December 14, 2017

Panthers 27, Cardinals 16

The first game of wildcard weekend had the Arizona Cardinals traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the Carolina Panthers.  Carolina kicker Graham Gano sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the Cardinals would start at their 20-yard line.  They ran three plays and gained exactly two yards.  To make things worse, punter Drew Butler shanked the punt and it only went 20 yards.  The Panthers started their first drive at the Arizona 48-yard line.  On third and two from the 40, quarterback Cam Newton completed an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for a first down at the 32.  They would get as far as the 29 and the drive was stopped there.  Gano came on and his 47-yard field goal was good.  The Panthers led 3-0 with 11:27 to go in the first quarter.

It was more of the same for the Cardinals.  Although there was some improvement.  Instead of gaining only two yards, they gained nine yards on this possession.  Another short punt by Butler gave the Panthers the ball at their 43-yard line.  Completions to Benjamin and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery quickly moved the Panthers into Arizona territory.  A couple of carries by running back Jonathan Stewart and a defensive holding penalty moved the ball to the 34.  From the 34, Newton found wide receiver Philly Brown for a gain of seven and a first down at the 27.  From there, tight end Greg Olsen caught a 14-yard pass and Stewart finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run.  Gano made the point after and the Panthers led 10-0 with 5:21 to go in the first quarter.

With a little over four minutes to go in the first quarter, the Cardinals finally got a first down as quarterback Ryan Lindley completed a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Michael Floyd.  After that, it was the same old thing.  They couldn’t get another first down and Butler punted.  However, return man Brenton Bersin couldn’t get a handle on the punt and the Cardinals recovered it at the Carolina 30-yard line.  On second and twelve from the 32, Lindley completed a short pass, but the bigger damage came from the zebras.  The Panthers were flagged for unnecessary roughness and that gave them a first down at the 15.  On third and ten, Lindley found wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and he was dragged down at the one-yard line.  From the one, Lindley completed a pass to tight end Darren Fells for a touchdown.  Kicker Chandler Catanzaro made the point after and the Panthers now led 10-7 with 14:56 to go in the second quarter.

The Panthers took over at their 20 and two five-yard penalties on Arizona got them a first down at the 30.  Two carries by Stewart and one by Newton moved the ball to the Arizona 30-yard line.  But the next three plays gained only five yards.  To top that off, a 43-yard field goal attempt by Gano sailed wide left.  That gave the Cardinals the ball at their 33 and like they had been doing for most of the game, they punted after three plays.  Butler hit a nice 52-yard punt that was downed at the Carolina 17-yard line.  The Panthers managed to get a few first downs, but were forced to punt.  Punter Brad Nortman hit a high punt that was downed at the Arizona two-yard line.  Three plays gained one yard and it was time for Butler to punt his team out of trouble.  He got off another poor punt and the Panthers had excellent field position at the Arizona 34-yard line.  On third and 13 from the 37, Newton looked for Cotchery and the pass was picked off by cornerback Antonio Cromartie.  It looked like he might return it for a score, but Newton pushed him out of bounds at the Carolina 17-yard line.  Three carries by running back Kerwynn Williams netted a first down at the one-yard line.  From the one, running back Marion Grice took it in for a score.  Catanzaro made the point after and the Cardinals led 14-10 with 2:50 to go in the second quarter.

The Panthers started at their 20 and some more good running by Stewart, Newton and fullback Mike Tolbert moved the ball down to the 45.  Completions to Brown, Olsen and a pass interference penalty on Cromartie gave the Panthers a first down at the Arizona 14-yard line.  They would get down to the 11 and the drive came to an end there.  Gano came on for another field goal attempt.  It was good, but the Panthers were flagged for holding.  That meant Gano would have to try another kick.  His 39-yard attempt was good and the Cardinals led 14-13 at halftime.

The Panthers started at their 20 again and lots of scrambling by Newton got them headed in the right direction.  They managed to take 7:31 off the clock and they didn’t even score a point.  On third and ten from the Arizona 43, Newton completed a pass to Bersin, but he was stopped at the 37.  Instead of trying a long field goal, head coach Ron Rivera opted for a punt.  Nortman’s punt was downed at the eight-yard line.  Like they had been doing all game, the Cardinals went three and out again.  Butler punted and the Panthers took over at the Arizona 39.  From the 39, Newton competed a short pass to running back Fozzy Whittaker and he took it all the way for a touchdown.  Gano made the point after and the Panthers led 20-14 with 5:28 to go in the third quarter.

Things would get much worse for the Cardinals after that.  Return man Ted Ginn fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Panthers got the ball back at the Arizona three-yard line.  Newton was stuffed for a loss of one yard on first down and Tolbert only gained one yard on second down.  On third down, Newton looked for Olsen, but the pass was incomplete.  However, the Cardinals were flagged for pass interference.  That gave them a first down at the one.  This time, Tolbert had no problem finding the end zone and he took it up the left side for a touchdown.  Gano made the point after and the Panthers led 27-14 with 4:04 to go in the third quarter.

You wouldn’t think that a 27-14 lead would be insurmountable for the Cardinals.  If they had Carson Palmer or Drew Stanton at quarterback, they’d have a shot at regaining the lead.  But Lindley was not having a good game.  Even after Newton fumbled and the Cardinals took over at the Carolina eight-yard line, they still couldn’t get a score.  Lindley looked for Fitzgerald and the pass was  picked off by linebacker Luke Kuechly.  That pretty much sealed the deal and the Panthers came away with a 27-16 win.

The top performers in this game were all wearing Carolina blue.

Leading passer: Cam Newton completed 18 of 32 for 198 yards, two touchdowns, one interception.

Leading rusher: Jonathan Stewart rushed for 123 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown.

Leading receiver: Fozzy Whittaker had 39 yards and one touchdown.

The Panthers held Arizona to 78 yards.  That is the fewest yards ever allowed in an NFL postseason game.  Up next for the Panthers is a trip out to Seattle to take on the Seahawks.  That game will be on Saturday night at 8:15 eastern time.

 

 

Leatherheads Midseason Awards

We are halfway through the 2014 NFL season and there have been surprises, disappointments, slumps, sacks, breakaways and meltdowns.

And so far we’re only talking about Jon Gruden.

We kid because we care. According to the Bible of Gruden every player in the NFL is the greatest player/person/life form ever, at least at some particular moment and we applaud such positivity because if football is about nothing else shouldn’t it be about love, appreciation and the Raiderettes?

Mr. Gruden was unable to join us for our midseason awards banquet but we Leatherheads still managed.

Midseason MVP: Peyton Manning

Manning is the runaway unanimous choice among all Leatherheads who took part in this report card. Joe Williams issues apologies to Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck noting that Manning is still the best player in the game and that’s difficult to protest. Manning is tied for first with Luck with an NFL-best 22 touchdown passes but has been intercepted just three times, whereas Luck has gotten picked nine times. Peyton’s QB rating of 119.0 leaves Luck, Rodgers, Philip Rivers and everyone else in the dust.

Manning is also leading what is probably the best team in the NFL. The Denver Broncos are 6-1 with their lone defeat coming in overtime to the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. If Peyton Manning stays healthy he seems likely to win his (gulp) sixth NFL MVP. No one else has ever won more than three.

We have to take a brief timeout here, however, to point out that Manning is now playing in an era when quarterbacks are like pinball players. They are allowed to just sit there and bang those flippers, racking up the stats and the points. Yes, #18 still does it as well if not better than anyone but we can only wonder what great QBs of yesteryear would have accomplished in today’s increasingly hands-off-the-star NFL.

And another thing, Peyton will not be considered the greatest quarterback ever until he wins another Super Bowl. That’s not fair, maybe. But it’s true. But for now, he must be satisfied with the official Mike Lynch Statue for winning the Leatherheads half-season MVP. I hope someone ordered that statue.

Midseason Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray

Some Leatherheads chose Manning for this and that’s perfectly logical. If a guy plays offense and is the league MVP then shouldn’t he automatically be the Offensive Player of the Year as well? After some discussion and a few cocktails our official answer is “no.” Manning is the most valuable because he’s awesome and has the unfair advantage over Murray of playing the most important position. But DeMarco Murray deserves the Offensive accolade for several reasons.

Murray, the fourth year Dallas Cowboys running back, leads the NFL in carries with 206. That’s 60 more than his next closest competitor, Arian Foster. Murray also tops the NFL in rushing yards with 1,054, easily outdistancing Foster by nearly 300 yards.   And Murray is not just a bull who bashes his way to real estate. He’s averaging 5.1 yards a carry. That’s fantastic.

Murray is also tied with Foster for the NFL lead with seven rushing scores and has caught 26 passes for a nearly nine-yard average. All this and his Cowboys are making Jerry Jones look young again without surgical help as Dallas is 6-2 and in great position to make its first playoff appearance since 2009.

Our concern is that DeMarco may not be alive and well come playoff time. He’s on pace to carry the ball more than 400 times and, come January, could be moving slower than lava but with implications just as critical.

Midseason Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt

Another unanimous choice. Mr. Watt, the Houston Texans defensive end, is so good some might say he deserves consideration for league MVP. Perhaps. Just as with DeMarco Murray, Watt pays the price for not being a quarterback which is a shame (whoops! We almost wrote “sham”) because he’s probably the best overall player in the league.

Watt has seven sacks which puts him significantly behind league-leader Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs who has ten. But sacks are like Mariah Carey songs. They’re fun and make the person who sings them a lot of money but they’re not really music, and not really the best barometer of a great defensive player. If a guy gets one sack a game he’s anointed a star. But what does he do the rest of the game? Watt does a lot.

J.J. has eight pass deflections, tied with Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata for most among defensive lineman.  Every other guy in the top ten is a defensive back.

Watt has 22 solo tackles, tied for fourth among NFL defensive linemen. He has one forced fumble and one interception; which he returned 80 yards for a touchdown against Buffalo. Watt also recovered a fumble and rambled 45 yards for a score against the Colts. Justin James Watt has also caught one pass this year, yes on offense, for a TD. This dude has three touchdowns. And he plays defense. And he does all this on a team that’s 4-4 and alive and ponderous in the playoff race. (And, as Joe Williams observes, J.J. is also a “decent dancer.”)

Midseason Rookie of the Year: Sammy Watkins

We’re impressed with several first years including Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown and Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. But in the end, it’s Sammy.

Watkins, the first year wideout for the Buffalos Bills, is described by our Joe Williams as “pure talent” and the numbers back that up. Watkins has 590 yards receiving, which is tops among rookies, and he is also tied for the lead in the NFL’s freshman class with five TD catches including a last-second game winner against the Vikings on October 19.

Watkins is electric and should be a stud for years to come. The problem is he plays in Buffalo and the Bills are so awful and so off the radar that no matter how good Watkins is he’ll never…oh dear. Wait a second. The Bills are 5-3, aren’t they? If Watkins and QB Kyle Orton (He’s alive! He’s good!) lead the Bills to their first playoff appearance since 1999 (who do they think they are, the Kansas City Royals?) then Sammy won’t just be Rookie of the Year, he’ll also never have to shovel his driveway again.

Biggest Midseason Surprise: Dallas Cowboys

It would have been a smooth and cool transition to go from raving about Sammy Watkins to christening his Bills as the league’s biggest surprise so far and that’s the vote from Leatherhead Joe Williams. But Leatherhead David Boyce says that honor is actually an ignominious one that belongs to the 4-3 Super Bowl champion Seahawks who are good but not looking at all like the juggernaut many thought they’d be.

Then there’s the offering of Leatherhead Daniel Durany who votes for the Cowboys and that selection is our winner. The Bills are a great story, so are the Cardinals but, as Joe Williams points, not really a surprising one as they were great in the second half of last year. We choose Dallas because the Cowboys are not only unexpectedly winning games but playing really well, if that makes sense. All the drama in Dallas is finally taking a backseat to really good, sound, fundamental football and the ‘Boys are playing it despite some big injuries.

Will Dallas continue to surprise in the second half? We have already voiced our concerns about DeMarco Murray’s durability and that drama that we don’t miss did return a bit in Monday’s loss to the Washington Redskins with questions about quarterback Tony Romo’s health both short and long term. And as long as Jerry Jones is there will Jason Garrett, or any coach, really get to do their own thing?

We knoweth not. But for the first eight games the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys are not just a pleasant surprise but the league’s biggest one.

Biggest Midseason Disappointment: Chicago Bears

This category is another contentious one. Joe Williams chooses the Seahawks. David Boyce votes for his beloved but 0-7 Oakland Raiders (will Jim Harbaugh cross the Bay and coach the Silver and Black next year? Or maybe travel with them to L.A.?) But Daniel Durany and the rest of us vote for, sigh, cigarette puff, sigh, head scratch, sigh, the Chicago Bears.

Oh it hurts. Maybe the Bears shouldn’t be considered a disappointment when remembering they were 8-8 last year. But most preseason prognosticators chose the Monsters of the Maddening to be a playoff team and some felt they could even have dreams of football in February. Instead, the Bears’ vaunted offense has been stuck in neutral, injuries are mounting for an already aged and bedraggled defense and the Bears are a very murky 3-5 with zero wins at home.

What in the Ditka has gone wrong in Chicago? Too much. The second half could see a turnaround but it’s going to be tougher than the Soldier Field turf to do so.

So, what are you thoughts about our midseason honors? Will they hold up? And what of the prediction of a certain Leatherhead back in August that we’d see a Cardinals-Chargers Super Bowl? It’s still crazy but maybe not as crazy as it sounded back then.

We’ll stand by that pick for now but won’t cry if we’re proven wrong. We hope the second half continues to see excellent football on the field and fewer distracting stories off the field. This has been a very challenging season for the league to put it mildly. Hopefully the NFL will continue pushing to make its service to the community as impactful as its product on Sundays.

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.

 

 

 

Cardinals at Christmas

The Chicago Bears went on the road and beat the Arizona Cardinals, 28-13, on Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive and earn a seat at the grownups table for Christmas dinner.

The Bears employed their early season formula of letting the defense be the offense as cornerback Zack Bowman started the day’s scoring with a one-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter and fellow corner Charles Tillman put the game away in the third with a ten-yard interception return for a score.

In between, the Bears got a four-yard touchdown from Matt Forte and an 11-yard scoring strike from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall who have been each other’s not-so-secret Santas since early July.

The Bears, who are now 9-6, also re-lived their halcyon days of September and October by playing an opponent that’s so bad the naughty list doesn’t want them.  The Cardinals are 5-10 and started Ryan Lindley at quarterback, a gentleman who became Arizona’s first-stringer by winning second prize in a “guess how many jelly beans in the jar” contest at a mall in Tucson.

First prize was death by rancid pickle enema.

The Bears are alive and are also in the awkward position of having to root for the Green Bay Packers because if the Bears beat the Lions in Detroit next Sunday and the Pack defeat the Vikings in Minnesota then the Bears are playoff-bound.  But then again, the Bears are accustomed to being sweet and neighborly to Aaron Rodgers and his All-receiver Review so maybe pulling for the Pack won’t be so weird.

The Bears know they can’t worry about what other teams do. The Bears can only do what every Chicagoan does: worry about the Bears.  The Lions, who got their Christmas losing out of the way early by falling to the Falcons on Saturday night, are 4-11 and have lost seven straight.  But it would be a big mistake for Lovie Smith’s fellas to think that just because they beat one putrid team they’ll easily beat another because the Lions have talent and hatred for the Bears.  The Cardinals have no talent and only hate themselves.

Football can be very sad at times.

Some might say it doesn’t seem right that the Bears are in a position to play extra games after looking like panda poop since Halloween.  Others would opine that Chicago earned this chance by playing so well in the first half of the season.  These two opposing groups have been locked in a bathroom in the basement of an abandoned church as two guys dressed like Bozo dance outside the door waving sparklers singing “The Night Chicago Died.”

Breathe deep.  Christmas is here and the Bears are survivors on the Island of Misfit Footballers turning the handle on the “Charlie-in-the-Box.”  Brian Urlacher might be back next weekend, Devin Hester is still running in the wrong direction and the Bears are in the hunt.

They have a chance to be a part of something special, to reach a faraway land called January.

Wally Lemm Leaves Oilers for Cardinals (1962)

On February 22, 1962 Wally Lemm, who had guided the Houston Oilers to the AFL Championship in ’61, quit to become head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL. The 42-year-old Lemm signed a one-year contract in succeeding Frank “Pop” Ivy, who resigned with two games left in the season.

Lemm had started out more inclined to write about football then coach it. He graduated from Carroll College, where he was a halfback on the football team, with a journalism degree. Following service in World War II in which he commanded a torpedo boat, he became an assistant coach under Hugh Devore at Notre Dame in 1945. It was a quick jump to head coach at Waukesha High School in ’46 and then back to the college level. Lemm was an assistant coach for three years at Lake Forest College, as well as head basketball coach, before becoming head coach in 1954. The team won the conference title in his first year and he left after compiling an 11-4-1 record. From there it was on to Montana State and again, in his first season, his team won a title, gaining the Rocky Mountain Conference championship with an 8-1 tally.

In 1956, Lemm moved to pro coaching for the first time, serving as a defensive assistant for the then-Chicago Cardinals. The team, under Head Coach Ray Richards, had its first winning season in seven years and the defense was a big part of it as the unit intercepted 33 passes and allowed only nine touchdowns. However, in keeping with a pattern in which he didn’t stay in one place for long, Lemm returned to Lake Forest College as head coach in ’57 and came away with another conference title.

After returning to the Cardinals as an assistant in 1959, he moved to the Oilers of the new AFL in ’60. Houston won the first AFL Championship under Head Coach Lou Rymkus, but Lemm resigned to go into the sporting goods business. When the Oilers got off to a 1-3-1 start in 1961 and it was apparent that Rymkus was losing control of the club, owner Bud Adams hired Lemm to take over.

His coaching methods were rather unconventional for the time and made him unpopular with some of his peers. Lemm was low-key and took a relaxed approach with the players and kept the offense, in particular, as simple as possible in order to eliminate the potential for errors. His attitude was summed up in his statement that “football is supposed to be fun and if you treat the players like adults they will usually respond like adults. The game is not really simple anymore because the defenses change so much, but we try to keep it as clear, straightforward and pleasurable as we can.”

The philosophy worked in Houston. The intense Rymkus had sown dissension among the players, but Lemm relaxed the atmosphere. He also returned veteran QB George Blanda to the starting lineup and installed Willard Dewveall at tight end. The defense was simplified and Fred Glick replaced Charlie Milstead at safety, where he had been badly overmatched in the team’s defeats. The results were spectacular – the Oilers went 10-0 the rest of the way and repeated as AFL champs.

Lemm had initially agreed to a contract extension but was frustrated with the front office alignment in Houston despite the team’s success, and with the excuse of being able to work closer to home (he lived in Libertyville, Illinois), he accepted the offer to coach the Cardinals.

While there were rumors that the Oilers were interested in Sammy Baugh or former Dallas Cowboys assistant Babe Dimancheff to replace Lemm, in the end they hired Ivy, making it a straight swap of coaches (he lasted two seasons).

The Cardinals, all-too-typically a losing team, went 6-5-1 in 1960, the first year in St. Louis, and were 7-7 in ’61. Injuries played a key role in the team’s failing to show greater improvement, in particular the loss of star HB John David Crow for virtually the entire year. Canadian Football League legend Sam Etcheverry had moved south of the border after an outstanding nine-year career to take over at quarterback, but his arm was worn out and he was no longer the player he had been in the CFL.

Lemm didn’t have the same initial success as he did in his college stops and with the Oilers. St. Louis dropped to 4-9-1 in 1962. However, the seeds were planted for future success. Etcheverry started the year at quarterback but was replaced by second-year QB Charley Johnson, who showed promise and had outstanding receivers in fleet split end Sonny Randle and dependable flanker Bobby Joe Conrad. Crow was back at halfback and there was a good stable of young backs developing. The defense gave up too many points, but there was young talent in the backfield with 22-year-old CB Pat Fischer and 24-year-old FS Larry Wilson.

In the draft for the 1963 season, the Cards had two first round draft choices and used them to shore up the defense, adding safety Jerry Stovall from LSU and Purdue DE Don Brumm. The team dramatically improved to 9-5. Johnson had an outstanding year at quarterback, setting club records with 3280 passing yards and 28 TDs. Despite again losing Crow to injury for virtually the entire season, Bill Triplett was shifted from defensive back to offensive halfback and was a good replacement, running for 652 yards while averaging 4.9 yards per carry and catching 31 passes for 396 more. Perennial backup Joe Childress became the starting fullback and led the team with 701 rushing yards and grabbed 25 passes. Conrad led the NFL with 73 pass receptions, for 967 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Randle gained 1014 yards on his 51 catches and scored 12 times. Rookie TE Jackie Smith contributed 28 receptions for 445 yards. The line, built around C Bob DeMarco and G Ken Gray, was also improved.

The defensive line was augmented by the addition of Brumm and Stovall proved to be an asset in the backfield, along with Jimmy Burson. The linebacker corps, anchored by MLB Dale Meinert, was a good one. Jim Bakken, who had originally joined the team as a reserve defensive back, proved to be a reliable placekicker (and would for the next 15 seasons in St. Louis).

The stage was set for the Cards to contend in 1964 and they battled the Browns to the wire, ending up second in the Eastern Conference at 9-3-2. Indeed, they went 1-0-1 against Cleveland and won three of their first four and all of their last four contests – only a midseason slump prevented them from finishing on top. The team was well balanced. Johnson passed for 3045 yards, although he threw more interceptions (24) than touchdowns (21). Conrad had another Pro Bowl year (61 catches, 780 yards) but Randle missed considerable time with a shoulder injury – backup WR Billy Gambrell performed admirably in his place. Jackie Smith continued his development at tight end with 47 receptions for 657 yards. Triplett was out for the year at halfback due to a bout with tuberculosis, but Crow was back and led the club with 554 yards rushing. On defense, the small (5’9”, 170) but aggressive Fischer intercepted 10 passes and the club ranked second in the league with 25 overall.

The success did not continue as anticipated in 1965, however. After getting off to a 4-1 start, they lost eight of their last nine games to sink to 5-9. The line and receivers were still outstanding, but Johnson, who started out well, was plagued by injuries and seemed to regress. Injuries also struck among the running backs, and they were lacking the clutch play of Crow, who had been dealt away to the 49ers. On defense, the linebacker corps was still a strength but the line failed to rush opposing passers effectively and Wilson and Stovall missed time in the backfield.

The failure to meet expectations meant the end of the line for Lemm in St. Louis. He left with an overall record of 27-26-3 and returned to the Oilers as head coach in 1966 (including Ivy, they had gone through three head coaches since ‘62). While the Cards had some good seasons under his successor, Charley Winner, they were never able to win a division title. Houston, with Lemm back at the helm, utilized a conservative offense and outstanding defense to win the Eastern Divison in ’67, but was decimated by Oakland in the AFL Championship game. It was Lemm’s last hurrah as a pro head coach, and he quit for good following the 1970 season, citing health issues. His overall pro record was 64-64-7 and he was 1-2 in the postseason, with the one AFL title to his credit.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on February 22, 2012.

 

Franchises Returning to Their Former Homes

This Sunday’s St. Louis Rams vs. Cleveland Browns game isn’t generating a lot of buzz. But the significance of the game shouldn’t be lost on the city of Cleveland.

The Rams who were originally founded in Cleveland, will be making their 11th trip back to the city Cleveland. The Rams have a record of 4-6 in Cleveland, since they left the icy shores of Lake Erie in 1946.

The Rams are one of ten current NFL teams, to have ever played an official NFL game in a city they use to call home.  These teams have a winning record of 48-42 in their former cities.

Franchises Records at their Former Home

Team Former City Moved W-L 1st Game Back
Result
Cardinals Chicago 1960 3-6 1965: Bears L 13-34
St. Louis 1988 7-3 1998: Rams W 20-17
Chargers Los Angeles 1961 7-10 1970: Rams L 10-37
Chiefs Dallas 1963 1-4 1975: Cowboys W 34-31
Colts Baltimore 1984 4-2 1998: Colts L 31-38
Lions Portsmouth 1934 1-0 1934: Cin Reds W 38-0
Raiders Oakland 1982 Didn’t play in Oakland until they moved back. ¹
Los Angeles 1995 Haven’t played in Los Angeles since.
Rams Cleveland 1946 4-6 1950: Browns L 28-30
Los Angeles 1995 Haven’t played in Los Angeles since.
Ravens Cleveland 1996 8-4 1999: Browns W 41-9
Redskins Boston 1937 7-4 1944: Bos Yanks W 21-14
Titans Houston 1997 6-3 2002: Texans W 13-3

¹ The Raiders played an exhibition game in Oakland in 1989, they lost to the Houston Oilers 21-23.

 

Trades Involving Big Name QB’s That Never Happened

It’s often mentioned that championship teams are built through the NFL draft.  It’s a fairly cliché statement, but it’s entirely true.  What’s often overlooked is that draft selections are only one aspect of the draft.  The ability of front office staffs to wheel and deal during the draft can also make lasting impacts on NFL teams.  The most impactful trades often involve quarterbacks.

There are a lot of trade rumors involving QB’s flying around draft weekend, and usually none of them end up true.  Imagine though if some of them did in fact become true.  The NFL landscape would certainly be different.  Listed below are some draft time trade rumors from the past 25 years (as reported by the major media) involving star QB’s, that never became true.

 

1983 NFL Draft – Rumored John Elway/#1 Pick Trades

Before the 1983 NFL draft, John Elway told the Baltimore Colts (owners of the NFL’s #1 pick) not to select him.  That’s because Elway wanted to play for a team located on the west coast, and if he was selected by the Colts, he insinuated he might abandon football, and pursue a career in baseball.  In the end, the Colts selected Elway, but soon after traded him to the Denver Broncos.  The rest is history.

With Elway’s strong statements before the draft, it appeared to the major media that the Colts would trade the #1 pick; thus trading the rights to select Elway.  The Los Angeles Raiders and San Diego Chargers were two teams mentioned as likely candidates to win the Elway sweepstakes.

The San Diego Chargers owned three picks in the first round, and were having difficulty signing All-Pro QB Dan Fouts to a new contract.  The Raiders had a solid veteran QB in Jim Plunkett, but Al Davis always liked to make a splash at the draft.

The Baltimore Colts were willing to trade the #1 pick/Elway to the San Diego Chargers for all three of the Chargers first round picks, but the Chargers were unwilling to give up the 5th overall selection.  Perhaps if the Chargers hadn’t signed Dan Fouts to a new contract the night before, the Chargers might have been more willing to give up that 5th overall pick.

There were a number of different rumored trade offers from the Raiders.  One scenario stated the Raiders were offering a number of top picks in the 1983 and 1984 drafts, as well as former first round selection in QB Marc Wilson.  Another rumor mentioned that the Raiders would consider trading future Hall of Fame RB Marcus Allen.  Lastly, it was also rumored that the Raiders were attempting to attain first round selections, in order to trade them for Elway.  Reportedly, the Raiders were offering RB Kenny King, G Mickey Marvin, and future Hall of Fame DE Howie Long to the Chicago Bears (6th pick) or the Philadelphia Eagles (8th pick).

The Dallas Cowboys were also rumored as being interested in Elway.  It was rumored that the Cowboys offered the Colts their top selection in the 1983 draft (23rd overall), and a number of veteran players, possibly QB Danny White and DT Randy White.

Lastly, despite Elway’s request to play for a team on the west coast, the New England Patriots were supposedly highly interested in selecting Elway.  It was rumored that the Patriots would offer the Colts their first round selections in 1983, 1984, and 1985, as well as a veteran player or another top selection.

In the end, the Denver Broncos were truly the dark horse candidate to get John Elway, and made out the best.

In hindsight, the Chargers should have traded all three first round selections for Elway.  The Chargers did pick up three solid players with their picks; LB Billy Ray Smith, RB Gary Anderson, and DB Gill Byrd.  However, none of those players had Hall of Fame careers.

The Cowboys also should have offered a bit more for Elway.  Although, if they did, I’m sure the team wouldn’t have gone through the collapse they did in 1988 and 1989; which ultimately led to the birth of a dynasty.  Who knows if it was even nothing more than a remote possibility, but the Patriots also should have made more of an effort to get Elway.

Meanwhile, it’s debatable whether the Raiders made the right decision by not trading for Elway.  The Raiders would go on to win the Super Bowl in 1983.  Without Marcus Allen and/or Howie Long, that probably doesn’t happen.   However, I’m sure the Raiders would have loved to have had Elway at QB with some of their more talented teams in the early 1990’s.

Lastly, the Colts would have been better off taking trade offers from any of the rumored trades, before actually selecting Elway.  Once they selected Elway, and he refused to play for them, their bargaining power was reduced significantly.  In the end, the Colts picked up an unproductive QB in Mark Herrmann, a talented tackle, albeit not a Hall of Famer in Chris Hinton, and a first round selection in the 1984 draft (used on G Ron Solt).

 

1987 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trades

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed QB Vinny Testaverde to a contract weeks before they would actually be able to select him #1 in the 1987 NFL draft.  This gave the Buccaneers a few weeks to shop around highly talented QB Steve Young.  Eventually, the San Francisco 49ers would pick up Young for second and third round picks.  However, the Green Bay Packers and the St. Louis Cardinals had also been in trade talks with the 49ers for Young.

After the draft, Packers head coach Forrest Gregg stated the 49ers asking price for Steve Young was too steep.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals elected to choose a QB in the draft by selecting Kelly Stouffer.

Looking back, the Packers should have realized the asking price for Steve Young wasn’t too steep.  However, they came out of it rather unscathed, with a smart draft selection of Don Majkowski, and a smart trade for Brett Favre.  The Cardinals however didn’t get so lucky.  Stouffer never played a snap with the Cardinals, refusing to sign with them.

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trade

The San Francisco 49ers reportedly made a trade offer to the Los Angeles Raiders, in which they were going to trade the NFL’s top rated passer, Steve Young, for the Raiders first and second round selections, and WR Tim Brown.  49ers head coach George Seifert admitted the 49ers attempted to trade up in the draft, but didn’t get into the specifics on any trade offers they may have made.

The Raiders ended up picking defensive lineman Chester McGlockton with their first round pick, and the Raiders traded up in the second round to pick offensive lineman Greg Skrepenak.

Clearly, it looks like the 49ers benefited from this trade not occurring.  Steve Young continued to be one of the best QB’s in the NFL, and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl championship in 1994.

If the trade did go through, the 49ers would have had Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and most likely future Hall of Famer Tim Brown at the receiver’s positions.  Coincidentally, the two players would be paired together as Raiders during the 2001-2003 seasons.

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Phil Simms Trades

What turned out to be a rumor with no legs, the New York Giants were reportedly interested in trading veteran QB Phil Simms, so they could move up in the 1992 NFL draft and select QB David Klinger.  The San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Raiders were supposedly interested in Simms.  The Giants denied the rumor.  Simms remained with the Giants for a few more years and eventually won the starting job back.   Jeff Hostetler, the Giants starting QB at the time, would end up with the Raiders one year later.

 

1993 NFL Draft – Rumored Joe Montana Trades

If you thought the sight of Joe Montana in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform was strange, imagine how he would have looked in an Arizona Cardinals uniform, or a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform.

The Buccaneers were the original front running team to get Joe Montana.  They had a surplus of draft picks, some youthful talent, and Montana worked with Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche when Wyche was an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers.  But Montana had no interest in going to a team that wasn’t a contender, and chose against being traded to the Buccaneers.

Despite Montana’s request to go to Kansas City, it looked as if Montana would end up in a Cardinals uniform because they were offering more compensation for him.  The Cardinals were offering the 49ers their first round selection in the draft (20th pick).  At that point in the trade negations, no other team had even offered the 49ers a draft selection in the second round.

The Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Raiders also expressed interest in trading for Montana, but their type of offensive styles didn’t appeal to Montana.

Eventually, the 49ers and Chiefs came to an agreement.  The 49ers sent Montana, safety David Whitmore and their third round selection in the 1994 draft.  In return, the 49ers received the Chiefs first round draft pick (18th overall).

You can’t really fault the Buccaneers or Cardinals for not getting Montana.  Montana wanted to go to the Chiefs, and when the Chiefs offered enough compensation, a deal was made.  The Buccaneers and Cardinals were merely curious bystanders.

 

1995 NFL Draft – Rumored Mark Brunell Trades

In 1995, Mark Brunell wasn’t a household name; however some NFL teams recognized his talents, and were willing to take a chance on him.  The team Brunell played for, the Green Bay Packers, already had a talented and young QB on their roster in Brett Favre.

The Philadelphia Eagles actually had a deal in principle made with the Packers for Brunell, under the stipulation that they would be able to sign Brunell to a long term contract.  Brunell and the Eagles never reached a contract agreement, and the Eagles agreement to send their second and fifth round selections to the Packers fell through.

The St. Louis Rams were also reported as a team interested in Brunell.  In the end, the Jacksonville Jaguars sent their third and fifth round picks to the Packers for Brunell.

If the Eagles had been able to sign Brunell, it would have changed the franchise.  Brunell came into his own during the 1996 playoffs; during a time when the Eagles were struggling to find a suitable QB to lead their talented roster.

 

2010 NFL Draft – Rumored Ben Roethlisberger Trades

Coming off another off-season embarrassment relating to their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger, it was rumored that the Pittsburgh Steelers were interested in trading him.

It was reported that the Steelers offered Roethlisberger to the St. Louis Rams as a way to attain the #1 pick in the draft.  However, the Rams had no interest in the trade, and selected QB Sam Bradford.

The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders were also mentioned as possible trading partners with the Steelers for Roethlisberger.  The Steelers confirmed they had spoken to the Raiders about Roethlisberger, but denied speaking to the Browns.

 

One final note: If there is a big name QB with trade rumors attached to his name, it appears that the Oakland Raiders will always be interested.  Every QB on this list, with the exception of Mark Brunell, was of interest to the Raiders.

 

Andrew McKillop runs the sports research blog SportsDelve.com.