Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

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

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 c omments 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)

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.