March 27, 2017

Each Team’s Best

Eighty years ago there was an NFL team named the St. Louis Gunners and their best player was Paul Moss. Doesn’t ring a bell? He probably doesn’t as the Gunners were not around too long and Moss never played in the NFL after 1934.

We know about Moss now thanks largely to Leatherhead Joe Williams who reached back into the black and white annals of America’s great game to remember the tall, talented player eight decades after his playing days and 15 years after his death.

The point is every great player is worth remembering, whether he played on the sandlots during the Great Depression or in the Super Bowl in front of billions. And so the following is a compilation of not every great player ever – we don’t have quite that much time – but the greatest player in the history of each NFL franchise, including some teams that, like the Gunners, have faded into history.

You might not agree with all of our choices, but we hope you enjoy remembering them.

 

Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver

The Arizona Cardinals just might win the Super Bowl this season, which would be the team’s first Lombardi Trophy and first NFL title since 1947 when they were based in Chicago.

The Cardinals have had a challenging history, to say the least, struggling for fans during their years in Chicago, putting together some solid but unspectacular teams in St. Louis and continuing to be an also-ran for most of the nearly 30 years since they moved to Arizona.

Despite their often lackluster finish in the standings, the Cards have had a lot of great players including Charley Trippi and Ollie Matson from the Chicago days and Larry Wilson, Jim Hart, Dan Dierdorf and Roy Green who played in St. Louis. But our pick for the toughest bird of the bunch is a player who has blossomed in the desert and, even if he doesn’t lead the Cardinals to a Super Bowl victory, will still end up in the Hall of Fame one day: Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald seems as if he’s played for the Cardinals forever. He joined Arizona in 2003 after a stellar career at the University of Pittsburgh and has been one of the NFL’s elite receivers ever since. As of this writing, Fitzgerald has 12,025 career receiving yards and 89 touchdowns. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and, if the Cardinals had managed to get the ball to #11 a little earlier in Super Bowl XLIII, he caught two TD passes in the fourth including the (temporarily) go-ahead 64-yard score in the final minutes, the Cardinals probably would have beaten the Steelers, instead of losing a heartbreaker.

Larry Fitzgerald, the man with the long hair and sticky hands, left his heart on the field that day six years ago and he continues to do that every Sunday. He has excelled on good teams and bad, no matter who’s throwing him the ball. He’s the best player in Cardinals’ history.

 

Atlanta Falcons – Jessie Tuggle, Linebacker

Leatherhead Matt Haddad says in nearly 50 years of football, one Atlanta Falcon flies highest:

The Atlanta Falcons began play in 1966.  They have had some good seasons, but they’ve never won a World Championship.  “Not a great history,” says Falcon diehard Chris “Bulldog” Harper.

The Falcons entered the league the same season the first Super Bowl was played.  They have made the Super Bowl one time: 1998, when they finished 14-2 and, for the NFC Championship, went to Minnesota and defeated a 15-1 Vikings teams that scored a then-NFL record 556 points in the regular season. “Jessie Tuggle was the heart and soul of that team,” said Harper.

Harper and his fellow Falcon diehard, Josh King, were asked separately: “Who’s the #1 Falcon of all time?”  Both of them picked Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle.

Tuggle grew up in Spalding County, Georgia, and went to college at Valdosta State.  In his pursuit of professional football, the undrafted Tuggle never left home: In 1987, He signed as a free agent with the Falcons and played 14 seasons.  He became a full-time starter halfway through his second season (1988).  In the second-to-last game that season, the Falcons were down, 22-0, to the Rams in Los Angeles.  In the 4th quarter, Tuggle kept his team from getting shut out by returning a Cliff Hicks fumble 2 yards for a touchdown.  The Falcons lost, 22-7, on their way to a 5-11 season.

Tuggle made a similar play ten years later–in that unforgettable 1998 season.  In a Week 11 showdown at home against their archrival San Francisco 49ers with the Falcons up, 17-6, in the 4th quarter, Tuggle returned a Steve Young fumble two yards for a touchdown and a 24-6 lead.  The points proved valuable as the 49ers scored two touchdowns to pull within 24-19.  As they did so many times that season, the Falcons prevailed, 31-19.  The game was decisive in winning the NFC West over the 49ers, who finished two games behind the Falcons at 12-4.

Harper remembers Tuggle having success against Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders–or at least more success against Sanders than most players had.  “I remember a game where Sanders faked out the camera man, and you couldn’t see where he was going,” Harper said. “Then you hear a BOOM ! ! !  And then you see Tuggle on top of Sanders.”

From 1987 to 2000, the 5′ 11″, 230-pound Tuggle played in 209 games, starting in 189 of them.  The Hammer made 100-plus tackles in 12 straight seasons–his first and last seasons were the only ones he didn’t.  He recorded a Falcons-record 2,130 career tackles, including an NFL high 1,293 from 1990-’99. Ever since the NFL began officially recording tackles on the late 1970s, Tuggle is the NFL’s all-time leader.

Tuggle recovered 10 fumbles and returned five of them for touchdowns.  He intercepted five passes and returned one for a touchdown.  He sacked the quarterback 21 times and deflected 37 passes.

Chris Harper recalls a game between the Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.  In December 1995, the 7-6 Falcons were up, 19-14, in the Georgia Dome, but the Saints were threatening late in the game.  Saints quarterback Jim Everett, needing to get a touchdown to win, threw the ball in endzone, but Tuggle intercepted and returned it 49 yards to preserve the victory.  The win proved vital to the Falcons’ finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs.

“Memories like that are priceless,” Harper said.

 

Baltimore Ravens – Ray Lewis, Linebacker

It is nearly impossible to discuss Ray Lewis’ career on the field without mentioning his troubles off the field. At least, we feel it’s inappropriate to not mention his troubles, though we realize some might feel differently.

We’ll try to be brief. Ray Lewis was accused of murdering two men in Atlanta in 2000. The charges were dropped, two others were charged and they were not convicted, either. Lewis, that same year, had probably his best season ever and led the Ravens, who had perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history that year, to a Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants.

Lewis, who joined the Ravens in 1996, the first year they played in Baltimore after leaving Cleveland and changing their name from the Browns, eventually made 13 Pro Bowls at middle linebacker, was first team All-Pro seven times, was a Super Bowl MVP for that victory over the Giants, was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and, in storybook fashion, closed his career by leading the Ravens to another Super Bowl victory, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers after the 2012 season.

Ray Lewis is now a network TV analyst, is regarded as jovial and insightful and is remembered as being one of the most ferocious, intense and greatest defensive players in NFL history and will probably be a unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame.

We recognize his greatness as a football player.

 

Buffalo Bills – Bruce Smith, Defensive End

When Bruce Smith was taken with the top overall pick out of Virginia Tech in 1985, the Buffalo Bills were thought of mostly as the team that O.J. Simpson used to play for. A few years later, the Bills would be known as an AFC dynasty and Smith was the player most responsible for this remarkable turnaround.

Bruce Smith registered six and-a-half sacks his rookie year then went on to record double-digit sacks in 12 of his next 13 seasons with the Bills, with the lone exception being 1991 when he was limited to just five games because of injury. Smith retired with 200 career sacks, still the most in NFL history.

And as the better Bruce Smith got, the better the Bills became. In 1988 Smith played in his second straight Pro Bowl and Buffalo made the playoffs for the first time since 1981. Smith would go on to reach 11 Pro Bowls and the Bills, in 1990, made the Super Bowl for the first time in team history.

We all know what happened. They lost. And, yes, the Bills would go on to lose three more Super Bowls in a row.

It was freaky, it was weird, and it was bad luck. The Bills had great teams but, once the Roman numerals started showing up, they faded. It wasn’t Bruce Smith’s fault. He led a tenacious defense that included such stalwarts as Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley while on the other side of the ball the Bills, coached by the venerable Marv Levy, had quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and a handful of other stars.

When the 6-4 Bruce Smith entered the league he weighed about 300 pounds. He quickly learned that to be mean, and more effective, he had to be lean, and so he dropped about 30 pounds and in his most dominant days he weighed around 265. There’s a story that Smith was so disciplined about keeping his weight down that once, seated next to a reporter eating peanuts, he asked for one and then picked it up, held it close to his nose and inhaled deeply, and then set it down because peanuts, yes peanuts, were not in his diet.

Bruce Smith smelled the peanuts four times in his days with the Bills but never got to take a bite. Here, Bruce, is a bag of piping hot peanuts from all of us at Leatherheads. Indulge. You are a Hall-of Famer and the greatest Buffalo Bill of them all.

 

Carolina Panthers – Steve Smith, Wide Receiver

After the 2013 season the Carolina Panthers felt that Steve Smith was too old. He is, after all, 35, which, in fairness, is like 112 in receiver years.

Memo to the Panthers: Big Mistake. It’s not a big mistake, necessarily, to let the greatest player in team history go but it is a fatal error to part ways with a player who can still bring it, no matter what his age, and Steve Smith who, a bit like Michael Jordan and many other great athletes plays better with a chip on his shoulder, is still getting it done with the Ravens.

But let’s go back to Carolina. The Panthers chose the 5-9, 185-pound Smith in the third round out of Utah in 2001 and he was All-Pro as a kick returner his rookie year. Over the next decade Smith became one of the few players to ever make the transition from returner to top receiver, and had 1,000 yards or more receiving seven times, a tally that would have been more impressive if not for injuries.

In 2003, #89 led the Panthers on their amazing playoff run, racking up more than 100 yards receiving in two of Carolina’s postseason victories along with two TDs and was also clutch in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots with four catches for 89 yards and a score.

In the 2005 playoffs, Steve Smith singlehandedly destroyed the Bears with 12 catches from Jake Delhomme for 218 yards and two scores, while also carrying the ball three times for 26 yards.

Steve Smith is fast, tough, nasty, and can flat-out catch. And run. He’ll probably play forever, the most pugnacious and accomplished (former) Panther of them all.

 

Chicago Bears – Walter Payton, Running Back

Leatherhead Bob Lazzari says that Walter Payton was “maybe the best football player I ever saw, combining speed, mental toughness, and an unmatched physical running style.  In addition, his modest nature, work ethic, and “team-first” approach may never be equaled by any NFL player.  There will never be another “Sweetness”, for sure–a man tragically taken from this world way before his time.  May he rest in peace.”

We agree with every word. But Bob’s words are as accurate as they are, for Bears fans, painful because, even 15 years later, it’s difficult for those of us who grew up watching Payton and loving the Bears to come to grips with the fact that Payton is gone.

But we are consoled with words describing another great Bears running back, Brian Piccolo. In the 1971 movie Brian’s Song, about Piccolo’s battle with cancer that would take his life at the age of 26, George Halas says Piccolo is remembered not for “how he died but how he lived. How he did live!”

When Payton broke Jim Brown’s all-time rushing record in 1984, he told reporters “the motivating factor for me has been the athletes who have tried for the record and failed and those who didn’t have an opportunity such as David Overstreet and Joe Delaney and Brian Piccolo…it’s a tribute to them and an honor for me to bestow this honor on them.”

That’s all we really need to know about Walter Payton. In the greatest moment of personal triumph in his career he did not glorify himself but rather reached out to those who died young and never got the chances he had.

Payton was an All-Pro, an MVP, a Super Bowl champ, the NFL’s all-time rushing champ at the time of his retirement and he also subbed at quarterback, was a team leader and a Chicago icon. Many football players were flashier, many won more titles. And maybe one or two were better.

But none had more class or grace.

Walter died young. He was just 46. He died with dignity. He played with courage and he lived with humor and kindness. He was, and always will be, the greatest Chicago Bear of all and those of us lucky enough to have seen him play are the better for it.

 

Cincinnati Bengals – Anthony Munoz, Offensive Tackle

Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman scores one for the “big uglies,” choosing an offensive lineman as the best player to ever wear Bengal stripes:

I will have to go off the glamour positions here as I select Anthony Munoz as the Bengals best player of all-time. Anthony played 13 dominating seasons for Cincinnati and was, in my mind and many others, the best offensive lineman ever in the NFL.

I remember watching him protect my second best player, Boomer Esiason’s backside on numerous occasions. And he is a template for younger players coming up to learn how to play the position from.

 

Cleveland Browns – Otto Graham, Quarterback  

Ronnie Foreman wears Bengal stripes as well as Cleveland’s Brown in choosing the best player in Brownies history:

As much as it pains me to go against the greatest running back of all-time in Jim Brown, I must go with the Browns greatest quarterback of all-time as their best player ever. That would be the old-timer named Otto Everett Graham, Jr.

The Browns were 114-20 with Graham playing quarterback. They made the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. They also won the championship seven of those ten seasons. Although his stats may not be as good as some of today’s modern era quarterbacks he was one of the top statistical QBs in his era and he dominated it.

 

Dallas Cowboys – Roger Staubach, Quarterback

If you were a football fan growing up in the 1960s and 1970s and you did not sometimes wish you were Roger Staubach there was something seriously askew with your brain and soul.

Roger Staubach was not just the quarterback for “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys; he was “America’s Quarterback” as his resume reads like something out of a Gil Thorp storyline.

Staubach was a star QB at the Naval Academy and won the Heisman Trophy in 1963. He was drafted by the Cowboys but instead served in the Navy, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam War before finally joining the Cowboys in 1969.

He became Dallas’ regular starter in 1971 and the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl. Staubach eventually led Dallas to the playoffs eight times and reached four Super Bowls with him as a starter, winning two of them.

In 1979 Staubach was still one of the league’s best players and had, at that time, the second highest passer rating in league history, but chose to walk away and has gone on to be a success in business and is one of the most respected players in NFL history.

Many people hated the Cowboys, but everyone loved Roger Staubach.

And Staubach could play. He is credited with 15 career fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives. Staubach’s 1975 “Hail Mary” TD pass to Drew Pearson to stun the Vikings in the playoffs is considered one of the most clutch throws in playoff history.

Roger Staubach was cool, he was tough, he was a warrior, he was a winner and he was a gentleman. He was a Cowboy.

 

Denver Broncos – John Elway, Quarterback

Leatherhead Tony Williams doesn’t buck conventional wisdom when it comes to the Broncos:

As if this selection shouldn’t be obvious enough, but Elway is the greatest Bronco ever — distancing himself from other fellow Hall-of-Famers Floyd Little and Shannon Sharpe.

When Elway retired following the 1998 season, he was Top-5 in every meaningful statistical passing category for QBs, including tops in all-time wins, game-winning drives, and Super Bowl starts.

His final game is what every pro athlete dreams of — to not only win the championship, but also be named as the game’s MVP.

Elway is also arguably in the Top-5 discussion of all-time QBs, and if that’s not enough, he’s on the ascension of carving out a niche as one of the game’s best talent evaluators and personnel people.

 

Detroit Lions – Barry Sanders, Running Back

The Dallas Cowboys owned the top pick in the 1989 NFL draft and selected quarterback Troy Aikman. The Green Bay Packers were next and the debate in Wisconsin was whether they should take running back Barry Sanders or Offensive Tackle Tony Mandarich.

The Pack chose Mandarich. Ouch for them.

Sanders, the Heisman winner from Oklahoma State, was taken with the next pick by the Detroit Lions and ran his way into the Hall of Fame.

Sanders ran for 1,470 yards his rookie year and had more than 1,000 yards in each of his ten seasons. The 5-8, 230-pound hyper-charged atom ran with a frenetic, pinball style that drove defenses crazy, bouncing one way, zipping another and sprinting for the endzone.

Barry Sanders was hell on fire in a blue jersey. He went on to win four rushing titles and a league MVP and was one of the most entertaining players in NFL history.

Unfortunately for #20, the Lions could never quite build around him and, despite making five playoff appearances with Barry, the Lions never made it to the Super Bowl.

Some athletes stagger to the finish line of their career. Barry Sanders sprinted to it…then took of his shoes and threw them out. Sanders ran for 1,491 yards in 1998 then, at the age of 30, called it quits. Had he kept playing Barry Sanders almost certainly would have set the NFL all-time rushing record and might have even put it out of the reach of mere mortals.

But the whirling dervish enigma that was Barry Sanders decided it was time to sit. And so he did.

We must take a moment to say that when many NFL fans think of #20 on the Lions they think of Barry Sanders, whose number is retired. Others first think of Billy Sims, a terrific Lions running back whose career was cut short after just five years in 1984 because of injuries. If Sims had stayed healthy the Lions might not have struggled for the rest of the 80s and perhaps Barry Sanders would have become an icon somewhere else.

 

Green Bay Packers – Bart Starr, Quarterback

Leatherhead Bob Swick says that when it comes to the greatest player ever from the land of long winters and many Super Bowls, you have to go with a true “Starr.”

Bart Starr was a classic American quarterback of the 1960s who represented the best in the Green Bay Packers.  He was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls.  He had four Pro Bowl selections in his career.  He was the 1966 MVP award winner.  He is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Packers Hall of Fame.

Starr had a 9-1 playoff record playing for the Packers from 1956 to 1971 as a five time NFL Champion who came into his own under Coach Vince Lombardi. Starr was cool, calm and collected on the field, showing little emotion under some of the roughest defenses of that time period.

Bart Starr had it all and, in my opinion, out of all of the championship caliber players the Packers have produced since 1919, #15 is ranked #1.

 

Houston Texans – Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver

This year for the eighth consecutive year Andre Johnson has…made the Pro Bowl? No. Compiled 1,000 yards? No. Led the Texans to the playoffs? Wrong again.

For the eighth straight year Andre Johnson has treated at-risk children from child protective services in the Houston area to a Christmas toy shopping spree, letting these youngsters pluck whatever they would like off the shelves.

This year the spree cost “Santa” Johnson $16,266.16.

Andre Johnson is a good guy, and the best player in the Houston Texans’ brief history. He was selected by the Texans in the first round, third overall pick, in 2003, the second season of the Texans’ existence and he has been a shining light ever since.

Johnson, #80, has been voted to the Pro Bowl seven times, made All-Pro twice and has been one of the NFL’s most dependable targets even while often playing on dismal teams.

When Johnson retires someday his jersey should be retired immediately, not just for his outstanding play but his noble dedication to the franchise and service to the community. A few years from now the answer to the question of who the greatest player in Houston Texans history is the answer could very well be J.J. Watt.

But even if the Texans play another 100 years, it’s going to be tough to top Andre Johnson.

 

Baltimore Colts/Indianapolis Colts – Johnny Unitas, Quarterback, Peyton Manning, Quarterback

The man whom many think might be the best player in NFL history might not even be the best player in his own team’s history.

Are we talking about Johnny Unitas, or Peyton Manning?

Yes.

But we are only supposed to pick one so we shall do so, in our own sneaky little way.

Johnny Unitas was the greatest player in the history of the Baltimore Colts. Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the ninth round in the 1955 draft but, for some reason, couldn’t catch on with his hometown team, which went with Jim Finks and Ted Marchibroda instead.

So Johnny ended up with the Colts where he cracked the starting lineup in ’56 and then proceeded to become the definition of what it was to be an NFL quarterback for his generation and all generations.

Johnny Unitas (Even his name is cool. Maybe he should have been an astronaut) led the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and ’59 and won Super Bowl V. He won three league MVPs and still ranks in the all-time top 20 in passing yards with 40,239. Just imagine if the crew cut, black hi-tops kid had played in today’s pass happy NFL.

Unitas’ last season with the Colts was 1972 and he played one season with the San Diego Chargers. (Think Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards) A decade after Unitas left the Colts, the team broke Baltimore’s heart by leaving for Indianapolis following the 1983 season.

In 1998 the Indianapolis Colts held the top pick in the NFL draft and had a tough time, or so we’re told, deciding whether to take Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.

They chose Manning.

Manning started every single game for the Colts for the next 13 seasons, they made the playoffs 11 teams, won Super Bowl XLI, Manning won four league MVPs, shattered virtually every meaningful NFL passing record and became the model of what a player, a sportsman and a citizen should be. He is the Cal Ripken/Julius Erving/Wayne Gretzky of the gridiron.

And he’s still going…for the Denver Broncos.

Johnny Unitas was the greatest Baltimore Colt ever, Peyton Manning was the best Indianapolis Colt ever. Andrew Luck had better hope the team moves again.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars – Jimmy Smith, Wide Receiver

It’s sometimes hard to remember, or even fathom, but there was a time when the Jacksonville Jaguars were good. And in their best days their best player was Jimmy Smith.

Smith joined the Jags in the team’s inaugural season of 1995 after being cast off from the Cowboys and made an immediate impact with three TD catches for a miserable 4-12 team.

Then, something weird happened. Things that aren’t supposed to happen. Jacksonville, and the Carolina Panthers, both became pretty good in 1996, the second year of both expansion teams’ existence, and Jimmy Smith helped lead the way for the Jags with 83 receptions for 1,244 yards and Jacksonville advanced all the way to the AFC title game, losing to the Patriots.

The Jaguars made the playoffs the next three years as well, including another conference championship loss after their 14-2 season of 1999 and Smith was the catalyst, averaging at least 78 receptions per season, peaking with 116 grabs in ’99.

Jimmy Smith remained Jacksonville’s top target for Mark Brunell and later Byron Leftwich every season until his retirement after the 2005 season, another playoff year for the Jags. He still holds virtually ever Jacksonville receiving record and is currently 19th on the league’s all-time receiving list.

Not bad for a kid from Jackson State who the Cowboys didn’t want.

 

Kansas City Chiefs – Otis Taylor, Wide Receiver

Our Matt Haddad says in more than 50 years of football there is certainly a “chief among Chiefs.”

The Kansas City Chiefs started playing in 1963, after getting established in 1960 as the Dallas Texans.  Their owner was Lamar Hunt, the founder and creative mind of the American Football League.  The Texans won the AFL Championship in 1962. However, it was clear that the competition for the fans and the bucks was hurting both the AFL Texans and the NFL Dallas Cowboys.

In 1965, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Cowboys in different battle: the race for a little-known wide receiver named Otis Taylor.  The Chiefs drafted Taylor in the 4th round out of Prairie View A&M; the Cowboys wanted to sign him as a free agent. Taylor chose Kansas City.

O-Taylor’s breakout season came in 1966, when he caught 58 passes for 1,297 yards (22.4 yards per catch) and 8 touchdowns.  The Chiefs won the AFL Championship, but they lost the first Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10.  Three years later–in the last season before the AFL merged with the NFL–the Chiefs finished the deal.

In the first round of the 1969 AFL playoffs, the Chiefs beat the defending World Champion Jets in New York, 13-6.  In the fourth quarter, Taylor set up the winning touchdown with a 61-yard catch to the 19-yard line–a play Taylor diagrammed on the sideline and urged Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson to call.

The Chiefs went on to Oakland, where they defeated the Raiders for the AFL Championship, 17-7.  Taylor’s 35-yard catch on third-and-14 was a major play in a 98-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown.

Then came Super Bowl IV–a game seen as a victory for every player in the AFL, as an AFL team defeated the NFL’s best for the second year in a row.  The Chiefs trounced the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, with Taylor’s 46-yard touchdown putting the game on ice.  That 1969 season has, to this day, been the Kansas City Chiefs’ lone World Championship.

As a kid in the late ’70s, I knew Otis Taylor as a great wide receiver.  I read about him in the books, and I had one of his football cards.  In 2011, I was surprised to learn Taylor was not in The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From 1965 to ’75, he caught 410 passes for 7,306 yards (17.8 yards per catch) and 57 touchdowns.  He added three TDs on the ground, and he was a 4-time All-Pro.  His numbers, however, tell only a fraction of the story.

Otis Taylor was the complete package.  Taylor had size–6′ 3″, 215 pounds–and he had speed.  He had fine moves, excellent hands, and the ability to catch the ball in traffic.  Taylor was also a good blocker.

On the website “Tales from The American Football League,” Kansas City teammate and fellow wide receiver Chris Burford says Otis had “a zest for the game.”  AFL historian Jeff Miller says in his book, “Going Long,” that after the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win over the Vikings, “Otis Taylor cried for 15 minutes.”

Taylor spent his career in a run-first offense, and he played in the “bump and run” era–also known as the “bruise and batter” era.  Before 1978, defensive backs were allowed tremendous freedom to do what it took to keep a receiver from catching the ball.

In 1975, Cleveland Browns defensive back Clarence Scott, whose football cards I used to have, talked about the best wide receivers he had to cover.  Scott, who played 13 years in the NFL, said: “You’ve got the physical receivers, like Otis Taylor, who have great speed, but they’re also able to overpower defensive backs with their great size and strength.”

The ultimate accolade comes from Hall-of-Fame cornerback Herb Adderley, who won 6 NFL Championships with Green Bay and Dallas.  After the Packers beat the Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, Adderley said about Otis: “Taylor is the greatest wide receiver I’ve ever played against.”

Do you think today’s generation of football fans would not appreciate O-Taylor?  Think again.  “Sounds like a Calvin Johnson from yesteryear, ” says 21-year-old Eric Butler.  “Crazy to speculate how a guy like Taylor would perform in today’s NFL.”

 

Miami Dolphins – Dan Marino, Quarterback

Leatherhead Andrew Tuttle writes that when it comes to the history of South Florida football, one player stands tallest in the sunshine:

The best player in Miami Dolphins history is also one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

Dan Marino set the bar for a passing attack long before the current rules enabled today’s throwers to achieve prolific passing stats year after year.

In his 1984 season, Marino produced an unheard of 48 touchdown passes and more than 5,000 yards passing, records that stood the test of time for two decades and have now been passed by several players.

One can only imagine what a Marino-led team with Mark Clayton and Mark Duper would accomplish in the modern era of the NFL.

 

Minnesota Vikings – Alan Page, Defensive Tackle

When you scroll through the list of the NFL’s MVP winners two names jump out: Lawrence Taylor and Alan Page, as they are the only two defensive players to ever win the honor. (Will J.J. Watt be the third?) (Oh, and let’s not forget Mark Moseley, the Redskin who in 1982 became the first, and probably last, placekicker to ever win MVP.)

The Vikings drafted Page out of Notre Dame (where he helped the Fighting Irish win a National Championship) in the first round in 1967 and Minnesota’s glory years followed. Page, 6-4, 245 pounds (he’d probably be a cornerback today) helped Bud Grant’s “Purple People Eaters” to their first-ever playoff appearance in 1968 and the Vikings would go on to become a playoff staple throughout the 1970s including reaching four Super Bowls…and losing all of them.

Page made the Pro Bowl nine times and, in 1971, was so dominant he was voted NFL MVP. In 1978, Page was cut by the Vikings and was picked up by the Bears where he continued to be an excellent player until his retirement after the 1981 season.

In 1979, Page became the first active NFL player to run a marathon. In 1987 he ran a 62-mile race. That same year he became an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Minnesota. In 1993 he joined the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Alan Page grew up in Canton, Ohio. As a high school kid he worked on a crew that built the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the very place where he was enshrined in 1988.

Tell your kids to be like Alan Page, the most valuable Viking of them all.

 

New England Patriots – Tom Brady, Quarterback

Leatherhead Mike Lynch chooses Tom Brady as the greatest player in the history of the New England Patriots and Brady, perhaps more so than any other player we’re celebrating, doesn’t really need a lot of space to make his case. We are nearly inclined to simply say that Tom Brady’s credentials are: “He’s Tom Brady.”

OK, here’s a bit more. Tom Brady has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls, winning three. He is a two-time league MVP and one of the highest rated passers in NFL history. He led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season in 2007 has set numerous passing records (some of which have now been broken) and done all of this while playing most of his games in blustery Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Tom Brady is considered by many to not only be the best quarterback of his era but maybe the best ever. He is smooth, he is cool, he is precise, relentless and he looks like he’ll play forever.

In the next life don’t we all want to be Tom Brady?

 

New Orleans Saints – Archie Manning, Quarterback

Before Peyton, before Eli, there was Archie.

The New Orleans Saints drafted Archie Manning with the second overall pick in 1971 and he joined a team that had only been in existence since 1967 and never had a winning record. In Archie’s 11 seasons with the “Aints” they didn’t get much better, never finishing above .500 and never making the playoffs.

Don’t blame #8. Manning was tops in the NFL his rookie year in getting sacked 40 times. The next year Archie was again brought down more than any other NFL slinger, 43 times.   He was tops (or bottom, you could say) again in ’75 with 49 sacks. In his decade with the Saints, Archie Manning was in the top ten in getting sacked nearly every year.

Despite constantly picking bits of turf from between his teeth, Manning still managed to have six seasons with a passer rating of better than 100 and he made the Pro Bowl in 1978 and ’79. For a decade, Archie Manning was the heart, soul and guts of a team that had no arms, legs or head.

Manning left the Saints for the Houston Oilers and finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings. We remember him at QB for the Vikes in his final season, 1984, when the Vikes went 3-13. It was a chilly October game against the Bears in Chicago and Manning, wearing a full facemask, was lucky to get out of Chicago alive as the Bears registered 11 sacks. Toward the end, Bears players were actually apologizing to the 35-year-old Manning.

Archie understood. To achieve true success in life you have to have talent, desire and luck. Archie had the first two. If he had the third maybe we would remember Peyton and Eli as Archie Manning’s kids, instead of Archie as their father.

 

New York Giants  – Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker

Leatherhead Joe Williams tackled the challenge of deciding the biggest Giant of them all, and here’s what he concluded:

In 90 NFL seasons, the New York Giants have had many great players. However, it is easy to pick the greatest player in the team’s history. Without hesitation, it is Lawrence Taylor.

Yes, there are many other team legends, including Tiki Barber, Roosevelt Brown, Harry Carson, Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford, Mel Hein, Sam Huff, Eli Manning, Andy Robustelli, Phil Simms, Michael Strahan, Y.A. Tittle, Emlen Tunnell and many more.

Taylor stands out. He was one of the few players on defense in the history of the game who could take a game over. His combination of speed, power and ferociousness made him the most feared player during his playing days and possibly all-time. He revolutionized the linebacker position in terms of getting to the quarterback while teams created game plans to try to stop and avoid him.

L.T. made First-Team All-Pro in eight seasons, was selected to 10 Pro Bowls, was a three-time defensive player of the year and the 1986 MVP, the first defensive player to win it since 1971 when the Vikings’ Alan Page dominated. He sacked a quarterback 142 times.

I still remember his 97-yard interception return on Thanksgiving Day in 1982 like it was yesterday. He picked off a Gary Danielson pass in the fourth quarter to beat the Lions 13-6. Before he was done, the Giants became relevant again as a team to contend with which brought Giants fans their first two Super Bowl celebrations. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

Honorable mention: Mel Hein

 

New York Jets – Curtis Martin, Running Back

Leatherhead Andrew Tuttle revs up the J-E-T-S by choosing a quiet legend as Gang Green’s all-time best:

Joe Namath certainly deserves credit for bringing the New York Jets their first and to date only Super Bowl victory but Hall-of-Fame running back Curtis Martin is the franchise’s best player.

Martin left the New England Patriots after three stellar years to join the Jets continuing his dominance on the ground. He remained a Jet until his forced retirement after the 2005 season thanks to a bum knee but not before logging 10 straight years with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

In 2004, Martin became the oldest player, at 31, to win the rushing title and he finished his career with 14,101 rush yards, fourth in NFL history. A very reserved and highly respected player, New York retired Martin’s jersey in 2012.

 

Oakland Raiders – Kenny Stabler, Quarterback

Leatherhead David Boyce makes the case for quarterback Kenny Stabler as the greatest player to ever wear the fabled Silver and Black:

I decided to go with the player that made me become a Raider fan in the first place.  That player is quarterback Kenny “The Snake” Stabler.  I grew up in New York and had never even paid much attention to the Raiders until 1974.  The first time I saw them was in a playoff game against the Miami Dolphins.  I was familiar with the Dolphins and knew their team very well.  But there was something about that raucous crowd in Oakland.  Those people were crazy!  But what did it for me was the quarterback of the Raiders.  He was a lefty.  Being a lefty myself, I was instantly intrigued.  That game came down to the wire and with precious time left on the clock, Stabler ran to his left and, just as he was about to get sacked, he lobbed up a pass to the endzone where it was caught by running back Clarence Davis for the winning touchdown.  Despite the fact that there were several defenders in the area, Davis still managed to make the catch.  That game later became known as the “Sea of hands.”  It was just one of many games the Raiders played that were filled with drama.

Kenny Stabler was drafted in the second round of the 1968 draft out of Alabama.  The Raiders were pretty much set at the quarterback position as they had Daryle “Mad Bomber” Lamonica.  Stabler didn’t play a down in his first two years and was used sparingly until 1973.  In that year, he became the starter and remained the starter through the 1979 season.  In his seven years as a starter, Stabler threw for 18,234 yards, 145 touchdowns and 135 interceptions.  The best thing about having him at the helm was that the Raiders started winning on a consistent basis.  In his seven years as the starter, the Raiders compiled a record of 74-27.  But with all those wins, they still couldn’t get to the Super Bowl.  The team that usually stood in their way was the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 1976, the Raiders finished with a 13-1 record.  They would squeak by the Patriots in the divisional playoffs and go on to defeat the Steelers in the conference title game, 24-7.  That meant after all those years of frustrating losses; they would finally get back to the Super Bowl.  Their opponent was the Minnesota Vikings and they were no match for the Raiders.  The ground game was running on all cylinders as they racked up 266 yards rushing.  Stabler had a good day as well, completing 12 of 19 for 180 yards and a touchdown.  The Raiders came away with an easy 32-14 win.

What I liked the most about Stabler was his ability to improvise.  He was always so calm and cool.  During a dramatic playoff game against the Baltimore Colts, Stabler called timeout, strolled over to the sideline to speak with head coach John Madden and said “The people are really getting their money’s worth today.”  Madden just rolled his eyes and told him to go back out there and get the win.  Naturally, he did what he was told.  He may not have had the strongest arm in the world, but he liked to throw deep as often as he could.  In those days, if you didn’t go deep, Al Davis wouldn’t let you play for him.  In addition to being accurate, he also had the ability to scramble out of trouble.  That’s what earned him the nickname “The Snake.”  As the pocket would collapse around him, he’d “slither” out of trouble and complete a pass.

Stabler said he read his playbook by the light of the jukebox.  He played hard and partied hard as well.  Another thing you have to wonder is how many games he played with a hangover.  Simply put, he liked to hang at the bar, chase girls and have fun.  He wasn’t going to let football run his life.  One of his famous quotes is “Just stay in the fast lane and keep moving.  You cannot predict your final day, so go hard for the good times while you can.”

In 1980, Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers and he looked like a shadow of his former self.  In two years with the Oilers, he threw for 5,190 yards, 27 touchdowns and 46 interceptions.  The Oilers made the playoffs in 1980 and Stabler came back to Oakland in a different uniform.  He didn’t have a good day and the Raiders came away with a 27-7 win.  After the 1981 season, Stabler was on the move again.  This time, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints.  He spent three years there and didn’t have much success.  He played in 16 games and threw for 3,670 yards, 17 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.  If you total up his career stats, he threw for 27,938 yards, 194 touchdowns and 222 interceptions.  When asked about the interceptions, he said, “Well, most of those passes were tipped.  There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Despite all those interceptions, lots of people are clamoring for Stabler to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.  I’d love to see it happen.  He made the game exciting and no matter how intense it got, he always remained calm.  All the great players that played with him said they were always confident that Stabler could get the job done.  My favorite quote about Stabler comes from Madden who said, “the bigger the situation, the calmer he got.  That was a great combination with me because I was just the opposite.  I was intense.  If everything were normal and we were ahead, he would get bored.  He had to have his ass to the fire to get focused on something.  That’s when he got really focused.  Instead of getting excited and tight, he’d stay calm.”

That’s the main reason I picked Stabler.  No matter how intense the situation was, he’d remain cool, calm and collected.  It was kind of like having James Bond under center.  He knew things were going to get intense, but he knew he had the ability to get the job done.  After he got the job done, he’d go out and have fun with his teammates.  Over the years, I have collected lots of Raider memorabilia and the centerpiece of it all is my autographed black #12 Stabler jersey.

 

Philadelphia Eagles – Reggie White, Defensive End

Reggie White won a Super Bowl with the Packers but he made his bones with the Eagles.

White was an All-American at the University of Tennessee and stayed in his home state to play two seasons with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL before joining the Eagles in 1985.

A 6-5, 291 pound lineman with the quickness of a linebacker, Reggie notched 13 sacks in 1985 and would go on to record double-digit sacks 12 times in his career and would retire as the league’s all-time sacks leader with 198 and is still second behind only Bruce Smith.

White anchored a dominant Eagles defense and made the first of his eight first team All-Pro teams and first of 13 Pro Bowls in 1986 and won his first of two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1987. The Eagles, coached by Buddy Ryan and then Rich Kotite, were dynamic, tough and good. They had a winning record every year from 1988 to 1992 and reached the playoffs four times.

Alas, once in the postseason Reggie’s Eagles quickly got plucked, and were one-and-done every time. This is especially important to note because after the ’92 season White became a free agent when free agency was new to the NFL and White was the league’s top prize. He signed with the Packers for a then eye-popping four years and $17 million paving the way for other free agents. Today’s NFL millionaires have many people to thank; Reggie White is one of them.

White is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play. Some believe the very greatest. Imagine a line with him, Bruce Smith, Joe Greene and Alan Page on it.

Sadly, this is a tough time of year to remember Reggie White. It was ten years ago, December 26, 2004, that this dominant player and NFL pioneer died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 43.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers – Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle

Leatherhead Karon Cook pulls back the Steel Curtain to reveal Pittsburgh’s greatest player:

I’m a Cali girl and a drill Instructor’s daughter, but I “grew up” with the Steelers.  Stay with me–my Dad’s from the ‘Burgh, he raised my brother and I exactly the same way: teaching us how to throw a perfect spiral, scoop up a grounder, as well as switch hit.  I credit this early education to my choosing the Sports Journalism field and falling in love with the Steelers!  Joe Greene is my pick for the best player in Steelers history.

Much has been written about Joe; here are ten facts, in random order, that you need to know:

 

  1. He was Chuck Noll’s first-ever draft choice in 1969 (that 1-13 Season gave no hint of what was to come).

 

  1. Joe Greene and Andy Russell were 2 of 5 players from that team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in SB IX.

 

  1. During the early ’70s, “Mean Joe” was one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL.

 

  1. He earned five first-team All-Pro selections.

 

  1. Joe won two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.

 

  1.  He is a four-time Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII and XIV).

 

  1.  I consider him to be one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play the game.

 

  1.  Joe Greene wore Black and Gold his entire career–from 1969 to 1981.

 

  1.  “Mean Joe” was part of the famous “Steel Curtain” defense–along with L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White.

 

  1. Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

I realize these are just stats/facts about Joe, so I reached out to Andy Russell for this piece; I wanted something real, from a guy who was there.  In Andy’s words: Joe Greene was awesome–his strength, quickness, toughness and refusal to accept defeat were greater than I had ever seen. His first drill in training camp was the Oklahoma Drill (where an offensive lineman goes against a defensive lineman), trying to tackle a running back. It is a very difficult drill and usually the offensive player has the advantage because he knows the count, but Joe absolutely crushed his opponents (some of our best blockers–i.e. Ray Mansfield). He was clearly, in my opinion, the NFL Player of the Decade and certainly deserved the recent retirement of his jersey. I had the privilege to play with both players who have had their jerseys retired–Ernie Stautner and Joe Greene.”

People outside the Steeler Nation will remember Joe for his “Hey Kid, Catch!” spot for Coke. If you Google the best Super Bowl commercials of all time, it’s listed at #2.  Also, Joe came up with the phrase “One For The Thumb in ’81” … which was accomplished in 2005.  Now we’re looking at #7!  I’ll wrap this up by sharing a tweet from Brett Keisel: Can’t get our 7th trophy without picking up that 7th regular season W    #HereWeGo #Huntfor7    

Keep the Faith, Steeler Nation, and thanks Andy!  

 

San Diego Chargers – Junior Seau, Linebacker

For many years we thought we would never see another linebacker like Dick Butkus. Then, the football Gods gave us Junior Seau, a man whose very name (pronounced “Say-Ow”) meant he was born to hit people.

The Chargers drafted Seau with the fifth overall pick in 1990 and he spent the next 20 years pounding the opposition. Seau made the first of 12 straight Pro Bowls in 1991 and was first team All-Pro for the first of six teams in 1992.

Junior Seau combined ferocity with speed, strength and football IQ to become the league’s best linebacker of the 1990s and led the Chargers to new-found glory with playoff appearances in 1992, ’94 and ’95 and the franchise’s one and only Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the mighty 49ers, after that ’94 season.

The biggest reason the Chargers were in that Super Bowl was Seau’s heroics in the AFC Championship. Facing a formidable Steelers team on a cold January day in Pittsburgh, Seau went ballistic notching 16 tackles despite having a pinched nerve in his neck.

Over the years the Chargers have had Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts, LaDainian Tomlinson and now Philip Rivers. But Junior Seau was the best. He left the Chargers after the 2002 season and played three solid years with the Dolphins before joining the Patriots for four seasons, including helping the legendary 2007 team go 16-0 before a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

Seau retired after the 2009 season and committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 43. Doctors later determined that Seau had suffered repeated head injuries as a player and was suffering from a degenerative brain disease that many NFL players have been afflicted with.

After Seau died more than 200 surfers paddled out into the Pacific Ocean near the linebacker’s home and joined a circle, chanted Seau’s name and slapped at the water for an hour. A peaceful tribute to a man who thrilled millions and left us far too soon.

 

San Francisco 49ers – Ronnie Lott, Cornerback/Safety

The San Francisco 49ers are known for offense and many say Joe Montana was the greatest quarterback to ever play (or was Steve Young maybe a little better?) and others say Jerry Rice was not only the best receiver in NFL history but might actually rate out as the very best player ever, regardless of position.

But we say that Montana was great, yes, but in a great system at the perfect time and we say the same of Young and yes, even Rice. They are all legitimate first ballot Hall-of-Famers but we say the greatest Niner of them all played on the other side of the ball.

Ronnie Lott was taken by the 49ers in the first round of the 1981 draft and started all 16 games at cornerback, intercepted 10 passes three of which he returned for touchdowns, helped the Niners to a 13-3 record and their first playoff appearance since 1972 and they went on to win their first Super Bowl. (Joe who?)

Lott made the first of ten Pro Bowls his rookie year and was also first team All-Pro for the first of six teams. Montana was the Golden Boy of those San Fran teams of the 80s, but Lott was its backbone. An adhesive cover man and a ferocious hitter, #42 made 49ers’ opponents know that while San Fran’s offense got the glory it was the defense that did the dirty work – and made the difference.

Lott was the defense’s heart at cornerback and also when he switched to safety in 1985, something that’s far tougher than it sounds. With Lott, the Niners won four Super Bowls in the 80s and became one of the league’s great dynasties. You can likely name a lot of offensive players from those teams but who stands out on defense? Ronnie Lott stood taller, hit harder, dug deeper and got it done more than anyone.

If Gary Fencik had been a bit faster he would have been Ronnie Lott. He wasn’t.

Joe Montana was cool, Jerry Rice was clutch, Ronnie Lott was tough. His left pinkie finger was crushed making a tackle in 1985. Surgery would have meant he would miss the start of the 1986 season. So Lott had the tip cut off. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions that year.

 

Seattle Seahawks – Steve Largent, Wide Receiver

       Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman recalls the early days of the Seahawks and says while the team has gotten better, they’ve never had a better player:

Some may disagree with my pick here but having watched him play personally, to me he is far and above any of the other Seahawks players that have graced the Seattle sideline. Others may pick a defensive or offensive lineman as their top choice but I am selecting, from the University of Tulsa, Wide Receiver Steve Largent!

Largent, originally drafted by the Houston Oilers, before being traded to Seattle in the preseason of his rookie year, spent his entire playing career with the Seahawks. He was a great player to watch through the 1980s as he teamed first with another great Seattle player, QB Jim Zorn and then with QB Dave Krieg.

By the time his career was up, Steve Largent led almost all NFL receiving categories, including 819 receptions, 13,089 yards, 177 consecutive games with a catch and he was the first player to reach 100 career touchdown catches. HOF 1995.

 

Cleveland Rams/Los Angeles Rams/St. Louis Rams – Merlin Olsen, Defensive Tackle

Merlin Olsen was humble, sweet and loveable.

Off the field.

Olsen is known to many as an announcer who was in the TV booth for many years including several Super Bowls, as a pitchman for FTD Flowers and as an actor on Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy.

But during a football game there was nothing little about this 6-5, 270-pound tornado from Utah State and the only thing fatherly about him was the way he put others in their place. And if Merlin Olsen handed you flowers on the gridiron it was to put them on your grave.

A first round pick in 1962, Olsen made the Pro Bowl his rookie year and then every single season through 1975, only being left off during his final season, 1976.

Olsen played on the legendary Rams front four along with Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy, the “Fearsome Foursome” which terrorized offenses every Sunday. The Rams were winners nearly every season with Olsen and enjoyed playoff appearances in 1967, ’69 and ’73 through ’76 including NFC title game losses in ’74, ’75 and ’76.

The Rams always fell short in the playoffs with Olsen, but imagine if they’d been able to break through and won a few Super Bowls. They were very close and if they’d made it, maybe Merlin Olsen would have some of those rings that now belong to Joe Greene and Randy White.

Merlin Olsen died in 2010.

He is in the Hall of Fame and his #74 jersey has been retired by the Rams and probably still gives quarterbacks nightmares.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Warren Sapp, Defensive Tackle

For much of their existence the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a bust, but Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman says one Buc not only was not a bust, he actually has a bust…in Canton:

If there is any doubt as to who is the best player in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history you can just put that thought away. And, if you ask him, he will tell you that himself! Perhaps the best defensive lineman of all-time, Warren Sapp took his talents from the University of Miami (FL) across the state to Tampa as the 12th overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft.

Sapp would go on to have nine great years in Tampa Bay to establish his self as the greatest Buccaneer of all-time. He ended up with 77 sacks while there, just short of the 78.5 by early Bucs star, Lee Roy Selmon.  HOF 2013.

 

Tennessee Titans – Eddie George, Running Back

The Tennessee Titans have been around since 1997, after moving from Houston where they were known for more than 30 years as the Oilers.

Eddie George played one season in Houston before moving north to become a Titan and remained a constant for nearly a decade. If you’re looking for consistency in a player you need look no further than Eddie George. A Heisman winner out of Ohio State, George’s yearly rushing totals his first five years in the NFL were 1,368; 1,399; 1,294; 1,304 and 1,509.

George was the size of a linebacker and bruised his way through the line week in and week out, finishing his career with an average of just 3.6 yards per carry but he was a rock, rarely fumbling and rarely getting caught for a loss.

He made the Pro Bowl in 1997, ’98, ’99 and 2000, the same year that he was first-team All-Pro.

The Titans were the best team in the NFL that 2000 season, playing a bruising style of football on both sides of the ball and going 13-3, only to lose a heartbreaking, freaky playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens. This, of course, was one year after the Titans came one yard short in the Super Bowl against the Rams.

Eddie George was almost a Super Bowl champ, almost a rushing champ, almost a legend. But he is second to none when it comes to remembering the Titans.

 

Washington Redskins – Sammy Baugh, Quarterback

Leatherhead Chip Greene says a “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh was the best Redskin of them all.

Baugh joined the Redskins out of TCU in 1937, the team’s first year in Washington after moving from Boston, and would be the backbone for Washington as a quarterback, defensive back, kick returner and kicker through 1952.

Baugh’s numbers are modest by today’s standards, finishing with 21,866 yards passing, 187 touchdowns and 203 interceptions. But, like most players from his era, he was versatile and Baugh was more versatile than most. He simply did it all: running, passing, kicking and defense and he was just about the best, earning first-team All-Pro honors four times.

And Baugh’s teams were nearly as good as him. He led Washington to the NFL championship game five times and they won it in 1937 and ’42.

“Slingin’” Sammy Baugh was a member of the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame class in 1963 and lived to see the NFL grow and change quite a bit, passing away in 2008 at the age of 94.

 

And just for fun:

 

Brooklyn Lions – Rex Thomas, Running Back

Leatherhead Joe Williams remembers the days when Lions roamed the borough of Brooklyn and chooses Rex Thomas as the Brooklyn Lions’ all-time greatest.

The Lions, led by coach Punk Berryman, played just one season in the NFL, 1926, played their home games at Ebbets Field, and went 3-8 and merged during the season with the competing AFL Brooklyn Horsemen.

Thomas was the star of the team and the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards (137), touchdowns (4), and points (25), and with four interceptions on defense.

The St. John’s University star and Oklahoma native played five NFL seasons. He unfortunately passed away in a car-truck accident in 1955.

Honorable Mention: Herm Bagby.

 

St. Louis Gunners – Paul Moss, Receiver

Joe Williams remembers the St. Louis Gunners who played one season, 1934, and had one player who topped them all:

The semi-pro team purchased the 0-8 Cincinnati Reds during the 1934 season and replaced them to play the final three games that year. A handful of Reds players joined the Gunners. In their first game they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) before dropping their next two games.

The best player for the Gunners was Paul Moss. He led the team with six receptions for 131 yards, plus scoring one of the three touchdowns in franchise history. His touchdown reception was a team-best 56 yards.

Moss was an All-American at Purdue in 1932. He played the 1933 season with Pittsburgh and led the NFL in receiving yards with 283 while finishing tied for fifth with 13 receptions.

He didn’t play football after the 1934 season. In 1935, he played minor league baseball with the Terre Haute Tots in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.

Paul Moss died in 1999 at the age of 90.

Honorable mention: Cy Casper.

 

Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes – Ken Strong, Halfback, Defensive Back, Kicker

Leatherhead Bob Swick recalls a memorable man on a forgotten team:

The Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes played in the NFL from 1929 to 1932. They did not do well, amassing a record of 14-22-9.

Their greatest player in my football opinion was Ken Strong. Strong was an all-NFL player in 1930 and ’31 for the Stapes. He was an incredible kicker at that time also.

Strong is obviously better known for his heroics on the Giants but he provided an anchor to the Stapes in their brief existence.

 

Houston Oilers – George Blanda, Quarterback

The Oilers are, technically, gone but they’re certainly not forgotten. Leatherhead Matt Haddad says the best Oiler of all time was a guy who nearly played for all of time:

George Blanda began his career with the Chicago Bears (1949-’58)–and was even a member of the old Baltimore Colts for one game in 1950, before rejoining the Bears.  In his time with the Bears, Blanda had some great moments, and a lot of his teammates considered him a top-flight quarterback.  However, his constant conflicts with Bears owner-coach and NFL founder George Halas sent him into football exile.

Blanda sat the 1959 season out, and he drove a truck.  According to Jeff Davis in his Halas biography “Papa Bear,” Blanda promised sportswriter Cooper Rollow he’d play football again soon.  Rollow didn’t know what on earth Blanda was talking about–and Blanda didn’t elaborate.  Blanda simply said: “There’s something going on that you don’t know about.”

A new football league was in the works–and one of the charter franchises would be the Houston Oilers.  The American Football League was launched in 1960, and Blanda was ready to play. Upon signing Blanda, Oilers general manager John Breen said, “He knows how to take a defense apart.”  For the season opener, the Oilers flew to the Pacific Coast, and Blanda took the Oakland Raiders defense apart with four touchdown passes.  The Oilers won, 37-22.

The 1960 Oilers went 10-4 and scored a league-high 379 points (27.5 points per game).  Houston hosted the first AFL Championship Game against the Los Angeles Chargers.  The seesaw battle saw Paul Lowe running wild for the Chargers and Blanda throwing 3 touchdowns for the Oilers.  George also kicked three extra points and a field goal and was named Player of the Game as the Oilers prevailed, 24-16.

A number of former Oilers reflected back on those years in Jeff Miller’s book on the AFL, “Going Long.”  Safety Jim Norton said, “George was brilliant at signal calling, audibling, one of the best signal callers of all time.” Offensive guard Hogan Wharton said, “This guy was a coach on the field.”

The 1961 season saw the Oilers go 10-3-1 and scored 513 points (36.6 ppg). That point total stood as a pro football record for 22 years.  Throwing for 3,330 yards and 36 touchdowns, Blanda was named the AFL’S Most Valuable Player as he led the Oilers back to the Championship Game.

The Oilers invaded the home turf of the Chargers, who now played in San Diego.  The contest was surprisingly low scoring, but for the second championship game in a row, Blanda accounted for all of the Oilers’ points. He kicked a field goal and an extra point, and he threw 35 yards to Billy Cannon for the game’s only touchdown.  The Oilers were Champs again, 10-3.

In “Going Long, ” All-Pro offensive tackle Al Jamison said: “George Blanda was probably the single most important factor in our winning those two championships.”

1961 turned out to be the last championship for both Blanda and the Oilers.  Together they lost the 1962 AFL Championship Game to the Dallas Texans. The 1967 Oakland Raiders, with Blanda as the kicker and backup quarterback, lost Super Bowl II to the Green Bay Packers.  The Oilers fielded some interesting teams over the next three decades, but they never made it back to the final game.

After 37 seasons (1960-1996), the Oilers moved to Tennessee.   They then played two transitory seasons as the Tennessee Oilers then began a new era in 1999 as the Tennessee Titans, with Nashville as their home base.

As for Blanda, he played his final 9 seasons (1967-1975) with the Oakland Raiders.  Upon retiring, Blanda had thrown for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns.  He scored 2,002 points.  In 1981, Blanda was inducted into The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I just missed watching George Blanda play. As a kid in 1977, I started following pro football.  One of the first players I read about was George Blanda.  I remember thinking, “He played from 1949 to 1975?????” It still astounds me today.

 

Karon Cook, Ronnie Foreman, Chip Greene, Matt Haddad, Terry Keshner, Mike Lynch, Bob Lazzari, Bob Swick, Andrew Tuttle, Joe Williams, Tony Williams

 

Only 7 Games To Go!

The ninth game for the winless Oakland Raiders had the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos paying a visit to Oakland.  The Broncos were coming off a bad 43-21 loss to the New England Patriots and the Raiders fought hard, but left Seattle with a 30-24 loss.  The Broncos got the ball first and started at their 20.  On the second play of the game, quarterback Peyton Manning was picked off by cornerback D.J. Hayden.  The Raiders took over at the Denver 49-yard line.  Guess what the amazing Greg Olson called for the Raiders to do on first down?  You got it.  They gave the ball to running back Darren McFadden.  Anyone care to guess where he ran?  Was it off tackle?  Was it a pitch to the strong side?  No! It was right up the middle just like it always is and McFadden got a whopping three yards.  But on second down, quarterback Derek Carr found wide receiver James Jones for a gain of ten yards and a first down at the 36-yard line.  Two plays later, Carr found wide receiver Brice Butler for a gain of seven and another first down at the 25.  They didn’t get much farther than that and kicker Sebastian Janikowksi was brought into the game.  His 41-yard field goal attempt was good and the Raiders led 3-0 with 9:35 to go in the first quarter.

The Broncos took over at their 25 and runs by running back Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson got them rolling.  That was followed by long completions to wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.  The completion to Thomas moved them all the way to the Oakland 17-yard line.  A nine-yard completion to Anderson and a four-yard run by Anderson moved them to the four.  But a false start penalty moved them back five yards and they got as far as the two-yard line.  Instead of going for it, Denver head coach John Fox opted for a field goal.  Kicker Brandon McManus had no problem making his 20-yard attempt and the score was tied at three with four minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders went three and out on their next possession and held on to the ball for a grand total of one minute and 40 seconds.  That’s not how to beat the Broncos.  The way to beat the Broncos is to keep Manning on the sideline.  He can’t do any damage from there.  I guess the Raiders didn’t get the memo.  The Broncos took over at their 35 and Manning broke out the no huddle offense.  Completions to wide receivers Wes Welker, D. Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas moved them quickly down to the Oakland 36-yard line.  That was followed by a pass interference penalty on cornerback Tarell Brown.  That moved the Broncos even further into Oakland territory.  But the drive was halted at the ten-yard line.  McManus came on for another field goal attempt and his 28-yard attempt was good.  That put the Broncos up 6-3 with 14:22 to go in the second quarter.

As usual, the Raiders punted after three unimaginative plays.  The Broncos got the ball back at their 32-yard line and that was followed by an interception by defensive end Justin Tuck.  He returned it to the 12 and gave the Raiders excellent field position.  Surely the Raiders could go a measly 12 yards and take the lead, right?  Maybe?  Is it really possible that they could be leading the defending AFC champions in the second quarter?  The answer to that is a resounding yes!  Three plays later, Carr found Butler in the end zone for a Raider touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 10-6 with 11:19 to go in the second quarter.

I am a firm believer in momentum.  If a team has momentum, they can do things that will make them play well and get them a win.  Well, the Raiders were at home and they had the lead against one of their biggest rivals.  That was all about to change.  With 3:30 to go in the second quarter, cornerback Bradley Roby intercepted a pass intended for tight end Mychal Rivera and gave the Broncos the ball at their own 47-yard line.  On third and eight from the 49, Manning felt pressure from his right side and dumped a short pass of to Anderson.  The defense read the play and there were several defenders in position to stop Anderson from getting a first down.  Unfortunately, every player in a black uniform missed the opportunity to stop Anderson and he found the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown.  That was truly some of the worst “tackling” I have ever seen.  McManus made the point after and the Broncos led 13-10 with 2:44 to go in the second quarter.  It got worse after that.  After the Raiders punted once again, the Broncos scored again.  This time it was a 32-yard pass to Sanders with 28 seconds remaining.  McManus made the point after and the Broncos led 20-10 at halftime.  Remember what I said about momentum?  Well, the Broncos had it and didn’t let it go.  They came out of the locker room and proceeded to kick the crap out of the Raiders.  Manning threw three more touchdown passes and the Broncos won 41-17.  The lone touchdown for the Raiders came on a 18-yard touchdown pass to Rivera with 48 seconds to go in the game.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 31 of 44 for 340 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.  Demaryius Thomas led the team in receptions with 11 and receiving yards with 108.  The ground game was running on all cylinders too.  C.J. Anderson led the team in rushing with 90 yards on 13 carries.  As a team, the Broncos rushed for a total of 118 yards on 27 carries.  Anderson also had 73 yards on four catches.  Defensively, linebacker Brandon Marshall led the team in solo tackles with 11.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 30 of 47 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  30 completions is pretty good.  But averaging four yards a completion is horrible.  James Jones led the team in receptions with eight and Mychal Rivera had the most receiving yards with 64 and a touchdown.  Eight catches is an impressive statistic.  But Jones only had 20 yards.  That means he averaged 2.5 yards per reception.  What the hell kind of offense is this?  Jones is a legitimate deep threat and he’s putting up those horrible numbers?  Speaking of horrible numbers, check out the ground game for the Raiders.  They had 30 yards on 15 carries.  Not only are they last in the league in rushing, but it’s not even close.  They are DEAD LAST in the league.  During training camp, former head coach Dennis Allen said the offense was “built to run.”  Really?  Built to run?  Are you sure about that?  This team “runs” like a snail trying to cross the street in a blizzard.  Oh, do you want to know who led the team in solo tackles?  That would be safety Larry Asante with eight.

This was total and complete domination by the Broncos.  They out-gained the Raiders in total yardage 471-222.  They had 25 first downs and the Raiders had only 10.  The only statistic the Raiders won was penalties.  They were only flagged four times for 37 yards and the Broncos were flagged 12 times for 95 yards.  See?  I managed to find a bright spot among all the doom and darkness of another horrible loss.  I think I’m going to give myself a gold star for such an amazing accomplishment.  Up next is a road trip to San Diego.  The Chargers are coming off a bye week.  But two weeks ago, they went down to Miami and the Dolphins shut them out 37-0.  They’ll be looking to take their frustrations out on the Raiders.  As for me, I’m going to wash the car before the cold weather gets here.  Take it easy.

The Suicidal Raider Guy

 

The Fiendish Plot To (Sort of) Discredit Peyton Manning

When baseball’s regular season awards are handed out there will be a sparking of the age-old debate as to whether it is appropriate to give a Most Valuable Player Award to a pitcher.

This is because pitchers, as we know, do not play every day and thus some cannot help but question how valuable such a player can be, no matter how good they are. And there is also the matter of the Cy Young award, which honors the top throwers in the American and National Leagues.

The question persists: should pitchers be eligible for MVP? Or should that honor be strictly for position players?

This query brings us, understandably we believe, to football.

In baseball pitchers can win both awards but maybe football should set an example by splitting them. First, we must create a separate trophy for you know who: the quarterbacks.

Since 1957 when the first Associated Press NFL MVP was handed out, to Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, quarterbacks have gone home with the shiny object 38 times, including years when a QB tied with either another QB or a player from another position.

Since 1987 the only players to win MVP have been QBs and running backs with QBs winning the vast majority of the time. So is it time to put quarterbacks where TV analysts have been putting them for decades – in their own special world – and simply give QBs the football equivalent of the Cy Young and make running backs, receivers, and defensive players, (seriously) offensive lineman and special teamers (not quite as seriously) the only ones eligible for MVP?

Yes, we have Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of The Year and as we recently discussed on Leatherheads sometimes OPY can and truly should be distinct from MVP. But we like awards and don’t you agree the world is appallingly low on things named in honor of Dan Marino?

Under our plan, each season the top QB in the NFL would be given the Dan Marino while all the other positions fight it out for MVP as well as defensive and separate offensive honors. A QB could win the Marino and Offensive Player of the Year, they just couldn’t win MVP.

Not only is this a matter of getting our favorite former Dolphin the respect he deserves but also this acknowledges that QBs not only have the deck stacked in their favor in the MVP race but also have all the chips and the only comfy chair.

And with quarterbacks not in the running might it not open up the voters’ eyes not to just other offensive skill players but to other positions as well? Could we someday see a left guard as MVP?

Quarterbacks, except for maybe Marino, probably won’t like our thoughts. But everyone else might.

 

Leatherheads Midseason Awards

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

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

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

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

Midseason MVP: Peyton Manning

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

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

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

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

Midseason Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midseason Rookie of the Year: Sammy Watkins

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

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

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

Biggest Midseason Surprise: Dallas Cowboys

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

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

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

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

Biggest Midseason Disappointment: Chicago Bears

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

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl XLVIII

This Super Bowl matched up the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos and I for one thought this was going to be a great game.  There was lots of speculation leading up to this game as far as the weather was concerned.  Will it snow?  Will it rain?  Will a huge snowstorm hit the area and force the game to be rescheduled?  The answer to those questions was a resounding “NO!”  The temperature was in the 40s and there was just a slight chance of precipitation.

Seattle won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Kicker Steven Hauschka hit the opening kickoff six yards deep into the end zone and return man Trindon Holliday returned it to the 14.  Quarterback Peyton Manning led the offense on to the field and started in the shotgun formation.  As he called the signals, center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over his head and it rolled toward the end zone.  A mad scramble ensued and running back Knowshon Moreno fell on it for a safety.  Well that most certainly was an original beginning to the Super Bowl.  A grand total of 12 seconds had run off the clock and the Seahawks were already up 2-0.

Denver punter Britton Colquitt hit a 64-yard punt that was fielded by return man/wide receiver Golden Tate at the 16.  He returned it to the 36 and quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense went to work.  Running back Marshawn Lynch got the call on first down and was brought down after a gain of three yards. From the 39, wide receiver Percy Harvin ran up the left side for a gain of 30.  That put the Seahawks at the Denver 31.  A false start penalty moved them back five yards and that was followed by an incomplete pass to tight end Zach Miller.  That was followed by a six-yard completion to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.  On third and nine from the 30, Wilson fired a bullet to Kearse and he caught it for a gain of 12 yards and a first down at the 18.  The next two plays gained four yards and on third and six from the 14, Wilson ran up the left side and was pushed out of bounds just before he got to the first down marker.  Head coach Pete Carroll challenged the spot, but it was ruled that Wilson was still just short of the marker.  Instead of going for it, Hauschka came into the game and his 31-yard field goal attempt was good.  With 10:21 to go in the first quarter, the Seahawks led 5-0.

Hauschka sent the kickoff through the end zone, but the Seahawks were penalized for unnecessary roughness.  That put the Broncos at their 35.  But three plays gained just eight yards and they were forced to punt.  The punt was fair caught by Tate at the Seattle 28-yard line.  On third and seven from the 31, Wilson threw to his left and the ball was caught by Tate for nine yards and a first down at the 40.  From the 40, Wilson found fullback Michael Robinson for seven yards.  Lynch was stuffed for a loss of one on the next play, but Wilson found wide receiver Doug Baldwin across the middle for a gain of six.  That was good enough for a first down at the Denver 48.  From the 48, Harvin caught another pass for a gain of five.  Then the Seahawks decided to get fancy and tried a crazy flea-flicker play that didn’t work.  On third and five from the 43, Wilson floated a deep pass up the left side for Baldwin who hauled it in for a gain of 36 yards.  A holding call moved them back ten yards and Lynch continued to struggle to get positive yardage.  On third and 14, Wilson looked for Kearse in the back of the end zone.  Kearse had possession of it for a second, but the ball was knocked out by linebacker Nate Irving.  That meant it was time for another field goal.  Hauschka made his 33-yard attempt and the Seahawks led 8-0 with 2:16 to go in the first quarter.

Aside from a five-yard completion to wide receiver Wes Welker, the Broncos still couldn’t get going.  On second and five from the 25, Moreno ran up the left side and the ball came loose.  The Broncos recovered it at the 23 and that set up a third and seven from the 23.  Manning looked for tight end Julius Thomas and the pass was picked off by safety Kam Chancellor at the 39.  He returned it two yards and the Seahawks set up shop at the Denver 37.  Another end around to Harvin gained 15 yards and tight end Luke Willson caught a five-yard pass.  Lynch ran up the middle for a gain of six and a first down at the 11.  Lynch was thrown for a loss of one on the next play, but Wilson found Baldwin for a gain of seven on second down.  That set up a third and four from the five-yard line.  Wilson threw to the back corner of the end zone for Tate, but the pass was incomplete.  Then a flag appeared.  Cornerback Tony Carter was flagged for pass interference and that gave the Seahawks a first down at the one-yard line.  Two plays later, Lynch ran it in for the first touchdown of the game.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 15-0 with 12 minutes to go in the first half.

The Broncos started at their 16 and Manning went to the air immediately.  Two completions to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and a short run by Moreno finally got the Broncos a first down at the 30.  Two more passes to D. Thomas and another carry by Moreno netted another first down at the 40.  On third and nine from the 41, Manning found Welker across the middle for a gain of 16 and the Broncos found themselves in Seattle territory.  Another catch by D. Thomas and a short carry by running back Montee Ball moved them down to the 32.  A holding penalty moved them back ten yards and a pass to tight end Jacob Tamme went for a loss of two yards.  From the 44, Moreno ran for a gain of nine.  That set up a third and 13 from the 35.  The Seahawks brought some pressure and defensive end Cliff Avril got to Manning just as he let the ball go and it was picked off at the 31 by linebacker Malcolm Smith.  That was bad for the Broncos and it got worse as Smith returned it all the way for a touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks went up 22-0 with 3:21 to go in the first half.

Holliday managed to return the ball to the 33 on the ensuing kickoff.  It looked like he fumbled, but he was ruled down before the ball came loose.  With time running short and knowing the walls were closing in, Manning knew he had to get his team into the end zone.  He spread the ball around to three different receivers and they quickly moved down to the Seattle 27.  An incomplete pass to J. Thomas, a six-yard catch by Moreno and a false start set up a third and nine from the 26.  Manning dumped a short pass to Moreno that came up two yards short of the first down.  What do you do now?  Go for the field goal?  No.  Head coach John Fox decided to go for it and Manning looked for D. Thomas.  The pass was incomplete and the Seahawks took over at their 19 with one minute to go in the half.  Two carries by Lynch ran out the clock and the Seahawks led 22-0 at halftime.

For once, I actually enjoyed the halftime show.  Good sound, good lighting and it was good to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a few minutes.  Back to return the kickoff to start the second half was the dangerous Percy Harvin.  Instead of trying to kick it through the end zone, kicker Matt Prater sent a knuckle-ball down the middle to keep the ball away from Harvin.  Nice try, but Harvin still got his hands on it.  He headed straight up the middle and returned it for an 87-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks now led 29-0 with 14:48 to go in the third quarter.  To open the game, the Seahawks scored 12 seconds into the first quarter.  Then, they scored 12 seconds into the third quarter.  Interesting.

It was officially time for the Broncos to get into “panic mode.”  They went from their 23 to the Seattle 38 with little trouble.  But the Seahawk defense stiffened and forced another punt.  The punt was downed at the eight and on first down, Lynch got loose, but was tripped up at the 26.  If he had broken one more tackle, he likely would have scored.  That was the only eventful play of that possession and punter Jon Ryan got off a 45-yard punt that was fielded at the Denver 36 by return man/wide receiver Eric Decker.  He returned it to the 45 and the Broncos had yet another opportunity to put some points on the board.  On second and nine from the 46, Manning hooked up with D. Thomas for a gain of ten and a first down at the Seattle 44.  From the 44, Manning hit D. Thomas in stride across the middle.  As Thomas ran up the left side, the ball was knocked loose by cornerback Byron Maxwell and recovered by Smith at the 20 and he returned it seven yards.  The Broncos were also flagged for unnecessary roughness and that gave the Seahawks a first down at their 42-yard line.

A short carry by Lynch and a 12-yard completion to Willson moved them to the Denver 43.  From the 42, Wilson found wide receiver Ricardo Lockette for a gain of 19 and a first down at the 23.  On the very next play, Wilson found Kearse on the right side and he was the recipient of some very poor tackling.  That enabled him to find the end zone for another Seahawk touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were now up 36-0 with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Broncos started at their 20 and had no choice but to throw the ball on every down.  Judging by the looks on their faces, they looked like they would rather not even finish the game.  But completions to Welker, J. Thomas and Moreno had them moving in the right direction.  A pass interference call gave them a first down at the Seattle 41.  Two more catches by Welker and one by Tamme got them a first down at the 14.  With the final seconds of the quarter ticking away, Manning took the snap and fired a strike to the end zone that was caught for a touchdown by D. Thomas.  They decided to go for two and it was good as Manning hooked up with Welker again.  At the end of the third quarter, the Seahawks led 36-8.

The Broncos tried an unsuccessful onside kick that was recovered at the Denver 48 by Miller.  From the 48, backup running back Robert Turbin rumbled up the left side for a gain of 33 yards.  But that was brought back by a holding call and it moved the Seahawks back to their 42-yard line.  Miller caught a pass for ten yards and Tate added eight more to set up a third and two at the Denver 40.  From the 40, Baldwin caught a six-yard pass for a first down at the 34.  Then Kearse got in on the action again and made a nice catch for a gain of 24 yards.  That set up a first and goal from the ten and Wilson found Baldwin who bounced off a couple of defenders and dove into the end zone.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 43-8 with 11:45 to go in the game.  That 11:45 was also known as “garbage time.”

Neither team scored again and the Seattle Seahawks came away with a 43-8 thrashing of the Denver Broncos for their first Super Bowl win.  Malcom Smith was named MVP as he had a great game with an interception for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and six solo tackles.  Their defense as a whole played very well.  Although they registered only one sack, they pressured Manning throughout the game, forced four turnovers and rarely let the Denver receivers get loose for big gains.  All in all, it was a very impressive performance by the Seahawks and the Broncos are now the only team to lose five Super Bowls.  Their overall record in Super Bowls is 2-5.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 18 of 25 for 206 yards and two touchdowns.  He also had 26 yards rushing on three carries.  Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with five and receiving yards with 66 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Percy Harvin had the most rushing yards with 45 on two carries.  The Broncos did a good job of containing Marshawn Lynch as he finished the game with 39 yards on 15 carries.  18 of those yards came on one carry.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 135 yards on 29 carries.  Defensively, Kam Chancellor and Malcolm Smith tied for the lead in solo tackles with six.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 34 of 49 for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  Demaryius Thomas set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions and he also had the most receiving yards with 118 and a touchdown.  There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the Denver ground game.  Knowshon Moreno led the team in rushing with 17 yards on five carries.  They finished the game with a total of 27 yards on 14 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in solo tackles with seven and he had one tackle for a loss.

And that’s that.  I enjoyed writing these playoff articles and I’ll be returning as the Raider Guy later in the year.  Up next is the combine, then free agency starts and then the draft will take place in May.  Until then, take it easy.

 

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.

 

Broncos 24, Chargers 17

The final game on the schedule was a battle between AFC West rivals as the San Diego Chargers headed to Denver to take on the Broncos.  The Chargers were coming off a 27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Broncos were coming off a bye week.  Denver kicker Matt Prater sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the Chargers started at their 20.  Running back Ryan Mathews got things off to a decent start with a five-yard carry.  Short passes from quarterback Philip Rivers to running back Ronnie Brown and tight end Ladarius Green got the Chargers a first down at the 33.  After a short run by Mathews, Rivers was sacked for a loss of nine on the next play.  On third and 17, running back Danny Woodhead ran up the middle for eight yards.  But they got a break as the Broncos were flagged for a facemask penalty.  The drive stalled at the 43 and punter Matt Scifres got off a 51-yard punt that was fielded at the Denver six by return man/wide receiver Eric Decker.  Decker returned the punt six yards and the Broncos went to work from their 14-yard line.

The Broncos brought out the no huddle offense and passes to tight end Julius Thomas, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Decker already had the Chargers looking baffled.  Another completion to wide receiver Andre Caldwell set up a first down at the San Diego 29.  On third and one from the 21, running back Montee Ball ran off right tackle for a gain of five yards.  A seven-yard pass to D. Thomas and a four-yard run by Ball made it first and goal from the three.  Two plays later, Manning looked to his left and hooked up with D. Thomas for a touchdown.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 7-0 with 2:25 to go in the first quarter.

The Chargers ended up getting a grand total of minus two yards on their next possession.  Scifres punted again and the Broncos took over at their 42.  On third and two from the 50, Manning completed a short pass to J. Thomas who fumbled at the 45.  The ball was recovered at the 43 by cornerback Richard Marshall.  That was a good break for the Chargers and on the strength of some good running by Mathews and Woodhead, they moved down to the Denver 30.  On third down, Rivers was sacked for a loss of five by defensive end Malik Jackson.  That brought kicker Nick Novak into the game for a 53-yard field goal attempt.  On the attempt, his plant foot slipped and the kick sailed wide left.

The Broncos had dodged a bullet and started with good field position from their 43.  A holding call moved them back ten yards, but they got 12 of it back as Manning hit running back Knowshon Moreno out of the backfield.  This is when the offside penalties started occurring.  As usual, Manning would do his usual long counts and yell “Omaha” over and over again.  On second and eight from the 45, the Chargers jumped offside and that gave the Broncos five free yards.  On second and three, Moreno burst up the middle for a gain of 11 and a first down at the San Diego 39.  Two more carries by Ball got them another first down at the 22.  From the 22, Ball got the call again and gained four yards.  From the 18, the Chargers fell for the Omaha call again and jumped offside.  From the 13, Moreno ran up the middle for five more yards and a first and goal from the eight.  Moreno got yet another carry and gained five more yards.  Two plays later, Manning fired a pass to wide receiver Wes Welker on the left side and he took it in for the score.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 14-0 with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Chargers gained 14 yards on their next “drive” and Scifres punted again.  Decker fielded the punt at the Denver 23 and returned it straight up the middle for a gain of 47 yards.  If he hadn’t tripped over his own feet at the 30, he would have scored.  On first down, Manning hooked up with D. Thomas for nine yards.  On second and one, Moreno was stuffed for no gain.  The Broncos really needed to keep this drive going.  A 21-0 lead just might be insurmountable for the hapless Charger offense.  That’s when Manning used the magic word.  He screamed “Omaha!” again and sure enough, the Chargers jumped offside.  That made it first down at the 16.  Moreno got the call two more times and gained 12 yards for a first and goal at the four.  Moreno was stopped for no gain on first down and a pass to Decker fell incomplete.  On third down, Manning looked for Decker again, but the pass was intercepted by linebacker Donald Butler in the end zone.  The Chargers took a knee and the first half ended with the Broncos leading 14-0.

A decent kickoff return by return man Trindon Holliday gave the Broncos the ball at their 36.  A nine-yard pass to D. Thomas, two carries by Moreno and yet another nine-yard pass to D. Thomas netted a first down at the San Diego 41.  From the 41, Manning fired a strike to J. Thomas for eight yards.  On third and one from the 32, Manning found Welker at the 26 for another first down.  After that, they went nowhere and Prater came on for a 45-yard field goal attempt.  It was good and the Broncos were now up 17-0 with 9:35 to go in the third quarter.

With Mathews out with an injured ankle, Woodhead and Brown would get the carries for the rest of the game.  Of course, if you’re down by 17 midway through the third quarter, the running game probably won’t be of much value.  On third and three from the 27, we finally had a Keenan Allen sighting.  The rookie wide receiver hauled in a pass from Rivers for a gain of 19 and a first down at the 46.  Denver cornerback Chris Harris was injured on this play and would not return.  He was later diagnosed with a torn ACL.  But they wouldn’t get much farther and they were forced to punt again.  Scifres had the heavy wind at his back and he hit a 62-yard punt through the end zone.

From the 20, Manning found Decker on the right side for a gain of 19.  He used that magic word again and the Chargers jumped offside.  That moved the ball to the 44.  Ball ran up the middle for eight and Manning completed an eight-yard pass to Welker.  Ball carried again up the middle for four more yards and a first down at the 36.  Then the Chargers jumped offside again.  This is a recording.  Despite the lack of discipline, the Chargers tightened up and the drive stalled at the 29.  The normally automatic Prater had some trouble with the windy conditions and his kick sailed wide left.  With one minute to go in the third quarter, the Chargers got the ball back at their 37.

On second and ten, Rivers “scrambled” for six yards.  That’s something you don’t see every day.   That set up a third and four from the 43.  Rivers had time and found wide receiver Eddie Royal across the middle for a gain of 30 yards.  With Harris out, he was replaced by former Charger Quentin Jammer.  On the pass to Royal, Jammer looked totally lost.  An illegal use of hands penalty on Denver moved the Chargers five yards closer to the goal line.  Woodhead ran up the middle for six yards, but a completion to Woodhead was quickly snuffed out by the Denver defense.  On third and four from the 16, Rivers floated one up the right side and Allen came down with it in the end zone for a touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Broncos led 17-7 with 13 minutes to go in the game.

Holliday had another good kick return, but it was brought back to the 19 because of an illegal block in the back penalty.  On third and seven, Manning went deep down the middle for Welker and the pass was incomplete.  But the Chargers were flagged for pass interference.  That gave the Broncos a first down at their 45.  From the San Diego 47 on third and two, Manning completed a 17-yard pass to J. Thomas.  This was a recurring theme in the game.  Whenever third down came up, Manning always seemed to look for J. Thomas.  The Chargers were unable to address that problem.  Manning found Welker again for six yards and Moreno ran up the left side and was pushed out of bounds at the ten.  Two plays later, Moreno took it up the middle for a score.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 24-7 with 8:12 remaining in the game.

The Chargers started out at their 20 and three plays gained five yards.  On fourth down, they had no choice but to go for it.  Rivers took the snap and fired a pass to Allen that was good for a gain of 49 yards.  On first down from the Denver 26, Rivers ran for a gain of five yards.  A short pass to Brown got them another first down at the 16.  From the 16, Rivers hooked up with Allen again and this time it was good for another touchdown.  Novak made the point after and we had the makings of a close game.  With 5:43 to go, the Broncos led 24-14.

The Chargers tried an onside kick and Marshall came up with the ball.  Rivers and the offense went to work from their 40-yard line.  On second and 14 from the 36, Rivers tossed a 17-yard completion to Allen for a first down at the Denver 47.  Allen wasn’t done and on second and five, he caught another pass for 25 yards and a first down at the 17.  The drive stalled at the 12 and Novak was brought into the game for a 30-yard field goal attempt.  He split the uprights and that made the score 24-17 with just under four minutes remaining in the game.

There would be no onside kick this time as Novak kicked the ball deep in hopes that the defense could stop the Broncos.  From the 27, things didn’t get off to a good start for the Broncos as they were flagged for a false start.  Then Moreno was thrown for a loss of two yards.  On second and 17, Manning looked for D. Thomas and the pass fell incomplete.  That brought up third down.  Who do you think Manning will look for?  Welker?  Decker?  Moreno?  Shannon Sharpe?  None of those choices are correct.  The answer is Julius Thomas.  Out of the shotgun, Manning threw a deep ball to the right and sure enough Thomas grabbed it for a gain on 21 and a first down at the 41.  That was a damaging blow to the hopes of Charger fans.  Moreno ran up the middle for a short gain and the Chargers called their second timeout.  Moreno got the call on second down and was held to a minimal gain.  The Chargers called their final timeout.  Uh-oh.  It’s third down again.  You don’t think that evil #80 is going to get the ball again do you?  It was third and six and Manning knew a first down would get them a win and a ticket to the AFC championship game.  He calmly took the snap out of the shotgun and completed a nine-yard pass to J. Thomas yet again.  That did it.  The Chargers couldn’t stop the clock and a couple more runs by Moreno and a kneel down by Manning ended the game.  Final score: Broncos 24 Chargers 17.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 18 of 27 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.  Keenan Allen led all receivers in receptions with six and receiving yards with 142 and two touchdowns.  As a team, the Chargers rushed for just 65 yards on 18 carries.  Danny Woodhead was the leading rusher with 29 yards on nine carries.  Their longest gain on the ground was a 16-yard carry by Ryan Mathews.  Defensively, cornerback Marcus Gilchrist led the team in solo tackles with seven.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 25 of 36 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  Demaryius Thomas had the most receptions with eight and Julius Thomas had the most receiving yards with 76.  The Broncos had a good day on the ground as they totaled 133 yards on 34 carries.  Knowshon Moreno was the leading rusher with 82 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  Defensively, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey tied for the lead in solo tackles with four apiece.  The Broncos sacked Rivers four times and defensive end Shaun Phillips led the team with two.

Well, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Denver.  Tom Brady and the Patriots will be in Denver on Sunday and I look forward to what should be a high scoring game.

 

How Explosive is the Denver Broncos Offense?

Just how explosive is the Denver Broncos offense? Does their offense remind you of the days when you played Madden on Xbox as a kid?

After eight games, Denver is 7-1 and scored at least 33 points in each of their games. Last year Denver never eclipsed the 40-point mark during their 13-3 regular season. This year Denver averages 42.8 points per game. The fewest points Denver scored this season is 33 which came against the Indianapolis Colts on October 20, their only loss of the season.

Denver demolished the Washington Redskins 45-21, including a franchise-record 31 points in the fourth quarter after trailing 21-7 halfway through the 3rd quarter.

They became just the fourth NFL team to score at least 50 points in consecutive games. Denver scored 51 points against the Dallas Cowboys on October 6. The week before Denver racked up 52 points against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Prior to this season, Denver scored 50 points just once in franchise history. Denver has scored at least 40 points in five out of their eight games played.

Denver has scored 343 points, most ever by any team eight games into a season. If Denver continues their pace, they will score nearly 700 points this season. No NFL team has scored 600 points in a season.

QB Peyton Manning has thrown 29 touchdowns to 6 interceptions with 2,919 yards passing. Could we possible witness 60 touchdown passes with 6,000 yards passing? After eight games Manning averages nearly 365 yards passing per game. Three players have contributed with at least 45 receptions and are on pace for over 90 receptions.

In Week 1 against the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, Manning threw 7 touchdown passes, tying an NFL record. The Broncos become the first team in NFL history with three players catching at least two touchdown passes from the same quarterback. Manning becomes the first quarterback ever with three career games of six touchdown passes.

In Week 2, Peyton played his younger brother Eli and the New York Giants. Manning became the third quarterback ever to achieve 60,000 passing yards while doing it in the fewest games played. Dan Marino and Brett Favre are the others to throw for over 60,000 yards.

Two weeks later, Denver demolished the Philadelphia Eagles 52-20. It was the most points scored in a game by the Broncos in their 54-year history. After four games in September, Manning had thrown 16 touchdown passes to zero interceptions, an NFL record to start the season for most touchdown passes thrown without an interception.

Then in Week 5, Denver Broncos stay undefeated when Matt Prater kicked the game winning 28-yard field goal as time expired in Denver’s 51-48 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams combined to score 99 points, tied for the 4th most combined points scored in an NFL game.

In that game, Peyton Manning completed 33 out of 42 passes for 414 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. It was Manning’s first interception compared to 20 touchdown passes this season. Manning’s 20 touchdown passes are the most ever through five games to start a season.

With Manning’s 414 passing yards, it is his 10th career game with at least 400 yards passing, tying him for second with Drew Brees. Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino holds the NFL record with 13 career 400-yard passing games. Also Manning moved into second place in career passing yards with 61,371, trailing Brett Favre’s 71,838 passing yards.

Overall Manning has thrown at least two touchdown passes in 10 straight games, including the final two regular season games of the 2012 season. The Broncos have scored 30+ points in 11 straight games. Denver is 18-1 in their last 19 regular season games.

The fun continues today when the Broncos play the San Diego Chargers.

 

Broncos 37, Raiders 21

Week three had the Oakland Raiders traveling to Denver to take on the Broncos in a Monday night match-up.  The Raiders were coming off a 19-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Broncos were coming off a 41-23 win over the New York Giants.  The Raiders won the toss and elected to receive.  What I was hoping to see from the offense  in this game was some nice long drives.  Run the ball and keep the chains moving.  Well, that didn’t happen.  Two incomplete passes and a short run by running back Darren McFadden got them a grand total of four yards on their first “drive.”  Punter Marquette King came on and punted the ball away.  Return man Trindon Holliday fielded the punt at the Denver 25 and returned it 20 yards to the 45.

On to the field trotted quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver offense.  With good field position, things were looking good for Denver already.  A holding penalty moved them back ten yards, but two completions to wide receiver Eric Decker got them a first down at the Oakland 36.  Two short runs by running back Knowshon Moreno set up a third and five from the 31.  The Broncos didn’t even have to run a play on third down because the Raiders fell for the Manning hard count and jumped offside.  That gave them a first down at the 26.  A 22-yard pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas got them a first down at the four-yard line and two plays later, Manning found Decker wide open in the end zone for a Bronco touchdown.  Kicker Matt Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 7-0 with 10:28 to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders took over at their 20 and on third and seven from the 23, quarterback Terrelle Pryor completed an eight-yard pass to tight end Mychal Rivera.  Not so fast.  Rivera was flagged for offensive pass interference and that moved them back ten yards.  Undeterred, Pryor fired a pass over the middle to wide receiver Brice Butler.  He was wide open, but he dropped the ball.  King punted and the Broncos took over at their 37.  They got as far as the Oakland 46 before they were forced to punt.  Punter Britton Colquitt got off a high kick that was fair caught at the Oakland nine-yard line.

Two runs up the middle by McFadden and a short completion to wide receiver Denarius Moore meant that the Raiders were going nowhere again.  Holliday fielded King’s punt at the Denver 33 and returned it eight yards to the 41.  Some more running by Moreno and rookie running back Montee Ball got the Broncos a first down at the Oakland 46.  They got as far as the 35 and the drive stalled there.  Prater made his 53-yard attempt and the Broncos now led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Starting at his own 20, Pryor decided it was time to change things up a bit and he scrambled up the left side for 23 yards.  They continued to try and get some positive yardage on the ground by running McFadden up the middle and each time, he was swallowed up by the Denver defense.  There was simply nowhere for him to run up the middle.  Why not try a pitch to the outside?  Hell, just run off tackle and see if you can get some yards that way.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Well, I was going insane just watching that garbage play calling.  They got as far as the Denver 45 before they were forced to punt yet again.

With 12 minutes to go in the second quarter, Manning spread the ball around to Thomas, running back Ronnie Hillman and wide receiver Wes Welker.  A ten-yard completion to Welker got them a first down at the Oakland 23.  Two runs up the middle by Hillman netted them a first down at the 12.  From there, Manning found Welker wide open in the end zone.  That was entirely too easy.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos now led 17-0 with 7:27 to go in the second quarter.

The Raiders took over at their 20 and needed something good to happen.  Well, on third and three from the 27, Pryor felt some pressure, stepped up in the pocket and hit Moore across the middle.  Moore evaded the defense and ran up the right side for a 73-yard touchdown.  For the first time all night, I smiled.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Broncos now led 17-7 with 5:57 to go in the second quarter.  That smile disappeared quickly as the Broncos also proved they could score quickly on their next drive.  On first down from the 20, Manning looked to his right and found Decker for a 61-yard completion.  Cornerback Mike Jenkins was in position to pick the pass off, but slipped just as the ball got there.  Three plays later, Manning looked for tight end Julius Thomas and found him for a 13-yard touchdown.  The Broncos now had a commanding 24-7 lead with 3:40 to go in the half.

The Raiders did nothing on their next possession and punted the ball away.  The Broncos got the ball at their 39 with just under two minutes remaining.  Passes to Welker, Decker and Moreno moved the ball to the Oakland 27.  They would only get as far as the 23.  Prater had no problem with his 41-yard field goal attempt and the Broncos led 27-7 with 19 seconds left in the half.  Pryor did manage to complete a couple of passes before time ran out, but he was sacked on the last play of the first half.

The Broncos started the first drive of the second half at their 24.  On second and ten, Manning found J. Thomas for a gain of ten.  A short run by Moreno and a 13-yard pass to D. Thomas made it first down at the Oakland 49.  A completion to tight end Jacob Tamme and a six-yard run by Hillman gave them yet another first down at the 38.  Manning fumbled the snap on the next play, but he quickly recovered it for a loss of two yards.  Two more completions to D. Thomas put them at the 26.  The drive came to an end at the 21 and Prater made the 39-yard field goal attempt.  The Broncos now led 30-7 with 8:41 to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders netted a grand total of minus nine yards on their next possession.  That meant it was time for Mr. King to punt the ball again.  He got off a nice 66-yard punt and Holliday returned it six yards.  The Broncos were flagged for a block in the back and that moved them back to their 13.  That didn’t seem to bother Manning too much.  Two more completions to Decker and runs straight up the middle by Ball moved them into Oakland territory again.  A pass interference penalty on rookie cornerback DJ Hayden gave them a first down at the 13.  Then, after so many unsuccessful attempts to get to Manning, defensive end Lamarr Houston finally did.  He beat backup left tackle Chris Clark and sacked Manning.  The ball popped loose and was recovered by defensive end Jason Hunter.  He picked the ball up and started to head the other way.  Unfortunately for him, he slipped and was brought down at the Denver 30.

A five-yard run by McFadden, a 20-yard pass to Rivera and a 29-yard pass to Butler gave the Raiders a first down at the Denver 16.  From the 16, McFadden took the hand-off, ran to his right and threw a perfect pass to fullback Marcel Reece for a touchdown.  See what happens when you force a turnover?  You can give the offense some momentum and they may even score a touchdown.  Interesting concept, right?  For the record, that was their first fumble recovery of the year.  Janikowski made the point after and the Broncos now led 30-14 at the end of the third quarter.

The Broncos took over at their 20 and decided to give their running backs some playing time.  Runs by Ball and Hillman and a 32-yard pass to Welker got them a first down at the Oakland 20, Hillman got the call two more times and found the end zone on a one-yard run.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos now led 37-14 with 11:27 to go in the game.

The 21-yard line was where the Raiders started their next drive.  Completions to Moore, Butler and wide receiver Rod Streater moved them to the Denver 36.  On second and eight, Pryor was flushed out of the pocket, ran to his right and hit Streater right on the money for a gain of 28 yards.  On first and goal from the six the Denver defense stiffened, Pryor looked for Moore, but the ball fell incomplete.  On second down, Pryor tried to take the ball in himself, but he got his bell rung and was thrown for a loss of two.  Looked like there was some helmet to helmet contact, but there was no flag on the play.  On third down, Pryor found Streater for a gain of seven, and that made it fourth and goal from the one.  On fourth down, Pryor threw to his right for Moore, but the pass fell incomplete.  Pryor would leave the game after this drive with a possible concussion.  The Broncos took over at their one-yard line.

With 5:30 to go in the game, Ball saw some more action and netted 23 yards on four carries.  Throw in a nine-yard completion to D. Thomas and the Broncos were moving yet again.  However, on second and five from the 33, Ball was hit by linebacker Kevin Burnett and the ball came loose.  Jenkins recovered it and returned it to the Denver 15.  On the return, Jenkins tried to lateral the ball to safety Brandian Ross, but it was ruled an illegal forward pass and that moved them back to the 20.  With Pryor gone, quarterback Matt Flynn was inserted into the game.  On second and ten, Flynn found Reece across the middle and he was dragged down at the one-yard line.  Two plays later, McFadden dove into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Broncos now led 37-21 with 1:15 to go.  An onside kick was unsuccessful and the Broncos took over for a couple of kneel downs.  That ended the game and the Broncos improved to 3-0.  The loss dropped the Raiders to 1-2.

For the Raiders, Terrelle Pryor completed 19 of 28 for 281 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.  He also led the team in rushing yards with 36 on four carries.  It was a horrible night on the ground for the Raiders as they only totaled 49 yards rushing on 17 carries.  23 of those yards came on one play.  The best play by a Raider running back was the touchdown pass by McFadden.  Denarius Moore led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 124 and a touchdown.  Defensively, linebacker Kevin Burnett led the team in solo tackles with ten and a forced fumble.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 32 of 37 for 374 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  Ronnie Hillman led the way on the ground with 66 yards on nine carries and a touchdown.  As a team, the Broncos rushed for 164 yards on 35 carries.  Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos in receptions with ten and Eric Decker had the most receiving yards with 133 and a touchdown.  Defensively, linebacker Nate Irving led the team in solo tackles with six and one tackle for a loss.

What I was hoping for certainly didn’t come true.  I was hoping the Raiders could run the ball, control the clock and rack up some first downs to keep the chains moving.  The exact opposite happened.  It was the Broncos who moved the chains and held on to the ball.  They had 31 first downs and won the time of possession battle 35:24 to 24:36.  The Raiders also couldn’t get to Manning.  He was sacked only once.  Granted, it was a very productive sack as it forced a fumble.  But, you need to get to Manning a lot more than that to get him rattled.  The Broncos managed to sack Pryor three times.  Like Jon Gruden said near the end of the broadcast, this was a game between a young rebuilding team and a team that looks destined for the Super Bowl.  I definitely agree with that assessment.  All the Raiders can do is move on.  They need to put this game behind them and prepare for Robert Griffin and the Redskins next week.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

NFL Week 1 Highlights

The NFL is back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Other Records Achieved During Manning’s 7-Touchdown Game

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

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

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

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

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

 

Unique Debuts

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

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

 

Extended Personal Streaks and Records

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

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

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