September 19, 2017

Ravens 30, Steelers 17

The second game of wildcard weekend had the Baltimore Ravens heading up to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.  These teams are division rivals and are very familiar with one another.  Kicker Josh Tucker sent the opening kickoff deep into the end zone and the Steelers started at their 20-yard line.  They took 6:27 off the clock and moved into Baltimore territory, but they came away with no points.  Instead of trying a 55-yard field goal, head coach Mike Tomlin decided it would be a wise decision to punt.  Brad Wing’s punt was downed at the Baltimore seven-yard line.  The Ravens ran three plays and punted the ball right back to the Steelers.

Starting with good position at the Pittsburgh 40, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown.  That was followed by a five-yard carry by rookie running back Josh Harris.  Harris got the call again and he was thrown for a loss of two yards.  Roethlisberger went to the air again and two completions to rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant netted 29 yards.  That set them up with a first down at the Baltimore 20.  Unfortunately for the Steelers, the next three plays would lose seven yards.  Kicker Shaun Suisham came on and his 45-yard field goal attempt was good.  That put the Steelers up 3-0 with 1:29 to go in the first quarter.

The Ravens started at their 20 and quarterback Joe Flacco went deep on first down for wide receiver Jacoby Jones.  The pass was incomplete, but safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for a helmet to helmet hit.  That moved the ball to the 35.  Flacco threw to his right and the pass was caught by tight end Owen Daniels for a gain of 18 yards.  Two carries by running back Justin Forsett netted another first down and the Ravens were in Steeler territory.  From the 36, Flacco hooked up with Daniels again for a gain of ten yards.  That was followed by two more carries by Forsett and that gave them a first down at the five-yard line.  Two plays later, running back Bernard Pierce took it in from five yards out for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens led 7-3 with 12:28 to go in the second quarter.

Return man Markus Wheaton fielded the ensuing kickoff five yards deep and decided to run it out.  Not a good idea.  He was brought down at the 14-yard line.  From the 14, Roethlisberger completed an 18-yard pass to Brown.  On third and ten from the 32, Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller for a gain of 30 and a first down at the Baltimore 38-yard line.  The next three plays netted nine yards and Suisham was brought into the game for a field goal attempt.  But the Ravens were flagged for having 12 men on the field.  That gave the Steelers a first down at the 24.  Roethlisberger completed a short pass to Tate on first down.  But another flag was thrown and the Ravens were flagged for unnecessary roughness.  That moved the ball to the ten.  The Ravens brought some pressure and Roethlisberger was sacked for a loss of nine by defensive tackle Brandon Williams.  That was followed by a short pass to Brown and a 12-yard pass to Bryant.  That set up a fourth and goal from the four.  Suisham had no problem making his 22-yard field goal attempt and the Ravens now led 7-6 with 5:40 to go in the second quarter.

The Ravens started at their 20 and Flacco hooked up with wide receiver Steve Smith for a gain of 23 yards.  A four-yard pass to wide receiver Kamar Aiken and an eight-yard run by Forsett moved them into Pittsburgh territory.  Add another personal foul penalty on the Steelers and the Ravens had a first down at the 30.  From the 30, Flacco found Daniels for a gain of 19 yards and a first down at the 11.  But they would only gain one yard on their next three plays.  Tucker was brought in for a 28-yard field goal attempt and the kick was good.  That put the Ravens up 10-6 with 2:41 to go in the second quarter.

Another short kick return by Wheaton had the Steelers starting their next possession at their 18-yard line.  Roethlisberger got his team to mid-field with an 11-yard pass to Miller, a 14-yard pass to Bryant and a seven-yard pass to running back Dri Archer.  A six-yard pass to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and an 11-yard pass to Wheaton netted a first down at the 33.  The drive stalled at the 29 and Suisham came on for a 47-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Ravens led 10-9 at halftime.

The Ravens started their first drive of the second half at their 16-yard line.  On third and 14, Flacco looked his right and found wide receiver Torrey Smith for a gain of 17 yards.  A seven-yard completion to fullback Kyle Juszczyk and a short run by Forsett had the Ravens in a third and short situation.  Instead of trying to run it up the gut, Flacco went deep for S. Smith.  The pass was incomplete, but some more yellow laundry was thrown onto the field.  Unfortunately for the Steelers, they weren’t terrible towels.  They were penalty flags.  Defensive pass interference was the call and the Ravens now had the ball at the Pittsburgh 31.  On first down, Flacco was sacked for a loss of 13 by linebacker Sean Spence.  The ball came loose, but the Ravens recovered it at the 44-yard line.  A short pass to Jones and a 14-yard pass to Smith put the Ravens back in field goal range.  Tucker’s 45-yard field goal attempt was good and the Ravens went up 13-9 with ten minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Steelers punted on their next possession and the Ravens took over at their 31-yard line.  Two completions to S. Smith quickly moved them down to the Pittsburgh 23.  A nine-yard pass to Juszczyk and a five-yard scramble by Flacco moved the ball down to the nine-yard line.  Two plays later, Flacco lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone and it was hauled in by T. Smith for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens increased their lead to 20-9 with 4:13 to go in the third quarter.

The Steelers couldn’t get moving and after eight plays netted just 14 yards, they punted again.  The Ravens took over at their 17 and a completion to S. Smith and some good running by Forsett moved them to the 42-yard line.  On third and eight from the 44, Forsett caught a pass and was brought down just short of a first down.  Flacco took it up the middle on fourth down and gained two yards for a first down at the Pittsburgh 47-yard line.  From the 47, Forsett ran up the left side and the ball came loose.  Defensive end Stephon Tuitt recovered the fumble and that gave the Steelers the ball at the 45-yard line.  Roethlisberger went deep for Brown on first down and it appeared he made a 45-yard touchdown catch.  But replay showed he was down at the one.  That was followed by a false start that moved them back to the six.  From the six, Roethlisberger threw to the right and Bryant caught it for a touchdown.  They decided to go for two, but the pass intended for Brown was picked off by safety Matt Elam.  With 11 minutes to go in the game, the Ravens led 20-15.

Jones returned the kickoff to the 22, but the Steelers were flagged for unnecessary roughness.  That moved the ball to the 37-yard line.  The next two plays lost three yards and that put the Ravens in a third and 13 situation.  If the Steelers could get a stop here, they’d be in position to take the lead.  That didn’t happen.  Flacco found Daniels across the middle and he gained 23 yards on the play.  That gave the Ravens a first down at the Pittsburgh 43-yard line.  From the 43, Flacco hooked up with wide receiver Marlon Brown for a gain of nine.  On third and one from the 34, Flacco went deep for S. Smith, but it was incomplete.  Tucker came on again for another field goal attempt.  His 52-yard attempt split the uprights and the Ravens went up 23-15 with 8:47 to go in the game.

The Steelers still had a shot to tie the game up.  But on third and four from the 26, Roethlisberger felt the pressure and dumped off a short pass to Tate.  The ball hit his hands, but he couldn’t handle it and it was picked off by defensive end Terrell Suggs.  The Ravens wasted no time in getting another score as Flacco dumped a short pass off to tight end Crockett Gillmore and he took it the rest of the way for a 21-yard touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens led 30-15 with 7:56 to go in the game.

The Steelers knew they had to score quickly.  But they were anything but quick on their next drive.  Granted, they moved the ball well, but they weren’t using the no huddle offense consistently.  To top that off, Roethlisberger left the game after getting his bell rung.  He was replaced by Bruce Gradkowski.  Gradkowski completed two of three passes for 22 yards.  On second and ten from the Baltimore 14, Roethlisberger came back into the game and promptly threw a pass that was picked off by safety Darian Stewart.  That pretty much sealed the deal.  The Steelers did manage to block a punt late in the game for a safety, but that was way too little way too late.  The Ravens came away with a 30-17 win.

For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 18 of 29 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.  Steve Smith led the team in receptions with five and receiving yards with 101.  There wasn’t much of a ground game to speak of for the Ravens.  They totaled 49 yards rushing on 25 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Daryl Smith led the team in solo tackles with nine.

For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger completed 31 of 45 for 334 yards, one touchdown and two very costly interceptions.  Antonio Brown led the team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 117.  Like the Ravens, there wasn’t much of a ground game to speak of.  As a team, the Steelers rushed for 68 yards on 19 carries.  Defensively, safety Troy Polamalu led the team in solo tackles with five.

Up next for the Ravens is a trip to New England to face the Patriots.  That game will be on Saturday at 4:35 eastern time.

Raiders 21, Steelers 18

Up next for the Oakland Raiders was a visit from the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Steelers were coming off a 19-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens and the Raiders were coming off a bye week.  Oakland return man Taiwan Jones ran the opening kickoff out from four yards deep and was brought down at the 18-yard line.  But a holding call moved them back to the seven-yard line.  That’s not the way to start off a game.  But things got a little better on the next play.  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor faked to running back Darren McFadden and the offensive line opened up a huge hole for Pryor to run through.  He took off and left everyone in the dust for a 93-yard touchdown.  The Oakland faithful were going insane.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 7-0 with 14:41 to go in the first quarter.

Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the offense on to the field and three plays netted exactly one yard.  Punter Zoltan Mesko got off a high kick that was fielded by return man/wide receiver Jacoby Ford at the Oakland 34.  He returned it to the 48 and fumbled.  Luckily for him the ball went out of bounds.  We will be discussing the many misfortunes of Mr. Ford later in this article.  On third and two from the Pittsburgh 44, Pryor fired a pass directly at rookie wide receiver Brice Butler and he dropped it.  That brought punter Marquette King into the game and his punt rolled into the end zone.  The Steelers went nowhere again and this time, running back Rashad Jennings partially blocked the punt to set the Raiders up with great field position at the Pittsburgh 26.

On third and ten from the 26, Pryor hit wide receiver Denarius Moore for a gain of 14 yards.  On first down from the 12, McFadden took a direct snap and ran up the left side for seven yards.  McFadden got the call on the next play and took it right up the middle for a touchdown.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 14-0 with 7:28 to go in the first quarter.

The Raider defense continued to play well and forced yet another punt.  However, the Steelers would be getting the ball back pretty quickly due to Pryor throwing an errant pass that was picked off by safety Troy Polamalu.  Starting at the Oakland 48, Roethlisberger found wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a gain of 11 yards.  From the 37, linebacker Sio Moore made his presence known and he sacked Roethlisberger for a loss of seven.  They would get as far as the 29 and the drive stalled there.  Kicker Shaun Suisham came on and made his 47-yard field goal attempt.  That made it 14-3 with 14:14 to go in the second quarter.

The Raiders managed to get a few first downs on their next drive, but were forced to punt.  The Steelers followed suit and Mesko got off another high one.  I can recall a time when I was excited to see Jacoby Ford returning kicks.  With his breakaway speed, he’s very dangerous.  Unfortunately, he looked like the right fielder from the Bad News Bears as he tried to field this punt.  He misjudged it, the ball bounced off of him and there was a mad scramble for it.  Luckily the Raiders came up with the ball and started from their 28-yard line.  On second and ten, Pryor found wide receiver Rod Streater for a gain of 12.  McFadden rumbled up the left side for a gain of 19 yards and the Raiders were in Pittsburgh territory.  Jennings and fullback Marcel Reece got a couple of carries and that gave them a first down at the 30.  Pryor found Streater again for a gain of 16.  A scramble by Pryor and a run by McFadden made it first and goal at the four-yard line.  On second and goal, McFadden went up the middle again and got his second touchdown of the game.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders had a 21-3 lead with 1:55 to go in the second quarter.

The Raider defense held the Steelers to a three and out and they punted again.  Mesko didn’t get off a very good punt and the Raiders had the ball at the Pittsburgh 46.  On first down, Pryor looked for Butler and the pass hit him right in the hands.  That’s usually a good place to hit a receiver, right?  Not this time.  The ball bounced up and was picked off by cornerback Cortez Allen.  That gave the Steelers another chance to put some points on the board with one minute to go.  Roethlisberger connected with wide receiver Antonio Brown for a gain of 21 and running back Felix Jones for 11 more.  Another completion to Jones moved them to the 16 with time running out.  Suisham was brought in for a 34-yard field goal attempt and his kick never had a chance.  It was wide right and the teams headed to the locker room.  The Raiders were looking good with a 21-3 lead.

Now, I’d like to tell you about how the Raiders came out in the second half and dominated the game.  I’d like to say that they won this game going away by a score of 42-10.  Well, that didn’t happen.  They ran a grand total of 22 plays and gained exactly 41 yards.  It was worse than the second half of the game at Kansas City two weeks ago.

But, the Steelers actually managed to get things together in the second half.  Starting at their 20, the Steelers went to work.  On third and 17 from the 13, Roethlisberger escaped the pass rush and fired a bullet up the right side to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a gain of 18 and a first down at the 31.  A couple of carries by running back Jonathan Dwyer got them another first down at the 42.  A nine-yard pass to Brown and a facemask penalty on the Raiders gave them a first down at the Oakland 36.  An eight-yard run by rookie running back Le’Veon Bell and a short run by Brown kept the chains moving.  Another catch and run by Bell moved the ball to the 15.  The Raider defense stiffened and the drive stalled at the 15.  Suisham came on again to try a 33-yard field goal and it was wide right again.  The Steelers took over nine minutes off the clock and had nothing to show for it.  The score remained 21-3 with 5:49 to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders punted and then the Steelers punted.  This time Mesko got off a great punt that rolled down the field and stopped just short of the goal line.  Raider head coach Dennis Allen challenged that the ball touched the goal line, but replay showed it never did.  That was one incredible punt.  An 18-yard pass to Moore got the Raiders out of trouble, but they would only get as far as their 30.  King punted and the Steelers started at their 31.  From the 34, Roethlisberger put up a deep sideline pass intended for Sanders and it was picked off by cornerback Mike Jenkins at the Oakland 16.  But the fun was just beginning for the Raiders.  On second and 11 from the 15, our good friend Jacoby Ford made another appearance.  Pryor threw a screen pass to him and as he tried to head up-field, he was hit by several Steelers and the ball came loose.  It was recovered at the 11 by defensive end Brett Keisel.  From the 11, Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller in the end zone.  But the play was reversed as replay showed Miller didn’t complete the catch.  But, on third and eight, Roethlisberger scrambled out of trouble and tossed a pass to Sanders for a touchdown.  Suisham made the point after and that made it 21-10 with 12:11 remaining in the game.

All the Raiders needed to do was control the clock for a while.  They didn’t even need to score.  Just keep the chains moving and the clock ticking.  That is a recipe for success.  That didn’t happen.  They ran three plays, took 1:30 off the clock and gave the Steelers the ball back at their 40-yard line.  On second and 12 from the 38, the Raider defense brought some pressure up the middle and Roethlisberger was sacked by defensive tackle Vance Walker for a loss of three yards.  Roethlisberger looked for Brown on third and long and the pass fell incomplete.  Mesko punted and the Raiders took over at the 20.

On third and eight from the 22, Pryor was sacked by Polamalu and King got off a nice 58-yard punt.  Brown fielded it at the Pittsburgh 25 and returned it 44 yards to the Oakland 31.  On third and three from the 24, Roethlisberger threw to Brown and the pass was tipped up into the air.  Cornerback Tracy Porter got his hands on it before it touched the ground and made a great interception.  The Raiders had dodged another bullet.  Three plays got them five yards and they took 2:12 off the clock before King had to punt again.  Brown fielded it at the Pittsburgh 20 and was thrown for a loss of three yards.  With 83 yards and 4:22 to go, the Steelers brought out their no huddle offense.  Completions to Cotchery, Sanders and Brown quickly moved them to the Oakland 40.  Another pass to Brown and a short run by Bell made it first down at the 30.  Roethlisberger was sacked for a loss of six by defensive tackle Daniel Muir.  But, that was just a minor distraction for the Steelers.  Completions to Miller, Bell and Cotchery got them a first and goal at the four.  Roethlisberger looked for Cotchery in the end zone, but the pressure was getting to him and he heaved up a wounded duck that was picked off by safety Brandian Ross.  That’s when a yellow flag made an appearance.  Ross was called for defensive holding and the Steelers now had the ball at the two.  Next, Bell went untouched into the end zone and that made it 21-16.  Obviously, the next move was to go for two and Sanders ran up the right side for a successful two-point conversion.

Things were getting pretty interesting now and I was going out of my mind.  The Raiders led 21-18 with 1:24 to go in the game.  Next was an onside kickoff attempt that was covered at the Pittsburgh 46 by the Raiders.  All they had to do was get a first down and this game was over.  But the anemic offense couldn’t get a first down.  They were forced to punt and King’s punt was a beauty that was downed at the three.  With no timeouts and 18 seconds on the clock, Roethlisberger connected with Sanders across the middle for a gain of 33.  That was the last play of the game and the Raiders barely held on to win 21-18.  The win improved the Raiders to 3-4 and the Steelers dropped to 2-5.

For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger completed 29 of 45 for 275 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  Antonio Brown led the Steelers in receptions with nine and Emmanuel Sanders had the most receiving yards with 88 and a touchdown.  On the ground, the Steelers had a hard time.  Le’Veon Bell led the team with 24 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled, the Steelers had 35 yards on 19 carries and their longest carry went for eight yards.  Defensively, safety Ryan Clark led the team in solo tackles with nine.

For the Raiders, Terrelle Pryor completed 10 of 19 for 88 yards and two interceptions.  He also led the team in rushing with 106 yards.  93 of those yards came on one carry.  Rod Streater led the team in receptions with four and receiving yards with 45.  Darren McFadden carried the ball 24 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns.  All totaled, the Raiders racked up 197 yards on 38 carries.  Defensively, rookie linebacker Sio Moore led the team in solo tackles with five and sacks with two.

Well, as a Raider fan, I am glad they won.  But that was U-G-L-Y!!!  The play calling in the second half was terrible and I was having flashbacks to the days when Jon Gruden coached the Raiders.  Granted, I liked Gruden, but when he’d get  a double digit lead, he’d sit on it.  All of the imaginative play calling was thrown out the window.  Basically, it is known as the “prevent offense.”  They’re very fortunate Suisham missed those field goals and that the defense sacked Roethlisberger five times and picked him off twice.  Up next for the Raiders is a visit from the Philadelphia Eagles.  They had a horrible time against the Giants yesterday and haven’t been playing very well.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

Bears 40, Steelers 23: Tearing Down the Steel Curtain

Anyone who doubts Jay Cutler’s mettle or the Chicago Bears’ potential is advised to watch the Bears quarterback’s scramble against the Steelers in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s game in Pittsburgh.

Let us set the scene:

The Bears had blown a 24-3 lead and led 27-23 with their offense stuck in neutral since the first half and Pittsburgh owning all the momentum.  It was third-and-ten on Chicago’s 26 when Cutler, unable to find an open receiver, scrambled to his left, got the first down and then, instead of sliding safely as is his Roger Goodell-given right, lowered his shoulder, his throwing shoulder, and destroyed Steelers safety Robert Golden, knocking the embarrassed soul directly on his ass.

Holy Halas.

Cutler then marched the Bears down the field and, on another third down, threw a perfect pass to Earl Bennett in the end zone for a 17-yard score.  It wasn’t ruled a touchdown at first but replays showed it clearly was as Bennett, incredibly, was able to drag his second foot across the turf before stepping out of bounds.

Thank goodness for replay and an impartial justice system.

The Bears led, 34-23, and went on to prevail, 40-23, after Julius Peppers returned a Ben Roethlisberger fumble 42 yards for a TD, Chicago’s second defensive score of the game on Pittsburgh’s fourth turnover of the five the Bears would force on the night.

This was about the most fun you can have in primetime without Bryan Cranston or Sofia Vergara.

The Bears are now 3-0 and thinking Super Bowl, even if they’re not saying it.  The Steelers are now 0-3 and thinking suicide, even if it’s messy.

The Bears won because they forced all those turnovers against a proud but struggling Steelers team and converted two of them directly into scores while not turning the ball over even once themselves.  Chicago’s defense now has three touchdowns this season, helping the Bears to a scoring average of 31.7 per game, third in the NFL behind the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Evildoers.  Before the season it seemed that if the Bears were going to light up the scoreboard it would be due to new head coach Marc Trestman’s offensive prowess.  Instead, this team continues to play like Bears teams of the past, making big plays on defense while being, for the most part, adequate on offense.

Sort of.

The Bears’ offense is averaging only 330.7 yards per game, 22nd in the league, but they’re third in the league in turnover differential, plus-6, trailing only the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks both of whom, like the Bears, are 3-0.   Of the NFL’s top ten teams in the turnover war, all of them have a winning record.  So, while Trestman’s offense is not yet making anyone forget the 2007 New England Patriots, it is doing what it has to do by hanging on to the ball, utilizing running back Matt Forte’s unique hybrid skills as a runner and a receiver and keeping Cutler out of the hospital.

Of course, Trestman might have wanted to kill Jay himself for not sliding at Golden.

Trestman did not look an offensive savant for much of this game.  After the Bears’ early lead the O got conservative, tentative and just plain ineffective in letting a thought-to-be demoralized Steelers team march back into a game that had been so one-sided that many Steelers fans decided to go home early and watch Pirates highlights instead.  But credit Trestman for making perhaps his best call of the game upon challenging Bennett’s catch, just in the nick of time, knowing it was a score.  If Trestman hadn’t, certainly Robbie Gould would have booted a field goal to make it 30-23, but would an exhausted and frustrated Bears defense been able to keep a suddenly hot Roethlisberger out of the end zone?

Of course they would have, but why risk it?

This was a costly victory for the Bears and not just because the postgame celebration featured far too much chipped ham.  Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton suffered a torn ACL and is finished for the season.  The Bears have already had their struggles rushing the quarterback and now, without Melton, it could get bleak.  Or maybe Melton, a surprise selection for Hawaii last season, wasn’t as good as advertised.  In steps Nate Collins and the Bears might also be looking to the waiver wire.  Is Jerry Ball still alive?

It’s a shame the Bears and Steelers don’t play more often.  They are, perhaps, the league’s two most venerable franchises, each still owned and operated by the families that started them decades ago.  They each have a loyal, hearty fan base, love to play in the rain, snow and muck and conjure up memories of a time when football was always played outside and players were more like neighbors and less like movie stars.

And neither team has cheerleaders so that’s either old school or bizarrely asexual.

Maybe the Bears and Steelers will meet again in the Super Bowl.  In 2016.

The 3-0 Bears now take their act to suburban Detroit to bid on the empty Packard Plant and take on the 2-1 Lions.  Detroit will be without wideout Nate Burleson who broke an arm in a car accident when he was distracted by falling pizza, something we can all relate to.  This comes just after Nate was great against the Washington Redskins, catching six passes for 116 yards in a 27-20 win.  So maybe Burleson’s absence cancels Melton’s.  We can still expect Lions QB Matthew Stafford to put up large, shiny numbers throwing to Calvin Johnson but also expect the Bears to pick off at least two of those offerings.  It’s too much to bank on another defensive TD (Right?  Remember the Bears had a ton of them last season en route to a 7-1 start then stumbled to 10-6 and watched the playoffs on TV) but even if the defense slips a little bit, Chicago’s offense seems to learn a little more each week.

Bears 27, Lions 24.

The Bears will be 4-0, which is good because by the time that game ends the White Sox and Cubs will have officially completed their seasons which were unofficially completed sometime in May. Yes, the Blackhawks and Bulls are on the way but football is special because guys kick each other a lot more often, guys like Ndamukong Suh.  We’re not afraid.

MORE FOOTBALL STUFF:

The 0-3 Steelers now play the 0-3 Minnesota Vikings in London.  The British gave us the Beatles, we give them this.

The Steelers, Vikings, Redskins and Giants are all among those 0-3.  The Dolphins, Chiefs and Saints are among those 3-0.  You never know.  Sometimes you really never know.

Brett Favre’s agent says old #4 is in the best shape of his life and can still play in the NFL.  Hopefully the NFL is deaf.

Peyton Manning is on pace to throw 64 touchdown passes.  The Jacksonville Jaguars are on pace to have 64 Facebook friends.

On October 5 Alabama will play Georgia State.  On October 6 Nick Saban will be indicted for crimes against humanity.

Drama In Oakland

Week three of the season had the Pittsburgh Steelers making a trip out to Oakland to take on the Oakland Raiders.  The Steelers were coming off a solid 27-10 win over the New York Jets and the Raiders were coming off a disgusting 35-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins.  The Steelers won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Fullback Marcel Reece fielded the ball at the Raider five and returned it 36 yards to the 41.  On the first play of the game, quarterback Carson Palmer looked for wide receiver Denarius Moore and instead found safety Ryan Clark.  Moore tripped on that stupid infield dirt and Clark had himself an easy interception.  He returned the ball to the Raider 36.

On third and ten from the Raider 36, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a gain of nine.  That set up a fourth and one and they easily converted it with a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace.  On third and goal at the four, Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller on the right side for a touchdown.  Kicker Shaun Suisham made the point after and the Steelers took an early 7-0 lead.

The Raiders started their next drive at their 20 and came out in their no huddle offense.  On second and ten, tight end Brandon Myers caught a pass for a gain of 16 to move the ball to the 36.  Running back Darren McFadden ended this drive quickly as he finally got loose for a long run.  He took the ball up the right side for a 64-yard touchdown.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders tied the game at seven with ten and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter.

The Steelers took over at their 19 and completions to running back Isaac Redman and Wallace put the ball at the 39.  A scramble by Roethlisberger and a short completion to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders gave the Steelers another first down at the Raider 46.  Another short completion to Redman and a 21-yard completion to wide receiver Antonio Brown  had the Steelers moving again.  On second and seven from the 18, Roethlisberger found Wallace for 14 more yards.  Running back Jonathan Dwyer was stuffed on first and goal at the four.  However, on second down, Roethlisberger found Miller wide open in the end zone for his second score of the day.  Suisham made the extra point and the Steelers found themselves back on top 14-7 with a little under four minutes to go in the first quarter.

The rest of the first quarter was pretty uneventful.  But with 14:55 to go in the second quarter, Steeler return man Antonio Brown fielded a Shane Lechler punt and returned it up the left side for a 72-yard touchdown.  But, the play was nullified due to a holding call.  That moved the Steelers back to their 18.  On third and nine from their 31, Roethlisberger found Miller again across the middle for a big gain.  It was originally ruled a catch, but the Raiders challenged the ruling and it was ruled incomplete.  Punter Drew Butler got off a short kick that only went 29 yards.  The ball went out of bounds at the Raider 40.

Four plays later, the Steelers had the ball again after another Raider punt.  A penalty on the punt return moved the Steelers back to their eight-yard line.  A short run by Redman and a short completion to Brown set up a third and one at the 17.  Redman had no problem converting the first down as he went straight up the middle for four yards.  A nine-yard pass and a short run by Redman gave the Steelers another first down at the  33.  After that happened, I turned to my wife and said “I’m not sure, but I think the Raiders are the only team that hasn’t forced a turnover yet this season.”  As fate would have it, Dwyer was hit by defensive tackle Desmond Bryant and the ball came loose.  There was a big pileup and cornerback Joselio Hanson came out of the pile with the ball.  That gave the Raiders excellent field position at the Steeler 30.

A short pass to Reece and and a 13-yard completion to tight end David Ausberry moved the ball to the 14 for a first down.  Short runs by McFadden, Palmer and running back Mike Goodson made it fourth and two at the six.  Instead of trying a field goal, they decided to go for it.  The Raiders originally set up in a bunch formation.  Then several players moved and they went to a spread formation.  This caused Steeler defensive end Ziggy Hood to jump offside and gave the Raiders a first down at the three.  From there, Palmer floated up a pass to the right corner of the end zone that was caught by wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey for a touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the score was tied at 14 with 1:54 to go in the half.

With time running short, the Steelers broke out the no huddle offense from their 20-yard line.  A completion to Wallace and two to running back Baron Batch put the ball at the 47.  A seven-yard pass to Miller and a deep pass across the middle gave the Steelers a first down at the Raider 25.  Time was not on their side and they knew they had to hurry.  Roethlisberger spiked the ball to kill the clock.  From the 25, Roethlisberger found running back Chris Rainey for a gain of nine.  Roethlisberger spiked the ball again and with two seconds to go, Suisham nailed a 33-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 17-14 lead at halftime.

Another Janikowski touch-back gave the Steelers the ball at their 20 to start the second half.  A false start penalty and three incomplete passes made it third and 15 from the 15-yard line.  The anemic Raider pass rush allowed Roethlisberger all the time he needed to find Mike Wallace in the middle of the field for a gain of 22 yards and a first down.  A five-yard run by Redman and another completion to Brown put the Steelers in Raider territory.  Roethlisberger worked the no huddle offense perfectly and completions to Brown and Sanders set them up with a first down at the 27.  On third and five from the 22, Roethlisberger scrambled all over the place and could have easily run for a first down.  Instead, he found Wallace standing all by himself in the end zone for a touchdown.  The reason Wallace was so wide open was safety Matt Giordano was injured on the play and he couldn’t keep up with Wallace.  Suisham made the point after and the Steelers led 24-14 with just under 12 minutes to go in the third quarter.

Goodson set the Raiders up with good field position at the Steeler 48 after a nice 51-yard kickoff return.  Palmer led his team on to the field and broke out the no huddle offense.  McFadden ran up the left side for 16 yards on first down.  On third and nine from the 31, Palmer found Moore for a gain of 12 and  a first down at the 19.  A short pass to rookie wide receiver Rod Streater and another one to Moore set up a third and one at the ten.  McFadden ran the ball up the left side for a gain of five and another first down.  On first and goal at the five, McFadden got the call again and crossed the goal line for an apparent score.  But, the replay showed his elbow was down at the one-yard line.  On second down, McFadden was stuffed for no gain.  That made it third down and just one simple yard to go.  Would it be McFadden again?  No.  Palmer faked to McFadden, stood in the pocket and found tight end Richard Gordon for a touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders trimmed the lead to 24-21 with 6:35 to go in the third quarter.

This is when the real drama began.  Instead of another touch-back, head coach Dennis Allen called for some trickery and Janikowski hit a knuckle ball up the left side in hopes that the Raiders would recover it and get the ball back.  Goodson had a perfect opportunity to recover the ball, but it went right through his hands and out of bounds.  After what seemed an eternity, the replacement referees finally put the ball at the Raider 48.  By the time they got done with their little meeting, I didn’t give a damn where they put the ball.  Just get back to the game, please!  Roethlisberger went right back to work and completions to Brown and Miller moved the ball to the 21.  An illegal formation penalty moved them back five yards.  A short run by Rainey and completions to Miller and Wallace set up a third and eight at the 19.  Roethlisberger found Miller on the right side and he was dragged down for a nine-yard gain and a first down.  On second and goal from the 11, Roethlisberger completed a pass to Brown.  As he was heading to the end zone, the ball was knocked loose by linebacker Philip Wheeler and there was a mad scramble.  Brown somehow came up with the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.  Suisham made the extra point and the Steelers went up 31-21 with a minute and half to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders took over at their 20 and Palmer completed four passes in a row to four different receivers to move the ball to the Steeler 28.  A false start penalty moved them back five yards, but on third and nine from the 33, Streater made another catch for a gain of 17 yards and a first down.  From there, Palmer went deep down the middle of the field for Heyward-Bey.  The pass was incomplete and Heyward-Bey was nailed by cornerback Ryan Mundy.  After the play was over, Heyward-Bey didn’t move.  He had been hit so hard that he was knocked out and carted off the field on a stretcher.  As the cart headed off the field, Heyward-Bey gave a big thumbs up to the crowd.  The crowd gave a loud cheer and that seemed to pump some life into the Raiders.  What I couldn’t believe was that there was no flag on the play.  I guess the refs didn’t get the memo about hits on defenseless receivers.  On third and eight from the 14, Reece made a nice catch for a first and goal at the four.  McFadden ran up the left side for a tough three-yard gain.  A false start penalty moved them back five yards to the six-yard line.  From the six, Palmer took the snap, moved around in the pocket and found Moore for a touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders were in striking distance once again as they trailed 31-28 with 12 minutes to go in the game.

The Steelers took over at their 22 and quickly moved the ball to the 36.  From the 36, Roethlisberger connected with Brown for a gain of 20 yards.  As he fought for some extra yardage, cornerback Pat Lee knocked the ball loose and it bounced crazily off four different defenders.  Wheeler finally managed to recover it and that gave the Raiders the ball at their 36.  A short pass to Myers and a five-yard run by McFadden netted a first down at the 48.  A pass interference penalty on the Steelers gave them another first down at the Steeler 31.  The drive would stall at the 14 and Janikowski was called on to tie the game up with a field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the score was now tied at 31 with 6:30 to go in the game.

Janikowski blasted another kickoff deep into the end zone and the Steelers started at their 20 again.  A holding call moved them back to the ten.  Wallace caught a pass for a gain of 14 and was hit by Wheeler and the ball popped loose.  He was able to recover it and keep the Steeler drive alive.  Three straight runs by Redman set up a fourth and one at the 29.  Rather than punt the ball away, Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin elected to go for it.  The Oakland faithful rose to their feet in hopes that their much maligned defense could force a turnover on downs.  That didn’t happen.  Redman ran up the middle for a gain of six and a first down.  On first down from the 35, Roethlisberger was sacked by his old friend Richard Seymour for a loss of five.  The pressure from the Raider defense continued and on third and nine, Roethlisberger had to rush a deep throw for Wallace.  The pass fell incomplete and the Steelers punted the ball away.

The Raiders took over at their 25 with 1:43 to go in the game.  Two incomplete passes set up a third and ten.  On third down, Palmer managed to squeeze a pass through tight coverage to Myers for a first down at the 40.  A nine-yard completion to wide receiver Derek Hagan and an eight-yard completion to Reece gave them a first down at the Steeler 43.  From the 43, Palmer hit Hagan in stride on a crossing route for a gain of 17.  That gave them a first down at the 26 with the seconds ticking away.  Palmer took a knee to set up a 43-yard field goal attempt with three seconds remaining.  The kick was good and there was pandemonium in Oakland!  The Raiders, who had trailed most of the game and looked like they were going to start the year with three straight losses won by a score of 34-31.

For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger completed 36 of 49 for 384 yards and four touchdowns.  Mike Wallace led the team with eight catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.  49 attempts is a lot for Roethlisberger and ten different players had at least one reception.  But with starting running back Rashard Mendenhall injured and the running game performing so poorly, he really had no choice.  The Steelers had just 54 yards on 20 carries.  Isaac Redman led the team with 27 yards on nine carries.  Their longest gain on the ground was an eight-yard carry by Roethlisberger.  Defensively, safety Ryan Clark led the team with six solo tackles, a tackle for a loss and one pass defensed.  The Steelers were playing without safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison again and they were sorely missed.

For the Raiders, after throwing an interception on his first attempt, Carson Palmer completed 24 of 34 for 209 yards and three touchdowns.  He spread the ball around to nine different receivers and Brandon Myers led the team in receiving yards for the second straight week with 55 yards on four receptions.  Darren McFadden finally got loose a couple of times and racked up 113 yards on 18 carries.  64 of those yards came on one carry.  Defensively, Philip Wheeler led the team with seven solo tackles, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Well, I’d hardly call it a “complete win” for the Raiders.  The beat up secondary had more holes in it than ten packs of Swiss cheese and Roethlisberger had a field day as he found his receivers wide open in the middle of the field.  The pass rush was pretty much non-existent until the fourth quarter.  But they came up big when they had to and got the Steeler offense off the field in a crucial situation. Palmer looked very comfortable and seems to be at his best when they run the no huddle offense.  It doesn’t get any easier next week for the Raiders.  Next, they take a trip to Denver to take on the Broncos.  The Broncos have dropped two straight to the Falcons and the Texans and they’ll be looking to turn things around.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

Steelers Win Last College All-Star Game (1976)

Beginning in 1934, the Chicago College All-Star game served as the preseason kickoff to each NFL season. Conceived by Arch Ward of The Chicago Tribune (who also developed major league baseball’s annual All-Star Game), it matched the previous season’s NFL champion against a squad composed of top college players, many of whom were about to enter the pro ranks (in 1935, the runner-up Chicago Bears represented the NFL; following the pre-merger seasons of 1968 and ’69, AFL champions that won the Super Bowl participated). The game was sponsored by The Tribune on behalf of Chicago Charities and played at Soldier Field, with the exception of two contests during World War II that were held at Northwestern University.

Initially, the games were competitive (the first ended in a scoreless tie), but typically the NFL squad won and as time went on the contests were often mismatches. Pro coaches complained about college prospects reporting late to training camp because of participation in the all-star contest, and of the additional exposure to injury. As salaries grew larger in the 1960s and ‘70s, the players themselves were averse to the prospect of potentially being sidelined. When NFL veterans struck during the 1974 preseason, the game was cancelled.

What would prove to be the last College All-Star game was held on July 23, 1976. The Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of the Super Bowl following the ’75 season, represented the NFL against an all-star squad that included such future pro stars as Oklahoma’s Selmon brothers (DE Lee Roy and DT Dewey), RB Joe Washington, G Jackie Slater, WR Duriel Harris, QB Richard Todd, and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. The team was coached by Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian.

There were 52,895 fans on hand at Soldier Field for the Friday night contest. A heavy downpour had occurred about 40 minutes prior to the game, but it had passed before the opening kickoff. There was little scoring in the first half as Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” defense shut down the All-Stars, holding them to a net total of 54 yards. Roy Gerela kicked a 29-yard field goal in the first quarter and kicked two more, of 32 and 23 yards, in the second period to give the Steelers a 9-0 lead at the half.

Pittsburgh pulled away early in the third quarter. First, the Steelers gained an easy two points when All-Star center Ray Pinney’s snap sailed over the head of punter Rick Engles and through the end zone for a safety. RB Jack Deloplaine returned the ensuing free kick 32 yards to the All-Star 26 yard line, and three plays later RB Franco Harris ran 21 yards for a touchdown and 18-0 Pittsburgh lead.

Shortly thereafter, the Steelers regained possession after the All-Stars punted and QB Terry Bradshaw connected with RB Tommy Reamon on a 25-yard pass play to the two yard line. Reamon bulled over for the score, and while the extra point attempt was missed, the Steelers held a 24-0 lead that would end up being the final score.

The All-Stars got an apparent break when Pittsburgh reserve QB Terry Hanratty, under a strong rush, threw a desperation pass that was intercepted by safety Shafer Suggs. Suggs returned the pickoff 16 yards to the Steelers’ 39 yard line. A penalty moved the ball to the 34, but by this point a torrential rain had struck and the officials called time with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter.

The players left the flooded field, but many of the young fans in the crowd ran onto it and ripped down the goal posts. Unable to restore order and after consultation with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the officials called off the remainder of the contest.

It was a miserable conclusion to a series that had provided 42 games over a span of 43 years. Chicago Tribune Charities chose to discontinue the game in 1977, and the annual summer all-star event was no more. As was to be expected, the NFL teams won 31 times, the All-Stars 9, and there were two ties. At its height, it was popular with the fans, and attendance had reached as high as 105,840 in 1947. It had served a purpose when the NFL was struggling for recognition and the college game was more popular – a situation that had changed considerably by the 1970s.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on July 23, 2010.

 

Book Review: Find a Way: Three Words that Changed My Life

It’s surprising what kids will tell you. Sometimes they’re even right! Merril Hoge didn’t know what to say and was unsure what lay ahead after telling his children he had cancer. “Daddy, you’re just gonna have to find a way,” his daughter Kori told him. In a flash, Hoge recalled his own youth and knew she was right (6, Find.)

Read “Find a Way: Three Words that Changed My Life” by Merril Hoge with Brent Cole because:

1. “Find a Way” became Hoge’s philosophy at a young age. It continues to guide him.

By age 12, he had heard it all before: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, Merril; a lot of kids have that dream, Merril. But you have to be realistic, too; do you know how hard that is, Merril?” Hoge didn’t have all the answers, but he knew one thing. He would play in the NFL. He tacked that declaration to his dream board to visualize day and night. Above that phrase presided the words “FIND A WAY” (11). Hoge proved doubters wrong again and again, from his difficult upbringing, to an obscure but accomplished college career, to the pros and the broadcast booth. Cancer was another adversary to crush. “Finding a way is about tapping into those core spiritual motives inside of you and taking fierce, resourceful and consistent action until victory is yours,” Hoge writes. (15)

2. Hoge is a prime example of doing what you can and trusting for good results.

Focus on what you want to happen, not what you fear, Hoge writes. “Goals change from pipe dreams to possibilities.” (18) If you take responsibility, you will be surprised to see all the resources you have around you for a given situation. Opportunities in disguise are waiting. For Hoge, working on the farm became a chance to get stronger for football. Schoolwork allowed him to sharpen his football mind. Years later, Hoge recognized his NFL Draft freefall to be a blessing. He slipped to 261st in the 1987 draft but became one of the few players privileged to play for one of the best franchises and coaches.

3. Hoge learned from a legend.

In his rookie training camp, Hoge ran the wrong play. “I thought you said he was smart,” Hoge overheard coach Chuck Noll telling his assistant. How would Hoge take it? Showing up early was Hoge’s calling card. At practice, Noll singled out the rookie on film. The player was sure he was about to be shamed. Instead, Noll asked everyone in the room why teammates would not keep up with Hoge. Noll stressed continually being around the ball on the field, whether or not you had already completed your assignment. That’s how Franco Harris “happened” to haul in the Immaculate Reception.

Ron Jaworski says Hoge has taught him more than scores of great players. “He simply found a way to succeed, to overcome adversity, and to continually improve time and time again (xiii).” No doubt Hoge will have found a way to excel in plenty more situations long after his book’s first printing.

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

Broncos 29, Steelers 23

The Denver Broncos had an eight and eight record and backed their way into the playoffs.  They were coming off three straight losses to the Patriots, Bills and Chiefs and they looked bad in all three of those games.  In those three losses,  Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow completed 30 of 73 for 439 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions and three lost fumbles. With numbers like that, you won’t win many games.  Luckily for them, they play in the AFC West.  That was a division that looked like nobody wanted to win and eight wins was enough to win the division and get a home playoff game.

The Steelers came into this game with the number one ranked defense.  Even though quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a gimpy ankle and they were without safety Ryan Clark, center Maurkice Pouncey and running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore, they shouldn’t have many problems getting a win in Denver.  They may as well get ready for a trip to New England to take on the Patriots next week, right?  Wrong.

The Steelers could only get two field goals in the first quarter, but they were moving the ball well.  At the end of the first quarter, the Steelers led 6-0 and had 119 total yards.  The Broncos had eight total yards.  But, on third and 12 from the 18, Tebow put up a bomb that was caught by wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a gain of 51 yards.  Then on second and nine from the 30, Tebow found wide receiver Eddie Royal in the end zone for a touchdown to put the Broncos up 7-6.  Steeler defensive end Brett Keisel was injured on this play and did not return.

After a three and out by the Steelers, Tebow put up another bomb for Thomas for a gain of 58 that put the ball at the Steeler 12.  Two plays later, Tebow ran up the middle for an eight-yard touchdown to make it 14-6.  On the next possession for the Steelers, Bronco safety Quinton Carter picked off a pass and the Broncos found themselves with great field position at the Steeler 18.  This time, the Broncos would have to settle for a 20-yard field goal by kicker Matt Prater.  That made it 17-6 with seven minutes to go in the first half.

After another Steeler punt, the Broncos took over at their 31.  On second and six from the 35, Tebow went deep again and found tight end Daniel Fells for a gain of 40.  Three straight runs by running back Willis McGahee moved the ball to the Steeler 13.  They would get as far as the ten and settle for another field goal to make it 20-6.

With 1:05 to go in the half, the Steelers started at their 20 and Roethlisberger went right to work hitting wide receiver Antonio Brown for 25 and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for 17 more.  A six-yard pass to Brown and an incomplete pass intended for Sanders set up a third and four at the Bronco 32.  Even though Roethlisberger was in the shotgun formation, the snap from center Doug Legursky went way over his head.  The ball was recovered by tight end Heath Miller at the Steeler 45, but it took the Steelers out of field goal range and they had to punt.  Tebow took a knee to end the half with the Broncos up 20-6.

The Steelers started their first drive of the second half at their 13-yard line.  On third and ten from the 23, Roethlisberger found Sanders for a gain of 18.  Brown ran a reverse up the left side for 18 more to move the ball into Bronco territory.  On third and two from the 33, running back Isaac Redman ran up the middle for an apparent 33-yard touchdown.  Replay showed he was down at the one-yard line.  On first and goal from the one, wide receiver Mike Wallace ran up the right side for a touchdown to make it 20-14.

The Broncos added another field goal to increase their lead to 23-14 with 13 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.  Time was running short and the Steelers knew they had to get going.  A 28-yard run up the middle by Redman moved them into Bronco territory.  But the drive would stall at the 19.  Steeler kicker Shaun Suisham would make another field goal to close the lead to 23-16 with ten minutes to go in the game.

With the lead and the ball, the Broncos started at their 20.  A ten-yard run by Tebow and another catch by Thomas moved the ball to the Bronco 48.  On first down from the 48, McGahee ran up the right side, got hit by safety Ryan Mundy and fumbled the ball away.  Linebacker Lamar Woodley pounced on it and the Steelers took over at their 45 with 7:35 to go in the game.

Some scrambling by Roethlisberger and a 15-yard completion to Sanders moved the ball to the Bronco 31.  On second and ten from the 31, Roethlisberger spotted wide receiver Jerricho  Cotchery cutting across the middle of the end zone and fired a strike that was caught for a 31-yard touchdown.  That tied the game at 23 with just under four minutes to go in the game.

That was plenty of time for Tebow to lead the Broncos down for the winning score.  That didn’t happen and the Steelers had one more shot to get a win in regulation.  They got as far as the Bronco 45, but the Bronco defense stiffened and sacked Roethlisberger twice to force the game into overtime.

The overtime playoff rules are now known as “modified sudden death.”  The system guarantees each team a possession or the opportunity to possess, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession.

The Broncos won the toss and after the usual touch-back, started out at their 20.  Tebow took the snap in the shotgun formation, felt no pressure from the Steeler pass rush, looked to his left and hit Thomas in stride.  Cornerback Ike Taylor tried to slow him down, but couldn’t get the job done.  Thomas outran the Steeler secondary up the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown that gave the Broncos a 29-23 overtime win.

For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger completed 22 of 40 for 289 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  Emmanuel Sanders led the team with six catches for 81 yards.  Isaac Redman finished the game with 121 yards on 17 carries.  Ike Taylor led the team with six solo tackles, but this would be a game I think he would love to forget.  He had a rough day.  Actually, the entire Steeler defense had a rough day.  They allowed 447 total yards and registered no sacks or  interceptions.

For the Broncos, Tim Tebow completed 10 of 21 for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.  He also ran for 50 yards and a touchdown.  Demaryius Thomas led all receivers with four catches for 204 yards and a touchdown.  Willis McGahee had 61 yards on 19 carries and a very costly fumble.  Safety David Bruton led the Broncos with eight solo tackles and one pass defensed.  The Bronco defense allowed 400 total yards, sacked Roethlisberger five times and had one interception.

The Broncos will be heading across the country to face the New England Patriots on Saturday night at 8 P.M. Eastern time.  When they met in Denver in week 15, the Patriots won 41-23.  Quarterback Tom Brady threw for 320 yards, two touchdowns and the Patriots had 451 total yards.  Can the Broncos get a playoff win on the road?  We’ll find out Saturday night.

 

 

Trades Involving Big Name QB’s That Never Happened

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1987 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trades

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

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

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

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trade

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

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

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

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

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Phil Simms Trades

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

 

1993 NFL Draft – Rumored Joe Montana Trades

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1995 NFL Draft – Rumored Mark Brunell Trades

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

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

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

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

 

2010 NFL Draft – Rumored Ben Roethlisberger Trades

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

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

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

 

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

 

Andrew McKillop runs the sports research blog SportsDelve.com.