Goober Pyle

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Goober Pyle last won the day on August 14 2016

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  1. A little something positive in this season ATLANTA -- If he could walk, Louisiana native Kyron Greenup probably would strut into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday, proudly wearing his custom-made Atlanta Falcons jersey. If he could move his hands freely, Greenup probably would pump his fist every time the Falcons score a touchdown, especially if his new friend, tight end Austin Hooper, is the one crossing the goal line. But Greenup can't perform the simplest movements -- not with multiple bullet fragments still lodged in the back of his head. He's in a wheelchair and has been since 2014. That year, a dispute he had no part of, according to a police report, resulted in random shots being fired around his Reserve, Louisiana, neighborhood, an area known for gun violence. The shot that pierced his skull altered his life. "I've come from not being able to talk, not being able to move nothing at all," Greenup said with optimism. "I had a feeding tube. I had a catheter. But it's all eliminated now. I'm working on standing. I'm doing squats. I've come a long, long way." The shooting occurred less than a year after Greenup's younger brother, Kyrian Gray, was shot and killed by gunfire during a graduation party 30 miles west of New Orleans. Doctors have told Greenup that he has a chance to walk again, but they won't put a timetable on his recovery, so three or four days a week, he turns what are supposed to be one-hour rehab sessions into three-hour grinds. His relentless spirit not only caught the eye of his therapists at Atlanta's Shepherd Center, where Greenup has spent time since exiting two nursing homes. It also drew the attention of Hooper. After hearing Greenup's story, Hooper made a few calls to Falcons' staff members and helped arrange for Greenup to be a guest at the Saints-Falcons game in Week 3. The organization took matters a step further, designating Greenup an honorary game captain. "It was good that everyone rallied to make Kyron's day," Hooper said. "If he can go through life the way he does, with such a positive attitude, what are our everyday problems? Little things that you go through, they're meaningless. Kyron's outlook is the way more people should be." Greenup, 25, grew up in Louisiana rooting for Deuce McAllister and the Saints. But the generosity displayed by Hooper and the Falcons made him switch sides. He'll cheer for the visiting team when the Falcons (4-6) battle the Saints (9-1) on Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). "I'm a Dirty Bird," Greenup said. "I like the Falcons. Those are my brothers. I'm in the brotherhood for life now." Nothing short of a miracle One person was killed and another wounded Tuesday evening in St. John the Baptist Parish. That was the lead of the news story posted on a Louisiana television station's website on May 7, 2014, the day after Greenup was shot. "I was the one dead," Greenup said. "They had pronounced me dead." According to a St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff's report, Greenup, then 20, was found slumped over near the side of the street in a "pool of bright red blood" as a number of men and women screamed for help. Another victim, a 15-year-old boy, had been shot in the leg and survived. Deputies on the scene discovered 15 bullet casings and one live round on the ground near Greenup, who remembered none of it. "I wasn't even paying attention when the shots were fired," Greenup said. "It was broad daylight, and I had just come from work at the warehouse. I still don't remember that day vividly or visually. All I can tell you is when I woke up, I was in a hospital." From what a friend told Greenup, the shooting occurred after a stranger drove into the neighborhood, was stopped and questioned by one of the residents, and then engaged in an argument with that resident. Shortly after, shots were fired. An ambulance arrived, and one of the paramedics, Tony Grandolfo Jr., performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Greenup. Grandolfo, now a patrol officer, remains a family friend to this day. "He was the one who saved my life," Greenup said of Grandolfo. "He told me, 'I actually felt your heart stop. I did all I could. After that, you just kept fighting.'" Greenup was transported to River Parish Hospital in LaPlace, Louisiana, then airlifted to University Hospital in downtown New Orleans. He was treated by neurosurgeon Gabriel Tender. "I'm glad that he's alive, and I'm very happy that he's going to walk again," Tender said. "He came in in really bad shape. I'm surprised he's still alive, to be honest with you. But the fact that he's going to walk again is nothing short of a miracle, with the type of damage he had and the shape he was in." Greenup, who was on a ventilator for an extended time, had to undergo a decompressive craniectomy, a procedure in which part of the skull is removed to allow a swelling brain to expand without being squeezed. After the swelling subsided, Tender inserted an artificial skull graph. The bullet traveled from one side of Greenup's head to the other. Tender opted not to remove the bullet fragments because doing so could have punctured the superior sagittal sinus, which, when bleeding, becomes nearly impossible to stop. "We risked killing him by trying to take those out," Tender said of the fragments. The bullet penetrated the motor cortex, which controls the movement of the arms and legs, on both sides of Greenup's brain. The damage left him in a wheelchair. But, as Tender explained, surrounding areas of the brain attempt to compensate and assume functions, which is why Greenup is on the path to walk again after recovering his speech. Michelle Greenup, a mother of five boys and one girl before the murder of her son, Kyrian Gray, moved to the Atlanta area in an attempt to start a new life after she received the call about Kyron. She knew the hostile atmosphere in Louisiana was no good for her family, which is why she had moved to Jacksonville, Florida, years before. She left Kyron and Kyrian with their grandmother so they could finish high school. "I just prayed, cried and was like, 'I'm not going to see a body. I'm going to see my child,'" Michelle Greenup said of her emotions upon hearing the news on Kyron. "When I got to the hospital, he was disfigured. But I was glad just to know he was still here with us, laying up there living." Two men were arrested the week after the shooting. The one who shot Greenup, Jontrell Cosey, initially was charged with attempted second-degree murder but eventually plead guilty to aggravated battery and aggravated criminal damage to property. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Michelle asked to meet with Cosey following the trial. "I forgave him," she said. "I truly forgave him. It wasn't for the public or nobody else. I forgave him because I had to go on. Seeing him have life [in prison] or hating him, it wouldn't have changed my baby's situation. He's still in a chair. And that's just me. I'm going to show love, however. I love God for real. So showing compassion was not a problem." Police concluded that there was no motive behind the shooting. They were surprised Greenup was hit because witnesses said he was nowhere near Cosey. Cosey, who lived in the neighborhood, was someone Greenup had known since childhood. "He wasn't my best friend or anything, but I'd speak to him," Greenup said of Cosey. "I've known him all my life. They were just shooting. That's it. It wasn't gang-related or anything, just shooting. "What would I say to him now? I have nothing to say. We don't have anything to talk about. He can't change my situation. I can't change his situation. Just go ahead with your life, and I'm going to do the same." Part of the Falcons' brotherhood Greenup beamed as he directed his eyes toward the signed white football bearing the Falcons' logo sitting on his living room shelf. It was a birthday present from coach Dan Quinn, who added a team beanie in the surprise package. On the ball is the following message from Quinn: "Kyron, Happy birthday. We admire your toughness & resiliency. In Brotherhood." For Greenup, the gift serves as a daily reminder of his moment as the Falcons' honorary captain. The surprise was supposed to be revealed to him the Friday before that Sept. 23 Saints-Falcons game. But Greenup's therapist let the secret out Tuesday of that week. "She wasn't going to be there Friday, so she wanted to see my facial expression," Greenup said. "She told me about it, and I was like, 'Wow, are you serious? Y'all playing.' And she was like, 'Nah, I'm serious. Guys are going to come to get you that morning. So be ready.'" He was. Greenup could barely control his excitement while he was shuttled to the stadium. When he arrived on the sideline for warm-ups, he met Hooper. "He came over and gave me some dap," Greenup said of Hooper. "He was like, 'It's nice to meet you, man, but let me go ahead and get back over here to warm-ups before I get in trouble. We can talk more after the game.'" Greenup, wearing his No. 1 captain's jersey, posed for pictures with Falcons owner Arthur Blank. He sat in awe as Quinn came over and addressed him. "He really gave me some motivational words," Greenup said of Quinn. "He was just telling me to keep working and don't give up because anything is possible. He was like, 'You're in the best place for rehab. You're going to see the outcome at the end of it all.' His message was just to not give up." Greenup was wheeled to midfield for the coin toss alongside Falcons game captains Tevin Coleman, Robert Alford and Justin Bethel. Across from him stood Drew Brees and Cam Jordan, but he didn't mention growing up a Saints fan. Greenup was hoping for a Falcons victory, but the Saints pulled off an overtime thriller 43-37. Regardless, Greenup came away a winner. Hooper made good on his promise to catch up afterward. He invited Greenup to a friend's home that night for steak fajitas and to watch the Sunday night game between the Patriots and Lions. "We actually, actually hung out after the game," Greenup said. "It felt really good. I was like, 'Wow, I'm really hanging out with Austin Hooper. I got him to sign a ball and that hat you see right up there." Hooper brought a couple friends with him: five-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mackand defensive end Derrick Shelby. Both Mack and Shelby walked away impressed by Greenup's upbeat demeanor. "It was just cool to hang out and tell stories, and I know he really appreciated it," Mack said. "I know his life is difficult, and he has a great attitude. The things that you think are easy, like taking a sip of water, is, like, a struggle. But he's really working hard, and it's cool to see that." Said Shelby, "Just visiting with people that are going through hard times, it uplifts their spirits and helps them not think about the situation. You just try and treat him like he's one of the guys and have fun." Greenup and Hooper have maintained their friendship. Hooper recently sent Greenup a bed for his new apartment, which he moved into three weeks ago. Greenup's mother and younger brother, Kyree, live 30 minutes away but sometimes stay the night to help him get around. Otherwise, Greenup gets assistance from a certified nursing assistant. Hooper also checked into getting Greenup into Thursday night's game in New Orleans, but Greenup said his family's plan to spend the holiday in Louisiana changed. Maybe one day, Greenup will walk the sideline by himself prior to a Falcons-Saints game. "They just told me I'm going to have to put in the hard work and that it's 'going to be up to you' when I walk again," Greenup said. "I just don't give up. Never."
  2. This NOT just in: Matt Ryan is a top-shelf quarterback Nov 16, 2018 By Mark Bradley, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Nov 16, 2018 The odds are against the Falcons making the playoffs, but let’s say they do. (They’ll need to beat Dallas here Sunday; let’s say they do that, too.) Should they qualify, it would mark their third consecutive postseason appearance. Know how many times in their history they’ve done that? Once – from 2010 through 2012. The quarterback then was Matt Ryan, who’s also the quarterback now. Wait. I’m not done. Know how many times the Falcons had reached the playoffs in consecutive years before Ryan showed up? Never. Over the 42 seasons predating the Matty Ice Age, this franchise reached the postseason eight times. Since he got here in 2008, they’ve done it six times. If we add the playoff runs of the second-, third- and fourth-best quarterbacks in Falcons annals – Steve Bartkowski, Michael Vick and Chris Chandler – we get six. The point being: We around here have gotten to know Matthew Thomas Ryan very well – of the Falcons’ past 179 games (counting playoffs), he has started 177, which is flat-out ridiculous – but rarely do we say out loud what’s indisputably the truth. Namely, that he’s the best player (not just the best quarterback) in franchise history. We were conditioned early to regard Ryan as what he was not. He was drafted to replace the franchise quarterback who’d gone to prison, and there were those who insisted he would never be better than Vick. (Wrong.) Then we doubted if he could lead this team to the Super Bowl. (He did.) Even now, in Year 11, we tune in ESPN and get caught up in the E-word debate – I will not type the silly word itself, but it rhymes with “petite” – and we take as gospel that Ryan, as grand as he has been, is somehow not grand enough. Meaning: He’s not Brady/Rodgers/Brees/Roethlisberger. I won’t argue that any of those four is anything less than an all-timer. Tom Brady: best ever. Aaron Rodgers: most talented QB ever. Drew Brees: apt to win his first MVP trophy at 39. Ben Roethlisberger: consummate winner. But at this moment, what is there about Ryan that relegates him, just below the favored four? You don’t need to shout. All together now: “He hasn’t won a Super Bowl.” And he hasn’t. That’s the fact, Jack. But here, not to get all Kellyanne on you, is where we offer alternative facts. In Ryan’s one Super Bowl, he was better than Brady/Rodgers/Brees/Roethlisberger were in any of theirs, and they’ve been in 13. Ryan’s passer rating Feb. 5, 2017, was 144.1, fourth-best in Super annals, trailing only Phil Simms, Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett. Those three quarterbacks saw their teams win big. Ryan’s team should have. If they played that game again, the Falcons would be more likely to prevail 42-10 than lose in overtime. That losing was some fault of Ryan’s is a big fat lie. (He didn’t touch the ball in OT, you’ll recall.) Ryan in that Super Bowl – 284 yards on 23 passes. His yards-per-attempt average was 12.3, also fourth-best in Super history. His completion percentage was 73.9, sixth-best. Brady threw for 466 yards that day, but – this remains incredible – had nearly as many incompletions (21) as Ryan did passes. Brady eventually dinked and dunked the Falcons into submission, but his passer rating (95.5) was the second-lowest of his five Super wins, and Robert Alford’s pick-6 was a big reason the Patriots trailed 28-3. Put it this way: In the biggest game of his life, Mr. Tier 2 was statistically superior to the greatest ever. And we hold that AGAINST him? This year, Ryan leads the NFL in passing yards per game. (He’s 46 YPG ahead of Brees, FYI.) Ryan is fourth in passer rating and completion percentage, tied for fourth in touchdowns. He’s not the reason the Falcons are 4-5; he’s the reason they aren’t 1-8. We once regarded his MVP season as a career year, but this one is of a piece: Yards per game and completion percentage are better; touchdowns per game are roughly the same; yards per attempt, while down from that peak, is still the second-best of his career. Career passing numbers are problematic, given how skewed the modern game is toward slinging the pig. (Fran Tarkenton retired as the career leader in passing yards; he’s not in the top 10 today.) But here, for comparative purposes, we go: Ryan is fifth in yards per game, ahead of Brady, Rodgers and Roethlisberger; he’s fifth in completion percentage, ahead of Rodgers and Brady; he’s 10th in passer rating, ahead of Roethlisberger; he’s ninth in interception percentage, ahead of Brees. Again, this isn’t to say that the Tier 1 guys don’t belong. This is only to suggest that Ryan does, too – and has for a while. This is his 11th NFL season. (That’s another thing: At 33, he’s younger than Brady/Rodgers/et al.) Ryan has worked under four offensive coordinators; should he make the Pro Bowl this season, he’ll have done it under all four. He has spent 10 years and nine games trying to outscore his own defense, which over the past decade never finished among the league’s top 10 in yards against and is third-worst now. Brady and Roethlisberger have won seven Super Bowls between them. How many would they won have won with Falcons-like defenses? And really, isn’t the issue of Super Bowl “wins” for a quarterback something a faux stat, like wins for a pitcher have become? (Jacob deGrom just took the Cy Young with 10.) The only reason Ryan isn’t a Tier 1 fixture is the lack of a Super Bowl “win” – and had his team held on that day, he’d have been the game’s MVP. (And he didn’t call the overtime coin toss wrong; the Pats called it right.) Ryan was the reason the Falcons made the Super Bowl. He’s the reason they’ve been a very good team for the better part of the past 10 years, and he’s the reason they still could make something of this one. He’s not just the best quarterback this team has had; he’s among the best there has ever been. There, I’ve said it.
  3. Jason Butt Ben Garland dangled his foot out of the open door of a UH-60 Black Hawk, which, at one point on a recent hazy afternoon, was overlooking Mercedes-Benz Stadium. For the select Falcons team members in the helicopter, this might have seemed a bit much. For Garland, this was nothing short of a thrill. The military helicopter was tilted at an angle, which allowed Garland to hang part of a limb out of a moving aircraft and to stare directly down at the top of the Falcons’ Sunday home. It was an adrenaline rush for Garland, who got to show his teammates what his other job can be like as an Air Force graduate and a captain in the Colorado Air National Guard. This adventure occurred on a recent November afternoon at the Clay National Guard Center in Marietta, where multiple Black Hawks are housed and flown. Two National Guard pilots, 1st Lt. Cory Brandt and Capt. Paul Strella, gave four Falcons players and two cheerleaders an aerial tour of Atlanta, which included flying over Stone Mountain and SunTrust Park. The pilots, along with crew chief Sgt. James Tyler Kelley, were just as pumped as Garland to fly the Falcons around the city in a UH-60 Black Hawk, which uses the same amount of power to hover 10 feet as it does to fly 100 mph at 1,000 feet in the air. “Every time you pick it up, it’s like strapping a big toy on your back,” Strella said. Among the players accompanying Garland was linebacker Bruce Carter, who had been on tourist helicopter rides in San Diego and Tampa. But he never had been on a military aircraft with the doors open. While Garland was thrilled to hover over Atlanta in a UH-60 Black Hawk, Carter was a tad nervous. He did it anyway and survived to tell the tale. “Doors open, it’s a whole different experience,” Carter said with a smile. “For one, the chances you could actually fall out — I know you probably couldn’t — but you’re just thinking it through your head. And all the gear and equipment that’s in there, that’s such a real experience. You can visualize or picture what it is to be at war flying an aircraft.” In the Air Force, Garland never got to fly a Black Hawk, but he flew plenty of other planes, such as F-16s, KC-135s, Diamond DA40s, T10Gs and small Cessnas. Garland said he got to fly a UH-72 Lakota, which is similar to a UH-60 Black Hawk but smaller. More than anything, Garland was happy his teammates got to see another important aspect of his life, one that plays out when he’s not training, preparing and grinding through an NFL season. “That’s one of the best parts,” Garland said. “You get to work with them and get close with them. You get to show them that other side. You see how pumped they are.” Later that afternoon, after their 20-minute flight around Atlanta, Garland, Carter, Eric Saubert and Keith Tandy visited a slew of National Guard troops eager to snap pictures and ask for autographs. Garland seemed right at home in this military environment. “For him, it’s really important,” Carter said. “For him to serve and have a genuine relationship with all those guys in there, you can tell how passionate he is and how important it is to him with what he does.” Military upbringing and a tough choice If you’re a Garland, there is a good chance you are joining the military. Two of Garland’s uncles, his grandfather, his great-grandfather and his great-great-grandfather were all military men. As a child, Garland grew up idolizing his grandfather, Hal Garland, who was a full-bird colonel in the Air Force. Hal was initially in pilot training before going into missiles and logistics. Hal is ultimately why young Ben wanted to join the Air Force. “My grandfather has always been my hero,” Garland said. “He’s the type of man where if you grow up to be half of what he is, you’ve had a successful life.” Garland also happened to be good at football during his days at Grand Junction High School in Colorado. Wanting to be like his grandfather, he enrolled at the Air Force Academy, where he continued his football career. An offensive lineman now, Garland was then a standout defensive tackle for the collegiate Falcons. Perhaps as a young college athlete, he wasn’t thinking about the possibility of playing professionally, considering an active-duty commitment comes with graduation from the Air Force Academy. When Garland was at the Air Force Academy, he assumed he would go on to have a long military career. He worked hard to attain a pilot slot, which he did after three years at the academy in Cadet Squadron 27. But as a senior, Garland discovered he had a shot at the NFL. Scouts started visiting, even though they knew he wouldn’t be able to play for a couple of years after graduating. It was then that Garland had to choice. Would he end his NFL dream for an Air Force career and continue to fly F-16s, KC-135s, Diamond DA40s and T10Gs? Or would he take a chance at the NFL and, in the process, give up his pilot slot? “I was in a tough position because the NFL was a maybe,” Garland said. “But I had a pilot slot. I wasn’t a high draft pick. I was a free agent. My chances of even making a team were very small. But if I gave up my pilot slot, I basically would never get it again.” In the end, Garland — a thrill seeker and a risk taker — chose to open the door with the lowest odds. “I had to make the decision of go for the long shot,” Garland said. “I knew if I didn’t go for it, I would regret it for the rest of my life.” After his senior year, Garland went undrafted but signed a free-agent deal with the Denver Broncos in 2010. He was then placed on the reserve/military list and served an Air Force active-duty commitment. In 2012, after two years of active duty, Garland returned to the NFL and spent his first two seasons on Denver’s practice squad. During the offseason in 2013, Garland went with the Air National Guard to Jordan, which he called “a very cush deployment” compared with where other soldiers have been sent. He saw his first NFL action with Denver in a game against Oakland during the 2014 season. In 2015, he was released by the Broncos but ended up in Atlanta, which is where he has remained. With the Falcons losing both of their starting offensive guards to injury this season, Garland has started the past two games. Garland’s gamble paid off. When Garland isn’t battling through a football season, he is still serves in the military. With the Colorado Air National Guard, he works in public affairs during the offseason. While he is unable to log his hours on weekends during the NFL season, his bosses at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, allow him to make up the time missed in consecutive days when he is able. While Garland, 30, won’t be able to fly the military’s heavy machinery anymore, he is still able to serve his country in a different manner. In his public affairs post, he helps promote what the Air National Guard is doing. His audience is the public … and America’s enemies. “You show other people in the world what kind of power the American Air Force has,” Garland said. “As a deterrent, don’t mess with us.” Honoring others Whether it’s during the NFL the season or not, Garland has made it a point to reach out to military families who have lost loved ones. As an Air Force graduate, Garland has friends who have deployed to war zones. While the danger of not returning exists, it isn’t something soldiers think will happen, Garland said. A few years ago, however, Garland received a dreaded phone call regarding a close friend from his cadet squadron. A former classmate informed him that their friend Jordan Pierson was among those who died after his plane crashed in Afghanistan. Garland said he and Pierson were a part of the “Red Tag ********,” which is the nickname bestowed upon every red-colored class of Air Force cadets. Garland was with the Falcons and doing whatever he could to emotionally get through that week of practice. “My whole world was wrecked,” Garland said. “I played horrible (in practice). Coach was like, ‘Hey, what’s wrong with you?’ It’s one of those things where you don’t expect it to happen. You’re kind of shocked when it does.” In the Air Force, Garland said you are taught that “if you take care of its people then the people will be able to do the mission well.” This has extended to how he treats others affected when their loved ones sacrifice their lives for country. In the first week of November, the Falcons hosted 12 Gold Star wives to a night out at the American Cut steakhouse in Buckhead. Each widow had a story to tell about her husband. Erikka Mitchell, who sat next to Garland for dinner, said she grew up in a military family but that she was always advised to stay away from dating military men. Never seeking one out, she met her husband, Omoro, a lance corporal in the Marines, at a club. Of course, Omoro was everything Mitchell was looking for, and the two quickly fell in love and spent 10 years together. During his Marines career, Omoro was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq in the years after the 9/11 attacks and helped build bases in Kandahar. They didn’t marry until eight years into their relationship and had a son shortly after. But around this time, Omoro was stricken with a virus that attacked his heart, which Mitchell said was possibly related to his military work. He had a left ventricular assist device installed at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Richmond, Virginia. While she took care of Omoro for the majority of their marriage, she didn’t think there was any way he actually would die. But five years ago, in 2013, Omoro died from complications related to the illness. “He was my person. He was my best friend,” Mitchell said. “It’s been five years, but it feels like a minute. I feel I’m just now getting back to my normal self. My son is 7. It’s taken a long time.” Over dinner, Mitchell told Garland about how she has coped with her husband’s death. She has tried to be more outgoing in his memory. She recently climbed a mountain and went surfing. These are activities she would have never thought of doing before Omoro died. Garland described her as having the mindset of a warrior for persevering amidst her loss. “On top of that mountain, she was exhausted, she hated it,” Garland said. “But she knew he was smiling down on her in that moment.” Thirteen years ago, Vernordia Fuller lost her husband, Sgt. Carl Ray Fuller, to a roadside bomb in Iraq. The day he died also happened to be their son’s birthday, July 24. Losing a loved one in service is something no one forgets, no matter the number of years that pass. “I miss him dearly,” Fuller said. “I’d do anything to have him back.” It’s important for Garland to take in these stories and have genuine conversations with those who tell them. Soldiers have a bond with one another, considering the oaths they take to defend the country. It’s one thing to remember those who die in wartime or while serving. But what about their families? What about the spouses who won’t see their partners come home one final time? Mitchell said she was thankful for Garland — along with teammates Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Kemal Ishmael and Jaeden Graham — for spending time with them. “As widows we’re kind of left,” Mitchell said. “Nobody cares about us, nobody thinks about us, nobody remembers us. It’s a really nice thing for them do.” Said Garland: “Being in the military myself, that becomes a second family to you. It’s a brotherhood that only people who are in it can understand. I’ve had a lot of friends and family who have lost people who died in service. If someone was there for their family afterward, that’s exactly what I would want for them. This is an opportunity to come and support them and be a light in a possibly dark place and tell them you’re supported.” Overseas trip with his football boss During the summer, Garland and his football boss, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, embarked on the NFL’s USO tour, which took them to U.S. military bases in Iraq and Kuwait. Joining Garland and Quinn were center Alex Mack and placekicker Matt Bryant. For Quinn, he got to see Garland in his other workplace element and watched closely how he interacted with those stationed in Iraq. “Watching Ben interact with the soldiers there, he asked deep questions there, like, ‘Why do you serve?’ ” Quinn said. “Those kind of connections and those kind of conversations, they last a long time. When he was with the Air Force guys, he knew all the questions to ask and was in the cockpit with them — ‘Let me get in there!’ It was impressive to see the connection he has and the love he has with the military.” For Garland, it was almost like a family reunion when he visited Iraq. Having never been before, he ran into multiple people he previously served with. He bumped into a captain who trained him at Fort Meade in Maryland who now happens to be a colonel. He saw another captain with whom he shared Air and Space Basic Course in Alabama nine years ago. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Garland said. “It was really cool because you saw the juxtaposition of both of the worlds that are mine. … It was really cool to see them in their element doing their thing. We were able to reconnect.” Both Garland and Quinn acknowledged the obvious differences in military service and football. In the military, lives are on the line. Football is a game played in the friendly confines of stadiums across the country. But the concept of teamwork permeates through both. Garland said that both the military and football serve as microcosms of society, where people of all walks of life come together for a common goal. Quinn said that if it wasn’t for his love of football, he would have wanted some sort of military role. “They serve for something bigger than themselves,” Quinn said. “Some of the best teammates I’ve been around play for something bigger than themselves. I’ve always enjoyed being part of a team. Through the years, that would have been something, where if I wasn’t coaching or teaching, I’d want to be a part of that team.” On Sunday, the Falcons once again will honor fallen soldiers by wearing helmet decals during their home game against Dallas. In what is called the Falcons’ Salute to Service game, the decals will feature the initials of deceased veterans. Garland’s decal will read “ML,” to honor U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Michael Lawler. Lawler died in an aviation accident in 2006. His wife, Julie, and son Thomas will be at the game. “When you’re in the military, everyone in the military becomes your family,” Garland said. “They’re your brothers and sisters in arms. Their family is your family. You learn to incorporate everyone.”
  4. Jalen Collins signed to Colts’ practice squad FLOWERY BRANCH — Jalen Collins, a one-time second-round pick of the Falcons who recently completed serving his fourth suspension, was signed to the Colts practice squad. The Colts released quarterback Phillip Walker from the practice squad to make room for Collins. Collins, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, played in 24 career games (eight starts) with the Falcons (2015-17). He compiled 43 tackles (40 solo), 2.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed. He started three playoff games, including Super Bowl LI. Collins was selected 42nd overall in 2015, but couldn’t stay off the NFL’s suspension list. Collins has served four suspensions for violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse and performance-enhancing drug policies. The Falcons placed him on waivers last November.
  5. As Deion Jones gets 'close,' he could be just what the... Jason Butt 6-8 minutes Deion Jones was asked to place a percentage on the likelihood he suits up in the game Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. The linebacker hasn’t been able to play a snap since the season opener against Philadelphia. Considering the uphill climb the Falcons have found themselves in when it comes to the postseason, they certainly could use a player of Jones’ caliber to be back in the fold. Jones wouldn’t take the bait, which would further allow those to speculate just how healed he is from the broken foot he suffered in Week 1. His reply, however, was still encouraging. “Close,” Jones said, before letting out a smile. It’s pretty clear the Falcons are going to wait as long as possible before revealing whether Jones will play this week. As of now, he is practicing and has hit every benchmark in his recovery. Two weeks ago, Jones was able to participate in rehab drills outside with a trainer. Last week, he started practicing with his teammates in a limited fashion. On Wednesday, which marks the first practice of the week, Jones was out there and given a limited designation. The plan isn’t to rush him back, so there is still a chance Jones sits against the Cowboys. But considering the team elevated Jones to the 53-man roster Monday, it appears they feel good about where he is at in terms of his availability. “I certainly feel like he’s close,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “We wouldn’t have activated him if we weren’t really happy with his progress. He’s really champing at it to get going. But we’ll make the right decision for the player first. When he can play like he’s capable of, we’ll let him do his thing. Then he won’t be limited in any way. He’s not a guy we’ll play 10 plays. When he’s in, he’s all in.” Where Jones would help the Falcons the most is underneath in coverage. The Falcons are allowing an average gain of 9 yards per pass over the short middle (26th in the NFL), with 78.1 percent of those short middle throws being completed (27th). Opposing teams also have averaged 7 yards per pass play to the short right (30th), with 79.2 percent of those passes being completed (31st). Needless to say, the Falcons need some help in this area. Jones’ addition certainly would provide that. “He’s a special player because he can cover so much ground from the middle linebacker position and also fill holes in the run game,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “It’s the small things you don’t really realize until somebody like that is gone. It’ll be good because he’s a great playmaker, but also whether it’s from a leadership standpoint or communication standpoint, just having those pillars on every level on defense is very important.” While most teams try to place receivers or faster tight ends on linebackers to gain a matchup advantage, Jones relishes in being able to counter that with his speed and coverage ability. “He’s always someone who is up for the challenge with the matchups,” Quinn said. “At times in the past, we’d go, ‘OK, maybe we’ll put a DB on this player,’ and he’d get pissed — ‘No, no, I want that challenge.’ ” While Quinn hasn’t stated anything definitive about Jones’ availability, it would appear the stars are aligned for Jones to return this week. At the same time, you never know when gamesmanship creeps into the equation. By activating Jones that early in the week, it forces Dallas, at the minimum, to spend some extra time preparing for what Jones could bring to the Atlanta defense. When Jones returns, the Falcons will get arguably their best defender and communicator back on the field. As everyone has seen, he has been greatly missed the past eight games. Jones, himself, is anxious to play again after his long layoff. Whether that is Sunday remains to be seen. “I can’t wait to be out there with my boys,” Jones said. “That’s all I got.” Campbell on Falcons’ focus After the loss Sunday at Cleveland, De’Vondre Campbell said what many of his teammates wouldn’t: The Falcons overlooked the Browns and didn’t have the necessary energy for the game. Campbell was given the opportunity Wednesday to further explain what he meant and didn’t back off his original comment. “It was more that we have to treat every week the same,” Campbell said. “No matter the situation is, we have to approach every week the same. … You’re in the NFL. Everybody’s good. If you don’t treat every week the same, that’s when things get away from you.” While it is still early in the week, Campbell said the attitude among the team was much different Wednesday from what Campbell saw last week. After the loss to the Browns, everyone appeared to be attentive, he said. “It started right there in our walkthroughs,” Campbell said. “When I mean mindset, it’s just the communication piece — everybody knowing what to expect. When we went into the walkthrough, there wasn’t anything that had to be said, compared to last week when I felt like we were kind of slow and everybody wasn’t in it.” Campbell said the Falcons are off to a “fast start” with their preparation compared to where they were a week ago. That will be needed against a Cowboys team coming off a big win over the Eagles. That was echoed by quarterback Matt Ryan, who said the team put in a good practice Wednesday. Ryan added that Atlanta’s sense of urgency was where it needed to be. “The good teams I’ve been on are the ones where it doesn’t matter what happened the week before,” Ryan said. “The attention to detail is there Wednesday when you get in. That’s what we’ve got be, win or loss. We have to come in and have that championship mindset every week.”