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The Atlanta Falcons’ offense was stagnant, stuck back somewhere on I-85 in Atlanta in rush-hour traffic with nowhere to go.

Then reigning MVP Matt Ryan stepped up and made a play, thanks, in large part, to the teammate he called “California Cool” last season.

Ryan avoided pressure, almost fell to the ground, kept his balance, then hurled a pass down the middle of the field to Austin Hooper. The second-year tight end was wide open after the Chicago Bears blew an assignment, and then Hooper proceeded to stiff-arm Quintin Demps down the right sideline and rumble all the way to the end zone for an 88-yard fourth-quarter score and a 20-10 Falcons lead.

“I was uncovered, and Matt threw it to me,” said Hooper, who had another catch and stiff-arm on a 40-yard reception that set up a field goal. “And I scored. That was basically what happened. That was, like, it. Caught the ball, was completely uncovered, stiff-armed the dude, kept running. That was it. It wasn’t, like, nothing crazy.”

That play was the boost the Falcons needed on a day the offense looked far from dominant in a 23-17 season-opening victory, a win sealed by Brooks Reed’s game-ending sack of Bears quarterback Mike Glennon. Remember, the Falcons averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game last season and went 12-1 in games in which they scored 30 points or more. But Ryan and the Falcons didn’t expect an easy time against a formidable Bears defense.

And it wasn’t.

“We won the game, and at the end of the day, that’s why we prepare all week, is to come away with a win,” Ryan said. “Can we play better? Absolutely. Are we going to try and work on that? For sure. But we’ll take a win any day.”

A little rust was expected, of course. The offense, coordinated by Kyle Shanahan (now the 49ers’ head coach) last season, is under the watch of first-time NFL coordinator Steve Sarkisian, whose first big third-down playcall resulted in a 1-yard loss for running back Tevin Coleman from the Bears’ 29-yard line. The Falcons had to settle for Matt Bryant’s 48-yard field goal.

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Ryan’s final numbers certainly looked impressive as he completed 21 of 30 passes for 321 yards, with the touchdown to Hooper and a passer rating of 116.1. And Hooper had two catches for 128 yards, along with two nasty stiff-arms. But receiver Julio Jones had a quiet day — four catches for 66 yards — despite starting with a bang. He said the Bears showed different pre-snap looks and switched up their coverage. But there were times when it appeared Jones had single coverage and was wide open down the field.cheap sports jerseys wholesale

“I pretty much have my guy beat every play,” Jones said. “That’s my confidence when I’m on the field.”

The running back combo of Devonta Freeman and Coleman managed just 53 yards on 20 carries, although Freeman scored on a 5-yard touchdown.

Naturally, the Falcons will have to fine-tune elements of the offense as they head into next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game rematch with the Green Bay Packers. Jones drew one-one-one coverage against the Bears and didn’t seem to get enough opportunities. The play-action game wasn’t so effective, although it seemed to work occasionally as it did so many times last season. Folks will question if Sarkisian was aggressive enough in certain situations. And the offensive line, particularly new starting right guard Wes Schweitzer, got beat up physically up front in too many instances.

At the same time, this offense didn’t have much time together during the offseason and preseason as Jones recovered from a toe injury, receiver Taylor Gabriel rehabbed a lower leg injury, and Freeman suffered a concussion during the preseason.

If the Falcons hope to avoid a Super Bowl hangover and win the NFC South over potentially potent offenses in Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans, the offense has to click much better than it did Sunday.

But as Ryan said, a win’s a win.

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You’d have to go back to the 2005 Orange Bowl, where the USC Trojans thrashed the Oklahoma Sooners 55-19, to find a title game as one-sided, and with as much NFL talent as the rematch of the Game of the Century.

January 5th, 2012 seemingly marked an entirely new era in Alabama football; it was the last year of the vaunted 2008 NSD class that helped build Saban’s dynasty. The young talent on-board had signed on to a well-established machine. But, for the seniors of the 2011 season, it would be their valedictory. They would not be denied. And, together, the old vets and the new kids put together the hardest hitting games you’ll ever see.

The offense for both teams had seen better days, to be sure. But, for all practical purposes, these were two NFL teams meeting in a d-league game, with college coaching and college development. An unreal 45 players suited up in the Sugar Bowl for the rematch.

The defenses, though, on both occasions for both teams was played at high a level as you could possibly expect to see. Through eight quarters and an overtime period, the offenses combined for one solitary touchdown.

That touchdown? It would be the nail in the coffin of LSU’s historic season; it would mark the beginning of a nasty turn in the rivalry; it would launch Alabama to its 14th National Championship; it would be a run that seemingly broke the LSU Tigers for the next half dozen meetings; it would be the beginning of the end of Les Miles’ tenure in Baton Rouge; and, it would launch a Heisman campaign for the player who scored it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the signature moment of the Alabama vs. LSU offensive output for the 2011 season: Trent Richardson’s 34-yard score with just 3:49 to play.

What ever it was about that game and that touchdown, LSU has simply never been the same again. Since losing the Game of the Century on a night where Alabama outplayed the Tigers, the Tide have always dug a little deeper, while the Tigers have, sometimes inexplicably, taken the loss.

is wholesale jerseys legitJust 10 months after the BCS title game, TJ Yeldon raced untouched on a game-winning screen in the waning seconds to secure a 4-point ‘Bama win in Baton Rouge: 21-17 Tide.

The next year, LSU’s offensive line imploded in the second-half of a winnable game, leading to a late rout: 38-17 Tide.

In 2014, again in Baton Rouge, the Tigers would take a ridiculously stupid penalty, blow a touchdown lead, give up an improbable tackle-eligible deep ball, and lose in overtime: 20-13 Tide.

In 2015, LSU walked into Bryant Denny with a No. 2 ranking and the Heisman favorite: Win and the West was theirs. Larger goals were on the horizon. But, Adam Griffith kicked a freakishly long FG to give ‘Bama a 13-10 lead at half, and then LSU got manhandled in the second half. It would be Alabama that got the victory, the No. 2 ranking, and eventually that Heisman trophy: 30-16 Tide.

In 2016, when we though the era of the defensive slugfest was over, Alabama and LSU put on an encore in Tiger Stadium, playing a scoreless game through three and a half quearters. But, as in 2011, LSU’s offense died. And, as in 2012, a superior Alabama athlete weaved his way untouched for the deciding score: 10-0 Tide.

Who knows what’s in store for 2017? It will be hard-hitting, to be sure. It will likely be low-scoring and physical. But, if history is any indication, at some point, the Ghost of Trent Richardson’s Touchdowwn will rise up and the Tigers will mentally and physically lose the BCS championship for the seventh straight time.