October 1, 2014

Patriots 16 Raiders 9

Week three of the 2014 season had the Oakland Raiders heading to the eastern time zone again to take on the New England Patriots.  The Raiders were coming off a dreadful 30-14 loss to the Houston Texans and the Patriots were coming off a good 30-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings.  New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicked the ball through the end zone and the Raiders would start at their 20-yard line.  Some tough running by running back Darren McFadden and short completions to wide receiver Denarius Moore and tight end Mychal Rivera got them to their 40.  But on third and five, the Patriots stepped up the pressure and quarterback Derek Carr’s pass to Moore fell incomplete.  Punter Marquette King got off a 42-yard punt that was fair caught at the New England 18-yard line by return man/wide receiver Julian Edelman.

Quarterback Tom Brady led the offense onto the field but they would be making a quick exit as they only gained four yards on their first possession.  Punter Ryan Allen got off a good punt that went 58 yards.  It was fielded by return man TJ Carrie at the 20 and he returned it to the 37.  However, there was a flag thrown for an illegal block and that moved the Raiders back to their 19.  From the 19, Carr completed a nine-yard pass to Marcel Reece and that was followed by a seven-yard run by Reece for a first down at the 35.  From there, Carr found tight end Brian Leonhardt for seven yards and that was followed by a four-yard run by McFadden.  Another run by McFadden and completions to wide receiver Rod Streater put the Raiders at the New England 27.  They would go no farther and kicker Sebastian Janikowski was called on for a 49-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Raiders led 3-0 with 4:37 to go in the first quarter.

The Patriots started at their 20 and some good running by running back Shane Vereen got them rolling.  On first down from the 30, Vereen ran up the middle for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 41.  But a holding penalty moved them back ten yards and they failed to get another first down.  Allen hit another good punt and the Raiders took over at their 18-yard line.  The Raiders continued to slowly move the ball with short passes and runs up the middle by McFadden.  On third and seven from the 31, Carr found Streater for a gain of 14 yards and a first down at the 45.  But after that, they went nowhere.  To make it worse, Streater left the game and reappeared a little later on crutches.  He is out with a fractured foot.  King punted and the Patriots got the ball back at their 16-yard line.

From the 16, Brady found Edelman for a gain of 12.  Running back Stevan Ridley ran up the left side for six yards and Edelman caught two more passes to move into Oakland territory.  On third and eight from the Oakland 45, Brady found Vereen for a gain of nine and a first down at the 36.  A short run by Ridley and a pass interference penalty on the Raiders put the Patriots at the 14.  Ridley was stuffed for a loss of one on first down, but Brady found Edelman again for a gain of six and the drive was capped off by tight end Rob Gronkowski catching a six-yard touchdown pass.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots led 7-3 with 4:14 to go in the first half.

The Raiders went nowhere on their next possession and that was bad.  But what made it worse was King punting the ball only 22 yards.  That gave the Patriots the ball at the 50-yard line with 2:45 remaining.  A short run by Ridley was followed by yet another completion to Edelman.  This one was for ten yards and a first down at the Oakland 38.  From the 38, Brady found Gronkowski for 16 yards.  A short completion to Edelman set up a second and six from the nine.  Ridley got the call again and ran for six yards and a first down at the three-yard line.  The Raider defense stiffened as the Patriots tried to get across the goal line.  On third down, the snap was low and Brady couldn’t handle it.  He regained control of the ball and threw an incomplete pass intended for Vereen.  Gostkowski came on and his 21-yard field goal attempt was good.  That put the Patriots up 10-3 at halftime.

The Patriots started the second half at their 20 and went nowhere.  A false start penalty moved them back five yards and Brady was sacked by defensive end Justin Tuck on third and long.  Ryan punted and Carrie fielded it at his 45 and returned it seven yards to the New England 48-yard line.  They continued to run McFadden up the middle and he was gaining about three yards per carry.  On third and three from the 41, we finally had a James Jones sighting.  He caught a pass for a gain of 12 and a first down at the 29.  A holding penalty on the Patriots got the Raiders down to the 24.  But on third and five from the 19, Carr’s pass intended for Moore was incomplete.  Janikowksi was brought into the game again and his 37-yard field goal attempt was good.  With 9:39 to go in the third quarter, the Raiders trailed 10-6.

The Patriots started at their 20 and another false start penalty moved them back to the 15.  From there, Brady found wide receiver Brandon LaFell for a gain of 15 and a first down at the 30.  After a short run by Vereen, guess who caught two more passes?  Yes.  That’s right.  It was Edelman.  Who else would it be?  But that wasn’t enough to get them into field goal range and Ryan punted again.  The Raiders took over at their 14-yard line.

A short run by McFadden was followed by a 12-yard reception by Reece.  On second and ten from the 28, Carr went deep up the left side for wide receiver Andre Holmes.  The play was good for 29 yards and a first down at the New England 37.  Carr went deep on the next play for Reece, but the ball was under-thrown and fell incomplete.  If he had thrown the ball on the money, it most likely would have been a touchdown.  A false start moved them back five yards and on third and 15 from the 42, Carr found Jones across the middle for a gain of 13 yards.  They called on Janikowski again and his 47-yard field goal attempt was good.  With 2:21 to go in the third quarter, the Raiders trailed 10-9.

Instead of kicking the ball deep, Janikowksi hit a short kick up the left sideline that was fielded by wide receiver Matthew Slater.  He returned it 26 yards and the Patriots had good field position at their 41.  From the 41, Brady found tight end Tim Wright for 20 yards and just like that, they were already in Oakland territory.  Ridley was stuffed for a loss of one on first down, but Brady was able to complete a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.  That gave them a first down at the 24.  The Raiders were flagged for an offside penalty and Ridley and running back Brandon Bolden each had a carry to set up a third and three at the 12.  Edelman caught another pass and was dragged down at the two-yard line.  But they would get no further and they had to settle for another field goal attempt.  Gostkowski had no problem with his 20-yard attempt and the Patriots increased their lead to 13-9 with 13:42 to go in the game.

The Raiders went nowhere on their next possession and punted the ball right back to the Patriots.  They started at their 19-yard line and Brady quickly found Edelman for a gain of 15 yards.  Ridley ran up the right side for five yards and Brady found Edelman again for a gain of six.  However, the ruling of a completed pass was challenged by the Raiders.  It was ruled incomplete and that set up a third and five from the 39.  Brady completed a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola, but it was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty on LaFell.  That made it and 15.  You know what?  It wouldn’t matter if it was third and 50.  Sure enough, Brady completed another pass.  This time it was to Gronkowski for a gain of 22.  That was an absolute killer for the Raiders.  Just like the previous two games, they couldn’t stop their opponent on third and long situations.  Brady moved the offense down to the Oakland 20 with completions to LaFell and Vereen.  But the drive stalled at the 18.  Gostkowski came into the game again and his 36-yard field goal attempt was good.  That made it 16-9 with 6:20 to go in the game.

The Raiders gained one yard on their next possession and punted again.  The Patriots followed suit as Brady was sacked by defensive linemen C.J. Wilson and Antonio Smith for a loss of eight yards.  Allen punted and it was fielded at the Oakland 17 by Carrie.  He returned it 21 yards to the 38 and the Raiders had one more chance to tie the game up.  Two runs by McFadden and an 18-yard pass to Jones put the Raiders at the New England 33 with two minutes to go.  On third and seven from the 30, Carr went deep for Holmes.  The pass was incomplete, but the Patriots were flagged for pass interference.  That put the Raiders at the six-yard line.  From the six, McFadden ran up the left side for a touchdown.  Immediately after he crossed the goal line, a yellow flag appeared.  Rookie guard Gabe Jackson was flagged for holding.  REALLY?  THAT was holding?  Unbelievable.  That penalty moved them back to the 12 and from there, all hell broke loose.  Carr fired a pass to Moore that hit him in right in the hands.  He couldn’t hang on to it and the ball bounced into the hands of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.  And that was it.  Just like that, the game was over.  Final score: Patriots 16 Raiders 9.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 21 of 34 for 174 yards and one interception that most certainly was not his fault.  James Jones and Rod Streater tied for the lead in receptions with three each and Jones had the most receiving yards with 43.  The ground game was anemic again as the Raiders rushed for a grand total of 67 yards on 22 carries.  Darren McFadden led the team with 59 yards on 18 carries.  Defensively, safety Tyvon Branch led the team in solo tackles with seven.  We won’t be seeing Mr. Branch for a while.  He left the game with a broken foot.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 24 of 37 for 234 yards and one touchdown.  Julian Edelman led all receivers in receptions with ten and receiving yards with 84.  Like the Raiders, the Patriots didn’t have much room to run.  As a team, they rushed for 76 yards on 32 carries.  Stevan Ridley led the way with 54 yards on 19 carries.  Defensively, linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower tied for the lead in solo tackles with three apiece.

That loss dropped the Raiders to 0-3.  For the most part, I liked what I saw from the defense as they played well overall.  One problem that still remains is third down situations.  The Patriots converted 9 of 18 and that kept many drives alive.  On offense, the play calling is still very unimaginative.  Although it was good to see Reece get more involved.  Carr also needs to put more velocity on his deep throws.  There have been many situations where receivers were open deep but Carr hung up his throws and that allows defenders to catch up to the play and knock the ball away.  I guess this whole thing is what is known as “work in progress.”  But I can speak for all the Raider fans when I say WE ARE SICK OF LOSING!!!  Up next is a trip to England to take on the Miami Dolphins.  That should be interesting.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

 

Epic Fail

Week two of the 2014 season matched up the Houston Texans visiting the Oakland Raiders.  The Texans were coming off a 17-6 win over the Washington Redskins and the Raiders were coming off a 19-14 loss to the New York Jets.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski blasted the ball through the end zone and the Texans started at their 20-yard line.  Two carries by running back Arian Foster gained 12 yards and the Texans had a first down at their 32.  From the 32, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a short pass to wide receiver Damaris Johnson and that was followed by a pass interference penalty on cornerback Chimdi Chekwa.  That gave the Texans another first down at their 37.  Foster was thrown for a loss of two by linebacker Sio Moore on the next play.  But Fitzpatrick completed a nine-yard pass to Foster and another nine-yard pass to wide receiver Andre Johnson to move the Texans into Oakland territory.  On second and four from the Oakland 41, Foster ran right up the gut for what looked like a 41-yard touchdown.  Replay showed he was down at the one-yard line.  That wasn’t much of an obstacle for the Texans to overcome as Fitzpatrick found defensive end J.J. Watt WIDE OPEN in the end zone for a touchdown.  Kicker Randy Bullock made the point after and the Texans led 7-0 with 9:37 to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders continued their trend of what they did last week.  That means they went three and out once again.  Punter Marquette King punted and the Texans got the ball back at their 30-yard line.  An eight-yard run by Foster and a seven-yard pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins got the Texans moving and they were heading into Oakland territory again.  On third and eight from the 47, the Raider defense brought the blitz and Fitzpatrick went deep over the middle for tight end Garrett Graham.  He hauled in the pass for a gain of 26 and a first down at the Oakland 27.  Two short carries by Foster set up yet another third down situation.  This time, Fitzpatrick found Johnson again and the pass was caught for a gain of ten and a first down at the 13.  Fitzpatrick hooked up with Johnson one more time and the Raiders were flagged for offside to make it second and one from the four-yard line.  Foster got another carry and was brought down at the one.  A delay of game penalty moved the Texans back five yards, but that didn’t really matter.  Foster got the call again and he ran right up the middle for another Texan touchdown.  Bullock made the point after and the Texans led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The Raiders started at their 17 and on second down, quarterback Derek Carr ran up the right side for a gain of 41 yards.  That was the spark the offense needed and a short run by running back Darren McFadden and a seven-yard completion wide receiver Andre Holmes gave them a first down at the Houston 31.  Things were looking good, right? WRONG!  The spark they had was quickly extinguished as Carr threw into tight coverage and the pass was picked off by cornerback Kareem Jackson.  He returned it 65 yards to the Oakland 24-yard line.  This time, the Raider defense did their job and kept the Texans out of the end zone.  They had to settle for a field goal and the 33-yard attempt was good.  That put the Texans up 17-0 with 10:30 to go in the first half.

The Raiders got a few first downs on their next drive.  But they only got as far as their 47-yard line.  King punted and the Texans got the ball back at their 24.  The Raider defense did another admirable job on this drive and the Texans were forced to punt.  Punter Shane Lechler got off a high punt that was downed at the Raider 13-yard line.  With 2:27 to go in the half, the Raiders would be happy just to get in field goal range.  A six-yard run by McFadden and a five-yard pass to wide receiver James Jones netted a first down at the 24.  From there, Carr completed passes to Jones and wide receiver Rod Streater and that put them at their 45.  From the 45, Carr found Jones on the right side where he made a nice catch at the Houston 29.  He was hit and the ball came loose.  He scooped it up and headed for the end zone.  Before he got there, he was hit again by cornerback Johnathan Joseph and the ball was knocked loose again.  The ball was recovered by safety D.J. Swearinger at the three-yard line.  You want to talk about total deflation?  That’s exactly what I felt.  Deflation, anger, frustration and the feeling that it was going to be another long year for the Raiders.  At the end of the first half, the Texans led 17-0.

The Raider started the second half from their 24 and were putting together a nice drive with some good running by McFadden and completions to Jones and fullback Marcel Reece.  But this drive would also come to an end due to the fact that tight end Mychal Rivera couldn’t hold on to the ball.  On third and 13 from the Houston 38, Carr found Rivera on the left side.  After Rivera caught the pass and started to head up-field, the ball was knocked out by Swearinger and recovered by Joseph.  It looked he was going to score, but he was pushed out of bounds at the Oakland 21.  Five plays later, Fitzpatrick found Hopkins in the end zone.  Bullock made the point after and the Texans now had a commanding 24-0 lead with 8:29 to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders did nothing with the ball again on their next possession and King punted.  The Texans started their next drive at the Oakland 45.  They got as far as the 21 and had to settle for a field goal.  The 39-yard attempt was good and the Texans were now up 27-0 with 3:14 to go in the third quarter.  Carr spread the ball around to four different receivers on their next drive and McFadden contributed some tough running to move the ball to Houston 32.  From there, Carr went deep for wide receiver Denarius Moore.  The pass was incomplete, but the Texans were flagged for pass interference.  That put the ball at the two-yard line and McFadden finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Texans led 27-7 with 14 minutes to go in the game.

The Texans started at their 20 and stuck to their ground game as Foster had four carries and running back Alfred Blue had seven.  All that running ran the clock down and moved the Texans down to the Oakland 28.  That’s where the drive stalled and Bullock was brought in again for a 46-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Texans increased their lead to 30-7 with 4:46 to go in the game.  The Raiders would score once more with 13 seconds left as Carr found Jones in the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the final score was Texans 30 Raiders 14.

For the Texans, Ryan Fitzpatrick had an efficient game as he completed 14 of 19 for 132 yards and two touchdowns.  Andre Johnson led all receivers in receptions with six and receiving yards with 74.  The ground game was where most of the damage was done.  As a team, the Texans ran the ball 46 times for a total of 188 yards.  Arian Foster led the way with 138 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown.  Defensively, cornerback A.J. Bouye led the Texans in solo tackles with seven.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 27 of 42 for 263 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  James Jones led the team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 112 and a touchdown.  He also led the team in fumbles with two on the same play.  That’s something you don’t see every day.  As a team, they rushed for 101 yards on 17 carries.  41 of those yards came on one carry by Carr.  He was the leading rusher with 58 yards on four carries.  Defensively, safety Tyvon Branch led the team in solo tackles with ten.

Well, that was a nightmare.  In fact, it was an absolutely horrible nightmare.  Guess what?  Unless some things change drastically in Oakland, this is going to get worse.  Up next is a trip to New England to take on the Patriots and then off to England to play the Dolphins.  When I looked at the schedule earlier in the year, I thought they’d be okay if they could split the first four games and go into the bye week with a two and two record.  Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen.  I’ll be out of town next weekend, but hope to have an article on the game against the Patriots up by Tuesday.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

Jet Lag

For their first game of the year, the Oakland Raiders had to travel across the country to face the New York Jets.  It’s been a long time since the Raiders won a game in the eastern time zone.  As a matter of fact, they haven’t won one since December of 2009.  That is truly disgusting.  The Raiders won the toss and deferred to the second half.

Return man Saalim Hakim fielded the ball four yards deep in the end zone and returned it straight up the middle to the New York 40-yard line.  Quarterback Geno Smith led the offense onto the field and went to the air on first down.  With plenty of time to throw, he found wide receiver David Nelson wide open for a gain of 17 yards and a first down at the Oakland 43-yard line.  From the 43, running back Chris Johnson ran up the left side for a gain of seven.  A false start moved them back five yards, but that problem was overcome on the next play as Smith completed a 12-yard pass to Johnson for a first down at the Oakland 29.  A five-yard pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland and short runs by Johnson and running back Chris Ivory got the Jets another first down at the 17.  Then another yellow flag appeared and the Jets were penalized for holding.  On first and 20 from the 27, Smith put up a perfect pass to wide receiver Greg Salas in the end zone.  The ball hit him directly in the hands and he dropped it.  Johnson was thrown for a loss of one on second down and on third and 21 from the 28, Smith completed an 11-yard pass to Cumberland.  That brought kicker Nick Folk into the game and his field goal attempt from 35 yards was good.  But the Jets were flagged for holding again and that backed them up ten yards.  That wasn’t a problem for Folk.  His 45-yard attempt was good and the Jets led 3-0 with 9:16 to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders started at their 20 and rookie quarterback Derek Carr led his team onto the field.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t on the field for very long because the Jets stuffed running back Maurice Jones-Drew for no gain on third and one.  Punter Marquette King got off a 44-yard punt and the Jets took over at their 30-yard line.  Smith hooked up with wide receiver Jeremy Kerley for a gain of eight, but the Jets were flagged again for holding.  That made it first and 16 from the 24.  From the 24, Smith looked to his right and the pass was picked off by safety Charles Woodson.  It was a great play as Woodson dove and picked the ball out of the air.  That set the Raiders up with great field position at the New York 28-yard line.  Carr connected with wide receiver Rod Streater for eight yards on first down.  On second down, Jones-Drew was stuffed again for no gain.  That set up a third and two from the 20.  Carr dumped a short pass to the left and it was caught by wide receiver James Jones for a gain of three and a first down at the 17.  From the 17, Jones-Drew ran up the left side for four yards and fullback Marcel Reece added one more yard as the Raiders continued to struggle running the ball.  But, on third and five, Carr had some time and looked for Streater on the left side.  Streater caught the pass and ran it in for a 12-yard touchdown.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 7-3 with 2:37 to go in the first quarter.

After having such a good kick return earlier in the game, Hakim decided run the ball out of the end zone again.  This time, he was not so fortunate and was brought down at the his own 15.  On third and eight from the 17, Smith was blessed with an incredible amount of time to find a receiver.  He did just that as he found Kerley wide open for a gain of 19 yards and a first down at the 36.  I wondered what kind of scheme the Raiders were running on that play.  They didn’t rush the passer and left a receiver wide open.  What name would would you give something like that?  I would call it “pure idiocy.”  Some more carries by Ivory and Johnson moved the Jets down to the Oakland 47-yard line.  But after getting into Oakland territory, the Jets didn’t look like they would get much further.  Smith was thrown for a loss of two on first down and completed a four-yard pass to tight end Jace Amaro on second down.  But a false start moved them back to the 50.  From the 50, Smith couldn’t find an open receiver, so he took off running and was finally dragged down at the 33.  Running back Bilal Powell ran for a gain of four yards on first down and on second down, Smith hooked up with Cumberland for a gain of 26 and a first down at the three-yard line.  On second and goal from the three, Smith scrambled to his right and was hit hard by linebacker Sio Moore.  The ball came loose and was recovered by rookie cornerback TJ Carrie at the four.

Completions to Streater and tight end Brian Leonhardt got the Raiders moving in the right direction.  But on third and three from the 49, the Jets stepped up the pressure, forced Carr out of the pocket and he had no choice but to throw the ball away.  King punted the ball through the end zone and the Jets took over at their 20-yard line.  They quickly went three and out and the Raiders did the exact same thing as Jones-Drew and running back Darren McFadden continued to find nowhere to run.  After another punt by King, the Jets got the ball back at their 20 with 4:31 to go in the second quarter.  Smith found wide receiver Eric Decker open for a gain of 24 and a first down at the 44.  An incomplete pass to Cumberland and a short run by Ivory set up a third and eight from the 46.  Do you think Smith will take off running again or will he find another receiver wide open?  The Raiders inserted their pure idiocy defense and Smith ran up the right side for a gain of eight yards and a first down at the Oakland 46.  On second and ten from the 46, Smith completed a 12-yard pass to Salas for a first down at the 34.  An 11-yard run by Ivory and some more scrambling by Smith put the Jets at the 11-yard line.  From the 11, Kerley caught another ball for a gain of six.  From the five, the Jets tried some trickery as quarterback Michael Vick was inserted into the game.  Johnson took a direct snap, flipped the ball to Vick who looked for Decker in the corner of the end zone. Decker was open, but the pass fell incomplete.  That set up third and four from the five-yard line.  Smith took the snap and immediately felt the pressure from defensive end Justin Tuck.  But he somehow got off a quick shovel pass to Johnson who took it up the middle for a touchdown.  Folk made the point after and the Jets led 10-7 with 30 seconds to go in the first half.  Carr took a knee and that’s how the first half ended.

My big problem with the Raiders in previous years is that they fail to make adjustments at halftime.  With a new season, we hope things change for the better.  Well, they didn’t.  I’d like to tell you that the Raiders came out of the locker room and tore the Jets apart.  I’d like to tell you that they won this game by a score of 28-10.  I’d like to tell you that they looked unstoppable.  I really would like to tell you that.  But I can’t do that.  That would be a boldfaced lie.  The offense continued to have all the grace and smoothness of a car with square wheels.  They went absolutely nowhere throughout the second half and accumulated a grand total of four first downs.  With all this ineptness going on, the defense got worn out and the Jets took full advantage of it.

The Raiders got the ball to start the second half and return man Latavius Murray got things off to a good start with a 40-yard kickoff return.  Then the offense took the field and things got off to a terrible start.  Jones-Drew ran up the left side and was promptly met with a hard hit by linebacker Quinton Coples.  The ball popped straight up in the air and Carr caught it.  He was brought down for a loss of 11 yards.  They went nowhere from there and King punted the ball away again.  The Jets took over at their 25 and managed to get a couple of first downs, but ended up punting.  The Raiders had another quick three and out and with 7:24 to go in the third quarter, the Jets got the ball back at their 48.  On second down from the 48, Smith found Decker for a gain of 21 yards.  On first down from the 31, Ivory ran up the right side for seven yards and Smith hooked up with Kerley for six more.  It looked like the Jets were headed for another touchdown.  But a facemask penalty moved them back 15 yards to the 33.  From the 33, Smith scrambled up the left side for 12 and Johnson ran straight up the middle for nine more yards.  That made it third and four from the 12-yard line.  The Raiders brought the pressure and Smith was sacked for a loss of 12 yards by Moore and rookie linebacker Khalil Mack.  The ball came loose, but Smith was able to recover it.  Folk was brought into the game for a 42-yard field goal and the kick was good.  With 2:38 to go in the third quarter, the Jets led 13-7.

The Raiders gained a grand total of five yards on their next possession and promptly punted.  The Jets followed suit and punted the ball right back to the Raiders.  With each punt forced, the Raider’s offense was given an opportunity to take the lead and they couldn’t do it.  Incomplete passes, a rookie quarterback being pressured and no running game to speak of are the recipe for losing.  After yet another punt by King, the Jets started their next drive at their 29.  Smith handed the ball to Ivory and he proceeded to take it all the way for a 71-yard touchdown.  That was the dagger.  That was what the Jets needed to put the Raiders away.  They opted to go for a two-point conversion after the score, but it was unsuccessful.  That put them up 19-7 with eight minutes to go in the game.

The Raiders took over at their own 17 and really needed to get the ball moving.  Naturally, they didn’t succeed, but they did receive some generous help from the zebras.  The Jets were flagged for roughing the passer and pass interference.  The interference penalty gave the Raiders a first down at their 49.   From there, they went backwards.  A short run by McFadden, an incomplete pass to Streater and a quarterback sack forced another punt.  The Jets ran the ball three times and punted.  With 2:39 to go in the game, the Raiders started at their 27-yard line.  Leading by 12 with not much time left, the Jets let up on the pressure and this enabled Carr to move his team down the field.  He found tight end Mychal Rivera for nine and Jones-Drew found some room up the left side for a gain of 12 yards.  Two more completions to Rivera set up a first down at the New York 30-yard line.  From the 30, Carr put one up the right side for Jones and he made a beautiful catch for a touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Jets led 19-14 with 1:21 to go in the game.  Next, it was time for an onside kick.  Janikowksi popped one up the left side and it was recovered by Salas.  Smith knelt down twice and the game was over.

If you look at the statistics from this game, you’d think it was a total blowout.  The Jets out-gained the Raiders in total yardage 402-158.  However, the Jets had some missed opportunities.  There was the dropped touchdown pass, Smith fumbled on the Raider three-yard line and they had some big plays brought back by penalties.  As a matter of fact, the Jets were penalized 11 times for 105 yards.  Meanwhile, the Raiders were only penalized four times for 20 yards.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 20 of 32 for 151 yards and two touchdowns.  Rod Streater led all receivers in receptions with five and receiving yards with 46 and a touchdown.  When it comes to running the ball, the Raider running backs found very little daylight.  As a team, they rushed for 25 yards on 15 carries.  Darren McFadden was the leading rusher with 15 yards on four carries.  Defensively, Sio Moore was all over the place and led the team in solo tackles with 11. He also had a sack and two forced fumbles.

For the Jets, Geno Smith completed 23 of 28 for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  He also had 38 yards rushing.  Eric Decker led all receivers in receptions with five and receiving yards with 74.  The Jets had a great day on the ground as they rushed for 212 yards on 34 carries.  Chris Ivory led the way with 102 yards on 10 carries.  Defensively, linebacker David Harris, safety Dawan Landry and safety Antonio Allen tied for the lead in solo tackles with five apiece.  Although the Jets registered only two sacks, they kept the pressure on Carr throughout the game and forced him out of the pocket several times.

The game plan installed by offensive coordinator Greg Olson was terrible.  Why run up the middle against such a stout front seven?  They didn’t try to stretch the field despite the fact the Jets had a banged up secondary.  Hell, try a reverse. Maybe a halfback option?  They made no attempt at all to shake things up and catch the Jets off guard.  Oh well.  What’s done is done.  They should be grateful they lost by only five points.  Up next is the home opener against the Houston Texans.  The Texans are coming off a good 17-6 win over the Washington Redskins and the Raiders need to right the ship quickly.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

Arizona Ascension: Cards Will Win Super Bowl

The Arizona Cardinals will win the Super Bowl this coming February, becoming the first team to ever win the Vince Lombardi Trophy on its home turf and giving the redbirds their first NFL title since 1947, when they played in Chicago.

The Cardinals play in perhaps the NFL’s toughest division, the NFC West, but have a favorable early schedule opening up on Sunday night with a home tilt against the San Diego Chargers before traveling to New York to face the Giants and then return home to host the San Francisco 49ers.

The Niners are tough but a bit in disarray and so the Cards have a very good chance to enter their bye week at 3-0.

After that the Cardinals travel to Denver which won’t have Wes Welker or Matt Prater and, in a nutshell and also considering the St. Louis Rams are not the team they hoped they would be before Sam Bradford’s injury, the Cardinals might not have a truly difficult test until visiting the Super Bowl champion Seahawks in Seattle on November 23rd.

The Cardinals also have hope for a hot start following their amazingly hot finish last season, when they won seven of their last nine to finish 10-6 and were widely considered the league’s top team among those that did not make the playoffs.

The Cardinals were a hot team last year.  This year, they will show they are a very good team.

The Cardinals have a very talented veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer who is entering his second year in the maroon and white and his second year under coach Bruce Arians.

Palmer and Arians have two terrific wideouts, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, a solid tight end in John Carlson and a snappy good running back in Andre Ellington.

Last year, in his rookie campaign, Ellington averaged five and-a-half yards per carry and ran for three scores – including an 80-yard doozy against the Atlanta Falcons that was pure speed, guts and Cardinal-ness.

This year, he’ll be even better.  (Right?)

On defense, the Cardinals certainly will feel the absences of Darnell Dockett, the spectacular defensive tackle who is gone for 2014 with a torn ACL, and linebacker Daryl Washington, out with a drug suspension. But the Cardinals are still armed with a defensive secondary of Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson, Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson, four gentlemen who take serious umbrage with those who try to catch the ball in front of them or run past them.

The Cards’ D is also still solid on the front seven, especially considering they still have defensive tackle Frostee Rucker.  When your name is Frostee, greatness will find you.

But really?  Can the Arizona Cardinals truly win a conference that has the Seahawks, Saints, 49ers, Packers, Bears and Eagles?

It will be tough.  It will be fun.

The Cardinals will make the playoffs and once you’ve reached January, anything can happen.  Just ask the ’07 and ’11 Giants.  Talk to the ’12 Ravens.  Talk to the teams they beat, too.

The Arizona Cardinals don’t have the most talent in the NFL, but they might have the most mojo.  They have a good defense, a quick-strike offense, a terrific head coach and they have those gray facemasks, God love ‘em.

The Arizona Cardinals will win the Super Bowl.  For the first time since Harry Truman was president and only the second time since the sound barrier was broken the Cardinals will be NFL champs.  They will shock, they will awe, they will win.

And who will the Cardinals beat in Super Bowl XLIX?  Why, the Chargers, of course.  The Redbirds and Bolts will meet Sunday night in Week One and then meet again in February.  Cardinals 30, Chargers 23.  Freaky fun for all.

 

 

 

Cleveland, the ’64 King

When Cleveland Was King

LeBron James and Johnny Manziel are giving Cleveland hope that it will finally win its first major sports championship since 1964. The smarter money at this point is on LeBron and the Cavaliers as they have a talented roster even before the addition of Kevin Love and, basketball being what it is; only a few great players are necessary to take a team from the lottery to a championship.

Mr. Manziel has a far tougher row to hoe. Even when he’s eventually named the Browns’ starting quarterback he still needs about 20 other great players around him before little number 2 makes Cleveland number 1.

Whoever does take the next title for Cleveland (oh yeah, there’s also a rumor out there that the Indians are still in the playoff race) they will supplant the 1964 Browns as the last Cleveland team to have a parade, hoist the hardware and make General Moses smile.

But what about those ’64 Brownies? How good were they?

Very.

The 1964 Cleveland Browns went 10-3-1, coached by Blanton Collier who, in his eight seasons as an NFL head coach from 1963 to 1970, all with the Browns, never had a losing season and made the playoffs five times.

On the field the Browns were led on offense by Jim Brown who topped the NFL with 1,446 yards, averaging better than 100 yards per game in the 14-game season. Brown’s 1,446 yards were nearly 300 better than his closest competition, Green Bay Packers fullback Jim Taylor. Brown also led the league in total yards from scrimmage by more than 200 yards and was tied for third that year in rushing touchdowns with seven.

He also attempted one pass and completed it, good for 13 yards and a touchdown.

Mostly thanks to Jim Brown, Cleveland was second in total offense in ’64, but was also helped by a capable quarterback named Frank Ryan who started all 14 games and threw 25 TD passes, good enough for tops in the league.

When you have the NFL’s best running back and also the league-leader in TD passes you’re probably going to be good even if your defense is terrible, but the ’64 Browns’ defense was far from terrible, ranking fifth in the league in fewest points allowed.

The ’64 Browns had All-Pros on defense in cornerback Bernie Parrish, linebacker Jim Houston, defensive end Bill Glass, kicker Lou Groza and, back on offense, guard Gene Hickerson, tackle Dick Schafrath, split end Paul Warfield, and, of course, Jim Brown in the backfield.

Other than a 23-7 loss to the lowly Pittsburgh Steelers on October 10 of that season (Jim Brown only carried the ball eight times) the ’64 Cleveland Browns handled the opposition with little shame though they did turn the ball over with alarming frequency, including a six-turnover victory against the Dallas Cowboys. Strangely, the only game in 1964 that the Browns did not turn over the ball was a 28-21 loss to the Packers on November 22.

The Browns won the Eastern Division by a game over the St. Louis Cardinals, the only other team in the East with a winning record that year and earned a spot in the NFL Championship Game against the mighty Baltimore Colts who were easily champions of the West with a 12-2 record under second year coach Don Shula and league MVP Johnny Unitas at quarterback.

The game was played in Cleveland Municipal Stadium on December 27, 1964 in 34-degree weather with mud, wind and animus. The Colts were heavy favorites.

Browns 27, Colts 0.

The game was scoreless at halftime but then in the second half Ryan connected with receiver Gary Collins for three TDs and Jim Brown, though he never scored, muddled through with 114 yards on 27 carries and also caught three passes for 37 yards.

On defense, the Browns held Unitas to just 95 yards passing and intercepted him twice.

Browns 27, Colts 0.

The Browns were awarded rings for winning the title and Jim Brown’s was later stolen and has recently been up for auction, something Mr. Brown is trying to stop.

Thirty-one years after the 1964 title game the Browns decided to move, to of all places, Baltimore, which had lost the Colts to Indianapolis a decade before.

One of the stipulations of that controversial move was that the Browns themselves actually would not move, only the coaches and players would go as the team became the Baltimore Ravens while the Cleveland Browns, the team records, trophies, etc., remained in Cleveland, dormant, until the Browns were reincarnated, as an expansion team, in 1999.

One of the things the Browns were forced to leave behind when they bolted for Baltimore was their trophy for winning the 1964 NFL title. The thing of it is, though, there really was no trophy for Cleveland to keep.

In those days the NFL used to hand out the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy, which was named for an NFL official. But that trophy was, like hockey’s Stanley Cup, handed off to a new champion each year so the next year the Browns had to give it to the Packers who still have it because after the 1966 season, in which the Packers were champs again, teams got a new trophy every year which is now, of course, the Lombardi Trophy.

The 1964 Cleveland Browns didn’t get a trophy to keep until 2004 when the NFL commissioned a brand new trophy to present to an old champion.

Cleveland still has that trophy. And is still looking for another one.

 

In Praise of the Preseason

When does a 6-yard catch late in the fourth quarter of a 41-7 game by an undrafted receiver out of Huey Gablooey State College make a difference?

When it’s August.

The NFL preseason, often called the exhibition season, or “fake football,” and sometimes even “Roger Goodell’s foot bath,” is a period that many sad, grumpy Americans believe is just a waste, a pigskin folly that does nothing but eat up two game’s worth of season ticket holders’ dollars and gets Chad Greenway hurt.

But the more enlightened among us see the NFL’s four-game August lineup for what it really is: something pure, sanguine and happy because it gives hundreds of men a brief opportunity to put on an NFL uniform, soak up the lights and get their photo taken with Ed Hochuli.

And preseason honestly is quite dramatic.  In the regular season a touchdown goes toward determining the outcome of a game.  In the preseason every touchdown, every tackle, every missed tackle, goes on the coach’s report card and could mean that a kid spends one year with an NFL team, pocketing $420,000 and being able to forever say he was a bona fide NFL player, even if it was just for one year.  Even if it was in Jacksonville.

Or, it could mean that he goes back to Huey Gablooey State College and collects cans.

Sure, as the years go by he’ll say he lasted more than just a few exhibition games and if you don’t believe him look at this photo he just happens to have on his phone of him getting kicked by Ndamukong Suh. But then you’ll check Pro Football Reference and see that, no, September began without him.

And you’ll buy him another Fresca then sneak away when he’s crying in the bathroom.

Like a short story as compared to a novel, the preseason has the wit and flair of brevity that the 16-game slog of the regular season does not. Four August nights have the charm of the ephemeral, like a firefly that glides by proudly before drowning in your cousin’s Leinenkugel.

When the exhibition lights go bright we know summer is coming to an end and for many guys who have played football their whole life, the dream is reaching the end of the tunnel as well.

Training camps end and dorms will give way to college students. Instead of football four or five nights a week, in September it will only be on three or four.

Embrace the preseason.  Enjoy the moments when NFL sidelines have more men in uniform than the Swiss Army.  Relish seeing linebackers with jersey numbers in the 60s and running backs from BYU.

They say there is no trophy for the preseason, that the only winners are those who emerge healthy. They say a lot of things.  Maybe they should just shut up for a while.

 

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.