Is this the best team in the NFL?

949573.jpg

Is this the best team in the NFL?

From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- No one has led more late game-winning drives during the past five seasons than Matt Ryan, and the Atlanta Falcons quarterback did it again with his fifth one this season.Matty Ice threw for 353 yards and overcame two critical turnovers to stop Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak with a 24-23 victory on Sunday.The Falcons (10-1) are tied with the Houston Texans for the NFL's best record, and Ryan had plenty of help in withstanding a challenge from the up-and-coming Buccaneers (6-5)."They are playing with a lot of confidence," said Ryan, who has won seven of his past eight starts against the Bucs. "It's always been a tough place for us to come play. They play with great effort, and I think they have a good football team."Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD midway through the third quarter, but the Falcons found themselves trailing 23-17 after the Bucs marched for a touchdown, then used a sack-fumble to set up a field goal that left Atlanta needing another strong finish from their quarterback.Ryan obliged by a leading a six-play, 64-yard march that Michael Turner finished with a 3-yard TD run that put the NFC South leaders ahead for good with 7:55 remaining.Connor Barth missed a 56-yard goal for Tampa Bay (6-5) in the closing minutes, and the winning streak that's helped the Bucs climb back into playoff contention following a slow start ended when Josh Freeman's desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone on the final play."The last drive, that's something we've done before this season," Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "I really think that's a positive for us to be able to come up with plays like that when we have to like that. ... I'm really happy with the way we responded."It's getting to be a way of life. Ryan has also led late marches to beat Carolina, Washington, Oakland and Arizona this season and has put together 21 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since entering the league in 2008 -- four of them against the division rival Bucs.The Falcons won't have long to celebrate this one. The host the New Orleans Saints Thursday night in a rematch of the only game they've lost."Ten-and-1 is great, but I'll tell you what I've said since the beginning of the season: We're just jockeying for position," Gonzalez said. "We just want to put ourselves in the best position, playing the best football. Right around this time is when you want to start gelling as a team and take it on into the playoffs because that's the most important thing."The win stopped the Bucs, who've won five or seven following a 1-3 start, from tightening the NFC South standings. Turner also scored a fourth-quarter TD that helped the Falcons overcome six turnovers to beat Arizona 23-19 last week.Doug Martin scored on a pair of 1-yard run for the Bucs, however the rookie who began the day leading the NFL in total yards from scrimmage was limited to 50 yards rushing on 21 carries.Barth kicked field goals of 22, 42, and 48 yards, the latter giving the Bucs their six-point lead after cornerback E.J. Biggers sacked Ryan to force a fumble. Ryan threw a second-quarter interception -- his sixth pick in two weeks -- that led Barth's field goal that made it 10-10 at the half.Ryan completed 26 of 32 passes, including four straight on the drive that Turner finished with his TD run. Jacquizz Rodgers had a 5-yard TD run in the first quarter, and Jones finished with six receptions for 147 yards despite playing on a sore right ankle that limited him in practice.Ryan started the game with 10 straight completions before Ronde Barber's interception and 28-yard return to the Atlanta 31 led to Barth's first field goal.The Falcons drove to the Tampa Bay 4 in the closing seconds of the half, but wasted an opportunity to regain the lead when Matt Bryant hooked a 22-yard field-goal attempt wide left as time expired. The Atlanta kicker missed a 48-yarder with 8 seconds left, giving the Bucs one more chance to pull out what would have been their first signature victory under first-year coach Greg Schiano."It was a hard-fought game by both teams, a very physical game," Schiano said. "But I do think missed opportunities were a big part of it. There were some chances both offensively and defensively, and in the kicking game."Freeman finished 19 of 30 for 256 yards, and Vincent Jackson had five catches for 96 yards. A big factor in the loss, though, was Atlanta's held the Bucs to field goals after each of Ryan's turnovers, once after Tampa Bay had 1st-and-goal at the Atlanta 3."I thought our defense did an outstanding job again. They were put in some tough situations after turnovers," Falcons coach Mike Smith said, adding that slowing Martin was one of the keys to the game as well."We knew it was going to be one of our musts,' and I thought we did a nice job," Smith added. "I thought we played the run extremely well, controlled the line of scrimmage. That is an outstanding running back."NOTES:Falcons starting cornerbacks Asante Samuel (shoulder) and Dunta Robinson (head) left the game with injuries in the third quarter. ... Barber, who made his 210th straight start to tie Jim Otto for the seventh-most consecutive starts in NFL history, has 47 career interceptions. ... Martin has 1,050 yards rushing yards, eighth-most in a season by a Tampa Bay running back. ...Gonzalez had five receptions for 62 yards, and Roddy White had six for 57 yards for Atlanta.

Oakland, Alameda County to vote on possible Raiders stadium term sheet next week

Oakland, Alameda County to vote on possible Raiders stadium term sheet next week

The Oakland City Council and Alameda County Supervisors will soon hold a public hearing and vote on a term sheet for a stadium proposal designed to keep the Raiders in Oakland, the City of Oakland announced on Friday afternoon.

These actions will occur on Dec. 13, as local authorities attempt to expedite a stadium plan that will prevent the Raiders from being approved to relocate to the Las Vegas market.

Oakland and Alameda County have paired with Fortress Investment Group to create a stadium funding plan that does not include taxpayer dollars. The public will contribute to infrastructure improvements, but stadium construction will come from private sources.

The private investment group is fronted by former NFL players Ronnie Lott and Rodney Peete.

A financial framework, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, can be viewed here. More details about this Oakland stadium plan should be released next week.

City and county votes are the next step in creating a plan enticing enough to the NFL that it would pump the brakes on allowing the Raiders to move to Las Vegas.

That is Raiders owner Mark Davis’ stated desire. He has not negotiated with local public officials in some time, pouring focus into a Las Vegas stadium plan that has already received $750 million in public subsidy to construct if the Raiders are given the green light to move.

There are several complications associated with this deal, most notably that Davis wants no part in it. The NFL is reportedly intrigued by Oakland’s market potential, and generally prefers that teams remain in their home markets.

 

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”