October 25, 2014

They Stand Alone

Week six had the Arizona Cardinals visiting Oakland to take on the Raiders.  The Cardinals were coming off a 30-20 win over the Washington Redskins and the Raiders were coming off a 31-28 loss to the San Diego Chargers.  The Raiders won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff.  They started at their 20, gained four yards on three plays and punted the ball away.  As a matter of fact, neither team could do much on offense until the nine minute mark of the first quarter.

The Cardinals started their drive at their 12-yard line and two carries by running back Andre Ellington netted seven yards.  That set up a third and three from the 19.  This has been the problem for the Raiders all year and sure enough, quarterback Carson Palmer found wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald wide open at the 26 for a first down.  That was followed by a 37-yard catch and run by Ellington.  Running back Stepfan Taylor got a carry and took it up the right side for 13 yards.  Ellington got three yards on first down and a pass on second down fell incomplete.  That meant it was third and seven and the Raiders had a chance to hold the Cardinals to a field goal attempt.  Ha! You’re kidding, right?  Palmer had all kinds of time to find a receiver and he hooked up with Jaron Brown for a gain of nine yards.  That was followed by a penalty on the Raiders for having 12 men on the field.  The ball was moved to the three-yard line.  On third and goal, Palmer tossed a short pass to Taylor on the right side.  He was hit by safety Charles Woodson, but regained his footing and landed in the end zone.  Kicker Chandler Catanzaro made the point after and the Cardinals led 7-0 with 1:47 to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders started at their 20 and got a few first downs before having to punt again.  Punter Marquette King hit a high punt that was fair caught by return man Ted Ginn at the 14-yard line.  Some more good running by Ellington and a 19-yard pass to wide receiver John Brown had the Cardinals moving in the right direction.  But on third and 10 from the 42, the Raiders brought the blitz (IT’S A MIRACLE!) and safety Usama Young sacked Palmer for a loss of 11 yards.  Punter Drew Butler got off a 54-yard punt that was fielded at the 15 by rookie return man TJ Carrie.  He took it up the right side and was dragged down deep in Arizona territory.  Wait a minute.  There’s a flag on the play.  Wide receiver Brice Butler was flagged for an illegal block above the waist.  That moved the Raiders back to their 15 and they quickly went three and out as quarterback Derek Carr was sacked for a loss of nine yards by linebacker Larry Foote.   King punted and the ball was fair caught by Ginn at the 50.  It took three plays for the Cardinals to find the end zone again.  On third and eight, Palmer went deep up the left side for wide receiver Michael Floyd.  The coverage was good, but the throw was better and Floyd hauled it in for a 33-yard touchdown.  Catanzaro made the point after and the Cardinals were up 14-0 with 5:37 to go in the first half.

The Raiders got the ball back at their 21 and on third and seven, Carr found tight end Mychal Rivera across the middle for a gain of 18.  Two plays later, Carr rolled out to the left and put up a deep ball that was hauled in by Butler for a gain of 55 yards.  On third and goal from the one, running back Darren McFadden took it into the end zone for a Raider touchdown.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Cardinals now led 14-7 with 1:56 to go in the first half.  The Cardinals started at their 20 and on second and six from the 24, Palmer threw a high pass that was tipped by tight end John Carlson into the hands of Woodson.  Woodson returned the ball to the 13 and the Raiders had a chance to tie up the game before halftime.  That didn’t happen.  Three plays netted two yards and Janikowski was called on for a 29-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the half ended with the Cardinals leading 14-10.

The Cardinals moved from their 20 to their 46 with relative ease.  But on third and three from the 46, Palmer’s pass to Ellington fell incomplete and they were forced to punt.  The punt went out of bounds at the Oakland 16 and from there, McFadden got loose up the right side for a gain of 15 yards.  Back to back 13-yard passes to wide receivers James Jones and Denarius Moore moved the Raiders to the Arizona 43-yard line.  But the drive stalled at the 35.  Janikowski came on for a 53-yard attempt and he promptly blasted the ball through the uprights.  That made it 14-13 with 7:17 to go in the third quarter.

If the Raiders could get a stop here, they could get the ball back and possibly take the lead.  Well, it was a nice thought, wasn’t it?  The Cardinals started at their 20 and two runs by Ellington netted a first down at the 32.  That was followed by a pass interference penalty on linebacker Miles Burris.  That put the Cardinals into Oakland territory.  Palmer found Ellington on the left side for a gain of 16 and a first down at the 32.  Then it was time for the Andre Ellington show.  Four straight carries by Ellington moved the Cardinals down to the four.  They were good runs, but when the defense you’re playing against doesn’t know how to tackle, those yards come pretty easily.  As the Cardinals lined up at the four, I turned to my wife and said “Watch.  They’re going to run it up the left side for another touchdown.”  Sure enough, Taylor ran up the left side and was met with very little resistance on his way to the end zone.”  Sometimes I really hate it when I’m right.  Catanzaro made the point after and the Cardinals went up 21-13.  That’s only an eight-point lead, but for the Raiders it seemed insurmountable.

For the remainder of the game, the Raiders couldn’t get out of their own way.  There were no deep passes thrown as they kept trying to pound McFadden up the middle against a stout defense.  The most damaging play came mid-way through the fourth quarter.  The score was still 21-13 and the Cardinals were at their 41 facing a third and eight.  Earlier in the game, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver called for a blitz on third down and it resulted in a sack.  Well, that wasn’t the case this time.  It was only a three man rush and they dropped eight into “coverage.”  If that’s what they call coverage, they are out of their minds.  First, Palmer had all day to find a receiver as the “pass rush” was nowhere near him.  He calmly stood in the pocket and threw a perfect strike down the middle to John Brown for a gain of 22 yards.  Brown was hit hard by safety Brandian Ross, but he held on to the ball.  That was the back breaker for the Raiders.  After that, Ellington and Brown took over and their running game killed the clock.  Catanzaro was brought into the game to seal the deal with a 41-yard attempt.  The kick was good and that was the nail in the coffin.  The Cardinals won 24-13.  The win improved them to 5-1 and the Raiders dropped to 0-6.  They stand alone as the only winless team in the league and they haven’t been 0-6 since 1962.  They’re setting all kinds of astounding records this year, aren’t they?

For the Cardinals, Carson Palmer completed 22 of 31 for 253 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  Andre Ellington had himself a great day as he led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 72.  He was also the leading rusher with 88 yards on 24 carries.  All totaled, the Cardinals rushed for 123 yards on 37 carries and held on to the ball for nearly 37 minutes.  Defensively, linebacker Larry Foote and strong safety Tony Jefferson tied for the lead in solo tackles with four apiece.  Foote also had a sack.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 16 of 28 for 173 yards.  James Jones led the team in receptions with four and Brice Butler had the most receiving yards with 55.  Once again, the ground game was stuck in first gear as they only had 56 yards on 19 carries.  Darren McFadden was the leading rusher with 48 yards on 14 carries.  Defensively, rookie linebacker Khalil Mack led the team in solo tackles with ten.

When this year began, I didn’t have high hopes for the Raiders.  They have a very difficult schedule and I thought maybe they could go 6-10.  I thought that was a realistic prediction.  Theoretically, they still can go 6-10, but I doubt that will happen.  Up next is a trip to Cleveland.  The Browns had a rough time at Jacksonville last week and they’ll be looking to take their frustrations out on the Raiders.  The game starts at 4:25 eastern time so if the Raiders lose again, they won’t have the excuse of not being able to win in the eastern time zone.  It’s also supposed to be sunny and in the mid 50s.  So they can’t say it was too cold either.  But I’m sure they’ll think of something.  Until then, take it easy.

The Frustrated Raider Guy

Opportunity Knocked. Nobody Answered

For those of you wondering what happened to my article on the Raiders-Dolphins game that was played in week four, the answer is that it never materialized.  I was so disgusted with the performance of the Raiders that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it.  I can sum it up for you though.  The Raiders scored the first touchdown of the game and the last touchdown of the game.  Everything in between that was absolute and pure garbage as they lost 38-14.  They looked unprepared, uninterested and unmotivated.  That has been the case for a while now and I’m thinking the main reason behind that was head coach Dennis Allen.  Well, Allen was fired during the bye week and offensive line/assistant head coach Tony Sparano was given the job.

So, with yet another new head coach in Oakland, the Raiders got ready for their game against the San Diego Chargers.  Kicker Nick Novak sent the ball through the end zone and the Raiders started at their 20.  Their first two plays netted three yards.  The next play was good for 77 yards as quarterback Derek Carr found wide receiver Andre Holmes down the middle.  He hauled in the pass and took it the rest of the way for a Raider touchdown.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 7-0 with 14:08 to go in the first quarter.

The Chargers started at their 20 and before they could snap the ball, they gained five yards due to the Raiders being offside.  Running back Branden Oliver ran up the middle for a short gain and then quarterback Philip Rivers found tight end Ladarius Green for a gain of 27 yards.  A false start moved them back five yards, but they recovered from that nicely as Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates for ten yards and a defensive holding penalty on the Raiders gave them a first down at the Oakland 34-yard line.  Two runs by Oliver netted five yards and then Rivers went deep up the left side looking for wide receiver Eddie Royal.  Royal hauled in the pass for a 29-yard touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the score was knotted at seven with 9:38 to go in the first quarter.

Neither offense did much until the Chargers took over at their 15-yard line with four minutes to go in the first quarter.  Oliver ran up the right side for seven yards and that was followed by a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Malcolm Floyd.  Two more carries by Oliver set up a third and five from the 48.  Rivers had all kinds of time as the anemic pass rush of the Raiders couldn’t get anywhere near him.  He fired a pass up the right sideline that was caught by Floyd for a gain of 20 yards.  That was followed by another penalty on the Raiders for having 12 men on the field.  That’s when the Chargers decided to turn Oliver loose.  He kept chipping away and four more carries brought the Chargers down to the eight-yard line.  On third and goal from the five, Rivers found Floyd in the end zone for another Charger touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Chargers led 14-7 with 11:52 to go in the second quarter.

The Raiders took over at their 24 and on third and eight, running back Darren McFadden ran up the middle for a nice gain of 12 yards.  A 17-yard completion to wide receiver James Jones and a six-yard run by McFadden moved the Raiders into Charger territory.  On third and seven from the San Diego 42, Carr found Holmes again for a gain of 30 and a first down at the 12.  McFadden was stuffed for a gain of one yard and Carr’s pass to wide receiver Brice Butler on second down fell incomplete.  The Chargers jumped offside on the next play and that moved the ball to the six-yard line.  From the six, Carr had all the time he needed and he found Jones in the end zone for a touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the score was 14-14 with 7:25 to go in the second quarter.

The Chargers punted on their next possession and the Raiders took over at their 17 with just under five minutes remaining.  On second and ten, Maurice Jones-Drew got loose for a gain of nine and Carr scrambled for two yards on the next play for a first down at the 28.  Another good run by Jones-Drew and an 18-yard pass to Jones put the Raiders at the San Diego 46-yard line.  They got as far as the 35 and the drive stalled.  With only a few seconds to go, Janikowksi was brought into the game to try a 53-yard field goal.  That kick never had a chance and it sailed wide left.  The score remained tied at 14.

The Chargers started at their 20 and brought out their no huddle offense.  On third and 11 from the 19, Rivers hooked up with Royal for a gain of 19 and a first down.  What’s really sad about that is that Royal was WIDE OPEN.  How can you let a receiver get that open on third and long?  Three plays later, the Chargers found themselves in another third and long situation.  That’s not really a problem when you go up against the Raider defense.  This time, Rivers dumped off a short pass to running back Ronnie Brown and he weaved his way through the defense for a gain of 24 yards and a first down at the Oakland 36.  But to my surprise, the defense stiffened and the Chargers had to settle for a field goal attempt.  Unlike Janikowksi, Novak had absolutely no trouble making his 54-yard attempt.  However, the Chargers were flagged for holding and the kick was nullified.  That put them out of field goal range and Mike Scifres came on to punt.  But instead of punting, safety Eric Weddle took the snap and threw a deep pass up the right side.  It was caught by wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu but he was out of bounds.  That gave the Raiders the ball at their 46.  Three plays later, Carr hit Butler with a short pass and Butler turned on the speed and turned a short pass into a 47-yard touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 21-14 with 7:40 to go in the third quarter.

Wow!  The Raiders were actually winning a game in the third quarter!   Now they needed the defense to come up big.  That would be like having a 90-degree day in Siberia.  In other words, it didn’t happen.  Oliver continued to pound the ball and Rivers had long completions to Green and  Floyd.  The pass to Floyd was good for 47 yards and that moved them to the Oakland nine-yard line.  Three plays later, Rivers found Gates for a one-yard touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the score was tied at 21 with 2:52 to go in the third quarter.

Both teams punted on their next possessions and the Raiders got the ball back at the 50.  Completions to fullbacks Marcel Reece and Jamize Olawale and a 12-yard run by McFadden moved the Raiders down to the San Diego 22.  An illegal use of the hands penalty moved them back ten yards, but Jones-Drew got those yards back quickly with a ten-yard run.  Then the Chargers were flagged for having 12 men on the field.  McFadden ran up the middle for seven yards to set up a first and goal from the ten.  Two plays later, Carr threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game as he found Holmes in the end zone.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders went up 28-21 with ten minutes to go in the game.

Once again, if the defense could come up with a stop, it would put the Raiders in position to get a win.  Well, opportunity knocked and nobody answered.  It took three plays for the Chargers to move from their 20 to the Oakland 30.  Now I have to ask defensive coordinator Jason Tarver what the hell kind of scheme was that?  The cornerbacks were playing way off the receivers, the “pass rush” was non-existent and Rivers had all day to find an open man.  It was truly a sickening display by the defense.  Then something really strange happened.  When it looked like the Chargers were about to score again, the defense actually started playing a little better and the Chargers had to settle for a field goal.  Novak made his 30-yard attempt and the Raiders led 28-24 with 5:52 to go in the game.

Now it was up to the offense to take some precious time off the clock.  They did the exact opposite.  They went three and out and punted it right back to the Chargers.  That “drive” took exactly one minute and nine seconds off the clock.  Way to protect that lead, morons!  To top that off, return man Keenan Allen returned the punt 29 yards to set the Chargers up at the Oakland 39.  A three-yard pass and a seven-yard “scramble” by Rivers moved them to the 29.  That’s when Oliver took over and ran right through the defense.  Four plays later, Oliver dove into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Chargers led 31-28 with 1:56 to go in the game.

The Raiders took over at their 20 and Carr was sacked and the ball came loose.  The Chargers recovered and it looked like it was all over.  But the Chargers were flagged for a facemask penalty and that gave the Raiders new life at their 35-yard line.  Carr completed passes to Jones and Butler and they were in San Diego territory.  Then, Carr made a horrible mistake.  From the 45, he threw a deep wobbly pass up the left sideline for Butler.  The pass was picked off by cornerback Jason Verrett.  That brought an abrupt halt to the game and all the Chargers had to do was run out the clock.  I don’t know what Carr was thinking.  There was double coverage on Butler and there was no reason at all to go deep.  I guess we’ll just chalk that one up to a rookie mistake.  Carr was clearly upset with himself after making such a poor decision.  But it’s not all on him.  The defense was horrible all day and that missed field goal by Janikowksi ended up being huge.  Final score: Chargers 31 Raiders 28.  The win improved the Chargers to 5-1 and the Raiders fell to 0-5.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 22 of 34 for 313 yards and three touchdowns.  Malcolm Floyd led all receivers in receptions with five and yards with 103 and a touchdown.  On the ground, it was all about Branden Oliver.  He ran for 101 tough yards on 26 carries and one touchdown.  As a team, the Chargers rushed for 116 yards on 33 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Donald Butler led the team in solo tackles with seven.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 18 of 34 for 282 yards, four touchdowns and one very costly interception.  He could have had a lot more yards than that too.  There were several dropped passes in this game.  Andre Holmes led all receivers in receptions with four and yards with 121 and two touchdowns.  Darren McFadden led the way on the ground with 80 yards on 14 carries.  As a team, the Raiders rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Sio Moore led the team in solo tackles with seven.

Up next for the Raiders is a visit from the Arizona Cardinals.  If the Raider defense continues to play as poorly as they have been, quarterback Carson Palmer will have a good day.  As long as Jason Tarver is the defensive coordinator, I expect that happen.  The offense is looking much better.  But the defense has a long way to go.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

 

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