trying or the coaching has been neutered, but it has been a foul season in Detroit, and maybe things have eroded too far to permit another year of Schwartz in command.

More on the Earl of Texas. In 1979, Oilers head coach Bum Phillips brought in a return specialist named Richard Ellender, and he asked Phillips what he expected from him on the season.

“Bum told me, ‘I don’t want you to fumble,” Ellender said. “Then he said, ‘And every yard you move the ball toward the goal line, that’s one less yard Earl won’t have to get by himself.”

Once I asked Phillips if he ever felt any guilt that he might have bled Campbell out early, sending his prize Brahma over and over into the ripping jaws of the defense. He insisted that wasn't the case.

“I always thought that you tried to win the game you were playing,” Bum explained. “If we used him to win the game we were playing, then that’s the only thing that counts. And I’m sure that’s what he thought. If he had to carry 30 or 40 times to help us win the game, he would. I’m sure his attitude was, ‘Hey, let’s win this game and worry about next week when we get to it.’”

A battered Polamalu is nodding in agreement.

Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at You can contact Tom at

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