By: Akiem Bailum (@Li495Akiem on Twitter)
Unfortunately, the last few weeks, I have been MIA on TRST due to some internet issues pertaining to where I was staying at over the Christmas break. I have since returned to campus, where my computer works beautifully with the internet & have missed writing columns, doing videos, talking to fans, and dropping an occasional one-liner online. But I’m back and just at the right time—when it looks like the NFL playoffs may have hit its peak in terms of competitive games.
It was the Divisional Playoff Round this week in the NFL, which means that the teams that won last week in the Wild Card matchups headed on the road to face those teams that had earned byes. One of those was the Baltimore Ravens who have plans on having Ray Lewis (and potentially Ed Reed as well) retire from the NFL as Super Bowl Champions as did John Elway, Jerome Bettis, and Michael Strahan. They beat the Colts last week in Baltimore.
This week, their opponent was Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field in the Mile High City, and going into the game, almost everyone (except me and a few others) picked the Baltimore Ravens to win this football game. Most of the national football press felt it would be a rout and that there was no reason to be played.
This game was the reason why there is the phrase “Any Given Sunday”. At the beginning of the game, it looked like it would be a Broncos coronation party. The first score of the game came on a special teams play as Denver’s Trindon Holliday returned a punt return 90 yards for the first touchdown. Denver took a quick 7-0 lead. That would be erased by a 59 yard bomb from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith to tie it at 7. Then, Peyton Manning threw an interception (one of his two for the game) to Corey Graham who returned it 39 yards for the score.
Poor Champ Bailey.
Baltimore 14-7. All of a sudden, the Ravens who everyone wrote off were in it on the road vs. the high-octane offense of the Broncos.
It was tied going into halftime thanks to another TD pass from Flacco to Smith. 21-21.
Holliday Season apparently wasn’t over in Colorado as Holliday had on his Devin Hester (circa 2008) cleats on. After his punt return, he returned a kickoff return for 104 yards for a Denver touchdown. 28-21. The Ravens later tied it again.
With the score at 35-28 late in the 4th quarter, John Fox made an extremely questionable decision by not throwing on a 3rd & 7 with Peyton Manning as his quarterback. That would’ve sent the Ravens home packing their valuables for the spring & summer months. That gave the Ravens new life & they capitalized. A 70 yarder from Flacco to Jacoby Jones tied it up again at 35. One thing has to be said about the Ravens—most say that the receiving corps of the Atlanta Falcons is the best in the NFL with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, etc. Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin aren’t too shabby either.
The game eventually went into two overtimes with the Ravens winning 38-35 on a 47 yard field goal from Justin Tucker that came after an interception of Manning. Ray Lewis will play another game & Peyton Manning has another loss in the postseason.
Oh, and yeah, the Tebow memes began immediately on Twitter.
Flacco was 18/34 for 331 yards and 3 TDs. Ray Rice rushed for 131 yards. Smith and Jones had huge receiving days for Baltimore. Peyton Manning’s line was 28/43 for 290 yards, 3 TDs and 2 picks. Eric Decker (who is now dating supermodels apparently because of the notoriety he’s gained from catching Manning’s passes) had 6 of them for 84 yards.
This game was the game of the playoffs so far and was an instant classic. One of the best playoff games in history. It belongs in the archives.
Baltimore’s season goes on as they are clearly playing to get Ray Lewis one more ring before it’s all set & done for #52. Their opponent in the AFC Championship Game will be the New England Patriots, as it was last year.
New Game, New Stakes, Same Venue, Same Result
The numbers 42 and 14 were on the minds of the Houston Texans all week as they prepared for their AFC Divisional Matchup in Foxboro vs. the New England Patriots. That was, of course, the score that the Pats thrashed the Texans by back on Monday Night Football late in the season in Foxboro, despite the fact that it was billed at the time as what could’ve been the best football game on the 2012 Monday Night Football programme.
Midweek, fans were abuzz as runningback Arian Foster used critical words from a Dan Shaughnessy Boston Globe column that basically called the Texans a fluke team and that Houston would be easy pickings for Brady’s bunch—as his Twitter avatar.
Similar to the armchair quarterbacking going on by pundits concerning the Ravens/Broncos matchup, almost no one outside of Houston picked the Texans to defeat the Patriots.
The first play of the game was a 94 yard kickoff return from the Texans’ Danieal Manning. Just what Houston needed to get off to a quick start & send New England a message that this wasn’t Monday Night Football anymore.
Instead, 3 plays later, they had to settle for a Shayne Graham 27 yard field goal to put Houston up 3-0. It should’ve been 7-0. Those first few minutes were emblematic of the Texans’ offense over the last few games. They struggle in the red zone and Matt Schaub wasn’t the same Matt Schaub that led the Texans to an 11-1 record through the first 12 games of the season.
Of course, you can’t settle for field goals when you play Tom Brady and the Patriots and it was only a matter of time before they made Houston pay. They took the lead at the end of the 1st quarter and would ultimately extend it to a 17-3 advantage. We haven’t heard much of the name Shane Vereen before this game, but Brady has an ability to turn unknowns into household names down the road. He had 3 touchdowns on the day.
While the Texans did hang tough and made it a game at halftime with the score at 17-13, it’d be an entirely different story in the 2nd half as the Patriots began doing what the Patriots seem to do a lot of the team—make their opponents look like they belong in college. They’d get the ball back in the beginning of the 2nd half, and scored a touchdown on their first possession thanks to a Stevan Ridley 8 yard run. Ridley is one of the things that makes this Patriots team so dangerous. They could run the ball in previous years when they had players like Corey Dillon, and it looks like they’ve got that again with Ridley—believe it or not.
The Patriots won the game 41-28 & will play the Ravens in a rematch of last year’s AFC Title Game that is well known for Billy Cundiff’s Wide Left—better not mentioned in the state of Maryland.
I have to give credit to the Texans for hanging tough. They kept on playing hard football until there were triple zeros on the clock at the end of the 4th quarter. They got a couple of more touchdowns, even though they came 3 quarters too late. Houston has rising stars like J.J. Watt, Arian Foster, and a future Hall of Fame wideout in Andre Johnson. What some in Houston will be clamoring for is a quarterback that can perhaps challenge Schaub’s starting job but that’s not happening.
As for the Pats, this AFC Championship Game should be a fun one. If any AFC team can prevent New England from going back to the Super Bowl, it’s Baltimore. It should’ve been Baltimore last year if weren’t for the…well…we know by now.
The game, though, came at a cost as Rob Gronkowski reinjured his left forearm and has been declared out for the remainder of the postseason.
Bottom line is this: Sunday night can’t get here soon enough.
San Francisco’s Treat
With a home win vs. the short-handed Minnesota Vikings under their belt, the next test for the Green Bay Packers would be on the road in San Francisco vs. the 49ers. They didn’t look like the same team they were when they hit their peak shortly after the controversial Golden Tate “Fail Mary”, but still looked good enough to win postseason games. Injuries, of course, hurt them throughout the season as well. Also, there was the (I believe, overhyped) element of Rodgers being passed over in favor of Smith by the 49ers in the NFL Draft.
The story for the Niners was that Colin Kaepernick was playing in his first postseason game since Jim Harbaugh made the decision to stick with Kaepernick after the injury to Alex Smith. When it came to playoff experience, Rodgers (a 1 time Super Bowl champion) vs. Kaepernick looked like a mismatch.
And it was…for the team hailing from the Badger State of Wisconsin.
Early on, a Sam Shields Pick 6 interception of Kaepernick to make it 7-0 Pack seemed to confirm the concerns some had about Kaepernick in this kind of environment in his first playoff game. He made up for it by running 20 yards for a touchdown to tie it at 7. The score would be 24-21 going into the half.
After that, the Packers would tie it on a field goal from the much maligned Mason Crosby. 24-24. From that moment on, Candlestick Point was Colin Kaepernick’s world and the Packers were simply living in it. Kaepernick’s total line was 17/31, 263 passing yards, 181 rushing yards, 2 passing TDs, 2 rushing TDs, and 1 pick. That 181 is an NFL record for any QB, regular season or playoffs. The 181 is also more than the entire rushing attack of the Packers, who finished with 104.
Frisco also got huge outings from Michael Crabtree (9 catches for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Frank Gore (23 carries, 119 yards, 1 TD). For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers went 26/39 for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Green Bay’s season has ended with a thud on the road. Their offseason will be filled with talk of potential free agency departures, most notably Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings. The stuff coming from Jennings himself, as well as what’s coming from the team, make it a near inevitability that Jennings will not be returning to Lambeau Field in 2013-2014. Jennings, of course, will demand major dollars for a team to commit to his services.
As for the 49ers, they’ll be returning to the NFC Championship Game. After Kaepernick’s performance vs. Green Bay and the fact that they have a stellar defense on top of everything else, there are many that will predict the Niners to win their matchup when they head on down to…..
Snatching Defeat From the Claws of Victory (And Vice Versa)
Even though at the beginning of the year I picked the Atlanta Falcons to represent the NFC at the Super Bowl, I spent the entire second half of the season zoned in on the NFC and, in particular, who looked like the surprise team that would give someone like an Atlanta or Green Bay or San Francisco issues in the playoffs. While no one mentioned it because of their distance from the East Coast, the Seattle Seahawks looked like that team.
Not only were the Seahawks making a run, but with the news that the Sacramento Kings were on the verge of being sold to two Seattle based businessmen to return the Sonics back to the city, Seattle sports were running on Cloud 9 status.
Earlier in the year, the Falcons were having a tough time stopping the run. The Seahawks have a Pro Bowl runningback in Marshawn Lynch. They have a defense as good as anyone’s in the league—just the ingredients needed to pull off an upset against Atlanta’s Dirty Birds.
Such a scenario played itself out Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome & for the first half, Atlanta looked to be answering the bell rather soundly and smoothly. Russell Wilson made some rookie mistakes and there was the huge stop that the Falcons got on both 3rd & 1 (and 4th and 1) when it looked like the Seahawks would score their first touchdown of the game down big early.
Another one of them was late and had to do with clock management, but there is conversation in Seattle that the last 1st half play run by the Seahawks actually was got off in time.
Meanwhile, it was 20-0 Falcons heading into overtime and 49ers fans by the Bay began calling their travel agents to book flights for Atlanta.
Seattle wouldn’t get their first score until 9:47 remaining in the 4th quarter on a 29 yarder from Wilson to Golden Tate. 20-7 Atlanta. A Falcons drive late in the 3rd quarter led to Jason Snelling touchdown pass from Matt Ryan making it 27-7. Maybe, that’s where the game was over.
Seattle then said, not so fast as they have played the NFL’s version of the Boston Red Sox circa 2004 a lot this season—always playing 4 quarters. Down 27-14, the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas picked up a key interception—one of Ryan’s two interceptions on the day. That gave the Seahawks a chance to inch closer and it became 27-21. With 31 seconds to go, the ‘Hawks got their first lead of the day courtesy of a two yard run from Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch to make it 28-27.
But, it was with 31 seconds to go. And as the Bears in 2008 and this year’s Panthers and Raiders will tell you, you are giving Matty Ice 30 minutes if you give him 30 seconds. Two long passes were all the Falcons needed to get into field goal range for Matt Bryant, who was called the other “Matty Ice” by head coach Mike Smith in the Falcons’ postgame press conference.
The 49 yard kick from Bryant was wide right and sure to go down in history as one of the lowest moments ever in Atlanta sports—except for Pete Carroll calling a timeout on the sidelines. A clear instance of the bush league move known as “icing the kicker”. In my opinion, such a move is bogus and ought to go into the category of unsportsmanlike penalties. It should be an automatic 15-yard penalty.
So thanks to Carroll pulling off a move that he should’ve left at USC, Bryant got another shot and split the uprights beautifully. 30-28. An onsides kick would make it interesting at the end, but the Seahawks weren’t playing the Packers and it wasn’t Monday Night Football in Seattle. This Hail Mary attempt from Wilson wound up in the hands of Julio Jones. Falcons will host the 49ers in the NFC Title Game.
Seattle’s season is over, but there’s clear reason for optimism in the Emerald City. No one (me included) had the Seahawks even making the playoffs and now they have a bright future with Wilson at the nucleus of it. The Seahawks have nothing to be ashamed of. They will be back next year and likely for years to come.
As for the Falcons, they’ve finally won a playoff game & have (for now) put to rest the common talking point among football pundits that it’s a team that’s only built for the regular season & can’t win in the playoffs. They’ve won. Now, can they send the Falcons to the Super Bowl for the first time since losing 34-19 to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII—John Elway’s last game.
As for stats, Matt Ryan was 24/35 with 250 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs. Even though there was been increasing talk around Atlanta surrounding Jacquizz Rodgers, veteran runningback Michael Turner had himself a resurgent game with 98 yards on 14 carries.
For the Seahawks, Wilson went 24/36 for 385 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. He’d also be sacked twice, once by Vance Walker and once by Johnathan Babineaux. For the most part, the Falcons’ defensive line turned off “Beast Mode”. While Lynch had the 1 TD that put the Seahawks up late, he only had 46 rushing yards on the day on 16 carries. Zach Miller and Golden Tate did have huge receiving days as both went over 100 yards and each scored a touchdown (8/142 for Miller, 6/103 for Tate).
And among everything else, my preseason Super Bowl prediction of Ravens vs. Falcons is still alive for another week. I’m not boasting, though.
Did I mention earlier also that this upcoming Sunday can’t get here soon enough?
Check out The Real Sports Talk on YouTube and at TheRealSportsTalk.com for all your NFL Playoff coverage! We’ll have analysis and previews of the AFC and NFC Championship Games Throughout the Week!
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It may not be the most popular sports league in the world, but the NFL has to be the most exciting.
Week in and week out teams produce quality contests and entertain millions of fans across the globe. This week was no exception, as intriguing storylines resulted from the multitude of games.
Only three weeks remain in the regular season and after a week of off-field tragedies, players took the field on Sunday and put on a show for fans.
Even though there were plenty of one-sided games, others went down to the wire and finished in thrilling style. Some teams threw away their playoff hopes, while others gained momentum towards the end of the season.
On Thursday Night Football the Broncos continued their recent dominance, extending their winning streak to eight games by comfortably defeating the Raiders. Peyton Manning was finding his receivers like usual, though it was the run game led by Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 119 yards and a touchdown. A first week playoff bye is Denver’s main focus and should be possible.
St. Louis kept their slim playoff chances alive when quarterback Sam Bradford threw a late touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson, giving them a two point victory against the Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a solid game for Buffalo, but just like their disappointing season, it wasn’t enough for success. Fred Jackson was another negative for the Bills, only rushing for fourteen yards and was carted off with a knee injury.
After an emotional week, the Cowboys stayed in the NFC East race defeating the Bengals with a game winning field goal as time ran out. Anthony Spencer was a standout on defense for Dallas, recording two sacks and eleven total tackles. Both teams are now 7-6 and need to perform well down the stretch if they want to be playing come the first week of January.
The game which nobody cared about got off to a frantic start when Jamaal Charles scored on an eighty yard touchdown run. Other than Charles’ play and Travis Benjamin’s punt return, this matchup was difficult on the eyes. Browns blowout the Chiefs to record their fifth win of the season. Congrats?
Not many people would have predicted that the Colts would have a better record after week fourteen than the Steelers, Bears, Cowboys, Lions, Chargers, Eagles, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints, Giants and Seahawks. But they do. Even though they’ve had an “easy” schedule and a record doesn’t mean all that much, they’ve certainly been impressive this season. A second half comeback got them over the top of the Titans by four points.
For the second straight week the Bears have blown games against winnable opponents. Their clash with Minnesota was crucial in terms of playoff seeding, and with a banged up defense they couldn’t stop the force that is Adrian Peterson. Cutler left the game late with a neck injury and Campbell wasn’t able to orchestrate a win.
Ben Roethlisberger returned from injury, however his Steelers were thumped by the Chargers. Yes, that’s right, the Chargers. Philip Rivers played well and didn’t turn the ball over, which resulted in the easy win for San Diego, who at one point led 27-3. But again the Chargers leave it too little too late. Pittsburgh doesn’t need to stress too much, since the Ravens and Bengals also lost.
Another team who was desperate for a win was the Eagles. They snapped an eight game losing streak thanks to a last second touchdown pass by Nick Foles, leaving Tampa Bay victorious. Foles carried the offense with McCoy out injured, and certainly won the QB matchup against Freeman. Good to see Philly finally get a win, but Andy Reid, you’re still fired.
This contest felt like a playoff game, but the Redskins’ victory was slightly overshadowed byan injury to Robert Griffin III. It was close the entire game, before the Ravens stretched their lead to eight late in the fourth. Cousins was able to rally Washington in OT and keep the ‘Skins in the playoff race. RG3′s fine by the way, thank God.
A dominant display from Carolina resulted in a comfortable win against Atlanta, which the final score didn’t resemble. This game was a minor hiccup for the Falcons who are now 11-2. They’ve got three tough games to end the season, as for the Panthers, they’ll be looking for positives to take into next season.
The Jets’ running game was on song against the Jaguars, with Powell and Greene combining for over 150 yards and two touchdowns. Other than that there’s not much else to say, Jets won, Tebow didn’t play and they’re surprisingly still a chance to make the playoffs.
San Francisco got back on track with a win over the Dolphins. Kaepernick sealed the victory with a 50-yard touchdown run and completed eighteen of his twenty-three passes with no turnovers. Miami kept it close for most of the game and had a chance late, though they weren’t able to convert on fourth down.
Talk about an insane game. The Saints took the lead early, but the Giants never looked back, ultimately blowing out New Orleans at home. Rookie David Wilson was brilliant for New York, with a total of 327 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Four turnovers cost the Saints, including some more picks from Drew Brees who’s struggled as of late.
58-0. Yes you read that correctly. Seattle DESTROYED Arizona in a completely one sided affair. Marshawn Lynch went off, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 128 yards. This game was over at the half and the result completely embarrassed the Cardinals. Poor Larry Fitzgerald. #FreeLarry
In the freezing cold conditions, Detroit challenged the home team in the first half, but mistakes proved to be crucial in their loss to Green Bay. The Packers are finding form late in the season and also a run game, rushing for a total of 140 yards, which included a 27-yard touchdown run by Aaron Rodgers. They now control their destiny and could clinch the division next week in Chicago.
We were all looking forward to a close game on Monday night between the top teams in the AFC, instead we got a blowout which was decided in the first half. Tom Brady threw four touchdowns in the dominant Patriots’ performance, making them Super Bowl favorites overnight. Looks like we’ll have to wait until they face the 49ers for the thrilling game we all hoped to see.
By: Akiem Bailum
There’s no doubt about the fact that the New York Jets’ quarterback controversy at this point is basically a manufactured creation of the ESPN spin machine in Bristol. Mark Sanchez isn’t a good quarterback and neither is Tim Tebow. So many simply want to start Tebow because of what he did last year with Denver and the fact that he won two championships (only one as a starter) at the University of Florida.
That’s all fine and good, but as we all know, success in the NFL doesn’t always translate to success at the next level. You can ask a lot of USC quarterbacks about that.
There would be no Tebow sightings in East Rutherford on Sunday given that he was injured, so who had to play the role for backup of Mark Sanchez?
Greg McElroy? Greg McElroy? The name sounds more like something that’s associated with a New York or New Jersey State Senator rather than an NFL QB. But Greg McElroy was taking snaps vs. the 4-7 Arizona Cardinals.
The Jets were 4-7 themselves coming into this game and virtually have lost any shot at making the postseason a long time ago. The Cards have lost seven consecutive matchups after starting the season on a promising 4-0 note before the injury to Kevin Kolb.
If you are the kind of fan that loves defense and low scoring games, then this was your game. By halftime, the score would be 3-0 Arizona. Or, should I use the old baseball cliché where the score was actually 3-0 Diamondbacks leading the Mets heading into the Bottom of the 5th inning?
Regardless, though, New York did get another impressive performance from Shonn Greene. He looked like the lone standout on offense for either team with 24 carries on 104 yards. Those 104 yards were more than the yards any of the QBs had.
For the Cardinals’ Ryan Lindley—10/31, 72 yards, one interception, and 2 sacks. For Sanchez—10/21 for 97 yards, 3 interceptions and 3 sacks. Two of those interceptions came from Kerry Rhodes. If the Arizona Cardinals’ defense was combined with a competent offense (think New England or Denver) you would probably have your Super Bowl team right there.
Then, behind for most of the game and not scoring any points in the game, McElroy comes in and throws the game winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter with a 29 yard pass to Jeff Cumberland. Gang Green wins 7-6.
Apparently, the two teams forgot the memo that collegiate football teams play on Saturday and not Sunday. Also, that one touchdown pass from McElroy will be enough to send Gotham’s tabloid press into a frenzy. Cue the stories of there now being a three-way QB “controversy” for the Jets when there may not be one at all.
In Week 14, 4-8 Arizona travels to Seattle to play the Seahawks who currently would be the sixth seed in the NFC if the playoffs began today. The 5-7 Jets will face the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
Stay At Dome
The Minnesota Vikings need to find a way to reschedule their last four games to be played at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome this year. Their 6-5 record coming into their game in Lambeau Field vs. the division rival Green Bay Packers was mainly due to a 5-1 showing in the 2012 season at home. They were an atrocious 1-4 on the road.
Meanwhile, Green Bay was coming off a game on Sunday Night Football vs. the New York Giants in which they got embarrassed—and a little bit exposed. They lost 38-10 to the G-Men and let Eli Manning throw 3 touchdowns. This was coming when the Pack were shorthanded on both sides of the ball. No Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, or Greg Jennings.
Jennings did return, but still, no Shields, Matthews or Woodson vs. the Purple People-Eaters.
Adrian Peterson knows a thing or two about injuries since he’s coming back from one—and doing so in authoritative fashion. He had 21 carries for 201 yards including an 82 yard run for a touchdown that, at one point, had Minnesota ahead 14-10. The Vikes could’ve extended out that lead before Christian Ponder threw one of his two interceptions while in the red zone.
Such a team is beginning to remind me of the old San Diego Chargers teams from the mid-2000s when it was clear that they were winning football games on the back of LaDainian Tomlinson and not Philip Rivers. Also, given this season and the average career length of NFL runningbacks, it’s time to start mentioning Adrian Peterson as a future Hall of Famer. For this season alone, he may wind up with 1900+ yards. Any football writer who doesn’t vote for either him or Peyton Manning as Comeback Player of the Year should either have their credentials stripped from them or should be drug tested. Both are probably the favorites for the MVP award as well.
As for the Packers, Aaron Rodgers was 27/35 for 286 yards, threw for 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Also, this has been a much maligned season for kicker Mason Crosby, but he did convert 3 of 4 field goals on the day.
The Vikings are now a 6-6 and football team and they are 1-5 on the road. That statistic shouldn’t make anyone who bleeds the pigskin version of purple and gold optimistic even if they are able to sneak into the playoffs past the Buccaneers, Seahawks, and Bears. This looks less likely after this week. Also, not utilizing Adrian Peterson in the red zone? Who was calling those plays for the Vikings? Their mascot?
They will stay in the division and will return to their “Dome Sweet Dome” in the Twin Cities to play the Chicago Bears. As for the 8-4 Packers, they’ll be on NBC’s Sunday Night Football next week against the Detroit Lions.
WTL…What the Luck?
Between the diagnosis of leukemia for head coach Chuck Pagano and the seemingly overnight sensation that Indianapolis Colts’ rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has become, it has made for one of the most intriguing stories this NFL season. Heading into their game with the Detroit Lions at Motown’s Ford Field, they were 7-4 on the season. This was a position that no one (myself included) thought they would be in after coming off a 2-14 with Peyton Manning injured. Also, we all know that he only went 3-13 in his rookie year for Indy.
Detroit is coming off a heartbreaker of a home loss to the Houston Texans who at the time were playing 2 overtime games in less than a week. But, they did make fans in Houston think about their own team’s defense which for 9 weeks looked like the best in the league.
They’d be on display again in a huge fashion. Matthew Stafford went 27/46, threw for 313 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. And they call Calvin Johnson “Megatron” for a reason. He caught 13 passes for 171 yards and 1 touchdown. There’s a reason he was targeted almost half of the time when Stafford was looking for a receiver to throw to.
Late in the fourth quarter, it looked academic. The Lions would pull off the upset of the AFC South’s Colts—something they were unable to do vs. the AFC South’s Texans. They led by a score of 33-21 going into the game’s final minutes and Luck was playing a game that was shifting the rookie of the year pendulum back in the direction of Robert Griffin III.
Then with 2:39 left in the game, he threw two of his touchdown passes. The first was to Lavon Brazil for 42 yards. The last one that one the game went to Donnie Avery for 14 yards as the Colts took only their second lead of the game—the one that mattered ultimately in the end. The Colts won 35-33.
For the game, Andrew Luck threw for 24/54 for 391 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. T.Y. Hilton would be the leading receiver with 6 receptions for 100 yards. Avery caught two touchdown passes on 5 catches and 91 receiving yards. The Colts pulled out another one just as they did earlier in the year vs. the Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium. That game, of course, was their first game after the organization heard the heartwrenching news that Chuck Pagano had leukemia.
Now they’re 8-4 and sitting pretty in a weak AFC in terms of their playoff chances as a Wild Card. Also, they’re the 5th seed right now if the playoffs began today. Guess who they’d face at this point in the first round of the playoffs?
Peyton Manning’s Broncos.
Your head is in the ground if you don’t think the media is pulling for the seedings to stay exactly as they are right now. Peyton Manning vs. his former team and the quarterback he was supposed to be mentor for. There’s an easy storyline right there.
Indy will go back home to play the Tennessee Titans. The 4-8 Lions head to Lambeau to the play the Packers on Sunday Night Football.
The Jovan Belcher Tragedy
Ok, it’s certainly fun at this point to look at the playoff races. I’m now doing a “If the Playoffs Started Today” section for Monday Morning Realist that I have temporarily shelved for this week’s column. There were plenty of other interesting games this week. The Steelers got a huge win over the Baltimore Ravens that kept their playoff chances alive. They’re now 7-5. Cincinnati Bengals are now also at 7-5 after defeating the San Diego Chargers in San Diego.
Even the Kansas City Chiefs won their game this week 27-21 over the Carolina Panthers.
Of course, though, that football victory was nothing compared to the personal loss the Chiefs organization went through on Saturday.
Early Saturday, news broke that Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher had taken the life of not only his 22 year old girlfriend, Kassandra Perkins, but also himself as well. This didn’t happen in the home or abode of Jovan Belcher, it occurred in the Chiefs training facility. Also, it happened right in front of general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel.
The saddest thing to come out of what happened on Saturday morning was that a 3-month old little baby is now without a mother and a father. On behalf of everyone at The Real Sports Talk, I’d like to send out condolences to the families affected by these tragic losses as well as to the Chiefs’ organization.
It still pains me to know two things. Number one, CBS led off The NFL Today with a conversation about the playoff picture heading into Week 13 instead of leading with the Belcher tragedy. Also, the NFL still didn’t consider either canceling or even rescheduling the game for a later date.
The rest of the Chiefs players and coaches knew Belcher, if they knew about the personal issues he was going through, that’s for them to say and not us to speculate. Regardless of that, they were friends of his even though he committed two heinous acts that morning. I’m sure those players and coaches are now wishing they could’ve possibly done more to persuade Belcher not to have it come to this.
I’m a sports fan. We all are sports fans. Having that affiliation as a fan with a team and going through that team’s ups and downs is a tradition as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. But even with all of that being true, there are moments like these when we realize that these are human beings just like the rest of us.
They may be stronger, faster, and spend more time in the weight room than a lot of us, but they’re still humans with all of the issues that humans have to go through and many of those could be personal.
Prior to the game, a moment of silence was held at Arrowhead Stadium to bring awareness to the crime that is domestic violence. Belcher’s name was not mentioned during any of the pre-game proceedings, nor should it have been. Belcher took, what he probably felt, was the easy way out instead of using better methods to work through the issues he was having with his girlfriend so they can reconcile. Even if he didn’t want to do it for himself, or even Kassandra Perkins’ or Kassandra Perkins’ family, then he should have done it for his 3 month old baby.
Even in a week of football where we are four weeks shy of the postseason beginning, this week of football was rendered meaningless because of this atrocity that took place in Kansas City, MO/KS. The Chiefs’ 27-21 victory over Carolina was, arguably, the most emotional for a team this year (there’s also a case for Indy’s over Green Bay after the Pagano news). The Kansas City Chiefs have announced plans for the creation of a fund to support Zoey, the 3 month old daughter of the late Kassandra Perkins.
And after the game, Brady Quinn said this:
“The one thing people can hopefully take away, I guess, is the relationships they have with people. I know when it happened I was sitting and in my head, thinking, what could I have done differently. When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?
“We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half of the time we are more preoccupied and other things going on instead of the actual relationships we have right in front of us.”
“Hopefully people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”
Well said, Brady Quinn. Well said.
National Domestic Violence Hotline—1-800-799-SAFE(7233), 1-800-787-3224 (TTY), thehotline.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-TALK (8255), 1-800-799-4889 (TTY), suicidepreventionlifeline.org
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By Akiem Bailum, host of TRST’s “10 Minutes on the Clock”
Getting the L Train Back on the Right Track With a W
In Week 11, the Minnesota Vikings were on their bye week. Meanwhile the Chicago Bears witnessed a weakness of their team when they were dominated on the road by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. It, of course, got so bad that it created a quarterback controversy for the Niners—an organization that knows something about QB controversies.
Jason Campbell clearly wasn’t the answer to the Bears’ offensive problems and showed why he is a backup to Jay Cutler. It’s rare when a team starts mentioning how much they miss Cutler, but that’s the complex the Bears are in.
Historically, the Bears haven’t been good when it comes to QB play and Cutler may not be as much of a franchise QB as either Manning brother, Brady, Brees, or Rodgers. But it was clear that having Jay Cutler under center for the Bears would be a boost as they continue to press forward on a push to the postseason.
Prior to Chicago’s home matchup vs. their arch division rival Vikings, late word started to lead out to the press that Cutler was making significant progress in his recovery from the concussion injury he sustained on a Sunday Night Football loss to the Houston Texans. That progress became enough that he was cleared to start for the Bears in that game.
Cutler only went 23/31 for 188 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception—not uncommon numbers for Jay Cutler. But the Chicago Bears maintained possession for almost 40 out of the game’s 60 minutes. They also did better than the Vikings in converting on third downs. Chicago converted on 11 out of 19 while Minnesota only mustered 6 out of 16.
For the Bears, runningback Michael Bush would only rush for 60 yards on 21 carries, but scored 2 touchdowns. Brandon Marshall nearly had a 100 yard day as he caught 12 passes for 92 yards.
For the Vikings, of course Adrian Peterson would carry the load. He carried the rock 18 times for 108 yards despite the Vikes only possessing the ball for less than 23 minutes. Christian Ponder went 22/43 for 159 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception.
The 28-10 victory for the Chicago Bears sends them to 8-3 while the Vikings fall to 6-5, making the wild card situation much more interesting in the NFC with only 5 weeks left before the playoffs start. Next up for the Monsters of the Midway will be another home game—vs. the 6-5 Seattle Seahawks. The “Purple People Eaters” shall remain in the division as they travel to Lambeau Field to face off against the Green Bay Packers.
Steel Curtain Replaced By a Steel Deli
The Bears and Steelers could relate to each other the past couple of weeks. Both teams have seen their quarterbacks sidelined and both teams know clearly what their offenses look like without them. While the Bears got their starter back off the shelf this week, the Steelers will have to wait a little while longer.
And the sight may not get any prettier for fans of the black and gold.
With both Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich out due to injuries, Pittsburgh would have to turn to veteran QB Charlie Batch to go under center for the Steelers this week. Their opponent would be the division rival Browns in Cleveland. Even with a 3rd-string QB, they couldn’t possibly lose to the Browns, right?
Precisely…wrong. In fact, it would get worse for the Steelers than it was against the Ravens on Sunday Night Football and Baltimore is what Cleveland isn’t—a playoff bound team.
As the old saying goes, there’s a reason why Charlie Batch is a 3rd-string quarterback. He would only manage 199 yards going 20/34 with zero touchdown passes and 3 interceptions. Surprisingly, he’d only be sacked once.
But, those 3 interceptions would be 3 of 8 turnovers the Steelers committed in this game. Among them—all four Steeler runningbacks (Chris Rainey, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, and Isaac Redmond) would commit one fumble each.
The only other score for Pittsburgh would come via a Lawrence Timmons interception return that was returned 53 yards.
Brandon Weeden was a little bit better for the Cleveland Browns. He went 17/26 for 158 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. They’d also get an 85 yard performance from Trent Richardson who had those on 29 carries.
Plaxico Burress also made a much ballyhooed-return to the Steelers on this day. He’d be targeted twice and wouldn’t catch a pass.
It was a great defensive day for the Browns and the Steelers have seen (once again) what their offense looks like without Big Ben under center. I think they miss him…bad.
The Steelers are 6-5 and will play the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, just two weeks after the two rivals matched up in the ‘Burgh @ Heinz Field in Week 13. The 3-8 Browns shall play the Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The Houston Texans were the first team to reach double digits in victories for the 2012-2013 NFL season with their overtime win over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. On the Sunday after Turkey Day, the Atlanta Falcons had the opportunity to join them by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
Last week, the Falcons played arguably their worst game of the season vs. the Arizona Cardinals at their Georgia Dome, and probably only got away with a win solely because they were playing the Arizona Cardinals and not a team with a real offense. They still managed to win, but other teams may have been given a blueprint as to how to beat them in the future.
Meanwhile, the Bucs were coming into this matchup as the hottest team in the NFL by winning their last five straight. Doug Martin (now nicknamed “Martin ScoresEasy” by plenty in the sporting press) is right up there with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the top candidates for rookie of the year.
In this one, Martin would be responsible for both Tampa Bay touchdowns, but carried the ball 20 times for just 50 yards. That means the Falcons (whose defense seems to be improving) has done what they have been unable to do for many of their games this season—prevent the other team from having huge days on the ground vs. them. Josh Freeman would throw for 19/30, 256 yards, with zero touchdowns or interceptions. 5 of those passes would be caught by Vincent Jackson for 97 yards.
Not that Atlanta’s rushing attack was much better. Jacquizz Rodgers had 10 carries for 49 yards, and the Falcons have been using him more than they have been using veteran RB, Michael Turner. Turner averaged just over 1 yard a carry—13 of them for 17 yards. Matt Ryan’s line would be 26/32 for 353 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 pick (Ronde Barber). It’d also prove to be another big day for Julio Jones—6 catches for 147 yards and the recipient of Matty Ice’s lone TD pass.
Late in the game, the Bucs played conservative (in my opinion) and tried to hit a 56 yard field goal that was out of Connor Barth’s range. Instead of going for it on 4th down, they tried to kick a field goal with the score at 24-23. On the next Falcons possession, they tricked the Bucs by throwing it once to Roddy White on 3rd down when most teams simply play it safe with run plays. The pass was caught and the game was over at that moment. Freeman’s hail mary pass on his last possession would be unsuccessful.
A five-game winning streak has been snapped for the 6-5 Bucs as they travel to play the Broncos next week in Denver. The 10-1 Falcons will go home to play the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football.
Speaking of Which…
The Saints have looked like another one of the hot teams as of late. After starting 0-4, they came into their home game vs. the San Francisco 49ers with an extremely high amount of momentum. They’ve gone from 0-4 to 5-5 and thanks to Drew Brees and head coach Joe Vitt, more fans in the Gulf South have more confidence when they associate their team with the “p” word.
Jim Mora would know.
Meanwhile after an impressive performance vs. the Bears on Monday Night Football, it propelled Colin Kaepernick to immediately assume the position of starting quarterback for the Niners. The thinking perhaps was that coach Jim Harbaugh wanted to see what Kaepernick could do vs. a good offense after carving up a great defense last week.
Kaepernick didn’t disappoint. He’s very mobile and seemed to find unorthodox ways to make a lot of passes, but he made them and that’s all that mattered. He would rush for San Francisco’s first touchdown of the game that put them up 7-0.
It may not have been what he did vs. Chicago, but he still threw for 16/25 for 231 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. They’d also get good performances from runningback Frank Gore (19 carries for 83 yards), and wideouts Delanie Walker (3 receptions for 81 yards) and Mario Manningham (5 catches for 69 yards).
San Francisco’s defense also came to play, proving why it is a top-10 defense in this league. For the Saints, Drew Brees went 26/41 for 267 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The two picks were both pick six’s.
One happened at the end of the 2nd quarter to Virginia’s Ahmad Brooks and the other went to Donte Whitner midway through the 3rd quarter. Brees would also be put under heavy pressure by the Niners’ defensive line—he’d be sacked 5 times. Brooks, Aldon Smith, and Justin Smith would each be credited with 1.5 sacks.
Passing would be equal, but the 49ers also outrushed New Orleans by almost a 3:1 ratio.
It brings the Saints to 5-6 and they shall now travel to Atlanta on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football to play a Falcons team whom they beat earlier this year at the Mercedes Benz Louisiana Superdome.
As for the 49ers, it means another week of speculation that Kaepernick is their quarterback going forward in the future. With Alex Smith at the end of this deal, it may turn out that he could be the biggest loser with all of this. There are plenty of teams that could use a quarterback right now, though. A certain team in New York automatically comes to mind. So does one in Arizona.
It may not be Joe Montana vs. Steve Young, but it certainly feels like the late 80’s once again in the West Bay. Next up for the 8-2-1 49ers—the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
4th and 29 for Baltimore = 4-Finished for San Diego
Yeah, 4th and 29…but we’ll get into that later.
There’s no doubt that the San Diego Chargers (wearing their powder blues in this game) likely needed to defeat the Baltimore Ravens at home in Qualcomm Stadium to still have any outside shot at the playoffs. The Steelers lost earlier in the day to the Browns, but the Colts, Bengals, and Dolphins (the other 3 teams the Bolts need to somehow leapfrog to earn a Wild Card berth) all won their games in Week 12.
4th and 29! 4th and 29!….it’s coming.
For one half, it did look like the Chargers were playing with a sense of urgency and the Ravens looked lethargic on offense—which means one must give credit to the San Diego defense. Neither offensive line had a great day as Flacco was sacked 5 times while Baltimore got to Philip Rivers on six occasions. Arthur Jones (Ravens) and Antwan Barnes (Chargers) each came up with 2 sacks for their respective teams.
Things would of course change in the 2nd half with San Diego looking slow. Rivers’ day would include 23/36, 238 yards, 1 TD, and 0 interceptions. Ryan Matthews carried the ball 19 times for 72 yards and and Danario Alexander had 5 receptions for 74 yards.
But let’s be honest—4th and 29 was the game, the Chargers’ season, and possibly, the job security of head coach Norv Turner.
Rice’s huge move on 4th and 29 rivals that of his alma mater (Rutgers) to the Big Ten. Part of the beauty of the 4th and 29 play to Rice (which he was credited for 30 yards on) was that it happened on a screen play. Multiple Charger defenders had a chance to get one tackle on him before he got the required 29 yards, but they instead looked like their Kansas City Chiefs circa 2008 who couldn’t tackle worth beans.
The play would be reviewed for about 10 minutes, but it always looked like it would stand. It did and the Ravens took advantage. Justin Tucker would kick the game-tying and game-winning field goals for Baltimore—both from 38 yards.
The Ravens got themselves a huge victory, as the old phrase goes, by “hook or crook”. It brought them to 9-2, still one game behind the Houston Texans for the best record in the AFC. Also with the Steelers losing, they’re now 3 up on both them and Bengals for the AFC North. Lost in the 4th and 29 hoopla was that Torrey Smith also had a huge day and was probably the player of the game (not named Ray Rice) for Baltimore. He’d have 7 catches for 144 yards including his own huge play on a 3rd down in overtime that set up the game winner from Tucker.
As for the San Diego Chargers, they’re 4-7 in a division they can’t win with the Peyton Manning-led Broncos in it. They’re finished. 4th and 29 was a microcosm of their season this year. It was enough of a mental blow to give up the play, and it was an even bigger mental blow to not atone for it by scoring in overtime. They’re not making the postseason this year and Norv Turner may have not had less job security than he does now.
Eat your hearts out, Donovan McNabb and Freddie Mitchell.
In Week 13, Baltimore plays the Steelers at home while San Diego has to find some way to regroup to play another AFC North team at home—the 6-5 Cincinnati Bengals.
The theme of this week seems to be hot teams in the NFC that got derailed this week. We’ve already seen what has happened to the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Green Bay Packers would also face a similar fate.
With a 7-3 clip coming into their matchup vs. the New York Giants in the East Rutherford Meadowlands, they were winners of five consecutive games dating back to the last time they played on Sunday Night Football. That was when they dominated and frustrated the Houston Texans in Reliant Stadium in Houston.
But, despite winning a five-game winning streak that would give Green Bay control of the NFC North, they would come into their game vs. the G-Men shorthanded on the defensive side of the football. No Charles Woodson and no Clay Matthews. No Greg Jennings on offense added to their scoring difficulties.
It showed, and showed often.
After a 2-yard touchdown run from Andre Brown, the Packers were able to answer with an Aaron Rodgers 61 yarder to Jordy Nelson. That tied the game at 7-7 and it began to look like it would be a shootout at the Meadowlands.
It would be the only touchdown for Green Bay on the day.
The Giants would extend their lead to 24-7 and ultimately to 38-10 in the victory. Rodgers would go 14/25 for 219 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Eli Manning would return after the bye week in impressive fashion. He went 16/30 for 249 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
In addition, the Giants would sack Rodgers 5 times with Mathias Kiwanuka the recipient of two of the hits on Rodgers.
The win gets New York back on the right track at 7-4 and go up on the Cowboys and Redskins in the NFC East by 2 games. Late news broke, though, that somewhat sapped the euphoria of victory for Big Blue. Coach Tom Coughlin had announced in the Giants’ post-game press conference that runningback Andre Brown broke his fibula. He’d finish the game with 13 carries on 64 yards rushing including the 1st quarter touchdown.
The Packers are also now 7-4, but thanks to the Bears beating the Vikings earlier in the day, they’re now back in 2nd place a game behind the Bears. The simple issue with the Packers is that they have to get healthy. In a tough NFC, they can ill afford any losses to anyone else right now. They need to get Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, Greg Jennings, and Charles Woodson healthy for the final push for the postseason or they may be leapfrogged by the Bucs or Vikings. In addition to all of that, 4 of their last 5 games are in their own division—including two vs. the Minnesota Vikings.
If the Playoffs Began Today….
Colts 7-4 (WC)
Steelers 6-5 (WC)
Packers 7-4 (WC)
Seahawks 6-5 (WC)
Ironically, the Pack and G-Men would play each other if the playoffs began today. They may see each other this year one more time before the Lombardi Trophy is issued to the Super Bowl winner in February.
That’s for later, though. As for now, both teams now look to Week 13. New York will be on Monday Night Football as they take on RGIII and the Washington Redskins in Landover’s FedEx Field. The Packers will play one of those two games vs. the Vikes also in Week 13. That will be a home game for the Green and Gold at Lambeau Field.
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By Akiem Bailum, host of TRST’s “10 Minutes on the Clock”, Twitter: @Li495Akiem
Weak Cards In Every Deck
The Atlanta Falcons have held the top spot in the NFC ever since Week 1. If there was any week for the Dirty Birds of the ATL to lose, it was this week.
With the Cardinals coming into their matchup vs. the 8-1 Falcons having lost 5 straight, Atlanta was seen as a heavy favorite. This was supposed to be one of the more relatively easier victories that the Falcons could rack up this season, right?
The first play for the Atlanta Falcons from scrimmage would be prophetic of how the entire game would go. Matt Ryan’s first throw would be intercepted by the Cardinals’ Rashad Johnson. The Cardinals capitalized on it with runs from Laron Stephens-Howling to take a 7-0 lead.
Atlanta would turn the ball over to Arizona two more times in the 1st quarter as Ryan would throw 3 picks in the opening frame alone. He would have 5 for the game. After 1 quarter, Arizona was leading 13-0 on the top team in the NFC as their defense started to resemble the defense was had seen during the 1st 4 weeks of play.
The Falcons would slowly, but surely, claw their way back into it as they took advantage of the fact that Arizona’s struggling offense settled for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. The 3-yard run in the 1st quarter from Laron Stephens-Howling would be the only TD for the Cards. 4 Jay Feely field goals would round out the Arizona offensive attack.
You had to have a feeling that the Falcons would find a way to pull it off. First with John Skelton, and then with Ryan Lindley (who made his NFL debut, by the way), their offense never really got going. Atlanta had another bad day when it came to stopping the run as the Cardinals would outrush the Falcons 137-58. Passing, it would be a different story. Larry Fitzgerald only caught the ball 1 time for 11 yards.
In addition to the 5 picks and 1 sack, Matt Ryan went 28/46 for 301 yards. Roddy White, though, would have a huge day despite their difficulties contending with the ‘Zona D—8 catches for 123 yards.
The Falcons move to 9-1 while the Cardinals are now 4-6 and losers of 6 consecutive games. Arizona hasn’t been the same team since the Kevin Kolb injury. It’s obvious that if this team had a real NFL quarterback (like a Peyton Manning, for example, whom they were pursuing over the offseason) they’d be a more legitimate contender than they are now.
As for the playoff-bound Falcons, they seem to be in trouble if they have plans on going to New Orleans to play in the Super Bowl this year. Teams now know how to beat this team—with defense and the running game. I picked Atlanta to get to the Super Bowl, but right now, they do not want to face the Seahawks in the postseason.
In Week 12, the Falcons travel on the road to play the Buccaneers while the Cardinals go back home to face their division rival St. Louis Rams.
Free Football in Texas (Part I)
At 4-5 entering Week 11, the Dallas Cowboys probably needed to defeat the Cleveland Browns in order continue to have a shot at the playoffs. At 4-6 in the NFC, it wouldn’t look good going forward for America’s Team.
The Browns at this point are 2-7 and 0-4 on the road & are playing for solely pride at this point. Early on, though, you would think the roles were reversed. At the end of 1 quarter, the score would be 13-0 Browns—just like Cardinals/Falcons was.
And just like the Cardinals/Falcons game, the Cowboys would come back to the tie it, but it would be tied at the end of regulation. Trent Richardson turned out to be the huge performer for Cleveland with 28 carries for 95 yards. Brandon Weeden also continued his improving play with a 20/35 day for 210 yards and 2 TDs.
Tony Romo was put under duress all game long. The Browns defense managed to get to the ‘Boys #9 a grand total of 7 times. 8 Cleveland defenders, including Craig Robertson and (appropriately since we’re entering the holiday season) Frostee Rucker were responsible for the 7 sacks on Romo.
As it turned out, this game would be one of 3 on Sunday that would go into overtime. Dan Bailey had already kicked 2 field goals earlier. He would end it with a 38 yarder to send the Cowboys Stadium crowd home happy. Dallas prevailed 23-20. Even though Romo was sacked 7 times, he did throw for 313 yards on 35/50 passing and 1 TD.
Also, Dez Bryant is one of the most maligned players in the league for his off-the-field exploits (and rightfully so). But his day was big today for the Silver and Blue—12 catches for 145 yards.
There would be a scary moment towards the end of the game when the Cowboys’ Kevin Ogletree would collide helmet to helmet to helmet with two Cleveland Browns and would be taken out of the game. With the high amount of concussions suffered last week, this is the last thing anyone wanted to see happen to any player.
Dallas is now 5-5 and only 1 game behind the 6-4 New York Giants who were on their bye week in Week 11 (the last week for bye weeks, by the way). Dallas gets Washington at home in their annual Thanksgiving Day matchup this Thursday Turkey Day. Cleveland’s next opponent shall be the Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday for Week 12. The Browns are now 2-8.
Free Football in Texas (Part II)
Two NFL football games occurred in the state of Texas on Sunday. Browns/Cowboys wouldn’t be the only one that would result in free football for the fans in a state that has to be considered the American Football capital of the world.
Jaguars/Texans at Reliant Stadium also would extend into overtime as it seemed on paper that this one wasn’t even supposed to be competitive. Jacksonville was 1-8 coming into this game and are playing only for pride. The Texans are coming off an impressive defensive performance against the Chicago Bears on a nationally televised matchup on Sunday Night Football. Mismatch on paper, right?
With no Blaine Gabbert for most the game, Chad Henne would be taking the snaps on the day for the Jacksonville Jaguars…and didn’t do too badly. Houston’s defense clearly didn’t game plan for Henne as they did for Gabbert and it showed—Henne threw 16/33 for 354 yards and 4 TDs this game. Justin Blackmon would have a monster outing for Jacksonville as well as he caught 7 passes for an astounding 236 yards.
Though, obviously, part of that is the fact that the game would go deep into overtime as was shown by the box scores for both teams. The top-5 ranked defense in the NFL was being carved up by a quarterback who isn’t exactly a veteran and a team that isn’t exactly in the thick of things even in a weak AFC. It was 34-20 in the 4th quarter.
2 touchdowns from Matt Schaub to Garrett Graham later, Houston would tie it up and the score became 34-34.
With just over 4:00 minutes left in the overtime period, both Jacksonville and Houston were tied at 37-37. Last week in the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams would resolve nothing in 5 periods of play as their game resulted in a tie. Late in the overtime period, it looked like we’d be seeing two straight ties in two consecutive weeks. Chalk that possibility, obviously, up to the new overtime rules that make NFL overtimes more similar to those in college.
Schaub initially would throw an interception before the Jaguars would turn the ball over on downs. Then, a 48 yard connection from Schaub to Andre Johnson later would seal the deal as the Texans improved to 9-1 with a 43-37 victory over the Jaguars. Matt Schaub would throw for the 2nd most yards of a quarterback in NFL history—527 with 5 TDs and 2 interceptions and a 43/55 day. Johnson also had himself a big day too—14 receptions for 273 yards and (of course) the game winning score.
With Week 12 upcoming, it’ll be a short week of practice for the Houston Texans as they will play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day. The 1-9 Jacksonville Jaguars will stay in the division as they play the Tennessee Titans in J-Ville.
Important free football wouldn’t only take place in the state of Texas. It also did so in North Carolina as the 5-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers took on their divisional rival Carolina Panthers at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
After losing 4 of their first 5, the Bucs have out of nowhere looked like one of the hottest (if not the hottest) team in the league. Carolina is another one of these teams that are simply playing for pride at this point, but they too hung tough with a good team in their division. At one point, it was 21-10 Panthers.
Tampa would tie the game up with only 12 seconds left in regulation with a Vincent Jackson touchdown catch from Josh Freeman. The Bucs getting Vincent Jackson is paying dividends for them.
One 15 yard pass from Freeman to former Colt Dallas Clark later would seal this one for the Bucs as they came back to defeat the Panthers 27-21. Tampa Bay now is 6-4 with the Panthers at 2-8.
One notable statistic came from Doug Martin. ESPN’s SportsNation is now referring to him as “Martin ScoresEasy”. He ran easy once again today—24 carries for 138 yards as he continues to make a case for rookie of the year. Samantha Gordon isn’t the only runningback that America has become introduced to this year, apparently.
Josh Freeman (who I still maintain as underrated) went 25/46 for 248 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
Cam Newton’s line would include a 16/29 for 252 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, and 2 sacks. Brandon LaFell for the Panthers would have 6 catches for 93 yards.
Next up for the Buccaneers shall be the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium—a game that many will have as a potential upset pick for Week 12. The Panthers will go on the road to Philadelphia to play the 3-7 lowly Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday Night Football.
Not Quite Ready, Just Yet
Patriots/Colts was unarguably the hottest ticket on the NFL programme from about 2001 to 2009. But, with Peyton Manning now in Denver and leading that team towards the playoffs, it has lost a little bit of luster lately.
By the way, Peyton and his Broncos had a huge game vs. the Chargers and Philip Rivers who seemingly thinks he plays for the other team these days.
The story of the Indianapolis Colts has been one of the most appealing to NFL fans this year. Coach Chuck Pagano is battling leukemia and the team has used it as a rallying cry for the rest of the season. Andrew Luck is right up there with Doug Martin (and possibly Robert Griffin III) as a rookie of the year candidate.
They were 6-3 heading into their game in Foxboro vs. the New England Patriots when no one (myself included) expect Indy to even be in this position after a dreadful 2-14 “Suck for Luck” clip they posted last year.
Of course, one had to fully expect reality to set in as they went up against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. No sane person outside of the state of Indiana should’ve been predicting the Colts to beat the Patriots. Maybe in the future when Luck gets more experience, but not now.
Indy was able to hold their own for a while. They took leads of 7-0 and 14-7 in the 1st half and were only down by a touchdown at the end of the 1st half.
Then Tom Brady put on his Superman cape, or something.
After the 1st half it was over. What was close at the half would become a rout at the end of the 3rd quarter. It was 38-17 Patriots by then. It would be 59-24 by the time there would be 4 zero’s on the game clock at the end of the 4th quarter.
It was another blowout victory for the Pats, something that they’ve become more and more accustomed to over the years. Brady would have another Brady-like performance going 24/35 for 331 yards, 3 TDs. As for Rob Gronkowski, his day would include 7 receptions for 137 yards and 2 of the Pats’ touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the Pats, the win would come at a cost. Gronk was later diagnosed with a broken forearm and will be going in for surgery on Monday. He’ll miss 4-6 weeks (possibly the remainder of the regular season). They’re already banged up enough with no Aaron Hernandez.
As for Andrew Luck, he’d go 27/50 for 334 yards, 2 TDs and 3 interceptions.
The Patriots will play their divisional rival New York Jets on Thanksgiving Night on NBC and are now 7-3. The 6-4 Colts will return home to Lucas Oil Stadium for a matchup vs. the Buffalo Bills
Preserving The Status Quo
Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh Steelers.
As football fans, we all know by now the numerous connotations of hard-hitting, smash-mouth football that are associated with these two teams. Week 11 of Sunday Night Football in 2012 would be no different.
Of course, this game would be missing some notable defensive presences, including Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu. It’d also be missing Ben Roethlisberger. With the injury he sustained last week vs. the Kansas City Chiefs putting him on the shelf for 3-4 weeks, the Steelers now are turning to former Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich in Big Ben’s stead.
The start of the game looked promising for the Steelers. They got out to an early 7-0 lead thanks to a 31 yard run from Leftwich for a TD. That’s one thing that most will not remember him doing at any time while playing in North Florida for the Jags.
It also came at a cost as after the TD, he seemed to be clutching his throwing arm and it showed throughout the duration of the game. He didn’t seem to have the same zip on some of his throws as one would have. And with Roethlisberger on the shelf until December, this was without a doubt, the last thing any Steeler fan needed to see. The words “Charlie Batch” started to come out of the mouths of football fans in Western Pennsylvania.
After that, the Steelers would score only once after that. They’d struggle to get anything going as on many of Leftwich’s passes, they’d be immediately met by Ravens defenders or their secondary.
On the other side, Joe Flacco’s line for the day would be 20/32 for 164 yards and 0 TDs.
The biggest play of the day would come courtesy of a Baltimore Raven as late in the 4th quarter, Jacoby Jones returned a Steelers punt 63 yards to make it 10-7 Ravens. That gave Baltimore a lead and they wouldn’t look back after that. Jones, earlier in the year, has already notched returns of 100+ yards twice, so he’s given the Ravens a pretty good year so far on special teams.
Even at the conclusion of Week 11, it’s not over. In fact, the Steelers and Ravens will meet again in 2 weeks as part of the Week 13 schedule. This time, of course, it’ll be played at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
As for Week 12, the 8-2 Ravens travel almost the full way across the country to San Diego to play the struggling Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. 6-4 Pittsburgh gets the Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and the Cincinnati Bengals were also victorious over the tepid Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 by a final score of 28-6. Cincy is 5-5, meaning 3 teams in that division have a chance at the playoffs, including those somewhat surprising Bengals.
Stay tuned to TRST for the most in NFL coverage, including The NFL Final Score every Sunday!
Week 10 of the 2012 NFL campaign will be looked at as forgettable for both franchises that represent the nation’s top market.
After doing eenie-meenie-miney-mo between the Giants and Jets, I decided to start with Big Blue.
After coming off a loss last week vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, the G-Men continued their test of the AFC North in Week 10 by going on the road to Paul Brown Stadium to face the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now, it has Giants fans all over the Tri-State area checking their calendars to see if there are any more AFC North games on their schedule.
The key for the Bengals today included their running game in opposition to that of New York’s in addition to turnovers. Cincinnati rushed for 129 yards and the Giants mustered a mere 76. They nearly doubled the amount of rushing yards New York had.
Turnovers normally do not win you football games either. The Giants had 4 while the Bengals only had 1. 2 of those turnovers were Eli Manning interceptions. He would also go 29/46 for 215 yards, 4 sacks, and no touchdowns. Andy Dalton would throw for 4 TDs despite less than 199 yards on a 21/30 day for him.
That’s now 2 straight that the Giants have lost and it once again has the faithful of Big Blue worried. In the past (i.e. before Eli Manning and head coach Tom Coughlin won 2 Super Bowls), this would prompt Giants fans to call into sports talk radio in New York and begin crowing about quarterback changes, criticism that Eli Manning is nothing more than Peyton’s little brother, and calls for Tom Coughlin’s head on a silver platter.
It’s also common for the Giants, even in the years where they’ve won Super Bowls, to have these 2nd half swoons and still manage to back into the playoffs. The rest of the Giants’ schedule is rather tough as well.
As for the Bengals, the win will continue to reinvigorate their playoff hopes in a weak AFC while still contending with the Ravens and Steelers—the latter of which looks like the hottest team in football at this point.
The record of the Giants is now 6-4 while the Bengals move to 4-5. The Giants will be on a bye week for Week 11 while the Bengals should go 5-5 when they play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
While the Bengals made mince meat of the Giants, the Jets traveled to Seattle to play the Seahawks. Gang Green was coming off of a bye week in Week 9 after being embarrassed at home by the Miami Dolphins 30-9. That was in a contest in which the Jets outdid the Dolphins in nearly every statistical category—except the one that mattered the most.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks were coming off a victory in Week 9 over the Minnesota Vikings that was dominated by rushing attacks. Marshawn Lynch would run for 124 yards in that game while Adrian Peterson had nearly 180.
Some things, unfortunately for the Jets, do not change.
It turned out to be (not) precisely what the struggling Jets offense needed—traveling to play a top 5 NFL defense in Seattle in a stadium known for its decibel level. The Jets offensive performance today included a grand total of no offensive touchdowns. The only TD on the game was off a fumble recovery in the 1st quarter.
Other than that, the line for Mark Sanchez was 9 for 22 with 144 yards, no touchdowns, 1 interception, and 3 sacks. An easy indicator of when Mark Sanchez has an off day is when Tim Tebow is ever in the game. He was and went 3 for 3. Dustin Keller also had a couple of key drops in this game.
Meanwhile, Seattle continues its push towards the postseason. Russell Wilson went 12 for 19 with 188 yards and 2 touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch had himself another huge day with 124 yards on 27 carries.
Here’s one way you know it was going to be a bad day for the Jets—the Seahawks first touchdown wasn’t thrown from Russell Wilson. It was thrown by Golden Tate. Tate had more TD passes on the day than did Sanchez. And, like Tebow, Tate is a southpaw.
Seattle is now 6-4 in a division that is looking more like it’ll be contested between them and San Francisco. Between their defense and their rushing attack, they are not a team I would want to face in the playoffs if I’m the Atlanta Falcons (who should be the top seed). Week 11 is a bye week for the ‘Hawks.
This could be a team that’s built for January despite the rookie quarterback. If not for the fact that they have a rookie quarterback, we’d be talking about them as Super Bowl contenders.
As for the Jets, the beat continues for them at 3-6 and the Rams lurking next week in St. Louis. As the postseason becomes less of a possibility for Gang Green, the calls in the Tri-State Area for the job of Rex Ryan will only get louder.
So will the Tim Tebow chants.
Saint Finished Yet!
New Orleans’ Week 10 matchup against the division rival (and undefeated) Atlanta Falcons was described as their Super Bowl. This was an accurate description. Heading into the game the Saints had won 3 of their last 4 games, but a loss to the Falcons in the same division would have been, possibly, the final blow to their postseason chances in a very tough NFC.
I predicted the Falcons would win this one because despite the Saints winning 3 of their last 4, what didn’t change is the fact that the Saints had the worst defense in the NFL.
The game turned out to be more reflective of one other statistic that could hurt the Falcons come postseason time—the Falcons’ weakness that is their rush defense. The Saints exploited that weakness today by outrushing Atlanta 148-46. To teams that may face the Falcons in the playoffs—that is how you beat them.
Some major offensive numbers were put up today. Drew Brees was 21/32 with 298 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Matt Ryan threw for a career best 411 yards, 34/52, also with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White would have more than 100 receiving yards as did Jimmy Graham for New Orleans.
When it mattered late with the Falcons driving into the red zone down by 4 and needing a touchdown, they got a defensive stop forcing a turnover on downs. No doubt that it was the biggest defensive stop of the year for New Orleans in a year that has been devoid of many this year.
Tony Gonzalez, though, did reach a milestone as he continues to engrave new accomplishments that will be on his Hall of Fame plaque after his career ends—100 touchdown receptions.
What does this mean? It means that the Saints are once again in the playoff race with Atlanta and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is 5-4 and has won 4 consecutive themselves. It’s a safe bet that 4-5 for the Saints will become 5-5 since they get the Oakland Raiders in Oakland-Alameda next week. If what the Ravens did to the Raiders is any indication, I won’t want to be in the Black Hole next week as a Raider fan because it has a butt-whooping written all over it.
As for the Falcons, most pundits will still pick them to win the Super Bowl. I picked them to be the NFC representatives prior to the year starting. But, this team is starting to remind me of those Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts teams. Efficient offense, but had a weakness when it came to defending the run. It was their Achilles heel many a postseason and it could be that of Atlanta this year.
Also, more questions will arise of the Falcons if they once again flame out in the postseason this year. The talk in Atlanta will be if they’re a team built for the regular season and not the playoffs.
Atlanta is 8-1 and gets the flailing Cardinals at the Georgia Dome next week. Saints get the Raiders.
By the way, there’s a party this week at Mercury Morris’ place, I’ve heard.
Kissing Your Sister?
Ties in the NFL are, of course, a possibility. Ties in the NFL are, also of course, a rarity. In today’s society of sports cynics, ties are treated in almost the same capacity as losses.
Take what happened the last time an NFL game ended with both teams with the identical amount of points. It was in 2008 when an Eagles and Browns matchup concluded tied at 13. What everyone takes away from that game was when Donovan McNabb gave a press conference when he claimed that he didn’t know an NFL game could end in a tie.
The reaction around the Delaware Valley was immediate. Many Philadelphia Eagles fans as well as media eviscerated him for being an idiot and oblivious to the rules of football. Others just used it as an excuse for their case that he should leave football given he was entering the back end of his career.
Ties are taken as an aberration in the American sports landscape. They’re teased as being a result that should only happen in soccer or hockey.
We enter into the picture, today’s Rams/49ers game at Candlestick Point in San Francisco. What was 17-7 Rams going into the 4th quarter ended in a 24-24 tie as it concluded.
For most of the game, the NFC West leading Rams got outplayed. Steven Jackson ran for 101 yards while Frank Gore had nearly the same amount. St. Louis possessed the football for about 6 minutes longer than did the Niners.
Most of this was done with San Francisco’s quarterback injured. Alex Smith left the game with a concussion. Meaning Colin Kaepernick would be taking the snaps for the 49ers. While the centerpiece of their offense is Gore, Kaepernick did run for a touchdown in addition to going 11/17 with 117 yards with no passing TDs or interceptions.
Sam Bradford did have himself a respectable game as well—26/39 for 275 and 2 TDs.
St. Louis’ defensive line also looked like an NFC West defensive line based on what we’ve seen this year by sacking Niner quarterbacks 5 times—Michael Brocker and Robert Quinn each with 1.5.
It’s rare when a team’s record includes 3 numbers instead of one, but the Rams are now 3-5-1 while the 49ers are now 6-2-1. St. Louis goes home to play the lowly J-E-T-S. The Niners will be at home on Monday Night Football next week vs. the Chicago Bears.
We Want Foles!
Philly fans got Foles, albeit, in inauspicious fashion.
Week 10 between the Cowboys and Eagles in South Philly’s Lincoln Financial Field was a must win for both teams. Both were coming into the game 3-5, but the Eagles had lost 4 straight after a promising start to the season despite being bitten by turnovers.
Eventually, turnovers and porous offensive line play finally caught up to them and now they’re fighting for their playoff lives—if there are any at this point.
Head coach Andy Reid is also fighting for his job and football fans in the Delaware Valley have had enough. How popular most Jon Gruden (or even Oregon head football coach Chip Kelly) be in Philadelphia these days?
Philly got the game started with a 7-0 with a Michael Vick touchdown pass to Riley Cooper. The Cowboys would assume the advantage at half with the score being 10-7.
Michael Vick would be taken out of the game after suffering a concussion and an eye injury. So, in came Nick Foles. His first throw to Jason Avant wasn’t a bad throw but it was incomplete off of Avant’s helmet after he pulled up lame on the turf while running his route.
Foles’ first (and only) touchdown pass would be to Jeremy Maclin for 44 yards. At that moment, Twitter blew up with folks proclaiming that Foles had just wrested Vick’s job away from him. His first game wasn’t too bad given the circumstances—22/32 for 219 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. He was also sacked 3 times and turned the ball over once on a fumble.
Meanwhile, for the Cowboys, Tony Romo would go 19/26 for 209 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Dallas won this game in the 3rd quarter. It was 17-17, but a Dwayne Harris 78-yard punt return for a touchdown made it 24-17. 1 minute later, Foles’ interception was caught by Brandon Carr who took it 47 yards to the house. It was 31-17 and at that point, fake pink slips were being written throughout Eastern Pennsylvania directed at Andy Reid.
The next game for the Eagles will also be in the division—on the road in Landover, Maryland’s FedEx Field to play the Washington Redskins. Dallas heads home to play the Cleveland Browns. “America’s Team” is a 4-5 team right now.
Texans Are Pretty Good…No Bull
The last time the Houston Texans appeared on Sunday Night Football wasn’t a memorable experience for the Bulls on Parade. It was vs. the Green Bay Packers in Houston and Aaron Rodgers threw for a franchise record 6 touchdown in what was a victory with authority.
Rodgers and the Packers frustrated the Texans as they would commit a plethora of uncharacteristic penalties as well.
This time around would go a lot better for Houston than did last time. Coming into their matchup at Chicago’s Soldier Field, both the Texans and Bears were 7-1. Both were praised for their stellar defenses.
Throw in rainy conditions, and you have a matchup that will be conducive to high defensive performance. That’s what we got. In the first half of the game, both teams would combine for 6 turnovers. That’s a testament to defense outplaying offense.
Houston’s Danieal Manning (1 pick & an ex-Bear) & Kareem Jackson (1 pick) as well as Chicago’s Tim Jennings (2 picks) were especially stout on defense for their respective clubs. The conditions didn’t make things easier for the offenses either.
Jay Cutler only went 7/14 for 40 yards and 2 interceptions, but this was because the concussion bug also hit him too. Like Michael Vick, Alex Smith, and several other NFL’ers in the day, he would also be taken out of his game due to suffering a concussion. Backup QB Jason Campbell was only 11/19 for 94 yards.
Even Matt Schaub in the victory threw for less than 100 yards by going 14/26 for only 95 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and 1 sack courtesy of Julius Peppers.
If anyone on offense stood out, it was the Texans’ Arian Foster with 29 carries for 102 yards as well as Chicago’s Brandon Marshall who caught 8 passes for 107 yards. Other than that, it was all defense. You are hoping that this is a preview of the Super Bowl if you prefer old-school, defensive, smash-mouth football.
One meme that much was made of was the idea that the Texans couldn’t win in bad conditions given that they’re mainly a “dome” team playing in warm Houston. I never believed that for a second.
With the victory, the Texans increase their record to 8-1 and maintain their hold on the 1 seed in the AFC. They’ll go home to play division rival Jacksonville in Week 11. As for Chicago, they’ll be on another nationally televised game next week—Monday Night Football in San Francisco vs. the 6-2-1 49ers.
Stay tuned to TRST for the most in NFL coverage, including The NFL Final Score every Sunday!
By Akiem Bailum, TRST Columnist & host of “10 Minutes on the Clock” every Saturday
Take These Broken Wings….
The ending of Week 7 of the 2012-2013 NFL season will be looked at as a living nightmare for Baltimore Ravens fans. In weeks 5 and 6, Baltimore’s rush defense gave up over 200 rushing yards & found some way to win both games.
But, that Week 6 victory vs. the Dallas Cowboys came at a huge price as Ray Lewis & Lardarius Webb suffered season-ending injuries. Lewis’ triceps tear at this point in his career could be career-ending.
The Ravens would get a slight boost prior to Week 7 with the return of Terrell Suggs. Suggs came to play in Week 7.
The rest of the Ravens did not—on either side of the ball.
In what can only be termed as an off-game for Joe Flacco, he didn’t look like the elite quarterback he proclaimed himself to be at the start of the season. He was 21/43 for only 147 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and 4 sacks. 2 of those sacks would come from Antonio Smith—on consecutive plays.
That’s not counting all of the balls the Texans’ defense batted or spiked down when they weren’t picked. I wonder if they were playing volleyball throughout the game—or watched volleyball clips of Destinee Hooker, April Ross, and Jennifer Kessy throughout the week.
It may not have been 200 yards, but it was dangerously close. The Texans’ running attack (anchored by Ben Tate and Arian Foster) would combine for 187 rushing yards. Foster also had 2 touchdowns—the same amount of TDs quarterback Matt Schaub threw for. Schaub’s line also included going 23/37 for 256 yards.
The Ravens had couldn’t establish their run any better than they could stop Houston’s. Ray Rice only rushed for 42 yards and only carried the ball 9 times. Not exactly good play calling when you have a runningback of that caliber only getting the rock 9 times…isn’t it Cam Cameron?
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Ravens fans continued to get injury scares from their own players. At one point, Ed Reed said that he took cleats to the ribs, but later said he’d be fine which stopped Ravens fans’ fast beating hearts for a few minutes.
2007—December of 2007. That was the last time that a Baltimore Ravens defense has allowed 43 points in a game. That was to Peyton Manning & the Colts.
But, games like this will not have Ravens fans too confident in their ability to get to the Super Bowl—where many (myself included) picked them to go before the season began. Flacco had an off game. Their issues are injuries and porous defense. Meanwhile, Houston is back on track after the thrashing they took last Sunday night vs. the Green Bay Packers.
“They played excellent, we did not.”—John Harbaugh, Ravens head coach. Nuff ‘Ced.
Next week is the Ravens’ bye week—and they need it. It’s also the Texans’. Baltimore is 5-2 while Houston is 6-1.
Cam Goes Ham….on his Coaching Staff
The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Carolina Panthers 19-14 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte in what was a rather competitive game, throughout. Dan Bailey almost beat the Panthers by himself as he kicked 4 field goals—including the last 2 in the 4th quarter.
Tony Romo was 24/34 with 227 yards and 1 touchdown. Newton also threw 1 TD pass in addition to going 21/37 for 233.
There were no eye-popping statistics from this one. No one rushed for over 70 yards. The leading receiver for either team was Dallas’ Miles Austin with 5 receptions for 97 yards. As expected, Steve Smith led the receiving charge for Carolina with 7 catches for 83.
When down 19-14, the Panthers did have a chance to win the game in the final seconds, but it was not to be as Newton had one of his 2 sacks. Also, a desperation play that saw several different Panthers touch the football eventually ended in a fumble & a DeMarcus Weir recovery. Those plays work…once in every 1000 occurrences.
After the game, though, Cam Newton’s Superman cape seemed to be strapped on a little bit too tight as he took his postgame presser. Everyone’s focusing on how he seemed to rip the coaches for not calling the same amount of run plays as pass plays. Also, he referred to a female reporter as “sweetheart”. I got out of it that he seemed to be too concerned with statistics than with winning the game.
Statistics are for geeks (like me) & for others in the press to fawn over. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers put up a lot of statistics but it didn’t win them their game vs. New Orleans, did it? Also, it’s obvious now that there’s conflict in the Carolina Panthers’ locker room. Between teammates calling out Cam Newton on the sidelines & in the media, now with him complaining about play calling, it’s obvious that there are some disgruntled Panthers in that Carolina locker room.
Those very Panthers will get the Chicago Bears in Chicago Week 8. Meanwhile, the Cowboys will go back home for a divisional clash with the Giants. Dallas is 3-3 while Carolina is 1-5.
Creamsicle Unis, Not-So-Vanilla Game
Tampa Bay’s matchup vs. the New Orleans Saints @ Raymond James was played with the Bucs wearing their well-ballyhooed old school swag. Even if many in Central Florida associate those unis more with the less-than-glorious days of the franchise, you have to admit that it makes Tampa’s cheerleaders look even hotter.
One week removed from a bye was nothing for Drew Brees. In their last game vs. San Diego, he set the all time record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Now for Brees to pad that record, a little bit. He got off to a good start with a 4 TD performance including 377 yards, 27/37 and only 1 pick.
The game also marked the return of Jonathan Vilma to the Saints’ defense and he pass defended on the first play. On his return, he’d say: “I’ve never had to fight so hard to defend my name, but running out on the field with my team today makes it all worth it.”
Meanwhile, for the Buccaneers, Josh Freeman was 24/42 for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns. Freeman is an underrated QB who would be getting Tim Tebow-like attention if he were on a flashier team like the Cowboys.
Receiving was the story of this one. Lance Moore caught 9 passes for 121 yards. Speaking of the Chargers, Bolts fans will remember this name very well—Vincent Jackson. V-Jax had a banner day in a losing effort for Tampa Bay with 7 receptions for 216 yards and 1 touchdown.
This game would eventually come down to Freeman and the Bucs having a shot to win the game as did Cowboys/Panthers. Freeman was successful in leading his team down the field, but couldn’t cross the goal line for a game-tying touchdown with Tampa Bay down by a mere 7. What looked like a game-tying TD pass to Mike Williams was actually waved off as Wallace was pushed out of bounds, invalidating the touchdown pass. Some Bucs fans are already campaigning for the return of the replace….no, I won’t go there.
Saints won 35-28. Both teams are now 2-4. New Orleans will face Denver next week on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. As for Tampa, they play their next game in 3 days on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football vs. the 5-2 Vikings. Yeah, that last part is true.
One Minute Men
Where’s Ripley when you need him? Believe it or not, Brees isn’t the only quarterback in striking distance of a record. So is Eli Manning. “Easy E” threw 1 touchdown pass today vs. the Washington Redskins. This brings his career total to 197—only two shy of the all time Giants record currently held by Phil Simms at 199.
Manning’s line for the day also included a 26/40 for 337 & 2 interceptions.
This week, it would be another NFC East team—Washington—that ran for over 200 yards. That’s to be expected though, when you have both Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris with productive days on the ground. Morris carried the ball 22 times for 120 yards and RGIII provided 89 rushing yards in addition to his 20/28 for 258 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
No one, though, is talking about anything that occurred prior to those last 2 minutes in the 4th quarter. At one point, it looked like the Redskins were about to get themselves a huge victory on the road in the division to send themselves to 4-3. Robert Griffin III connected for 30 yards to Santana Moss for a touchdown with 1:32 left in the 4th quarter.
But, as numerous other teams will tell you, 1:32 in the 4th is nothing to Eli Manning. It might as well be an hour and 32 minutes. After Eli’s first pass was incomplete, the 2nd one was anything but. Manning to Victor Cruz for 77 yards and that sent the G-Men back on top. Big Blue led 27-23. That would be the most important catch of the day for Cruz who had 7 on the day for 131 yards.
The final play for the Redskins would be a fumble from Santana Moss of all people. Moss probably went from hero player (other than RGIII of course) to a scapegoat in less than 2 minutes on sports radio in the nation’s Capital. Moss would have 3 catches for 67 yards.
The Giants are now 5-2 while the Skins fall to 3-4. New York will travel to Dallas to play the Cowboys while Washington continues its road trip to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
As for New York’s Other Team….
They were atop (or at the bottom of, based on your preference) the AFC East along with the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins at 3-3 coming into Week 7. The Bills lost to the Tennessee Titans 35-34 in a barnburner in Orchard Park, New York. The Dolphins were enjoying the sun and sand of Miami as they were on bye week.
The Pats & Jets were to play each other with the winner assuming the division lead.
Early on, Gang Green’s defense was grounded only mustering 7 points in the first half. But, you also have to give the defensive line of the Patriots some credit. Mark Sanchez was sacked 4 times. 1 ½ of those occasions would be courtesy of Rob Ninkovich.
The Jets running game went north of 200 last week against the Colts who were a team known even during the Peyton Manning era of having issues stopping the run. This week, Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen combined for 131 rushing yards to outrush the Jets 131-106. Shonn Greene himself had a banner game last week at the Meadowlands vs. Indy—16 carries for a mere 54 yards this week.
And, in case you wanted to know, 4 Tebow sightings throughout the game. 12 yards on 4 carries.
As far as the lines on the quarterbacks go, Mark Sanchez—28/41 for 328 yards, 1 TD, 1 pick, and 4 sacks. Tom Brady’s performance was 26/42 for 259 yards, 2 TDs and 1 sack.
Even after two late Nick Folk 43 yard field goals to put the Jets on top 26-23—there was still 1:37 left on the clock. As we know, that’s nothing to Tom Brady. Clock management from the Patriots’ offense allowed for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with no time left to tie the game at 26. New England would win the game in overtime, also via another Gostkowski field goal.
Two plays Jets fans will be looking at were a huge Mark Sanchez fumble in overtime as well as a crucial drop from Stephen Hill that would’ve probably led to a touchdown instead of New York settling for 3 points.
The Pats won 29-26. They now bring a 4-3 record to St. Louis next week. Gang Green goes back home for another matchup inside the division. They’ll be 3-4 as they play the Miami Dolphins.
Don’t Let the Scoreboard Fool Ya!
The final score may say 24-17 Pittsburgh Steelers over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincy. But, one statistic might as well be on the final score of this game.
That would be the number of total yards the Steelers and Bengals gained throughout their matchup on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. When you are outgained by 246 total yards on offense, that will not win you football games. And, it would’ve been even more if not for a bunch of dropped passes (mainly from Mike Wallace) they had throughout the game (and the 1st half in particular).
This isn’t even counting the dropped ball from Baron Batch that didn’t even come from Roethlisberger. That came from a trickeration play where receiver Antonio Brown threw a perfect pass to Batch that he would drop. That would’ve been an easy touchdown for Batch which would’ve made the disparity on the scoreboard even greater.
Jonathan Dwyer was the leading rusher for either team with 17 carries for 122 yards. Ben Roethlisberger’s line was 27/37 with 278 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and was sacked 3 times.
As for Cincinnati, their offense was putrid. Andy Dalton only completed half of his passes (14/28) and had only 105 yards. Even Flacco (in the same division) had more than that, and his day was beyond horrible. Benjarvus Green-Ellis was Cincy’s main rusher, of course—and ran for only 69 yards on 18 carries.
With the Steelers winning 24-17, it gets them back on track after they’ve suffered late, tough losses to both the Oakland Raiders & Tennesse Titans on the road. It’s their first road victory of the year. It’s also huge considering everything that’s going on with the Ravens.
Baltimore is 5-2 while Pittsburgh is 3-3. But, with the injuries that Baltimore has and their problems with stopping the run, the Steelers now have a legitimate shot at stealing (or should I say “steeling” with the pun intended) the AFC North—a division that was the Ravens’ to lose coming into the season.
While Pittsburgh is 3-3, the Bengals fall to 3-4. Week 8 will serve as the bye week for the Cincinnati Bengals. As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they will go back home to Heinz Field. Their opponent—the Washington Redskins.
Stay with the Real Sports Talk for the most NFL coverage including our Sunday recap show—the NFL Final Score!
Bulls on Parade
Don’t mess with (these bulls from Houston) Texas—they’ll give you the horns. A 4-0 start in a weak as-you-know-what division should probably have the NFL printing H-Town’s Division Champions gear today. They became 4-0 with a 38-14 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans—a team that the Space City faithful probably knows a thing or two about.
It sometimes is a head-scratcher when you consider that Matt Schaub at one point was a backup to Michael Vick with the Atlanta Falcons. Now, he’s the starter for a Texans team that has Super Bowl on their minds. His line for the game was 20 for 28 with 202 yards and 2 TDs. Another of Houston’s TDs also came via Arian Foster.
And if the offense wasn’t enough to make people think that the Texans can reach the Big Dance this year, what about the defense? 12 of the Texans’ 38 today were via interceptions from Kareem Jackson as well as Danieal Manning. Houston also got to the quarterback 4 times today—Matt Hasselbeck 3 times and Jake Locker once. Locker is now injured.
There isn’t much more to say about this one other than the fact that it was a total beatdown for Houston. Every time, though, the Texans defeat Tennessee, it makes many Houstonians happy considering that it was Bud Adams (known by many in Southeast Texas as “Bud the Dud”) who relocated the team to Music City, USA—Nashville, Tennessee.
These bulls are certainly on parade & they plan on a parade route to New Orleans this year. Since blue is one of the Texans’ colors, maybe they’re H-Town’s new “Luv Ya Blue”.
(Christian) Ponder This For a Second….the Vikings are 3-1
Over the offseason, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was a stadium dispute in the Minnesota state legislature shy of ordering up a fleet of U-Haul trucks and relocating the franchise to Southern California. Fans in the Land of 10,000 Lakes have been there before where they’ve lost teams to that part of town—see: The Lakers.
Fast forward to the end of the first month of the football season & those same Minnesota Vikings have a record of….
A quarter of the season is in the books and the Vikings aren’t thinking about the 2013 season. The Vikings are 3-1 atop the NFC North. Today vs. their division rival Detroit Lions, they wasted no time in getting an early lead. The opening kickoff resulted in a 105 yard return by Percy Harvin for a touchdown—the longest in Vikes history.
They had another long return—a punt return from Marcus Sherels early in the 3rd quarter for 77 yards that made it 20-6.
Also, the way Adrian Peterson is running the football this year, you would not think he’s a year removed from ACL. 21 carries for 102 yards today against Detroit. They won this game today largely because of Adrian Peterson, huge plays on special teams, and defense. They recovered a fumble and also sacked Matthew Stafford 5 times.
Stafford threw the ball 51 times for the Lions for over 300 yards. Both teams’ offenses were one-dimensional (Vikings with the run & Lions with the pass). But when you can run #28 “all day”, you’ll get away 9 times out of 10 with being one-dimensional.
The Vikings won 20-13 today. Forget the City of Angels, the only place the Purple People-Eaters want to go this year is the postseason. Four games in, fans are already buzzing with those possibilities in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
It’s also possible that last week’s victory vs. the 49ers (whom going into that week were considered the best team in the league) may have changed the mindset of the Vikings as well as the organization & fans. That win may have them thinking that the playoffs are an achievable goal this year despite being a tough division with Green Bay and Chicago lurking.
Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired
The New England Patriots off their Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants started the season sub-.500 for the first time in the Tom Brady era since 2003. After defeating the Titans in Week 1, they’ve suffered losses to the Cardinals and the Ravens. The loss to Arizona had to be especially humbling with the Cards’ D sacking the Golden Boy 4 times.
Midway through their divisional matchup with the Buffalo Bills (a team that got thrashed by the New York Jets 41-7 Week 1), the Pats were down 14-7. Early in the 4th quarter, they increased that lead to 21-7. The Patriots would be 1-3 coming off a year where they reached the Super Bowl.
Bill Belichick had to have said on the sidelines: “Over my dead body we’re losing to the Buffalo Bills & going 1-3!”
The remainder of the game, Danny Woodhead, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandon Lloyd all caught passes from Tom Brady. Brady also ran in for one himself, something he doesn’t do often. New England put up 45 in the 2nd half (the football equivalent of what happened in the USA-Nigeria men’s basketball game at the Olympics) to put the Bills out of its misery. Their final score was 52-28.
All 4 scores from the Bills came from Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdowns. He threw the same amount of picks as he did interceptions. Buffalo is 2-2, but both losses came to division rivals in authoritative fashion.
Point proven, Brady. Point proven. A GIF is now circling around the internet of Brady mouthing “FTBs”. That’s an acronym for something but what it actually means escapes me at the moment. The point is it translates to “You don’t like us New England Patriots when we’re sick & tired of being sick & tired”.
J! E! T! S! Blech! Blech! Blech!
Gang Green knew exactly what they were getting into when they brought Tim Tebow on board. There’s a reason why his opening press conference was so large it had to be moved out of the Jets press room and to their training facility in New Jersey.
Mark Sanchez’ performance today had Jets fans chanting the name of their backup quarterback from MetLife Stadium to Montauk Point in easternmost Long Island. He was a mere 13/29 for 103 yards, 1 interception, and 3 sacks. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Santonio Holmes was knocked out because he hurt his foot catching a pass from Sanchez. Not exactly a good sight for the Jets with them already losing Darrelle Revis for the entire season.
And, the 49ers displayed early on that the Wildcat is not an endangered species in NFL circles. Their first score of the day to their backup QB, Colin Kaepernick came the way of such a play. They went up by one score & it’d be all they needed. They won 34-0 despite Frank Gore not running for over 70 yards on 20+ carries and Alex Smith not throwing any touchdowns and under 200 yards for the day.
After the game, Rex Ryan told the press that he’s sticking with Mark Sanchez, but we know the truth. This isn’t Cincinnati where the “Sanchize” can escape from the press the way Steve Young could escape incoming defenders. Every play, word, and move is analyzed a million different ways in Gotham. A few more bad words & before you know it a certain QB from Florida will be the one taking snaps for the Jets.
“I was gonna say we got our butt kicked, but really, we got our ass kicked.”—Rex Ryan. He should’ve ended the presser there. Next week probably won’t be any different as they play Houston next week.
Dealt a Bad Hand, But Playing the Cards Right
The Arizona Cardinals were up against the other team in the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins. And for a while, Miami had their sights set on putting the redbirds in the loss column for the first time in the young season.
The advantage to being Ryan Tannehill is that you are a rookie quarterback with a hot wife and/or girlfriend in a flashy market. The disadvantage is that you are a rookie quarterback on a team with low expectations in the same division as the New England Patriots.
That quarterback would throw for over 400 yards and 26/41 for 1 touchdown & 2 picks (one of them coming in overtime). This includes an 80 yarder to Brian Hartline, who himself finished the game with 253 receiving yards on 12 receptions.
Defensively, they held up for much of the game as well. Miami controlled the ball for 4 minutes longer than did Arizona and Kevin Kolb was under pressure for much of the game. He was sacked 8 times including 4 ½ times by Cameron Wake.
Kevin Kolb was able to engineer a late game drive with the Cards needing a touchdown to tie it down 21-14. He connected with Andre Roberts for a 15 yard pass for a touchdown to tie it all at 21 to force overtime.
One Tannehill interception in overtime & a Jay Feely field goal later, the Cardinals increased their record to 4-0. Right now, they’re not the Falcons or the Texans, but 4-0 is 4-0 which is all that matters in this league.
Coughing Up a Hairball
Speaking of the Falcons, their opponent was the Carolina Panthers at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. I picked Atlanta to win in a blowout, but it may have turned out to be the Game of the Week.
Carolina, to their credit, was much improved from their Week 3 matchup with the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football. They gave the team whom many now consider the best team in the NFC (and perhaps NFL) a game.
After a mid-4th quarter touchdown from Carolina, that increased the score to 28-24 Panthers. Despite a Matt Bryant field goal that would make it 28-27 Panthers, Carolina seemed on the verge of winning as they were deep in Falcons territory. Despite Cam Newton throwing for 215, throwing for 2 TDs, and running for another, everyone will be talking about the fact that with the game on the line, he fumbled at midfield to give the ball back to Matt Ryan and company.
Ryan connected to Roddy White for 59 yards from their own 1-yard line to immediately get into Carolina territory. It looked eerily reminiscent of what he did to the Chicago Bears a few years ago in the same building when it looked like the game was over. A Matt Bryant 40 yarder later, the Falcons are celebrating a 4-0 season. The 3 undefeated teams (Falcons, Cardinals, Texans) all won today to maintain their status as undefeated.
As for the Panthers, some are already comparing their collapse to that of Team USA at the Ryder Cup. That’s a little far-fetched, don’t ya think?
Feelin’ That Hot Seat, Spagnuolo?
With the Saints at 0-3 and the Packers at 1-2 coming off that controversial Monday Night debacle, both teams wanted a win today as New Orleans and Green Bay faced off in Lambeau Field.
Despite Drew Brees tying Johnny Unitas for the most consecutive games where a quarterback threw a touchdown, it meant nothing when it came to the final result as the Packers defeated New Orleans 28-27.
Where it looked like the game would start changing was in the 4th quarter. Aaron Rodgers & the Packers were deep in New Orleans territory—in the red zone & only a few yards from a touchdown. 21-17 Pack was about to become 28-17 Pack. Then, Rodgers gets pulled down by the facemask and poked in the eye that had him out for one play. In comes backup QB Graham Harrell.
His first play in the NFL is not one he’ll want to tell his grandkids. A handoff turned into a fumble and the Saints recovered the football. They added onto that with a 80 yard long bomb from Brees to Joseph Morgan. 24-21 Nawlins.
An Aaron Rodgers interception later showed that that fumble may have been in their heads. A Garrett Hartley field goal made it 27-21. When the momentum seemed like it was shifting towards the Saints, one had to remember the difficulties the Saints’ defense has had so far & why Steve Spagnuolo is on the hot seat in NOLA.
Low and behold, the green and gold came back with a Rodgers pass to Jordy Nelson. 28-27. When the Saints had a chance to win, penalties by both teams forced the distance Hartley had to kick from 43 yards, to 53 yards, to 48 yards. Hartley was wide-left.
The Green Bay Packers are now 2-2 while New Orleans is still winless at 0-4 and the San Diego Chargers waiting next week on NBC Sunday Night Football. That 0-4 stands a great chance of becoming 0-5 considering what Philip Rivers and the Bolts’ offense can do to a defense as weak as the Saints’ is.
Turnovers, What Turnovers?
Prior to Eagles/Giants on Sunday Night Football, Philadelphia sometimes made you wonder if they had inked a sponsorship deal with Butterfingers. They had been very interception and turnover prone so far in the season. Some of that is Michael Vick, some of it is Andy Reid, and some of it is a weak offensive line.
It was also the night where Brian Dawkins’ #20 was retired at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles put on one of the more elaborate and moving retirement ceremonies seen in recent memory in honor of someone who is now considered among their all-time greats.
Philly was 2-1 despite the turnovers but because their defense has shown up to play in the first few games this year. They fixed that tonight vs. New York by not committing a single turnover all game. That is why I consider tonight’s game their best of the 4 they’ve played in so far. Turnovers will happen, but if they can limit those, Philadelphia can win the NFC East.
Both offenses looked sloppy in the beginning as the defenses took center stage. The scoring didn’t begin until the 2nd quarter when Vick connected with Desean Jackson for 19 yards. 7-0 Eagles. The rest of their scoring would come by the way of 4 field goals from Alex Henery.
Even though Eli Manning would throw for 309 yards and 2 touchdowns (one to Victor Cruz & another to Bear Pascoe—which still sounds like a name given to a heavyweight boxer) he also had 1 interception.
When the G-Men had a chance to tie it late, their drive was based almost entirely on pass plays. That’s ok for getting to midfield, but for putting yourself in a good position to eventually get into field goal range, running the ball may have been a better way to churn more yards. But, tell that one to Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
Instead, New York tries a 54 yard attempt for Lawrence Tynes. Initially, it’s wide left before Andy Reid “iced the kicker”. Let me be the first to say “icing the kicker” is one of the biggest horsecrap moves in the NFL and should be an automatic 15-yard penalty. Just ask Joe Philbin last week.
Luckily for the Birds, Andy Reid was able to escape as Tynes’ 2nd attempt was also no good, but because it was short, not because it was wide.
One thing that many Eagles fans have been giving Andy Reid flack for is that he doesn’t run the ball enough. LeSean McCoy provided Eagles fans “shades” of Brian Westbrook. His line was 23 carries for 123 yards. Vick, as expected, also ran a lot—49 yards rushing for Vick in addition to his 241 yards passing.
Stay tuned to the Real Sports Talk for the most NFL coverage including The Final Score with Tim & KJ!
This week, the NFL lost one of its most influential figures in Steve Sabol, the head of NFL Films. It is one of the major reasons why the NFL is the choice sport of Americans because he turned the highlights of NFL games into, almost, a cinematographic production that entertained football aficionados young and old. He will certainly be missed.
With several of this week’s game lasting the length of a Yankees/Red Sox game and going into overtime, Sabol will be looking down very proud of what will be a part of this week’s NFL Films highlight reels for this week.
Somewhere, Frank Wycheck and Kevin Dyson were smiling from ear to ear.
By Nate Sarmir-TRST College Football Analyst
Follow Nate on Twitter @NaterSarms
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10. Arkansas Razorbacks- Arkansas’s offseason started with turmoil, after Head Coach Bobby Petrino was dismissed for a very public affair, the Razorbacks got back to football. As they got back to football, it became very apparent that the Razorbacks are closing in on the reign of Alabama and LSU, and that they will have a good chance to make some noise in the SEC this year. All-Conference Quarterback Tyler Wilson (3422 yards and 22 TDs)turned down the NFL for another season with the Razorbacks, and the offense will get a boost with the return of running back Knile Davis (1322 yards and 13TDS in 2010) who returns from a leg injury that prevented his participation last season. The running back position will be a battle for Davis though because while he was out Dennis Johnson was All-SEC last year gaining 670 yards and 3 TDs. The receiving corps must be revamped, but wide receiver Cobi Hamilton (542 yards and 4 TDs) and tight end Chris Gragg (518 yards and 2 TDs) provide a solid foundation to rebuild around. New defensive coordinator Paul Haynes will have his work cut out for him in 2012, as the Razorbacks will be replacing three of their top players; Defensive end Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas. That taken into consideration, seven starters are returning to the Razorbacks defense. All-Conference punter Dylan Breeding will also stay for his senior year. Projected Record: 10-2
9. South Carolina Gamecocks- After finishing 11-2 and sweeping the SEC East for the first time in school history, Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks look to repeat in 2012. Although Georgia is favorited over the Gamecocks in the SEC East, they will have to battle the Gamecocks in South Carolina. Quarterback Connor Shaw (1218 yards and 12TDs) played well at the end of the season, and the offense will get a boost with running back Marcus Lattimore (818 yards and 10 TDs) returning from a torn ACL. Replacing receiver Alshon Jeffery is the biggest question mark facing the offense in 2012. The Gamecocks will have some stability though with Wide Receiver Ace Sanders (338yards and 2 TDs) and TE Justice Cunningham (142 yards and 1 TD) returning. The Gamecocks finished third nationally in total defense in 2011, but suffered somekey departures, including end Melvin Ingram and cornerback Stephon Gilmore.They return 7 starters including All-Conference Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.The future also looks bright at the QB position with the recruitment of PA Gatorade Player of the year and State Champion Quarterback Brendan Nosovitch. Projected Record: 11-1
8. Michigan Wolverines- With Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title, the balance of power in the Big Ten is clearly resting in the Legends Division. The Wolverines are the early favorites, thanks to the return of quarterback Denard Robinson (2056 yards and 18 TDs) and an improving defense. Coach Brady Hoke’s first year in Ann Arbor was a success, as Michigan won 11 games and played in a BCS game for the first time since the 2007 Rose Bowl. For the Wolverines to crack the top five, Robinson has to cut down on his interceptions (15) and improve his completion percentage (55%). The defense showed big progress under coordinator Greg Mattison, but will be replacing two key starters on the line. The Wolverines will have one of the nation’s best secondaries led by J.T. Floyd. Also middle linebacker Kenny Demens looks to surpass 100 career tackles this year. The Wolverines won’t have an easy schedule next year, as Alabama and Notre Dame await in their non-conference play, while they have conference road games against Ohio State and Nebraska. Projected Record: 10-2
7. Florida State Seminoles- This Seminoles did not have the big season most expected in 2011, but the pieces are in place to win the ACC Championship in 2012. And when youconsider the losses at Clemson and Virginia Tech, Florida State becomes an evenbigger favorite to win the ACC. The defense should be among the best in thenation with returning All-Conference players such as Defensive end Brandon Jenkins and Free Safety Lamarcus Joyner, while the young talent on offense should be improved with another offseason to work with quarterback EJ Manuel(2417 yards and 16 TDs) and running back Devonta Freeman (531 yards and 8 TDs).How well this young offensive line can develop will determine just how high Florida State can climb next season.Projected Record: 9-3
6. Georgia Bulldogs-It’s not crazy to think Coach Mark Richt could go from almost losing his job after a disappointing 2011 to contending for the national title in 2012. The Bulldogs have the pieces to contend for a top-five finish this year, starting with quarterback Aaron Murray(2861 yards and 33 TDs) and a defense that returns nearly everyone including All-Americans OLB Jarvis Jones and FS Bacarri Rambo. Improving the rushing attack, Isaiah Crowell (847 and 5 TDs), was one of the priorities during preseason practices. The offensive line will have to replace two key stalwartsin left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones. The receiving corps looks solid with the return of starters Malcolm Mitchell (665 yards and 4 TDs)and Tavarres King (705 yards and 8 TDs). Projected Record 11-1
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