September 19, 2017

Patriots 51, Bears 23: The Negation of the Negation

Patriots 51, Bears 23 – The Negation of the Negation

Honestly, we forgot to set the DVR. And thank God for that because like a bad dream or an Elvis Costello song, Sunday’s Bears-Patriots game was so horrific that we hope to never have to revisit it.

The Bears went to Foxboro, Massachusetts and the Patriots went positively nuclear on them, blasting our orange and blue fellas 51-23 in a game that was ugly, scary, sacrilegious and completely uncool.

This game was not just bad from the beginning; it was smelly, slimy and icky. This game made statues cry.

We cannot really break this loss down because that would be like trying to diagram how the volcano defeated the Volvo. The Patriots were better in every phase of the game and also invented a few new phases and dominated those, too.

New England scored on its first possession of the game. Early in the second quarter it was 10-0. At halftime it was 38-7, the most points the Bears have ever surrendered in the first half and at that point we were just hoping to get out of there alive. We didn’t.

Here’s the meat of it: The Patriots, coming off ten days rest after having played on a Thursday had extra time to scheme for the Bears and used that extra time to write this on the chalkboard: “Throw the ball to Gronk.” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw to his tight end, Rob Gronkowski, nine times and Gronk caught all nine of them and scored three touchdowns.

Oh, and Brady also connected with just about everyone else in a Patriots uniform with the possible exception of Stanley Morgan and finished with five TDs, 354 yards, no interceptions, completing 30 of 35 passes for a passer rating of approximately 747.6.

Brady was sacked one time, courtesy of Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston who then did a celebratory dance and, we’re not kidding, promptly injured his knee and was carted off the field. And actually it wasn’t even Brady he sacked but number-12’s backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, because at that point in the contest the Patriots were up by so much that Brady was already on the sidelines kissing supermodels, making commercials and healing the sick.

We are scarred, scared and sad after this one, which leaves the Bears at 3-5 entering their bye week and of serious danger of not only missing the playoffs but also becoming the subject of a UN tribunal.

The 2014 Bears defense was supposed to be better and the 2014 Bears offense was supposed to be dominant. Halfway through the season, neither of those things appears to be true. Each week it looks as if the Bears’ opposition either already has Chicago figured out before kickoff or solves the puzzle before halftime whereas the Bears seem either overmatched from the start or unable to adjust once the snot starts flying.

Hope is not lost in Chicago but no one has seen it lately and it was last spotted 11 yards behind Brandon Lafell. But the Bears can revive that hope. They have an extra week and maybe they’ll go back to training camp mode, back to basics, back to a time when they knew what they were and what they could be.

Back, back, back. And then, forward? –TK

 

 

Patriots 16, Raiders 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Raider Guy

 

Broncos 26, Patriots 16

The first game on the schedule for championship weekend had the New England Patriots traveling to Denver to take on the Broncos.  The Patriots were coming off a dominant 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers by a score of 24-17.  Denver won the toss and deferred to the second half.  The Patriots started at their 20 and gained a grand total of five yards on their first possession.  Punter Ryan Allen hit a 60-yard punt that was downed at the Denver 15.

Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver offense took the field and immediately went in to their no huddle offense.  Short passes to wide receiver Eric Decker, tight end Julius Thomas and a three-yard carry by running back Knowshon Moreno moved the ball to the 30.  Another completion to Decker went for 21 yards and the Broncos were at the New England 49-yard line.  They went no further than that and punter Britton Colquitt sent his punt through the end zone for a touch-back.

The Patriots went three and out again the Broncos started at their 18.  Completions to Moreno and J. Thomas quickly got them a first down at the 42.  On third and ten, Manning went deep for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and the play went for 29 yards.  From the New England 29, Manning looked for Decker again and found him for ten more yards.  They would gain only one more yard and kicker Matt Prater came on for a 27-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Broncos led 3-0 with 3:43 to go in the first quarter.

After running six plays and gaining 12 yards, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots finally got a first down as he found running back Shame Vereen for a gain of 24 yards.  On third and five from the 49, Brady completed a pass good for 18 yards to wide receiver Julian Edelman.  On third and ten from the 33, wide receiver Austin Collie caught a pass for eight yards.  However, the Patriots were flagged for offensive pass interference and that pretty much killed their momentum.  Allen punted and the ball was downed at the seven-yard line.

From the seven, Moreno ran off left tackle for a gain of 11 yards.  Moreno got the call on the next play and was stuffed for a gain of one.  From the 19, Manning threw a perfect pass to D. Thomas, but he couldn’t find the handle and the pass was incomplete.  During the play, wide receiver Wes Welker put one hell of a hit on cornerback Aqib Talib and Talib would leave the game with a knee injury.  That incomplete pass made it third and nine.  Manning completed a 14-yard pass to Welker for a first down at the 33.  On third and one from the 42, Manning threw for Decker and the pass was incomplete.  But the drive was kept alive by a holding call on the Patriots.  That gave the Broncos a first down at the 47.  A short carry by Moreno and a 12-yard pass to running back Montee Ball  got the Broncos yet another first down at the New England 39.  Two incomplete passes set up a third and ten and the Patriots were expecting a pass.  That wasn’t the case as Moreno ran off right tackle for a gain of 28 yards.  Three carries by Ball made it first and goal from the one and their 93-yard drive was capped off with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 10-3 with 7:50 to go in the first half.

The Patriots went to work from their 20 and got the drive off to a good start as Brady hooked up with wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a gain of 27 yards.  A three-yard carry by running back LeGarrette Blount and a 13-yarder to Vereen moved the Patriots to the Denver 37.  Blount got the call again and was promptly stuffed again for a gain of two.  From the 35, Brady completed a pass good for 15 yards to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.  The next two plays gained two yards and Brady was sacked for a loss of eight on third down by defensive end Robert Ayers.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski came on for a field goal attempt and had no problem making it from 47 yards.  The Broncos now led 10-3 with 2:54 to go in the first half.

There was plenty of time for the Broncos to put up some more points before halftime.  However, Moreno was stopped on first down for a loss of one and a holding call moved them back to the ten-yard line.  But two passes to D. Thomas gained 53 yards and the Broncos were in New England territory again.  Short completions to Ball and Welker moved them down to the 26.  On fourth and one from the 17, Denver head coach John Fox opted to try a field goal instead of going for it.  Prater made his 35-yard attempt and at halftime, the Broncos were up 13-3.

About the last thing the New England defense needed was another long drive by the Broncos.  They needed to force a three and out to get the ball back in Brady’s hands.  On second and nine from the 21, Manning looked to the left side for Decker and that play was good for 18 yards and a first down at the 39.  A six-yard carry by Moreno, a five-yard carry by Ball and a 15-yard completion to J. Thomas put the Broncos at the New England 40.  Another good carry by Ball and an eight-yard pass to Decker gave the Broncos another first down at the 27.  Two more completions to J. Thomas moved them to the 15.  A seven-yard carry by Moreno and a five-yard carry by Ball made it first and goal from the three.  From the three, Manning calmly tossed a pass to D. Thomas in the end zone for another Bronco touchdown.  Prater made the point after and Broncos were looking good with a 20-3 lead with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter.

The Patriots started at their 20 and short completions to Dobson, Vereen and Collie quickly moved them to the 36.  On third and five from the 41, Collie caught another pass for a gain of 12 and a first down at the Denver 47-yard line.  A nine-yard carry and a two-yard “scramble” by Brady netted another first down at the 36.  The next three plays gained seven yards and instead of trying a field goal, New England head coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and three.  That was a bad idea as Brady was sacked for a loss of ten by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

With 2:25 to go in the third quarter, the Broncos took over at their 39 and looked for another score to put the nail in the coffin.  Ball was thrown for a loss of two on first down, but Manning came back with a 14-yarder to J. Thomas.  From the New England 49, Manning went deep again for D. Thomas and he hauled it in for a gain of 30 and a first down at the 19.  From the 19, Ball ran up the middle for seven.  He gained two yards on the next play, but the Broncos were flagged for holding.  That moved them back to the 22 and Manning found J. Thomas for a gain of 14.  Moreno ran up the left side for a gain of three, but the Broncos were flagged again for holding and that moved the ball back to the 18.  From the 18, Manning found Welker for a gain of 16 to put them at the two-yard line.  J. Thomas was stopped short of the end zone on the next play and on third and goal from the one, Manning lofted a pass to the right corner of the end zone intended for J. Thomas.  He couldn’t get control of the ball and it was incomplete.  Prater came into the game again and his 19-yard field goal attempt was good.  That put Denver up 23-3 with 12 minutes to go in the game.

From the 20, Brady and the New England offense quickly got the ball rolling into Denver territory with completions to Edelman, Collie and Hoomanawanui.  From the Denver 26 Brady hooked up with Vereen two times for 19 yards and a first down at the seven.  Two plays later, Edelman got open again and Brady found him in the end zone for a touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Broncos now led 23-10 with 9:26 remaining in the game.

The Broncos started this drive from their 25 and on second and ten, Manning looked for J. Thomas and found him for a gain of 37 yards.  They got as far as the New England 36 and the drive stalled there.  Prater was called on once again and his 54-yarder was good.  With seven minutes to go, the Broncos increased their lead to 26-10.

The Patriots started out from their 20 again and three completions to Edelman and a nine-yard carry by Vereen moved them to the Denver 41.  Vereen got another carry and it was good for 11 yards and a first down at the 30.  Brady then found Collie for 18 and Edelman for seven more.  On second and three from the five, Brady took it in himself for a touchdown.  They had to go for two and Vereen came up just short.  The Broncos now led 26-16 with 3:07 remaining in the game.  An onside kick was the only thing the Patriots could do and the kick was recovered by Decker.  A 23-yard pass to Tamme and some more carries by Ball kept the clock moving and the Broncos went to win by a score of 26-16.  That win got them a ticket to the Super Bowl where they will play the winner of the San Francisco-Seattle game.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 24 of 38 for 277 yards and one touchdown.  He also ran for a score.  Leading the way in receptions was Julian Edelman with ten.  Edelman also had the most receiving yards with 89 and a touchdown.  The running game that worked so well against the Colts didn’t do very well in this game.  As a team, the Patriots only had 64 rushing yards on 16 carries.  Vereen led the team with 34 yards on four carries.  Defensively, cornerback Devin McCourty led the Patriots in solo tackles with ten.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 32 of 43 for 400 yards and two touchdowns.  Julius Thomas led the way in receptions with eight and Demaryius Thomas had the most receiving yards with 134 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Knowshon Moreno led the team with 59 yards on 14 carries.  As a team, the Broncos rushed for 107 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in solo tackles with eight.  The telling stat in this game was time of possession.  The Broncos held on to the ball for nearly 36 minutes, racked up 27 first downs and went 7 for 13 on third down conversions.  They were the better team and this will be their first Super Bowl appearance since Super Bowl XXXIII when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons by a score 34-19.

 

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.

Ravens 28, Patriots 13

The Baltimore Ravens headed north to New England to take on the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.  The Ravens were coming off a huge 38-35 double overtime win over the Denver Broncos and the Patriots were coming off a 41-28 win over the Houston Texans.  The Ravens won the toss and deferred to the second half.

Neither team could do much on their first possessions until the Patriots started their second drive of the game from their 21.  An eight-yard completion from quarterback Tom Brady to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and a three-yard run by running back Stevan Ridley got them a first down at the 32.  An eight-yard pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez and another one to Lloyd for 13 yards moved them to the Raven 47.  Brady found Hernandez again for ten more yards and a first down at the 37.  A short run by Ridley and another pass to Lloyd for 16 more yards made it first down at the 20.  They would get as far as the 12 and the drive stopped there.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski came on and made his 30-yard attempt and the Patriots led 3-0 with 6:21 to go in the first quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Ravens were flagged for an illegal block and started at their ten.  Aside from a 17-yard pass from quarterback Joe Flacco to fullback Vonta Leach, the Ravens didn’t do much.  On third and 12 from the 25, Flacco looked for wide receiver Anquan Boldin and the pass was incomplete.  Cornerback Aqib Talib was injured on this play and would not return.  That was a big blow to the Patriot secondary.

As the game progressed, neither offense could get into a rhythm and the first quarter ended with the score still at 3-0.  The Ravens found themselves back at their ten-yard line again and a three-yard run by running back Ray Rice, a five-yard pass to Leach and a 17-yard pass to tight end Daniel Pitta got them out to their 33-yard line.  A couple of short runs and an 11-yard reception by Rice netted another first down at the 46.  From the 46, running back Bernard Pierce made an appearance.  On second and eight from the 48, Flacco found Pierce for eight yards and a first down at the Patriot 44.  A four-yard run by Pierce and a 25-yard completion to wide receiver Torrey Smith moved the Ravens into the red zone.  Rice finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.  Kicker Justin Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 7-3 with 9:28 to go in the second quarter.  The Patriots suffered another injury on this drive as cornerback Patrick Chung left the game.

The Patriots started at their 21 and Ridley ran for a gain of three yards.  An unnecessary roughness penalty on the Ravens got them 15 free yards and a first down at the 39.  Brady found wide receiver Wes Welker for seven yards and Lloyd again for three more.  Two more runs by Ridley and a 24-yard pass to Welker had them marching into Raven territory.  On second and two from the eight, Brady connected with Hernandez at the one to make it first and goal.  On third down, Brady looked to his right and found Welker for a touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots were back on top, 10-7 with 4:18 to go in the first half.

Three plays got the Ravens zero yards and they brought Sam Koch into the game to punt again.  A 15-yard return by Welker put the Patriots at the Raven 43 with 2:32 to go.  Runs by Brady, Ridley and Woodhead made it fourth and one from the 34.  Woodhead took the direct snap and ran up the left side for a gain of seven and a first down.  On third and ten from the 27, Brady found Hernandez again for a gain of 17 and a first and goal from the ten.  With 26 seconds left, the Patriots called their second timeout.  On first down, Brady ran for a gain of three and instead of calling timeout, he tried to get the offense back to the line of scrimmage to run another play.  Precious seconds ran off the clock as they tried to get organized.  That forced Brady to take the third timeout with four seconds remaining.  That wasn’t enough time to run a play and they had to settle for a 25-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Patriots took a 13-7 lead into the locker room.

The Ravens would get as far as the 50 on their first drive of the second half and would be forced to punt.  The Patriots took over at their nine and a six-yard pass to Lloyd, a five yard run by Ridley, a five-yard pass to Hernandez and a 24-yard pass to Welker moved the ball to midfield.  Add another unnecessary roughness penalty on the Ravens and the Patriots were looking good with a first down at the Raven 36-yard line.  But, they would only get as far as the 34.  With the swirling winds making field goal attempts difficult, the Patriots opted to punt.  Zoltan Mesko punted the ball to the 13 where it was fair caught by safety Ed Reed.

With ten minutes to go in the third quarter, the Ravens took to the air and Flacco brought out the no huddle offense.  A 15-yard pass interference penalty on the Patriots and a 22-yard pass to Pitta moved the Ravens to the 50.  From the 50, Flacco hooked up with Rice for 15 yards.  A five-yard pass to Smith and an eight yard run by Pierce netted a first down at the 22.  From the 22, Flacco found Boldin for 12 and Pitta for five more.  On second and goal from the five, Flacco tossed a short pass to his right and Pitta caught it for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 14-13 with 6:14 to go in the third quarter.

The Patriots went nowhere on their next drive and punted.  Return man Jacoby Jones fielded the punt at the Raven 26 and returned it to the 37.  On second and 14 from the 33, Flacco went deep for Smith and he hauled it in for a gain of 23 yards.  An offside penalty and runs by Rice and Pierce got them a first down at the Patriot 25.  A six-yard run by Pierce and a six-yard completion to Pitta made it first down at the  13.  From the 13, Flacco completed an eight-yard pass to Boldin and Rice ran up the right side for a gain of two yards and that made it first and goal from the three.  On first down, Flacco tossed a high pass into the middle of the end zone for Boldin.  Despite the fact that there were two defenders in the area, Boldin came down with the ball for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 21-13 with an entire quarter remaining.

The Patriots started their next drive at their 16 and moved quickly to the 39 on the strength of three runs by Ridley and a 12-yard pass to Lloyd.  From the 39, Ridley ran up the right side and after a gain of eight yards, he was hammered by safety Bernard Pollard.  The ball came loose and there was a huge pileup.  Defensive end Arthur Jones emerged from the pile with the ball and the Ravens took over at the Patriot 47.  Ridley would leave the game and not return.  The Ravens needed four plays to go 47 yards and on second and four from the 11, Flacco once again found Boldin in the end zone for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens went up 28-13 with 11:13 to go in the game.

Now it was time for Brady to break out the no huddle offense.  From his own 29, he completed passes to Lloyd, running back Shane Vereen and Welker  to move the ball to the Raven 25.  On fourth and four from the 19, Brady ran to the left and looked like he may be able to get the first down.  Instead of running for it, he tossed the ball to the end zone where it fell incomplete.  That gave the Ravens the ball at the 19 with 8:27 to go.  Instead of running the ball, Flacco tried three pass plays.  That resulted in a grand total of minus one yard.  They had the ball for a whole minute and two seconds and punted.

The Patriots took over at their 40 and Brady wasted no time finding Welker for a big gain of 36 yards.  On first down from the 24, Brady looked for Hernandez and the ball was knocked up in the air by defensive end Pernell McPhee.  Linebacker Dannell Ellerbee got under it and picked it off.  That was a killer for the Patriots.  This time, the Ravens ran the ball and took a little over four minutes off the clock and the Patriots used all their timeouts.  With 2:05 to go, the Patriots moved from their 33 to the Raven 22.  On second down from the 22, Brady threw for the end zone and his pass was picked off by cornerback Cary Williams.  That sealed the deal and got the Ravens a ticket to the Super Bowl.  Final score: Ravens 28 Patriots 13.

For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 21 of 36 for 240 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta tied for the lead in receptions with five and Torrey Smith had the most yards receiving with 69.  Bernard Pierce led the ground game with 52 yards on nine carries and as a team, the Ravens rushed for 121 yards on 33 carries.  Linebacker Ray Lewis led the team with six solo tackles.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 29 of 54 for 320 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  Aaron Hernandez had the most receptions with nine and Welker had the most yards receiving with 117 and a touchdown.  Stevan Ridley had the bulk of the carries and led the team with 70 yards on 18 carries.  All totaled, the Patriots rushed for 108 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Brandon Spikes led the team with six solo tackles.

In two weeks, the San Francisco 49ers will meet the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.  It’ll be the first brother versus brother coaching match-up in Super Bowl history as John Harbaugh will be matching wits with his younger brother Jim.  The last time they met was in 2011 and  the Ravens won that game by a score of 16-6.  It will also be the last game for the great Ray Lewis.  I would also imagine 49er wide receiver Randy Moss may call it quits after this game too.  Honestly, all I’m hoping for is a good and entertaining game.  I’ll be traveling on Super Bowl weekend and will not be back in town until Monday afternoon.  I’ll have a recap of the game up no later than Monday night.  Until then, take it easy and enjoy the game.

 

 

 

Patriots 41, Texans 28

The last game on the playoff schedule had the Houston Texans heading up to New England to take on the Patriots.  The Texans were coming off a 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Patriots had a first round bye.  These teams met in week 14 of the regular season and the Patriots shredded the Texans by a score of 42-14.  The Texans won the toss and elected to receive.  That was a good idea as return man Danieal Manning fielded the kick six yards deep in the end zone and returned it to the Patriot 12-yard line.  From the 12, running back Arian Foster ran up the left side for a modest gain of three yards.  On second down, quarterback Matt Schaub threw a pass to fullback James Casey and the ball went right through his hands and fell incomplete.  On third down, Schaub looked for wide receiver Andre Johnson and that pass was also incomplete.  With such great field position, the Texans had to settle for a field goal attempt from kicker Shayne Graham.  His 27-yard attempt was good and the Texans had an early 3-0 lead.

After that possession, the Patriots punted twice and the Texans followed suit.  But with 4:29 to go in the first quarter, the Patriots put together a nice drive on the strength of running back Stevan Ridley from their 35.  Ridley had two carries for 12 yards and caught a pass for 13 more yards.  From the Texan 40, quarterback Tom Brady threw a short pass to running back Shane Vereen and he took it 25 yards down to the Texan 15.  Brady then hooked up with tight end Aaron Hernandez for a gain of 14 to set up a first and goal at the one.  Vereen took it in from the one for a touchdown.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots led 7-3 with 1:28 remaining in the first quarter.

The kickoff went nine yards deep in the end zone and the Texans got the ball at the 20.  Completions to Johnson and Foster moved the Texans quickly to their 47.  But the next three plays gained exactly zero yards and they punted again.  The punt was fair caught at the 16 by wide receiver/return man Wes Welker.  Speaking of Mr. Welker, on third and eight from the 18, he caught a pass for a gain of 30 yards.  Then Vereen ran off left tackle for 22 more and a first down at the Texan 30.  Two more carries by Vereen got them another first down at the 16.  But, an unsportsmanlike penalty on wide receiver Brandon Lloyd moved them back 15 yards.  They managed to get down to the 19, but the drive stalled there.  Gostkowski made his 37-yard attempt and the Patriots now led 10-3 with 10:16 to go in the first half.

After another Texan punt, the Patriots started from their 20.  A 13-yard pass to Welker on third and 11 kept the drive alive and Brady found Lloyd for seven more yards.  A six-yard carry by Ridley and a 47-yard pass to Welker made it first and goal from the eight-yard line.  On first down, Brady tossed a pass to his left and Vereen caught it for an eight-yard touchdown.  Gostkowski made another extra point and the Patriots went up 17-3 with 3:38 to go in the half.

On the kickoff, Gostkowski was penalized for a horse collar tackle and that set up the Texans at the Patriot 47.  Two carries by Foster set up a first and goal from the seven-yard line.  Three more carries got them six points as Foster found the end zone from the one-yard line.  Graham made the point after and the Texans now trailed 17-10 with 1:15 to go in the half.

The Patriots netted exactly four yards on their next drive and punted.  With 24 seconds remaining, the Texans had the ball at their 38 and three timeouts.  A nine-yard pass to Casey and an 11-yard pass to Daniels had them in Patriot territory with precious seconds ticking away.  From the Patriot 42, Schaub found Daniels for a gain of five and they called their final timeout with two seconds left.  Graham came on and his 55-yard field goal was good.  That made it 17-13 as the half came to a close.

The Patriots got the ball to start the second half and started their next possession at their 31.  Two passes to Welker and two to Hernandez had them rolling into Texan territory.  From the 12, Ridley ran for a gain of four yards.  Ridley got the call again and this time he crossed the goal line for another Patriot touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots went up 24-13.

The teams punted on their next possessions and the Texans took over at their ten with just under nine minutes to go in the third quarter.  A false start penalty pinned them back to their five.  Schaub tossed a short pass to Foster who took it up the left side for a gain of 28 yards.  A short run by Foster and a loss of nine on a sack made it third and long again.  On third and 16, Johnson caught a pass at midfield for another first down.  If the Texans wanted to stay in this game, they had to get some points on this drive.  Foster ran for seven more yards and Casey caught a pass for five yards and a first down at the Patriot 39.  On third and eight from the 37, Schaub had time and threw a pass right down the middle that was caught by Rob Ninkovich at the 31.  There’s only one problem with that.  Ninkovich is a Patriot.  He returned the ball to the 37.  Three carries by Ridley, and passes to Hernandez and Lloyd put the ball at the Texan five-yard line.  On first down, Brady looked for Lloyd and found him for another touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots now had a very comfortable 31-13 lead.

The Texans found themselves with terrible field position again as they started at their 14-yard line.  An eight-yard pass to tight end Garrett Graham and two short runs made it fourth and one from the 23.  When you’re down big in a playoff game, desperate times call for desperate measures.  They went for it on fourth and the zebras ruled Foster made it.  The Patriots challenged the ruling, but it was upheld and the Texans had a first down at the 24.  Three plays later, they had another fourth and one from the 33.  This time, Schaub threw it deep and it was incomplete.  The Patriots will make you pay if you turn the ball over in your own territory.  Sure enough, from the 33, Brady took the snap, looked to his left and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Lloyd.  That was entirely too easy.  Gostkowski made the extra point and the Patriots now led 38-13 with 13 minutes to go in the game.

Manning got loose on another kick return and was finally brought down at the Patriot 37.  A couple of runs by Foster got them down to the 25 and from the 25, wide receiver DeVier Posey caught a pass on the right side for a touchdown.  Initially it was ruled incomplete, but the Texans challenged the ruling and it was overturned for a touchdown.  Graham made the point after and the score was now 38-20 with 11:35 left.

The Patriots netted a grand total of minus five yards on their next possession and Mesko blasted a 64-yard punt that was downed at the Texan 21.  Completions to Johnson and Daniels and a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the Patriots gave the Texans a first down at the Patriot 48.  A pass to Foster and two more to Daniels made it first and goal at the four.  It took four plays to go four yards, but Schaub hit Foster with a one-yard touchdown pass.  They decided to go for two and Johnson caught the pass and the two-point conversion was good.  That made it 38-28 with 5:11 to go.

The Texans tried an onside kick and it was recovered by Ninkovich.  The Patriots stuck to the ground game to kill the clock and Gostkowski ended up making a 38-yard field goal to make the final score 41-28.  That win propels the Patriots to yet another AFC title game.

For the Texans, Matt Schaub completed 34 of 51 for 343 yards, two touchdowns and one very bad interception.  Owen Daniels led the team in receptions with nine and Andre Johnson had the most receiving yards with 95.  Although he didn’t get loose many times, Arian Foster managed to gain 90 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  He also had seven receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown.  The only other player credited with rushing yards was Schaub and he had one yard on one carry.  So that gives the Texans a total of 91 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Connor Barwin, cornerback Danieal Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph tied for the lead in solo tackles with three.  Barwin also had one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 25 of 40 for 344 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  Wes Welker led all receivers in receptions with eight and yards with 131.  Stevan Ridley had a good game on the ground with 82 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled the Patriots ran for 122 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, cornerback Aqib Talib led the team with nine solo tackles.

Up next for the Patriots is a rematch of last year’s AFC title game as the Baltimore Ravens will be coming to town.  In the NFC, the 49ers will be heading to Atlanta to play the Falcons.  Both games are scheduled for next Sunday and the NFC title game will kickoff at 3 eastern time.  The AFC title game will start at 6:30 eastern time.  Until then, take it easy.

 

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.

 

Patriots 23, Ravens 20

The Baltimore Ravens headed north to take on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.  The Ravens were coming off a hard fought 20-13 over the Houston Texans and the Patriots had no problem knocking the Denver Broncos out of the playoffs with a 45-10 win.

This game started out like I thought it would.  After one punt by the Patriots and two by the Ravens, the Patriots took over at their own 39.  Two runs by BenJarvus Green-Ellis moved the ball to the 50.  Completions to wide receivers Deion Branch and Julian Edelman put the ball at the 28.  On second and nine from the 27, quarterback Tom Brady was picked off by cornerback Lardarius Webb.  But the play would not stand because the Ravens were called for illegal contact.  The Patriots would get as far as the 11 and kicker Stephen Gostkowski made a 29-yard field goal to give the Patriots the lead.

After another Raven punt, the Patriots got the ball at their own 40.  However, on second and eight from the 47, Webb picked off Brady again and this time there was no flag.  On first down from the 30, quarterback Joe Flacco faked a hand-off to running back Ray Rice, rolled to his right and put up a bomb that was caught by wide receiver Torrey Smith for a gain of 42 down to the Patriot 28.  That was about the only play for positive yardage that the Ravens had in the first quarter.  Another pass to Smith and wide receiver Anquan Boldin set up a fourth and one at the Patriot three.  Raven head coach John Harbaugh decided to take the points and the Ravens tied the game at three with a field goal from kicker Billy Cundiff with 14:21 to go in the first half.

The Patriots started their first drive of the second quarter at their own 25.  On two carries, Green-Ellis moved his team to the 49.  On third and eight from the Raven 49, wide receiver Wes Welker caught a pass for a gain of nine and a first down.  A 20-yard pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski and a facemask penalty on the Ravens set up a first and goal from the seven.  Green-Ellis would finish the drive with a seven-yard run to put the Patriots up 10-3 with 10:35 to go in the first half.

A 20-yard yard pass to Smith and another one to Boldin for 37 yards got the Ravens down to the Patriot 18.  Three runs by Rice made it second and goal at the six.  On second and goal, Flacco found tight end Dennis Pitta for a touchdown.  That knotted the score at 10 with six minutes to go.

Brady took the air on the next drive and completed passes to Welker, Gronkowski and tight end Aaron Hernandez to move the ball to the Raven 17.  The Raven defense stiffened from there and three straight incomplete passes led to another field goal to put the Patriots back on top, 13-10.  The Ravens couldn’t do anything with the ball and punted.  Brady took a knee and the Patriots took a three-point lead into the locker rrom.

The Patriots got the ball first in the second half and on third and six from their own 24, Brady found Gronkowski for a gain of 21.  Some more good running from Green-Ellis and passes to Hernandez and running back Danny Woodhead got the ball down to the Raven 14-yard line.  On third and two from the six, Green-Ellis was stopped for no gain and Gostkowski made it 16-10 with a 24-yard field goal.

The Ravens started at their own 22 and on third and 11 from the 40, Lee Evans made another catch.  This one was for 13 yards and  a first down at the Patriot 47.  On third and six from the 43, Flacco found Pitta for a gain of six to keep the drive alive.  Short runs by Flacco and running back Ricky Williams put the Ravens in another third down situation.  On third and four, Flacco found Smith on the right sideline.  Smith caught the pass, turned around and bolted for the end zone.  It looked like he stepped out of bounds at the three, but the play stood as called and it gave the Ravens a 17-16 lead with 3:26 to go in the third quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, return man Danny Woodhead fumbled and the ball was recovered by Raven safety Emanuel Cook at the Patriot 28.  A short run by Rice and a 14-yard scramble by Flacco made it first and goal at the 11.  This is where Flacco made a huge mistake.  On first down, he rolled to his left and had fullback Vontae Leach wide open in the flat.  Instead, he lofted the ball to tight end Kris Wilson in the end zone and the ball fell incomplete.  If he had thrown it to Leach, it would have been an easy touchdown.  On third and eight from the nine, Flacco was sacked and the Ravens had to settle for a 39-yard field goal.  That gave them a 20-16 lead with under a minute to go in the third quarter.

A good return by Woodhead gave the Patriots the ball at their own 37.  A 23-yard pass to Gronkowski moved the ball to the Raven 40.  On first down from the 40, Brady was picked off by cornerback Cary Williams.  However, the play would not count because defensive end Terrell Suggs was offside.  That gave the Patriots five free yards and a nine-yard pass to Welker gave them a first down at the 26.  On third and seven, Brady found Welker again for another first down at the 15.  A short pass to Hernandez and a run by Woodhead set up a first and goal at the five.  Woodhead got the carry on first down and got four yards.  Brady took it up the left side for an apparent touchdown, but it was ruled that he came up short.  On third down, Green-Ellis came up short.  That put the Patriots in a fourth and goal from inside the one.  On fourth and goal, Brady took the snap and dove over the line for the touchdown.  That put the Patriots back on top, 23-20.

The Ravens had plenty of time to get in field goal range to tie it up or get a go ahead touchdown.  Some runs by Flacco, Rice and Williams moved the ball to the Patriot 46.  On first down, Flacco threw a pass across the middle that was intercepted at the 31 by linebacker Brandon Spikes.  He returned it 19 yards to the 50.  On first and ten from the 50, Brady decided to go for it all and fired a bomb to the end zone.  The ball was knocked up in the air by safety Bernard Pollard and cornerback Jimmy Smith made a beautiful diving interception in the end zone.  He wasn’t touched down and he promptly got up and ran the ball back to the Raven 38-yard line.

So, with seven minutes to go, the Ravens had yet another chance to put some points on the board.  They moved the ball down to the Patriot 30.  On third and three, Rice was stuffed for a loss of three.  That made it fourth and sixth from the 33.  Commentator Phil Simms stated that the wind was blowing in favor of the Ravens and that Cundiff should try to tie it up.  That didn’t happen.  Flacco went looking for Pitta and basically threw the ball away.  That gave the Patriots the ball.  But, the Raven defense came up huge and forced the Patriots to punt.

With 1:44 to go, the Ravens got the ball at their own 21.  On third and five from the 26, Flacco hit Boldin for a gain of 13 and a first down at the 39.  On third and one from the 48, Boldin made another nice catch and run up the left side for a gain of 29 for a first down at the Patriot 23.  Another pass to Boldin for nine more yards made it second and one at the 14 with time ticking away.  On second down, Flacco found Evans in the end zone, but the ball was knocked out by cornerback Sterling Moore.  On third and one, Flacco looked for Pitta and the pass was incomplete.  There was definitely some contact made by Moore before the ball got there, but the zebras didn’t throw a flag.  As a matter of fact, the Patriots were flagged only once in the entire game.  That made it time for Cundiff to try and tie the game up with a 32-yard field goal.  The kick sailed wide left and the Patriots won 23-20.  They are on their way to Indianapolis for their seventh Super Bowl appearance.

For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 22 of 36 for 306 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  Anquan Boldin led the team in receiving with six catches for 101 yards.  Ray Rice and Ricky Williams combined for 89 yards on 27 carries.  Flacco added 27 yards rushing and the Ravens rushed for 116 yards as a team.   Bernard Pollard led the team with seven solo tackles and one pass defensed.  The Ravens only sacked Brady once, allowed 25 first downs and 330 total yards.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 22 of 36 for 23 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a rushing touchdown.  Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez led the team with a combined total of 12 catches for 153 yards.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the team with 68 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.  Brandon Spikes led the team with nine total tackles and an interception.  The Patriots sacked Flacco three times, allowed 19 first downs and 398 total yards.

 

Book Review: The ’85 Bears: We Were the Greatest

When word broke last week about a new book that cast Walter Payton unfavorably, Mike Ditka didn’t mince words about the author. “I’d spit on him. I have no respect for him. Pathetic. Despicable. It serves no purpose,” the former Chicago Bears coach said.

No wonder. Ditka called Payton the best ever. “He was a complete football player. He knew everything… You could do things with him that you couldn’t with other backs,” Ditka said in “The ’85 Bears: We Were the Greatest.” Ditka has plenty more to say with Rick Telander, starting with the Bears’ Super Bowl celebration. Then he takes you back to training camp where the journey began. It’s Ditka, so you know it can’t be dull.

Read this book because:

1. Whether the game was a romp or seized from the jaws of defeat, you’ll feel like you are re-living the ’85 season from preseason through the big game.

Two weeks after a close call in the season opener against Tampa Bay, the Bears again were desperate for help against Minnesota. Jim McMahon had just spent two nights in traction and was fighting a leg infection, but he would not let up on the sideline. “He was driving me crazy!” Ditka said. “Get away from me! I’m thinking. But he’s right there like a mosquito, just pestering me to death,” Ditka said. (82, ’85) McMahon got in and threw three touchdowns to rally the Bears and win an important game against a division rival.

Week 6 was what the Bears had been waiting for. San Francisco humiliated Chicago 23-0 in the 1984 NFC Championship Game. We’ll be back, they said. Sure enough, they returned to sack Joe Montana seven times, and the Fridge went on the offensive for the first of several times that season. In fact, it was the Fridge and not Payton who scored in the Super Bowl. Payton’s scoreless game was one of the coach’s few regrets.

2. Players share their memories of the championship campaign.

“It amazes me that we didn’t win four [Super Bowls.] We lost 11 games in four years and only won one Super Bowl,” McMahon said. (24)

Steve McMichael was a Texan with a lot of heart, Ditka said. The future wrestler hunted rattlesnakes and said of the team’s ’85 season, “Listen, baby, we were vicious.” (156)

Kevin Butler’s future wife worried he was vicious in more than one way. Butler recalled, “The first mini-camp, I go up there after I’m drafted. I’m engaged to be married January 25. I walk out of that meeting, I get on the phone to Cathy, and I say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to change our wedding.’ She’s like, ‘My God, you’ve been up there four hours and you’ve already met somebody.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m going to make the team and we’re going to the Super Bowl.’” (236)

You can’t forget the Fridge: I let them talk about [my weight]. I was happy then. I’m happy now. (100)

3. And then there’s ‘Da Coach to keep you reading from cover to cover.

“I was in a coat and tie and shades, and it was colder than frozen snot,” Ditka recalled about the championship parade. “All those people, and it was really, really cold. It would have been impressive if it was 80 degrees out, but 25 below? It showed what our team meant to the city of Chicago. To all the Grabowskis.

“See, Grabowski is the name I came up with for the players on our team, and it fit Chicago. It just symbolized that we were hard-hat guys. The other guys ride in limos. We ride in trucks.” (18)

By the end of the book, you’ll be doing the “Super Bowl Shuffle!”

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where 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.

Patriots 31, Raiders 19

Yesterday, the New England Patriots made the trip to Oakland to take on the Oakland Raiders.  The Patriots were coming off a bad loss to the Buffalo Bills and the Raiders had a good win last week against the New York Jets.  Lots of “experts” thought the Raiders could give the Patriots a hard time.  Even former Patriot Ted Bruschi picked the Raiders to win this game.  I was truly stunned when I heard him say that.

The Patriots won the toss and deferred to the second half.  New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski sent the opening kickoff out of bounds and the Raiders started the game at their own 40.  Jason Campbell got the game off to a quick start with a seven yard completion to wide receiver Denarius Moore.  Darren McFadden ran for three yards and the Raiders had a first down at the 50.  Then Campbell hit McFadden for a 15-yard gain and tight end Kevin Boss for 23 more yards.  The Raiders were once again looking good on their opening drive.  But, a penalty on left tackle Jared Veldheer moved the ball back ten yards.  From there, the drive stalled and the Raiders settled for a 28-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski.

Trailing by three, the Patriots got the ball at their own 20 and didn’t get off to a very good start.  A holding call on tight end Rob Gronkowski moved the ball back ten yards.  After a short completion to wide receiver Julian Edelman, the Patriots had a third and nine from their own 21.  That’s where current Raider and former Patriot Richard Seymour made his first appearance.  The next play was stopped for a delay of game on the Patriots.  However, that didn’t stop Seymour as he threw Brady to the ground.  That got him a personal foul and it got the Patriots a first down.  After two carries by running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Seymour decided to have some more fun and he got called for a facemask penalty.  That gave the Patriots another first down at the Raider 32.  Running back Stevan Ridley ripped off a 15-yard gain and two plays later, Brady connected with wide receiver Wes Welker for a 15-yard touchdown.  Gostkowski made the extra point and the Patriots led 7-3.

The Raiders didn’t do a whole lot with the ball on their next drive with the exception of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey making a spectacular 16-yard catch on the sideline on a third and ten to keep the drive alive.  They moved the ball to the Patriot 40, but that’s as far as they got.  Punter Shane Lechler got off  a good punt and the ball was downed at the Patriot four.

The Patriots moved the ball out to their own 40 on two completions to Ridley and Gronkowski.  They also received five more free yards from their old friend Richard Seymour as he jumped offside.  But, their own 40 was as far as they could get as Brady missed Welker on third and 14.  Zoltan Mesko booted a punt that was downed at the Raider 12.

With a little over 13 minutes to go in the half, Darren McFadden ran off left tackle for a 47-yard gain and the Raiders had the ball at the Patriot 47.  Campbell then decided it was his turn to take off running and he scrambled down to the 30.  Campbell then hit Boss for a gain of 23 down to the seven.  McFadden gained five more and Michael Bush finished the drive two plays later with a one-yard touchdown run.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders were back on top, 10-7.

It didn’t look like the Patriots were too discouraged after the Raider touchdown.  They took over at their own 36 after ANOTHER personal foul was called on the Raiders on the kickoff.  This time it was on Mike Mitchell.  The Patriots marched right down the field as Brady hit Welker for 24 and Green-Ellis added 15 more yards on two carries.  Brady found Welker again and he was stopped just short of the goal line.  Two plays later, Green-Ellis ran it in to for a touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the score was now 14-10 Patriots.

With seven minutes to go in the half, the Raiders started this drive from their own 14.  On third and three, Campbell found Heyward-Bey for a first down near midfield.  Michael Bush had two carries that moved the ball to the 36 and wide receiver Jacoby Ford ran a reverse down to the six.  This is where the game turned around.  On second down, Campbell had plenty of time, but couldn’t find an open receiver.  Instead of trying to scramble for a few yards, or trying to throw the ball away,  he threw the ball directly to defensive back Patrick Chung.  That gave the Patriots the ball with a little over two minutes remaining.

The Patriots broke out the no huddle offense and Danny Woodhead rumbled up the left side for 12 yards.  Then, Brady hooked up with Chad Ochocinco for two completions to move the ball into Raider territory.  The drive stalled at the 26 and Gostkowski booted a 44-yard field goal to close out the half with the Patriots leading 17-10.

The Patriots got the ball to start the second half and Brady wasted no time finding Welker for 32 yards to move the ball near midfield.  After a short completion to Welker, an offside penalty on the Raiders and a short run by Green-Ellis moved the ball to the 33, running back Stevan Ridley took the ball the off right tackle and ran for a 33-yard score.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots now had a 24-10 lead.

With 11 minutes to go in the third quarter, the Raiders started their drive at their own 18.  McFadden ran for 11 and Campbell hit wide receiver Derrick Hagan for ten more.  Then Kevin Boss caught another one to move the ball to the Patriot 39.  McFadden got six more and Campbell found Hagan for a first down at the 29.  Michael Bush then made another appearance and moved the ball to the 15.  On second and ten from the 15, a pass interference penalty was called on the Patriots.  It looked like a good call as the cornerback was all over Jacoby Ford.  This would give the Raiders a first and goal at the one.  But, the flag was mysteriously picked up and there was no penalty.  The explanation was that their feet got tangled. Yeah. Whatever.  From there, the drive stalled at the eight.  Janikowski came on and made a 26-yard field goal to make the score 24-13.

With a little over three minutes to go in the third quarter, the Patriots started at their own 20.  Brady hit Welker for gains of nine and 19 and Green-Ellis ran right up the middle for 15 more yards to end the third quarter.  Brady then found Welker wide open again for 28 more yards and he was brought down at the eight.  Two plays later, Brady found wide receiver Deion Branch for a four-yard touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots were up 31-13 with 13 minutes to go in the game.

The Raiders got the ball at their own 16 and Campbell hooked up with McFadden for 26.  He then found Heyward-Bey for 18 more.  On third and 12 at the Patriot 45, Patrick Chung was called for unnecessary roughness on Heyward-Bey and that gave the Raiders a first down at the 30.  But, a short pass intended for McFadden was picked off by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.  He returned the ball19 yards and the Patriots got the ball at their own 49.

Both teams did absolutely nothing with the ball for most of the remaining minutes of the quarter.  But, after the Raiders failed to convert a fourth and three from their own 26, the Patriots had a golden opportunity to put some more points on the board.  On third and seven from the 23, Ridley ran for a 20-yard gain down to the three.  But, the Raider defense was up to the challenge this time and they didn’t allow the Patriots to score on four straight running plays.  They got the ball back at the one with just over a minute to go in the game.

Campbell found Heyward-Bey for a 58-yard completion and Bush for 35 more to move the ball to the Patriot six.  From there, he found Moore for a touchdown.  The two point conversion was no good and with 28 seconds to go, the Patriots led 31-19.  Janikowski tried an onside kick, but the Patriots recovered it.  Brady took a knee and the Patriots won the game 31-19.

In this game, the Raiders definitely had their chances.  But, stupid penalties played a big part in helping the other team move down the field.  The Raiders racked up nine penalties for a total of 85 yards in this game.  This has GOT TO STOP!  In order to get anywhere in this league, you have to play disciplined football and be smart.  I still haven’t seen much of that.  Also, the defensive game plan in this game was awful.  Did they blitz at all?

Granted, starting cornerback Chris Johnson, starting safety Michael Huff and starting defensive end Matt Shaughnessy weren’t playing in this game, but why not bring the house once in a while?  Brady is one of those guys who hates pressure and if you can get to him early and knock him down a couple of times, he gets rattled.  But, there was none of that today.  He did get knocked down after a couple of throws, but that’s about it. I believe the turning point in this game was the pick in the end zone.  The Raiders had the momentum and were looking to regain the lead until that horrible throw.  The pick by Wilfork and the overturned pass interference call also took the wind out of their sails.

Overall, the offense did put up some decent numbers. Campbell had the benefit of more excellent protection and he was not sacked.  He completed 25 of 39 for 344 yards with one touchdown and two picks.  Due to being behind most of the game, McFadden only had 14 carries, but he racked up 75 yards.  Michael Bush added 26 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.  Darrius Heyward-Bey led receivers with four catches for 115 yards.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 16 of 30 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.  The Patriots ran all over the Raider defense as Green-Ellis and Ridley combined for 172 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns.  Overall, the Patriots rushed for 183 yards.

Things don’t get easier for the Raiders as they travel to Houston next week.  Since the Texans came into the league in 2002, the Raiders have traveled to Houston twice and lost badly both times.  Arian Foster seems to be healthy again and that is bad news for the Raider defense as they can’t stop the run.  They’ll need to stop him and get to Texan quarterback Matt Schaub if they want to win this time. Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy