5-at-10: Weekend winners (I see you Falcons) and losers (egad UK) and Vols fans relishing a spectacular run

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) runs the ball during overtime of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 37-34. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Weekend winners

The Falcons. Or shall we say your first-place Atlanta Falcons. Wow, what a game that had a fourth quarter with more turns and twists than Chubby Checker doing a concert on the W Road. We have the rest of the week to discuss the amazing spot the Falcons find themselves through seven games and how Arthur Smith should be right behind Eagles coach Nick Sirianni (yes I had to look that one up) and Giants coach Brian Daboll as Coach of the Year candidates. But I must say this: As much as I love Mike Keith on the Titans broadcasts, I am pretty sure that the Falcons duo of Wes Durham and Dave Archer are the best radio tandem in football. And I don’t think it’s close.  

Big 12 TV rights. If you were wondering, “How can these schools pay all this money for these terrible coaches — and then buy them out and pay them to not coach?” at any point over the weekend, well, know that the soon-to-be-depleted Big 12 extended its TV deal over the weekend with ESPN and others through 2030-31. The price tag? A couple of billion bucks. So if the Big 12 is worth that, the SEC is worth $5 billion right?

Dustin Johnson. Wowser, I know folks are hating on the whole LIV deal, and I understand the reasoning, both geopolitically and selfishly since we want all the best golfers in the same events. Still, with his big showing over the weekend at Doral, DJ capped an amazing debut season on the LIV circuit. According to this story, dude made north of $35 million this year. 

Framber Valdez. The Astros’ Game 2 winner is the best pitcher you have never heard of. Trust me. He had a streak this year of 25 starts in which he did not allow more than three runs. With the Series on the line on Saturday night, he was aces and outdueled Zach Wheeler as Houston evened the series at 1.

Derrick Henry. The Titans star is a total dude. And he now shares the record for most 200-yard rushing games in an NFL career with O.J. and Adrian Peterson. That’s a fine list of football accomplishments. In life comparables, not so much.

Lane Kiffin. Man, don’t come at me with, “show some class, Lane.” Because my response would be, first, show some personality 98% of all other coaches in all other sports. And it’s not like Kiffin was taking postgame shots at Mark Richt or some other universally well-regarded, non-confrontational counterpart. Kiffin fired both barrels at Jimbo Fisher, who fired all his ammo during the offseason at multiple targets.

Weekend losers

Lane Kiffin. Loved the passion and even the "Joker costume" quip right after Kiffin’s crew outlasted the Aggies. But Kiffin cussing at an opposing player and calling him the term for a female dog that would get all of our kids’ mouths washed out with soap was uncalled for, beneath him and rude. It also was hypocritical as all-get-out, since Kiffin was cussing at said Aggies defender and telling him to get on the ground and fake an injury. Well, in last year’s now infamous mustard bottle game at Neyland Stadium, Kiffin’s Rebels were doing the very same thing.

Bryan Harsin. So Auburn appears to be settled on a new AD, which means his first order of business will be ending the Harsin experiment. No chance Harsin gets to the Iron Bowl is there?

Will Levis. That was an expensive stinker Levis dropped in UK’s 44-6 humiliation Saturday night in Knoxville because everyone was watching, and his penchant for turnovers — one of the picks was assuredly not his fault, but he had at least one other throw go right through a UT DB’s hands — were on display for all. And here’s the next thing: If Levis is that good — and he’s been routinely ranked very highly by folks who spend a lot more time on that type of analysis than I do — then why was the UK game plan so non-quarterback-based in a game that everyone expected the winning side to be well into the 30s? Because if you really have a top-five overall pick taking snaps, should big games like Saturday be in his hands, especially against a UT defense that is weakest in downfield coverage? 

Panthers kicker Eddy Piñeiro. Carolina scored on a 62-yard Hail Mary with 12 seconds left to tie the game at 34 Sunday with the Falcons. DJ Moore, who hauled in the PJ Walker heave, got a 15-yard penalty for taking his helmet off forcing Piñeiro to try the go-ahead PAT from 48 yards. Piñeiro missed — and Moore has some blame in that one — and the kicker shanked a short field-goal attempt in overtime too to allow the Falcons to prevail. 

Southerners. Wow, first came news of Jerry Lee Lewis dying, then came the news of Vince Dooley. What a bastion of class Vince Dooley was. Truly a Southern gentleman who was a Hall of Fame coach and a better dude. He was truly gracious, with his time and his words.  

Enjoy the moment

We spoke last week about the special times in sports when everything clicks.

It can happen when your best player is also your hardest worker. 

It can happen when you get healthy and stay healthy and progress beyond the expectations of others.

It can happen when the confidence meets talent and the inertia works two-fold in all the right directions.

And when it happens for your college football team, it’s magical.

You want to read every article, watch every highlight show, refresh social media to see when the next poll will be released.

And every UT fan you know right now is basking in it. 

As well they should, and it’s not as much about the 15-plus years of frustration filled with Butchism and 14 guys on the field at LSU or worrying about Vandy or all the rest.

UT fans should — must — enjoy this spectacular fall run to No. 2 in the polls with a dat at top-ranked Georgia looming Saturday because they simply do not happen very often.

Even at places like Alabama, which has made winning become so commonplace that even close games feel like losses over the last decade, magical runs like this one are rare.

Because this run is not as much about the winning as it is a reminder of why we loved sports in the first place.

For Vols fans, this is an immersion in magical waters of football nirvana, an expectaion of the best and then get it delivered, and a blissful feeling of being bulletproof.

It’s part of the tumblers clicking when little is expected outside of the locker room and a special — and likable — team brings its fans on a fall they will never forget. As great as UT was under Manning, Martin and Fulmer from 1997 to 2001, the improbable excellence Big Orange fans have seen this autumn is surreal.

It happened in Auburn in 2010. And at LSU in 2019. Those runs ended with blissful national championships and the following years carried greater expectations, intensified pressure and the inevitable disappointment that every non-Saban (or even non-Kibry Smart) programs ultimately experience.

Could a national title be in the works in Knoxville? Of course it could, even with a loss Saturday.

No matter how it ends, though, here’s hoping UT faithful embrace the joy of this run. 

This and that

— So this afternoon will be day three of the “Plays of the Day” afternoon sports email newsletter from yours truly. Please sign up for it. You can go here to sign up, and it’s free. We hit both of Friday’s football plays — Arkansas minus-3.5 and the Tennessee Titans minus-2.5 — over the weekend and are 2-3 overall through two days. And that’s including the dreadfully bad beat of the Ravens-Bucs under 45.5 last Thursday and the historic Phillies comeback in Game 1. 

— Speaking of betting, here’s a glossary of terms that I put together to support those new to the betting realm. 

— Our Fab 4 picks around these parts went 2-3 last week, hitting on Arkansas and UConn and missing on Wake, Syracuse and the over 62.5 in UT-UK. So it goes. Man, UK scoring all of six points and getting blanked in the final three quarters was shocking to me.

— You know the rules. Here’s Paschall’s SEC wrap column — and dude had a slew of good stuff over the weekend from UT’s destruction of UK — that leads with the death of Vince Dooley, a man he got to know well. 

— Prayers to those in the Chattooga community after the news of four dying in a car crash, including three high school football players. 

— If you are like me, you loved “The Sopranos,” the ground-breaking HBO show that was the springboard for the most consistently excellent production of television from any network around. I also loved the controversial series finale that left folks wondering how it played out for Tony in the end. Well, here’s David Chase — the show’s creator — telling us that Tony got popped in that dinner right at the end with his family sitting there. As it should have been.

— Call it bolts to the wall if you must, but here’s NASCAR driver Ross Chastain going all gas and no brakes and trashing his car against the wall on the final lap to go from 10th to fifth and qualify for the season-ending championship.The video looks like a video game move to be honest.

Today’s question

Weekend winners and losers. Go.

Multiple choice Monday goes a little like this:

Which NFL team is the biggest surprise through seven weeks?

> Falcons

> Giants

> Packers

> Buccaneers

> Other (please add).

As for today, well, happy Halloween everyone. A strong list of birthdays abound, too.

John Candy would have been 72 today. Man, what a great comic actor he was.

Vanilla Ice is 55 today. Bet we’ve heard the last of him.

Brian Piccolo would have been 79 today. “Brian’s Song," friend or foe as a sports movie? Discuss.

Fred McGriff is 59 today. Man, he was better than a lot of the cats who have made the Hall of Fame in recent years.

And of course, Nick Saban is 71 today.

Rushmore of Nick. Go.