December 17, 2014

Send In The Clowns

First of all, let me say that I really enjoyed watching the Raiders last week.  It was one of the rare times that I sat there and watched a Raider game from beginning to end.  To top it off, they really played well and came away with a 24-13 win over the 49ers.  When I was a kid, I was told not to live in the past and look ahead to the future.  Well, after that nice win, I thought the Raiders would go into Arrowhead Stadium and come away with yet another win.  I should be put in front of a firing squad for thinking so optimistically.

The game started out the way a lot of Raiders-Chiefs games start.  It was sort of a feeling out process.  With a little over six minutes to go, punter Marquette King nailed a 57-yard punt that was fielded at the Kansas City 19-yard line by rookie return man De’Anthony Thomas.  He proceeded to run up the left sideline for an 81-yard punt return.  That gave the Chiefs the lead and they never looked back.  Kicker Cairo Santos added a field goal with eight minutes to go in the second quarter and the Chiefs were up 10-0.

The Raiders managed to get on the board right before the end of the first half as Sebastian Janikowksi made a 53-yard field goal.  That made the score 10-3 at halftime.  It was good to see them score, but I was nothing but pissed off.  Prior to that drive, the Raiders had the ball for six other possessions and all of them ended with a punt.   Early in the third quarter, fortune smiled on the Raiders for a few seconds.  Tight end Travis Kelce caught a short pass and fumbled.  The ball was picked out of the air by defensive end C.J. Wilson.  He took it up the right side and it looked like he might make it to the end zone.  Seeing as the offense didn’t know how to score, maybe the defense could show them where the end zone was.  No such luck.  Wilson was dragged down at the Kansas City 15-yard line.  All the offense had to do was gain 15 yards and they could tie the game up.  FIFTEEN FREAKING YARDS!!!!  They ran three plays and gained exactly ZERO yards.  Janikowski made another field goal and the Raiders trailed 10-6.

That was the last time until late in the game that the Raiders would score any points.  What follows is what happened after that field goal…

Knile Davis scored on a 3-yard run.  Santos made the extra point

Travis Kelce caught a 20-yard pass from Alex Smith for a touchdown.  Santos made the extra point.

Knile Davis caught  a 70-yard pass from Alex Smith for a touchdown.  Santos made the extra point.

While the Chiefs were doing all that scoring, the Raiders were fumbling the ball away and punting the ball away.  That 70-yard touchdown by Davis made the score 31-6.  With 34 seconds to go in the game, the Raiders finally found end zone when Derek Carr completed a one-yard pass to James Jones in the end zone.  But it was far too little and far too late.  The Chiefs came away with an easy 31-13 win.  That win improved their record to 8-6 and kept their playoff hopes alive.  The Raiders fell to 2-12 and nobody looked like they gave a damn.

Now, I think I have an answer as to why the Raiders punted on their first six possessions of the game.  It was the play calling of offensive coordinator Greg Olson yet again.  Early in the game, Latavius Murray was running the ball very well and averaging five yards a carry.  If something is working, why do you change it?  This is a question that I ask nearly every game.  All of a sudden, they were calling pass plays and totally abandoned the running game.  The defense was playing relatively well in the first half, but they weren’t getting any help from the offense.  I sincerely do not understand what goes on in the mind of Greg Olson.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 27 of 56 for 222 yards and one touchdown.  James Jones led the team in receptions with eight and Andre Holmes had the most receiving yards with 70.  Latavius Murray led the way on the ground with 59 yards on 12 carries.  As a team, the Raiders rushed for 78 yards on 17 carries.  That’s an average of 4.6 yards a carry.  If they would have kept pounding the ball, there may have been a different outcome.  But when you have a complete moron calling the plays, you aren’t going to win many games.  Defensively, Khalil Mack led the team in solo tackles with six.

For the Chiefs, Alex Smith completed 18 of 30 for 297 yards and two touchdowns.  Travis Kelce led the team in receptions with five and Knile Davis had the most receiving yards with 70.  On the ground, Jamaal Charles led the way with 52 yards on 12 carries.  As a team, the Chiefs had a total of 93 yards on 27 carries.  Defensively, the Chiefs were in Carr’s face all day and sacked him four times.  Defensive back Jamell Fleming led the team in solo tackles with eight.

Well, only two games to go.  Up next for the Raiders is a home game against the Buffalo Bills.  The Bills are coming off a solid 21-13 win over the Packers.  In that game, they pressured Aaron Rodgers and picked him off twice.  However, the Packers had success running the ball.  They totaled 158 yards rushing and averaged 6.3 yards a carry.  Are you reading this, Olson?  Are you going to watch the film and see how the Packers successfully ran the ball against the Bills?  Or are you going to have your rookie quarterback throw 50 times against a very aggressive pass rush?  I think I already know the answer to that question.  Take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

Each Team’s Best

Eighty years ago there was an NFL team named the St. Louis Gunners and their best player was Paul Moss. Doesn’t ring a bell? He probably doesn’t as the Gunners were not around too long and Moss never played in the NFL after 1934.

We know about Moss now thanks largely to Leatherhead Joe Williams who reached back into the black and white annals of America’s great game to remember the tall, talented player eight decades after his playing days and 15 years after his death.

The point is every great player is worth remembering, whether he played on the sandlots during the Great Depression or in the Super Bowl in front of billions. And so the following is a compilation of not every great player ever – we don’t have quite that much time – but the greatest player in the history of each NFL franchise, including some teams that, like the Gunners, have faded into history.

You might not agree with all of our choices, but we hope you enjoy remembering them.

 

Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver

The Arizona Cardinals just might win the Super Bowl this season, which would be the team’s first Lombardi Trophy and first NFL title since 1947 when they were based in Chicago.

The Cardinals have had a challenging history, to say the least, struggling for fans during their years in Chicago, putting together some solid but unspectacular teams in St. Louis and continuing to be an also-ran for most of the nearly 30 years since they moved to Arizona.

Despite their often lackluster finish in the standings, the Cards have had a lot of great players including Charley Trippi and Ollie Matson from the Chicago days and Larry Wilson, Jim Hart, Dan Dierdorf and Roy Green who played in St. Louis. But our pick for the toughest bird of the bunch is a player who has blossomed in the desert and, even if he doesn’t lead the Cardinals to a Super Bowl victory, will still end up in the Hall of Fame one day: Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald seems as if he’s played for the Cardinals forever. He joined Arizona in 2003 after a stellar career at the University of Pittsburgh and has been one of the NFL’s elite receivers ever since. As of this writing, Fitzgerald has 12,025 career receiving yards and 89 touchdowns. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and, if the Cardinals had managed to get the ball to #11 a little earlier in Super Bowl XLIII, he caught two TD passes in the fourth including the (temporarily) go-ahead 64-yard score in the final minutes, the Cardinals probably would have beaten the Steelers, instead of losing a heartbreaker.

Larry Fitzgerald, the man with the long hair and sticky hands, left his heart on the field that day six years ago and he continues to do that every Sunday. He has excelled on good teams and bad, no matter who’s throwing him the ball. He’s the best player in Cardinals’ history.

 

Atlanta Falcons – Jessie Tuggle, Linebacker

Leatherhead Matt Haddad says in nearly 50 years of football, one Atlanta Falcon flies highest:

The Atlanta Falcons began play in 1966.  They have had some good seasons, but they’ve never won a World Championship.  “Not a great history,” says Falcon diehard Chris “Bulldog” Harper.

The Falcons entered the league the same season the first Super Bowl was played.  They have made the Super Bowl one time: 1998, when they finished 14-2 and, for the NFC Championship, went to Minnesota and defeated a 15-1 Vikings teams that scored a then-NFL record 556 points in the regular season. “Jessie Tuggle was the heart and soul of that team,” said Harper.

Harper and his fellow Falcon diehard, Josh King, were asked separately: “Who’s the #1 Falcon of all time?”  Both of them picked Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle.

Tuggle grew up in Spalding County, Georgia, and went to college at Valdosta State.  In his pursuit of professional football, the undrafted Tuggle never left home: In 1987, He signed as a free agent with the Falcons and played 14 seasons.  He became a full-time starter halfway through his second season (1988).  In the second-to-last game that season, the Falcons were down, 22-0, to the Rams in Los Angeles.  In the 4th quarter, Tuggle kept his team from getting shut out by returning a Cliff Hicks fumble 2 yards for a touchdown.  The Falcons lost, 22-7, on their way to a 5-11 season.

Tuggle made a similar play ten years later–in that unforgettable 1998 season.  In a Week 11 showdown at home against their archrival San Francisco 49ers with the Falcons up, 17-6, in the 4th quarter, Tuggle returned a Steve Young fumble two yards for a touchdown and a 24-6 lead.  The points proved valuable as the 49ers scored two touchdowns to pull within 24-19.  As they did so many times that season, the Falcons prevailed, 31-19.  The game was decisive in winning the NFC West over the 49ers, who finished two games behind the Falcons at 12-4.

Harper remembers Tuggle having success against Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders–or at least more success against Sanders than most players had.  “I remember a game where Sanders faked out the camera man, and you couldn’t see where he was going,” Harper said. “Then you hear a BOOM ! ! !  And then you see Tuggle on top of Sanders.”

From 1987 to 2000, the 5′ 11″, 230-pound Tuggle played in 209 games, starting in 189 of them.  The Hammer made 100-plus tackles in 12 straight seasons–his first and last seasons were the only ones he didn’t.  He recorded a Falcons-record 2,130 career tackles, including an NFL high 1,293 from 1990-’99. Ever since the NFL began officially recording tackles on the late 1970s, Tuggle is the NFL’s all-time leader.

Tuggle recovered 10 fumbles and returned five of them for touchdowns.  He intercepted five passes and returned one for a touchdown.  He sacked the quarterback 21 times and deflected 37 passes.

Chris Harper recalls a game between the Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.  In December 1995, the 7-6 Falcons were up, 19-14, in the Georgia Dome, but the Saints were threatening late in the game.  Saints quarterback Jim Everett, needing to get a touchdown to win, threw the ball in endzone, but Tuggle intercepted and returned it 49 yards to preserve the victory.  The win proved vital to the Falcons’ finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs.

“Memories like that are priceless,” Harper said.

 

Baltimore Ravens – Ray Lewis, Linebacker

It is nearly impossible to discuss Ray Lewis’ career on the field without mentioning his troubles off the field. At least, we feel it’s inappropriate to not mention his troubles, though we realize some might feel differently.

We’ll try to be brief. Ray Lewis was accused of murdering two men in Atlanta in 2000. The charges were dropped, two others were charged and they were not convicted, either. Lewis, that same year, had probably his best season ever and led the Ravens, who had perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history that year, to a Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants.

Lewis, who joined the Ravens in 1996, the first year they played in Baltimore after leaving Cleveland and changing their name from the Browns, eventually made 13 Pro Bowls at middle linebacker, was first team All-Pro seven times, was a Super Bowl MVP for that victory over the Giants, was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and, in storybook fashion, closed his career by leading the Ravens to another Super Bowl victory, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers after the 2012 season.

Ray Lewis is now a network TV analyst, is regarded as jovial and insightful and is remembered as being one of the most ferocious, intense and greatest defensive players in NFL history and will probably be a unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame.

We recognize his greatness as a football player.

 

Buffalo Bills – Bruce Smith, Defensive End

When Bruce Smith was taken with the top overall pick out of Virginia Tech in 1985, the Buffalo Bills were thought of mostly as the team that O.J. Simpson used to play for. A few years later, the Bills would be known as an AFC dynasty and Smith was the player most responsible for this remarkable turnaround.

Bruce Smith registered six and-a-half sacks his rookie year then went on to record double-digit sacks in 12 of his next 13 seasons with the Bills, with the lone exception being 1991 when he was limited to just five games because of injury. Smith retired with 200 career sacks, still the most in NFL history.

And as the better Bruce Smith got, the better the Bills became. In 1988 Smith played in his second straight Pro Bowl and Buffalo made the playoffs for the first time since 1981. Smith would go on to reach 11 Pro Bowls and the Bills, in 1990, made the Super Bowl for the first time in team history.

We all know what happened. They lost. And, yes, the Bills would go on to lose three more Super Bowls in a row.

It was freaky, it was weird, and it was bad luck. The Bills had great teams but, once the Roman numerals started showing up, they faded. It wasn’t Bruce Smith’s fault. He led a tenacious defense that included such stalwarts as Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley while on the other side of the ball the Bills, coached by the venerable Marv Levy, had quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and a handful of other stars.

When the 6-4 Bruce Smith entered the league he weighed about 300 pounds. He quickly learned that to be mean, and more effective, he had to be lean, and so he dropped about 30 pounds and in his most dominant days he weighed around 265. There’s a story that Smith was so disciplined about keeping his weight down that once, seated next to a reporter eating peanuts, he asked for one and then picked it up, held it close to his nose and inhaled deeply, and then set it down because peanuts, yes peanuts, were not in his diet.

Bruce Smith smelled the peanuts four times in his days with the Bills but never got to take a bite. Here, Bruce, is a bag of piping hot peanuts from all of us at Leatherheads. Indulge. You are a Hall-of Famer and the greatest Buffalo Bill of them all.

 

Carolina Panthers – Steve Smith, Wide Receiver

After the 2013 season the Carolina Panthers felt that Steve Smith was too old. He is, after all, 35, which, in fairness, is like 112 in receiver years.

Memo to the Panthers: Big Mistake. It’s not a big mistake, necessarily, to let the greatest player in team history go but it is a fatal error to part ways with a player who can still bring it, no matter what his age, and Steve Smith who, a bit like Michael Jordan and many other great athletes plays better with a chip on his shoulder, is still getting it done with the Ravens.

But let’s go back to Carolina. The Panthers chose the 5-9, 185-pound Smith in the third round out of Utah in 2001 and he was All-Pro as a kick returner his rookie year. Over the next decade Smith became one of the few players to ever make the transition from returner to top receiver, and had 1,000 yards or more receiving seven times, a tally that would have been more impressive if not for injuries.

In 2003, #89 led the Panthers on their amazing playoff run, racking up more than 100 yards receiving in two of Carolina’s postseason victories along with two TDs and was also clutch in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots with four catches for 89 yards and a score.

In the 2005 playoffs, Steve Smith singlehandedly destroyed the Bears with 12 catches from Jake Delhomme for 218 yards and two scores, while also carrying the ball three times for 26 yards.

Steve Smith is fast, tough, nasty, and can flat-out catch. And run. He’ll probably play forever, the most pugnacious and accomplished (former) Panther of them all.

 

Chicago Bears – Walter Payton, Running Back

Leatherhead Bob Lazzari says that Walter Payton was “maybe the best football player I ever saw, combining speed, mental toughness, and an unmatched physical running style.  In addition, his modest nature, work ethic, and “team-first” approach may never be equaled by any NFL player.  There will never be another “Sweetness”, for sure–a man tragically taken from this world way before his time.  May he rest in peace.”

We agree with every word. But Bob’s words are as accurate as they are, for Bears fans, painful because, even 15 years later, it’s difficult for those of us who grew up watching Payton and loving the Bears to come to grips with the fact that Payton is gone.

But we are consoled with words describing another great Bears running back, Brian Piccolo. In the 1971 movie Brian’s Song, about Piccolo’s battle with cancer that would take his life at the age of 26, George Halas says Piccolo is remembered not for “how he died but how he lived. How he did live!”

When Payton broke Jim Brown’s all-time rushing record in 1984, he told reporters “the motivating factor for me has been the athletes who have tried for the record and failed and those who didn’t have an opportunity such as David Overstreet and Joe Delaney and Brian Piccolo…it’s a tribute to them and an honor for me to bestow this honor on them.”

That’s all we really need to know about Walter Payton. In the greatest moment of personal triumph in his career he did not glorify himself but rather reached out to those who died young and never got the chances he had.

Payton was an All-Pro, an MVP, a Super Bowl champ, the NFL’s all-time rushing champ at the time of his retirement and he also subbed at quarterback, was a team leader and a Chicago icon. Many football players were flashier, many won more titles. And maybe one or two were better.

But none had more class or grace.

Walter died young. He was just 46. He died with dignity. He played with courage and he lived with humor and kindness. He was, and always will be, the greatest Chicago Bear of all and those of us lucky enough to have seen him play are the better for it.

 

Cincinnati Bengals – Anthony Munoz, Offensive Tackle

Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman scores one for the “big uglies,” choosing an offensive lineman as the best player to ever wear Bengal stripes:

I will have to go off the glamour positions here as I select Anthony Munoz as the Bengals best player of all-time. Anthony played 13 dominating seasons for Cincinnati and was, in my mind and many others, the best offensive lineman ever in the NFL.

I remember watching him protect my second best player, Boomer Esiason’s backside on numerous occasions. And he is a template for younger players coming up to learn how to play the position from.

 

Cleveland Browns – Otto Graham, Quarterback  

Ronnie Foreman wears Bengal stripes as well as Cleveland’s Brown in choosing the best player in Brownies history:

As much as it pains me to go against the greatest running back of all-time in Jim Brown, I must go with the Browns greatest quarterback of all-time as their best player ever. That would be the old-timer named Otto Everett Graham, Jr.

The Browns were 114-20 with Graham playing quarterback. They made the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. They also won the championship seven of those ten seasons. Although his stats may not be as good as some of today’s modern era quarterbacks he was one of the top statistical QBs in his era and he dominated it.

 

Dallas Cowboys – Roger Staubach, Quarterback

If you were a football fan growing up in the 1960s and 1970s and you did not sometimes wish you were Roger Staubach there was something seriously askew with your brain and soul.

Roger Staubach was not just the quarterback for “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys; he was “America’s Quarterback” as his resume reads like something out of a Gil Thorp storyline.

Staubach was a star QB at the Naval Academy and won the Heisman Trophy in 1963. He was drafted by the Cowboys but instead served in the Navy, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam War before finally joining the Cowboys in 1969.

He became Dallas’ regular starter in 1971 and the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl. Staubach eventually led Dallas to the playoffs eight times and reached four Super Bowls with him as a starter, winning two of them.

In 1979 Staubach was still one of the league’s best players and had, at that time, the second highest passer rating in league history, but chose to walk away and has gone on to be a success in business and is one of the most respected players in NFL history.

Many people hated the Cowboys, but everyone loved Roger Staubach.

And Staubach could play. He is credited with 15 career fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives. Staubach’s 1975 “Hail Mary” TD pass to Drew Pearson to stun the Vikings in the playoffs is considered one of the most clutch throws in playoff history.

Roger Staubach was cool, he was tough, he was a warrior, he was a winner and he was a gentleman. He was a Cowboy.

 

Denver Broncos – John Elway, Quarterback

Leatherhead Tony Williams doesn’t buck conventional wisdom when it comes to the Broncos:

As if this selection shouldn’t be obvious enough, but Elway is the greatest Bronco ever — distancing himself from other fellow Hall-of-Famers Floyd Little and Shannon Sharpe.

When Elway retired following the 1998 season, he was Top-5 in every meaningful statistical passing category for QBs, including tops in all-time wins, game-winning drives, and Super Bowl starts.

His final game is what every pro athlete dreams of — to not only win the championship, but also be named as the game’s MVP.

Elway is also arguably in the Top-5 discussion of all-time QBs, and if that’s not enough, he’s on the ascension of carving out a niche as one of the game’s best talent evaluators and personnel people.

 

Detroit Lions – Barry Sanders, Running Back

The Dallas Cowboys owned the top pick in the 1989 NFL draft and selected quarterback Troy Aikman. The Green Bay Packers were next and the debate in Wisconsin was whether they should take running back Barry Sanders or Offensive Tackle Tony Mandarich.

The Pack chose Mandarich. Ouch for them.

Sanders, the Heisman winner from Oklahoma State, was taken with the next pick by the Detroit Lions and ran his way into the Hall of Fame.

Sanders ran for 1,470 yards his rookie year and had more than 1,000 yards in each of his ten seasons. The 5-8, 230-pound hyper-charged atom ran with a frenetic, pinball style that drove defenses crazy, bouncing one way, zipping another and sprinting for the endzone.

Barry Sanders was hell on fire in a blue jersey. He went on to win four rushing titles and a league MVP and was one of the most entertaining players in NFL history.

Unfortunately for #20, the Lions could never quite build around him and, despite making five playoff appearances with Barry, the Lions never made it to the Super Bowl.

Some athletes stagger to the finish line of their career. Barry Sanders sprinted to it…then took of his shoes and threw them out. Sanders ran for 1,491 yards in 1998 then, at the age of 30, called it quits. Had he kept playing Barry Sanders almost certainly would have set the NFL all-time rushing record and might have even put it out of the reach of mere mortals.

But the whirling dervish enigma that was Barry Sanders decided it was time to sit. And so he did.

We must take a moment to say that when many NFL fans think of #20 on the Lions they think of Barry Sanders, whose number is retired. Others first think of Billy Sims, a terrific Lions running back whose career was cut short after just five years in 1984 because of injuries. If Sims had stayed healthy the Lions might not have struggled for the rest of the 80s and perhaps Barry Sanders would have become an icon somewhere else.

 

Green Bay Packers – Bart Starr, Quarterback

Leatherhead Bob Swick says that when it comes to the greatest player ever from the land of long winters and many Super Bowls, you have to go with a true “Starr.”

Bart Starr was a classic American quarterback of the 1960s who represented the best in the Green Bay Packers.  He was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls.  He had four Pro Bowl selections in his career.  He was the 1966 MVP award winner.  He is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Packers Hall of Fame.

Starr had a 9-1 playoff record playing for the Packers from 1956 to 1971 as a five time NFL Champion who came into his own under Coach Vince Lombardi. Starr was cool, calm and collected on the field, showing little emotion under some of the roughest defenses of that time period.

Bart Starr had it all and, in my opinion, out of all of the championship caliber players the Packers have produced since 1919, #15 is ranked #1.

 

Houston Texans – Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver

This year for the eighth consecutive year Andre Johnson has…made the Pro Bowl? No. Compiled 1,000 yards? No. Led the Texans to the playoffs? Wrong again.

For the eighth straight year Andre Johnson has treated at-risk children from child protective services in the Houston area to a Christmas toy shopping spree, letting these youngsters pluck whatever they would like off the shelves.

This year the spree cost “Santa” Johnson $16,266.16.

Andre Johnson is a good guy, and the best player in the Houston Texans’ brief history. He was selected by the Texans in the first round, third overall pick, in 2003, the second season of the Texans’ existence and he has been a shining light ever since.

Johnson, #80, has been voted to the Pro Bowl seven times, made All-Pro twice and has been one of the NFL’s most dependable targets even while often playing on dismal teams.

When Johnson retires someday his jersey should be retired immediately, not just for his outstanding play but his noble dedication to the franchise and service to the community. A few years from now the answer to the question of who the greatest player in Houston Texans history is the answer could very well be J.J. Watt.

But even if the Texans play another 100 years, it’s going to be tough to top Andre Johnson.

 

Baltimore Colts/Indianapolis Colts – Johnny Unitas, Quarterback, Peyton Manning, Quarterback

The man whom many think might be the best player in NFL history might not even be the best player in his own team’s history.

Are we talking about Johnny Unitas, or Peyton Manning?

Yes.

But we are only supposed to pick one so we shall do so, in our own sneaky little way.

Johnny Unitas was the greatest player in the history of the Baltimore Colts. Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the ninth round in the 1955 draft but, for some reason, couldn’t catch on with his hometown team, which went with Jim Finks and Ted Marchibroda instead.

So Johnny ended up with the Colts where he cracked the starting lineup in ’56 and then proceeded to become the definition of what it was to be an NFL quarterback for his generation and all generations.

Johnny Unitas (Even his name is cool. Maybe he should have been an astronaut) led the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and ’59 and won Super Bowl V. He won three league MVPs and still ranks in the all-time top 20 in passing yards with 40,239. Just imagine if the crew cut, black hi-tops kid had played in today’s pass happy NFL.

Unitas’ last season with the Colts was 1972 and he played one season with the San Diego Chargers. (Think Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards) A decade after Unitas left the Colts, the team broke Baltimore’s heart by leaving for Indianapolis following the 1983 season.

In 1998 the Indianapolis Colts held the top pick in the NFL draft and had a tough time, or so we’re told, deciding whether to take Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.

They chose Manning.

Manning started every single game for the Colts for the next 13 seasons, they made the playoffs 11 teams, won Super Bowl XLI, Manning won four league MVPs, shattered virtually every meaningful NFL passing record and became the model of what a player, a sportsman and a citizen should be. He is the Cal Ripken/Julius Erving/Wayne Gretzky of the gridiron.

And he’s still going…for the Denver Broncos.

Johnny Unitas was the greatest Baltimore Colt ever, Peyton Manning was the best Indianapolis Colt ever. Andrew Luck had better hope the team moves again.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars – Jimmy Smith, Wide Receiver

It’s sometimes hard to remember, or even fathom, but there was a time when the Jacksonville Jaguars were good. And in their best days their best player was Jimmy Smith.

Smith joined the Jags in the team’s inaugural season of 1995 after being cast off from the Cowboys and made an immediate impact with three TD catches for a miserable 4-12 team.

Then, something weird happened. Things that aren’t supposed to happen. Jacksonville, and the Carolina Panthers, both became pretty good in 1996, the second year of both expansion teams’ existence, and Jimmy Smith helped lead the way for the Jags with 83 receptions for 1,244 yards and Jacksonville advanced all the way to the AFC title game, losing to the Patriots.

The Jaguars made the playoffs the next three years as well, including another conference championship loss after their 14-2 season of 1999 and Smith was the catalyst, averaging at least 78 receptions per season, peaking with 116 grabs in ’99.

Jimmy Smith remained Jacksonville’s top target for Mark Brunell and later Byron Leftwich every season until his retirement after the 2005 season, another playoff year for the Jags. He still holds virtually ever Jacksonville receiving record and is currently 19th on the league’s all-time receiving list.

Not bad for a kid from Jackson State who the Cowboys didn’t want.

 

Kansas City Chiefs – Otis Taylor, Wide Receiver

Our Matt Haddad says in more than 50 years of football there is certainly a “chief among Chiefs.”

The Kansas City Chiefs started playing in 1963, after getting established in 1960 as the Dallas Texans.  Their owner was Lamar Hunt, the founder and creative mind of the American Football League.  The Texans won the AFL Championship in 1962. However, it was clear that the competition for the fans and the bucks was hurting both the AFL Texans and the NFL Dallas Cowboys.

In 1965, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Cowboys in different battle: the race for a little-known wide receiver named Otis Taylor.  The Chiefs drafted Taylor in the 4th round out of Prairie View A&M; the Cowboys wanted to sign him as a free agent. Taylor chose Kansas City.

O-Taylor’s breakout season came in 1966, when he caught 58 passes for 1,297 yards (22.4 yards per catch) and 8 touchdowns.  The Chiefs won the AFL Championship, but they lost the first Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10.  Three years later–in the last season before the AFL merged with the NFL–the Chiefs finished the deal.

In the first round of the 1969 AFL playoffs, the Chiefs beat the defending World Champion Jets in New York, 13-6.  In the fourth quarter, Taylor set up the winning touchdown with a 61-yard catch to the 19-yard line–a play Taylor diagrammed on the sideline and urged Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson to call.

The Chiefs went on to Oakland, where they defeated the Raiders for the AFL Championship, 17-7.  Taylor’s 35-yard catch on third-and-14 was a major play in a 98-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown.

Then came Super Bowl IV–a game seen as a victory for every player in the AFL, as an AFL team defeated the NFL’s best for the second year in a row.  The Chiefs trounced the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, with Taylor’s 46-yard touchdown putting the game on ice.  That 1969 season has, to this day, been the Kansas City Chiefs’ lone World Championship.

As a kid in the late ’70s, I knew Otis Taylor as a great wide receiver.  I read about him in the books, and I had one of his football cards.  In 2011, I was surprised to learn Taylor was not in The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From 1965 to ’75, he caught 410 passes for 7,306 yards (17.8 yards per catch) and 57 touchdowns.  He added three TDs on the ground, and he was a 4-time All-Pro.  His numbers, however, tell only a fraction of the story.

Otis Taylor was the complete package.  Taylor had size–6′ 3″, 215 pounds–and he had speed.  He had fine moves, excellent hands, and the ability to catch the ball in traffic.  Taylor was also a good blocker.

On the website “Tales from The American Football League,” Kansas City teammate and fellow wide receiver Chris Burford says Otis had “a zest for the game.”  AFL historian Jeff Miller says in his book, “Going Long,” that after the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win over the Vikings, “Otis Taylor cried for 15 minutes.”

Taylor spent his career in a run-first offense, and he played in the “bump and run” era–also known as the “bruise and batter” era.  Before 1978, defensive backs were allowed tremendous freedom to do what it took to keep a receiver from catching the ball.

In 1975, Cleveland Browns defensive back Clarence Scott, whose football cards I used to have, talked about the best wide receivers he had to cover.  Scott, who played 13 years in the NFL, said: “You’ve got the physical receivers, like Otis Taylor, who have great speed, but they’re also able to overpower defensive backs with their great size and strength.”

The ultimate accolade comes from Hall-of-Fame cornerback Herb Adderley, who won 6 NFL Championships with Green Bay and Dallas.  After the Packers beat the Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, Adderley said about Otis: “Taylor is the greatest wide receiver I’ve ever played against.”

Do you think today’s generation of football fans would not appreciate O-Taylor?  Think again.  “Sounds like a Calvin Johnson from yesteryear, ” says 21-year-old Eric Butler.  “Crazy to speculate how a guy like Taylor would perform in today’s NFL.”

 

Miami Dolphins – Dan Marino, Quarterback

Leatherhead Andrew Tuttle writes that when it comes to the history of South Florida football, one player stands tallest in the sunshine:

The best player in Miami Dolphins history is also one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

Dan Marino set the bar for a passing attack long before the current rules enabled today’s throwers to achieve prolific passing stats year after year.

In his 1984 season, Marino produced an unheard of 48 touchdown passes and more than 5,000 yards passing, records that stood the test of time for two decades and have now been passed by several players.

One can only imagine what a Marino-led team with Mark Clayton and Mark Duper would accomplish in the modern era of the NFL.

 

Minnesota Vikings – Alan Page, Defensive Tackle

When you scroll through the list of the NFL’s MVP winners two names jump out: Lawrence Taylor and Alan Page, as they are the only two defensive players to ever win the honor. (Will J.J. Watt be the third?) (Oh, and let’s not forget Mark Moseley, the Redskin who in 1982 became the first, and probably last, placekicker to ever win MVP.)

The Vikings drafted Page out of Notre Dame (where he helped the Fighting Irish win a National Championship) in the first round in 1967 and Minnesota’s glory years followed. Page, 6-4, 245 pounds (he’d probably be a cornerback today) helped Bud Grant’s “Purple People Eaters” to their first-ever playoff appearance in 1968 and the Vikings would go on to become a playoff staple throughout the 1970s including reaching four Super Bowls…and losing all of them.

Page made the Pro Bowl nine times and, in 1971, was so dominant he was voted NFL MVP. In 1978, Page was cut by the Vikings and was picked up by the Bears where he continued to be an excellent player until his retirement after the 1981 season.

In 1979, Page became the first active NFL player to run a marathon. In 1987 he ran a 62-mile race. That same year he became an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Minnesota. In 1993 he joined the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Alan Page grew up in Canton, Ohio. As a high school kid he worked on a crew that built the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the very place where he was enshrined in 1988.

Tell your kids to be like Alan Page, the most valuable Viking of them all.

 

New England Patriots – Tom Brady, Quarterback

Leatherhead Mike Lynch chooses Tom Brady as the greatest player in the history of the New England Patriots and Brady, perhaps more so than any other player we’re celebrating, doesn’t really need a lot of space to make his case. We are nearly inclined to simply say that Tom Brady’s credentials are: “He’s Tom Brady.”

OK, here’s a bit more. Tom Brady has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls, winning three. He is a two-time league MVP and one of the highest rated passers in NFL history. He led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season in 2007 has set numerous passing records (some of which have now been broken) and done all of this while playing most of his games in blustery Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Tom Brady is considered by many to not only be the best quarterback of his era but maybe the best ever. He is smooth, he is cool, he is precise, relentless and he looks like he’ll play forever.

In the next life don’t we all want to be Tom Brady?

 

New Orleans Saints – Archie Manning, Quarterback

Before Peyton, before Eli, there was Archie.

The New Orleans Saints drafted Archie Manning with the second overall pick in 1971 and he joined a team that had only been in existence since 1967 and never had a winning record. In Archie’s 11 seasons with the “Aints” they didn’t get much better, never finishing above .500 and never making the playoffs.

Don’t blame #8. Manning was tops in the NFL his rookie year in getting sacked 40 times. The next year Archie was again brought down more than any other NFL slinger, 43 times.   He was tops (or bottom, you could say) again in ’75 with 49 sacks. In his decade with the Saints, Archie Manning was in the top ten in getting sacked nearly every year.

Despite constantly picking bits of turf from between his teeth, Manning still managed to have six seasons with a passer rating of better than 100 and he made the Pro Bowl in 1978 and ’79. For a decade, Archie Manning was the heart, soul and guts of a team that had no arms, legs or head.

Manning left the Saints for the Houston Oilers and finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings. We remember him at QB for the Vikes in his final season, 1984, when the Vikes went 3-13. It was a chilly October game against the Bears in Chicago and Manning, wearing a full facemask, was lucky to get out of Chicago alive as the Bears registered 11 sacks. Toward the end, Bears players were actually apologizing to the 35-year-old Manning.

Archie understood. To achieve true success in life you have to have talent, desire and luck. Archie had the first two. If he had the third maybe we would remember Peyton and Eli as Archie Manning’s kids, instead of Archie as their father.

 

New York Giants  – Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker

Leatherhead Joe Williams tackled the challenge of deciding the biggest Giant of them all, and here’s what he concluded:

In 90 NFL seasons, the New York Giants have had many great players. However, it is easy to pick the greatest player in the team’s history. Without hesitation, it is Lawrence Taylor.

Yes, there are many other team legends, including Tiki Barber, Roosevelt Brown, Harry Carson, Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford, Mel Hein, Sam Huff, Eli Manning, Andy Robustelli, Phil Simms, Michael Strahan, Y.A. Tittle, Emlen Tunnell and many more.

Taylor stands out. He was one of the few players on defense in the history of the game who could take a game over. His combination of speed, power and ferociousness made him the most feared player during his playing days and possibly all-time. He revolutionized the linebacker position in terms of getting to the quarterback while teams created game plans to try to stop and avoid him.

L.T. made First-Team All-Pro in eight seasons, was selected to 10 Pro Bowls, was a three-time defensive player of the year and the 1986 MVP, the first defensive player to win it since 1971 when the Vikings’ Alan Page dominated. He sacked a quarterback 142 times.

I still remember his 97-yard interception return on Thanksgiving Day in 1982 like it was yesterday. He picked off a Gary Danielson pass in the fourth quarter to beat the Lions 13-6. Before he was done, the Giants became relevant again as a team to contend with which brought Giants fans their first two Super Bowl celebrations. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

Honorable mention: Mel Hein

 

New York Jets – Curtis Martin, Running Back

Leatherhead Andrew Tuttle revs up the J-E-T-S by choosing a quiet legend as Gang Green’s all-time best:

Joe Namath certainly deserves credit for bringing the New York Jets their first and to date only Super Bowl victory but Hall-of-Fame running back Curtis Martin is the franchise’s best player.

Martin left the New England Patriots after three stellar years to join the Jets continuing his dominance on the ground. He remained a Jet until his forced retirement after the 2005 season thanks to a bum knee but not before logging 10 straight years with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

In 2004, Martin became the oldest player, at 31, to win the rushing title and he finished his career with 14,101 rush yards, fourth in NFL history. A very reserved and highly respected player, New York retired Martin’s jersey in 2012.

 

Oakland Raiders – Kenny Stabler, Quarterback

Leatherhead David Boyce makes the case for quarterback Kenny Stabler as the greatest player to ever wear the fabled Silver and Black:

I decided to go with the player that made me become a Raider fan in the first place.  That player is quarterback Kenny “The Snake” Stabler.  I grew up in New York and had never even paid much attention to the Raiders until 1974.  The first time I saw them was in a playoff game against the Miami Dolphins.  I was familiar with the Dolphins and knew their team very well.  But there was something about that raucous crowd in Oakland.  Those people were crazy!  But what did it for me was the quarterback of the Raiders.  He was a lefty.  Being a lefty myself, I was instantly intrigued.  That game came down to the wire and with precious time left on the clock, Stabler ran to his left and, just as he was about to get sacked, he lobbed up a pass to the endzone where it was caught by running back Clarence Davis for the winning touchdown.  Despite the fact that there were several defenders in the area, Davis still managed to make the catch.  That game later became known as the “Sea of hands.”  It was just one of many games the Raiders played that were filled with drama.

Kenny Stabler was drafted in the second round of the 1968 draft out of Alabama.  The Raiders were pretty much set at the quarterback position as they had Daryle “Mad Bomber” Lamonica.  Stabler didn’t play a down in his first two years and was used sparingly until 1973.  In that year, he became the starter and remained the starter through the 1979 season.  In his seven years as a starter, Stabler threw for 18,234 yards, 145 touchdowns and 135 interceptions.  The best thing about having him at the helm was that the Raiders started winning on a consistent basis.  In his seven years as the starter, the Raiders compiled a record of 74-27.  But with all those wins, they still couldn’t get to the Super Bowl.  The team that usually stood in their way was the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 1976, the Raiders finished with a 13-1 record.  They would squeak by the Patriots in the divisional playoffs and go on to defeat the Steelers in the conference title game, 24-7.  That meant after all those years of frustrating losses; they would finally get back to the Super Bowl.  Their opponent was the Minnesota Vikings and they were no match for the Raiders.  The ground game was running on all cylinders as they racked up 266 yards rushing.  Stabler had a good day as well, completing 12 of 19 for 180 yards and a touchdown.  The Raiders came away with an easy 32-14 win.

What I liked the most about Stabler was his ability to improvise.  He was always so calm and cool.  During a dramatic playoff game against the Baltimore Colts, Stabler called timeout, strolled over to the sideline to speak with head coach John Madden and said “The people are really getting their money’s worth today.”  Madden just rolled his eyes and told him to go back out there and get the win.  Naturally, he did what he was told.  He may not have had the strongest arm in the world, but he liked to throw deep as often as he could.  In those days, if you didn’t go deep, Al Davis wouldn’t let you play for him.  In addition to being accurate, he also had the ability to scramble out of trouble.  That’s what earned him the nickname “The Snake.”  As the pocket would collapse around him, he’d “slither” out of trouble and complete a pass.

Stabler said he read his playbook by the light of the jukebox.  He played hard and partied hard as well.  Another thing you have to wonder is how many games he played with a hangover.  Simply put, he liked to hang at the bar, chase girls and have fun.  He wasn’t going to let football run his life.  One of his famous quotes is “Just stay in the fast lane and keep moving.  You cannot predict your final day, so go hard for the good times while you can.”

In 1980, Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers and he looked like a shadow of his former self.  In two years with the Oilers, he threw for 5,190 yards, 27 touchdowns and 46 interceptions.  The Oilers made the playoffs in 1980 and Stabler came back to Oakland in a different uniform.  He didn’t have a good day and the Raiders came away with a 27-7 win.  After the 1981 season, Stabler was on the move again.  This time, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints.  He spent three years there and didn’t have much success.  He played in 16 games and threw for 3,670 yards, 17 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.  If you total up his career stats, he threw for 27,938 yards, 194 touchdowns and 222 interceptions.  When asked about the interceptions, he said, “Well, most of those passes were tipped.  There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Despite all those interceptions, lots of people are clamoring for Stabler to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.  I’d love to see it happen.  He made the game exciting and no matter how intense it got, he always remained calm.  All the great players that played with him said they were always confident that Stabler could get the job done.  My favorite quote about Stabler comes from Madden who said, “the bigger the situation, the calmer he got.  That was a great combination with me because I was just the opposite.  I was intense.  If everything were normal and we were ahead, he would get bored.  He had to have his ass to the fire to get focused on something.  That’s when he got really focused.  Instead of getting excited and tight, he’d stay calm.”

That’s the main reason I picked Stabler.  No matter how intense the situation was, he’d remain cool, calm and collected.  It was kind of like having James Bond under center.  He knew things were going to get intense, but he knew he had the ability to get the job done.  After he got the job done, he’d go out and have fun with his teammates.  Over the years, I have collected lots of Raider memorabilia and the centerpiece of it all is my autographed black #12 Stabler jersey.

 

Philadelphia Eagles – Reggie White, Defensive End

Reggie White won a Super Bowl with the Packers but he made his bones with the Eagles.

White was an All-American at the University of Tennessee and stayed in his home state to play two seasons with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL before joining the Eagles in 1985.

A 6-5, 291 pound lineman with the quickness of a linebacker, Reggie notched 13 sacks in 1985 and would go on to record double-digit sacks 12 times in his career and would retire as the league’s all-time sacks leader with 198 and is still second behind only Bruce Smith.

White anchored a dominant Eagles defense and made the first of his eight first team All-Pro teams and first of 13 Pro Bowls in 1986 and won his first of two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1987. The Eagles, coached by Buddy Ryan and then Rich Kotite, were dynamic, tough and good. They had a winning record every year from 1988 to 1992 and reached the playoffs four times.

Alas, once in the postseason Reggie’s Eagles quickly got plucked, and were one-and-done every time. This is especially important to note because after the ’92 season White became a free agent when free agency was new to the NFL and White was the league’s top prize. He signed with the Packers for a then eye-popping four years and $17 million paving the way for other free agents. Today’s NFL millionaires have many people to thank; Reggie White is one of them.

White is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play. Some believe the very greatest. Imagine a line with him, Bruce Smith, Joe Greene and Alan Page on it.

Sadly, this is a tough time of year to remember Reggie White. It was ten years ago, December 26, 2004, that this dominant player and NFL pioneer died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 43.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers – Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle

Leatherhead Karon Cook pulls back the Steel Curtain to reveal Pittsburgh’s greatest player:

I’m a Cali girl and a drill Instructor’s daughter, but I “grew up” with the Steelers.  Stay with me–my Dad’s from the ‘Burgh, he raised my brother and I exactly the same way: teaching us how to throw a perfect spiral, scoop up a grounder, as well as switch hit.  I credit this early education to my choosing the Sports Journalism field and falling in love with the Steelers!  Joe Greene is my pick for the best player in Steelers history.

Much has been written about Joe; here are ten facts, in random order, that you need to know:

 

  1. He was Chuck Noll’s first-ever draft choice in 1969 (that 1-13 Season gave no hint of what was to come).

 

  1. Joe Greene and Andy Russell were 2 of 5 players from that team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in SB IX.

 

  1. During the early ’70s, “Mean Joe” was one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL.

 

  1. He earned five first-team All-Pro selections.

 

  1. Joe won two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.

 

  1.  He is a four-time Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII and XIV).

 

  1.  I consider him to be one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play the game.

 

  1.  Joe Greene wore Black and Gold his entire career–from 1969 to 1981.

 

  1.  “Mean Joe” was part of the famous “Steel Curtain” defense–along with L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White.

 

  1. Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

I realize these are just stats/facts about Joe, so I reached out to Andy Russell for this piece; I wanted something real, from a guy who was there.  In Andy’s words: Joe Greene was awesome–his strength, quickness, toughness and refusal to accept defeat were greater than I had ever seen. His first drill in training camp was the Oklahoma Drill (where an offensive lineman goes against a defensive lineman), trying to tackle a running back. It is a very difficult drill and usually the offensive player has the advantage because he knows the count, but Joe absolutely crushed his opponents (some of our best blockers–i.e. Ray Mansfield). He was clearly, in my opinion, the NFL Player of the Decade and certainly deserved the recent retirement of his jersey. I had the privilege to play with both players who have had their jerseys retired–Ernie Stautner and Joe Greene.”

People outside the Steeler Nation will remember Joe for his “Hey Kid, Catch!” spot for Coke. If you Google the best Super Bowl commercials of all time, it’s listed at #2.  Also, Joe came up with the phrase “One For The Thumb in ’81” … which was accomplished in 2005.  Now we’re looking at #7!  I’ll wrap this up by sharing a tweet from Brett Keisel: Can’t get our 7th trophy without picking up that 7th regular season W    #HereWeGo #Huntfor7    

Keep the Faith, Steeler Nation, and thanks Andy!  

 

San Diego Chargers – Junior Seau, Linebacker

For many years we thought we would never see another linebacker like Dick Butkus. Then, the football Gods gave us Junior Seau, a man whose very name (pronounced “Say-Ow”) meant he was born to hit people.

The Chargers drafted Seau with the fifth overall pick in 1990 and he spent the next 20 years pounding the opposition. Seau made the first of 12 straight Pro Bowls in 1991 and was first team All-Pro for the first of six teams in 1992.

Junior Seau combined ferocity with speed, strength and football IQ to become the league’s best linebacker of the 1990s and led the Chargers to new-found glory with playoff appearances in 1992, ’94 and ’95 and the franchise’s one and only Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the mighty 49ers, after that ’94 season.

The biggest reason the Chargers were in that Super Bowl was Seau’s heroics in the AFC Championship. Facing a formidable Steelers team on a cold January day in Pittsburgh, Seau went ballistic notching 16 tackles despite having a pinched nerve in his neck.

Over the years the Chargers have had Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts, LaDainian Tomlinson and now Philip Rivers. But Junior Seau was the best. He left the Chargers after the 2002 season and played three solid years with the Dolphins before joining the Patriots for four seasons, including helping the legendary 2007 team go 16-0 before a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

Seau retired after the 2009 season and committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 43. Doctors later determined that Seau had suffered repeated head injuries as a player and was suffering from a degenerative brain disease that many NFL players have been afflicted with.

After Seau died more than 200 surfers paddled out into the Pacific Ocean near the linebacker’s home and joined a circle, chanted Seau’s name and slapped at the water for an hour. A peaceful tribute to a man who thrilled millions and left us far too soon.

 

San Francisco 49ers – Ronnie Lott, Cornerback/Safety

The San Francisco 49ers are known for offense and many say Joe Montana was the greatest quarterback to ever play (or was Steve Young maybe a little better?) and others say Jerry Rice was not only the best receiver in NFL history but might actually rate out as the very best player ever, regardless of position.

But we say that Montana was great, yes, but in a great system at the perfect time and we say the same of Young and yes, even Rice. They are all legitimate first ballot Hall-of-Famers but we say the greatest Niner of them all played on the other side of the ball.

Ronnie Lott was taken by the 49ers in the first round of the 1981 draft and started all 16 games at cornerback, intercepted 10 passes three of which he returned for touchdowns, helped the Niners to a 13-3 record and their first playoff appearance since 1972 and they went on to win their first Super Bowl. (Joe who?)

Lott made the first of ten Pro Bowls his rookie year and was also first team All-Pro for the first of six teams. Montana was the Golden Boy of those San Fran teams of the 80s, but Lott was its backbone. An adhesive cover man and a ferocious hitter, #42 made 49ers’ opponents know that while San Fran’s offense got the glory it was the defense that did the dirty work – and made the difference.

Lott was the defense’s heart at cornerback and also when he switched to safety in 1985, something that’s far tougher than it sounds. With Lott, the Niners won four Super Bowls in the 80s and became one of the league’s great dynasties. You can likely name a lot of offensive players from those teams but who stands out on defense? Ronnie Lott stood taller, hit harder, dug deeper and got it done more than anyone.

If Gary Fencik had been a bit faster he would have been Ronnie Lott. He wasn’t.

Joe Montana was cool, Jerry Rice was clutch, Ronnie Lott was tough. His left pinkie finger was crushed making a tackle in 1985. Surgery would have meant he would miss the start of the 1986 season. So Lott had the tip cut off. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions that year.

 

Seattle Seahawks – Steve Largent, Wide Receiver

       Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman recalls the early days of the Seahawks and says while the team has gotten better, they’ve never had a better player:

Some may disagree with my pick here but having watched him play personally, to me he is far and above any of the other Seahawks players that have graced the Seattle sideline. Others may pick a defensive or offensive lineman as their top choice but I am selecting, from the University of Tulsa, Wide Receiver Steve Largent!

Largent, originally drafted by the Houston Oilers, before being traded to Seattle in the preseason of his rookie year, spent his entire playing career with the Seahawks. He was a great player to watch through the 1980s as he teamed first with another great Seattle player, QB Jim Zorn and then with QB Dave Krieg.

By the time his career was up, Steve Largent led almost all NFL receiving categories, including 819 receptions, 13,089 yards, 177 consecutive games with a catch and he was the first player to reach 100 career touchdown catches. HOF 1995.

 

Cleveland Rams/Los Angeles Rams/St. Louis Rams – Merlin Olsen, Defensive Tackle

Merlin Olsen was humble, sweet and loveable.

Off the field.

Olsen is known to many as an announcer who was in the TV booth for many years including several Super Bowls, as a pitchman for FTD Flowers and as an actor on Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy.

But during a football game there was nothing little about this 6-5, 270-pound tornado from Utah State and the only thing fatherly about him was the way he put others in their place. And if Merlin Olsen handed you flowers on the gridiron it was to put them on your grave.

A first round pick in 1962, Olsen made the Pro Bowl his rookie year and then every single season through 1975, only being left off during his final season, 1976.

Olsen played on the legendary Rams front four along with Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy, the “Fearsome Foursome” which terrorized offenses every Sunday. The Rams were winners nearly every season with Olsen and enjoyed playoff appearances in 1967, ’69 and ’73 through ’76 including NFC title game losses in ’74, ’75 and ’76.

The Rams always fell short in the playoffs with Olsen, but imagine if they’d been able to break through and won a few Super Bowls. They were very close and if they’d made it, maybe Merlin Olsen would have some of those rings that now belong to Joe Greene and Randy White.

Merlin Olsen died in 2010.

He is in the Hall of Fame and his #74 jersey has been retired by the Rams and probably still gives quarterbacks nightmares.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Warren Sapp, Defensive Tackle

For much of their existence the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a bust, but Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman says one Buc not only was not a bust, he actually has a bust…in Canton:

If there is any doubt as to who is the best player in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history you can just put that thought away. And, if you ask him, he will tell you that himself! Perhaps the best defensive lineman of all-time, Warren Sapp took his talents from the University of Miami (FL) across the state to Tampa as the 12th overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft.

Sapp would go on to have nine great years in Tampa Bay to establish his self as the greatest Buccaneer of all-time. He ended up with 77 sacks while there, just short of the 78.5 by early Bucs star, Lee Roy Selmon.  HOF 2013.

 

Tennessee Titans – Eddie George, Running Back

The Tennessee Titans have been around since 1997, after moving from Houston where they were known for more than 30 years as the Oilers.

Eddie George played one season in Houston before moving north to become a Titan and remained a constant for nearly a decade. If you’re looking for consistency in a player you need look no further than Eddie George. A Heisman winner out of Ohio State, George’s yearly rushing totals his first five years in the NFL were 1,368; 1,399; 1,294; 1,304 and 1,509.

George was the size of a linebacker and bruised his way through the line week in and week out, finishing his career with an average of just 3.6 yards per carry but he was a rock, rarely fumbling and rarely getting caught for a loss.

He made the Pro Bowl in 1997, ’98, ’99 and 2000, the same year that he was first-team All-Pro.

The Titans were the best team in the NFL that 2000 season, playing a bruising style of football on both sides of the ball and going 13-3, only to lose a heartbreaking, freaky playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens. This, of course, was one year after the Titans came one yard short in the Super Bowl against the Rams.

Eddie George was almost a Super Bowl champ, almost a rushing champ, almost a legend. But he is second to none when it comes to remembering the Titans.

 

Washington Redskins – Sammy Baugh, Quarterback

Leatherhead Chip Greene says a “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh was the best Redskin of them all.

Baugh joined the Redskins out of TCU in 1937, the team’s first year in Washington after moving from Boston, and would be the backbone for Washington as a quarterback, defensive back, kick returner and kicker through 1952.

Baugh’s numbers are modest by today’s standards, finishing with 21,866 yards passing, 187 touchdowns and 203 interceptions. But, like most players from his era, he was versatile and Baugh was more versatile than most. He simply did it all: running, passing, kicking and defense and he was just about the best, earning first-team All-Pro honors four times.

And Baugh’s teams were nearly as good as him. He led Washington to the NFL championship game five times and they won it in 1937 and ’42.

“Slingin’” Sammy Baugh was a member of the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame class in 1963 and lived to see the NFL grow and change quite a bit, passing away in 2008 at the age of 94.

 

And just for fun:

 

Brooklyn Lions – Rex Thomas, Running Back

Leatherhead Joe Williams remembers the days when Lions roamed the borough of Brooklyn and chooses Rex Thomas as the Brooklyn Lions’ all-time greatest.

The Lions, led by coach Punk Berryman, played just one season in the NFL, 1926, played their home games at Ebbets Field, and went 3-8 and merged during the season with the competing AFL Brooklyn Horsemen.

Thomas was the star of the team and the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards (137), touchdowns (4), and points (25), and with four interceptions on defense.

The St. John’s University star and Oklahoma native played five NFL seasons. He unfortunately passed away in a car-truck accident in 1955.

Honorable Mention: Herm Bagby.

 

St. Louis Gunners – Paul Moss, Receiver

Joe Williams remembers the St. Louis Gunners who played one season, 1934, and had one player who topped them all:

The semi-pro team purchased the 0-8 Cincinnati Reds during the 1934 season and replaced them to play the final three games that year. A handful of Reds players joined the Gunners. In their first game they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) before dropping their next two games.

The best player for the Gunners was Paul Moss. He led the team with six receptions for 131 yards, plus scoring one of the three touchdowns in franchise history. His touchdown reception was a team-best 56 yards.

Moss was an All-American at Purdue in 1932. He played the 1933 season with Pittsburgh and led the NFL in receiving yards with 283 while finishing tied for fifth with 13 receptions.

He didn’t play football after the 1934 season. In 1935, he played minor league baseball with the Terre Haute Tots in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.

Paul Moss died in 1999 at the age of 90.

Honorable mention: Cy Casper.

 

Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes – Ken Strong, Halfback, Defensive Back, Kicker

Leatherhead Bob Swick recalls a memorable man on a forgotten team:

The Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes played in the NFL from 1929 to 1932. They did not do well, amassing a record of 14-22-9.

Their greatest player in my football opinion was Ken Strong. Strong was an all-NFL player in 1930 and ’31 for the Stapes. He was an incredible kicker at that time also.

Strong is obviously better known for his heroics on the Giants but he provided an anchor to the Stapes in their brief existence.

 

Houston Oilers – George Blanda, Quarterback

The Oilers are, technically, gone but they’re certainly not forgotten. Leatherhead Matt Haddad says the best Oiler of all time was a guy who nearly played for all of time:

George Blanda began his career with the Chicago Bears (1949-’58)–and was even a member of the old Baltimore Colts for one game in 1950, before rejoining the Bears.  In his time with the Bears, Blanda had some great moments, and a lot of his teammates considered him a top-flight quarterback.  However, his constant conflicts with Bears owner-coach and NFL founder George Halas sent him into football exile.

Blanda sat the 1959 season out, and he drove a truck.  According to Jeff Davis in his Halas biography “Papa Bear,” Blanda promised sportswriter Cooper Rollow he’d play football again soon.  Rollow didn’t know what on earth Blanda was talking about–and Blanda didn’t elaborate.  Blanda simply said: “There’s something going on that you don’t know about.”

A new football league was in the works–and one of the charter franchises would be the Houston Oilers.  The American Football League was launched in 1960, and Blanda was ready to play. Upon signing Blanda, Oilers general manager John Breen said, “He knows how to take a defense apart.”  For the season opener, the Oilers flew to the Pacific Coast, and Blanda took the Oakland Raiders defense apart with four touchdown passes.  The Oilers won, 37-22.

The 1960 Oilers went 10-4 and scored a league-high 379 points (27.5 points per game).  Houston hosted the first AFL Championship Game against the Los Angeles Chargers.  The seesaw battle saw Paul Lowe running wild for the Chargers and Blanda throwing 3 touchdowns for the Oilers.  George also kicked three extra points and a field goal and was named Player of the Game as the Oilers prevailed, 24-16.

A number of former Oilers reflected back on those years in Jeff Miller’s book on the AFL, “Going Long.”  Safety Jim Norton said, “George was brilliant at signal calling, audibling, one of the best signal callers of all time.” Offensive guard Hogan Wharton said, “This guy was a coach on the field.”

The 1961 season saw the Oilers go 10-3-1 and scored 513 points (36.6 ppg). That point total stood as a pro football record for 22 years.  Throwing for 3,330 yards and 36 touchdowns, Blanda was named the AFL’S Most Valuable Player as he led the Oilers back to the Championship Game.

The Oilers invaded the home turf of the Chargers, who now played in San Diego.  The contest was surprisingly low scoring, but for the second championship game in a row, Blanda accounted for all of the Oilers’ points. He kicked a field goal and an extra point, and he threw 35 yards to Billy Cannon for the game’s only touchdown.  The Oilers were Champs again, 10-3.

In “Going Long, ” All-Pro offensive tackle Al Jamison said: “George Blanda was probably the single most important factor in our winning those two championships.”

1961 turned out to be the last championship for both Blanda and the Oilers.  Together they lost the 1962 AFL Championship Game to the Dallas Texans. The 1967 Oakland Raiders, with Blanda as the kicker and backup quarterback, lost Super Bowl II to the Green Bay Packers.  The Oilers fielded some interesting teams over the next three decades, but they never made it back to the final game.

After 37 seasons (1960-1996), the Oilers moved to Tennessee.   They then played two transitory seasons as the Tennessee Oilers then began a new era in 1999 as the Tennessee Titans, with Nashville as their home base.

As for Blanda, he played his final 9 seasons (1967-1975) with the Oakland Raiders.  Upon retiring, Blanda had thrown for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns.  He scored 2,002 points.  In 1981, Blanda was inducted into The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I just missed watching George Blanda play. As a kid in 1977, I started following pro football.  One of the first players I read about was George Blanda.  I remember thinking, “He played from 1949 to 1975?????” It still astounds me today.

 

-Karon Cook, Ronnie Foreman, Chip Greene, Matt Haddad, Terry Keshner, Mike Lynch, Bob Lazzari, Bob Swick, Andrew Tuttle, Joe Williams, Tony Williams

 

Bay Area Battle: Raiders Win 24-13

Up next for the Oakland Raiders was a home game against the San Francisco 49ers.  The 49ers were coming off a bad 19-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and the Raiders were coming off a horrible 52-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams.  After that game, I didn’t have much hope for the Raiders winning another game.  I figured a 1-15 record was imminent.  Well, that’s why they play the games, right?

The Raiders won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the 49ers started at their 20.  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick took to the air on the first play of the game and his pass intended for wide receiver Michael Crabtree was picked off by safety Brandian Ross at the Oakland 49-yard line.  Now, I have always been a believer in making the other team immediately pay for their mistakes.  If I were the offensive coordinator, I’d call a deep bomb on first down.  John Madden loved to do that.  But, that’s not how it is in Oakland nowadays.  Greg Olson did his usual play call on first down and running back Darren McFadden ran up the middle for one freaking yard.  That was followed by an 11-yard scramble by quarterback Derek Carr and that netted a first down at the San Francisco 39-yard line.  From the 39, Carr completed an 11-yard pass to fullback Marcel Reece.  They wouldn’t get any farther than that due to a stupid personal foul penalty on guard Austin Howard.  On fourth and 21 from the 39-yard line, they decided to bring in the Polish cannon for a 57-yard field goal attempt.  He nailed it and the Raiders went up 3-0 with 11:46 to go in the first quarter.

Both teams punted on their next possessions.  With six minutes to go in the first quarter, the 49ers got the ball back at their 40-yard line.  On first down, Kaepernick found tight end Vernon Davis across the middle for a gain of 23 yards and a first down at the Oakland 37.  Two carries by running back Frank Gore moved them down to the 21.  Two completions to wide receiver Anquan Boldin and a short carry by rookie running back Carlos Hyde netted another first down at the eight-yard line.  From the eight, Kaepernick tossed a short pass to fullback Bruce Miller and he snuck into the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.  Kicker Phil Dawson made the point after and the 49ers led 7-3 with 1:54 remaining in the first quarter.

The Raiders took over at their 26.  A six-yard completion to Reece and two carries by running back Latavius Murray quickly moved them to mid-field.  Some more running by Murray and Reece and a 20-yard completion to wide receiver Vincent Brown netted a first down at the San Francisco 28-yard line.  Another short run by Murray and a 19-yard pass to tight end Mychal Rivera moved the ball to the seven-yard line.  Three plays later, Carr rolled out to the left and dumped off a short pass that was caught by left tackle Donald Penn.  He bounced off a big hit and fell into the end zone for a Raider touchdown.  Then he jumped into the stands and had a little party with the rowdy members of the Black Hole.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 10-7 with 10:45 to go in the first half.

The 49ers started at their 30 and immediately received some help from the zebras.  Back to back defensive pass interference penalties on the Raiders moved them quickly down to the Oakland 42-yard line.  They would get as far as the 36 and the drive stalled there.  Dawson came on for a 54-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good, but there was another flag thrown.  The 49ers were flagged for holding and that nullified the field goal.  They were forced to punt.  As a matter of fact, there was a lot of punting going on until the 49ers started their next drive from their nine-yard line.  Passes to Davis and Boldin and a 17-yard scramble by Kaepernick had them moving in the right direction.  That was followed by a 20-yard pas to Boldin and some more scrambling by Kaepernick.  With time running out in the first half, Dawson was brought into the game again for a 52-yard attempt.  The kick was good and the score was knotted at 10 at halftime.

The Raiders gained a grand total of six yards on their first possession of the second half and punter Marquette King got off a nice 55-yard punt that was fielded by return man Bruce Ellington at the San Francisco 31-yard line.  Ellington returned it to the Oakland 46 and the 49ers had good field position.  Three carries by Gore and two completions to Crabtree moved the ball down to the nine-yard line.  Gore was stopped for a loss of one on first down.  On second down, Kaepernick looked for Boldin and the pass was incomplete.  That brought up third down.  Kaepernick had time and completed a short pass to Hyde.  It looked like he might make it to the end zone, but he was pushed out of bounds at the two-yard line by cornerback D.J. Hayden.  Dawson came on again and his 20-yard kick was good and the 49ers led 13-10 with 8:34 to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders took over at their 20 and after the usual short carry by McFadden, Carr found wide receiver Andre Holmes on the right side for a gain of 16 yards.  That was followed by a 12-yard pass to Reece.  A defensive holding penalty gave them five more yards and a first down at the San Francisco 45-yard line.  From the 45, Carr ran to his left and with pressure coming at him, he fired a pass down the middle that was caught by Rivera for a gain of 27 yards and a first down at the 18.  McFadden got a few more yards on first down.  That was followed by a short pass to Reece.  He was stopped short of the first down marker and that set up a third and one from the nine.  I thought they would definitely try another run up the middle.  To my surprise, the Raiders came out of the huddle with an empty backfield and five receivers.  Carr took the snap, fired a pass to the left side for Reece and he took it into the end zone for a touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 17-13 with four minutes to go in the third quarter.

The 49ers punted on their next possession and the Raiders took over at their 20.  This drive got off to a good start as Carr completed a 22-yard pass to Holmes.  I was truly shocked not to see McFadden run up the middle on first down.  That was followed by a short run by Murray.  A delay of game penalty moved them back five yards and on second and 13 from the 49, Carr completed a six-yard pass to Reece.  That’s when Carr went deep again and hooked up with Rivera for 27 yards and a first down at the San Francisco 29-yard line.  Two more carries by Murray and completions to Rivera and Reece moved the ball down to the three-yard line.  Three plays later, Carr found Rivera again in the left corner of the end zone for his third touchdown pass of the day.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 24-13 with 10:39 to go in the game.

Down by two scores, I thought the 49ers would go to their no huddle offense.  That didn’t happen.  They started at their 20 and methodically moved down the field with completions to Crabtree and tight end Garrett Celek.  On third and eight from the Oakland 25, the Raiders brought the pressure and Kaepernick was sacked by defensive tackle Antonio Smith for a loss of four yards.  Dawson came on for a 47-yard field goal and this time, it was no good.  That was huge for the Raiders and they remained up by 11 points with five minutes to go in the game.  All they needed to do was get a couple of first downs and the game would be over.  Well, on third and three from the 44, Carr rolled to the right side and I guess you could say he took a knee.  He fell to the ground for a loss on nine yards.  I thought that was very peculiar.  Then I remembered that Greg Olson is the offensive coordinator and it didn’t seem so peculiar.  King punted and the 49ers took over at their 23-yard line.

Things didn’t get off to a very good start for the 49ers as Kaepernick was sacked for a loss of five by linebacker Khalil Mack.  That was followed by an incomplete pass to Crabtree.  On third and long, Kaepernick looked for Davis and the pass was picked off by safety Charles Woodson.  The 49ers used up their time-outs and ended up getting the ball back with 28 seconds remaining.  On the final play of the game, Kaepernick was sacked once again by Mack.  And that’s that.  The Raiders won the Bay Area Battle by a score of 24-13.  That loss really hurt the 49ers chances of getting to the playoffs.  Although the Raiders were eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago, they held their heads up high as they walked off the field knowing they won the Bay Area Battle.

For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 18 of 33 for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  Michael Crabtree led the team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 56.  Frank Gore was the leading rusher as he had 63 yards on 12 carries.  As a team, the 49ers rushed for 97 yards on 18 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Chris Borland led the team in solo tackles with 12.

For the Raiders, rookie Derek Carr had himself a great day and looked like a veteran out there.  He completed 22 of 28 for 254 yards and three touchdowns.  Mychal Rivera and Marcel Reece tied for the lead in receptions with seven apiece.  Rivera had the most receiving yards with 109 and a touchdown.  Like most running backs, Latavius Murray found it difficult to run on the 49ers defense.  He finished the game with 76 yards on 23 carries.  16 of those yards came on one carry.  For the most part, the defense looked very good as they sacked Kaepernick five times and picked him off twice.  Charles Woodson and T.J. Carrie tied for the lead in solo tackles with seven.

After that horrid loss to the Rams, head coach Tony Sparano said the Raiders would “bounce back.”  I had sincere doubts about that and said “Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Sparano.”  Well, I liked the action I saw against the 49ers.  Apparently the players did too.  Near the conclusion of the game, Sparano was given a Gatorade bath.  They held the 49ers to 248 total yards and looked damn good.  Up next is a trip to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs.  Which Raider team will show up?  Will it be the one that played so well against the 49ers?  Or will it be the clowns that played in the game against the Rams two weeks ago?  I wish I knew.  Take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

 

 

Thursday Night Badness

Cowboys 41, Bears 28: Thursday Night Badness

Offense. Defense. Special Teams. Coaching. Actuary.  You name the category and the Dallas Cowboys were better in it than the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, as the Bears fell 41-28 at Chicago’s frigid Soldier Field.

Dallas dominated from kickoff to kneel-down in this one, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, making better adjustments, sticking with a solid game plan, (having a solid game plan) and performing better in all pertinent areas.

The Cowboys came in with a poor run defense and the Bears responded by running the ball just 15 times.

On the other side of the ball, Dallas entered with one of the league’s top running games and the Bears got gouged for 194 yards, including 179 on 32 carries for DeMarco Murray who routinely was provided with holes wider than the Eisenhower Expressway to run through.

The Bears made a superstar of a man named Cole Beasley.

The whole evening was ugly, sad, and, worst of all; typical of one of the most abrasive seasons in Chicago sports history.

This was the second straight Thursday nationally televised game for the Mopers of the Midway and once again an entire nation saw a Bears team that has talent but lacks focus, has ammunition but no fire, and possesses potential but no pass rush.

The Bears must be given some credit, though. They trailed 35-7 in the fourth quarter and even the most loyal Bears fans were either headed for the exits or flipping the channel to see just what particular brand of hot water Gilligan was getting into, but the Bears did not give up, putting up 21 points in the final frame to make the score at least look respectable when in fact the game was not.

Did a few of us think when Jay Cutler was throwing into the endzone with two minutes to play that the Bears might score and recover the onside kick and throw a bomb into the endzone and pull out a miracle of miracles? Yes, a few of us did. We’re hopeful, holiday people, so forgive us.

Cutler was intercepted.

The Bears did not surrender when the chips were down and all appeared lost and that’s a bit heartening. But there’s not much else to build on as we approach the season’s final three games starting with, mercilessly we must add, a third straight national game, on Monday, December 15 when they host the New Orleans Saints.

The Bears are 5-8 and their fans want blood. They want answers. They want Butkus, Sayers, Payton and McMahon.

The Christmas season is a time for remembering, certainly. It’s also a time for looking ahead. And hoping. And huddling against the winter cold and wondering if it’s all worth it. –TK

Only 4 Games To Go!

Normally when I write these articles, I do an introduction of who is playing who and what they did the week before.  Then, the paragraphs that follow usually have something to do with how a drive ended.  Was there a field goal?  A touchdown?  Maybe there was a turnover.  Well, there was a lot of scoring in this game.  Below you will see a list of all the scoring plays.

1st quarter

Tre Mason caught a 35-yard pass from Shaun Hill for a touchdown.  Greg Zuerlein made the point after.

Hill scored on a two-yard run.  Zuerlein made the point after.

Tavon Austin scored on an 18-yard run. Zuerlein made the point after.

2nd quarter

Mason scored on an 89-yard run.  Zuerlein made the point after.

Cory Harkey caught a four-yard pass for a touchdown.  Zuerlein made the point after.

Zuerlein kicked a 38-yard field goal.

4th quarter

Mason scored on an eight-yard run.  Zuerlein made the point after.

Trumaine Johnson scored on a 43-yard interception return.  Zuerlein made the point after.

Those are all the scoring plays for the Rams.  Now, what about all the scoring plays for the Raiders?  Well, I’d like to talk about that.  But I can’t.  That’s because they didn’t score a single point.  They played so badly that they made a team with a four and seven record look like future Super Bowl champions.  After a good win in the previous week against the Chiefs, the Raiders came out looking flat, uninterested and stupid.  So, what’s your excuse this time?  You don’t like domes?  You can’t win in the central time zone?  What really is disturbing is that these “Raiders” got paid to play that badly.  Must be nice.

There’s some interesting stats from this game.  The Raiders had the ball for nearly 37 minutes and ran 75 plays.  The Rams had the ball for 23 minutes and ran only 49 plays.  Despite having the ball for such a short amount of time, they out-gained the Raiders in total yards 348-244.  The Rams averaged 7.1 yards per play while the Raiders averaged 3.3 yards.  The biggest stat of all is turnovers.  The Rams didn’t turn the ball over and the Raiders turned the ball over five times.

It was the same old garbage.  Offensive coordinator Greg Olson was his usual idiotic self and did his usual horrible play calling.  How many times are we going to see McFadden run up the middle for a gain of two?  Head coach Tony Sparano looked like he’d rather be in Miami.  After the game, he said the team would “bounce back.”  Yeah.  Sure they will.  Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Sparano.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned Derek Carr having a “deer in headlights” expression in his eyes.  Well, this time, his eyes were even wider.  He was running for his life and was sacked several times.  Matt Schaub replaced him and didn’t fare any better.  It was truly a horrible game to witness.  Up next is a home game against the San Francisco 49ers.  They got beat up pretty badly on Thanksgiving by the Seattle Seahawks and they really need a win to stay in the playoff hunt.  If the Raiders play as badly as they did against the Rams, the 49ers will have no trouble getting a win.  Until then, take it easy.

The Fed Up Raider Guy

Just Win In The Rain, Baby!

Up next for the Raiders was a Thursday night home game against the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chiefs were coming off a big 24-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks and the Raiders were coming off a tough 13-6 loss to the San Diego Chargers.  As the rain poured down, kicker Sebastian Janikowksi sent the opening kickoff into the end zone and the Chiefs started at their 20-yard line.

Aside from a five-yard carry by running back Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs went nowhere and punted the ball away.  Punter Dustin Colquitt hit a huge 69-yard punt that was downed at the Oakland 15-yard line.  The Raiders managed to get one first down before punting the ball right back to the Chiefs.  The Raider defense played well on this possession and forced another three and out.  This time, Colquitt didn’t get all of it and the ball was downed at the Oakland 40-yard line.  This drive got off to a nice start as quarterback Derek Carr connected with wide receiver Vincent Brown for a gain of 19 and a first down at the Kansas City 41.  That was followed by a short carry by running back Darren McFadden and an 11-yard completion to wide receiver James Jones.  From the 27, running back Latavius Murray got in on the action and took it up the middle for a gain of six.  Two plays later, Carr found wide receiver Brice Butler and that play was good for a first down at the 11-yard line.  Murray finished the drive as he ran untouched up the left side for a touchdown.  It was the first rushing touchdown the Chiefs have allowed all year.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 7-0.

As the rain continued, both offenses had trouble moving the ball.  With 12:40 to go in the second quarter, the Raiders took over at their ten-yard line.  This “drive” would last only about 12 seconds.  That’s because Murray ran up the middle, cut to his left and saw nothing but green grass in front of him.  He took it to the end zone for a 90-yard touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 14-0 with 12:28 to go in the first half.

The Chiefs took over at their 20 and got off to a good start with nine-yard carries by running back De’Anthony Thomas and Charles.  On second and ten from the 37, quarterback Alex Smith connected with tight end Anthony Fasano for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 48.  They would get as far as the Oakland 44 and they were forced to punt from there.  Back to receive the punt was wide receiver Denarius Moore.  All of a sudden, I got a bad feeling.  Something was about to happen that Raider fans wouldn’t like.  The punt was high and Moore got under it, but the ball went right through his arms and was pounced on by linebacker Frank Zombo.  That gave the Chiefs excellent field position at the Oakland 11-yard line.  I can’t repeat all the obscenities I screamed at the television after that play.  That was the last we would be seeing of Mr. Moore.  The good news is the Raider defense was up to the task of stopping the Chiefs.  Charles ran up the middle for a gain of six on first down.  Smith looked for Charles on second down, but the pass was incomplete.  That set up a very big third and four from the five-yard line.  Smith had plenty of time to find a receiver and fired a pass to Thomas.  He was hit hard at the two-yard line by safety Brandian Ross and the pass fell incomplete.  Kicker Cairo Santos came on and his 24-yard field goal attempt was good.  The Raiders led 14-3 with 7:19 to go in the first half.

Murray returned the kickoff to the 25, but a holding call moved the Raiders back to the 15.  On third and three from the 22, Murray got another carry and it was good for a first down.  However, he was a victim of a helmet to helmet hit by safety Kurt Coleman.  The ball came loose and was recovered by the Raiders.  Murray would leave the game with a possible concussion and would not return.  That was bad news for the Raiders and the drive was halted at the 39 as McFadden came up just short of the first down marker on third and three.  King punted and the Chiefs still couldn’t get their offense going.  The first half ended with the Raiders leading 14-3.

Both teams punted on their first possessions of the second half.  At the 9:44 mark, the Raiders got the ball back at the Kansas City 49-yard line.  A short completion to McFadden and a six-yard carry by McFadden set up a third and one at the 40.  I was expecting to see a running play, but the Raiders came out with an empty backfield and Carr completed a two-yard pass to Jones for a first down at the 38.  On third and seven from the 22, Carr went deep up the right sideline for wide receiver Andre Holmes.  It was incomplete, but there was a flag on the play and early indications were it was defensive pass interference.  No such luck.  It was ruled that Holmes “voluntarily” ran out of bounds and therefore there was no penalty.  That meant it was time for Janikowski to try a 40-yard field goal.  It wasn’t the best kick I’ve ever seen him make, but he snuck it inside the left upright and it was good.  With 5:05 to go in the third quarter, the Raiders led 17-3.

Return man Knile Davis returned the kickoff to the 40 and the Chiefs had good field position to start their next drive.  Passes to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, tight end Travis Kelce and Thomas quickly moved the Chiefs to the Oakland 28-yard line.  On second and six from the 24, Charles ran for ten yards, but the ball was knocked loose.  Linebacker Khalil Mack was in prime position to recover the ball, but he couldn’t corral it and Thomas recovered it at the 14.  While all this was going on, a flag was thrown and the Chiefs were penalized for an illegal block above the waist.  That moved them back to the 30 and Smith found Kelce for a gain of 11.  That made third and one from the 19.  The Raiders were expecting Charles to get another carry and brought some heavy pressure up the middle.  The only problem with that is that Charles didn’t have the ball.  Standing all by himself with no one around him was Fasano.  Smith saw him and he completed a very easy 19-yard touchdown pass.  Santos made the point after and the Chiefs trailed 17-10 with 1:52 to go in the third quarter.

Aside from a nice 37-yard pass to Holmes, the Raiders didn’t have much success on their next drive and were forced to punt again.  The Chiefs took over at their 35 and marched right down the field.  What the hell happened to the Raider defense?  There was no pressure on Smith, receivers were wide open and there were missed tackles all over the field.  Unfortunately, that’s something that’s been happening to the Raiders for a long time.  A 27-yard pass to Kelce moved the Chiefs to the Oakland 38.  Despite being flagged for two holding penalties, the Chiefs were able to find the end zone.  On second and 16 from the 30, Smith found Charles open in the middle of the field and Charles did the rest as he avoided several defenders on his way to the end zone.  Santos made the point after and just like that, the score was knotted at 17 with 12:20 to go in the game.

The Raiders gained three yards on their next possession and punted.  Return man Frankie Hammond fielded the punt at the Kansas City 35 and returned it to the Oakland 37.  That gave the Chiefs excellent field position.  On first down, Smith found wide receiver Albert Wilson wide open for a gain of 23 yards and a first down at the 14.  A short scramble by Smith and a five yard pass set up a crucial third and three.  The Raiders brought the pressure and the pass fell incomplete.  Still, the Chiefs could take the lead if Santos made the 25-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Chiefs led 20-17 with nine minutes to go in the game.

When the Raiders took over at their 20, there was no sign of McFadden or Jones-Drew.  Fullback Marcel Reece was the one who would be doing the dirty work.  Reece carried the ball three times and caught an eight-yard pass to quickly move the ball to the 48.  After that, Carr was sacked for a loss of two by defensive end Justin Houston.  On second and 12, Carr completed an 11-yard pass to Butler to move the Raiders into Kansas City territory.  Once again, the Raiders were in another third and one situation.  I thought Reece would be the man to go to again.  Wrong.  It was a pass intended for tight end Mychal Rivera that was almost intercepted.  So, it was now fourth and one.  Who will it be this time?  Reece?  McFadden?  Marcus Allen?  Bo Jackson?  None of the above.  Carr took it himself and got just enough for a first down at the 42.  Reece got another carry and grinded out four tough yards.  Carr went deep for Holmes on the next play.  He was open, but the ball was poorly thrown and again, it was almost intercepted.  That made it third and six.  Carr stood tall in the pocket and connected with Rivera across the middle for a gain of eight and a first down at the 30.

From the 30, Carr went deep for Jones and the pass was incomplete.  Like always, offensive coordinator Greg Olson called for a running play on second down after an incompletion on first down. The Chiefs were well aware of this and Reece was stuffed for a short gain.  From the 29, Carr threw to Holmes on the right sideline.  There was lots of contact while the ball was in the air and safety Ron Parker was flagged for defensive pass interference.  That gave the Raiders new life and a first down at the 20.  Two carries by Reece netted nine yards and Carr ran up the middle for two yards and a first down at the nine.  From the nine, Carr had all the time he needed to find a receiver and he found Jones in the end zone for a Raider touchdown.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 24-20 with 1:42 to go in the game.

Janikowski sent the kickoff nine yards deep into the end zone, but Thomas ran it out and I sincerely believe if safety Larry Asante hadn’t been in perfect position, Thomas would have had himself a 109-yard kick return.  Thomas was pushed out of bounds at the Kansas City 39-yard line.  The Chiefs had no timeouts and 61 yards to go to get themselves a win.  From the 39, Smith was pressured by Mack.  Despite having a firm grasp on Smith’s jersey, Mack was unable to bring him down and Smith got off a pass down the middle to Bowe.  It bounced before it got there and was ruled incomplete.  That was followed by a seven-yard pass to Wilson.  An illegal formation penalty was called on the Chiefs and Raider head coach Tony Sparano declined it.  That made it fourth and three from the 46.

One more stop and the game would be won by the Raiders.  It would be their first win of the year.  Surely they could get a stop here, right?  Wrong.  Smith looked for Bowe and the pass was incomplete.  But, there were several flags on the play.  Safety Charles Woodson and cornerback DJ Hayden were flagged for defensive holding.  Not only that, defensive end Benson Mayowa was flagged for hands to the face.  The penalty on Mayowa was enforced and the Chiefs had a first down at the Oakland 49.  From the 49, Charles ran for a gain of four yards.  That was followed by an incomplete pass intended for Kelce.  Now, it was third and six from the 45.  The Raiders brought the pressure and Smith was sacked by linebacker Sio Moore.  I guess they thought that was fourth down, because several Raiders were way behind the line of scrimmage celebrating.  That caused me to go off.  I screamed “THAT WAS ONLY THIRD DOWN!  WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU GUYS DOING?  GET BACK TO THE LINE!!!!”  See, this is why you have to have veteran leadership on your team.  Defensive end Justin Tuck alertly called timeout and the Raiders were spared an offside penalty.  So, it was now fourth and 13 from the Kansas City 48-yard line.  Smith took the snap, felt little pressure and threw a pass to the left side intended for Hammond.  It was incomplete and that sealed the deal.  The Raiders finally got a win!  Dating back to last year, they had lost 16 consecutive games.  That’s the equivalent of an entire season.  It wasn’t pretty.  As a matter of fact, it was downright ugly at times.  But that doesn’t matter.  All that matters is the final score.  Raiders 24 Chiefs 20.

For the Chiefs, Alex Smith completed 20 of 36 for 234 yards and two touchdown passes.  Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles tied for the lead in receptions with four and Kelce had the most receiving yards with 67.  The last time Charles visited Oakland, he decimated the Raiders with five touchdowns.  In this game, he was the leading rusher with 80 yards on 19 carries and only one touchdown.  As a team, the Chiefs rushed for 96 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Josh Mauga and safety Ron Parker tied for the lead in solo tackles with six apiece.  The Chiefs had their opportunities in this game as there were several dropped passes by their defensive backs.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 18 of 35 for 174 yards and one touchdown pass.  Andre Holmes and James Jones tied for the lead in receptions with five and Holmes had the most receiving yards with 55.  The ground game got a huge boost from Latavius Murray.  Despite having only four carries and leaving the game early, he had 112 yards rushing and two touchdowns.  My question is why did the coaching staff wait until week 11 to give him some carries?  Marcel Reece also did an admirable job running the ball with 37 yards on eight carries.  As a team, the Raiders rushed for 179 yards on 30 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Miles Burris and safety Larry Asante tied for the lead in solo tackles with eight apiece.  Charles Woodson had himself a solid game with seven solo tackles and a sack.  He became the first player in NFL history to record 50 interceptions and 20 sacks.

This was a very special night in Oakland and even the torrential rain couldn’t screw it up.   Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy received his ring and there were several Hall of Famers at the game.  Maybe having so many great players back in Oakland got the Raiders fired up.  Like I said, it wasn’t pretty, but they got the win.  I can’t count how many times the great Raider teams of the past had wins in this exact same fashion.  I know it’s only one win, but the last thing I wanted to see was an 0-16 season.  Up next is a trip to St. Louis to take on the Rams.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

Different Week, Same Result

The tenth game of the year for the Oakland Raiders was a trip down south to San Diego to take on the Chargers.  The Raiders were coming off a horrid 41-17 loss to the Denver Broncos and the Chargers were coming off their bye week.  The Raiders got the ball first and started at their own 22.  They wouldn’t have the ball very long because quarterback Derek Carr and center Stefen Wisniewski weren’t on the same page.  The ball came loose on the first snap of the game and was recovered by linebacker Donald Butler at the 22.  Two plays later, quarterback Philip Rivers found wide receiver Malcolm Floyd in the end zone for a touchdown.  Kicker Nick Novak made the point after and the Chargers led 7-0 with 14:07 to go in the first quarter.

After each team punted on their next possession, the Raiders took over at their 30-yard line.  The drive started out like it always does.  Running back Darren McFadden ran up the middle for two yards.  On third and eight, Carr completed a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Andre Holmes for a first down at the 41.  That was followed by a nice catch and run by tight end Mychal Rivera for a gain of 33 yards and a first down at the San Diego 26.  See what happens when you stretch the field?  You actually gain some yardage and get in position to score.  You might even score a touchdown!  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Well, that didn’t happen.  The next three plays consisted of a short completion to Rivera, a run up the middle by fullback Marcel Reece for no gain and a shovel pass to McFadden.  The shovel pass play was set up nicely with lots of blockers in front of McFadden.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t paying attention and he dropped the ball.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski came into the game and his 42-yard field goal attempt was good.  The Chargers led 7-3 with 7:27 to go in the first quarter.

Then the punting began.  Punters Marquette King and Mike Scifres both had good workouts in this game.  Each of them punted nine times for a grand total of 826 yards.  That’s pretty impressive, but if you like a game with a lot of offense, this one wasn’t for you.  At the 9:39 mark of the second quarter, the Chargers took over at their 43-yard line.  On second and nine from the 44, Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates for a gain of 12 and a first down at the Oakland 44.  That was followed by a 13-yard completion to wide receiver Eddie Royal and three straight carries by running back Ryan Mathews moved the Chargers into the red zone.  But the drive was halted at the five and Novak was brought into the game for a 23-yard attempt.  The kick was good and the Chargers led 10-3 with 4:12 to go in the first half.

On their next possession, the Raiders moved from their 20 to their 44.  That’s where they had a fourth and one situation.  They had a third and one situation on the play before and naturally offensive coordinator Greg Olson called for McFadden to run up the middle.  He was stuffed for no gain and that’s what caused the Raiders to be in this predicament.  What could they do?  Run McFadden up the middle again?  Maybe catch the aggressive Charger defense off guard and go deep?  While the debate was going on, I’m sitting in my living room yelling “Go for it!  You’re 0 and nine!  You have nothing to lose!”  Of course they didn’t listen to me and they punted again.  The Chargers took over at their 30 with 1:48 to go in the half and completions to Floyd, Gates and wide receiver Keenan Allen moved them down to the Oakland 30-yard line.  With two seconds on the clock, Novak was brought in for a 48-yard attempt.  It was long enough, but sailed wide left.  At halftime, the score remained 10-3.

After another punt by King, the Chargers got the ball back at their 33.  A five-yard carry by Mathews was followed by a neutral zone infraction on the Raiders.  That’s a five-yard penalty and it gave the Chargers a first down.  From the 43, Mathews ran up the right side for 20 yards and was finally dragged down at the Oakland 37.  They didn’t get much further after that and the Raiders dodged a bullet when a holding penalty brought back a deep completion to Floyd.  Novak came on for another field goal attempt and his 52-yard kick was good.  That put the Chargers up 13-3 with 7:19 to go in the third quarter.  For most teams, that wouldn’t be a big deal.  But when your offense is as bad as the Raiders, a ten-point lead is insurmountable.

Then the punt-fest began.  Neither offense could get going and after many close calls throughout the year, Raider rookie linebacker Khalil Mack finally got his first sack.  Hopefully there are many more to come.  Then, a very strange thing happened with around three minutes to go in the third quarter.  There was a loud popping sound coming from the Raider’s sideline.  I couldn’t figure out what it was at first, but then I realized it was the offensive coaches pulling their heads out of their asses.  They finally put running back Latavius Murray in the game!  Murray responded with two carries off left tackle.  His first carry was good for 14 yards and the next one was for 23 yards.  He almost got loose for a long touchdown on the second one, but was dragged down at the San Diego 49-yard line.  Then they took him out of the game and put McFadden in.  Why?  Because idiocy knows no boundaries.  The next three plays gained five yards and they punted yet again.  The ball was downed at the one-yard line.

More punting followed until the 6:15 mark of the fourth quarter.  The Raiders took over at their 45 and went to the no huddle offense.  Completions to Rivera and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins quickly moved them down to the San Diego 15-yard line.  From the 15, Carr completed a seven-yard pass to Murray.  That was followed by a short carry by Murray.  On third down, Carr looked for wide receiver James Jones in the end zone.  The pass was poorly thrown and fell incomplete.  Janikowksi came in and his 25-yard field goal attempt was good.  With four minutes to go in the game, the Chargers led 13-6.

Basically, all the Chargers had to do was get a couple of first downs and the game would be over.  They started at their 20 and Rivers competed a 13-yard pass to Allen.  That was followed by an eight-yard run by Mathews.  On second and two, Mathews was stopped for a loss of one yard.  That made it third and three from the 40.  The Raiders brought some good pressure, but Rivers was able to get off a pass intended for Gates.  Safety Charles Woodson was in perfect position to pick off the ball and it was tipped in the air.  Somehow, Gates came up with the ball and it was good for a gain of 15 yards.  That was the dagger for the Raiders.  They did manage to get the ball back with 1:05 to go in the game and on fourth and nine from the 13, Carr connected with Jones for a gain of 28 and a first down at the 41.  Then, Carr spiked the ball to stop the clock with 11 seconds to go.  From the 41, Carr went deep up the right side and the pass fell incomplete.  It looked like there was still two seconds on the clock when the ball hit the ground.  But the zebras said the game was over and that’s how it ended.  Final score:  Chargers 13 Raiders 6.  The loss dropped the Raiders to 0-10 and the Chargers improved to 6-4.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 16 of 34 for 172 yards.  As the game progressed, he started getting the “deer in headlights” look in his eyes.  He was rushing his throws and didn’t look comfortable.   Mychal Rivera led the team in receptions with three and Kenbrell Thompkins had the most receiving yards with 47.  Latavius Murray gave the running game a spark and he led the team in rushing with 43 yards on four carries.  As a team, the Raiders rushed for 71 yards on 19 carries.  Defensively, safety Charles Woodson led the team in solo tackles with 11.  Overall, the defense played very well.  Although they only had two sacks, they did a good job of pressuring Rivers.  The longest play the Chargers had was 22 yards.  That was the touchdown pass on the third play of the game.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 22 of 34 for 193 and one touchdown.  Keenan Allen led the team in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 63.  On the ground, Ryan Mathews led the way with 70 yards on 16 carries.  As a team, the Chargers rushed for 120 yards on 32 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Kavell Conner led the team in solo tackles with six and a sack.

Up next for the Raiders is a Thursday night game in Oakland against the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chiefs are looking pretty solid this year and are coming off a big 24-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks.  What I hope to see from the Raiders is a lot more of  Murray and a lot less of McFadden and Jones-Drew.  The Chiefs are very good against the pass, but they are ranked 25th against the run.  I’d love to see Murray get a minimum of 20 carries.  But I doubt that will happen.  Know why?  Because it would make sense.  And when it comes to installing offensive game plans, the Raiders make no sense.  Only six games to go.  Take it easy.

The Delusional Raider Guy

 

Only 7 Games To Go!

The ninth game for the winless Oakland Raiders had the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos paying a visit to Oakland.  The Broncos were coming off a bad 43-21 loss to the New England Patriots and the Raiders fought hard, but left Seattle with a 30-24 loss.  The Broncos got the ball first and started at their 20.  On the second play of the game, quarterback Peyton Manning was picked off by cornerback D.J. Hayden.  The Raiders took over at the Denver 49-yard line.  Guess what the amazing Greg Olson called for the Raiders to do on first down?  You got it.  They gave the ball to running back Darren McFadden.  Anyone care to guess where he ran?  Was it off tackle?  Was it a pitch to the strong side?  No! It was right up the middle just like it always is and McFadden got a whopping three yards.  But on second down, quarterback Derek Carr found wide receiver James Jones for a gain of ten yards and a first down at the 36-yard line.  Two plays later, Carr found wide receiver Brice Butler for a gain of seven and another first down at the 25.  They didn’t get much farther than that and kicker Sebastian Janikowksi was brought into the game.  His 41-yard field goal attempt was good and the Raiders led 3-0 with 9:35 to go in the first quarter.

The Broncos took over at their 25 and runs by running back Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson got them rolling.  That was followed by long completions to wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.  The completion to Thomas moved them all the way to the Oakland 17-yard line.  A nine-yard completion to Anderson and a four-yard run by Anderson moved them to the four.  But a false start penalty moved them back five yards and they got as far as the two-yard line.  Instead of going for it, Denver head coach John Fox opted for a field goal.  Kicker Brandon McManus had no problem making his 20-yard attempt and the score was tied at three with four minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders went three and out on their next possession and held on to the ball for a grand total of one minute and 40 seconds.  That’s not how to beat the Broncos.  The way to beat the Broncos is to keep Manning on the sideline.  He can’t do any damage from there.  I guess the Raiders didn’t get the memo.  The Broncos took over at their 35 and Manning broke out the no huddle offense.  Completions to wide receivers Wes Welker, D. Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas moved them quickly down to the Oakland 36-yard line.  That was followed by a pass interference penalty on cornerback Tarell Brown.  That moved the Broncos even further into Oakland territory.  But the drive was halted at the ten-yard line.  McManus came on for another field goal attempt and his 28-yard attempt was good.  That put the Broncos up 6-3 with 14:22 to go in the second quarter.

As usual, the Raiders punted after three unimaginative plays.  The Broncos got the ball back at their 32-yard line and that was followed by an interception by defensive end Justin Tuck.  He returned it to the 12 and gave the Raiders excellent field position.  Surely the Raiders could go a measly 12 yards and take the lead, right?  Maybe?  Is it really possible that they could be leading the defending AFC champions in the second quarter?  The answer to that is a resounding yes!  Three plays later, Carr found Butler in the end zone for a Raider touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 10-6 with 11:19 to go in the second quarter.

I am a firm believer in momentum.  If a team has momentum, they can do things that will make them play well and get them a win.  Well, the Raiders were at home and they had the lead against one of their biggest rivals.  That was all about to change.  With 3:30 to go in the second quarter, cornerback Bradley Roby intercepted a pass intended for tight end Mychal Rivera and gave the Broncos the ball at their own 47-yard line.  On third and eight from the 49, Manning felt pressure from his right side and dumped a short pass of to Anderson.  The defense read the play and there were several defenders in position to stop Anderson from getting a first down.  Unfortunately, every player in a black uniform missed the opportunity to stop Anderson and he found the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown.  That was truly some of the worst “tackling” I have ever seen.  McManus made the point after and the Broncos led 13-10 with 2:44 to go in the second quarter.  It got worse after that.  After the Raiders punted once again, the Broncos scored again.  This time it was a 32-yard pass to Sanders with 28 seconds remaining.  McManus made the point after and the Broncos led 20-10 at halftime.  Remember what I said about momentum?  Well, the Broncos had it and didn’t let it go.  They came out of the locker room and proceeded to kick the crap out of the Raiders.  Manning threw three more touchdown passes and the Broncos won 41-17.  The lone touchdown for the Raiders came on a 18-yard touchdown pass to Rivera with 48 seconds to go in the game.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 31 of 44 for 340 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.  Demaryius Thomas led the team in receptions with 11 and receiving yards with 108.  The ground game was running on all cylinders too.  C.J. Anderson led the team in rushing with 90 yards on 13 carries.  As a team, the Broncos rushed for a total of 118 yards on 27 carries.  Anderson also had 73 yards on four catches.  Defensively, linebacker Brandon Marshall led the team in solo tackles with 11.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 30 of 47 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  30 completions is pretty good.  But averaging four yards a completion is horrible.  James Jones led the team in receptions with eight and Mychal Rivera had the most receiving yards with 64 and a touchdown.  Eight catches is an impressive statistic.  But Jones only had 20 yards.  That means he averaged 2.5 yards per reception.  What the hell kind of offense is this?  Jones is a legitimate deep threat and he’s putting up those horrible numbers?  Speaking of horrible numbers, check out the ground game for the Raiders.  They had 30 yards on 15 carries.  Not only are they last in the league in rushing, but it’s not even close.  They are DEAD LAST in the league.  During training camp, former head coach Dennis Allen said the offense was “built to run.”  Really?  Built to run?  Are you sure about that?  This team “runs” like a snail trying to cross the street in a blizzard.  Oh, do you want to know who led the team in solo tackles?  That would be safety Larry Asante with eight.

This was total and complete domination by the Broncos.  They out-gained the Raiders in total yardage 471-222.  They had 25 first downs and the Raiders had only 10.  The only statistic the Raiders won was penalties.  They were only flagged four times for 37 yards and the Broncos were flagged 12 times for 95 yards.  See?  I managed to find a bright spot among all the doom and darkness of another horrible loss.  I think I’m going to give myself a gold star for such an amazing accomplishment.  Up next is a road trip to San Diego.  The Chargers are coming off a bye week.  But two weeks ago, they went down to Miami and the Dolphins shut them out 37-0.  They’ll be looking to take their frustrations out on the Raiders.  As for me, I’m going to wash the car before the cold weather gets here.  Take it easy.

The Suicidal Raider Guy

The Fiendish Plot To (Sort Of) Discredit Peyton Manning

November 6, 2014

The Fiendish Plot To (Sort Of) Discredit Peyton Manning

When baseball’s regular season awards are handed out there will be a sparking of the age-old debate as to whether it is appropriate to give a Most Valuable Player Award to a pitcher.

This is because pitchers, as we know, do not play every day and thus some cannot help but question how valuable such a player can be, no matter how good they are. And there is also the matter of the Cy Young award, which honors the top throwers in the American and National Leagues.

The question persists: should pitchers be eligible for MVP? Or should that honor be strictly for position players?

This query brings us, understandably we believe, to football.

In baseball pitchers can win both awards but maybe football should set an example by splitting them. First, we must create a separate trophy for you know who: the quarterbacks.

Since 1957 when the first Associated Press NFL MVP was handed out, to Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, quarterbacks have gone home with the shiny object 38 times, including years when a QB tied with either another QB or a player from another position.

Since 1987 the only players to win MVP have been QBs and running backs with QBs winning the vast majority of the time. So is it time to put quarterbacks where TV analysts have been putting them for decades – in their own special world – and simply give QBs the football equivalent of the Cy Young and make running backs, receivers, and defensive players, (seriously) offensive lineman and special teamers (not quite as seriously) the only ones eligible for MVP?

Yes, we have Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of The Year and as we recently discussed on Leatherheads sometimes OPY can and truly should be distinct from MVP. But we like awards and don’t you agree the world is appallingly low on things named in honor of Dan Marino?

Under our plan, each season the top QB in the NFL would be given the Dan Marino while all the other positions fight it out for MVP as well as defensive and separate offensive honors. A QB could win the Marino and Offensive Player of the Year, they just couldn’t win MVP.

Not only is this a matter of getting our favorite former Dolphin the respect he deserves but also this acknowledges that QBs not only have the deck stacked in their favor in the MVP race but also have all the chips and the only comfy chair.

And with quarterbacks not in the running might it not open up the voters’ eyes not to just other offensive skill players but to other positions as well? Could we someday see a left guard as MVP?

Quarterbacks, except for maybe Marino, probably won’t like our thoughts. But everyone else might.

 

 

Seahawks 30 Raiders 24

The eighth game on the schedule for the Oakland Raiders was a trip up to Seattle to face the Seahawks.  The Raiders were coming off a 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns and the Seahawks were coming off a tough 13-9 win over the Carolina Panthers.  The Seahawks won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Kicker Steven Hauschka sent the opening kick deep into the end zone for a touch-back and the Raiders started at their 20.  Like usual, they started out running the ball up the middle.  Running back Darren McFadden carried the ball twice for a gain of one yard.  But completions from quarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Andre Holmes and tight end Mychal Rivera got the Raiders going in the right direction.  On third and eight from the Seattle 37,  Carr completed a pass good for 16 yards to Rivera.  He was hit by cornerback Richard Sherman and the ball came loose.  Luckily for the Raiders, it rolled out of bounds.  They would get as far as the 30 and the drive stalled there as Carr’s pass to Rivera on third and three fell incomplete.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made an appearance and his 48-yard field goal attempt was good.  The Raiders led 3-0 with 9:10 to go in the first quarter.

The Seahawks took over at their 28 and three carries by running Marshawn Lynch quickly moved them to the 40.  A short scramble by quarterback Russell Wilson and completions to wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Lynch put the Seahawks in Oakland territory.  On second and four from the 42, Wilson threw deep up the right side for wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.  The pass was incomplete, but a flag appeared and the call was defensive pass interference on cornerback DJ Hayden.  Really?  THAT was interference?!?!  I thought both players had a right to the ball.  I found that to be highly sickening.  That gave the Seahawks a first down at the six.  On first down, Lynch ran up the middle and was greeted rudely by defensive tackle Justin “Jelly” Ellis and thrown for a loss of three yards.  But while Ellis was in the process of throwing Lynch to the ground, he also had a handful of facemask.  That brought out another flag and moved the ball to the three.  Lynch got the call again and took it up the middle.  It looked like his forward progress was stopped, but he kept pushing and eventually found the end zone.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 7-3 with 4:07 to go in the first quarter.

Each team punted on their next possession and with two minutes remaining in the quarter, the Raiders took over at their 15.  McFadden ran up the middle again and guess how many yards he got?  That’s right!  No gain.  Got to love the imaginative play calling by offensive coordinator Greg Olson.  He’s truly an amazing kind of guy with a future as bright as a dark room.  On second and ten, Carr found wide receiver Brice Butler for a gain of 12.  Then the impending disaster happened.  Carr looked for wide receiver James Jones on the right side and the pass was picked off by linebacker Bruce Irvin and returned 35 yards for a touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were now up 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

What’s one of the rules you should follow when you play the Seahawks?  Don’t throw on Richard Sherman.  Well, on third and five from his own 25, Carr did just that.  I don’t know what he was thinking.  The pass was up the right sideline intended for Holmes.  First, Holmes was not open.  Second, he wasn’t even looking for the ball.  Sherman picked it off and ran it back to the Oakland 18.  But the Raider defense only allowed them to go two yards on three plays.  Hauschka came into the game and his 34-yard field goal was good.  The Seahawks were now up 17-3 with 12:15 to go in the second quarter.

Neither team did much with the ball until the 3:50 mark of the second quarter.  The Seahawks were backed up at their 12-yard line.  A nine-yard run by Lynch and a three-yard completion to Lynch netted a first down at the 24.  That was followed by a 16-yard pass to tight end Luke Willson.  A holding penalty on the Seahawks moved them back ten yards.  But a taunting penalty on Hayden gave the Seahawks a first down at the Oakland 34.  What the hell are you taunting for?  You’re on a winless team and you’re down 17-3.  It was a nice tackle, but there’s no reason to stand over a player and taunt him.  I’m not sure what he said, but it was within earshot of a zebra and he promptly threw the flag.  Completions to Baldwin, running back Robert Turbin and some scrambling by Wilson moved the ball to the five.  From there, Lynch took it the rest of the way for another Seahawk touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 24-3 at halftime.

The Seahawks started the second half at their 34-yard line.  Three plays gained three yards and punter Jon Ryan was brought into the game.  The punt was blocked by defensive end Denico Autry.  The ball bounced backward and was recovered by Butler in the end zone for a Raider touchdown.  That was a nice start to the second half for the Raiders.  Janikowski made the point after and the Seahawks lead was cut to 24-10 with 13:52 to go in the third quarter.

After that, both defenses were playing very well.  The Raiders forced the Seahawks to punt on their next two possessions.  The Seahawks looked good too.  But they had it much easier because they knew half the plays were going to be runs up the middle by McFadden.  With a little under five minutes to go in the third quarter, rookie return man TJ Carrie fielded a punt at the Oakland 43 and returned it back to the Seattle 30-yard line.  This was a golden opportunity for the Raiders to put some more points on the board.  Carr completed a screen to McFadden and he took it up the right side for a gain of 23 and a first down at the seven.  Then came the obligatory McFadden run that gained two yards.  That was followed by an incomplete pass to forgotten wide receiver Denarius Moore.  On third down, Carr found Jones for a gain of four.  He was brought down just short of the goal line.  With the ball so close to the end zone, head coach Tony Sparano opted to go for it.  Carr took the snap and was immediately flushed out of the pocket.  He regained his composure long enough to loft a pass to the right side of the end zone and Rivera was able to haul it in for a touchdown.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Seahawks now led 24-17 with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Seahawks started at their 20 and on second and ten, Wilson completed a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Kevin Norwood.  Two runs by Lynch and a defensive holding penalty on the Raiders gave the Seahawks a first down at the Oakland 49-yard line.  From the 49, Wilson tossed a short pass to the left that was caught by Lynch.  He turned on the speed and took it up the left sideline for a gain of 39 yards.  They wouldn’t get any farther than that and Hauschka came on for another field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Seahawks led 27-17 with 14:50 to go in the game.

The Raiders needed to get moving and they went nowhere.  Three plays netted six yards and punter Marquette King got off a nice 59-yard punt that was fielded at the Seattle 15 by Baldwin.  He proceeded to take it straight up the middle for a gain of 38 yards.  From the Oakland 47, Wilson scrambled up the middle for a gain of 19.  They got as far as the 22 and it was time for another field goal attempt.  Hauschka made his 40-yard attempt and the Seahawks went up 30-17 with 9:19 to go in the game.

The Raiders managed to get a first down on their next possession, but that was it.  King punted again and seven plays later, the Seahawks punted right back to the Raiders.  With 4:14 to go in the game, the Raiders needed a quick score.  On first down, Carr was sacked for a loss of seven by defensive end Michael Bennett.  But Bennett was flagged for a facemask penalty and that gave the Raiders a first down at the Seattle 49.  Passes to Rivera, Holmes,  Butler and running back Maurice Jones-Drew quickly moved the Raiders down to the seven-yard line.  Three plays later, Carr rolled to his left and it looked like he was going to run it in.  Instead, he tossed the ball to the back of the end zone where Rivera hauled it in for his second touchdown of the game.  Janikowski made the point after and the Seahawks now led 30-24 with 52 seconds to go in the game.

We all knew what was next.  It was time for an onside kick.  With the rain coming down, I thought maybe a slippery ball would give the Raiders an advantage.  The kick was a good one and it looked like the Raiders may come up with it.  Teams that have no wins don’t get that kind of break.  The ball was recovered by Kearse at the 50-yard line.  And that was that.  Final score: Seahawks 30 Raiders 24.  The loss dropped the Raiders to 0-8 and the win improved Seattle’s record to 5-3.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 24 of 41 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  Mychal Rivera led the team in receptions with eight and two touchdowns.  Darren McFadden had the most receiving yards with 47.  The ground game continued to be anemic as the Raiders rushed for a grand total of 37 yards on 18 carries.  Ten of those yards came on one play.  I find that to be truly pathetic.  Defensively, linebacker Sio Moore led the team in solo tackles with eight.  He was the only Raider with a quarterback sack.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 17 of 35 for 179 yards.  Marshawn Lynch and Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with five and Lynch had the most receiving yards with 76.  On the ground, Lynch led the way with 67 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.  Defensively, linebacker K. J. Wright led the team in solo tackles with ten.

Despite trailing 24-3, I liked the fight the Raiders showed in this game.  They didn’t give up.  I firmly believe that if Dennis Allen were still the coach, the Seahawks would have won 51-10.  Sparano has his players playing hard.  Unfortunately, Greg Olson is still the offensive coordinator.  If he continues with his predictable and unimaginative play calling, the team will continue to suffer.  Up next on the schedule is a visit from the Denver Broncos.  They’ll be looking for a win after getting thrashed by the Patriots.  It could get pretty ugly if the defense is unable to stop Peyton Manning and his weapons.  Until then, take it easy.

The Frustrated Raider Guy