In the fourth quarter of Sunday night's Atlanta loss, Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk was flagged for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty after shoving Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Joe Hawley to the ground. Or, for shoving him in retaliation. Hawley handled the "to the ground" stuff for himself, deploying a flop worthy of various other sports with which we're not familiar around these parts.
Hawk was furious, screaming at Atlanta's huddle after making a fierce tackle on the next play. After the game, he was still perturbed:
The guy went to the ground ... I'm not that strong. I wish I was strong enough to do that.
He's right. The bigger guy was off balance, but watch his feet.
Call it a heady play, if you like. It's not much different than, say, barking out a hard count in an attempt to get the defense to jump offsides. It's a move with no other goal but drawing a penalty. But it's nothing to be proud of, especially with the way Atlanta's beginning to be perceived around the league.
The Falcons have had a reputation as a -- shall we say -- aggressive team for a while now. Harvey Dahl was regularly listed among the league's dirtiest players, a scrum at the 2005 Falcons-Eagles game got multiple players ejected before kickoff and coach Mike Smith once popped former Bird DeAngelo Hall in the chest.
(The last one was justifiable, glorious and worth several contract extensions.)
But Dunta Robinson has been fined for helmet-to-helmet hits twice in the past two seasons and could've been dinged with another Sunday night, if refs had been so inclined. Roddy White sustained a personal foul after Matt Ryan was bumped while sliding. Multiple Packers players called out the way the Falcons play before, during and after the whistle, alleging cheapness and dirtiness and other conditions:
"Great teams don't indulge in the kind of cheap stuff the Falcons do," Raji said. "We're the champions and we play that way. We walk away from the stuff they pull.
Is it just frustration? Smith's Falcons have made their mark by playing careful, mistake-free football, but they do make a point of brawling through the whistle's last echo. When wins are racking up, that just looks like resolve and follow-through. But in tougher times, that same mindset too often translates into crap like this.