Vick KO'd in return to Atlanta

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Vick KO'd in return to Atlanta

From Comcast SportsNet Monday, September 19, 2011
ATLANTA (AP) -- Michael Vick and Matt Ryan met at the center of the field for the coin toss, the former Falcons quarterback embracing the guy who took his place. When it was done, Ryan trotted off the field in triumph, leaving little doubt this is his city now. Vick wasn't even there to see it. He was back in the locker room, still woozy from a big hit. Ryan tossed a career-high four touchdown passes, shaking off all the hoopla over Vick coming back to face his old team as Philadelphia's starter, and rallied Atlanta from a 10-point deficit for a 35-31 victory over the Eagles in a Sunday night thriller. "It was a wild one, for sure, but we hung in there," Ryan said. "I think everybody hung in there and kept making plays, kept battling. Credit to guys on both sides of the ball -- we never gave up." Two of Ryan's TD throws went to ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez, who went past Terrell Owens into the fifth spot on the NFL's career receiving list. Then, Ryan hooked up with Ovie Mughelli on a 1-yard score that brought Atlanta to 31-28 with just under 11 minutes remaining. The Falcons (1-1) completed the comeback with Michael Turner breaking off a 61-yard run, then powering over from the 3 with 4:48 remaining. Turner finished with 114 yards on 21 carries. Vick threw for a pair of touchdowns for the Eagles (1-1) but left with what coach Andy Reid later described as a concussion after getting spun by a Falcons rusher into Eagles lineman Todd Herremans. No. 7 staggered to the sideline and Mike Kafka came in for the first game of his two-year career. Vince Young, normally the backup, was inactive because of a hamstring injury. Now, the Eagles have to worry about Vick's health, though he didn't have to be hospitalized and was cleared to travel with the team back to Philadelphia. "I know Mike is upset about (not finishing)," Kafka said. "When you're hit like that, you can't do anything about it. It's out of his control." Kafka did a good job in a tough situation, guiding the Eagles down the field on a potentially winning drive in the closing minutes. But on fourth down from Atlanta's 22, Jeremy Maclin dropped a pass over the middle that would have kept it going. "I'm better than that," Maclin said. "It was a very catchable ball." The Falcons ran off all but the last 5 seconds, and Kafka's desperation heave into the end zone was batted down to end the game. The buildup for the prime-time contest was one of the biggest in years for a regular-season game in Atlanta. The Georgia Dome was packed and loud, many fans wearing Vick's old No. 7 jersey from his Falcons days but plenty more adorned in Ryan's No. 2. In some ways, it seemed like a head-to-head matchup -- even though they were never on the field at the same time. Vick was the one-of-a-kind quarterback who put the Falcons on the NFL map before he was caught running a dogfighting operation, leading to a prison sentence of nearly two years. Banished by the Falcons, he revitalized his career in Philadelphia and earned another 100 million contract. He had returned to Atlanta once before, as a backup in 2009, but this was different. He's now THE guy for the Eagles, and he wanted to impress in front of his former city. "I feel for him," Maclin said. "Obviously, he wanted to come home and make a statement." Instead, he had to settle for mixed results and an early end to his night. Vick fumbled twice and threw an interception, and the Falcons turned two of those mistakes into touchdowns. Still, he had seemingly done enough when he left the field. Kafka came on and handed off to LeSean McCoy, who scored his second touchdown on a 2-yard run with 1:59 left in the third quarter. McCoy had 95 yards on 18 carries. But Ryan and the Falcons hung in there, even though the quarterback was sacked four more times after taking five in a 30-12 loss at Chicago to open the season. "You just keep getting up," Ryan said. "There's a lot of tough guys on this football team and I try and stay in line with those guys and just keep bouncing up. I'm just glad we came away with the win." There were plenty of big hits, most notably a shot by Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson on an Eagles receiver for the second year in a row. Last year, Robinson knocked out himself and DeSean Jackson with a brutal collision. This time, the defensive back leveled Maclin with a shot that drew a flag for slamming into a defenseless player with a helmet-first shot in the third quarter. Falcons coach Mike Smith disputed it was illegal hit, saying "that's the way we teach it," but the NFL could dole out a suspension after it reviews the play. Maclin went to the sideline to be checked but wasn't out for long. Robinson insisted he did nothing wrong. "I saw him catch the ball," the cornerback said. "I saw him run and take steps trying to get upfield and score." Vick's first fumble, with the Eagles poised for a touchdown that would've given them a 17-7 lead, wasn't really his fault. Peria Jerry burst through the line and knocked the ball away before Vick could even hand off to McCoy, the ball skidding backward to Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards. He took off the other way, rumbling 64 yards before Jackson hustled back to make the tackle. The Falcons offense did the rest, capped by Gonzalez's first TD catch of the night -- and perhaps one of the best he's ever made. In the back of the end zone, he reached up to snare the ball with his right hand and brought it down to his body just as he dragged a second foot inbounds "I can't say nothing but 'Wow!'" Smith said. "That's one we'll be seeing for a long time on the highlight films." On the Eagles' first possession of the second half, Vick threw a pass over the middle that was picked off by Kelvin Hayden. The Falcons turned that into seven more points, as Ryan went to Gonzalez again on a 17-yard TD that gave Atlanta a 21-10 lead. Back came Vick and the Eagles. McCoy broke off runs of 23 and 36 yards before Vick went to Maclin for a 36-yard touchdown pass. Then, after Ryan threw his second interception of the night, the Eagles reclaimed the lead, 24-21, with their second score in just over 2 minutes on McCoy's 8-yard run. Philadelphia extended its lead after a shanked punt by rookie Matt Bosher turned the ball over to the Eagles at the Atlanta 20. Vick was hurt three plays later, but McCoy finished off another touchdown drive. Vick completed 19 of 28 for 242 yards, also going to Maclin on a 5-yard touchdown. In addition, the quarterback ran six times for 25 yards. "I thought the guys battled," Reid said. "We just had too many turnovers, too many mistakes."

OFFSEASON

Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

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Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

BOSTON – Jaylen Brown’s athleticism was among the many reasons the Boston Celtics selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s NBA draft. But even before he became a Green Teamer, Brown’s aspirations were much greater than being a high draft pick.

“I want to be a top five player in the league,” Brown said at his introductory press conference last month. It’s a lofty goal for sure; the kind that requires more than just talent. And that’s where Graham Betchart – Brown’s mental skills coach - comes in.

Betchart’s work as a mental skills coach has been on full display as one of the keys to Brown being among the standout performers during summer leagues in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, respectively. 

The 6-foot-7 rookie was named to the Las Vegas Summer League’s second team, one of just three lottery picks (top-14) in last month’s NBA draft (Ben Simmons of LSU and Thon Maker of Milwaukee) named to the first (Simmons) or second (Maker) team along with Brown.

In addition to Brown, Betchart has worked with each of the last three first overall picks – Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and most recently, Simmons. Betchart said he also worked with current Celtic guard Marcus Smart when he was at Oklahoma State.

While each player has their own specific program, there are some common threads that bind all of his clients.

“The big thing I want them to focus on is what in their control,” Betchart told CSNNE.com from New York City where he was meeting with the New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has been one of the more outspoken athletes when it comes to mental health-related issues. “And so for a lot of these guys, they’re so good in high school and even college, they can focus on results and still produce results. As you get older, you realize that results are totally out of your control. And so my focus is getting them to focus on what’s in their control, and learning how to do it consistently; how to create a pattern, a consistent mindset.”

We saw that from Brown this summer with the Celtics’ summer league teams. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.2 rebounds but did so shooting a not-so-great 30.7 percent from the field and was even worst (27.2 percent) on 3s.

However, he did manage to get to the free throw line 10.2 times per game, which is surprising when you consider whistles typically aren’t blown as often in the summer than they are in a regular season game. And just to put his free throw average in perspective, only two players – Houston’s James Harden and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins – averaged more than 10 free throw attempts per game last season.

Brown has said on more than one occasion that getting to the free throw line often has to be one of his strengths in the NBA. Based on what he did this past summer, there’s no question it’s something he has indeed made a priority.

And the fact that Brown was able to do it consistently this summer falls in line with one of the core concepts that Betchart preaches to his clients.

“To me the hardest thing in sports is to be consistent,” said Betchart, who is now the director of mental training for San Francisco-based Lucid, a mental training app for athletes. “Anyone can just once in a while show up and have a great game. It really starts with having a consistent mindset based on what you can control. They have to be in the moment no matter what’s going on. It could be really bad, it could be really good.”

And when it’s over, players can’t dwell in the mistakes of the past.

“We make a mistake and get hung up sometimes,” Betchart said. “But if you can move on to that next play and train your focus to do that, it’s really hard to stop you if you don’t stop yourself.”

Instead, those mistakes actually form the foundation for future success.

In the case of Brown, one of the biggest knocks on him coming into the NBA was his shooting touch being anything but consistent.

“It’s the growth mindset,” Betchart said. “If you are going to master shooting, you’re gonna have to miss a lot of shots. It’s kind of like learning to walk. When you were learning to walk, you don’t remember but you fell down all the time. You didn’t say, ‘Oh I’m not going to walk. I’m just going to stay on the ground.’ You just picked yourself up and eventually you learned. When you get to the professional level, your game is analyzed on where it is right now. And right now, he’s 19 years old. There’s no way he’s going to be as good a shooter now as he’ll be at 23 and 25. And so if he embraces the growth mindset and just continues to focus on his process, which is taking the shot, being assertive, taking your shot, it’s all going to work out. I know this to be factually true.”

Another one of Betchart’s clients is Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, who came into the NBA as one of the worst free throw shooters in college basketball. In his lone season at Arizona, Gordon shot just 42.2 percent from the free throw line.

In his two NBA seasons, the 6-foot-9 forward has shot 68.1 percent.

“People were laughing at (Gordon’s free throw shooting) sarcastically and now as a pro he’s shooting (almost) 70 percent,” Betchart said. “It was all based on a growth mindset; just allowing yourself to fail and really, you’re not failing. You’re learning how to shoot. We introduce a concept called Victory goes to the Vulnerable. You’re going to be vulnerable sometimes. People are going to talk about your shot. That’s OK. We let people have their opinions. We don’t try and stop them. It’s all part of the process.”

Ah yes, the process.

If you listen to Brown, he has said on more than one occasion whether he played well or not, that all that he’s going through now is part of a process that will eventually make him a better person and a better player for the Celtics.

Part of that process is utilizing the various mental techniques and teachings of Betchart, who has known Brown since he was 15 years old and had a chance to spend a considerable amount of face-to-face time with him this past year when Brown was at Cal.

Most of what Betchart talks about has a strong basketball teaching component to it. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot more going on.

“Everybody starts to realize these are life skills,” Betchart said. “It’s tough to separate basketball from life. You’re going to be who you are on the court, off the court. These skills, learning to control what you can control, being present, moving on after mistakes, this is what we leave in life as well, learning how to be vulnerable in life and do those things. It naturally gravitates towards life and … what’s going on in life. It’s a natural progression. They’re human beings who choose to play a sport for a living. They are not basketball players; Basketball is what they do.”

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN