Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Live from the Dome: First-place Falcons versus Johnny Football

The play where Johnny Manziel bounced, ran and threw. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC photo)

OK, so Johnny Manziel mightn't play today, and if he does, the Cleveland Browns will be in a spot of trouble. The famous Johnny Football has thrown exactly one NFL pass. (It was incomplete.) The much-less-famous Brian Hoyer has led the Browns to a winning record, although last week's emphatic home loss to Houston suggests they're not as good as 6-4 would suggest.

Still, it's worth noting that the last/only time Johnny Football set foot in the Georgia Dome, he lit the place up. It was New Year's Eve 2013, and he Johnny-Football'ed Texas A&M past Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Blue Devils led by 21 points at the half and by 10 with six minutes remaining, and still they lost. Manziel passed for 382 yards and ran for 73 more. Even if you'd grown weary of the ESPN hype, you couldn't come away from that game and think anything but, "This guy is one great college player."

But this is the NFL, and the NFL is different. The Browns made him the 22nd pick in Round 1 of the NFL draft -- there was thought for a time that he could go No. 1 overall -- and had a chance to anoint him their starter in preseason. They declined. They chose Hoyer, much to the chagrin of the Worldwide Leader, which saw its New Tebow reduced to bench-sitting. (Come to think of it, wasn't the Old Tebow similarly shelved by the Jets?)

But enough about a second-stringer. How 'bout those division-leading Falcons? They've won two in a row and, at 4-6, are within sight of .500. Many column inches/megabytes have been filled this week bemoaning the wretchedness of the NFC South -- and it's bad, no question -- but still: Wouldn't you rather be leading a terrible division than sitting in last place?

Should the Falcons win today, it would mark their first victory over a team not based in the NFC South. (That tells us much, does it not?) Given the way the rest of the division is playing, it might also clinch a playoff berth. (Kidding about that, but only slightly.) The Falcons haven't played in the Dome in 42 days, which has to be some sort of NFL scheduling record, and when last seen here they stunk out the joint against Chicago.

But it's a different day -- a different month, actually -- and maybe they've figured things out. I'll be here until somebody wins, and I'd appreciate the company. And, as ever, I thank you in advance.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.