March 27, 2017

Saints 31, Bears 15: The Unholy Season

December 15, 2014

Saints 31, Bears 15: The Unholy Season

The Chicago Bears handed out aprons to the first 40,000 loyal souls who walked into Soldier Field on Monday night and they were quickly put to good use catching tears and other fluids flying around a frustrated stadium as the Bears were damned by the New Orleans Saints, 31-15 in another nationally televised kick in the crotch.

It started ugly, stayed ugly and ended ugly, emblematic of an intolerable season that now has the Bears at 5-9 and questioning their choices, their path, their pride and their religion.

The Bears took the opening kick and committed a penalty. Their first play from scrimmage was a two-yard run, followed by an incomplete pass and then a Jay Cutler interception, the first of what would eventually be three on this cold, rainy night that made even Santa Claus a doubter.

The Bears did manage to get the ball back two plays later by forcing a fumble but refused to take advantage of this rare bit of good fortune and instead responded with a weak five-play drive that included a curious incomplete Cutler deep pass on 3rd and 1 and, well, we were really glad we had those aprons.

The Saints, an NFC South powerhouse at 6-8, are not very good either and, like the Bears, couldn’t do much early on as the first quarter of this contest looked less like an NFL game than a shoving match between a bunch of fat guys in a yard full of reindeer droppings.

Alas, New Orleans’ badness was not as bad as Chicago’s and Drew Brees and his fleur de leaf helmeted pals put up 14 points in the second quarter to lead 14-0 at halftime and if it hadn’t been for a spectacular fireworks show, and those awesome aprons, probably many more fans would have left an already sorry crowd that had about 11,000 no-shows at kickoff.

There were actually a lot of Saints fans in Chicago for this game, which proves that people will follow football anywhere, even if it’s bad December football.

The Bears were outgained 443-278 on the night and those numbers would have been far, far worse if it wasn’t for a couple of Bears touchdowns on garbage-time drives in the fourth quarter by which time our hot chocolate was cold, our aprons were soiled and our souls, in tatters since the Green Bay game five weeks ago, were in need of serious spiritual reconstruction if not an outright exorcism.

The Saints committed three penalties for 25 yards. The Bears were flagged nine times for 74 yards.

The Bears turned the ball over three times, the Saints just once.

Drew Brees averaged nine yards per pass attempt; Jay Cutler averaged four.

Brees was sacked twice by the Bears; Cutler bit the turf seven times.

Thank God for those aprons.

The Bears have dropped three straight games giving up an average of 35 points per game and, for the season, are surrendering an average of 29 points per contest, worst in the NFL.

Chicago’s offense through 14 games is scoring at a pace of 21.6 points per contest, 19th best. This, from a team that was expected to have the best offense Chicago has ever seen. The Bears have seen a lot of great offense this year, wearing the other jerseys.

When it was all (officially) over on Monday night we the few, the proud, the cold, the downtrodden, trudged out of Soldier Field into the dark, misty, wintry air and perhaps the most troubling thing was that no one seemed surprised, or even disappointed. Those reactions were all used up against the Panthers, Patriots, Packers and Lions.

At this point, Bears fans are just tired, with no one even heard firing back at the “Who Dat?” chants from New Orleans fans echoing into the cold December night.

Instead, we clutched our aprons and checked our phones for the Bulls score.

They lost, too.

Seahawks 23, Saints 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saints 26, Bears 18: Slain By Saint Jimmy (With Help From Saint Drew)

The Chicago Bears had the ball on fourth-and-two from the New Orleans Saints’ 25-yard line trailing 23-10 with 8:25 to play when Jay Cutler threw a short pass to wideout Earl Bennett who caught it for a first down.  Then dropped it.

The Saints took over and, six plays later, had fourth-and-one from their own 47 and were going to go for it but, really, were just trying to draw the Bears offsides.  Shockingly, it worked, as perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs jumped too quickly giving the Saints a fresh set of downs which they used to march down the field, milk the clock, and kick a field goal to make it 26-10 in what would soon be a 26-18 New Orleans victory.

The Bears lost this game, their second straight after a 3-0 start, because of a lot more than just these two plays but it’s much less painful to concentrate on two plays than an entire game and admit to having lost because the fellas on the other sideline have more talent, better coaching and a character out of Greek mythology playing tight end.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham spent much of this sunny afternoon at Chicago’s Soldier Field terrorizing the Bears defense by catching 10 passes from Drew Brees for 135 yards and, after each reception, whispering into the ears of Bears defenders that the tooth fairy was dead.

That’s at least what it looked like on TV.

The Bears did manage to keep Jimmy Monster out of the end zone for the first time this season which is more difficult than keeping Rob (Evil Santa) Ryan away from a plate of hot wings, but Jimmy created quite enough havoc anyway, not the least of which was opening things up for New Orleans’ other receivers including running back Pierre Thomas who caught nine passes, two for TDs, and was officially uninvited from Marc Trestman’s Sunday brunch.

Let’s stop picking on the Bears’ defense, though.  They had a rough enough day already and, truthfully, Mel Tucker’s guys actually played well, if not downright heroically, for much of this contest and managed to keep the Bears in the game when Chicago’s offense looked like it had eaten far too much gumbo.  The first five drives for the Bears when punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt and it looked like the Jacksonville Jaguars had stolen the Bears uniforms.  By the time Jay Cutler and the O got moving the Saints offense had figured things out and it was 20-7 at halftime and a fair-haired child named hope was seen skipping toward the exits extending both middle fingers.

Numbers can be deceiving.  If you’re not convinced just consider that Justin Bieber has more Twitter followers than Twitter itself.  Cutler ended up throwing for 358 yards, which was 70 more than Brees, for two touchdowns, the same as Brees.  And despite the size, speed and chipmunk-chewing relentlessness of Jimmy Graham, the true receiving star in this contest was Bears wideout Alshon Jeffrey who hauled in ten passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.

Jeffrey’s yardage was a record-setter, launching him past Johnny Morris who had a 201-yard day for the Bears back in 1962.  How many other NFL teams have any receiving record holders from fifty years ago?  And Morris still holds the Bears’ all-time career receiving mark of 5,059 yards.  Saints receivers get 5,059 yards just by showing up.

So, the Bears are now 3-2, 0-2 against winning teams and, frankly, probably feeling a little bit bad about themselves.

But there is a bright side.  Maybe a couple.  First off, next on the schedule is a Thursday night affair at Soldier Field with the 0-5 New York Giants who are so bad that Georgia State feels sorry for them.  After that, the Bears travel to Washington and the only thing keeping the Redskins out of the NFC East cellar is that the Giants have already climbed down there and locked the door.  So, the Bears could be 5-2 before National Nut Day.  Then they have a bye week and then, gulp, a trip to Green Bay.  Being 5-3 midway through isn’t too bad.

Chicago also has other things to grow on.  Everyone knows how valuable wide receiver Brandon Marshall is and in the first few games the Bears’ best offensive weapon was tight end Martellus Bennett and now Jeffrey has shown he’s clearly Chicago’s best #17 since Dave Krieg.  And there’s still Matt Forte.  Weapons, weapons, weapons.  All they have to do is figure out how to keep people blocked so that the arsenal can be unleashed not just for a drive or two but all day long.

Someone said during the 49ers’ rout of the Texans that a team with a 3-2 record has about a 50% chance of making the playoffs.  Those aren’t the numbers the Bears thought they would have at this point, but at least their heads are above water.

That’s good.  Winter is quickly approaching.

Other Football Things:

–The Broncos beat the Cowboys, 51-48, in the type of offensive explosion that the NFL wants to see every week.  But in a game like that, or any game, it should not be allowed that the winning score comes on a chip-shot field goal after letting the clock tick down to its final seconds.  That’s how the game is played but it just doesn’t feel right.  To win you should have to get in the end zone, not kick the ball over it.

–Is it fun or just weird that Chargers-Raiders didn’t start until after Chris Berman went to bed?

–Charles Woodson should play forever.  Charles Woodson might play forever.

–Northwestern lost a thriller to Ohio State in a huge Big Ten showdown.  Nick Saban yawned.

–What exactly is going on with college football uniforms?  It seems each week teams have different logos, shinier helmets and copious amounts of sartorial weirdness.  Notre Dame’s helmets in its victory over Arizona State were almost as ugly as the Sun Devils’, which were really ugly.  Football isn’t pretty but c’mon, son.  –TK

 

NFL Week 1 Highlights

The NFL is back!

Both last year’s Super Bowl and this year’s NFL 2013 opener have something in common: Baltimore Ravens witnessing a delay.

However there is one major difference during these two delays: Baltimore being demolished by the Denver Broncos 49-27 in the season opener compared to seven months ago becoming Super Bowl XLVII champions.

The 2013 NFL season went through a 33-minute lighting delay before the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens played the Denver Broncos on the road. Baltimore becomes the first Super Bowl championship team in ten years to start their season on the road since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003.

Denver wanted to redeem last year’s divisional playoff loss in overtime against Baltimore. Not only did they redeemed last year’s loss, but they gave the Ravens the worst season opening defeat ever by a Super Bowl champion.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had a historic game, achieving several records during the 49-27 victory. Manning threw for a NFL game-tying record seven touchdown passes for 462 yards. Only five quarterbacks have thrown seven touchdowns in a game and was last achieved by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp against the Baltimore Colts on September 28, 1969. 

The Broncos are the first team in NFL history with three players catching at least two touchdown passes from the same quarterback. Manning’s first two passes went to tight end Julius Thomas, which were his first two touchdowns of his NFL career. After the Broncos blocked punt in the third quarter, Manning’s fourth and fifth touchdown passes went to newly acquired wide receiver Wes Welker. To put the game out of reach, Manning completed his final two touchdown passes to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Overall, there were 63 touchdown passes in Week 1, the most ever in any week in NFL history.

 

Other Records Achieved During Manning’s 7-Touchdown Game

-1st quarterback with three career games of 6 Touchdown Passes

-23rd career game with 4+ Touchdown Passes, tied for 1st with Brett Favre

-7th career game with 5+ Touchdown Passes, tied for 1st with Drew Brees

-Extended his NFL record with his 73rd career 300-yard passing game

-Extended his NFL record 74th career game throwing 3+ touchdown passes

 

Unique Debuts

They are other players who achieved or extended personal records and streaks during Week 1 of the NFL season. Newly acquired wide receiver Anquan Boldin for San Francisco 49ers had 13 receptions for 208 yards in the 34-28 victory over the Green Bay Packers. 

Boldin becomes the first player in NFL history to receive over 100 yards in his debut with three different teams (217 for the Cardinals, 110 for the Ravens, and 208 for 49ers). Only one other player has received for over 100 yards in their debut for two teams: Randy Moss (130 for the Raiders and 183 for the Patriots). Boldin has two career games of 200+ receiving yards, both of them occurred during Week 1 of the NFL regular season.

 

Extended Personal Streaks and Records

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne extended his streak of 65 consecutive games with at least three receptions.  Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter ranks second at 58 consecutive games with at least three receptions. Wayne is 23 receptions away from 1,000 in his career. 

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 357 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Brees has 36 career games of 350+ passing yards, most in NFL history.  He is also one of six quarterbacks with at least 100 career games of 2+ touchdown passes and ranks 3rd among active quarterbacks behind Manning and Tom Brady. 

Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson had 12 receptions for 146 yards in the Texans comeback victory over the San Diego Chargers. Johnson is the first player ever with 19 career games of at least 10 receptions.  He is the active leader for most 100-yard receiving games with 45.

 

They Were Marching…

The New Orleans Saints marched out to Oakland, California to take on the Oakland Raiders.  They were coming off an impressive 31-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons and the Raiders were coming off a humiliating 55-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.  The Raiders won the toss and elected to receive.

With running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson still out, the running chores belonged to fullback Marcel Reece.  Starting at their own 23, the Raiders went to work.  Reece got the game off to a good start with a 17-yard run.  An eight-yard run set up an easy second and two.  On second down, running back Taiwan Jones went up the middle for a gain of three and a first down.  No he didn’t.  Wide receiver Derek Hagan was flagged for an illegal block on the play and that moved them back ten yards.  Quarterback Carson Palmer looked for Hagan on second down and the pass fell incomplete.  A six-yard pass to wide receiver Rod Streater meant the Raiders were forced to punt.  The kick went through the end zone and the Saints would start at their 20.

Quarterback Drew Brees found wide receiver Marques Colston on first down for a gain of 14.  On first down from the 37, running back Mark Ingram got a carry and appeared to be stopped.  Yet he managed to make a second effort and ended up plowing over several Raiders for a gain of 16 yards.  Two plays into the drive and the Saints were already at midfield.  Running back Pierre Thomas also got in on the act and ran up the right side for 14 yards.  On second and ten, Brees found running back Travaris Cadet for a gain of 19 and another first down at the Raider 17.  Another run and a catch by Thomas made it first and goal at the eight.  Two more runs made it third and goal from the one.  On third down, tight end Jimmy Graham basically walked into the end zone, turned around and waited for Brees to find him.  He was WIDE OPEN and there wasn’t a Raider in sight.  Brees spotted him and tossed him the ball.  Graham caught it for the easiest touchdown he’s ever had.  Kicker Garrett Hartley made the point after and the Saints led 7-0 with eight minutes to go in the first quarter.  How you can leave one of the best tight ends in the game wide open is beyond my comprehension.

Guess what the Raiders did next?  They went three and out.  By some miracle, the Saints did the same thing.  The Raiders took over at their 48 and had a shot at tying the game up with good field position.  That wasn’t meant to be.  On second down from the 48, Palmer looked for tight end Brandon Myers and was picked off by safety Malcolm Jenkins.  Not a single Raider could catch him and he returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.  Hartley made the point after and the Saints led 14-0 with four minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders got the ball at their 16 and Reece continued to impress with a nice 14-yard run.  On third and eight from the 32, Palmer found Myers for a nine-yard gain and a first down at the 41.  On third and seven from the 44, rookie wide receiver Juron Criner made a nice grab for 13 yards.  Completions to Hagan and Reece gave them a first down at the Saint 12.  On third and six from the eight, Myers caught a pass on the right side and ended up just short of the first down marker.  Palmer took it up the middle on fourth and inches and that netted a first down at the one.  Reece was stopped for a loss of one on first down and that put offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp into panic mode.  Instead of trying another run play, he called a pass play and Streater was flagged for offensive pass interference.  On second and goal from the 12, Reece caught a pass for a gain of five.  Then, on third and goal, Palmer found Myers in the end zone.  The ball hit him in the hands, bounced up and was picked off by safety Roman Harper.  The Raiders went 87 yards on 16 plays and took nine minutes off the clock.  Yet they ended up with zero points.  Myers was sitting on the bench with a suicidal look on his face.  He has caught just about every pass thrown to him this year and somehow this one escaped him.  It’s nice to know that he’s one of the few players who still gives a damn.

Harper was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty after the interception and the Saints started at their ten.  They got as far as the 31 and were forced to punt.  Starting at their 19, with a little over six minutes to go in the first half, Palmer found Reece on the left side for a gain of 56 yards.  Palmer then looked for wide receiver Denarius Moore in the end zone, but the pass was incomplete.  However, the Saints were flagged for pass interference and that gave the Raiders a first and goal at the one.  Think they’ll run it this time?  I mean it’s only one yard.  Reece should be able to get that with no problem.  On first and goal, Palmer took the snap and dropped back to throw.   He stood in the pocket, ran to his right and threaded ball between two defenders to Myers for a touchdown.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Saints now led 14-7 with four minutes to go in the first half.

The Saints were flagged on the kick return and started from their ten.  A run by Ingram, a pass to Colston and another run by Thomas moved the ball to the 43.  On third and four from the 49, Brees found Colston up the right side for a gain of 16 and a first down at the Raider 35.  From the 35, Graham caught a pass across the middle for a gain of seven.  The ball was knocked out by cornerback Joselio Hanson and despite the fact that there were several Raiders in the area, Thomas pounced on it to keep the drive going.  That was a golden opportunity lost by the Raiders.  An intentional grounding penalty on Brees moved them back ten yards.  On third and 13 from the 38, the Raiders brought the blitz.  That left wide receiver Lance Moore matched up with cornerback Michael Huff.  Moore put a double move on Huff and got by him.  I think Huff thought that backup safety Mike Mitchell would be there to bail him out.  Ha! Are you kidding?  Mitchell was nowhere near Moore and way out of position.  Brees launched the ball right down the middle and Moore caught it for an easy 38-yard touchdown.  This caused me to shout several things I can’t repeat at my television.  One of the most elementary rules of football is that you never EVER let a receiver get behind the secondary.  Where was Mitchell when that point was being stressed by his coaches?  I just wonder how in the world he could be a second round pick.  He’s capable of being a big hitter, but he has absolutely no awareness or instincts.  It just shows the lack of talent on the roster at the present time.  Hartley made the point after and the Saints now led 21-7 with under a minute to go in the half.  The disinterested Raiders didn’t even try to move the ball and the half came to an end.

Now it was time for the second half.  Aren’t you excited?  I’m not.  The third quarter is usually when terrible things happen to the Raiders.  This game was no exception.  Cadet took the kickoff two yards deep in the end zone and ran it back to the Raider 27.  On first down, Ingram ran up the left side for a 27-yard touchdown.  Two plays, 100 yards, no problem.  Hartley made the point after and with 14:43 to go in the third quarter, the Saints had a commanding 28-7 lead.

The Raiders managed to get a 40-yard field goal on their next drive to make it 28-10.  The teams traded punts and with six minutes to go in the third quarter, the Saints got the ball back at their 42.  They decided to give their ground game a try and runs by Ingram, Thomas and Chris Ivory got them marching into Raider territory.  On second and ten from the 15, Moore caught his second touchdown pass of the day to increase the lead to 34-10.  Hartley made the point after and it was now 35-10 with three and a half minutes to go in the third quarter.

The deflated Raiders took the field again at their 20.  Some more good running by Reece and a completion to Moore had the Raiders in Saint territory again.  On third and eight from the 47, Criner caught a pass for a gain of seven.  That made it fourth and one at the 40.  Reece was stopped for no gain and the Saints took over.  They added a field goal and later in the game, Palmer found Criner for a three-yard  touchdown to make it 38-17.  That’s how it would end.  The win improved the Saints to five and five and the Raiders fell to three and seven.  In this awful three-game losing streak, the Raiders have been outscored 135-69.  That sounds more like a lopsided basketball game.

For the Saints, Drew Brees completed 20 of 27 for 219 yards and three touchdowns.  He was not picked off and the Raider defense didn’t register a sack.  Brees spread the ball around to eight different receivers and Marques Colston led them with four catches for 69 yards.  Three different running backs carried the ball for the Saints and Mark Ingram led the team with 67 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled, the Saints racked up 153 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, Roman Harper led the Saints with nine solo tackles, one tackle for a loss and an interception.

For the Raiders, Carson Palmer completed 22 of 40 for 312 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  Marcel Reece and Darrius Heyward-Bey led the team with four receptions apiece.  Reece had the most receiving yards with 90.  He also had a good day on the ground with 103 yards on 19 carries.  All totaled, the Raiders finished the game with 120 yards rushing on 26 carries.  Mike Mitchell led the team with seven solo tackles.

One of the few bright spots besides how well Reece played was that the Raiders were only flagged four times for 40 yards.  The Saints were flagged 11 times for 109 yards.  Other than that, this game was a disaster.  Oh, the Raiders had their chances.  IF Myers had caught that pass in the end zone, the game may have been different.  IF a Raider would have recovered that fumble by Graham, the game may have been different.  But the things that MIGHT have happened DIDN’T happen.  Simply put, the Raider defense found themselves out of position throughout the game, applied little pressure to the quarterback and couldn’t stop the run.  This has been a recurring theme throughout the year and I don’t think we’ll see any improvement.

As I look at the schedule for the remaining games, the Raiders play at Cincinnati next week.  Then they have three consecutive home games against Cleveland, Denver and Kansas City.  They finish the year on the road at Carolina and San Diego. Theoretically, who can they beat? Cleveland? Kansas City?  Who knows?  The more they lose, the more uninterested they look.  It’s possible they could end the year with a 3-13 record.  That would likely mean picking in the top five.  That will be a nice start to fill all the needs this team has.  But, I cannot predict the future.  I can only watch and hope that they can put together a few wins to salvage this disastrous season.  Anyway, I hope everyone out there has a good Thanksgiving!  Take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

Super Bowl Week Experience: The Real Game Before The Game

The National Football League, the greatest marketing machine in the Western Hemisphere, held it’s biggest event of the year a few Sundays ago in Indianapolis. The Super Bowl has become known not just for the game, but for its ability to become the epicenter of North America, for one week every year wherever it is held. This year the New York Giants and New England Patriots faced off on February 5, 2012 for the NFL title, but the real game came well before those two teams faced off to see who would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

The NFL schedules the Super Bowl two weeks after the NFC and AFC champions are crowned for several reasons. The first, being for the scheduling of travel arrangements for the teams participating in the game and their respective families. The second, being to drive up the hype for the game by using the media to keep the NFL in the spotlight and in the hearts of its fans.

This year Indianapolis became one of the few cold weather cities ever to host a Super Bowl. Lucas Oil Stadium, the home field of the Indianapolis Colts for those that have never been there, is one of the most beautiful stadiums you will ever see. The sight lines from every seat in the stadium are breathtaking, making every fan feel as if they have the best seat in the house regardless of where they are sitting. The stadium is decorated with murals and photographs of Peyton Manning everywhere you look making it clear that this is the house that Peyton built. Unfortunately, the way it looks now Peyton may have played his last game as a Colt, but that is a story for a different day.

The NFL adopted new policies during several of the pre-game events. The first being the selling of tickets to the media day event. This event is set to give the media covering the event access to the players for a specified amount of time, helping to fill notebooks and tape recorders for that week’s news stories. The bigger the star the bigger their presence at media day. Eli Manning and Tom Brady are supplied with a podium, microphone, and signage to identify them. The unknown offensive lineman is left wandering and hoping someone notices them and wants to hear what they have to say. Now that it is open to the public, for a fee, the event has more professional autograph seekers present than media.

The other event that the NFL opened to the public was radio row in the media center. Every year the NFL designates a hotel or convention center for the media to use as a base of operations. The Super Bowl media center is where every public relations guru wants to be, pushing their movie, book, or whatever project they may be involved in. Where else can you see Tim Tebow, swimsuit model Kate Upton, and comedian Adam Sandler standing within a few feet of each other. This year the general public was allowed into the center of the radio area and were now able to watch the who’s who of entertainment and sports making the rounds at all of the different broadcast tables. While I am sure that the fans were glad to have this look behind the curtain, it just made an already chaotic event that much more difficult for both the broadcasters and their guests. While most fans in attendance were respectful, there were professional autograph seekers with duffel bags full of items, looking for autographs to sell on eBay. After seeing these professional stalkers in action, I can see why some celebrities now refuse to sign autographs for fans. It appeared that the bigger the broadcaster, the larger the space they were allotted in the center. The Jim Rome Show, Sirius NFL Radio, and ESPN had the largest areas on radio row, while some of the smaller 1000 watt AM radio stations were left with a five-foot table and just happy to be in the room. The biggest thrill was not meeting Curt Shilling, Adam Sandler or any of the other celebrities in attendance, but instead the realization that if you had a media credential you could take all of the bottled water, coffee or ice cream sandwiches you could consume. Now I know how the other half lives.

The Super Bowl’s biggest fan event that week was the NFL Experience at the Indiana Convention Center. The NFL set up several events in the convention center, including events where you could test your throwing and kicking ability — all for a twenty-five dollar daily entrance fee and the signing of a liability waiver. The event was a football fan’s dream with appearances by the biggest stars in the game, including Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Tony Gonzalez and many others. They signed autographs and took pictures with fans, for get this, no additional fee. The only drawback was that the average line to wait for one of these free autographs was over an hour and for the bigger stars, such as Drew Brees, well over two. It was at this event that I realized that I, like many more of the fans inside, had become hypnotized by the machine known as the NFL. Throughout the convention center there were refreshment stands set up because you were not allowed to bring any type of food or drink inside, which was enforced by event security through intense bag checks. When I felt parched, I approached a refreshment stand and asked for a Pepsi, which was in a twenty-ounce bottle. The worker at the kiosk said that the Pepsi cost four dollars. With a smile on my face, I handed over a five-dollar bill without a complaint. As I turned away from the refreshment stand it crossed my mind, if I had been anywhere else and they told me a Pepsi cost four dollars, I would have complained and walked out just on principle. However, the NFL had all in attendance somehow hypnotized into thinking this drink deal was a bargain. I did draw the line at the twenty-dollar popcorn bucket that was smaller than medium size movie popcorn. The best way to describe the NFL Experience would be Disneyland for football fans. You will have a great time, be exhausted when it’s over, and horrified when you later realize how much you spent.

Super Bowl week is also known for its collection of celebrity parties. Several organizations hold events for charity and deliver as promised, such as Ron Jaworski’s Jaws Youth Playbook foundation and the Gridiron Greats. Events like those bring fans together with celebrities for a good cause. These organizations leave the fans in attendance fulfilled with the experience of meeting their childhood heroes, while raising money for a good cause.

On the other hand, for every great organization looking to raise money for charity, there is a party promoter trying to pull a fast one. All through the city you will hear of events where the top celebrities will be partying and you too can attend these exclusive events if you are willing to fork over $500 to $1500. Many of these parties have fine print on the admission ticket saying that the celebrities listed on the ticket were only invited and that there was no guarantee they would actually attend. Most pre-Super Bowl parties are bait and switch events where you have horrible bar food, bottom shelf liquor and a wave from a B-list celebrity, who leaves as quickly as they entered, often collecting a cash envelope for that brief appearance. I would recommend that if you have any intention of attending the Super Bowl that you thoroughly research events and look for feedback from others that have attended the parties thrown by these organizations/promoters in the past.

Now to the big game, which after all of the hoopla and exhausting events on the days leading up to the main event, now almost seemed secondary. The price gouging in Indianapolis on game day was incredible with parking garages around the stadium charging $200 to park. To avoid the obscene parking prices, many fans took taxis to the stadium. A quarter-mile ride was twenty dollars, but seemed a bargain to the parking cost. The security to enter a Super Bowl stadium took hours to navigate and is just as strict as what the TSA employs at major airports. Many fans enter the stadium up to four hours early just to make sure they are inside for kickoff. Just imagine if you had to get 70,000 people through a TSA checkpoint at the airport in time for a flight. If you try to get in less than an hour before kickoff, odds are you will miss most of the first quarter.  Despite all of the difficulty getting in, the game did not disappoint with the Giants hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. As soon as the confetti fell, the battle to get home began. The taxis lined up outside Lucas Oil were trying to charge fifty dollars for the same ride I paid twenty dollars for just hours earlier. After haggling and the threat of calling a state trooper, who was working the security detail, over to the taxi the price dropped considerably. As fast as the city of Indianapolis became the center of the world, it just as quickly emptied and within a day was back to business as usual.

The events before the Super Bowl are each an event unto themselves. If you have the opportunity to ever attend “The Big Game”, be prepared, be rested and have a wallet full of cash and an available credit line. While I am still a huge fan of the game of football, the look behind the curtain has opened my eyes to the fact that it is really only a business. While you can love the NFL with all of your heart, it will only really love you back if you have enough money. Knowing that, I still plan on watching football every Sunday next season, but now with my eyes wide open and one hand firmly on my wallet.

 

Saints 45, Lions 28

Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz had to be feeling good about his team early in this game.  The Lions got the ball first and marched right down the field to take an early 7-0 lead as quarterback Matthew Stafford found tight end Will Heller for a ten-yard touchdown.  The defense also forced two fumbles in the first half.  When you’re playing the Saints, you have to capitalize on the opportunities that are given to you.  Unfortunately for the Lions, they couldn’t capitalize on those turnovers.

After a two-yard touchdown run by running back Darren Sproles tied the game at seven, the Lions came back with a 14-play, 87-yard drive that was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Calvin Johnson.  The score remained 14-7 until the Saints took over at their own 16 and moved the ball to the Detroit six-yard line.  The drive stalled there and kicker John Kasay made a 24-yard field goal to make the score 14-10 in favor of the Lions at halftime.

The Saints got the second half off to a fast start when quarterback Drew Brees tossed a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devery Henderson and a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham to put the Saints on top 24-14.  The Lions still had some fight in them as Stafford took his team on another 80-yard drive and capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to make it 24-21 at the end of the third quarter.

However, the fourth quarter belonged to the Saints.  They picked Stafford off twice and outscored the Lions 21-7 with a 17-yard touchdown run by Sproles, a 56-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Robert Meachem and a one-yard touchdown run by running back Pierre Thomas.  Calvin Johnson did manage to catch a 12-yard touchdown pass late in the game, but it was too little and too late to mount a comeback.

For the Lions, Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 43 for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.  He spread the ball around to seven different receivers and Calvin Johnson led the team with 12 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns.  The Lions finished the game with just 32 yards rushing as a team.  Kevin Smith led the team with 21 yards on six carries.  Linebacker Stephen Tulloch led the Lions with eight solo tackles, two passes defensed and one tackle for a loss.

For the Saints, they were never forced to punt and Drew Brees had another outstanding game as he completed 33 of 43 for 466 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  He spread the ball around to eight different receivers with Marques Colston leading the team with seven catches for 120 yards.  The Saints rushed for 167 yards as a team.  Pierre Thomas led the team in rushing yards with 66 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.  Cornerback Tracy Porter led the team with seven solo tackles.  The Saints had possession of the ball for 37 minutes, ran 81 plays and racked up a total of 626 total yards.

The next game for the Saints is next Saturday at 4:30 P.M. Eastern time against the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers.  The 49ers pride themselves on having the number one run defense and the Saints won’t have the comfort of their dome to protect them from the temperamental  Bay Area weather.  It will definitely be a game worth watching.

They’re Pistols

Thirty-two years after his final game and more than two decades after his death, Pete Maravich remains a unique and divisive figure in the history of American sports.  Maravich was perhaps the most entertaining basketball player of his time and certainly the most watchable college basketball player of all time.  In three seasons at LSU (1968-1970), Maravich averaged 44.2 points per game and, with his colorful socks and mop of hair, looked like the lovechild of Pete Seeger and Elgin Baylor.

Maravich was born in Pennsylvania but his blood was Cajun as he played college ball in Louisiana and then, after spending his first four NBA seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, moved to the New Orleans Jazz for whom he would play five seasons including his most spectacular.  Maravich was flashy, brilliant, confounding, frustrating and, deservedly, a Hall of Famer and it’s painful and supremely unjust that he died so young, of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, in 1988 at the age of 40.

Much of what makes Maravich such a debate starter is his style of play and philosophy toward basketball.  He scored a lot, yes, but wasn’t so keen on trying to stop the other guy from scoring.  Maravich said he never understood his defensive detractors noting that when he would look at the box score at the end of the game and he had scored 40 points and the guy who was guarding him had scored only 20 “isn’t that defense?”

Maravich’s blood, hubris and plan of attack is alive and well in the state of Louisiana and has long since captured the hearts and minds of the New Orleans Saints.  The Saints are football’s merry band of Pistol Petes adorned not with sloppy socks but a regal fleur-de-lis.  And while Sean Payton’s apostles don’t shoot jump shots they do run a fast break offense that scoffs at ball control and clock management and lives by the belief that footballs were created for the one and only purpose of being moved past the goal line.

The Saints unapologetically pistol-whipped the Detroit Lions, 45-28, on Saturday night in New Orleans in their NFC wild card game, rolling up an NFL playoff record 626 yards of offense.  Quarterback Drew Brees, as always, was the point guard of this pigskin blitzkrieg completing 33 of 43 passes for a Maravichian 466 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a whole lotta funk and fun.

The Saints are to offense what Picasso was to nudity.  They make the practice of moving the football a transcendent, Avant-guard affair in which shock is common, yardage is sacred and points are more valuable than time.  Whether it’s through the air or on the ground, New Orleans never concedes that another touchdown cannot be compiled and only turns off the guns when the game is safely in hand as it was tonight when the Saints, graciously, took a knee at the end rather than punk those Lions with a 52-spot.

It seems as if nothing can stop the Saints as long as…they’re playing inside.  Especially on their home carpet.  The Saints are now 9-0 at home this season, averaging 41.5 points per game and, in their last three home games, including the playoff victory over Detroit, have scored exactly 45, 45 and 45.  But on the road the Saints turn from Pete Maravich into merely George Gervin, putting up 27.2 points per game.  It seems the only thing that might be able to slow down Brees, Payton, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Robert Meachem and the rest of the French Quarter is an act of God.  The Saints are sinfully offensive but can they score in the cold?  The rain?  The wind?  San Francisco?

New Orleans now has a date in San Francisco with the 49ers who sport the NFC’s top defense, allowing just 308 yards per game which is what Drew Brees can usually rack up with a sneeze.  The weather forecast for San Francisco next Saturday is sunny and 60 degrees so maybe the indoor Saints won’t turn blasphemous in such conditions.  If the weather holds, the Saints will roll and will almost certainly find themselves in Green Bay a week later for an NFC Championship game tussle with the Packers which will be a rematch of the NFL’s opening night thriller.  The Packers won that one, 42-34 at Lambeau Field on a warm September night.  The average high temperature in Green Bay is 24 degrees in January which is a field goal below New Orleans’ road game points average.

Pete Maravich was unstoppable but he never had to play at Lambeau in January.  If the Saints can get past the Niners then brave the elements and beat the Packers (assuming, of course, Green Bay makes it that far) it will be a religious experience and a remarkable triumph.  It can happen so long as the Saints think warm thoughts and keep on chuckin’.

…As the Saints continue their playoff march they are accompanied in their home state by the quest of Pistol Pete’s alma mater to claim college football’s national title.  LSU hosts Alabama at the home of the Saints, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, in the BCS Championship game on Monday night.  With a victory, the Tigers will claim their third national championship since 2003 and Louisiana will be to football success what California is to fake body parts.

Is there something in the water?  In Walker Percy’s 1987 novel The Thanatos Syndrome, a heavy supply of sodium is added to the drinking water and LSU’s football team goes unbeaten for three years.  No mention was made of the Saints, though.  Back in the 1980s, the Saints had a good defense but were nothing like the offensive juggernaut they are today.  Back then, a team averaging 41 points per Sunday in New Orleans was something that not even science fiction dared to play with.

The truth has turned out to be more fantastic than fiction.

 

Book Review: Dan Marino: My Life in Football

Although Drew Brees and Tom Brady surpassed Dan Marino’s record for most pass yards in a single season this year, there are a couple big records where neither man comes close. Marino holds a 13-8 advantage over Peyton Manning for tops all-time when it comes to 400-yard passing games. Marino also shares the record for 300-yard passing games (63) with Manning and is right behind Brett Favre in a number of other categories.

“But let’s be serious,” Don Shula said. “Every defensive coach in the NFL would’ve liked me to establish a running game. Or at least try. It would have made their job easier. But Dan’s passing was the kind of strength you didn’t strategically stray from. You couldn’t. At least, not if you wanted to win” (10, Dan).

 

Pick up “Dan Marino: My Life in Football” because:

1.While Shula and others might have felt jumpy during Marino’s games, the man under center did not waver.

Asked to describe coaching Marino for 13 of the player’s 17 seasons, Shula summed it up with one word – “excitement.”

From childhood through retirement from the Dolphins, Marino wore No. 13. The quarterback can’t remember a time when he did not have his super arm.

 

“When I arrived in the league, writers wondered about the pressure of playing quarterback, before a full stadium, on national TV, with big stakes riding on each play,” Marino said. “That cracked me up. Pressure? That’s where I belonged. It’s what I loved to do. It’s what I grew up dreaming about, too, from the moment my dad took me aside as a kid and said, ‘I think if you work hard, set your mind to it, and are lucky enough to stay healthy, you can become a pretty good athlete’” (14).

2. Even when football didn’t go his way, which was rare, Marino made the best of it.

Marino excelled at the University of Pittsburgh. He led the nation with 37 TD passes as a junior. Then came a miserable senior season. The slide continued when he became the sixth quarterback taken in the famed 1983 NFL Draft.

“Strange how the lowest moments turn into the biggest blessings,” Marino said (24.) Miami was coming off a Super Bowl appearance. They had a stocked offensive line and defense. Furthermore, Shula told Marino to practice like he was starting from the first snap of training camp. It was not the norm, but Shula expected Marino to call his own plays. He would learn quickly and go on to start 145 brutal games in a row.

3. The book is packed with picture after picture of No. 13.

The man who retired with 25 passing records is captured in a multitude of photographs. The shots remind me of Michael Jordan’s “Rare Air.” Make sure to take a look at the life of another legend in this beautiful book.

Sam Miller is the founder of Sam’s Dream Blog.  A graduate of the University of Illinois, he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. At the University of Illinois, Miller regularly wrote feature stories about the football team. He has also served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.

Dan, Still the Man

The Miami Dolphins are terrible.  Let’s talk about it.

For the second straight week, south Florida’s flopping fish punted away a fourth quarter lead and lost, dropping their record to 0-7 and causing people to high-five while watching “The Cove.”

For Leatherheads of my generation it’s a bit jarring that Tony Sparano’s team is, at best, the fifth most-skilled football squad in Florida because we 40-somethings grew up watching Dolphins teams that were slick, tanned and very good.  From Don Shula’s first season as head coach in Miami in 1970 through his last season in 1995 Flipper was quite proud as the aquatic mammals reached the playoffs 16 times, played in five Super Bowls, won two Lombardi Trophies, compiled the NFL’s only completely perfect season and provided young men with hundreds of bronzed, comely cheerleaders to dream about during cold Midwestern nights.

Since Shula left, the ocean’s favorite citizens have stunk like tuna left in a dirty toilet and struggled like a bottlenose with a cleat stuck in its blowhole, reaching the postseason just six times (and not since 2008) and never playing in a conference title game.  The departure of Shula, the NFL’s all-time winningest coach, certainly has contributed to Miami’s malaise but the reason the Dolphins are on my mind – besides the fact that the Chicago Bears have been in a bye week – is that Miami’s second most-famous Dolphin continues to arise in gridiron debates.

Dan Marino – the greatest quarterback ever not named Johnny Unitas – retired from the Dolphins after the 1999 season and swam off into the sunset holding nearly every possible, meaningful NFL passing record.  When Dan called it quits it seemed as if his records of 61,361 career yards and 420 touchdowns would never be equaled and possibly not even approached.  Then, along came Brett Favre who, as a Green Bay Packer, New York Jet, Minnesota Viking and cheeky monkey just kept going and going and going and eclipsed both of those marks.

One of Marino’s other seemingly unreachable records, 48 TD passes in a season (1984) also fell, first to Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts who chucked 49 TD’s in 2004 and then to Tom Brady of the New England Patriots who racked up 50 in 2007.

Now, about the only notable record Marino still holds, besides best hair even after wearing a helmet, is most yards in a single season – 5,084 in 1984.  But even that record might not last much longer.  New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees came just 15 yards short of equaling that record three years ago.  This year Brees is once again preparing to knock Dan out of the box as he’s on pace to smash Dan’s mark by throwing for 5,492 yards.  And he’s not alone.  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is projected to throw for 5,408 yards and if Brady keeps it up he’ll throw for 5,392 yards while also growing another dimple.

Will they do it?

Rodgers is the best player in the NFL right now but he has several factors working against him.  One is that he plays in Green Bay which is known for two things: good football and ice.  Mr. Rodgers plays three of his final four games at friendly but frigid Lambeau Field a place that isn’t kind to airborne footballs in December in January.  And if it’s possible to break Marino’s mark while playing games in Arctic conditions (the only one of Green Bay’s final four games not in Wisconsin is in weather-relevant Kansas City) don’t you think Mr. Favre would have done it?  It also works against Aaron that the Packers are so good.  The Pack will almost certainly have sewn up a playoff spot, and possibly top seed in the NFC, with one or two games to go.  So as much as a gamer as Rodgers is it’s hard to imagine Mike McCarthy sending him out there to chuck it at his current rate of more than 30 times a game exposing him to injury if the games are essentially meaningless.

Brady has similar obstacles.  Of his final four games, two will be played in Foxboro, Massachusetts which is as meteorologically sinister as Green Bay.  Brady’s other two games during the season’s final quarter will be in Denver and Washington.  It’s just not easy to throw when Jack Frost and Snowzilla are nipping at your fingers.  Plus, like the Packers, the Patriots will also likely have clinched their fate before the final game though that doesn’t mean Bill Belichick will take his foot off the gas because the Patriots don’t do that, God love ‘em.  Maybe what can really do Brady in is if Wes Welker’s hands fall off.

Drew Brees has the best shot.  He’s more than halfway there already and from now through the end of the season the Saints play exactly one game outside.  As Kurt Warner apologists can attest to but won’t, it’s a little easier to rack up pinball-like pass stats when you’re in the cozy confines of a dome which is a big reason Brees – though certainly skilled and rigorous – has put up Arena-like numbers for so long.

Marino, obviously, played a great many games in Miami which isn’t weather-hell either except for the occasional hurricane.  But by my count, Dan played only 25 dome games during his 17-year career.  What would his numbers be if he had played half of his 242 career games under a roof?  What would Favre’s be?

Perhaps Brees’ best game this season came a couple of Sundays ago when he directed a nearly-perfect offensive assault on the Colts, compiling five TD’s, 325 yards and a 144.9 passer rating as the Saints prevailed by an embarrassing score of 62-7.  New Orleans’ 62 points were the most scored by an NFL team since January 15, 2000 when the Jacksonville Jaguars stampeded to a victory by the exact some score, 62-7, over…Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins.  It would prove to be Dan’s last game as his Dolphins were disemboweled in the divisional playoffs.  The Dolphins trailed 41-7 at halftime and Marino told head coach Jimmy Johnson that he wanted to go out there in the second half to give it one last shot.  He tried, but it would have taken five miracles and a thousand pairs of Isotoner gloves with stickum for Miami to rally.  And so, the greatest quarterback of the cable TV era was finished.

Brees, Brady and Rodgers might all surpass Marino this year and Dan the Man will slide further down in the record books and, one day, might be remembered as merely a gunslinger who put up gaudy numbers but never won a Super Bowl.  That would be a shame.  Football fans should consider what Marino could have done if he’d had Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott on his side as Joe Montana did.  Or how about if late in Dan’s career he’d been handed the gift that John Elway received in Terrell Davis?

Marino was better than Montana and Elway and cooler than Kurt Russell.  He threw hard, talked softly and made funny commercials.  Today’s players are great and we certainly don’t begrudge them for putting up pretty numbers in the current pass-happy protect the quarterback at all costs NFL.  But let’s never forget the dynamic Dolphin who could throw TD’s in his sleep and still gives defensive backs nightmares.

Marino was magnificent.  Time can’t diminish that and numbers can never change that.