'Hard Knocks' Recap: Don't Fear the Reaper

On the season finale, the Falcons' roster is set, and Bryan Cox eats some crab legs

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T.J. Yates of the Atlanta Falcons points during the preseason NFL game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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Last time, on Hard Knocks: Cuts came to Falcons camp, coach Bryan Cox proclaimed The Best Man Holiday to be the greatest film of the past five years and fringe rookie Jacques Smith punched the shit out of a guy in a preseason game. Bad timing, dude.

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Tuesday night's season finale opens with Smith's walk of shame to the locker room, moments after getting ejected from said game and severely damaging his chances of making the team. HBO adds a dramatic voiceover from head coach Mike Smith – "That's stupid" – to punctuate this point. It would have been funnier if they added Cox's review of Vanilla Sky ("That's a fluffy movie,") though that would probably have undercut the seriousness of the moment: by the end of the week, the Falcons must finalize their 53-man roster, meaning we'll spend the next hour learning the fates of this season's cast of characters.

You know, just in case you don't know how to use Google.

We catch up with Jacques the following day in Mike Smith's office, where he apologizes for his actions on the field and asks to address the team. Is it the last act of a desperate man? We'll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan is leading the rookie receivers through a film session, when Roddy White strolls in and promptly faces the firing squad. "Gun Flex Right, 70 Z option – strong safety down. What you gonna do?" Ryan asks. Roddy feigns a yawn and replies, "Get ready to go home." That's leadership, folks.

Next, owner Arthur Blank gives us a tour of the Falcons' new stadium, which was most certainly a stipulation for allowing HBO to do a Hard Knocks on the team. To be fair, the stadium is a futuristic football haven complete with everything imaginable, except for swimming pools with babes. It also has a retractable roof that looks like an upside down space ship from Independence Day when it opens and closes. Or a robot's anus. 2017 can't come soon enough.

We catch up with the players trying to earn a spot on the team, and learn that Jacques Smith and Tyler Starr are BFFs, wide receiver Geraldo "Amsterdam" Boldewijn is a freak-beast who can bench 275 lbs (which is, what, like 27 kilograms?) and that the only thing that can stop him is an injury. Cut to him pulling up lame with a hammy on the very next play. Also, backup QB T.J. Yates has apparently been to the Brooklyn Brewing Company at least once. Wonder if he checked out the old Beacon's Closet while he was there?

It's time for the final preseason game against Jacksonville and their Hypercolor uniforms. For several guys, this is the last chance to make their mark on the coaching staff, so the stakes are high. And unlike the new Falcons' home, Jacksonville's stadium has a swimming pool stocked with babes in bikinis. That's certainly going to make their games more interesting to watch. Oh, who am I kidding, Jaguars games aren't on TV.

Anyway, the game quickly turns into the T.J. Yates Show, as he marches the team down the field and gets Devonta Freeman his first NFL touchdown. Then, he delivers a long bomb to wide receiver Freddie Martino, and sprints down the field making celebratory squeals. Or maybe he was in pain? It's hard to tell…there are no rules, just Yates. Pencil him in for a spot on the team regardless.

Cut to more babes in the swimming pool. If the Jacksonville announcers don't use the phrase "From sea to shining sea" when calling a kickoff return, they're doing it wrong.

The second half of the game features a lot of bubble players including Tyler Starr, Ricardo Allen and Nosa Eguae. There are cases to be made for all these guys, which makes the cutting process even more difficult. Every moment counts, which Allen highlighted as he dropped a potential pick and screamed, "I owe my momma a new car!"

Game's over. Falcons win and and as Mike Smith puts it, "Now it's for real." We get right to the first day of cuts, underscored by fullback Patrick DiMarco telling the camera "If you can make it through this. You can make it through anything in this world," which, y'know, is dramatic, but has Patrick checked in on the world recently? Great beard though.

The grim reaper comes in the form of scouting assistant Scott Sika, who is responsible for making the dreaded phone calls to those being cut. Pat Angerer is the first one called into the office as Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff – a.k.a. the God of Denim – deliver the hard news. I'm glad Smith doesn't cut guys while wearing his Chacos. I was genuinely concerned about that.

Freddie Martino is the next to go, probably because he's wearing a Miami Heat hat. Dante "Cupcake" Rumph and Eguae get released. All of our hearts are shattered as we see these guys dumping the contents of their lockers into black trash bags. Couldn't they have given them something a little less bleak, like a Trader Joe's reusable grocery bag or something? As Mike Smith so eloquently puts it, "this friggin' stinks."

We take a break from the carnage to join some of our favorite rookies who won't be getting cut. Devonta Freeman (who I drafted in two fantasy leagues based solely on his performance on this show) is checking out some recliners at the La-Z-Boy store. He buys an automated number that "feels like it got hydraulics on it." Ra'Shede Hageman is getting pampered at his local Massage Envy and Prince Shembo is spreading the wealth by purchasing some jewelry for his mother. What a fun time everyone is having!

Break's over. Time to get back to the reaping.

Geraldo Boldewijn is the next to get cut, which is sad because it really was all about that unfortunate hamstring injury. Luckily Coach Smith and Dimitroff offer him an injury settlement, which means Boldewijn can be reevaluated by the Falcons after six weeks. Fifth-round draft pick Ricardo Allen is released, but placed on the practice squad (or "NFL LIMBO," as Liev Schreiber puts it). Jacques Smith is also cut, due in no small part to his temper. Surprisingly, he does not deck Mike Smith in the face during their meeting.

There is one more cut left to be made. We see Scott Sika pick up his phone and dial. Cut to Tyler Starr taking a leisurely stroll with his wife. They are wearing matching grey shirts and black shorts and this is all just too cute (Don't do this to me, Hard Knocks). Starr's phone starts ringing. It's Coach Mike Smith...and he's calling to inform Starr that he has, in fact, made the final roster. Yes! In a TV world packed with Red Weddings and Ozymandi, it is so nice to see the good guy win for once. Good on you, HBO. You totally got me and I'm so happy.

To reward the audience for having to watch all a bunch of dudes get their hearts torn out, HBO gives us a couple scenes featuring fan favorites. Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester sit around bullshitting. White reveals he has never played on a team with this much talent and says, "I'm a kid in the candy store and we got all the good candy." If it weren't for Bryan Cox, White would be this season's MVP.

Speaking of Bryan Cox, there is no better intro to a scene than seeing the words, "Cox Residence" on the screen. Cox is eating crab legs with his family (any guesses as to where he sits at the table?) and his wife asks, "Regular season starts this week. You ready?" To which Cox, mouth full of crustacean, mumbles "Ain't no choice but to be ready." I had to rewind that four times to hear what he said but it was worth it.

After dinner, Cox goes outside to smoke a cigar because his wife won't let him smoke in the house. Cox opens up to the cameras about his coaching tactics and how his wife makes him shower after he smokes a cigar. "I take, like, three showers a day because I smoke cigars," he deadpans. Can we just do Hard Cox next season? Might need to re-evaluate the name, but the idea's solid.

After five grueling weeks of training camp, and saying goodbye to some memorable players, the Atlanta Falcons' roster is set and the sponsorship on the practice jerseys is upgraded from "King's Hawaiian Bread" to "McDonald's." Only time will tell if Mike Smith has assembled the right roster, but one thing is for certain...he has the best defensive line coach in Bryan Cox. He's a first-ballot Hard Knocks Hall of Famer. Out on Smith's whistle and into the history books.

MVP of the night: Tyler Starr

Line of the night: "Ain't no choice but to be ready."

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