July 28, 2017

Colts 26, Bengals 10

The third game on wildcard weekend featured the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Indianapolis, Indiana to take on the Colts.  These teams met earlier in the year and the Colts came away with a dominating 27-0 win.  Kicker Mike Nugent sent the opening kickoff nine yards deep and return man Josh Cribbs ran it out to the 29-yard line.  Quarterback Andrew Luck led his offense onto the field and quickly completed a short pass to running back Daniel Herron that went for 18 yards.  A neutral zone penalty on the Bengals and more completions to Herron moved the ball to the Cincinnati 40-yard line.  With all the success Herron was having, Luck threw another pass to him and this time it went for a gain of 27 to give the Colts a first down at the 13.  Three plays later, Herron took it up the middle for a two-yard touchdown.  Kicker Adam Vinatieri made the point after and the Colts led 7-0 with 11:05 to go in the first quarter.

The Bengals started their first drive of the game from their own 20.  Without wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, they would have to rely heavily on their running game.  From the 20, running back Rex Burkhead ran up the left side for a gain of 23 yards.  Three carries by running back Jeremy Hill netted 11 yards and a first down at the Indianapolis 46-yard line.  But the drive would come to an end at the 39.  Punter Kevin Huber got off a high punt that was downed at the nine-yard line.

This time, the Bengal defense played much better and forced a three and out.  Punter Pat McAfee hit a nice 59-yard punt that was fielded at the Cincinnati 25 by return man Adam Jones.  He returned it one yard and the Bengals took over at their 26.  Quarterback Andy Dalton completed two passes to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and they quickly moved to the 45-yard line.  Hill ran up the right side for a gain of 18 and a first down at the Indianapolis 37-yard line.  Dalton found Burkhead across the middle and he was dragged down at the five-yard line.  Two plays later, Hill ran up the middle for a one-yard touchdown.  Nugent made the point after and the game was knotted at seven with 1:28 to go in the first quarter.

Due to a poor kickoff return by return man Zurlon Tipton, the Colts started out at their nine-yard line.  On third and three from the 16, Luck couldn’t find an open receiver and ran up the middle for an 18-yard gain.  Two completions to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton moved the Colts down to the Cincinnati 20-yard line.  Some more bad news arose for the Bengals.  Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga injured his hamstring and did not return.  The drive came to an end at the 20 as Luck’s pass for wide receiver Reggie Wayne fell incomplete.  Vinatieri had no problem making his 38-yard field goal attempt and the Colts led 10-7 with 12:41 to go in the second quarter.

After a three and out by the Bengals, the Colts got the ball back at their 36-yard line.  On second down from the 38, Luck went deep up the right side and the pass was caught for a gain of 45 yards by wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.  But they couldn’t find the end zone again and the drive stalled at the Cincinnati 11-yard line.  Vinatieri came on and his 29-yard field goal was good. The Colts now led 13-7 with 8:34 to go in the second quarter.

The Bengals punted on their next possession and the Colts took over at their nine-yard line with five minutes to go in the half.  Completions to Hilton, Nicks and tight end Dwayne Allen moved them to their 31.  From the 31, Luck hooked up with Hilton again for a gain of 25 yards.  It certainly looked like the Colts were going to add to their lead before halftime.  But that wasn’t the case.  Luck completed another pass to Herron and as he was heading up-field, the ball was knocked loose and recovered by safety Reggie Nelson at the Cincinnati 41.  With time running short, the Bengals managed to get in field goal range and Nugent came on for a 57-yard attempt.  The kick bounced off the left upright and went through.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kicker that happy.  At halftime, the Colts led 13-10.

The second half was an absolute disaster for the Bengals.  Although their defense played admirably, the offense was horrible.  They couldn’t get a first down and it wouldn’t surprise me if Huber has a sore leg from all that punting.  I’d like to write about some of the drives they had, but they only gained 20 yards on their first five possessions of the second half.  Meanwhile, the Colts continued to rack up more yards on the ground and through the air.  Rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief caught a 36-yard touchdown pass and Vinatieri added two more field goals to give the Colts a 26-10 win.

For the Bengals, Andy Dalton completed 18 of 35 for 155 yards.  Giovani Bernard led the team in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 46.  As a team, the Bengals rushed for 110 yards on 21 carries.  I really thought Jeremy Hill was going to get a lot of carries in this game.  He only carried the ball 13 times for 47 yards and a touchdown.  Defensively, Emmanuel Lamur led the team in solo tackles with six.

For the Colts, Andrew Luck had all day to throw and completed 31 of 44 for 376 yards and one touchdown.  Daniel Herron led the team in receptions with ten and T.Y. Hilton had the most receiving yards with 103.  As a team, the Colts rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries.  Herron was the leading rusher with 56 yards on 12 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and safety Mike Adams tied for the lead in solo tackles with seven apiece.  Freeman also had 1.5 sacks.

Up next for the Colts is a trip to Denver to take on the Denver Broncos.  That game will be on Sunday at 4:40 eastern time.

 

Patriots 43, Colts 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colts 21, Raiders 17

The Oakland Raiders started their 2013 season with a trip to Indianapolis, Indiana to face the Colts.  There are lots of new faces in Oakland this year and many of the “experts” ranked them dead last in the power rankings.  That’s why they play the games.  The Raiders got the ball first and started at their 20.  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor led the offense out of the huddle and on first down, he completed a nine-yard pass to Rod Streater.  Running back Darren McFadden got the call on second down and picked up the first down with a four-yard run.  On third and seven from the 36, Pryor found Streater again for a gain of 18 and a first down at the Indianapolis 46.  A two-yard completion to wide receiver Jacoby Ford, a five-yard scramble by Pryor and a six-yard pass to wide receiver Denarius Moore made it first down at the 33.  The Raiders were taking lots of time off the clock and moving the ball well.  That was until Pryor lofted a wounded duck into the corner of the end zone that was picked off by cornerback Greg Toler.  He returned the ball to the 22, but a penalty on the return moved them back to the 11.

From the 11, the Colts got off to a good start as running back Vick Ballard ran up the middle for a gain of 12.  A short run by Ballard and a short reception by wide receiver Reggie Wayne made it third and five from the 28.  Quarterback Andrew Luck looked for wide receiver and former Raider Darrius Heyward-Bey and found him for a gain of 16 yards.  Some more running by Ballard, an offside penalty on the Raiders and a 25-yard pass to Wayne set the Colts up at the Oakland 19-yard line.  From the 19, Luck found tight end Coby Fleener for seven yards and on third and three, he went to Wayne again for a 12-yard touchdown in the left corner of the end zone.  Kicker Adam Vinatieri made the point after and the Colts led 7-0 with 2:47 to go in the first half.

An uneventful kick return by Ford put the Raiders on their own 19 to start the next drive.  McFadden got the ball moving with a five-yard run up the middle.  That was followed by an 18-yard completion to Streater.  They would get as far as their 49 and on fourth and two, head coach Dennis Allen opted to punt.  Marquette King got off a good punt that was fielded at the eight by return man T.Y. Hilton and he returned it 23 yards to the Indianapolis 31.  Some more good running by Ballard and two more completions to Wayne gave the Colts a first down at the Oakland 24.  Ballard ran up the right side for four more yards and on second and six from the 20, Luck looked for the end zone again.  Despite being knocked to the ground as he threw the pass, it was caught for a touchdown by tight end Dwayne Allen.  Vinatieri made the point after and the Colts went up 14-0 with 10:47 to go in the first half.

I’m pretty confident in saying that the 2012 Raiders would have probably already given up by this point.  Trailing by 14 on the road, tough place to play, give it up, right?  We can’t win.  Let’s go home.  That was then, this is now.  From the Oakland 15, Pryor went to work and found McFadden for a gain of 14 yards.  After a short run by McFadden, Pryor decided to take matters into his own hands.  Scrambles of nine and 29 yards moved the Raiders down to the Indianapolis 31-yard line.  A six-yard run by McFadden and another scramble by Pryor gave them a first down at the 12.  Fullback Marcel Reece got in on the action and caught a pass for a gain of nine yards.  It was now first and goal from the three.  Two plays later, McFadden got the call and found the end zone.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Colts led 14-7 with 4:53 to go in the first half.

The Colts went three and out on their next possession and the Raiders took over at their 38.  On third and one from the 47, Pryor rolled out to the right side and lofted a pass for Reece.  He was open, but with Pryor putting so much air under the ball, the defender had time to catch up and knock the ball away.  King punted the ball away and the Colts once again went three and out.  That gave the Raiders the ball back at their 46 with 1:04 remaining.  A 19-yard pass to tight end Mychal Rivera moved the ball to the Indianapolis 35.  From there, Pryor was stuffed for a three-yard loss, a pass to Moore went nowhere and an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Brice Butler moved the ball to the 30 with time quickly running out.  Janikowski was brought in for a 47-yard field goal.  Normally, this would be an automatic three points.  But, with Shane Lechler gone, King was the new holder.  After having the same holder for 13 years, it looks like it may take some time for Janikowski to get used to having a new one.  The kick sailed wide left and the score remained 14-7 at halftime.  That missed kick would prove to be huge as the game progressed.

The Colts started the second half from their 20.  They put together a nice balanced drive and moved into Oakland territory.  However, a facemask penalty on offensive lineman Anthony Costanzo moved them back to their 39-yard line.  They went nowhere after that and were forced to punt.  The Raiders started their next drive from their 15.  Two carries by McFadden and some more scrambling by Pryor set up a first down at the Indianapolis 39.  They would get as far as the 20 and on fourth and one, Janikowski made his 37-yard field goal attempt.  It was now 14-10 with 5:42 to go in the third quarter.

Starting from their 20, the Colts brought former New York Giant running back Ahmad Bradshaw into the game.  Bradshaw netted 13 yards on two carries and Wayne made another catch for a gain of 15.  On first down from the 48, Bradshaw was stuffed for a gain of one.  Then, Heyward-Bey caught an eight-yard pass to set up what looked like an easy third and one.  That was not the case this time.  The Raider defense was ready and stopped Bradshaw for no gain.  That made it fourth down and one.  Instead of trying to power the ball up the middle again, Luck took the snap and rolled to his right.  That was where he received a rude greeting from defensive end Jason Hunter.  Luck was sacked for a loss of 13 yards.

That gave the Raiders the ball with good field position at the Indianapolis 44-yard line.  Another completion to Streater and a scramble by Pryor moved them to the 30.  On second and ten from the 30, Pryor floated one up the right side to McFadden for what looked like a touchdown.  However, it was overturned by instant replay.  McFadden clearly didn’t have control of the ball as he went out of bounds.  On third and ten, Pryor found Moore for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 19.  Two short completions on the next two plays netted close to nothing and Pryor found himself in another third and long situation.  Not a problem.  Streater caught a pass for a gain of 17 and that set up a first and goal from the two.  A delay of game penalty moved them back five yards, but on third and goal from the five, Pryor hooked up with Moore again for a Raider touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders now led 17-14 with 11:09 to go in the game.

The Colts started at their 20 and on third and eight from the 22, Luck found Hilton for a gain of 12 and a first down at the 34.  An offside penalty and a nine yard pass to Wayne gave the Colts a first down at the Oakland 49.  Luck found Heyward-Bey for a gain of nine, and safety Tyvon Branch was flagged for a personal foul.  That really helped out the Colts and they now were looking good with a first down at the 25.  On third and four from the 19, the Raiders were obviously expecting a pass.  Nobody got the memo that Luck is a mobile quarterback.  The middle of the field was WIDE OPEN and Luck ran it in for a touchdown.  Vinatieri made the point after and the Colts once again had the lead, 21-17 with 5:20 to go in the game.

From their own 20-yard line, the Raiders had some work to do.  Pryor scrambled up the right side for seven yards on first down and McFadden ran off left tackle for two more yards.  That set up a third and one.  On third down, Pryor found tight end Jeron Mastrud standing all alone behind the secondary.  Mastrud caught the pass with no defenders between him and the end zone.  As he turned to run, he looked like a three-legged wildebeest  trying to outrun a pack of lions.  I thought “Damn! He has got to be the slowest tight end in the history of the NFL!”  The reason he was running so slowly was because he started to cramp up and that allowed the defense to catch him at the Indianapolis 30-yard line.  A five-yard penalty moved them back to the 35 and from there, they netted six yards on the next three plays.  That set up a very crucial fourth and nine at the 29.  Pryor had time to find a receiver and he hit Moore in stride for a gain of 21 yards.  It was now first and goal from the eight.  Pryor hadn’t been sacked all day, but linebacker Robert Mathis finally got to him for a loss of 16 yards.  That  made it second and goal from the 24.  Pryor looked for Rivera on second down, but the pass was incomplete.  On third down, Pryor dropped back to throw again and looked for Streater.  His pass was picked off by safety Antoine Bethea and that’s how the game ended.  Final score:  Colts 21 Raiders 17.

For the Raiders, Terrelle Pryor completed 19 of 29 for 217 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  He also led the team in rushing with 112 yards on 13 carries.  Darren McFadden still can’t seem to get loose.  His longest gain was only nine yards and he ended up with 48 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.  He also caught three passes for 18 yards.  Rod Streater and Denarius Moore tied for the lead in receptions with five apiece.  Streater had the most yards receiving with 70.  Defensively, they applied some good pressure to Luck and sacked him four times.  Linebacker Nick Roach led the defense in solo tackles with five and he had one tackle for a loss.

For the Colts, Andrew Luck completed 18 of 23 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.  Vick Ballard led the way in rushing yards with 63 yards on 13 carries.  Reggie Wayne caught one touchdown pass and led the team in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 96.  Defensively, safety LaRon Landry led the team in solo tackles with ten.

Yes, the Raiders lost the game.  But they never stopped fighting.  This didn’t look like a team that was ranked number 32 in the power rankings.  This wasn’t a team that gave up when they were trailing 14-0 early in the game.  This team showed heart and overall, I was happy with what I saw.  The penalties were a bit high.  They were penalized eight times for 51 yards and the personal foul on Branch really helped the Colts out on their game-winning drive.  Also, the offensive line was decimated with injuries during the preseason.  Starting guard Tony Bergstrom is out for the year and starting tackle Jared Veldheer is also out until November.  Rookie Menelik Watson was inserted to take his place.  However, he “tweaked” his knee in practice.  That meant right tackle Khalif Barnes had to move from right tackle to the left side.  Taking his place at right tackle was newly acquired free agent Tony Pashos.  Aside from a couple of false starts in a loud dome, I think they did very well.  Pryor was also very critical of himself after the game and says he will get better.  He said the loss was “on him.”  He shouldn’t be so hard on himself, but I like that attitude.

Up next is the home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Kansas City Chiefs got an easy 28-2 win in Jacksonville on Sunday and the Jaguars will be looking to get a win in Oakland.  If the Raiders put forth the effort they showed against the Colts, they should come away with a win.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ravens 24, Colts 9

The next playoff game on the schedule had the Indianapolis Colts visiting the Baltimore Ravens.  The big story in this game was that it would be the last one linebacker Ray Lewis would ever play in Baltimore.  After 17 seasons, he decided this season would be his last.  Judging by the entrance he made coming into this game, he was ready to go.  The other big story in this game was that Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness and was absent from the game.  Quarterback coach Clyde Christensen ended up calling the plays.  The Colts won the toss and elected to receive.

The kickoff went nine yards deep into the end zone for a touch-back and the Colts started at their 20.  Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck led his team onto the field and on the first play of the game, the Colts started out with some trickery as wide receiver Donnie Avery took an end around up the right side for a gain of 15.  That was the only play that gained any yards for the Colts and they promptly punted the ball away.  Return man Jacoby Jones fielded the punt at the 14 and returned it to the Raven 48.

With good starting field position, the Ravens went to work.  On second and seven from the Colt 49, quarterback Joe Flacco found tight end Ed Dickson across the middle for a gain of 24 yards and a first down at the 25.  A pass interference penalty on the Colts moved the ball to the 15.  On second and six, running back Ray Rice fumbled and despite the fact that guard Marshal Yanda came out of the pile with the ball, the zebras still ruled the Colts had recovered the fumble.  Replay showed that defensive end Lawrence Guy fell on the ball, but it squirted free and was recovered by Yanda.  Still, the Colts were given possession of the ball at their 11.

A four-yard run by running back Vick Ballard and an eight-yard scramble by Luck got the Colts a first down at the 22.  An illegal contact penalty on the Ravens, a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne and some more shifty running by Ballard got the Colts down to the Raven 35.  On third and five from the 30, the Ravens brought the pressure and Luck was sacked by linebacker Paul Kruger.  The ball came loose and was recovered by defensive end Pernell McPhee at the 37.  The Colts took over seven minutes off the clock and came away with nothing.

Speaking of ending up with nothing, the remainder of the first quarter featured two more punts and zero points scored.  The second quarter began with the Ravens starting their next drive at their 29.  Ray Rice was given a breather and running back Bernard Pierce entered the game.  On second and four from the 35, Pierce ran up the left side for a gain of five and a first down.  Flacco then found wide receiver Torrey Smith across the middle for a gain of 22 yards.  Another five-yard run for Pierce and a seven-yard catch by tight end Dennis Pitta moved the ball to the Colt 26.  From the 26, Pierce got loose for an 18-yard gain and that made it first and goal from the nine.  The Ravens abandoned the running game and got as far as the five-yard line.  On fourth down from the five, kicker Justin Tucker kicked a 23-yard field goal and the Ravens took a 3-0 lead with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter.

On first down from his own 20, Luck looked for Avery, but the ball was tipped by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and by all rights, Ray Lewis should have had an interception.  The ball hit his hands, bounced off his chest and fell incomplete to the ground.  Two more plays netted eight yards and the Colts were forced to punt again.  Jones fielded the ball at the 19 and returned it to the 36.  But a holding call moved them back to their 20.  They went nowhere and punted the ball back to the Colts.

With eight minutes to go in the first half, the Colts took over at their 20.  Runs by Ballard and an eight-yard pass to Wayne gave them a first down at the 33.  Luck then found tight end Dwayne Allen across the middle for a gain of 22.  Two plays later, Luck found Allen again for a gain of 13.  The Ravens brought the blitz and Luck was sacked by Kruger and cornerback Corey Graham for a loss of six yards.  On third and 14 from the Raven 36, Luck completed a short pass to tight end Coby Fleener for a gain of seven.  That brought out kicker Adam Vinatieri for a 47-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the score was knotted at three with a little over two minutes to go in the first half.

A 37-yard kickoff return by Jones set the Ravens up with good field position.  On third and four from the 43, Flacco found Jones across the middle for a gain of eight.  On second and ten from the 49, Flacco hit Rice with a short pass and thanks to some good down-field blocking, Rice weaved his way down to the two-yard line.  Fullback Vonta Leach finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens led 10-3 with 50 seconds to go in the first half.

With time running short, Luck took to the air and completed passes to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Wayne to move the ball to the Raven 43.  An intentional grounding penalty moved them back to their 41, but Luck found Hilton again for a gain of 25 yards.  With no more time to run a play, Vinatieri was brought in to try a 52-yard field goal.  He snuck it inside the right upright and the kick was good.  At halftime, the score was 10-6 in favor of the Ravens.

With ten minutes to go in the third quarter, the Ravens took over at their 25.  Throughout the entire first half, wide receiver Anquan Boldin had been invisible.  It was time for him to make some noise.  From the 25, Flacco found Boldin for ten yards.  On second and six from the 39, Boldin caught a deep ball on the right sideline for a gain of 46 and a first down at the Colt 15.  A false start moved them back five yards, but Flacco was unfazed and found Pitta on the right side for a nice 20-yard catch and run for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens increased their lead to 17-6 with eight and a half minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Colts started at their 20 and they knew they had better get the ball rolling.  A couple of runs by Ballard, a 17-yard completion to wide receiver LaVon Brazill and a nice six-yard scramble on third and two by Luck moved the Colts to the Raven 43.  Luck continued to spread short passes to his receivers and a 20-yard pass to Wayne set them up with a first down at the 14.  The Ravens really brought the pressure and the drive stalled at the eight-yard line.  Vinatieri made his 26-yard field goal attempt and the score was now 17-9 with 40 seconds to go in the third quarter.

From the 21, Flacco hooked up with Boldin again for 21 yards and a first down at the 42.  Rice got the call on the next play and took off up the left side for a big gain.  As he was running, the ball was knocked loose by safety Joe Lefeged and bounced forward.  It was recovered by linebacker Pat Angerer at the Colt 29.  The Colts put together a decent drive on the strength of a 19-yard catch by Wayne and a 24-yard run by Ballard.  Still, they couldn’t put the ball into the end zone and the drive came to an end at the Raven 22.  It’s a rare occasion that Vinatieri misses a field goal, but his 40-yard attempt sailed wide right and the Colts came away with nothing again.

The Ravens got the ball back at their 30 and knew one more touchdown would most likely put the Colts away.  A nine-yard pass to Smith and a 43-yard run by Pierce got the Ravens in business at the Colt 18.  On second and ten, Flacco put up a high pass into the end zone for Boldin.  Despite having a man in his face, he was able to bring the ball in for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 24-9 with nine minutes to go in the game.

The Colts wouldn’t go down without a fight and went from their 20 down to the Raven 18.  On fourth and one from the 18, Luck looked for Wayne but the pass was picked off by cornerback Cary Williams at the 15.  That sealed the deal and the Ravens ran out the clock.  Final score: Ravens 24 Colts 9.  It was a great and emotional day for the Ravens as their defense brought relentless pressure and Ray Lewis got a win in his last home game as a Raven.  What I was thinking as the game came to a close was that it may also be the final home game for safety Ed Reed.  Both he and Lewis are destined for the Hall of Fame.

For the Colts, Andrew Luck completed 28 of 54 for 288 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble.  Reggie Wayne led the team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 114.  Vick Ballard led the ground game with 91 yards on 22 carries.  As a team, the Colts rushed for 152 yards on 30 carries.  Defensively, safety Antoine Bethea and defensive end Cory Redding tied for the lead in solo tackles with six.

For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 12 of 23 for 282 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.  Anquan Boldin was the star of the show and had 145 yards on five receptions and a touchdown.  Bernard Pierce led the ground game with 103 yards on 15 carries.  Ray Rice also had a good day with 70 yards on 15 carries.  He also had 47 yards receiving and lost two fumbles.  As a team, the Ravens rushed for 172 yards on 32 carries.  Defensively, the Ravens brought the pressure and sacked Luck three times.  He was also knocked down ten times.  Fittingly, Ray Lewis led the team in solo tackles with nine and he also had one tackle for a loss and one pass defensed.  Up next for the Ravens is a trip to Denver to take on the Denver Broncos.  In week 15, they met in Baltimore and the Broncos came away with a dominant 34-17 win.  I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a recap of the Seahawks-Redskins game.

 

Bears 41, Colts 21, Happiness, 1000

In Chicago, the only thing being talked about more than the teachers’ strike is football, and the Bears showed they have been hitting the books on offense by sending Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts to the glue factory with a 41-21 bombardment to open the 2012 season.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler completed 21 of 35 passes for a numerically jolly 333 yards and two touchdowns including one to Brandon Marshall, who is the best thing to happen to Cutler since the wide-tooth comb.  Marshall hauled in nine of Cutler’s offerings on this picturesque Chicago afternoon for 119 yards, one TD and a free four-month membership in the Johnny Morris Honor Society.

The forward pass was actually illegal in the 1890s and Chicago somehow spent more than a century clinging to the good old days.  Until now.  It helps when you have a guy like Cutler who throws a spiral that’s tighter than a hobo’s grip and he has guys who can catch the ball like Marshall, whom the Bears rescued from the Miami Dolphins and their great blowhole of football futility in the offseason, and Alshon Jeffery, a rookie wideout from South Carolina who has Biletnikoff hands, Lofton legs and Dave Krieg’s old jersey.  OK, he’s not perfect.

Jeffery caught three passes in his pro debut including a 42-yard TD strike from Cutler in the fourth quarter that was so crisp, fast and cool that the replacement referees were heard to say “Goll-ee!” as they slapped each other on the ass.

The Bears did get a little “Lucky.” (sorry)  The Colts probably have less overall talent than Savannah State and played most of the game without defensive end Dwight Freeney and will play the rest of eternity without Peyton Manning who has taken his neck and his legend to Denver, a city that has been stealing quarterbacks from the Colts since the days of John Elway.  Manning’s replacement with the Horseshoes is the aforementioned Mr. Luck who acquitted himself well in his first game by throwing for 309 yards and one touchdown.  But, he was also intercepted three times by a Bears defense that doesn’t care how many yards you take just so long as you’re willing to cough up the ball before reaching the largely-painted part of the field.

Bears cornerback Tim Jennings intercepted two of Luck’s passes which proves that guys who are 5-feet-8 can do more in life than just play drums for the Beatles or write “The Tell -Tale Heart.”  (Yes!  There’s a whole website dedicated to famous people who are 5-feet-8.)

But the Bears are much more than a collection of plucky corners and bionic passers and catchers.  Running back Matt Forte danced his way to 80 yards on the ground and a TD and his backup, Michael Bush, added two scores.  And then there’s Brian Urlacher whom must always be mentioned because he’s Brian Urlacher.  Mr. U. was removed from Sunday’s affair once it was all over but the goat roping in order to preserve the eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker’s tender knee and to make sure he’s ready for Chicago’s next test which comes Thursday night in Green Bay.

The Packers are a prolific, relentless clan who get more fun out of kicking the Bears in the teeth than Clint Eastwood does talking to empty chairs.  To listen to the Bears, Chicago media, and those little fellas who dance on the mantle after one has downed a 12-pack of Schlitz, the only way this season will be a success is if Chicago reaches the Super Bowl and comes home with a souvenir.  Beating the Packers in Vince Lombardi’s backyard will be a huge step toward converting Lovie Smith’s Super Bowl dreams into a tangible, Phil Emery plan.

Because, according to traditional arithmetic, if the Bears follow up Sunday’s win over the Colts with a victory over the Packers then they will be 2-0.

Yeah.  Get on that bandwagon.  Ride it wild.  Sound the horn.  Bang a gong.  Get it on.  Bear down.

 

How the Colts Trade of John Elway in 1983 Comes Full Circle

The Colts franchise is in a familiar draft position. They hold the number one pick in the draft, and “a can’t miss” QB from Stanford, Andrew Luck, is at the top of the draft board. It’s 1983 all over again, kind of. This time the Colts are not between a rock and a hard place

With the number one pick in the 1983 draft, the then Baltimore Colts selected Stanford QB John Elway. This was despite Elway’s refusal to play for the Colts. After numerous trade rumors and Elway’s threat to play baseball, the Colts ended their Elway era before it even started, and traded the QB to the Denver Broncos.

Elway’s trade to the Broncos still has a major impact on the NFL today, and has finally come full circle.

The off-season’s biggest story occurred when the Indianapolis Colts cut Peyton Manning, the most iconic Colt since Johnny Unitas. And who signs Manning? The Broncos, whose front office is led by Elway, a position he arguably never would be in if he wasn’t traded to the Broncos in 1983.

You could also make a strong argument that if the Colts never had to trade Elway, Manning never would have been a Colt. The Colts drafted Manning with the number one pick in 1998, Elway’s last year in the NFL. The Colts also never would have had the number one pick in 1998, if it wasn’t for a downward spiral of bad decisions after the Elway trade; they could never live it down.

During Elway’s career, the only time the Colts came close to the Super Bowl was in 1995 when they made it to the AFC championship game behind QB Jim Harbaugh. Fast forward to 2008. Harbaugh is the head coach at Stanford, and his prize recruit is Andrew Luck. Who is now set to become the Colts number one pick in the draft.

How it has all come full circle.

Peyton, Out of Place

Imagine Magic Johnson wearing a Celtics jersey, or Yogi Berra playing for the Dodgers.  How about Walter Payton with a “G” on the side of his helmet or Richard Nixon skinny-dipping at the Kennedy Compound?

More strange sights, actual ones, are ahead now that Peyton Manning is leaving Indianapolis to play for the Jets?  Dolphins?  Jaguars?  Chiefs?  Broncos?  Seahawks?  Pride of Southland Band?  Old number-18’s departure from the Colts was inevitable and it’s the right move for Indianapolis.  Only the late-great Al Davis would give a $28 million roster bonus to a soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback with a bad neck and possibly no chance of growing a mustache.

The Colts might not be better off this season without Manning but, in the long-run, it had to happen.  If Indy only owed the four-time MVP, say, $10 million, and two potentially great quarterbacks weren’t available in the draft, and if the Colts didn’t have the number one pick, and if Curtis Painter didn’t have that cool hair well, then, Peyton should be staying put.  But things are far different.  It’s sad, it’s tough, but it’s necessary.  If Manning plays another three or four years or more at a Peyton Manning-level then the horse shoes will look like a horse’s ass.  But what are the odds that a guy who has been in the league since the Clinton years can continue to excel into Rick Santorum’s first term? (Joke! Just a joke! We all know Ron Paul is going to win.)

So where does Mr. Manning and his 54,828 yards, 399 touchdowns, fragile vertebrae and bruised ego go?  Do you think he’ll call Ryan Leaf for advice?  Maybe Peyton’s father, Archie, can engineer a deal with the Giants.  Whoops, too late, that was the deal for the other son and a damn good one for both Eli and New York.  So maybe, Archie convinces little Peyton to go to the other New York team, the Jets.  Is New York big enough for two Mannings? (Plus one Jeremy Lin?)  Next season’s Super Bowl will be played in New Orleans, which is where Eli and Peyton grew up.  The year after that it will be held at the Meadowlands.  A Manning v. Manning Super Bowl on their home turf.  Wow!  Chris Berman is already excited and the rest of us are already nauseated.

Speculation as to where Peyton will go will get more attention over the next few weeks than Ann Romney’s Rolex collection.  But whatever happens, it probably won’t feel as funky as we fear.  In 1973, the Colts traded Johnny Unitas to the San Diego Chargers.  In 1920, Babe Ruth went from the Red Sox to the Yankees.  Khloe Kardashian used to be a man.  Things change.  People move on, old storylines die, new ones emerge. And, just so long as Gregg Williams isn’t mad at us, we’re all going to survive.

 

 

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.

 

Taking A Knee

The 0-4 Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams have several options.  They can either play out the string while trying to grasp a modicum of dignity and hint of respectability, they can ask for admission into the Pac 10, or pro football’s quartet of bottom feeders might want to steal from the playbook of Morrill High School.

The Morrill Lions, from western Nebraska, have cancelled their season – and no one can blame Curtis Painter.

The Lions mercifully pulled the plug on Tuesday when its 18-member team was reduced to 12, and that 12th guy doesn’t even like football.

As reported by the “Associated Press,” Morrill’s starting quarterback broke a hand and another player fractured an ankle in last week’s game and parents were concerned that a friendly football season could quickly devolve into something immoral, if not illegal.  And so the cheerleaders (did they have more than one?), players and fans packed it in and will wait until next year.

No doubt the Morrill Lions gave it their best in going 0-5 and getting outscored 243-32.  One is reminded of T.C. Boyle’s gritty short story, “56-0,” about an overmatched college football team finishing the season in a cold, muddy and desperate scramble for pride.  But, like W.C Fields once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”

Part of Morrill’s problem was that the school was out of its league, almost literally.  Morrill played in the smallest division in Nebraska that plays 11-man football and school officials say next year they’ll probably move down to Eight-Man football which has got to be more fun anyway.  Morrill’s coaches told the “A.P.” they were saddened that more of the school’s 50 boys didn’t go out for the team but who knows? Maybe Morrill just has more fun things for a young lad to do on his weekends than get his head bashed in on every play.

Maybe Morrill just needs a little updating.  The school’s website still wishes everyone “a good summer” and the lunch menu is from last May.  But at least the Lions dined well that spring: Taco Salad, Pigs-in-a-blanket and Biscuits & Gravy are some of the offerings on the cafeteria menu. Unappetizingly, though, in the middle of the month the culinary choices are narrowed down to just one – “Cook’s Choice.”  Do you get the impression that “Cook’s Choice” consists of whatever tacos, biscuits and pigs can fit in a blender or on a slice of toast?

Morrill may feel forlorn but it isn’t alone.  In Amarillo, Texas, Arbor Christian Academy has also punted away the 2011 season after going 0-6 including last week’s 58-0 assault against Memphis.  Like Morrill, Arbor Christian now has downsizing on its mind as the school will switch to Six-Man in 2012.

The Vikings, Dolphins, Rams and Colts have looked like they’re playing with just six or eight guys this year so maybe they can jump leagues as well.  Maybe the NFL can implement a policy similar to that of European soccer leagues (“football associations”).  Imagine if promotion and relegation existed in all American sports – the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Cubs and Golden State Warriors would probably be on Morrill or Arbor Christian’s schedule by now and the New England Patriots and New York Yankees would only play each other, perhaps in a golden palace owned by Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman.

Or, maybe Morrill and Arbor Christian can get some special exemption and combine forces and play 14-man football while the other team only plays 11 but gets all the biscuits and gravy it can handle.

We can’t help wonder if those in Minnesota, Miami, St. Louis and Indianapolis almost envy these high school kids.  Between the four NFL teams they’re already 0-16 and, shudder to think, since none of these fumbling four play each other this season, each of them could actually finish 0-16 themselves.  Fans in Morrill and Amarillo will be watching.  But how will they be rooting?

 

Mark Sanchez Just Saved the NFL

Perhaps it’s a new and refreshing breed of player, but New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez has likely saved the NFL from fan backlash against the lockout. He also just boosted his jersey sales and made some new fans for himself and his team.

As reported today, Sanchez has offered to restructure his contract and make LESS money if it means the team can sign some key free agents as well as Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. The Jets have since signed Holmes to a five-year deal. No report on whether or not the NFL would let Sanchez actually restructure his deal.

Sanchez, a third-year player, is a striking contrast to many NFL players, including Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Brady is the highest paid player in the league and Manning has made headlines all summer about reclaiming the title of highest paid player once his new contract is resolved. I guess it shouldn’t surprise anyone then that these two children were also key names in the suit that brought the lockout. Regardless of whose fault the $9 billion mess belongs on, Manning and Brady exemplify personal benefit over team benefit.

Sanchez wants to win a Super Bowl. Manning and Brady want to compete with each other on the terms of their contract. I also find it interesting that Manning spent the summer whining about his neck and not being able to see a specific therapist until a lockout agreement was reached. Sanchez understands the team concept and he knows the New York Jets will win the Super Bowl this year, not New York Mark Sanchez.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Isray has stated several times over the course of the summer that Manning will be the highest paid player in the NFL even if the terms of the lockout agreement present some minor roadblocks.

“He is going to make more than Brady,” he said.

This is top priority? It is so important for Manning to make more than Brady that it has to be said out loud? Is it just me or when already mega millionaire players need their ego boosted by contract terms, they always seem to disappoint. Ask Boston Red Sox fans how Carl Crawford is working out. Brady hasn’t done much since they lost the Super Bowl after the 16-0 season. (Though he does complain a lot when he gets sacked.) Manning, 35, coming into his 15th year in the league, has a neck injury that is not even healed yet and he is reportedly going to miss some or all of training camp. The Colts want to spend all of their money on him?

Whether or not Manning is ready for the season, you can be sure he’ll take a snap in week 1. Because after all, Manning is more interested in chasing down Brett Favre’s numbers than he is in winning a Super Bowl. Winning a Super Bowl means he would have to share the spotlight. In just three years, Sanchez understands what’s at stake and what’s more important.

Said Sanchez, “whatever we need to do to win, it’s on.”