Nothing has gone as planned for Jake Matthews this season.
The former Texas A&M star plays left tackle instead of right tackle; he suffered a high ankle sprain in the season opener that has lingered since; the Atlanta Falcons have had a changing of the guard (and tackle and center) for most of the season; and his team sports a 3-6 record.
Needless to say, Matthews’ rookie season has been a challenge.
“It’s a growing process, but it’s been fun,” Matthews said in a phone interview. “I really have enjoyed it. Man, I feel like I’ve learned so much more, stuff that I wouldn’t even think about coming into the NFL. It really has been a learning process and a growing process. I really like [offensive line] coach [Mike] Tice and the offensive line, all the guys here. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better.”
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The Falcons drafted Matthews with the sixth overall pick and penciled him in as the starting right tackle. But a season-ending knee injury to left tackle Sam Baker in the second preseason game scrapped those plans.
Matthews, who spent three seasons at right tackle at A&M before moving to left tackle for his senior season, became quarterback Matt Ryan’s blindside protector.
“I’ve really taken a lot of pride in being able to play both sides,” Matthews said. “It’s really been a big challenge. These are professional pass-rushers coming off that side. I’m getting better from it, and I’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
Matthews sprained his ankle in the season opener against New Orleans and missed the rest of that game and the Week 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He returned in Week 3, though he has yet to return to 100 percent.
Matthews has allowed four sacks and been penalized for four holds and three false starts.
“Anytime you get injured, it’s frustrating,” said Matthews, the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. “It’s the first time I’ve ever missed a game in my life, and the first time I’ve ever had a significant injury. They told me when it happened it was something I was going to have to deal with for the whole year. Honestly, I don’t know if it’ll be back to 100 percent until February.”
The Falcons are starting the same offensive line for the third consecutive week. With some stability, Matthews has high expectations for himself, the offensive line and the Falcons for the rest of the season.
Cleveland Browns linebacker Craig Robertson has a knack for intercepting passes. It goes back to his college days at North Texas when he had nine career interceptions.
He has four in the three seasons he has spent on the Cleveland Browns’ active roster.
“Some of them I was thinking like, ‘What did I think on this play to get the interception?’” Robertson said in a phone interview. “I think it comes from me playing offense in high school and wanting the ball and when you get that chance to make an interception, make sure you catch it.”
Robertson has intercepted passes by Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Joe Flacco and now Andy Dalton in his career.
Robertson picked off Dalton on the Bengals’ first possession last week on a short pass intended for tight end Jermaine Gresham. The Browns scored five plays later on their way to a 24-3 victory.
“We had good pressure on him and forced him to make a quick throw,” said Robertson, whose 234 defensive snaps rank only sixth among the team’s linebackers. “He stared down Jermaine Gresham as soon as the pressure came, and I just saw him eying him, and I just jumped it and picked the ball.”
It marked the second consecutive week Robertson contributed in a big way. Against Tampa Bay two weeks ago, Robertson blocked a punt in the fourth quarter that led to the Browns’ game-winning touchdown.
Since the punt traveled a yard, Robertson didn’t get official credit for a block. But his tip of Michael Koenen’s kick set up the Browns on the Tampa Bay 35, and they scored a touchdown two plays later.
“It means everything, really,” Robertson said of his big plays. “That’s why you play this game — to try to make plays and help your team win. Anything that helps your team win is always a positive.”
The Browns have won three consecutive games, and with a 6-3 record and the lead in the AFC North, they control their own destiny.
“It feels good, but you don’t get any prizes at 6-3,” Robertson said. “So we have to keep our heads on straight and keep taking it one game at a time.”