April 23, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII

This Super Bowl matched up the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos and I for one thought this was going to be a great game.  There was lots of speculation leading up to this game as far as the weather was concerned.  Will it snow?  Will it rain?  Will a huge snowstorm hit the area and force the game to be rescheduled?  The answer to those questions was a resounding “NO!”  The temperature was in the 40s and there was just a slight chance of precipitation.

Seattle won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Kicker Steven Hauschka hit the opening kickoff six yards deep into the end zone and return man Trindon Holliday returned it to the 14.  Quarterback Peyton Manning led the offense on to the field and started in the shotgun formation.  As he called the signals, center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over his head and it rolled toward the end zone.  A mad scramble ensued and running back Knowshon Moreno fell on it for a safety.  Well that most certainly was an original beginning to the Super Bowl.  A grand total of 12 seconds had run off the clock and the Seahawks were already up 2-0.

Denver punter Britton Colquitt hit a 64-yard punt that was fielded by return man/wide receiver Golden Tate at the 16.  He returned it to the 36 and quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense went to work.  Running back Marshawn Lynch got the call on first down and was brought down after a gain of three yards. From the 39, wide receiver Percy Harvin ran up the left side for a gain of 30.  That put the Seahawks at the Denver 31.  A false start penalty moved them back five yards and that was followed by an incomplete pass to tight end Zach Miller.  That was followed by a six-yard completion to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.  On third and nine from the 30, Wilson fired a bullet to Kearse and he caught it for a gain of 12 yards and a first down at the 18.  The next two plays gained four yards and on third and six from the 14, Wilson ran up the left side and was pushed out of bounds just before he got to the first down marker.  Head coach Pete Carroll challenged the spot, but it was ruled that Wilson was still just short of the marker.  Instead of going for it, Hauschka came into the game and his 31-yard field goal attempt was good.  With 10:21 to go in the first quarter, the Seahawks led 5-0.

Hauschka sent the kickoff through the end zone, but the Seahawks were penalized for unnecessary roughness.  That put the Broncos at their 35.  But three plays gained just eight yards and they were forced to punt.  The punt was fair caught by Tate at the Seattle 28-yard line.  On third and seven from the 31, Wilson threw to his left and the ball was caught by Tate for nine yards and a first down at the 40.  From the 40, Wilson found fullback Michael Robinson for seven yards.  Lynch was stuffed for a loss of one on the next play, but Wilson found wide receiver Doug Baldwin across the middle for a gain of six.  That was good enough for a first down at the Denver 48.  From the 48, Harvin caught another pass for a gain of five.  Then the Seahawks decided to get fancy and tried a crazy flea-flicker play that didn’t work.  On third and five from the 43, Wilson floated a deep pass up the left side for Baldwin who hauled it in for a gain of 36 yards.  A holding call moved them back ten yards and Lynch continued to struggle to get positive yardage.  On third and 14, Wilson looked for Kearse in the back of the end zone.  Kearse had possession of it for a second, but the ball was knocked out by linebacker Nate Irving.  That meant it was time for another field goal.  Hauschka made his 33-yard attempt and the Seahawks led 8-0 with 2:16 to go in the first quarter.

Aside from a five-yard completion to wide receiver Wes Welker, the Broncos still couldn’t get going.  On second and five from the 25, Moreno ran up the left side and the ball came loose.  The Broncos recovered it at the 23 and that set up a third and seven from the 23.  Manning looked for tight end Julius Thomas and the pass was picked off by safety Kam Chancellor at the 39.  He returned it two yards and the Seahawks set up shop at the Denver 37.  Another end around to Harvin gained 15 yards and tight end Luke Willson caught a five-yard pass.  Lynch ran up the middle for a gain of six and a first down at the 11.  Lynch was thrown for a loss of one on the next play, but Wilson found Baldwin for a gain of seven on second down.  That set up a third and four from the five-yard line.  Wilson threw to the back corner of the end zone for Tate, but the pass was incomplete.  Then a flag appeared.  Cornerback Tony Carter was flagged for pass interference and that gave the Seahawks a first down at the one-yard line.  Two plays later, Lynch ran it in for the first touchdown of the game.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 15-0 with 12 minutes to go in the first half.

The Broncos started at their 16 and Manning went to the air immediately.  Two completions to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and a short run by Moreno finally got the Broncos a first down at the 30.  Two more passes to D. Thomas and another carry by Moreno netted another first down at the 40.  On third and nine from the 41, Manning found Welker across the middle for a gain of 16 and the Broncos found themselves in Seattle territory.  Another catch by D. Thomas and a short carry by running back Montee Ball moved them down to the 32.  A holding penalty moved them back ten yards and a pass to tight end Jacob Tamme went for a loss of two yards.  From the 44, Moreno ran for a gain of nine.  That set up a third and 13 from the 35.  The Seahawks brought some pressure and defensive end Cliff Avril got to Manning just as he let the ball go and it was picked off at the 31 by linebacker Malcolm Smith.  That was bad for the Broncos and it got worse as Smith returned it all the way for a touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks went up 22-0 with 3:21 to go in the first half.

Holliday managed to return the ball to the 33 on the ensuing kickoff.  It looked like he fumbled, but he was ruled down before the ball came loose.  With time running short and knowing the walls were closing in, Manning knew he had to get his team into the end zone.  He spread the ball around to three different receivers and they quickly moved down to the Seattle 27.  An incomplete pass to J. Thomas, a six-yard catch by Moreno and a false start set up a third and nine from the 26.  Manning dumped a short pass to Moreno that came up two yards short of the first down.  What do you do now?  Go for the field goal?  No.  Head coach John Fox decided to go for it and Manning looked for D. Thomas.  The pass was incomplete and the Seahawks took over at their 19 with one minute to go in the half.  Two carries by Lynch ran out the clock and the Seahawks led 22-0 at halftime.

For once, I actually enjoyed the halftime show.  Good sound, good lighting and it was good to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a few minutes.  Back to return the kickoff to start the second half was the dangerous Percy Harvin.  Instead of trying to kick it through the end zone, kicker Matt Prater sent a knuckle-ball down the middle to keep the ball away from Harvin.  Nice try, but Harvin still got his hands on it.  He headed straight up the middle and returned it for an 87-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks now led 29-0 with 14:48 to go in the third quarter.  To open the game, the Seahawks scored 12 seconds into the first quarter.  Then, they scored 12 seconds into the third quarter.  Interesting.

It was officially time for the Broncos to get into “panic mode.”  They went from their 23 to the Seattle 38 with little trouble.  But the Seahawk defense stiffened and forced another punt.  The punt was downed at the eight and on first down, Lynch got loose, but was tripped up at the 26.  If he had broken one more tackle, he likely would have scored.  That was the only eventful play of that possession and punter Jon Ryan got off a 45-yard punt that was fielded at the Denver 36 by return man/wide receiver Eric Decker.  He returned it to the 45 and the Broncos had yet another opportunity to put some points on the board.  On second and nine from the 46, Manning hooked up with D. Thomas for a gain of ten and a first down at the Seattle 44.  From the 44, Manning hit D. Thomas in stride across the middle.  As Thomas ran up the left side, the ball was knocked loose by cornerback Byron Maxwell and recovered by Smith at the 20 and he returned it seven yards.  The Broncos were also flagged for unnecessary roughness and that gave the Seahawks a first down at their 42-yard line.

A short carry by Lynch and a 12-yard completion to Willson moved them to the Denver 43.  From the 42, Wilson found wide receiver Ricardo Lockette for a gain of 19 and a first down at the 23.  On the very next play, Wilson found Kearse on the right side and he was the recipient of some very poor tackling.  That enabled him to find the end zone for another Seahawk touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were now up 36-0 with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Broncos started at their 20 and had no choice but to throw the ball on every down.  Judging by the looks on their faces, they looked like they would rather not even finish the game.  But completions to Welker, J. Thomas and Moreno had them moving in the right direction.  A pass interference call gave them a first down at the Seattle 41.  Two more catches by Welker and one by Tamme got them a first down at the 14.  With the final seconds of the quarter ticking away, Manning took the snap and fired a strike to the end zone that was caught for a touchdown by D. Thomas.  They decided to go for two and it was good as Manning hooked up with Welker again.  At the end of the third quarter, the Seahawks led 36-8.

The Broncos tried an unsuccessful onside kick that was recovered at the Denver 48 by Miller.  From the 48, backup running back Robert Turbin rumbled up the left side for a gain of 33 yards.  But that was brought back by a holding call and it moved the Seahawks back to their 42-yard line.  Miller caught a pass for ten yards and Tate added eight more to set up a third and two at the Denver 40.  From the 40, Baldwin caught a six-yard pass for a first down at the 34.  Then Kearse got in on the action again and made a nice catch for a gain of 24 yards.  That set up a first and goal from the ten and Wilson found Baldwin who bounced off a couple of defenders and dove into the end zone.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 43-8 with 11:45 to go in the game.  That 11:45 was also known as “garbage time.”

Neither team scored again and the Seattle Seahawks came away with a 43-8 thrashing of the Denver Broncos for their first Super Bowl win.  Malcom Smith was named MVP as he had a great game with an interception for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and six solo tackles.  Their defense as a whole played very well.  Although they registered only one sack, they pressured Manning throughout the game, forced four turnovers and rarely let the Denver receivers get loose for big gains.  All in all, it was a very impressive performance by the Seahawks and the Broncos are now the only team to lose five Super Bowls.  Their overall record in Super Bowls is 2-5.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 18 of 25 for 206 yards and two touchdowns.  He also had 26 yards rushing on three carries.  Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with five and receiving yards with 66 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Percy Harvin had the most rushing yards with 45 on two carries.  The Broncos did a good job of containing Marshawn Lynch as he finished the game with 39 yards on 15 carries.  18 of those yards came on one carry.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 135 yards on 29 carries.  Defensively, Kam Chancellor and Malcolm Smith tied for the lead in solo tackles with six.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 34 of 49 for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  Demaryius Thomas set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions and he also had the most receiving yards with 118 and a touchdown.  There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the Denver ground game.  Knowshon Moreno led the team in rushing with 17 yards on five carries.  They finished the game with a total of 27 yards on 14 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in solo tackles with seven and he had one tackle for a loss.

And that’s that.  I enjoyed writing these playoff articles and I’ll be returning as the Raider Guy later in the year.  Up next is the combine, then free agency starts and then the draft will take place in May.  Until then, take it easy.

 

Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin Walk Into A Bar

 

Times Are Changin’… Give a little thought to this conjured scenario. Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin are both private, reclusive types who have managed to share many of their thoughts, visions and talents with the world. Such endeavors require the proper introspection. Therefore a logical spot to take in and digress on the world is the window booth at Manuel’s Tavern, located at the corner of North and North Highland Avenues in Atlanta, Georgia. Dylan, having played Atlanta the first time some fifty years ago at near-by Emory University, may recall the legendary watering hole which has long attracted journalists, politicians, poets, cops and other thirsty types. Taupin, whose songwriting partner, Elton John, has a penthouse apartment in the Buckhead community, a half dozen miles north of the tavern, would enjoy the earthy charm of Manuel’s. The place is genuine and time-tested, unlike the spacious shopping palaces and pricey restaurants found in Elton’s corner of town. The tavern’s window booth, where Manuel Maloof himself used to host friends while pontificating, complaining and looking after customers is the ideal place to consider all things global and local. It’s quite easy to visualize Messrs Dylan and Taupin there.

Near the window booth is a large photo of the revered Atlanta Constitution Editor Ralph McGill, whose courageous opinions implored the South and the nation as a whole to fully embrace its ideas of liberty and justice for all. McGill, Dylan would inform Taupin, was a close friend of the poet and historian Carl Sandberg. Visits to Sandberg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina provided McGill with great reassurance. According to Leonard Ray Teel, in his book, Ralph Emerson McGill, Voice Of The Southern Conscience, McGill “felt a healing power in the ancient poet.” Teel also noted that In McGill, Sandberg “recognized a kindred spirit trying to lead a later generation into social change.” McGill and Sandberg, admired and heralded the world over, stood in awe of one another. Dylan could understand that. On the same concert tour that brought him to Atlanta in 1964, he stopped by Flat Rock to talk with Sandberg and present him with a copy of his new album, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Taupin, a native of Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England, but now a full-time resident of Santa Ynez, California, has a deep devotion to the stories of America, be they documented or apocryphal. The novels and the films on the silver screen vie with the history books when telling a great nation’s story and Taupin is hip to the legends, the lies and what’s fact. In a recent entry on his blog, rather than hawking The Diving Board, his latest collaboration with Elton John, he takes politicos from both sides of the aisle to task, feeling sad and disgusted with the lying that goes with leadership. Taupin is a keen observer with an admitted “curmudgeonly nature,” which has to make him feel at home in Manuel’s booth.

Separate The Good From The Bad… Manuel Maloof was on the right side of history as the change that McGill, Sandberg and Dylan championed began to take place. Not only was he a bartender-philosopher personified, he was also among the most influential Democrats in the state of Georgia. His tavern has photographs of those who stopped by while seeking the Presidency of the United States: McGovern, Carter, Clinton and Gore. Maloof died in 2004, four years before Barack Obama signaled another change. It would’ve been fascinating to hear him speak on the election and performance of President Obama. He’d offer praise, but he wouldn’t mince his words if the president disappointed him either. One afternoon in the late ’80s, he and I were discussing civil rights leader and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Nearing the end of his second term as Mayor, Young was a visionary but often negligent with his mayoral duties. “I love Andy Young,” Maloof said one afternoon, “but it would be great if he’d could just travel around the world as Mayor and let me run the city.” Maloof was angry over the pervasive crime in Atlanta. He talked of how one young man tried to steal the ring off his finger at a downtown transit (MARTA) station. Maloof, nearing 60 at the time, stood his ground and walked away with his ring, but that didn’t make him any happier with what was happening in his hometown.

A regular walking by Dylan and Taupin’s booth could stop and explain a little about Manuel’s Tavern and the role it played in the city’s history. Dylan and Taupin, both quick studies, wouldn’t need too much briefing, but they might ask about the Atlanta sports scene. They’d likely find it puzzling that Atlanta for so long has paid more attention to the professional and collegiate football teams, even in mediocre years, than to the Atlanta Braves, who since 1991 have won 600 more games than they’ve lost, accumulating 15 division titles and sending new members to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Maloof was sure proud of the Braves and he might have made Braves fans of Dylan and Taupin too.

It would be a tougher sell with the Atlanta Falcons, the National Football League team that began play in 1966. Much of their history has been similar to tragic car wrecks people recall when passing dangerous intersections. In the same 23 year period of the Braves’ excellence, the Falcons are three games under .500 (182-185) with 36 of those wins coming between 2010 and 2012. In the season just completed, the Falcons went 4-12, a record that ranks among the worst in their tragicomic history.

Twenty Pounds Of Headlines… Give the Falcons credit: they’ve provided Atlanta sportswriters with reams of fascinating copy. Local playwrights wish they had such material to work with. While compiling a 134-229 record in their first quarter century of play, the Falcons, naturally, filled its rosters with, ahem, colorful players. In ’88, they lost their Special Teams Captain, David Croudip, when a “cocaine cocktail” killed him. That was tragic but somewhat predictable, given the lack of control management had over the team. Two years later, Aundray Bruce, the NFL’s top draft choice* from ’88, pulled a pellet gun on a pizza delivery guy. Neither Bruce nor teammate Marcus Cotton had money to pay for the pizza, so what can poor NFL players who’ve squandered their riches do? It’s simple: scare the hell out of the guy delivering the pizza. Charges were filed. Bruce was arrested on misdemeanor charges and released on a $1,050.00 bond. The delivery guy said Bruce “seemed to think it was pretty funny… pretty much laughing all through it.” Bruce may have thought it was funny like the two paternity suits pending against him or his failure to make payments on two mortgages totaling $912,000. When your life is such a mess, you laugh at all the wrong things.

Nearly a decade later, on January 17, 1999, the Falcons defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game and found themselves Super Bowl-bound for the first time in their 33 seasons. This was a very well-balanced and exciting Atlanta Falcons team. It appeared they had a good chance of beating the Denver Broncos in Miami to become NFL Champions. Things began happily enough on the morning of January 30, 1999, the day before the Super Bowl. Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was honored by Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Robinson was presented with the Bart Starr Award for “high moral character.” For one who takes his football and faith seriously, what else could go wrong? Plenty. Less than twelve hours later, Robinson was arrested on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami. The charge: soliciting an undercover police officer for oral sex. Robinson’s to-do list for the day had to be a hoot: Go to Christian group meeting. Win award for high moral character. Have lunch. Spend time with the missus by the pool. Have dinner. Go to Biscayne Boulevard for some pregame fellatio.

By the way, the Falcons lost 34-19. Robinson played as if he had been serviced multiple times on Biscayne Boulevard, getting beat by Rod Smith on an 80-yard touchdown reception.

Now I’ve Seen This Chain Gang… The NFL is often referred to as the National Felons League. Some believe the appellation is unfair; others believe it’s acknowledgement of reality. Between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, at least 31 NFL players were arrested. Some of the charges were the standard DUIs, “criminal mischief,” and assault, with the two worst offenses being “attempted murder” and “first degree murder.” No Atlanta Falcon in memory has been charged with murder, at least not murdering a human being, but Michael Vick, the team’s star quarterback did serve most of two years (’07-’09) in Federal Prison for promoting and financing an interstate dog-fighting operation. Canine executions were part of the event.

Not long before the dog stories broke, Vick’s behavior was viewed as erratic and offensive. Struggling through a tough season, Vick gave fans the “bird,” in fact a “double-bird,” as he walked off the field (Two middle fingers up…. way up).

Bob Dylan wrote of dogs running free. Robert Louis Stevenson once observed that dogs “will be in heaven long before any of us.” All this was lost on Michael Vick. In The New York Times, Juliet Macur reported on Jim Gorant’s book, The Lost Dogs, a collection of sordid and true stories of Vick and his “Bad Newz Kennels.”

Once he (Vick) and a friend grabbed the paws of a little red dog and held it over their heads, like a jump rope, slamming the animal on the ground again and again until it was lifeless.

The most disappointed of Vick’s supporters was Falcons owner Arthur Blank. He had gleaned an entirely different impression of his star quarterback. Vick had even come to the owner’s home for dinner and played video games with Blank’s children. One could feel bad for Blank, a nice man dealing with an embarrassing story. One felt worse for the dogs, but there was still support in Atlanta for Michael Vick. After all, he was an exciting quarterback capable of engineering the most spectacular plays. He didn’t play the game by the book; on the field, he wrote his own book. Thus, once a free man, he’d write additional chapters. Many NFL teams with no shame would hustle to sign him up.

During the 2009 season, Vick was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, but they used him sparingly as a back-up to Donovan McNabb, a great player and a fine gentleman. Yet McNabb was past his prime and by the next season, Vick was named the Eagles’ starting quarterback. And there were others besides PETA members unhappy with Vick’s return to glory. Bernie Taupin, in his blog, questioned how Vick, “a guy who has racked up some of the most heinous cruelties you could possibly inflict on an innocent creature be idolized, lionized and treated like the second coming of Christ?” Taupin, an avowed football fan, had difficulty fathoming the lack of values in the NFL, noting, “When it comes to football, the agonizing deaths and stifled whimpers of the dogs he tortured, electrocuted, hung and drowned are swept conveniently under the rug.”

When Vick and the Eagles came to play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome on December 7, 2009, the response of Vick supporters would have disgusted Taupin all the more. Of course, Vick was relishing the moment, according to the Associated Press:

“It was as loud as it gets in the Dome,” said Vick, who teared up on the bus ride over to the stadium. “I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done.”

OK, whatever, but Vick was right in assuming thousands of Atlanta fans had his back. A couple of years before, a local minister used his pulpit to reprove an Atlanta sportswriter, a member of the church, for being critical of Vick in his columns. He saw no good in a black sportswriter bringing down an accomplished black athlete, a hero to many in our town. Making this more amazing is that the sportswriter was the one often condemned by hothead whites on the sports talk shows whenever the subject of race was raised. It’s little wonder some topics go wanting for civil discussion in this town.

The Band Is Playing “Dixie,” A Man Got His Hand Outstretched… But football trumps all down South. Consider the ongoing matter with the Atlanta Falcons and their owner, Arthur Blank. The poor Falcons have had to play in the Georgia Dome, opened in ’92 and built by Georgia taxpayers at a cost of $214 million. The Georgia Dome is hardly a classic structure, but 70,000 fans often pack the place for NFL games. Concerts by Paul McCartney, U2 and the Rolling Stones were held there in the ’90s, and major college football games are also played in the Dome, with few expressing irritation over the ambiance. Still, Blank has been talking for years about needing a new stadium so his Falcons could be more competitive — a word in this caffeinated society that’s used to make taxpayers man-up. In doing so, more plush suites will be available to the swells attending the game, likely at a cost to taxpayers somewhere. Given all that, in the way Atlanta’s power elite view things, the Georgia Dome, just 21 years old, is worthy of the wrecking ball. Arthur Blank, Falcons owner and respected philanthropist, will get his way.

Give Arthur Blank credit. He, with some help from the NFL, agreed to pay for most of the new Falcons’ nest, which will go up in the same vicinity as the Georgia Dome. It will be part of the Georgia World Congress Center and host the same annual events — and more — as held at the Dome. So what’s not to like? For one, Blank’s plea for funds — some $200 million — from the tax collected by Atlanta hotels and motels, kept clean and comfy by employees eking out a living in a metro area that has been slow to rebound from the Great Recession. Yet new Falcons stadium boosters point out, as Blank did in the December 22 AJC, that “84% of the tax is being paid by people who don’t live in this state.” Talk about Southern hospitality; Welcome to Atlanta, now bend over.

By state law, revenues from the hotel-motel tax cannot be used by the City of Atlanta for basic infrastructure, public safety, libraries, schools, etc.; you know, frou-frou stuff. The revenues can only be “used for a variety of projects that will help promote the city as a tourist destination for meetings or conventions, historic and cultural travel and other types of attractions,” according to an Atlanta Falcons website. While it is fair to say that such tax allocations can help create jobs and enhance the city’s quality of life, the claim falls on deaf ears among tens of thousands of city taxpayers. Here we go again, they think, another subsidy for a professional sports team owner - in this case, Blank, who’s listed by Forbes  as being worth $1.7 billion. Forbes also reported that the expected revenues at the Falcons’ new nest raised the team valuation to $933 million, not bad for a team that has for most of its history been an embarrassment to its hometown. In addition to that, Forbes noted Blank’s own net worth climbed by half a billion dollars from September 2010 to September 2013.

He’s A Great Humanitarian, He’s A Great Philanthropist… There’s little sense in begrudging the wealth Blank has attained through his co-founding of Home Depot and the investments he’s made. It isn’t a day at the beach to visit Home Depot, but the stores have served a need in the marketplace. Blank worked hard and worked smart in developing that big box chain. In his field, he did a lot of things better than others, so more power to him. Blank has also contributed money — and his own time — to charities and good causes. When you meet him, he comes across as a good guy. He has concerns on the humanitarian side that compels the philanthropist in him to sign the “Giving Pledge.” According to the “Giving Pledge” rules, a signatory promises to donate at least half of his wealth to charitable concerns, either during his lifetime or afterward.

Already Blank has made sizeable donations to education, environmental and arts organizations. He’s shown his heart to be in the right place — and his wallet tags along. That makes his determination in getting taxpayers to kick in for the new Falcons stadium more disturbing. NFL teams, with their tax exemptions, tax abatements, television contracts and revenue sharing plans, are immensely profitable. Any owner claiming to be in the red is lying or is among the world’s worst business people. But we know Blank to be a very savvy businessman — and he’s smooth. In the December 22 interview with the AJC, he was asked why he needed a hotel-motel tax to help build his new stadium. The savvy and smooth answer follows:

“The success of the franchise shouldn’t be dependent on one individual or their estate, but it should be a sustainable organization. A public-private partnership is very important. In this case, 84% of the tax is being paid by people who don’t live in the state. The stadium will impact tourism in a positive way. We think the tax is a fair level of public support.”

Oh, that explains it. Blank assumes and commands “a fair level of public support.” Never mind that said support wasn’t approved via referendum by the impacted public which has little interest in subsidizing a billionaire whose shiniest toy is a team of millionaires. But in Atlanta and the state of Georgia, that hardly matters. The political mix here is a strange hybrid that hardly serves the citizenry, so of course the Falcons get their stadium –partially paid for with the $200 million from the hotel-motel tax, which, according to the billionaire, is mostly collected from people who don’t live in Atlanta. But could the people who live here use revenue from such a tax to fund programs that would help them and their children have a cleaner, safer and more informed community? The answer is absolutely not, because we’re dealt the short hand by community leaders similar to individuals at the marketplace in Bob Dylan’s “Changing of the Guard”: Merchants and thieves, hungry for power.

Entertain By Picking Brains… Both the famous and the average Joe are rewarded by walking through the rooms of Manuel’s Tavern. Old black and white photographs, most of them taken before 1980, adorn the walls. The pictures capture a time in Atlanta when progress was measured by ways other than how much richer millionaires become. Not far from Manuel’s old window booth hangs a large picture of Falcons running back Jim “Cannonball” Butler evading defenders in a ’68 game versus the Detroit Lions. Despite Cannonball’s 60-yard touchdown run, the Falcons lost that day, looking bad against a mediocre team. Ailing NFL clubs loved to see the Falcons on the schedule.

What the folks who gathered at Manuel’s in those days wanted was a competitive team. Winning more than three games a year would be a good start. And there was little concern for the owner’s definition of “competitive,” especially if that meant leather chairs in suites where the well-healed could watch the owner’s team. An owner of a professional football club had already competed rather well in the marketplace, thank you, and wouldn’t seek tax dollars as defined in a “public and private partnership,” or so we thought. Another guy, gifted at turning a phrase, could join Dylan and Taupin, and enjoy the company at Manuel’s Tavern. Taking in the view from Manuel’s window booth and knowing how it’s been all the way back to the days of Genesis, when Cain slew Abel, he’d note what’s always driven the good and the bad. He’d sum it up like this:

Poor man wanna be rich,
Rich man wanna be king,
And a king ain’t satisfied,
Till he rules everything.

*Bruce was named by Sports Illustrated as the second biggest draft bust in modern NFL history.

From the forthcoming book, Drop Me Off on Peachtree, A History of Atlanta

 

Seattle 23, San Francisco 17

The NFC championship game featured two NFC west rivals as the San Francisco 49ers headed to Seattle to take on the Seahawks.  The 49ers were coming off a 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers and the Seahawks made it to the next round by defeating the New Orleans Saints by a score of 23-15.  The loud Seattle crowd was pumped up for this one as the Seahawks started at their 20.  On first down, quarterback Russell Wilson rolled to his left and looked for an open receiver.  He was greeted rudely by linebacker Aldon Smith who sacked him for a loss of seven, forced the ball loose and while Wilson was trying to locate the ball, Smith recovered it at the Seattle 15.  That excellent field position for the 49ers would only result in a field goal attempt as the Seahawk defense was up to the task of keeping the 49ers out of the end zone.  Kicker Phil Dawson made his 25-yard attempt and the 49ers led 3-0 with 12:45 to go in the first quarter.

Both defenses were playing well and the next three possessions resulted in punts.  But with 14:49 remaining in the second quarter, the 49ers took over at their 14.  On third and nine from the 15, quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a pass intended for wide receiver Michael Crabtree.  The pass was incomplete, but cornerback Richard Sherman was flagged for defensive holding.  That kept the San Francisco offense on the field and seemed to energize Kaepernick.  Two scrambles by Kaepernick netted 70 yards and the 49ers were knocking on the door as they had a first and goal from the Seattle ten-yard line.  Running back Frank Gore got the call on first and second down and gained nine yards.  That was followed by what was thought to be a touchdown run by running back Anthony Dixon.  But the replay showed he came up just short of the goal line.  With the ball being literally inches away from the end zone, they decided to go for it.  Dixon ran up the middle again and this time there was no doubt he was in the end zone for a touchdown.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that starting guard Mike Iupati was injured on the play and would not return.  Dawson made the point after and the 49ers led 10-0 with ten minutes to go in the first half.

The Seahawks started at their 24 and Wilson got the drive off to a good start with a seven-yard completion to wide receiver Doug Baldwin.  On third and three from the 31, Wilson kept the drive going with a four-yard completion to wide receiver Golden Tate.  A short run by running back Marshawn Lynch set up a second and seven from the 38.  Wilson took the snap and ran to his right, then to his left, then backwards, then he spotted Baldwin wide open and heaved a deep pass down the middle where Baldwin caught it for a gain of 51 yards.  Baldwin was injured on the play, but he would return soon.  After that brilliant play, the Seahawks went nowhere and had to settle for a field goal attempt.  Kick Steven Hauschka made his 32-yard attempt and the 49ers now led 10-3 with 5:47 to go in the first half.

The 49ers gained a grand total of zero yards on three plays and punter Andy Lee got off a 43-yard punt that was downed at the Seattle 37-yard line.  Four carries by Lynch and a nine-yard completion to Baldwin on third and eight from the 49 got the Seahawks a first down at the San Francisco 42.  They would get as far as the 38 and on fourth and six, Seattle head coach Pete Carrol decided to go for it.  Wilson looked for Tate, but it was incomplete.  After the play, the flags came flying and our good friend Jim Harbaugh went out of his mind again.  Jim, what did I tell you about all that ranting and raving that you do?  The penalty was a personal foul on cornerback Carlos Rogers but it was a dead ball foul.  That meant that the 49ers would get the ball back at their 23-yard line.  Kaepernick took a knee to end the half and the score remained 10-3.

The 49ers got the ball to start the second half and only managed to get one first before Lee punted the ball away again.  Tate fielded it at the Seattle 30 and returned it ten yards to the 40.  It was time for Mr. Lynch to get into his “Beast Mode.”  He ran up the middle on first down for a gain of 11 and followed that up with a five-yard carry.  Wilson found Baldwin on second and five for a gain of four yards and that set up a third and one from the San Francisco 40.  Lynch took the hand-off, started to his right, cut back to the left, bounced off a blocker and headed up the right side for a 40-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the score was tied at ten with 9:51 to go in the third quarter.

The 49ers took over at their 17 and Gore ran up the right side for nine yards.  Running back Kendall Hunter followed that up with a gain of two and a first down at the 28.  From the 28, Kaepernick threw one down the middle for Crabtree that was caught for a gain of 22 yards.  Following that, Kaepernick scrambled up the left side for 22 more and a first down at the Seattle 28.  Kaepernick was sacked for a loss of eight by defensive end Michael Bennett.  He fumbled, but the ball was recovered by center Jonathan Goodwin.  Goodwin then proceeded to turn into a running back and he was dragged down at the 26.  From the 26, Kaepernick looked for wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the end zone.  Although safety Earl Thomas was in position to pick the pass off, Boldin came down with it for a touchdown.  Dawson made the point after and the 49ers took a 17-10 lead with 6:29 to go in the third quarter.

Dawson’s kickoff went three yards deep in the end zone and Baldwin ran it up the right side for a gain of 69 yards.  That was just what the Seahawks needed to tie the game up again.  Well, that didn’t happen.  Aside from a 13-yard completion to Tate, they went nowhere.  Hauschka came on for a 40-yard field goal attempt and the kick was good.  That made it 17-13 with four minutes to go in the third quarter.

The 49ers got the ball back at their 20, went nowhere and Lee punted again.  Tate fielded it at the Seattle 38 and was brought down immediately.  11 yards on two carries by Lynch and a 13-yarder to Baldwin moved them to the San Francisco 38.  Running back Robert Turbin got four yards on first down, but an intentional grounding penalty moved them back to the 50.  From there, Wilson found tight end Zach Miller for a gain of 15 and that was enough to get Hauschka into field goal range.  He was late getting onto the field, but it looked like there was enough time to get the play off.  Instead, the Seahawks called timeout and brought their offense back on the field.  Smith jumped offside and that gave Wilson a free play.  He took full advantage of the situation and fired a pass to the right side of the end zone.  It was caught by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks went up 20-17 with 13:44 to go in the game.

A holding call on the kickoff moved the 49ers back to their 11-yard line.  Passes to tight end Vernon Davis and Boldin netted a first down at the 25.  A three-yard carry by Hunter and a six-yard scramble by Kaepernick set up a third and one.  But a delay of game moved them back five yards and on third and six from the 29, Kaepernick was sacked by defensive end Cliff Avril and the ball was recovered by Bennett.  Although Bennett had a nice convoy of blockers to lead him to the end zone, he stumbled over his own feet and was touched down at the San Francisco six-yard line.

Lynch got the call on first down and was stopped for a short gain.  A false start moved them back five yards and a pass to Tate was incomplete.  Then the fun began.  Wilson completed a pass to Kearse down the middle for nine yards.  At the one, he was hit by linebacker NaVorro Bowman.  Not only was he hit, Bowman clearly took the ball away from Kearse.  A huge pileup ensued and Bowman was hurt on the play.  He would leave the game with a torn ACL.  To add insult to injury, not one of the seven zebras saw Bowman take the ball from Kearse.  They ruled that Seattle would maintain possession and that the play was not reviewable.  It would have been reviewable if it had occurred in the end zone or the sideline.  All I can say to that is “WOW!”  Seriously?  You can’t challenge that?  I thought that was it for Harbaugh.  But he didn’t storm the field and after Bowman was carted off, order was restored.  The Seahawks decided to go for it on fourth down and everyone knew Lynch was going to get the call.  However, he couldn’t handle the hand-off and the ball came loose.  It rolled backwards and was recovered at the 15 by fullback Michael Robinson.

Given new life, the 49ers took over at the 15.  Things got off to a good start as Hunter ran up the right side for 11 yards.  But on first down from the 26, Kaepernick looked for Boldin on the left side and threw a terrible pass that was picked off by safety Kam Chancellor at the 40.  He was touched down at the 40 and once again, the Seahawks had good field position.  On third and eight from the 38, Wilson found Tate for ten yards and a first down at the 28.  On second and eight from the 26, the Seahawks were flagged for offensive pass interference.  That moved them back to the 36.  They got as far as the 29 and Hauschka was brought into the game again.  His 47-yard field goal attempt was good and the Seahawks led 23-17 with 3:37 to go in the game.

The 49ers went to work from their 22 and running back LaMichael James ran up the right side on first down and looked like he was going to throw.  Apparently there was nobody open and he was brought down for no gain.  Kaepernick found Boldin for eight on second down, but his pass on third down fell incomplete.  That set up a crucial fourth and two.  Kaepernick took the snap, rolled to his left and tossed a 17-yard pass to Gore for a first down at the 47.  Kaepernick scrambled for four yards on first down and hooked up with Boldin for four more.  It was now third and two from the Seattle 45-yard line.  Kaepernick calmly threw to his left and the ball was caught for a gain of 16 yards and a first down at the 29.  The 49ers stopped the clock with their first timeout.  From the 29, Kaepernick found Davis for 11 more and things were looking real good for the 49ers.  Well, maybe not.  From the 18, Kaepernick threw to the right corner of the end zone for Crabtree.  The pass was tipped by Sherman and picked off by linebacker Malcolm Smith.  That sealed the deal.  Sherman was flagged for taunting after the play and the Seahawks took over at their ten and ran the clock out from there.  Final score: Seattle 23 San Francisco 17.

For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 14 of 24 for 153 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  He also led the team in rushing with 130 yards on 11 carries.  Anquan Boldin had the most receptions with five and the most receiving yards with 53 and a touchdown.  With the exception of Kaepernick, the 49ers went nowhere on the ground. Gore, James, Hunter and Dixon combined for 31 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled, they had 161 yards rushing on 28 carries.  Defensively, NaVorro Bowman led the team in solo tackles with six.  He also had a sack, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery that nobody in a striped shirt saw.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 16 of 25 for 215 yards and one touchdown.  Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 106.  Marshawn Lynch had a good day on the ground and finished the game with 109 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 115 yards on 29 carries.  Defensively, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner tied for the lead in solo tackles with five apiece.  Chancellor also had an interception.

Well, the stage is set for Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on February 2nd.  It will be the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos fighting it out for the Lombardi Trophy.  Kickoff will be at 6:25 eastern time.  I have not seen too many teams slow down the Denver offense and the “Legion of Boom” will definitely have their hands full.  All I want to see is a good game and it should be a good one.  It would also be kind of cool if a snowstorm hit too.  Snow or not, I’m sure it will be cold outside.  Until then, take it easy.

 

Broncos 26, Patriots 16

The first game on the schedule for championship weekend had the New England Patriots traveling to Denver to take on the Broncos.  The Patriots were coming off a dominant 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers by a score of 24-17.  Denver won the toss and deferred to the second half.  The Patriots started at their 20 and gained a grand total of five yards on their first possession.  Punter Ryan Allen hit a 60-yard punt that was downed at the Denver 15.

Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver offense took the field and immediately went in to their no huddle offense.  Short passes to wide receiver Eric Decker, tight end Julius Thomas and a three-yard carry by running back Knowshon Moreno moved the ball to the 30.  Another completion to Decker went for 21 yards and the Broncos were at the New England 49-yard line.  They went no further than that and punter Britton Colquitt sent his punt through the end zone for a touch-back.

The Patriots went three and out again the Broncos started at their 18.  Completions to Moreno and J. Thomas quickly got them a first down at the 42.  On third and ten, Manning went deep for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and the play went for 29 yards.  From the New England 29, Manning looked for Decker again and found him for ten more yards.  They would gain only one more yard and kicker Matt Prater came on for a 27-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Broncos led 3-0 with 3:43 to go in the first quarter.

After running six plays and gaining 12 yards, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots finally got a first down as he found running back Shame Vereen for a gain of 24 yards.  On third and five from the 49, Brady completed a pass good for 18 yards to wide receiver Julian Edelman.  On third and ten from the 33, wide receiver Austin Collie caught a pass for eight yards.  However, the Patriots were flagged for offensive pass interference and that pretty much killed their momentum.  Allen punted and the ball was downed at the seven-yard line.

From the seven, Moreno ran off left tackle for a gain of 11 yards.  Moreno got the call on the next play and was stuffed for a gain of one.  From the 19, Manning threw a perfect pass to D. Thomas, but he couldn’t find the handle and the pass was incomplete.  During the play, wide receiver Wes Welker put one hell of a hit on cornerback Aqib Talib and Talib would leave the game with a knee injury.  That incomplete pass made it third and nine.  Manning completed a 14-yard pass to Welker for a first down at the 33.  On third and one from the 42, Manning threw for Decker and the pass was incomplete.  But the drive was kept alive by a holding call on the Patriots.  That gave the Broncos a first down at the 47.  A short carry by Moreno and a 12-yard pass to running back Montee Ball  got the Broncos yet another first down at the New England 39.  Two incomplete passes set up a third and ten and the Patriots were expecting a pass.  That wasn’t the case as Moreno ran off right tackle for a gain of 28 yards.  Three carries by Ball made it first and goal from the one and their 93-yard drive was capped off with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 10-3 with 7:50 to go in the first half.

The Patriots went to work from their 20 and got the drive off to a good start as Brady hooked up with wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a gain of 27 yards.  A three-yard carry by running back LeGarrette Blount and a 13-yarder to Vereen moved the Patriots to the Denver 37.  Blount got the call again and was promptly stuffed again for a gain of two.  From the 35, Brady completed a pass good for 15 yards to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.  The next two plays gained two yards and Brady was sacked for a loss of eight on third down by defensive end Robert Ayers.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski came on for a field goal attempt and had no problem making it from 47 yards.  The Broncos now led 10-3 with 2:54 to go in the first half.

There was plenty of time for the Broncos to put up some more points before halftime.  However, Moreno was stopped on first down for a loss of one and a holding call moved them back to the ten-yard line.  But two passes to D. Thomas gained 53 yards and the Broncos were in New England territory again.  Short completions to Ball and Welker moved them down to the 26.  On fourth and one from the 17, Denver head coach John Fox opted to try a field goal instead of going for it.  Prater made his 35-yard attempt and at halftime, the Broncos were up 13-3.

About the last thing the New England defense needed was another long drive by the Broncos.  They needed to force a three and out to get the ball back in Brady’s hands.  On second and nine from the 21, Manning looked to the left side for Decker and that play was good for 18 yards and a first down at the 39.  A six-yard carry by Moreno, a five-yard carry by Ball and a 15-yard completion to J. Thomas put the Broncos at the New England 40.  Another good carry by Ball and an eight-yard pass to Decker gave the Broncos another first down at the 27.  Two more completions to J. Thomas moved them to the 15.  A seven-yard carry by Moreno and a five-yard carry by Ball made it first and goal from the three.  From the three, Manning calmly tossed a pass to D. Thomas in the end zone for another Bronco touchdown.  Prater made the point after and Broncos were looking good with a 20-3 lead with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter.

The Patriots started at their 20 and short completions to Dobson, Vereen and Collie quickly moved them to the 36.  On third and five from the 41, Collie caught another pass for a gain of 12 and a first down at the Denver 47-yard line.  A nine-yard carry and a two-yard “scramble” by Brady netted another first down at the 36.  The next three plays gained seven yards and instead of trying a field goal, New England head coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and three.  That was a bad idea as Brady was sacked for a loss of ten by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

With 2:25 to go in the third quarter, the Broncos took over at their 39 and looked for another score to put the nail in the coffin.  Ball was thrown for a loss of two on first down, but Manning came back with a 14-yarder to J. Thomas.  From the New England 49, Manning went deep again for D. Thomas and he hauled it in for a gain of 30 and a first down at the 19.  From the 19, Ball ran up the middle for seven.  He gained two yards on the next play, but the Broncos were flagged for holding.  That moved them back to the 22 and Manning found J. Thomas for a gain of 14.  Moreno ran up the left side for a gain of three, but the Broncos were flagged again for holding and that moved the ball back to the 18.  From the 18, Manning found Welker for a gain of 16 to put them at the two-yard line.  J. Thomas was stopped short of the end zone on the next play and on third and goal from the one, Manning lofted a pass to the right corner of the end zone intended for J. Thomas.  He couldn’t get control of the ball and it was incomplete.  Prater came into the game again and his 19-yard field goal attempt was good.  That put Denver up 23-3 with 12 minutes to go in the game.

From the 20, Brady and the New England offense quickly got the ball rolling into Denver territory with completions to Edelman, Collie and Hoomanawanui.  From the Denver 26 Brady hooked up with Vereen two times for 19 yards and a first down at the seven.  Two plays later, Edelman got open again and Brady found him in the end zone for a touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Broncos now led 23-10 with 9:26 remaining in the game.

The Broncos started this drive from their 25 and on second and ten, Manning looked for J. Thomas and found him for a gain of 37 yards.  They got as far as the New England 36 and the drive stalled there.  Prater was called on once again and his 54-yarder was good.  With seven minutes to go, the Broncos increased their lead to 26-10.

The Patriots started out from their 20 again and three completions to Edelman and a nine-yard carry by Vereen moved them to the Denver 41.  Vereen got another carry and it was good for 11 yards and a first down at the 30.  Brady then found Collie for 18 and Edelman for seven more.  On second and three from the five, Brady took it in himself for a touchdown.  They had to go for two and Vereen came up just short.  The Broncos now led 26-16 with 3:07 remaining in the game.  An onside kick was the only thing the Patriots could do and the kick was recovered by Decker.  A 23-yard pass to Tamme and some more carries by Ball kept the clock moving and the Broncos went to win by a score of 26-16.  That win got them a ticket to the Super Bowl where they will play the winner of the San Francisco-Seattle game.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 24 of 38 for 277 yards and one touchdown.  He also ran for a score.  Leading the way in receptions was Julian Edelman with ten.  Edelman also had the most receiving yards with 89 and a touchdown.  The running game that worked so well against the Colts didn’t do very well in this game.  As a team, the Patriots only had 64 rushing yards on 16 carries.  Vereen led the team with 34 yards on four carries.  Defensively, cornerback Devin McCourty led the Patriots in solo tackles with ten.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 32 of 43 for 400 yards and two touchdowns.  Julius Thomas led the way in receptions with eight and Demaryius Thomas had the most receiving yards with 134 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Knowshon Moreno led the team with 59 yards on 14 carries.  As a team, the Broncos rushed for 107 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in solo tackles with eight.  The telling stat in this game was time of possession.  The Broncos held on to the ball for nearly 36 minutes, racked up 27 first downs and went 7 for 13 on third down conversions.  They were the better team and this will be their first Super Bowl appearance since Super Bowl XXXIII when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons by a score 34-19.

 

Broncos 24, Chargers 17

The final game on the schedule was a battle between AFC West rivals as the San Diego Chargers headed to Denver to take on the Broncos.  The Chargers were coming off a 27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Broncos were coming off a bye week.  Denver kicker Matt Prater sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the Chargers started at their 20.  Running back Ryan Mathews got things off to a decent start with a five-yard carry.  Short passes from quarterback Philip Rivers to running back Ronnie Brown and tight end Ladarius Green got the Chargers a first down at the 33.  After a short run by Mathews, Rivers was sacked for a loss of nine on the next play.  On third and 17, running back Danny Woodhead ran up the middle for eight yards.  But they got a break as the Broncos were flagged for a facemask penalty.  The drive stalled at the 43 and punter Matt Scifres got off a 51-yard punt that was fielded at the Denver six by return man/wide receiver Eric Decker.  Decker returned the punt six yards and the Broncos went to work from their 14-yard line.

The Broncos brought out the no huddle offense and passes to tight end Julius Thomas, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Decker already had the Chargers looking baffled.  Another completion to wide receiver Andre Caldwell set up a first down at the San Diego 29.  On third and one from the 21, running back Montee Ball ran off right tackle for a gain of five yards.  A seven-yard pass to D. Thomas and a four-yard run by Ball made it first and goal from the three.  Two plays later, Manning looked to his left and hooked up with D. Thomas for a touchdown.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 7-0 with 2:25 to go in the first quarter.

The Chargers ended up getting a grand total of minus two yards on their next possession.  Scifres punted again and the Broncos took over at their 42.  On third and two from the 50, Manning completed a short pass to J. Thomas who fumbled at the 45.  The ball was recovered at the 43 by cornerback Richard Marshall.  That was a good break for the Chargers and on the strength of some good running by Mathews and Woodhead, they moved down to the Denver 30.  On third down, Rivers was sacked for a loss of five by defensive end Malik Jackson.  That brought kicker Nick Novak into the game for a 53-yard field goal attempt.  On the attempt, his plant foot slipped and the kick sailed wide left.

The Broncos had dodged a bullet and started with good field position from their 43.  A holding call moved them back ten yards, but they got 12 of it back as Manning hit running back Knowshon Moreno out of the backfield.  This is when the offside penalties started occurring.  As usual, Manning would do his usual long counts and yell “Omaha” over and over again.  On second and eight from the 45, the Chargers jumped offside and that gave the Broncos five free yards.  On second and three, Moreno burst up the middle for a gain of 11 and a first down at the San Diego 39.  Two more carries by Ball got them another first down at the 22.  From the 22, Ball got the call again and gained four yards.  From the 18, the Chargers fell for the Omaha call again and jumped offside.  From the 13, Moreno ran up the middle for five more yards and a first and goal from the eight.  Moreno got yet another carry and gained five more yards.  Two plays later, Manning fired a pass to wide receiver Wes Welker on the left side and he took it in for the score.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 14-0 with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Chargers gained 14 yards on their next “drive” and Scifres punted again.  Decker fielded the punt at the Denver 23 and returned it straight up the middle for a gain of 47 yards.  If he hadn’t tripped over his own feet at the 30, he would have scored.  On first down, Manning hooked up with D. Thomas for nine yards.  On second and one, Moreno was stuffed for no gain.  The Broncos really needed to keep this drive going.  A 21-0 lead just might be insurmountable for the hapless Charger offense.  That’s when Manning used the magic word.  He screamed “Omaha!” again and sure enough, the Chargers jumped offside.  That made it first down at the 16.  Moreno got the call two more times and gained 12 yards for a first and goal at the four.  Moreno was stopped for no gain on first down and a pass to Decker fell incomplete.  On third down, Manning looked for Decker again, but the pass was intercepted by linebacker Donald Butler in the end zone.  The Chargers took a knee and the first half ended with the Broncos leading 14-0.

A decent kickoff return by return man Trindon Holliday gave the Broncos the ball at their 36.  A nine-yard pass to D. Thomas, two carries by Moreno and yet another nine-yard pass to D. Thomas netted a first down at the San Diego 41.  From the 41, Manning fired a strike to J. Thomas for eight yards.  On third and one from the 32, Manning found Welker at the 26 for another first down.  After that, they went nowhere and Prater came on for a 45-yard field goal attempt.  It was good and the Broncos were now up 17-0 with 9:35 to go in the third quarter.

With Mathews out with an injured ankle, Woodhead and Brown would get the carries for the rest of the game.  Of course, if you’re down by 17 midway through the third quarter, the running game probably won’t be of much value.  On third and three from the 27, we finally had a Keenan Allen sighting.  The rookie wide receiver hauled in a pass from Rivers for a gain of 19 and a first down at the 46.  Denver cornerback Chris Harris was injured on this play and would not return.  He was later diagnosed with a torn ACL.  But they wouldn’t get much farther and they were forced to punt again.  Scifres had the heavy wind at his back and he hit a 62-yard punt through the end zone.

From the 20, Manning found Decker on the right side for a gain of 19.  He used that magic word again and the Chargers jumped offside.  That moved the ball to the 44.  Ball ran up the middle for eight and Manning completed an eight-yard pass to Welker.  Ball carried again up the middle for four more yards and a first down at the 36.  Then the Chargers jumped offside again.  This is a recording.  Despite the lack of discipline, the Chargers tightened up and the drive stalled at the 29.  The normally automatic Prater had some trouble with the windy conditions and his kick sailed wide left.  With one minute to go in the third quarter, the Chargers got the ball back at their 37.

On second and ten, Rivers “scrambled” for six yards.  That’s something you don’t see every day.   That set up a third and four from the 43.  Rivers had time and found wide receiver Eddie Royal across the middle for a gain of 30 yards.  With Harris out, he was replaced by former Charger Quentin Jammer.  On the pass to Royal, Jammer looked totally lost.  An illegal use of hands penalty on Denver moved the Chargers five yards closer to the goal line.  Woodhead ran up the middle for six yards, but a completion to Woodhead was quickly snuffed out by the Denver defense.  On third and four from the 16, Rivers floated one up the right side and Allen came down with it in the end zone for a touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Broncos led 17-7 with 13 minutes to go in the game.

Holliday had another good kick return, but it was brought back to the 19 because of an illegal block in the back penalty.  On third and seven, Manning went deep down the middle for Welker and the pass was incomplete.  But the Chargers were flagged for pass interference.  That gave the Broncos a first down at their 45.  From the San Diego 47 on third and two, Manning completed a 17-yard pass to J. Thomas.  This was a recurring theme in the game.  Whenever third down came up, Manning always seemed to look for J. Thomas.  The Chargers were unable to address that problem.  Manning found Welker again for six yards and Moreno ran up the left side and was pushed out of bounds at the ten.  Two plays later, Moreno took it up the middle for a score.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 24-7 with 8:12 remaining in the game.

The Chargers started out at their 20 and three plays gained five yards.  On fourth down, they had no choice but to go for it.  Rivers took the snap and fired a pass to Allen that was good for a gain of 49 yards.  On first down from the Denver 26, Rivers ran for a gain of five yards.  A short pass to Brown got them another first down at the 16.  From the 16, Rivers hooked up with Allen again and this time it was good for another touchdown.  Novak made the point after and we had the makings of a close game.  With 5:43 to go, the Broncos led 24-14.

The Chargers tried an onside kick and Marshall came up with the ball.  Rivers and the offense went to work from their 40-yard line.  On second and 14 from the 36, Rivers tossed a 17-yard completion to Allen for a first down at the Denver 47.  Allen wasn’t done and on second and five, he caught another pass for 25 yards and a first down at the 17.  The drive stalled at the 12 and Novak was brought into the game for a 30-yard field goal attempt.  He split the uprights and that made the score 24-17 with just under four minutes remaining in the game.

There would be no onside kick this time as Novak kicked the ball deep in hopes that the defense could stop the Broncos.  From the 27, things didn’t get off to a good start for the Broncos as they were flagged for a false start.  Then Moreno was thrown for a loss of two yards.  On second and 17, Manning looked for D. Thomas and the pass fell incomplete.  That brought up third down.  Who do you think Manning will look for?  Welker?  Decker?  Moreno?  Shannon Sharpe?  None of those choices are correct.  The answer is Julius Thomas.  Out of the shotgun, Manning threw a deep ball to the right and sure enough Thomas grabbed it for a gain on 21 and a first down at the 41.  That was a damaging blow to the hopes of Charger fans.  Moreno ran up the middle for a short gain and the Chargers called their second timeout.  Moreno got the call on second down and was held to a minimal gain.  The Chargers called their final timeout.  Uh-oh.  It’s third down again.  You don’t think that evil #80 is going to get the ball again do you?  It was third and six and Manning knew a first down would get them a win and a ticket to the AFC championship game.  He calmly took the snap out of the shotgun and completed a nine-yard pass to J. Thomas yet again.  That did it.  The Chargers couldn’t stop the clock and a couple more runs by Moreno and a kneel down by Manning ended the game.  Final score: Broncos 24 Chargers 17.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 18 of 27 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.  Keenan Allen led all receivers in receptions with six and receiving yards with 142 and two touchdowns.  As a team, the Chargers rushed for just 65 yards on 18 carries.  Danny Woodhead was the leading rusher with 29 yards on nine carries.  Their longest gain on the ground was a 16-yard carry by Ryan Mathews.  Defensively, cornerback Marcus Gilchrist led the team in solo tackles with seven.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 25 of 36 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  Demaryius Thomas had the most receptions with eight and Julius Thomas had the most receiving yards with 76.  The Broncos had a good day on the ground as they totaled 133 yards on 34 carries.  Knowshon Moreno was the leading rusher with 82 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  Defensively, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey tied for the lead in solo tackles with four apiece.  The Broncos sacked Rivers four times and defensive end Shaun Phillips led the team with two.

Well, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Denver.  Tom Brady and the Patriots will be in Denver on Sunday and I look forward to what should be a high scoring game.

 

49ers 23, Panthers 10

The third game of the divisional playoffs had the San Francisco 49ers heading east again to play the Carolina Panthers.  The 49ers were coming off a 23-20 win over the Packers in frigid Green Bay and the Panthers were coming off a bye week.  There was nothing frigid about the weather in Charlotte.  It was sunny and in the mid 50s with a light breeze.  Carolina kicker Graham Gano sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the 49ers started at their 20-yard line.  On third and ten from the 20, quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked to his left and found wide receiver Quinton Patton for a gain of 20 yards.  A five-yard carry by running back Frank Gore and an eight-yard pass to Gore netted a first down at the Carolina 44.  On third and six from the 40, Kaepernick threw to his right for wide receiver Anquan Boldin.  The ball was tipped and fell incomplete.  However, safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for unnecessary roughness.  That got the 49ers a first down, but they went no farther.  As a matter of fact, Kaepernick was sacked for a loss of seven yards on third down.  Kicker Phil Dawson came on and his 49-yard attempt was good and the 49ers led 3-0 with 9:12 to go in the first quarter.

The Panthers started at their 20 and on second and eight, quarterback Cam Newton completed a six-yard pass to wide receiver Steve Smith.  On third and two, Newton completed another short pass to tight end Greg Olsen for a first down at the 34.  From the 34, Newton hooked up with wide receiver Brandon LaFell for seven yards.  On second and three, Newton looked for LaFell again but the pass was thrown behind him and picked off by linebacker Patrick Willis.  There were three Panthers in the general area of the pass, but Willis still came away with the interception.

The 49ers had good field position at the Carolina 46.  On second and eight, Kaepernick dumped off a short pass intended for tight end Vernon Davis.  The pass was incomplete, but linebacker Luke Kuechly was flagged for defensive holding.  That gave the 49ers a first down at the 44.  The zebras weren’t done throwing their flags either.  On the next play, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was flagged for unnecessary roughness to give the 49ers yet another first down at the 20.  The drive was halted at the 15 and Dawson was called on again.  His 33-yard kick was good.  With 4:33 to go in the first quarter, the 49ers led 6-0.

Dawson kicked the ball short and it was fielded at the Carolina 18 by running back Kenjon Barner and returned to the 34.  Newton went deep for Smith on first down and that play was good for 28 yards.  A seven-yard carry by running back DeAngelo Williams and a 14-yard pass to Ted Ginn moved them down to the 17.  Newton ran up the right side for 11 yards and the Panthers found themselves with a first and goal from the six-yard line.  Big fullback Mike Tolbert got the call on first down and gained three yards.  Newton kept it on the next play and gained two more yards.  On third and goal from the one, Tolbert once again was unsuccessful at finding the end zone.  The Panthers decided to go for it on fourth and about one foot from the goal line.  The attendance for this game was 73,784 and I’m pretty sure all of them knew that Newton was going to run the ball up the middle.  Add 11 more people to that number.  When the ball was snapped, every player in a white jersey did their best to clog the middle and stop Newton from scoring.  It worked and he was stopped short of the end zone.  Why not try a bootleg?  Maybe sell a play fake and toss it to Olsen?  Unimaginative play-calling led to zero points for the Panthers.

The 49ers went three and out and punter Andy Lee hit a nice 52-yard punt that was fielded by Ginn at the Carolina 45 and returned to the San Francisco 31-yard line.  On first down, Newton fired a perfect strike to the left for Smith who caught it in stride for a touchdown.  Gano made the point after and the Panthers led 7-6 with 13:40 to go in the first half.

The 49ers gained 20 yards on their next possession and punted again.  Ginn fielded it at the 17 and tried to escape, but could only get three yards on the return.  Three scrambles by Newton and a six-yard pass to LaFell moved the Panthers to the 47.  A 35-yarder to Olsen, a nine-yard pass to Smith and a short run by Tolbert had the Panthers knocking on the door again.  Newton ran up the left side and was brought down at the one-yard line.  On second down, Newton was stuffed for no gain.  Before the ball was snapped on the next play, linebacker Ahmad Brooks did his best impression of a bird as he jumped over the line and Newton.  That was an obvious offside penalty and moved the ball a little closer to the goal line.  Tolbert had no luck gaining any yards on third down and the Panthers decided to try a field goal on fourth down.  A delay of game moved them back five yards, but Gano had no trouble making a 25-yard field goal and the Panthers led 10-6 with 3:41 to go in the first half.

The 49ers started at their 20 and a five-yard carry by Gore and a 12-yard pass to Boldin moved them to the 37.  On second down, Boldin caught another pass for 14 yards.  Wide receiver Michael Crabtree got in on the act and hauled in a pass for 20 yards and a first down at the Carolina 29.  Another five-yard run by Gore and a 15-yard pass to Boldin made it first and goal from the nine.  After that play, safety Quintin Mikell was injured and did not return to the game.  Every time Boldin made a catch, he talked a little louder.  After that previous catch, he started chirping again and slammed his helmet into Munnerlyn’s helmet.  Doesn’t that qualify as a head-butt?  Shouldn’t there be a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct?  Taunting?  Guess not.

On third and goal from the nine, Kaepernick floated a pass to the right side of the end zone for Boldin.  The pass was incomplete, but cornerback Drayton Florence didn’t turn around to look for the ball.  As I saw that, I started to count.  5…4…3…Boom! There’s the flag!  It was now first and goal from the one.  Gore was stopped for no gain on first down.  On second down, Kaepernick rolled to his right and tossed a pass to Davis in the end zone.  Initially it was ruled incomplete, but replay showed he had possession and got both feet down for the score.  After the pass was ruled incomplete, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh stormed the field in protest of the call.  He was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct that was enforced on the kickoff.  Harbaugh, didn’t you have a procedure done last year for an irregular heartbeat?  It was inside of two minutes and that means that every play will be reviewed from the booth.  Just calm down and stop whining.  You’re acting like a damn child.  If you keep having these emotional explosions, you’re going to be in a straightjacket before the game is over.  After all that went down, Dawson made the point after and the 49ers led 13-10 at halftime.

The Panthers needed to get back on track with a good drive to start the second half.  That didn’t happen and punter Brad Nortman got off a 51-yard punt that was fair caught at the San Francisco 23.  Some more tough running by Gore and a 16-yard pass to Boldin moved the ball to the Carolina 47.  Kaepernick looked for Boldin once again and he hauled it in for a gain of 45.  On first and goal from the two, Gore and Kaepernick weren’t on the same page during the exchange and the ball came loose.  Gore pounced on it and the 49ers retained possession.  I’d hate to see what Harbaugh would have done if Carolina recovered the fumble.  On second down, Kaepernick kept it and ran up the left side.  He dodged a couple of defenders and made it into the end zone.  Dawson made the point after and the 49ers increased their lead to 20-10 with nine minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Panthers really needed to get some points on this drive and they started at their 24-yard line.  Passes to LaFell and Olsen and some scrambling by Newton had them moving in the right direction.  On second five from the San Francisco 48, Newton went deep for Ginn, and the pass fell incomplete.  But the 49ers were flagged for defensive holding.  That moved the ball to the 43 and gave the Panthers a first down.  On third and one, Newton completed a five-yard pass to LaFell and the Panthers were looking good.  They were looking good until the 49ers stepped up their pass rush.  After an incomplete pass on first down, Newton was sacked by linebacker NaVorro Bowman for a loss of eight yards.  On third down, Newton had room to run up the middle, but didn’t move quickly enough and he was sacked by Brooks for another eight-yard loss.  That put them out of field goal range and really hurt their chances of getting back into the game.  They had control of the ball for 8:20 and came away scoreless.

Nortman punted and the 49ers took over at their 12.  Another score would most likely put the Panthers away.  On third and two from the 20, the Kaepernick and Boldin connection came through again and Boldin caught another pass for five yards and a first down at the 25.  Two carries by Gore netted nine yards and on third and one, Gore got loose for a gain of 39 yards.  He was finally dragged down by Mitchell and Florence at the Carolina 27.  The drive would stall at the 15, but they held on to the ball for almost eight minutes and took precious time off the clock.  Dawson came on again and made his 33-yard field goal attempt.  With 7:35 to go in the game, the 49ers led 23-10.

All the Panthers could do now was hope for the best and cope with the rest.  Starting at the 23, Newton completed passes to LaFell and Ginn, but he was also sacked two more times.  They moved down to the San Francisco 28, but when Newton looked for Olsen, his pass was picked off at the nine by safety Donte Whitner.  The Carolina faithful started to head for the exits as that pretty much ended any hopes of the Panthers heading to Seattle.  The 49ers ran out the clock and advanced to the NFC championship game for the second straight year.

For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 for 196 yards and one touchdown.  He added a rushing touchdown and finished the game with 15 yards on eight carries.  Anquan Boldin had himself a good day and led the 49ers in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 136.  On the ground, the 49ers rushed for 126 on 34 carries.  Frank Gore led the way with 84 yards on 17 carries.  Their defense came up huge when it needed to with two big goal line stands.  Defensively, they sacked Newton five times and Bowman, Willis and Brooks tied for the lead in solo tackles with five apiece.  Brooks also had 2.5 sacks.

For the Panthers, Cam Newton completed 16 of 25 for 267 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  He also led the team in rushing with 54 yards on ten carries.  Ginn, Smith, Olsen and LaFell each had four receptions and Ginn had the most receiving yards with 104.  As a team, the Panthers rushed for 93 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Thomas Davis led the team in solo tackles with four.  They had plenty of opportunities in this game.  Simply put, they couldn’t find a way to score from the one-yard line on two different occasions.

Whenever the 49ers and Seahawks get together, you can expect an intense game with lots of trash talk.  I expect that’s what will happen Sunday when they meet at 6:30 eastern time to determine the winner of the NFC.

Patriots 43, Colts 22

I apologize for not getting all these articles up on Monday.  But, family comes first.  After a long battle with cancer, my Aunt passed away on Monday morning.

The second game of the divisional playoffs matched up the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.  The Colts were coming off a very dramatic 45-44 win over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Patriots were coming off a bye week.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted the opening kickoff deep and the Colts started at their 20.  On third and two from the 28, quarterback Andrew Luck threw a pass to his left intended for wide receiver LaVon Brazill and the pass was picked off by cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.  He returned it to the two-yard line and on the next play, quarterback Tom Brady turned and handed the ball to running back LeGarrette Blount who made it into the end zone.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots were up 7-0 with 13:41 to go in the first quarter.

Well, the Colts had to come from behind once again.  Judging from how far behind they were last week, coming from behind is nothing new to them.  But their comeback wouldn’t start on their next drive as they went three and out.  Punter Pat McAfee hit a nice 56-yard punt into the rain and it was fielded by return man/wide receiver Julian Edelman at the 21.  He returned it to the 42, but the Patriots were flagged for an illegal block.  That moved them back to the 26-yard line.  With rain and windy conditions, head coach Bill Belichick decided to run the ball.  Four carries by Blount, a 13-yard pass to running back Shane Vereen and a 25-yard pass to Edelman put the Patriots at the Indianapolis 30-yard line.  Another short completion to Vereen and a 16-yarder to wide receiver Danny Amendola set up a first and goal from the seven.  Two plays later, Blount was in the end zone again.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots led 14-0 with 7:17 to go in the first quarter.

The Colts went to work from their 20 and got off to a good start with a seven-yard run by running back Donald Brown.  Luck completed a pass good for nine yards and a first down to tight end Coby Fleener.  Another carry by Brown and a 22-yarder to wide receiver Griff Whalen moved the Colts to the New England 38.  Luck decided to go deep on the next play and he threw a perfect pass to Brazill for a touchdown.  Kicker Adam Vinatieri made the point after and the Patriots led 14-7 with 4:35 to go in the first quarter.

Each team punted on their next possession and the Patriots got the ball back at their 25 with 2:22 remaining in the quarter.  Running backs Stevan Ridley and Vereen got the Patriots rolling in the right direction.  They quickly moved from the 25 to the 46 as they continued to pound the ball.  Two more completions to Edelman netted a first down at the 12 and three plays later, Blount carried the ball into the end zone for the third time.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots went up 21-7 with 10:54 to go in the second quarter.

The Colts started at their 20 again.  A three-yard carry by Brown and a 29-yard completion to Fleener gave the Colts a first down at the New England 48.  A few more carries by Brown and a scramble by Luck made it seem like the Colts were headed for the end zone again.  On third and six from the 18, Luck threw for wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and the pass was incomplete.  Vinatieri came on and nailed his 36-yard field goal attempt.  That made the score 21-10 with 5:35 to go in the first half.

Blount returned the kickoff to the 25 and three more carries by Blount netted 20 yards.  But they would only get as far as the 49.  On fourth down and two, they brought in punter Ryan Allen.  The snap went way over his head and instead of kicking the ball through the end zone, Allen picked the ball up.  Really?  If you want to get a first down, you’ll have to get the ball past midfield.  Let’s see that arm, Ryan.  He was just about to throw the ball when a herd of angry Colts impeded his progress.  The ball was knocked out of Ryan’s hand and went through the end zone for a safety.  In the process, Ryan got roughed up pretty badly.  But none of that would’ve happened if he would have just kicked the ball through the end zone.  The score was now 21-12 with 2:18 to go in the first half.

After the free kick, the Colts took over at their 28.  On third and ten, Luck competed a 16-yarder to Hilton and two plays later, he found Whalen for a gain of 17.  From the New England 39, Luck dropped back to pass again and it was picked off by linebacker Dont’a Hightower.  That killed that drive and at halftime, the score remained 21-12.

The opening drive for the Patriots went nowhere and filling in for Ryan on punting duties was Gostkowski.  He got off a 35-yard punt that was downed at the Indianapolis 37-yard line.  I’m curious as to why almost every time the Colts ran the ball, it was up the middle.  Why not try a sweep or maybe even a reverse?  Whatever.  I’m not the one calling the plays.  A short carry by  Brown and a 20-yard pass to Fleener moved the Colts into New England territory.  Another pass to Fleener made it first and goal from the four.  Three tries from the four gained one yard and Vinatieri came on again.  His 21-yard field goal attempt was good and that made it 21-15 with ten minutes to go in the third quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Blount was dragged down at the 12-yard line.  From the 12, Brady went deep for Amendola and it was good for a gain of 53 and a first down at the Indianapolis 35-yard line.  Brady continued to throw on this drive and completed a short pass to Vereen and an eight-yard pass to Edelman.  On third and eight from the 22, Brady’s pass to Edelman was incomplete, but the Colts were flagged for pass interference.  That moved the ball to the five and three plays later, Ridley ran it in from three yards out.  They decided to go for two and succeeded as Ridley ran it in again.  That put the Patriots up 29-15 with 6:18 to go in the third quarter.

Down by 14 again, the Colts took to the air on second and 11 from the 19.  Luck put a deep pass up the left side that was caught by Hilton for a gain of 46 yards.  On the next play, Luck went deep again.  This time it was down the middle for Brazill who caught it for a 35-yard touchdown.  Vinatieri made the point after and the score was now 29-22 with five minutes to go in the third quarter.  That exciting play was followed by four punts.  Two from the Patriots and two from the Colts.  With a little over 13 minutes to go in the game, Blount got the call on first down from his own 27-yard line.  He took it up the right side and broke away for a 73-yard touchdown.  That was his fourth touchdown of the game and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look happier.  Vinatieri made the point after and the Patriots led 36-22 with 12:55 to go in the game.

The Colts took over at their 20 and a false start penalty moved them back five yards.  From the 15, Luck threw deep for Fleener and was picked off at the 38 by linebacker Jamie Collins.  He was finally dragged down at the 18 and it was about time for the Patriots to put the nail in the coffin.  On third and ten from the 18, Brady found former Colt wide receiver Austin Collie for a gain of 15 and a first and goal from the three.  On second and goal from the one, a chant of “We want Blount” rose up from the crowd.  Well, you’re not getting Blount.  You’re getting Ridley for a one-yard touchdown.  I guess you’ll just have to deal with that.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots increased their lead to 43-22 with 11:12 to go in the game.  This is what is known as “garbage time.”  All the Patriots did was run the ball and all the Colts did was throw.  Neither team found the end zone again and the Patriots won 43-22.

For the Colts Andrew Luck completed 20 of 41 for 331 yards, two touchdowns and four costly interceptions.  He threw only nine interceptions in the regular season, but was picked off seven times in the playoffs.  Coby Fleener led the team in receptions with six and T.Y. Hilton had the most  receiving yards with 103.  Seeing as they were trailing the entire game, the Colts didn’t run the ball very much at all.  They finished with 69 yards on 21 carries.  Donald Brown led the way with 63 yards on 17 carries.  Trent Richardson was invisible in this game as he only carried the ball three times for one yard.  That’s the guy you gave up a first round pick for?  Wow!  The Browns definitely benefited from that trade.  Defensively, linebacker Jerrell Freeman had the most solo tackles with five.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 13 of 25 for 198 yards.  Julian Edelman led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 84.  The ground game was working on all cylinders and the Patriots rushed for a total of 234 yards on 46 carries.  LeGarrette Blount paved the way with 166 yards on 24 carries and four touchdowns.  Defensively, Hightower and Collins tied for the lead in solo tackles with three apiece.  Both Hightower and Collins each had interceptions as well.

Up next for the Patriots is a trip to Denver for the AFC championship game.  That game will be on Sunday and will begin at 3 eastern time.  The last time the Patriots and Broncos met was in New England in late November.  The Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but the Patriots came storming back and came away with a 34-31 win in overtime.  I’m hoping the game on Sunday is just as exciting.

Seahawks 23, Saints 15

The first game of the divisional playoffs had the New Orleans Saints hitting the road again to play at Seattle.  The Saints were coming off a 26-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seahawks were coming off a bye week.  Heavy rain and heavy winds were expected throughout this game as Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka sent the opening kick through the end zone.  The Saints ran three plays and gained a total of four yards.  Punter Thomas Morestead sent a wounded duck off the side of his foot that only went 16 yards and the Seahawks took over at the New Orleans 40-yard line.

Two plays netted negative one yard and on third and 11, quarterback Russell Wilson tossed one up the left side for wide receiver Percy Harvin.  The pass was incomplete, but Harvin got nailed by safety Rafael Bush and that resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty and a first down at the 27.  They got as far as the 20 and were forced to try a field goal. Hauschka came on and his 38-yard attempt was good.  That put Seattle up 3-0 with 10:19 to go in the first quarter.

Another kickoff through the end zone put the Saints at their 20 again.  Running back Mark Ingram got the drive off to a good start as he gained 18 yards on two carries.  Quarterback Drew Brees completed a 13-yard pass to running back Khiry Robinson and the Saints were in Seattle territory.  Ingram ran up the left side for 12 more yards and was pushed out of bounds.  On his way back to the huddle, he let anyone with earshot know how great he was.  Nice run, Mark.  Now get back to the huddle.  Gaining 12 yards won’t get you into the Hall of Fame.  The Saints got as far as the 27 and the drive stalled there.  Kicker Shayne Graham fresh off a good game last week came on for a 45-yard field goal attempt and it was wide left.  With five minutes to go in the first quarter, the score was still 3-0.

Some good runs by running back Marshawn Lynch and a 13-yard pass to Golden Tate had the Seahawks heading into New Orleans territory again.  On first down from the New Orleans 46, Wilson completed a pass to Lynch for a gain of seven.  Running back Robert Turbin got the call on the next play and got five yards and a first down at the 31.  They would go no farther than that.  Hauschka made his 49-yard field goal attempt and the Seahawks led 6-0 with 37 seconds to go in the first quarter.

On second and six from the 24, Ingram ran up the middle and the ball was knocked loose and recovered by defensive end Michael Bennett.  That set the Seahawks up at the New Orleans 24-yard line.  Harvin ran a reverse up the right side for nine yards on first down and Lynch finished off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run right up the middle.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were up 13-0 with 14:17 to go in the second quarter.

The next three possessions all resulted in punts.  But with six minutes to go in the first half, the Seahawks got the ball back at their 29.  Two runs by Lynch totaled 19 yards and a short scramble by Wilson and a 16-yard pass to Harvin moved the Seahawks down to the New Orleans 35.  Lynch got the call again and gained three yards.  But a holding penalty moved them back to the 40.  No problem.  Wilson completed a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for a first down at the 15.  But once again the Saints defense stiffened and the drive stalled at the eight-yard line.  Hauschka was inserted into the game again and he made his 26-yard field goal attempt.  The half ended with the Seahawks up 16-0.

The second half started and it looked like the sun was about to come out.  Things were looking a little brighter in Seattle for a few minutes.  That didn’t last long and the sun was quickly covered up by more dark clouds.  Then it started to rain again.  There were lots of punts in the third quarter and neither team seemed to be able to get the ball rolling.  With 6:22 to go in the third quarter, the Saints got the ball back at their 39 and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Seahawks got them a first down in Seattle territory.  They got down to the Seattle 44 and on fourth and three, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton decided to go for it.  Brees felt pressure from his left and he ran to his right.  Wide receiver Lance Moore was open across the middle, but the throw was off target and the Seahawks took over at their 43.  They went nowhere and punter Jon Ryan got off a short punt that went just 26 yards and was downed at the New Orleans 26.

With just a little over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Saints knew they had to get their offense moving.  A six-yard pass to wide receiver Marques Colston and a six-yard run by Ingram got them a first down at the 38.  Brees then found tight end Josh Hill down the middle for a gain of 23 and a first down at the Seattle 39.  They were moving now and Brees found Colston again for 25 more yards.  A short run by Ingram and a nine-yard pass to Moore made it first and goal from the two.  Two plays later, Robinson found the end zone for a touchdown.  That was followed by Ingram running it in for the two-point conversion.  That made it 16-8 with 13:11 to go in the game.

The ineptness continued for both offenses until the 5:30 mark.  The Saints started at their 28 and a holding call moved them back ten yards.  Then Seattle was flagged for defensive holding.  From the 23, Brees floated one up the left side that surely looked like it would be picked off as there were two Seahawks standing in front of wide receiver Robert Meachem.  Both defenders went up for the pass and the ball bounced off them and landed squarely in the hands of Meachem.  He was dragged down at the Seattle 25-yard line.  A delay of game penalty moved them back five yards and that was followed by three incomplete passes.  Graham came into the game and once again, his kick sailed wide left.  The Seahawks dodged a bullet and remained up 16-8 with 3:51 to go in the game.

The Seahawks took over at their 38 and on third and three from the 45, Wilson put one up the left side for wide receiver Doug Baldwin and he hauled it in for a gain of 24 yards.  The Saints challenged the play, but it was ruled a complete pass and the Seahawks had a first down at the New Orleans 31-yard line.  Saints, do you think Marshawn Lynch might get the ball on the next play?  I bet he does.  Sure enough, Lynch ran up the left side for a 31-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 23-8 with 2:40 remaining.

The Saints started at their 20 and two passes to Colston and one to Moore moved the Saints to the Seattle 40.  Brees found Colston again for 16 yards and running back Darren Sproles caught a short pass for a gain of six.  An illegal substitution penalty on Seattle got them five more yards and a first down at the 13.  On third and ten from the 13, the Saints were flagged for offensive pass interference and that moved them back ten yards.  That made it third and 20 and Brees completed a 14-yard pass to Sproles to set up a fourth and six from the nine.  Brees tossed a pass to the right side that was hauled in by Colston for a touchdown.  Graham made the point after and Seattle led 23-15 with 26 seconds remaining in the game.

The only thing the Saints could do was try an onside kick.  The ball hit wide receiver Golden Tate in the hands, but he couldn’t control it and the ball was recovered by Colston.  The Saints had a shot to tie it up.  Brees completed an eight-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham and then spiked the ball.  From the 49, Brees completed a 13-yard pass to Colston on the right sideline.  Instead of stepping out of bounds, he hesitated and threw the ball across the field to running back Travaris Cadet.  The only problem with that was it wasn’t a lateral.  It was an illegal forward pass and with that penalty comes a ten second runoff.  In other words, the game was over.  The Seahawks hung on to win 23-15.

For the Saints, Drew Brees completed 24 of 43 for 309 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.  Marques Colston led all receivers in receptions with 11 and yards with 144 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Khiry Robinson had the most yards with 57 and a touchdown.  As a team, the Saints rushed for 108 yards on 26 carries.  Defensively, safety Roman Harper led the Saints in solo tackles with five.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson has seen better days as he completed 9 of 18 for just 103 yards.  Losing Percy Harvin to a concussion didn’t help matters and Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with two and yards with 30.  The ground game was where the damage was done.  Marshawn Lynch led the way with 140 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 174 yards on 35 carries.  Defensively, safety Earl Thomas and linebacker Bobby Wagner tied for the lead in solo tackles with seven apiece.

Up next for the Seahawks is a visit from one of their division rivals.  The San Francisco 49ers are coming to town on Sunday at 6:30 eastern time.  When they met in week two, the Seahawks had no problem with the 49ers and came away with a 29-3 win.  But when they met in San Francisco in week 14, the 49ers won 19-17.  That should be quite a battle to determine the NFC champion.

As I concluded this article, I was informed of a family emergency and won’t be able to do recaps of the remaining games today. I hope to have the rest of the articles up tomorrow.

 

49ers 23, Packers 20

The fourth and final wildcard game was played on the frozen tundra of Lambeau field between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.  These teams met in week one in San Francisco and the 49ers came away with a 34-28 win.  The game time temperature for this one was five degrees with a wind chill of -15 degrees.  49er kicker Phil Dawson booted the opening kickoff into the frigid night air and wide receiver/kick returner Randall Cobb fielded it at the three and returned it to the 26.  The Packers gained nine yards on three plays and punter Tim Masthay punted the ball away.  It was fielded by return man LaMichael James at the 17 and returned to the 27.

From the 27, the 49ers started out with a six-yard run from running back Frank Gore.  After that, it was the Michael Crabtree show.  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick hooked up with Crabtree five times on this drive and they got all the way down to the Green Bay four-yard line.  Instead of trying to power the ball into the end zone on the ground, they tried three straight passes that all fell incomplete.  Dawson came into the game and his 22-yard field goal was good.  With nine minutes to go in the first quarter, the 49ers led 3-0.

It looked like the Packers were still stuck in first gear and three plays got them minus six yards.  Masthay punted again and this time, the ball only went 29 yards.  It was downed at the Green Bay 49-yard line.  Two runs by Gore and a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Anquan Boldin moved the 49ers to the 23.  On second down, Kaepernick found Boldin again for a gain of 12 and a first down at the 11.  They got as far as the six and the drive stopped there.  Dawson made his 25-yard field goal attempt and the 49ers led 6-0 with 2:17 to go in the first quarter.

The Packers needed to get moving in the right direction.  Well, that wasn’t going to happen on this drive.  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked by linebacker Ahmad Brooks for a loss of six.  The ball came loose, but the Packers recovered it.  Two more plays got them three yards and Masthay was called on again to punt them out of trouble.  His punt went 47 yards and was fielded by James at the San Francisco 31.  He returned it ten yards and the 49ers took over at their 41.  Kaepernick ran up the left side yards on first down for eight yards.  Gore added two more yards on second down for a first down at the Green Bay 49.  Then, Kaepernick found Boldin for 17 and the 49ers were knocking at the door again.  Two plays later, the door was answered by Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams.  He picked off Kaepernick at the 17 and returned it to the 30.  That was the break the Packers needed.

Rookie running back Eddie Lacy gained six yards on two carries and on third and four, Rodgers dumped off a pass to fullback John Kuhn for a gain of eight yards.  Then Rodgers found wide receiver James Jones for a gain of nine and Lacy got the Packers a first down at the San Francisco 43 with a four-yard run.  From the 43, Rodgers completed a seven-yard pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson and Lacy got another first down with a four-yard run.  Rodgers continued to dump short passes to his receivers and found tight end Andrew Quarless for a gain of eight.  Lacy got three more yards up the right side and then Rodgers found Nelson again for eight more.  Lacy got the call again and gained four yards for a first and goal at the nine.  Two plays later, Rodgers looked for Nelson and found him in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown.  Kicker Mason Crosby made the point after and the Packers led 7-6 with 5:50 to go in the first half.

The 49ers got the ball back at their 32 and a four-yard run by Gore and a nine-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis got them a first down at the 45.  Kaepernick took the situation into his own hands on the next play and ran up the middle for a gain of 42 yards and a first down at the Green Bay 13.  On second and seven from the ten, Gore took it the rest of the way for a touchdown.  Dawson made the point after and the 49ers led 13-7 with 2:48 to go in the first half.

The Packers had some time to at least get a field goal before the half concluded and runs by Lacy and Rodgers gained 12 yards.  Rodgers was intercepted on the next play, but that was negated by an offside penalty.  Rodgers found Nelson open for a gain of 19 and Lacy caught a short pass for a gain of three.  On second and seven from the San Francisco 37, running back James Starks got in on the action and had a nice catch and run for 24 yards.  A 13-yard completi0n to Nelson was brought back to an illegal use of hands penalty and as time was ticking away, Rodgers called the third timeout and Crosby came on for a field goal attempt of 34 yards.  It was good and the 49ers led 13-10 at halftime.

There was a whole lot of punting going on in the third quarter as the thermometer plunged even lower.  Both defenses rose to the occasion and about the most exciting play was a 22-yard pass to Crabtree.  But with 3:19 to go in the third quarter, the Packers got the ball at their 20.  Lacy gained 26 yards on four carries and the Packers were looking like they knew where they were going.  A short pass to Nelson and a ten-yard gain up the middle by Starks netted a first down at the San Francisco 38-yard line.  On fourth and two from the 30, the Packers decided to go for it.  Rodgers came under some big time pressure, escaped (zebras didn’t call a blatant hold) and threw up a prayer for Cobb.  Cobb answered the prayer with a 26-yard catch and that had the Packers at the four-yard line.  On second and goal from the one, Kuhn took it up the middle for a touchdown.  Crosby made the point after and the Packers led 17-13 with 12 minutes to go in the game.

James set the 49ers up with good field position as he returned the kickoff to the 37-yard line.  Gore ran up the right side for six and on third and four, Kaepernick got loose again.  This time it was for a gain of 24 yards and a first down at the Green Bay 33.  A defensive holding penalty gave them five free yards and from the 28, Kaepernick threw down the middle for Davis and it was caught for a touchdown.  Dawson made the point after and the 49ers were back on top, 20-17 with 10:30 to go in the game.

The 33-yard line was where the Packers began their next drive and on second and nine, Rodgers completed an 11-yard pass to Nelson.  A five-yard run by Lacy and an eight-yard pass to Kuhn moved the Packers down to the San Francisco 42.  Lacy ran up the right side for eight yards and Cobb caught a pass for a gain of 25 yards.  That set up a first and goal from the nine.  Cobb got a carry out of the backfield and the 49ers stuffed it for a gain of one yard.  That was followed by an incomplete pass and Rodgers was stopped short of the end zone on the next play.  Crosby was called on again and his 24-yard kick was good.  That knotted the score at 20 with 5:06 to go in the game.

The kickoff went through the end zone and the 49ers took over at their 20.  On first down, Kaepernick hooked up with Crabtree for a gain of 11.  The next two passes were incomplete, but on third down, Crabtree got open again and made another catch.  This one was for 17 yards and a first down at the 48.  A short gain by Gore and an 11-yard catch by Gore got them another first down at the Green Bay 40.  A two-yard run by Gore and another incomplete pass set up yet another third and long situation.  This time, it was Kaepernick running up the left side for a gain of 11 and well into field goal range.  From the 27, Gore ran for a gain of five and Green Bay called their second timeout.  Gore got the call again and gained two more yards.  The Packers called their final timeout and Gore followed that with a gain of three and a first down at the 17.  All the Packers and their fans could do now was hope that Dawson would miss the kick and send the game into overtime.  That wasn’t going to happen.  The kick was good and the 49ers left frigid Lambeau Field with a 23-20 win.

For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 30 for 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  He was also the leading rusher with 98 yards on seven carries.  Michael Crabtree was the leading receiver as he hauled in eight passes for 125 yards.  As a team, the 49ers rushed for 167 yards on 30 carries.  Defensively, they sacked  Rodgers four times and linebacker NaVorro Bowman led the team in solo tackles with ten.

For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers completed 17 of 26 for 177 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.  Jordy Nelson was the leader in receptions with seven and receiving yards with 62 and a touchdown.  Eddie Lacy led the ground game with 81 yards on 21 carries.  As a team, the Packers rushed for 124 yards on 31 carries.  Defensively, safety Morgan Burnett led the team in solo tackles with six.

Up next for the 49ers is a trip to North Carolina to take on the Carolina Panthers at 1:05 eastern time on Sunday.  The Panthers came away with a tough 10-9 win over the 49ers in San Francisco in November.  It should be another tough game this Sunday.  This concludes wildcard weekend.  I’ll be back next Monday to recap the next four playoff games.

Chargers 27, Bengals 10

The next game on the schedule had the San Diego Chargers paying a visit to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals.  These teams met earlier in the year in San Diego and the Bengals came away with a 17-10 win.  Kicker Mike Nugent sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the Chargers started at their 20.  An eight-yard run by running back Ryan Mathews and a three-yard pass from quarterback Philip Rivers to running back Danny Woodhead netted a first down at the 31.  But that was about it for this drive as Rivers was sacked on third and long.  Punter Mike Scifres hit a 50-yard punt that was returned for no gain by return man Brandon Tate and the Bengals started at their 19-yard line.

Two runs right up the middle by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis gained 16 yards and had the Bengals on the right track.  On second and ten from the 35, quarterback Andy Dalton found wide receiver A.J. Green for a gain of nine.  Green-Ellis got the call again and the Bengals had a first down at the 46.  On third and 13 from the 43, Dalton completed a short pass to wide receiver Marvin Jones, and he was stopped short of the first down.  That brought out punter Zoltan Mesko and his punt was fair caught at the San Diego 14 by wide receiver/return man Keenan Allen.

An eight-yard run and a nine-yard pass to running back Ronnie Brown moved the Chargers to the 31.  A short run by Mathews and a 22-yard pass to tight end Ladarius Green got them another first down at the Cincinnati 45.  Center Nick Hardwick got his bell rung on this play and would not return.  More runs by Brown, Mathews and Woodhead had the Chargers cruising into the red zone.  From the 18, Rivers found Woodhead for 11 yards and two plays later, Woodhead found the end zone for a Charger touchdown.  Kicker Nick Novak made the point after and the Chargers led 7-0 with 48 seconds to go in the first quarter.

A good kick return by Tate had the Bengals starting at their 36-yard line.  That didn’t help them much.  They got as far as the San Diego 45 and were forced to punt again.  The Chargers followed suit and the Bengals took over at their 40.  Two runs by running back Giovani Bernard and one by Green-Ellis got them a first down at the San Diego 44.  A ten-yard pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham and some more good running by Bernard got them down to the four-yard line.  On second down from the four, Dalton found Gresham for a touchdown.  Nugent made the point after and the score was tied at seven with six minutes to go in the first half.

A three and out by the Chargers gave the ball back to the Bengals at their 32 with 3:37 remaining.  Dalton found Jones for a gain of ten, but they were flagged for holding on the next play.  On first and 20 from the 34, Bernard was stopped for a gain of one.  But on second and 19, Dalton put a high bomb up the left sideline that was hauled in by Jones for a gain of 49 and a first down at the San Diego 16.  From the 16, Dalton found Bernard across the middle and when it looked like he might score, the ball was stripped by linebacker Donald Butler at the four.  The Chargers recovered it and that seemed to totally deflate the Bengals.

The Chargers did nothing with the ball on their next possession and punted.  With 1:14 to go, the Bengals started at their 32.  Passes to Green, Gresham and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu got them to the San Diego 28.  With little time left, Nugent came on and his 46-yard field goal attempt was good.  At halftime, the Bengals led 10-7.

The Bengals started the second half from their 33 and could only get one first down before they had to punt again.  The ball went through the end zone and the Chargers started at their 20-yard line.  They continued to have success on the ground with Woodhead and Mathews and a nine-yard pass to Allen on third and one moved them to the 50.  Two runs by Woodhead and another completion to Green got them a first down at the 37.  From there, Rivers looked for wide receiver Eddie Royal and found him for a gain of 33 yards.  On first and goal from the four, Rivers looked for Green again and found him in the end zone for a Charger touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Chargers led 14-10 with 6:46 to go in the third quarter.

The Bengals started at their 29 and were starting to look more like the Bungles.  Dalton was sacked for a loss of four on first down.  That was followed by an incomplete pass intended for Gresham.  On third and 14, Dalton felt the pressure and took off running.  He dove head first and landed short of the first down.  To make matters worse, the ball came loose and since nobody had touched him, that was considered a fumble and it was recovered by the Chargers at the 46.

More running came from the Chargers as Royal ran up the left side for nine yards.  That was followed by two more runs from Woodhead and a 12-yard pass to Allen.  That set up a first down at the 13.  Two more runs by Woodhead gained six yards on third down, Rivers looked for Woodhead again, but the pass was incomplete.  Novak came on and his 25-yard field goal was good.  The Chargers now led 17-10 with two minutes to go in the third quarter.

Being down by seven points isn’t that big of a deal.  If the Bengals could put together a good drive here, that could lead to an exciting fourth quarter.  Hey, I’m trying to make this as dramatic as possible.  There was no drama.  For that matter, only two yards were gained on the first two plays.  On third and eight from the 26, Dalton threw to his right for Sanu and the pass was picked off by cornerback Shareece Wright.  Sanu dragged him down at the three and the Chargers were looking to increase their lead.  On first down, Woodhead was thrown for a loss of three, but linebacker James Harrison was flagged for a facemask penalty.  Then the Chargers were flagged for a delay of game penalty.  On second and goal from the eight, Woodhead ran straight up the middle for a gain of seven.  On third down, Brown got the call and was thrown for a loss of five. That meant it was time for another field goal attempt.  Novak split the uprights from 23 yards out and the Chargers now had a 20-10 lead with 14:16 to go in the game.

The Bengals took over at their 11 and on second and 11 from the ten, Dalton finally remembered that AJ Green was his number one play-maker and he completed a pass to him for 11 yards and a first down.  On second and ten, Bernard got loose for a gain of 13.  A six-yard run by Bernard and an eight-yard pass to Jones had the Bengals near midfield.  Another short pass to Bernard across the middle turned into a gain of 17 yards and a first down at the 35.  From the 35, Dalton looked for rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and threw a horrible pass to the left side that was picked off by linebacker Melvin Ingram at the 32.  He returned it to the 50 and the Chargers looked to put this one away.

Just after the interception, my brother (a die-hard Steeler fan) sent me a text that said “The Bengals will never win a playoff game with Dalton.”  My reply was that he was probably right.  As bad as Dalton looked, the Bengal defense was playing great and forced another three and out.  With eight minutes to go, the Bengals took over at their 12.  Passes to Jones, Bernard and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins moved the ball to the 44.  From the 44, Dalton put one up the right side for Green.  It hit him in the hands and he couldn’t hang on.  They did manage to get into San Diego territory with a completion to Gresham.  But that was followed by more incomplete passes.  On fourth and three from the 41, Dalton threw up a deep pass for Jones who was in double coverage.  The pass was overthrown and fell incomplete.  Why are you throwing a bomb when you need three freaking yards?  That was baffling to say the least.  I looked over at my wife who has been a Bengal fan since the days of Kenny Anderson and all she could say was “DAMMIT ANDY!”

The Chargers took over at their 41 and the Bengals used all their timeouts.  Also, the defense was able to force another punt.  It was fair caught at the 20 and the Bengals had another chance.  As heavy rains hit the area and the wind picked up, Dalton tried once again to get his team going.  Two passes to Jones and one to Gresham moved them down to the San Diego 48.  That was followed by a sack and three incomplete passes.  The Chargers took over with three minutes to go and Brown finished the game off with a 58-yard touchdown run.  Novak made the point after and the Chargers, who  came into Cincinnati as six-point underdogs, left as 27-10 winners.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers had an efficient day as he completed 12 of 16 for 128 yards and one touchdown.  Ladarius Green led the team in receptions with three and receiving yards with 34 and a touchdown.  As a team, the Chargers rushed for 196 yards on 40 carries.  Leading the ground game was Ronnie Brown with 77 yards on seven carries and a touchdown.  Mathews and Woodhead combined for 106 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, Donald Butler led the team in solo tackles with nine.  He also had two tackles for a loss and forced a fumble.

For the Bengals, Andy Dalton completed 29 of 51 for 334 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a lost fumble.  Marvin Jones led all receivers in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 130.  On the ground, the Bengals abandoned the run way too early in this game and they totaled 113 yards on 25 carries.  Giovani Bernard led the team in rushing with 45 yards on 12 carries.  He also caught seven passes for 73 yards and lost one fumble.  Defensively, linebacker Rey Maualuga led the team in solo tackles with 12 and one tackle for a loss.

Up next for the Chargers is a trip to Denver to take on the Broncos.  On a Thursday night game in December, the Chargers came away with an impressive 27-20 upset of the Broncos in Denver.  Can they do it again? We’ll find out on Sunday at 4:40 eastern time.