February 21, 2018

Different Week, Same Result

The tenth game of the year for the Oakland Raiders was a trip down south to San Diego to take on the Chargers.  The Raiders were coming off a horrid 41-17 loss to the Denver Broncos and the Chargers were coming off their bye week.  The Raiders got the ball first and started at their own 22.  They wouldn’t have the ball very long because quarterback Derek Carr and center Stefen Wisniewski weren’t on the same page.  The ball came loose on the first snap of the game and was recovered by linebacker Donald Butler at the 22.  Two plays later, quarterback Philip Rivers found wide receiver Malcolm Floyd in the end zone for a touchdown.  Kicker Nick Novak made the point after and the Chargers led 7-0 with 14:07 to go in the first quarter.

After each team punted on their next possession, the Raiders took over at their 30-yard line.  The drive started out like it always does.  Running back Darren McFadden ran up the middle for two yards.  On third and eight, Carr completed a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Andre Holmes for a first down at the 41.  That was followed by a nice catch and run by tight end Mychal Rivera for a gain of 33 yards and a first down at the San Diego 26.  See what happens when you stretch the field?  You actually gain some yardage and get in position to score.  You might even score a touchdown!  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Well, that didn’t happen.  The next three plays consisted of a short completion to Rivera, a run up the middle by fullback Marcel Reece for no gain and a shovel pass to McFadden.  The shovel pass play was set up nicely with lots of blockers in front of McFadden.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t paying attention and he dropped the ball.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski came into the game and his 42-yard field goal attempt was good.  The Chargers led 7-3 with 7:27 to go in the first quarter.

Then the punting began.  Punters Marquette King and Mike Scifres both had good workouts in this game.  Each of them punted nine times for a grand total of 826 yards.  That’s pretty impressive, but if you like a game with a lot of offense, this one wasn’t for you.  At the 9:39 mark of the second quarter, the Chargers took over at their 43-yard line.  On second and nine from the 44, Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates for a gain of 12 and a first down at the Oakland 44.  That was followed by a 13-yard completion to wide receiver Eddie Royal and three straight carries by running back Ryan Mathews moved the Chargers into the red zone.  But the drive was halted at the five and Novak was brought into the game for a 23-yard attempt.  The kick was good and the Chargers led 10-3 with 4:12 to go in the first half.

On their next possession, the Raiders moved from their 20 to their 44.  That’s where they had a fourth and one situation.  They had a third and one situation on the play before and naturally offensive coordinator Greg Olson called for McFadden to run up the middle.  He was stuffed for no gain and that’s what caused the Raiders to be in this predicament.  What could they do?  Run McFadden up the middle again?  Maybe catch the aggressive Charger defense off guard and go deep?  While the debate was going on, I’m sitting in my living room yelling “Go for it!  You’re 0 and nine!  You have nothing to lose!”  Of course they didn’t listen to me and they punted again.  The Chargers took over at their 30 with 1:48 to go in the half and completions to Floyd, Gates and wide receiver Keenan Allen moved them down to the Oakland 30-yard line.  With two seconds on the clock, Novak was brought in for a 48-yard attempt.  It was long enough, but sailed wide left.  At halftime, the score remained 10-3.

After another punt by King, the Chargers got the ball back at their 33.  A five-yard carry by Mathews was followed by a neutral zone infraction on the Raiders.  That’s a five-yard penalty and it gave the Chargers a first down.  From the 43, Mathews ran up the right side for 20 yards and was finally dragged down at the Oakland 37.  They didn’t get much further after that and the Raiders dodged a bullet when a holding penalty brought back a deep completion to Floyd.  Novak came on for another field goal attempt and his 52-yard kick was good.  That put the Chargers up 13-3 with 7:19 to go in the third quarter.  For most teams, that wouldn’t be a big deal.  But when your offense is as bad as the Raiders, a ten-point lead is insurmountable.

Then the punt-fest began.  Neither offense could get going and after many close calls throughout the year, Raider rookie linebacker Khalil Mack finally got his first sack.  Hopefully there are many more to come.  Then, a very strange thing happened with around three minutes to go in the third quarter.  There was a loud popping sound coming from the Raider’s sideline.  I couldn’t figure out what it was at first, but then I realized it was the offensive coaches pulling their heads out of their asses.  They finally put running back Latavius Murray in the game!  Murray responded with two carries off left tackle.  His first carry was good for 14 yards and the next one was for 23 yards.  He almost got loose for a long touchdown on the second one, but was dragged down at the San Diego 49-yard line.  Then they took him out of the game and put McFadden in.  Why?  Because idiocy knows no boundaries.  The next three plays gained five yards and they punted yet again.  The ball was downed at the one-yard line.

More punting followed until the 6:15 mark of the fourth quarter.  The Raiders took over at their 45 and went to the no huddle offense.  Completions to Rivera and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins quickly moved them down to the San Diego 15-yard line.  From the 15, Carr completed a seven-yard pass to Murray.  That was followed by a short carry by Murray.  On third down, Carr looked for wide receiver James Jones in the end zone.  The pass was poorly thrown and fell incomplete.  Janikowksi came in and his 25-yard field goal attempt was good.  With four minutes to go in the game, the Chargers led 13-6.

Basically, all the Chargers had to do was get a couple of first downs and the game would be over.  They started at their 20 and Rivers competed a 13-yard pass to Allen.  That was followed by an eight-yard run by Mathews.  On second and two, Mathews was stopped for a loss of one yard.  That made it third and three from the 40.  The Raiders brought some good pressure, but Rivers was able to get off a pass intended for Gates.  Safety Charles Woodson was in perfect position to pick off the ball and it was tipped in the air.  Somehow, Gates came up with the ball and it was good for a gain of 15 yards.  That was the dagger for the Raiders.  They did manage to get the ball back with 1:05 to go in the game and on fourth and nine from the 13, Carr connected with Jones for a gain of 28 and a first down at the 41.  Then, Carr spiked the ball to stop the clock with 11 seconds to go.  From the 41, Carr went deep up the right side and the pass fell incomplete.  It looked like there was still two seconds on the clock when the ball hit the ground.  But the zebras said the game was over and that’s how it ended.  Final score:  Chargers 13 Raiders 6.  The loss dropped the Raiders to 0-10 and the Chargers improved to 6-4.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 16 of 34 for 172 yards.  As the game progressed, he started getting the “deer in headlights” look in his eyes.  He was rushing his throws and didn’t look comfortable.   Mychal Rivera led the team in receptions with three and Kenbrell Thompkins had the most receiving yards with 47.  Latavius Murray gave the running game a spark and he led the team in rushing with 43 yards on four carries.  As a team, the Raiders rushed for 71 yards on 19 carries.  Defensively, safety Charles Woodson led the team in solo tackles with 11.  Overall, the defense played very well.  Although they only had two sacks, they did a good job of pressuring Rivers.  The longest play the Chargers had was 22 yards.  That was the touchdown pass on the third play of the game.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 22 of 34 for 193 and one touchdown.  Keenan Allen led the team in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 63.  On the ground, Ryan Mathews led the way with 70 yards on 16 carries.  As a team, the Chargers rushed for 120 yards on 32 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Kavell Conner led the team in solo tackles with six and a sack.

Up next for the Raiders is a Thursday night game in Oakland against the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chiefs are looking pretty solid this year and are coming off a big 24-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks.  What I hope to see from the Raiders is a lot more of  Murray and a lot less of McFadden and Jones-Drew.  The Chiefs are very good against the pass, but they are ranked 25th against the run.  I’d love to see Murray get a minimum of 20 carries.  But I doubt that will happen.  Know why?  Because it would make sense.  And when it comes to installing offensive game plans, the Raiders make no sense.  Only six games to go.  Take it easy.

The Delusional Raider Guy


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.

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.


The Late Show

Up next for the Oakland Raiders was a visit from the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers were coming off a big 30-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys and the Raiders were coming off a brutal and disgusting 24-14 loss at the hands of the Washington Redskins. Due to the fact that the Oakland A’s had a playoff game on Saturday night and it takes about 16 hours to convert the stadium back into a football stadium, the start time for this game was pushed back to 8:35 pacific time. That meant it wouldn’t start until 11:35 eastern time. I wasn’t happy when I heard about that.  Luckily, a friend of mine told me that they would be airing the game again this morning.  So, without further delay, let’s get to it.

The Raiders won the toss and deferred to the second half. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit his kickoff two yards deep into the end zone and return man/running back Danny Woodhead was brought down at the 20. On third and eight from the 22, quarterback Philip Rivers had all the time in the world to find a receiver. But the player he found was wearing silver and black. The ball was overthrown badly and safety Usama Young picked it off easily at the Oakland 30. He returned it to the San Diego 44 and on on first down, quarterback Terrelle Pryor looked to his right and put one up for wide receiver Rod Streater. Streater caught it and made it into the end zone for a very quick Raider touchdown.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 7-0 with 13 minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Chargers managed a few first downs on their next possession, but on third and six from the Oakland 44, tight end Antonio Gates was stopped short of a first down by linebacker Kevin Burnett.  Punter Matt Scifres punted and the ball was fair caught by return man Phillip Adams at the 12.  A false start moved them back five yards, but runs by Pryor and running back Rashad Jennings got them moving.  Two completions to wide receive Denarius Moore and another run by Jennings put them at second base.  Whoops! I meant to say midfield.  A short pass to fullback Marcel Reece, a defensive holding call and a completion to tight end Mychal Rivera got them a first down at the 13.  Three plays later, Pryor rolled to his right and found Moore in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 14-0 with 1:28 to go in the first quarter.

Starting at their 20 again, Rivers found wide receiver Vincent Brown on second and nine for a gain of 13 and a first down at the 34.  A personal foul call on the Raiders and a couple of runs by running backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead moved the ball to the Oakland ten-yard line.  On first down, Rivers found Woodhead for six yards.  On second down, Woodhead took it up the middle for a gain of three.  Rivers looked for Gates on third down and the pass fell incomplete.  Instead of trying a field goal, the Chargers decided to go for it.  Woodhead ran up the middle and was swallowed by a sea of black jerseys.  He was stopped short of the goal line and the Raiders took over at their one-yard line.

A nice catch by Streater on third and six from the five got the Raiders out of danger, but they could only get to the 27.  Punter Marquette King came on and got off a high punt that was muffed by return man Eddie Royal.  Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa recovered it at the San Diego 22, but a personal foul on the Raiders moved them back to the 37.  On third and two from the 29, Pryor looked for Rivera, but the pass was incomplete.  Janikowski trotted on to the field and made his 47-yard attempt.  That made it 17-0 with 4:13 to go in the second quarter.  The Chargers moved from their 20 to their 46 quickly.  But on third and four, defensive end Lamarr Houston got loose and sacked Rivers for a loss of nine yards.  Scifres punted and the Raiders took over at their 14 with just under two minutes remaining.  A scramble by Pryor, a couple of completions to Moore and Streater had them thinking they could add a field goal before halftime.  But on third and four from the San Diego 46, they couldn’t convert.  King punted, the Chargers ran one play and that ended the half with the Raiders leading 17-0.

Return man Jacoby Ford managed to return the kickoff to the Oakland 29 and things got off to a good start for the offense as Pryor completed a 35-yard pass to Moore.  On second and seven from the San Diego 33, Pryor hooked up with Moore again for what looked like a touchdown.  But it was ruled that Moore ran out of bounds and came back in.  He was actually pushed out of bounds, but he was flagged for illegal touching and that took the wind out of their sails.  Pryor was sacked for a loss of seven and King’s punt was downed at the nine-yard line.

Rivers brought out the no huddle offense and passes to Brown and Gates moved them to the 36.  Rivers was sacked by Burnett for a loss of 11, but he wasn’t done yet.  Long completions to rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen and Brown moved the ball to the Oakland 19.  The drive stalled there and kicker Nick Novak came into the game to try a 37-yard field goal.  The kick was blocked by cornerback Tracy Porter, but the ball bounced right into the hands of tight end Ladarius Green at the 24.  Green ran up the right side for ten yards and got the Chargers a first down at the 14.  On second and seven, Rivers threw to the left corner of the end zone for Allen.  He caught the pass and it was ruled a touchdown.  But, replay showed he didn’t get both feet down and the play was reversed.  A delay of game penalty moved them back five yards and the drive would stop there.  Novak had no problem making his 35-yard field goal attempt and the Raiders now led 17-3 with 4:51 to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders netted exactly two yards on their next possession.  King got off a nice 50-yard punt and the Chargers started at their 30.  On second and five from the 35, Woodhead ran off left tackle and was nailed by linebacker Nick Roach.  The ball came loose and was picked up by safety Charles Woodson who returned for another Raider touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders now led 24-3 with 2:37 to go in the third quarter.

The Chargers started at their 20 and a personal foul on rookie lineman DJ Fluker moved them back to the ten.  He literally body-slammed linebacker Sio Moore and that drew a pink flag.  Passes to Woodhead, Gates and Brown had the Charger offense rolling.  From the 33, Brown got behind the defense and Rivers hit him for a big gain of 51 yards.  Rivers then found running back Ronnie Brown for a gain of 14.  On second and goal from the five, Rivers threw a shovel pass to Woodhead and he cruised into the end zone for the score.  Novak made the point after and the score was now 24-10 with an entire quarter to go.

The Charger defense stepped up the pressure and forced another three and out.  King got off a 64-yard punt that was returned 21 yards by Royal to the San Diego 46.  On second and nine, Rivers found Gates for 13 yards.  A personal foul penalty and a pass interference penalty on rookie cornerback DJ Hayden made it first down at the Oakland 15.  Two plays later, Rivers found Allen across the middle.  He threw cornerback Mike Jenkins out of the way and made it into the end zone.  Novak made the point after and it was now 24-17 with 10:17 to go in the game.  Things were getting interesting.  The Raider offense was going nowhere and their defense was giving up huge chunks of yards.  They were also getting penalized for stupid mistakes.

What they needed here was a long drive to take some time off the clock.  Starting at their 20, Pryor found fullback Jamize Olawale for a gain of 11.  Jennings left the game earlier with a hamstring injury and without Darren McFadden, the Raiders turned to Reece to get some tough yards.  He did just that with a nice 14-yard run up the middle.  Reece took it up the middle again, but was stopped for a short gain.  An offensive pass interference penalty moved them back ten yards and things were looking bad again for the Raider offense.  On third and 14 from the Oakland 41, Pryor felt the pressure, scrambled to the right and found rookie wide receiver Brice Butler for a gain of 20 and a first down at the Charger 39.  Butler did a great job of coming back for the ball and that was a huge play that kept a crucial drive alive.  Two more carries by Reece and Pryor couldn’t get a first down, so the Polish Cannon was brought into the game.  He had no problem nailing his 50-yard attempt and the Raiders now led 27-17 with 4:24 to go.

I think over the years I have stated how much I loathe the prevent defense.  But that’s exactly what the Raiders resorted to when the Chargers took over at their 20.  Rivers found Gates WIDE OPEN for 20 yards.  Next, he found Allen WIDE OPEN for 16 more.  He found Allen WIDE OPEN again for 24 more freaking yards.  So, after they allowed them to go 60 yards in three plays, they realized they had better tighten up their coverage.  That would be nice.  From the Oakland 20, Rivers found Woodhead for a gain of four yards.  A completion to Brown made it first and goal from the nine.  On third and goal from the five, Rivers fired a pass into the back of the end zone that was picked off by Hayden.  He couldn’t have found a better time to get his first career interception.  Initially, Allen was open, but Rivers was late on the throw and that allowed Hayden to make the play.  The Chargers got the ball back with 1:16 to go and Rivers launched a deep ball that was picked off by Woodson to seal the Raider victory.  Final score: Raiders 27 Chargers 17.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 36 of 49 for 411 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.  Vincent Brown led the team in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 117.  Together, Brown and Allen caught 14 passes for 232 yards and one touchdown.  There wasn’t much of a running game to speak of for the Chargers.  Mathews left the game early with a concussion and they only totaled 32 yards on 19 carries.  Their longest gain on the ground was five yards.  Danny Woodhead had the most yards rushing with 13 on nine carries.  Woodhead also caught nine passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.  Defensively, linebacker Donald Butler led the team in solo tackles with six.

For the Raiders, Terrelle Pryor completed 18 of 23 for 221 yards and two touchdowns.  He also had 31 yards rushing on 11 carries.  Denarius Moore led all receivers in receptions with five and yards with 84 and a touchdown.  Rashad Jennings was having a pretty good night until he had to leave with an injury.  He led the team in rushing with 41 yards on ten carries.  As a team, the Raiders rushed for 104 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Kevin Burnett had a great night with 12 solo tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss.

The win improved the Raiders to two and three and the loss dropped the Chargers to two and three.  It’s also a very good thing the Raiders got off to such a strong start because the offense was almost nonexistent in the second half and the defense was playing very soft as well.   But what’s important here is getting a divisional win.  It doesn’t matter how you get a win.  Just as long as you get one.

There was some talk this week that former Buccaneer Josh Freeman could end up in silver and black.  But, he opted to play for the Vikings.  I’m glad he didn’t join the Raiders.  Pryor is playing very well and he doesn’t need Freeman breathing down his neck.  I have also just been informed that quarterback Matt Flynn has been released.  That’s not surprising.  He didn’t play well in preseason and he played horribly against the Redskins in week four.  Matt McGloin is the number two quarterback and David Carr and Pat White are being brought in for tryouts for the number three quarterback.  I must admit neither one of those names fills me with confidence, but they have to better than Flynn.

Up next for the Raiders is a trip to Kansas City.  The Chiefs are playing very well and sit atop the AFC West with the Broncos at 5-0.  That will definitely be a big challenge for this young team.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy


Chargers 24, Raiders 21

The final game on the schedule for the Oakland Raiders was a trip to San Diego, California to take on the San Diego Chargers.  The Raiders were coming off a 17-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers and the Chargers were coming off a 27-17 win over the New York Jets.  An hour before the game began, a huge thunderstorm complete with hard rain and hail came by and soaked the field.  The Raiders won the toss and deferred to the second half.  That was their first mistake.  Return man Michael Spurlock fielded the ball at the one-yard line and ran 99 yards untouched for a touchdown.  Kicker Nick Novak made the point after and just like that, the Chargers led 7-0 with 14:48 to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders took over at their 14 and onto the field trotted quarterback Terrelle Pryor.  Pryor was taken in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft and was the last player ever drafted by Al Davis.  Running back Darren McFadden started the game with two carries and netted nine yards.  That set up a third and one from the 23.  Instead of giving the ball to McFadden again, Pryor lined up in the shotgun with McFadden to his left.  He took the snap, faked it to McFadden and ran up the right side.  The Charger defense was waiting for him and he was thrown for a loss of one yard.  I’ll never understand the philosophy of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.  Why do they have to do all this fancy crap on third and short?  Just pound the ball up the middle.  You only need ONE FREAKING YARD!  Shane Lechler punted the ball away and Spurlock returned it ten yards to the Charger 30.

Neither team did anything with the ball until the Chargers took over at their 29 with nine and a half minutes remaining.  On second and nine from the 30, quarterback Philip Rivers connected with wide receiver Eddie Royal for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 41.  Rivers hooked up with Royal again for a gain of 31 yards.  Add a roughing the passer penalty on defensive tackle Desmond Bryant and that put the Chargers at the Raider 12.  A four-yard loss by running back Jackie Battle and a false start penalty moved them back to the 21.  A six-yard run by running back Ronnie Brown made it third and 13 from the 15.  On third down, Rivers dumped off a screen to Brown and he was promptly taken down by four Raiders.  That led to a field goal attempt by Novak and his 30-yard kick was good.  That made it 10-0 with four minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders started at their 20 and Pryor put up a deep ball on first down for wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.  The pass fell incomplete, but cornerback Quentin Jammer was flagged for defensive holding.  Two carries by McFadden and a ten-yard pass to wide receiver Rod Streater got the Raiders a first down at their 33.  That was quickly followed by a 17-yard pass to tight end Brandon Myers and that moved the ball to the Charger 40.  A nine-yard run by running back Mike Goodson and a four-yard pass to Heyward-Bey gave them another first down at the 27.  On third and two from the 19, Pryor scrambled up the left side for a gain of six and yet another first down at the 13.  After McFadden got thrown for another loss, Pryor lofted one to the end zone intended for Streater.  It was incomplete, but the Chargers were flagged for pass interference.  That would have made it first and goal.  However, after that play, linebacker Takeo Spikes and Mike Goodson decided to exchange pleasantries and a huge brawl ensued.  Despite the fact that there were no punches thrown, both Spikes and Goodson were ejected.  Goodson quietly left the field.  Spikes was so enraged at being ejected that I thought they were going to have to take him off in a straitjacket.  After order was restored and offsetting penalties were enforced, Pryor scrambled up the right side for eight yards to set up a third and six from the nine.  On third down, Pryor had time, looked to his right and found Heyward-Bey in the end zone for his first career touchdown pass.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowksi made the point after and the Chargers now led 10-7 with 12 minutes to go in the second quarter.

The Chargers started their next drive at their 19.  On third and eight, Rivers found Spurlock across the middle, but he was dragged down short of the first down by cornerback Chimdi Chekwa.  The Chargers lined up to punt, but the snap didn’t go to punter Mike Scifres.  Instead, safety Eric Weddle took the snap and ran up the middle for a first down.  That seemed to demoralize the Raiders.  Back to back offside penalties gave the Chargers ten free yards and another first down at the Raider 43.  A seven-yard run by running back Curtis Brinkley was followed by a four-yard pass to tight end Antonio Gates for a first down at the 32.  Two more carries by Battle kept the drive alive and on first down from the 11, Rivers faced no pressure and found Gates again.  This time it was in the end zone for a Charger touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Chargers increased their lead to 17-7 with just under three minutes to go in the second quarter.

Both teams punted on their next possessions and with under a minute remaining in the half, the Raiders had one last shot to put some points on the board.  A personal foul penalty on the Chargers after the punt return set the Raiders up at their 48 with 47 seconds to go.  On third and one from the Charger 43, Pryor took the snap out of the shotgun and ran up the left side.  Before he could make it out of bounds, he slipped on the wet grass and was ruled down at the 37.  With no timeouts remaining, there was no time to get the field goal unit on the field.  The clock ran out and the Chargers took a 17-7 lead into the locker room.

The Raiders started at their 20 again and on third and 14, Pryor completed a pass to Streater.  The ball came out and was recovered by Weddle.  As fate would have it, there was a roughing the passer penalty called on defensive end Corey Liuget.  That meant the Raiders kept the ball and got a first down at the 31.  On third down from the 31, Myers caught another one for a gain of 22 and that moved the Raiders into Charger territory.  Three runs by McFadden and a scramble by Pryor got them down to the 28.  On second down from the 28, Pryor looked for Heyward-Bey.  Unfortunately for Pryor, his pass was under-thrown and picked off by Jammer in the end zone.

The Chargers would end up punting on their next possession and the Raiders followed suit.  But Lechler’s punt only went 33 yards and that gave the Chargers good field position at the Raider 47.  It didn’t take them long to capitalize on that field position as Rivers hooked up with wide receiver Danario Alexander for a 34-yard touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Chargers had a comfortable 24-7 lead with five minutes to go in the third quarter.

With 13 minutes to go in the game, the Raiders found themselves at their 14-yard line with a 17-point deficit and storm clouds approaching.  I sensed the worst.  Even though it was a meaningless game, I thought the Chargers would run up the score and humiliate the Raiders.  But, a couple of good runs by McFadden and two deep passes to Streater got them out of their territory and down to the Charger 44.  Another scramble by Pryor and a deep pass up the right side to Streater went for 38 yards and a first and goal at the three.  Pryor finished the drive with a three-yard run and a Raider touchdown.  Janikowksi added the point after and the score was now 24-14 with 7:45 to go in the game.

The Chargers punted again and gave the Raiders another shot to put up some more points.  But that wasn’t the case and they punted the ball right back to the Chargers.  With 3:15 to go, all the Chargers did was run the ball and force the Raiders to use all their timeouts.  On fourth and six from the Charger 38, Scifres came on to punt.  The Raiders brought the pressure and the punt was blocked by cornerback Coye Francies.  It was recovered at the Charger 11 by linebacker Kaelin Burnett.  The Raiders were in business.  Pryor hit Myers for a gain of nine and McFadden ran up the middle for a gain of one and a first down at the one.  A false start moved them back five yards, but on the next play, Pryor rolled to his right and threw the ball across his body to the end zone.  The ball was picked out of the air by Moore for a Raider touchdown.  Janikowski added the point after and it was now 24-21 with just under two minutes to go in the game.  Janikowksi attempted an onside kick, but the Chargers recovered it and ran out the clock.  Final score: Chargers 24 Raiders 21.

For the Raiders, Terrelle Pryor completed 13 of 28 for 150 yards, two touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and one interception.  He also had 49 yards rushing on nine carries.  Rod Streater and Brandon Myers each had four receptions and Streater led the team with 77 yards receiving.  Darren McFadden had 57 yards on 19 carries and as a team, the Raiders rushed for 115 yards on 29 carries.  Defensive end Lamarr Houston was all over the field and led the team with nine solo tackles, one and a half sacks and two tackles for a loss.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers had a very efficient day as he completed 13 of 17 for 151 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.  Eddie Royal led the team in receptions with four and receiving yards with 61.  As a team, the Chargers only netted 70 yards rushing on 31 carries.  Jackie Battle led the way with 37 yards on 19 carries.  Defensively, Eric Weddle led the team in solo tackles with seven and one tackle for a loss.

For the most part, I liked what I saw of Pryor.  He had good command of the offense and it doesn’t look like the game is too big for him.  Granted, there were passes that were over-thrown and under-thrown.  That was to be expected.  What I didn’t expect to see was so many drops.  Reece and Moore had passes bounce right of their chests on more than one occasion.  Another thing Pryor needs to do is protect the ball when he runs.  Carry it high and tight, Mr. Pryor.  Fumbles are a very bad thing.  Another good stat to mention is the Raiders made it to the red zone three times and came away with three touchdowns. Very impressive indeed!  I honestly can’t recall the last time that happened.

Still, the Raiders finished the 2012 season with a 4-12 record and will be picking third in the 2013 draft.  There are many areas that need to be addressed and I’d definitely address the defensive side of the ball with that pick.  There are also several free agents that need to be brought back.  The question is who can they afford to bring back and who do they let go?  I know for a fact Richard Seymour and Rolando McClain won’t be back.  The defense actually played much better with McClain absent.  Then again, how many defenses play well when their middle linebacker seems disinterested and shows no heart or hustle?  Don’t let the door hit you in the ass, Rolando.  There are also several coaches that may not be back.  I’ll address these issues in another article after the Super Bowl.

Now, it’s time for the Raider Guy Awards.  The first one is the MVP award.  This award goes to quarterback Carson Palmer.  Before getting hurt early in the game against Carolina, Palmer was having a good year with a 61% completion percentage, 4,018 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.  Will he return next year?  That remains to be seen.

Up next is rookie of the year.  There are a couple of players who are deserving of this award.  Linebacker Miles Burris had a good year and shows promise for the future.  But, I will go with the undrafted rookie free agent out Temple.  That would be wide receiver Rod Streater.  He’s a solid deep threat and finished the year with 39 catches, 584 yards and three touchdowns.  Like every other receiver on this team, he had his share of drops, but I think he’ll just get better as the years go by.

Next is the special teams player award.  No brainer.  This award goes to kicker Sebastian Janikowksi.  He made 31 of 34 field goal attempts in 2012 and continues to be a very reliable asset.  His 13th year in silver and black was his best one yet.

Now for the most improved player.  This one goes to tight end Brandon Myers.  He’s slow, a poor blocker, but we found something he can do right.  He can catch the ball.  In his first three years, he had a total of 32 catches.  This year, he led the team with 79 catches for 806 yards and four touchdowns.  If he can work on his blocking skills, he might become a complete tight end.

Last year, the defense was so bad that I didn’t even name a defensive player of the year.  In my mind, there was no one deserving of it.  This year, there are a couple of players deserving of this award.  Defensive end Lamarr Houston had some real good games this year.  He showed lots of hustle and played well.  However, the award goes to linebacker Philip Wheeler.  A free agent signing from the Colts, Wheeler plays with reckless abandon and flies all over the field.  He finished the year with 109 total tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and six passes defensed.  He’s a free agent next year and they definitely need to bring him back.

Now, it’s time for the play of the year.  Off the top of my head, I can only come up with a few plays.  But the one play that sticks out happened in a losing effort on a Thursday night in Oakland.  Trailing 26-7 late in the game against Denver, Palmer threw a high pass to the left side for Darrius Heyward-Bey.  He made a nice leap for the ball, came down with it, turned on the afterburners and he was gone for a 56-yard touchdown.  He showed great concentration while catching the pass and did a good job following his blockers to the end zone.

Another award I’d like to give is for “Mr. Dependable.”  Without question, this award goes to fullback Marcel Reece.  He can do it all.  He can block, he can catch, he can be a featured back if needed.  Maybe one day we’ll see him play quarterback.  Players like Reece are few and far between.  When both McFadden and Goodson went down with injuries, he did a great job of filling in for them.  He finished the year with 271 yards rushing (4.6 yards per carry) and he caught 52 passes for 496 yards.  He’s definitely a keeper.

Well, there’s a lot more I can say about the Raiders, but I am going to stop right here.  I’ll be back next week to do post game articles for the upcoming playoff games.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy



Chargers 22, Raiders 14

The Oakland Raiders started out their season with a home game against the San Diego Chargers on Monday night.  The Raiders won the toss and elected to receive.  Things got off to a shaky start from the get go as return man Taiwan Jones bobbled the kick and was brought down at the Raider 14.  Quarterback Carson Palmer took to the air and immediately found running back Darren McFadden for a gain of nine.  McFadden ran up the middle on the next play for a short gain and that gave the Raiders a first down at the 26.  An incomplete pass and a run for no gain made it third and ten.  On third down, Palmer found wide receiver Derek Hagan on the left side for a gain of 13 and another first down.  Next was a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Darrius Heyward Bey on the right side for a gain of nine.  McFadden ran up the left side for eight yards and that moved the ball to the Charger 44.  On third and nine at the 43, the Chargers jumped offside and that moved the ball to the 38.  From the 38, Palmer found rookie wide receiver Rod Streater for a gain of eight.  But, while Streater was struggling to get a few extra yards, linebacker Melvin Ingram knocked the ball loose and it popped up into the awaiting hands of linebacker Antwan Barnes.  That killed the drive and gave the Chargers a first down at their 29.

The Chargers netted a total of minus one yard on three plays and punted the ball away.  Return man Philip Adams fielded it at the Raider 19 and returned it to the 34.  A nice run and another reception by McFadden moved the ball to second base…I mean the 50-yard line.  Palmer found Heyward Bey for 13 more, but the drive stalled at the 33.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski calmly walked on to the field and blasted a 51-yard field goal through the uprights.  With just under five minutes to go in the first quarter, the Raiders led 3-0.

The Chargers took over at their 21 and Eddie Royal took a reverse up the right side for a gain of 11. A short run by running back Curtis Brinkley and an incomplete pass made it third and eight.  The Raiders brought the blitz in hopes of getting a sack, but quarterback Philip Rivers launched a bomb that was caught by wide receiver Robert Meachem for a gain of 46 yards.  He was brought down at the Raider 20.  Meachem made a nice double move that enabled him to get by cornerback Ronald Bartell.  From the 20, Rivers found Brinkley for 12 more to set up a first and goal at the eight.  They got as far as the five, but had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from kicker Nate Kaeding.  That made it 3-3 with a minute to go in the first quarter.

A personal foul penalty on the kickoff put the Raiders back at their own ten.  Three carries by McFadden moved the ball ten yards for a first down.  A 13-yard pass to Streater netted another first down.  However, on the next play, the Raiders tried some trickery.  It was supposed to be a reverse to Taiwan Jones.  But he couldn’t handle the toss from fullback Marcel Reece and the ball bounced all the way back to the eight-yard line.  That made it second and 35.  Running back Mike Goodson ran up the left side for 11 and McFadden caught a short pass.  Lechler came on and punted the ball away.  The punt was fielded by Royal at the 16 and some quick moves got him down to the Raider 38.  But an illegal block in the back brought the Chargers back to their ten.  Long snapper Jon Condo of the Raiders was injured on the play and would not return.

A short run by Brinkley and a pass to Royal gave the Chargers a first down at the 24.  An encroachment penalty on defensive tackle Tommy Kelly moved the ball up five more yards.  A six-yard pass to running back Ronnie Brown and a short run by Brown made it third and three at the 36.  Rivers went looking for tight end Antonio Gates, but the pass fell incomplete.  However, our good friend Tommy Kelly decided to jump offside yet again and that gave the Chargers another first down and kept their drive alive.  On second and 13 from the 38, Rivers hooked up with wide receiver Malcolm Floyd for a gain of 23 to move the ball into Raider territory.  He then found Gates for ten more yards.  On third and five from the 24, Rivers found Gates open again for 17 more to give them a first and goal at the seven.  On third down from the six, Rivers stepped up in the pocket and found Floyd wide open for a touchdown.  Kaeding made the point after and the Chargers led 10-3 with three minutes to go in the first half.  After that score, Rivers should have thanked Kelly for keeping that drive alive with two stupid penalties.

The Raiders took over at their own 20.  A seven-yard run by McFadden and a 15-yard pass to Reece moved the ball to the 42.  On third and six from the 46, Palmer found McFadden again for a gain of 12.  From there, Hagan caught another one for ten more yards.  On second and six from the Charger 28, McFadden caught another pass for 17 yards and a first down at the Charger 11.  Time was running short and it was time for Palmer to get his team into the end zone.  On third and 15, Palmer connected with McFadden again on a screen pass and he was dragged down at the two-yard line.  That made it fourth and one with seven seconds remaining and the Raiders were out of timeouts.  Instead of taking a shot at the end zone, new head coach Dennis Allen elected to try a field goal.  It was good and at the end of the first half, the Chargers led 10-6.

The Chargers got the ball at their 29 to start the second half.  On third and six from the 33, Gates caught a pass across the middle, but was stopped short by linebackers Rolando McClain and Philip Wheeler.  Punter Matt Scifres punted the ball away and pinned the Raiders at their seven-yard line.  Two short runs by McFadden and a pass interference call on cornerback Quentin Jammer gave the Raiders a first down at the 32.  Tight end David Ausberry caught a nice pass for a gain of 12 to move the ball to the 49.  Two short runs by McFadden and a five-yard penalty on the Chargers made it third and two. Palmer found tight end Brandon Myers on the left side, but he was quickly stuffed for no gain.  That meant the Raiders had to punt.  With Condo out, the long-snapping duties now belonged to linebacker Travis Goethel.  I don’t think Mr. Goethel has practiced snapping the ball in a while.  He sent a ground ball back to Lechler and he was quickly smothered by the Charger special teams.  I know half the damn field is covered with a baseball infield, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to start fielding grounders.  That gave the Chargers good field position at the Raider 39.  Screen passes to Brinkley and Brown moved the ball to the 16.  The Raider defense stiffened and the drive stalled at the ten.  Kaeding came on again and made his 28-yard field goal attempt.  That increased the lead to 13-6 with six minutes to go in the third quarter.

There wasn’t much to the next drive for the Raiders as they went three and out and were forced to punt.  This time, the snap was a good one, but the Chargers brought the pressure and tight end David Rosario blocked the punt.  The ball rolled up the right side and was recovered by defensive back Corey Lynch at the eight-yard line.  The Chargers really had a chance to blow the game open with such good field position.  A carry by Brinkley and a catch by Brinkley put the ball at the one-yard line.  Rather than go for it on fourth down, Charger head coach Norv Turner elected for another field goal.  It was good and the Chargers went up 16-6 at the end of the third quarter.

Another three and out by the Raiders led to another punt.  This time the snap was good and Lechler got one off.  Royal fielded it at the 31 and returned it to the Charger 45.  Passes to Meachem, Floyd and fullback LeRon McClain put the Chargers at the Raider 26.  They got as far as the 23 when Kaeding was called on once again for another field goal.  His 41-yard attempt was good and the Chargers now led 19-6 with time ticking away in the fourth quarter.

It was time for the Raiders to start stretching the field.  All this little dink and dunk stuff was getting them nowhere.  On first down from the 20, Palmer let loose a bomb for Streater up the left side.  Streater bobbled it, had control of it and then bobbled it again for an incomplete pass.  A 21-yard pass to Heyward Bey and a 26-yard pass to Myers gave the Raiders a first down at the Charger 40.  But three straight incomplete passes meant another punt.  Once again, Goethel had another bad snap and the ball was recovered by Ausberry at the Raider 42.

The Chargers once again had the ball in good field position and on third and nine from the 41, Rivers found Floyd wide open at the 16.  An illegal blocking penalty and a five-yard loss on a carry by Brinkley moved the Chargers back to the 29.  The drive stopped at the 27 and Kaeding had no problem nailing a 45-yard field goal.  That made it 22-6 with five minutes to go in the game.

Starting from the 20, Palmer was sacked by linebacker Shaun Phillips for a loss of nine.  A short pass to Reece and a 20-yard pass to Myers netted a first down at the 36.  On fourth and four from the 42, safety Antoine Cason was called for pass interference and that gave the Raiders a first down at the 50.  Palmer then found Hagan for 17 more yards and Myers for eight more.  On fourth and three from the 26, Palmer looked for Hagan again, but the pass was incomplete.  However, Ingram was flagged for roughing the passer.  The Raiders received yet another chance to keep their drive alive.  Palmer found Myers again and he was brought down at the two.  From there, Palmer connected with Streater for a Raider touchdown to make it 22-12.  They went for two and Palmer connected with Streater again to make the score 22-14 with 54 seconds remaining.  The onside kick was recovered by the Chargers and all they had to do was run out the clock.  However, instead of taking a knee for a couple of plays, the Chargers called running plays and were forced to punt.  The Raiders rushed all 11 men in hopes of blocking the kick, but it wasn’t meant to be.  The game was over and the Chargers came away with a 22-14 win.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 24 of 33 for 231 yards and one touchdown.  Malcolm Floyd led all receivers with four catches for 66 yards and one touchdown.  The Chargers gained a grand total of 32 yards rushing.  Curtis Brinkley had 12 yards on ten carries and Eddie Royal also netted 12 yards on two carries.   Defensively, linebacker Donald Butler and safety Atari Bigby each had seven solo tackles and two tackles for a loss.  Butler sacked Palmer once and linebacker Shaun Phillips had two sacks.

For the Raiders, Carson Palmer completed 32 of of 46 for 297 yards and one touchdown.  Darren McFadden led all receivers with 13 catches for 86 yards.  The Raiders ended up rushing for only 45 yards on 20 carries and  McFadden was held to 32 yards on 15 carries.  Rookie linebacker Miles Burris led the team with seven solo tackles and two tackles for a loss.  He had a very impressive debut and was all over the field.  Although there were some breakdowns in coverage, I was impressed by the defense.  Granted, they only had one sack, but they all seemed to know where they supposed to be and it was nowhere near as bad as last year.

When you’re watching your favorite team on draft day, you hope they can improve the team.  You hope they get a top notch quarterback or a stud running back.  You never hear anyone say “I hope we can get a good long snapper!”  Well, this game definitely proved that a long snapper is a vital asset to a football team.  If Condo hadn’t left the game, the debacle that happened when the Raiders were in punt formation never would have occurred.  All three of the mishaps gave the Chargers the ball in Raider territory.  I applaud the defense for giving up only nine points in those situations.

The Raiders were not playing at full strength in this game and it showed.  They had no real deep threats as wide receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford were out with injuries. It was reported that Ford wasn’t even at the game and reports are now confirming he had to have surgery on his foot.  Looks like he’ll be out for a while.  Center Stefen Wisniewski was dressed but did not play either.  Not sure if he tweaked his calf injury during warmups, but he was sorely missed.  I’m hoping that at least Moore and Wisniewski will return soon.  Condo needs to be back next week as well.

Speaking of next week, the Raiders will travel down to South Florida to play the Miami Dolphins.  As a former resident of that area, I can already tell you that the Dolphins will hope to wear the Raiders down by forcing them to wear their black jerseys.  I would imagine the Dolphins will be wearing their white jerseys with white pants.  That’s because it will most likely be sunny with temperatures in the high 80s with high humidity.  The weather is a definite home field advantage for them.  Not to mention the Raiders are coming off a short week and are playing at 1 pm eastern time.  The Dolphins didn’t fare too well last week at Houston and will be looking to improve.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy









My Memories of Al Davis

As a young Charger fan growing up in the heyday of Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts and “Air Coryell”, I learned to hate the Raiders and Al Davis.  To everyone that bled blue and gold, Davis, clad in silver and black, embodied all that was evil in professional football. His teams were built of tough guys, rejects some called them, who played hard, sometimes dirty, and seemingly always won.
Later in my life, once I was able to look at professional football from a less passionate and more all-encompassing viewpoint, I came to appreciate Al Davis more for his many contributions to the game that I loved.  His intensity and willingness to do what it took to win was admirable.  His influence as commissioner of the American Football League was brief, but intense.  It was during his tenure that the merger with the NFL was accomplished.
I had dreamed of speaking with Al Davis for my book, Charging Through the AFL.  Davis had been a Chargers assistant from 1960-1962, and was responsible for signing many of the early Chargers greats, including Lance Alworth.  But now Davis was an icon, and someone who interacted with the most powerful media outlets in the world, strictly on his own terms.  What were the chances that a young, unpublished, unknown hoping-to-be-author would ever get time with Davis?  Slim-to-none, were my bet.
The one thing that I had going for me was a good relationship with Lance Alworth.  I had first met Lance when I was writing my master’s thesis on Sid Gillman, and we were reacquainted when I was doing the research for Charging.  One day Lance and I were talking about the progress that I was making with my research.  I told him of the roughly 50 former Chargers that I had interviewed, and how much I enjoyed speaking with them.  I also mentioned how much I wished that I could speak with Davis.  “Have you tried calling his office,” Lance asked.  “Sure,” I replied, “several times.  But I’ve never gotten a return call.”  Lance then told me that he would see what he could do.  It had been a while since he had spoken with Al, and he would give him a call to catch up.  He would also ask Al if he could spare me a bit of his time.
Later that week I was sitting at home when I received a phone call from the Oakland Raiders front office.  The woman on the phone introduced herself as Al Davis’s secretary, and said that she was inquiring about the interview that I would like to have with Mr. Davis.  I told her about the book that I was writing, and how I wanted to speak with Mr. Davis about his time with the Chargers.  She could not guarantee that Mr. Davis would speak with me, she said, but would pass along the information.  I thanked her, and hoped for the best.
A few days passed, and my attention shifted from the 1960s Chargers to the impending birth of my son, Will.  My wife had been scheduled for a 9:00 AM cesarean delivery, and so off we went, bright and early one morning, to bring our little boy into the world.  The procedure went flawlessly, and by 11:00, we had a brand new member of our family.  Later that afternoon, sitting in the recovery room with Kym, our baby, and a gaggle of friends and family, my cell phone began to ring.  The readout showed a long-distance number that I did not immediately recognize.  Thinking it was an out-of-town family member calling to congratulate us on the birth, I answered the phone and stepped out of the room.  My heart skipped a beat when Al Davis’s secretary responded, and said that Mr. Davis had some time right then to do our interview.
“Oh, Hell,” I thought, “I am about to tell Al Davis that I am busy and can’t come to the phone.”
“I am so sorry,” I began, “but my wife just gave birth.  I am standing outside the recovery room, and there is just no way that I can do this right now.  Is it at all possible to reschedule?”  She got a good laugh out of that one, but lucky for me, she was laughing at the situation, and not at my hopes for postponing the interview.  She said that we could do the interview in a couple of days.  Mr. Davis would understand.  I thanked her profusely, and went back to my family.
Two days later, she called me back to reschedule.  She said that Mr. Davis would have time that afternoon.  Not wanting to tempt fate more than I had to, I graciously accepted.  I told her that we were leaving the hospital that morning, and we should be back home by early afternoon.
Check-out went smoothly.  Kym, not one to sit still for long periods of time, was up and on her feet, walking gingerly, but well.  Will was doing just fine, and after signing the appropriate paperwork and ensuring the nurse that we knew how to use the car seat, we took our little bundle home.  We had just walked in the door, and gotten Kym and Will settled on the couch when the phone began to ring.  I walked over and looked at the caller I.D., which read “OAKLAND RAIDERS FOOTBALL CLUB.”  I answered the phone and Mr. Davis’s secretary asked me how Kym and the baby were doing.  I thanked her and assured her that they were well.  “Mr. Davis will be ready to speak with you soon,” she said, and gave me a number to call back in 15 minutes.
I spent the next 15 minutes scrambling from Kym to Will to my notes, making sure that everything was in order before I left my wife and newborn son for a 30 minute telephone conversation with one of the most influential football men in history.
I am happy to say that my interview with Al Davis went flawlessly.  I was amazed by his memory.  His recollection of the players that he had scouted more than 40 years prior was incredible.  His stories were insightful, interesting, and had a cool hint of arrogance.  It was all that I had hoped it would be and more.
I give to you now, my full and uncut interview with Al Davis.  That you all for reading, and thank you Al for everything.
TT – Lance Alworth came to the Chargers in a deal with the Raiders.  Can you describe the process of recruiting and then trading for his rights, drafting and signing Alworth?
AD – Yes.  We had drafted Lance in a prior draft that was ruled not legal.  So that draft was thrown out.  In the second draft that year, the Oakland Raiders had drafted him, number two, I think, in their draft.  Because they were much lower than us in the draft, they had the rights to him.  But we traded Bo Roberson and several players for Lance because I thought Lance would be a brilliant athlete and a brilliant performer.  It was unique that it was in November.  I think it was November; we had a bye week.  The Chargers did.  We were in San Diego.  We had moved from Los Angeles, and I was gonna go down to see Lance on that bye week.  I was going down to Arkansas to see him.  I got a call in the middle of the night, and I thought it was the planes calling to say that the weather had changed and they couldn’t go out.  But it was a call that was probably the worst call I have ever had in my life; that my father had died.  So I went to the funeral back East, and then late in the week I went down to see Lance and met him for the first time.  I started to sell him on the Chargers, a young team, a young city, a young league, grow with it, and then of course the point that I would be coaching him.  I had the ability to sell the great Sid Gillman, and of course the owner of the team, Barron Hilton.
TT – I know that in speaking with Lance that he had been drafted by the 49ers in the NFL.
AD – That’s right.
TT – He told me that he was interested in playing ball on the West Coast.  Now what were some of the specific selling points that you used selling the Chargers to Lance?  It was a new league at the time.  The team could have been perceived as unstable since they had just moved from Los Angeles, whereas the 49ers had been around for quite some time and at least had some stability.
AD – Well, no, we were not an unstable team.  On the contrary, we were very stable.  We had signed some brilliant young players like Charlie Flowers from Mississippi, Earl Faison from Indiana, Keith Lincoln, a lot of great young players.  And the class that we were bringing in when Lance’s class came in…  I like to call it a class…  Had John Hadl and had some great young players in addition.  So we had Ernie Ladd.  I don’t know if you know who Ernie Ladd was.
TT – Absolutely.  I have spoken with Ernie.
AD – Ron Mix, we had Ron Mix, we had Ernie Wright.  We had all the earmarks of a truly great football team.  As I said, it would be a young team, we would be going to a new city with a new league, and the idea was to grow with it.  Of course we had great coaches and we had me.
TT – Alworth had been a running back at Arkansas.  What did you see in him that made you move him to flanker?  Had that been the plan in drafting him or did that become apparent once he began working out for the Chargers?
AD – No, no, no.  I had seen him play as a junior.  I had seen him play as a sophomore.  And obviously had him positioned for a wide receiver early on in his college career.  He had great speed, he had great leaping ability, and while some people questioned his hands, they became great as well.  But also I think one thing that he had was tremendous confidence.  A very interesting story that might interest you.  I think it was in 1962; Lance had just come in from the all-star game.  We were going to play a preseason game at night.  I think it was a Saturday night and they played the all-star game on Friday night.  Sid said we were going to start Alworth.  I said that we would just give him some basic stuff, but I really didn’t want to do it because the guy that had been playing the position had really worked hard the whole training camp.  But Sid started him anyhow because we wanted to attract attendance.  The guy that had worked real hard the whole training camp was a guy named Jerry Richardson.  He now owns the Carolina Panthers.
TT – Once you got to the Raiders, how did you instruct your team to defend against Alworth?
AD – Well, we could double him up from time to time.  We could jam him at the line of scrimmage, which was brand new in those days, which we called a pressure defense.  They now call it the bump-and-run.  We had gotten the idea from John Wooden at UCLA, when they played pressure defense with Hazard and Goodrich.  In other words they got up and destroyed the routes, the timing routes.  And in those days you could jam a player all over the field.  So that was one thing, but I was also committed in 1963, that what I would have to do was get great corners.  Otherwise you couldn’t play the Chargers.  We did get great cornerbacks.  The great Willie Brown, who is in the Hall of Fame.  But Lance was just a great player, a brilliant player.  And he was tough to stop.  Look at his records.  And people were trying to stop him, but he had great records.
TT – And when you take into account the amount of talent the Chargers had with guys like Kocourek and Norton and Lincoln and Lowe…
AD – Well, just wait one minute now, Todd.  There is a difference with some of the names you just put out.  Some of them are fine football players, but Lance was greatness that would become a standard of excellence that a lot of players would be measured by.
TT – Oh, I agree with you completely.  My point was just that they had so many options.
AD – OK.  I’ll let it go at that.  But he made a lot of those options become real.
TT – OK.
AD – Do you understand what I mean?
TT – I believe so.
AD – What?
TT – I believe so.
AD – What?  What do I mean?
TT – I believe that you mean that because Lance was so great, other teams had to focus on defending him and that opened up other possibilities for the Chargers with other players.
AD – OK, you win.  That’s it.
TT – OK.  You have said in the past that Lance Alworth was one of two or three players in your entire career that have had what you call “it.”  Can you better define “it?”   Who are the other players?
AD – No, I’d rather not tell you who the other players are, but to give you an idea, I had Bo Jackson.  I’ve had so many great players that when I made these statements, that must have been 20 years ago.  Is that possible?
TT – Yes, it is.
AD – But Lance seemed like he was a guy that was born with great ability, and all he needed to do was put it to use.  And he had it.  He just had it from the word go.  All you had to do was refine and define it.  With his hard work, with his willingness to work and our willingness to see that it worked, because obviously it would help our careers.
TT – Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions about the Chargers in general?
AD – Well, I don’t…  Well go ahead and let me see where you are headed.
TT – You, Chuck Noll and Sid Gillman are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Jack Faulkner has spent more than 40 years in pro football; Joe Madro spent more than 20 years.  After working on that staff for a period, could you tell that this group was special?
AD – Oh yeah they were special.  There is no question about it.  I was only with them in 1960, 1961 and 1962.  But I had to compete against them the rest of my life.  And they were special, there’s no question about that.  It was probably one of the greatest staffs of all time.  For a small staff of only five people, for three of them to be in the Hall of Fame, and I think between Chuck and myself we have nine super bowls.  That’s a lot of super bowls.  But Sid was really the catalyst.
TT – Tell me about when Sid Gillman first approached you about coaching the Chargers and how you came to the team.
AD – I was coaching at the University of Southern California.  One night I came home.  It was about 11:30 at night.  My wife, Carol, said, “Sid called.”  And Sid and I used to talk all the time.  And he liked you to call him no matter what time you got in.  So I called him about one in the morning.  I told him that I hoped I wasn’t disturbing him.  He said, “No, no, no, I was waiting for the call.”  He says, “I’m going to go over and take over this Charger team in this new league, the American Football League, and I’d like you to come along.”  And I said, “Well, what are you thinking?  What would I coach?”  He said, “I’m not sure exactly who I’m gonna hire yet, but I’ll let you say where you want to coach.”  And I said, “Well I coached the defense, I was the defensive coordinator at Southern Cal, but I really want to go back on offense, the passing game.”  He said, “OK you’ve got it if you’ll come.”  I said, “Gimme a week.”  And I took a week and I said I would come.
TT – Was learning Gillman’s offensive theories a major factor in you deciding to accept the Chargers’ job offer?  How do you think you benefited by working for Gillman?
AD – No, I knew Sid’s offensive theory a long while.  That was not the factor.  The factor was working with him.  We were gonna build a young team in a new league.  I had opportunities in the National Football League and opportunities in college.  But I liked the idea of it.  I liked the idea because I also could recruit a lot of the players.
TT – I have spoken with a number of them that you recruited and signed.
AD – What?
TT – I have spoken with a number of them that you recruited and signed.
AD – Of those great teams in the early years, I’d say we got most of them.  From Paul Lowe to Keith Lincoln to Ron Mix.  Did you ever talk to Sam DeLuca?
TT – I did.  I spoke with Sam DeLuca.
AD – Don Rogers?
TT – I spoke with Don Rogers as well.
AD – All those kids.  Ernie Ladd.
TT – Yes, I spoke with Ernie Ladd, Earl Faison.
AD – Signed’em all.
TT – Ron Nery.
AD – Ron Nery died, didn’t he?
TT – He did.  He died about two years ago.
AD – Was he still married?
TT – Not to his original wife.
AD – No, you didn’t think so.
TT – Apparently he went through an ugly divorce he told me.  I spoke with him about nine months before he passed away.
AD – Terrible.  I signed Paul Lowe in the middle of the night.
TT – Tell me about signing Paul Lowe.  He had been a castoff of the 49ers.
AD – Yeah, but he was a great talent.  In those day there were many castoffs, which was proven by having the new league.  He just had great ability.  And what really got him going was the weight programs that we had.  That really developed his body.  He was a very explosive player.  God, he and Lincoln were explosive players.
TT – You got two years to coach the two of them.  Didn’t Lincoln come in ’61?
AD – Yes.  Lincoln came in ’61.  He was a number two choice.  Earl Faison was number one.  The thing is that I missed Lincoln.  I missed Keith when I came to the University of Southern California.  Keith had already signed at Washington State.  I couldn’t get him.  But he was really good.  I think he was from Monrovia.
TT – I think you are right.  Earl told me a story about his signing with the team, that you guys brought him into a hotel room.  I believe it was the penthouse suite at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel.
AD – That’s what it was.
TT – You threw about, I think he said fifteen hundred-dollar bills on the bed and said, “Earl, this could all be yours if you sign with the team.”  And then Esther Gillman led him out to the balcony and showed him all of downtown L.A. at that point and told him that he could be the king of L.A. if he signed with the Chargers.
AD – Earl, he did well.
TT – He did.  Absolutely.  After finishing 1-13 in 1962, the Raiders went 10-4 under your guidance in 1963, including two wins over the Chargers.  What were the key changes that you made to produce such a turnaround?
AD – Oh, I don’t want to go into Al Davis and the Raiders.
TT – OK.
AD – No.  We’re talking about the Chargers and Lance.  One thing I want to point out to you.  The first time the Cowboys won the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys, Lance was one of the receivers.  You’re aware of that.
TT – I am.
AD – But do you know that Lance caught the first touchdown in the game?
TT – Yes, I do.  Lance said that it was kind of ironic because when he first met with Tom Landry, Landry told him that he had brought Lance to Dallas to block.
AD – To block, yes.
TT – I don’t think Lance was terribly thrilled with that.
AD – Well, Lance was a great blocker.
TT – Yes, and obviously did his job and did it well.  Then they went on to win the super bowl that year.
AD – You got what you need, Todd?
TT – I did, and I appreciate your time very much.  Do you think there are any points that I missed, or anything that you would specifically like to mention about  your time with the team?
AD – No, there’s a lot.  I just am not in a position to do that right at the moment so much.  But I have so many great memories with those players and all, and from time to time I have responded to them when they have needed things.  The door was always open because that’s how we built the league.  The Chargers were the flagship of the American Football League.
TT – I have talked to several of the players and they all think very highly of you.  Walt Sweeney and Lance, in particular, went on and on about how much you have meant to them and what a great friend you have been.
AD – Walt Sweeney is another who truly…  Walt Sweeney, if he didn’t go through the unfortunate problems personally, would be in the Hall of Fame.
TT – I think you’re right.
AD – You know, Lance was the first player to go into the Hall of Fame from the American Football League.
TT – Yes, and I know that he asked you to give his introduction speech.
AD – Yep.
TT – That must have been a neat honor for you.
AD – It certainly was.  It was an honor because he was a guy that was a high school all-American, a college all-American.  He was an all-pro player.  I can remember making the speech at the end.  It was really great.
TT – And then Ron Mix followed him the very next year.
AD – Yes, Ron…  I was in on the switch when I coached at Southern Cal.  Ron was a tight end and I was the one forerunner to move him to tackle.
TT – How did he take that?  He went from tight end, which can be somewhat of a glory position to…
AD – Oh, he liked it.
TT – Did he?
AD – Oh yeah, he liked it.  He was just excellent.  What a player.  What players those guys were.
TT – I asked Walt Sweeney the same question because he went from a tight end to a guard.
AD – Yep.
TT – He told me that obviously he would have done anything to make the Chargers, but initially he was kind of upset because he really liked catching footballs and he knew he wasn’t going to do a whole lot of that playing guard.
AD – I’ll never forget Walter, when we were getting ready to draft him, Sid asked me, “Who’s he like?”  And I said, “Sid, he’s like Ditka.”  He was a tough son of a bitch.
TT – Yeah.  Lance told me that if he had been a linebacker that he would have erased the name of Dick Butkus from the record books.
AD – In all probability he would have done that.  There’s no question.  He was just a great player.
TT – Tell me about that first fearsome foursome.  The Chargers had one of the biggest lines in football.
AD – Not one of.
TT – I’m sure you’re right.  With Bill Hudson…
AD – The idea was that they would be the biggest.  Nery played right end.  Big Bill Hudson, who I got out of Canada, played tackle.  Ernie Ladd played tackle, and of course Earl played end.
TT – That was a tremendous line.  I have spoken with a number of the defensive backs that played during that period.  And obviously they set the record for number of interceptions in a season.
AD – Is he still alive, Richard Harris?
TT – Yes, he is.  Dick Harris, yes he is.  He’s down I believe in Long Beach.  I have spoken with Dick several times.  But they all credit that line as the reason that they set the record that year.
AD – Did you ever talk to Paul Maguire?
TT – I did, briefly.  He said that you had recruited him to the Citadel, and as soon as he signed on, you were somewhere else.  But obviously he wasn’t too upset about it.  He signed with you to play with the Chargers.
AD – Memories.  Thanks a lot, Todd.  I hope that you got what you wanted.  If you talk to Lance, send my love.  And to the rest of the guys, tell them I said, “hello.”  Really.  Just for a moment you go back in time and it seems like it was only yesterday when I start talking about all these guys.  Really, it’s a unique experience.  But thanks a lot, and good luck to you.
TT – Thank you very much for your time.  I truly appreciate it.
AD – OK, good.


Todd Tobias runs the blog Tales from the American Football League where this article was originally published on October 8, 2011.


My Memories of Sid Gillman

My interest in the American Football League began when I started writing my master’s thesis on Sid Gillman, the Chargers’ first head coach.  I was fortunate because at the time, the Gillmans lived at La Costa, in San Diego’s North County.  During my research, and then for a few years after, I was able to spend time with Sid and his wife, Esther.  It was a very neat time for me.  My girlfriend at the time (and now wife), Kym, often came with me.  She and Esther would walk through their beautiful gardens, enjoying the flowers and talking about things ranging from family to football, being married for 60+ years, politics, and having to pick up and move your family with each new coaching position.

Meanwhile Sid and I watched television, talked about the current NFL, or reminisced about his time with the Chargers.  I remember watching the 1999 NFL Draft with Sid.  He didn’t know much about the draftees, but he still liked to keep track of what was going on in the NFL.

One of the pieces that I love most in my collection was given to me one day by Esther.  Knowing that I liked to collect memorabilia, she presented me with one of Sid’s pipes.  Aside from the passing game, Sid was well-known for wearing bow ties and smoking pipes.  That simple gift meant more to me than she ever knew.

Sid Gillman was 88 years old when we first met.  His memory was still sharp, but began fading shortly thereafter.  I was able to record four interviews with him.  The one presented below is the first of those interviews, and I believe the best.  It was done on December 16, 1998, and covers many areas within coach Gillman’s career.  I have presented the entire interview for you to enjoy.



TT – How did you get started in football?  When did you begin playing?


SG – Well, of course I played as a youngster.  I played in high school and was always, as far back as I can remember, oriented as far as athletics are concerned.  I was very much interested in them.  I played in high school and I played in college, played in professional football and it just carried on through life.


TT – How did you get started in coaching?


SG – Well, that is kind of an interesting story in that my coach, a fellow that I worked with, briefly, to start with.  His name was Francis Schmidt, and he was probably one of the greatest minds of anybody that I’ve ever known.  I was playing in the all-star game in Chicago.  We don’t have an all-star game anymore because insurance rates are so high that if any of those kids got killed, especially if somebody hurt his arm and he’s got an insurance policy of $15 million, you couldn’t afford to stay up with the insurance deal.  So they cut it out.  But I was playing in this all-star game when my coach wired me and wanted me to come back and help out in spring football practice, which I did do, although I was destined for law school.  I thought that maybe I might become a lawyer.  But I thought, “Well, we’ll give football a try.”  And I went back, this was at Ohio State.  I went back and I haven’t seen a law school yet, because I was taken back by football and teaching football and coaching football.  I wasn’t interested in anything else after that experience.


TT – Were the offenses that you played in at Ohio State similar to the ones you ended up coaching later?


SG – Not even a reasonable facsimile.  It wasn’t close.  I played old-fashioned football where it was called single-wing.  You had a wing-back and a half back and a running back and a blocking back but there was no I-formation at that time.  Actually “I” came in later on.  Clark Shaughnessy had a lot to do with establishing the I-formation.  We had some great teams at Ohio State at that time.  And that’s how it got started.  Francis Schmidt, the guy loved to work and I fit right in with him because I was a workaholic.  That’s the way she went.


TT – Can you explain how you started off with your offensive philosophy in football, the thoughts that you went into your first coaching jobs with?


SG – It goes way back to when I decided that running the ball isn’t going to win for you.  You had to have a good passing attack and some good ends that can catch the ball and quarterbacks that can throw the ball.  And the key to the whole thing was scoring points.  You can score faster, quicker by throwing the ball than you could any other way.  This fascinated me.


TT – Is that something that you learned right away?


SG – It is something that I learned right away.  It started right on out.  And of course Schmidt, my coach, was pass-oriented.  He liked to throw the ball, too.  It started kind of with him and the fascination myself.  Scoring fast.  So that’s just about the way it went.


TT – Who were your greatest influences in football?  You mentioned Francis Schmidt.


SG – Well, Francis Schmidt was probably the key.  He was the worker and he enjoyed having me around because I worked right with him.  So it was Schmidt that really was the key guy in my thinking.  Because of the fact that you could score faster, quicker and that was what was happening.


TT – Can you discuss some of the difficulties you encountered between coaching college and pro ball?


SG – Well, the main thing in pro ball was throwing the ball and scoring quick.  This was the idea.  Against college football it was more run-oriented.  People didn’t think too much about throwing the ball in the old days when I was breaking in.  They were thinking about running the football until some of us got to thinking that it was kind of a waste of time.  We began to throw it.

TT – What do you think were your greatest strengths over the years as a coach?


SG – Well, number one is work.  I worked probably harder than most coaches.  As a matter of fact, I think that and the fact that I enjoyed throwing the ball rather than running it.  I guess throwing the ball was the key and working day and night.


TT – I’ve heard that from many of your players that you were the hardest-working person on the team.


SG – Well, I hope that they appreciated it.


TT – They did. I’ve talked to probably 20 of your players with the Chargers and they were all extremely complimentary, not only of you, but of Mrs. Gillman as well.


SG – Well, that’s nice.


TT – So many of your coaches went on to have extremely successful coaching careers of their own.  What were some of the qualities that you looked for in your coaches when you chose them?


SG – Well, the key to the whole thing is to get somebody that will be willing to work.  That’s the key to the whole thing.  And then to have a guy that was bright enough to learn as much as possible of the system we had so that he could go out and coach it for us, and if necessary go out and get a job on his own.  That’s all it is.  No magic at all, just work.  Work your rear end off.


TT – This next set of questions is about things that you introduced to the game.  First of all, you brought in Alvin Roy in 1963 as the first weight training coach.


SG – Yeah, we had the first weight training coach.


TT – What was the desired result that you were looking for when you brought him on?


SG – We tried to make people stronger and larger.  That was the key to the whole thing, get them larger, get them stronger.  Then we thought that we could block a little better.  That was the key thing.  As a matter of fact I saw a high school team work out once with weights and that intrigued me.  I went back home and went to work right away trying to get a system going of lifting and that helped us a great deal.


TT – That was my next question.  Was it a success?


SG – Oh, definitely a success.  It was a success in high school football and college football and pro football.  Everybody began to copy it.


TT – When did you first begin to learn about weight lifting?  Roughly how many years before the Chargers?


SG – Maybe a year or two.  I mentioned I saw this high school team in the weight room, lifting weights and I thought what a great thing that would be for us.  That’s the way it was.  We became stronger and stronger by the day.


TT – Do you think that maybe it hurt because weight lifting was not as well understood at that point?  Did you have any drawbacks to it?


SG – No, no drawbacks, none at all.  We just carried on as much as we could and everybody fit right in the program.  The first time I was connected with any weight program was with a high school team years ago.  I watched them work and thought it was going to be a great thing for us.  And it was.


TT – When did you first begin to use film as a coaching tool?


SG – Oh, that dates back to my cradle.  It was college as a matter of fact, we filmed our practice sessions and carried it over into pros.  When I went with the Rams we began to take film of our practices.  So it dates way back, almost to day one.  Of course it was very simple for me, because my parents were in the movie business.  And in those days, this was long before you were born, they used to have Fox Movie Tone News and Paramount and they all had newsreels and I used to clip the football out of those reels.  It was against the law, but I did it anyhow.  So that’s what started me out.  Invariably it was our newsreels which were a big thing in the movie business.  People now get television, but years ago you had the Movie Tone.  Fox, Paramount, they all had shots of major games and I used to cut those major games out and study them.  So that’s what started me out in the movies.  And then the fact that I just took the movie camera out on the practice field.

TT – So were you even clipping these highlight reels before you started coaching?


SG – No.  I was coaching at the time.  Gee, I’ll never forget.  I was coaching in college at the time and we were in a training camp and I had a cameraman work with us.  He was shooting one day and we noticed that there was going to be a storm.  The clouds were so goddamn black, you could hardly see.  The guy reminded me of Gene Leff, same mode.  I said, “Jimmy, come on down.  It looks like were going to have a storm.”  Well, before he was able to get down, that storm came up and it was about a 25-foot scaffold and the son of a bitch just flopped on over and the camera and everything just smashed to smithereens.  It was just a hell of a thing.  Nothing happened to him, thank goodness.  He survived, but all our film equipment broke up.  I see that in my mind every once in a while.  He had just enough room to move in a direction.  He was like a rat trying to find the hole and he couldn’t find the hole and he decided to ride down with it.  He rode down with the storm.  Oh jeez, I’ll never forget that.


TT – You were also the first coach to allow black and white players to room together on the road.  Can you explain your philosophies behind that?


SG – Well, it was a simple thing.  They all decided to room together.  We just got together and had a meeting and discussed the situation with them and told them we just had to live together.  That’s all.  We played together, we had to live together.  And they accepted it, without question.  We left the movie one night because the owner of the movie came up and told me, “Coach, you’re gonna have to get your boys up in the balcony because we got a big crowd coming in and you gotta move up.”  I said, “We’re not moving any place.”  I told him, “We’re not moving anywhere because of black and white, see.”  I told him, “We’re not moving any place.  If we have to move, we’re moving out.”  And he says, “Well, I can’t help it.”  So we just took our squad and got the hell out of there.


At this point Bob Hood, a Chargers staff member from 1962-77, joined in the conversation.


BH – Sometimes we went and all sat in the balcony just so there wasn’t any problem.  The whites would sit where the blacks had to sit, rather than embarrassing the blacks.


SG – But we just collected our whole team and told them, “We’re leaving, getting the hell out of here, because it’s not a place we want to be.”


TT – And that was in Atlanta?


SG – It was in Houston, wasn’t it?


BH – That one was in Houston.  We had another incident, remember in Atlanta.  It was in 1964 and we played…  Do you remember when we played in Memphis and we flew on that crappy plane that Johnny Gough got, that constellation?  We stayed in Jonesboro and we played in Little Rock.  And then we stayed in Jonesboro, we went to Kansas City and we finished in Atlanta.  And Atlanta didn’t have a team yet.  We played in a little stadium called Wickham Stadium, stayed in a Hilton out by the airport and Ernie and those guys , we all went next door.  I went with them to the bowling alley to play pool.  Keith Lincoln, Lance, all of us were playing pool and they came up in the pool hall and asked the blacks to leave because they weren’t allowed in there to play pool.  You had to have the mayor come to breakfast the next morning because the guys said they weren’t going to play.  You had it in the all-star game, I think it was the same year.  But 1964, it was the preseason Sid.  My eyes were big.  I came from California and didn’t know what segregation was.  But that happened in 1964.  We stayed in a Hilton and right next door was the bowling alley.  Ernie and those guys, Ladd and Luther we all were there, playing.  The whole group left just like the movie theater, and the players came to you and said they were not going to play the game.  That’s when they were trying to get either and AFL or an NFL team in Atlanta.  I remember that.  I remember that, at the time I was 19, 20 years old.


SG – Well, we were at training camp when we decided that we weren’t going to have any segregation and I discussed with members of the squad and they all agreed.  I tell you.  They all took a black roommate and every one of them was tickled to death to do it.  We had some great kids, no problem at all.  And the next time that we had a problem was the all-star game.  Cab driver would only take our all-stars a certain distance.  And he stopped the cab and said, “It’s time to get out now.”  Our kids decided, “The hell it is.  This isn’t time to get out.  We haven’t reached our destination yet.”  So they went back to the hotel and packed.  And I caught a bunch of them walking out of the hotel and I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  Then I nailed a few of them and we discussed the thing with them and got it settled and went and played it in Houston.  We played it in Houston.


BH – That was before New Orleans had a team, too.


SG – Yeah.


TT – You had problems with some of your hotels as well, didn’t you?


SG – We didn’t have too many problems with the hotels.  Do you recall any problems with the hotels?


BH – I think Barron kind of eased the way on that.


SG – Listen, when I was coaching the Rams, the black football players could not travel with us.  We had to put them up with families.  They couldn’t go to a hotel in the South, below the Mason-Dixon Line.  We had to take all our black kids, and we had a few of them, and get a place for them to stay in a private home.  I’ll never forget that.  That’s when it all started.


TT – Did you ever face any pressure for having so many black players on your teams?  You had a lot more than most teams.


SG – No.  I didn’t have any problems.  None what-so-ever.  We had some high-class guys.  Tank Younger and guys like that.  We had a bunch of them and they were first-rate guys.  So we didn’t have any problems.  We didn’t have any problems when they weren’t allowed to live in a hotel.


TT – What kinds of things did you have to do differently coaching the Chargers than you did with the Rams?  What kind of things did building a new league at the same time cause?


SG – Pretty much the same.  There wasn’t any difference in the football.  The football was the same.  We probably threw the ball more than most people.  I’m sure that’s true because we wanted to give the fans a thrill, so we threw the ball a little more than anybody else.  Basically there wasn’t any problems.


TT – That was actually my next question.  Why was there more passing in the AFL than the NFL?


SG – Well, that was one of the reasons.  Instead of running the ball, we knew we could start the cash register going a hell of a lot faster when we’re throwing than when we’re running.  So we just decided that we’re going to throw the ball and not run much.


TT – Most of the teams were that way in the AFL.  Most of the teams threw a lot more.


SG – Well, I think they probably did.  Of course we were so successful at the time, throwing and everybody was willing to grab onto our theory at the time and so we would grab onto theirs if they had something good that we could use.


TT – What were some other differences between the AFL and the NFL at that time?


SG – Well actually, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference, except the passing game.  We didn’t have the size and experience player-wise, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference.


TT – Did you play a role in the merger of the AFL and the NFL?


SG – I think I did.  I think I did.  As a matter of fact, I have talked to Esther about this so often.  It was going to be a nip-and-tuck battle, and the National Football League we had a meeting.  American League and the National League met and we couldn’t get together for some unknown reason.  It was just impossible, like the Israelis, we couldn’t get together.  The National Football League people, Chuck Noll and five or six of them got up and walked out of our meeting because they weren’t happy with the way things were going.  I went to Chuck Noll and half a dozen of the people that were on the National Football League and tried to get them back in the meeting.  Pete Rozelle came to the meeting and we discussed merger at the time and I played a major role in keeping them together, getting them together.  But hell, it was so long ago.


TT – So many of the players have told me that Rough Acres was their most successful training camp.


SG – They hated it.  I guess they did.  It was great.  It was a great experience for us.  Hood can tell you more about that.  It was a real fine experience.  Lousy food, snakes all over the place, God Almighty.  It served its purpose.


BH – You used to have me make champagne.  Do you remember that?  That was salt water with lemons.  We called it the champagne break.  That was pre-Gatorade.


SG – That was even before Gatorade.


TT – Why didn’t you do more of those retreat-style camps more often?  Where you got away from everything.


SG – Well, we couldn’t find the spots, as a matter of fact.  There were very few areas that were conducive to pro practice and players.  We had …


BH – We were at USD and went from there to Rough Acres and then we went from Rough Acres after that one year we went to Escondido.


SG – Escondido, oh yeah.  But then we went to the University of California.


BH – Then we went to University of California San Diego after that.


SG – That was our best training camp.


BH – They still are there…  Oh, I missed one.  We went from Escondido to Irvine, University of California Irvine.  That was a wonderful training camp.  That was a good training camp.


SG – We bounced around, couldn’t settle down to a real good training camp.  But we had enough good areas that weren’t too bad for us.


TT – During that 1963 year Tobin was quarterbacking most of the time.


SG – Yeah, he started us off.


TT – Did you have to rearrange your plays at all because of the weakness of his arm?


SG – No, we threw short with him.  But he was good for us.  He didn’t throw too long, but he was accurate as hell, just accurate as hell.  Hell of a player.


BH – Quite a leader too.


SG – Oh yes he was.  He was fine.  Well-experienced.


TT – The Chargers went to the division championship five times in the first six years of the AFL.  What made that ‘63 team better than the other teams?


SG – Well, personnel-wise.  You’re talking about Keith Lincoln, you’re talking about Lance Alworth, you’re talking about…we had some top, Ernie Wright.  We had some top players.  There were no bad players among them.  They were all pretty good.  Ernie Wright was terrific.  Ernie, I got him out of Ohio State.  But I think…John Hadl and Ron Mix, my God, we just had outstanding players.  They could play today.  The only problem we would have probably would be defensively because we’d be too small.  You gotta be 300 pounds to play defense this day and age.  But we could play pretty well today.


TT – When you went into the ‘63 championship game against the Patriots, Keith Lincoln had one of the best playoff games in history.  Did you plan on using him that much in that game?


SG – Oh yes.  He’s the best we had.  We couldn’t play without him.  He’s just a great player.


TT – But did you center the offense that day just around him?


SG – Oh, pretty much so.


TT – What was your game plan going into it?


SG – Well, it was play action passes as a matter of fact and motion.  We probably started out with more motion than any other club in the league, because they usually “dogged” (blitzed) a hell of a lot.  And when you dog, you change your coverage.  So we forced them to change coverage and that’s truly what happened in that ball game.  The fact that they were forced to use motion and when they did, that’s when we really got to them.


TT – A few more questions on your offense.  How did you attempt to use the tight end in your offense?  You used it a lot differently than most coaches did at that time.


SG – Well, we used it as a key receiver and blocker.  It was a combination of blocker and key receiver.  (Dave) Kocourek was made to order for that because he could block and catch the ball.  He was of reasonably good size, not very big, but reasonably good size.  He was a heck of a player.


TT – How much of your offense do you think you personally designed and how much do you think you got from another coach?


SG – Oh God, I don’t know what we got from another coach.  But I think most of our stuff was homemade.  I didn’t mind stealing anything from anybody if it would help us.  That’s just about what it amounts to in this business.  Watch these successful clubs.  Anything that they have that’s good, that you think you can use, just grab it.  Forget it.


TT – Many of your players have told me that you stretched the defenses with your passing game.  Can you explain that to me?


SG – Well, what we did was widen our outside ends.  So often you see these outside ends, wide receivers are awful tight.  Now that confines the area behind them.  What we did is move them out.  That gave us a lot of passing room, a lot of receiving room in there.  That gave us the width of the field and we threw long because we had Lance Alworth and stretched the field straight away.  So we just stretched the field horizontally and vertically.  There are some clubs that do that now.  No major deal there.


TT – How were you able to take advantage of when they widened the hash marks on the field?


SG – Well, it was great because when they split the field up it gave us seven areas.  We call that the Field Balance Theory, where were going to have a guy between the sidelines and the numbers, were gonna have a guy on the numbers, were gonna have a guy inside the numbers, then were gonna have another guy in the middle of the field.  Well, you don’t have enough people to handle all of those areas, but at least we’ve got good balance if we’ve got half the areas.  Control half the areas, we’ve got a hell of a passing game going.  But we call that Field Balance Theory and it’s very important to our passing game because if we widen them out, we had areas behind them, we had areas to the inside.  If we went deep we had the field to throw into.


TT – How has the game opened up offensively since your time with the Chargers?


SG – Well, anymore the game is a game of looks.  In fact, I talked to Dick Vermeil this morning.  They won last week.  We decided a long time ago that pro football is a game of looks.  You take one play and you run that one play ten different ways as against ten plays.  What we’ve done is simplify the whole process by spreading the field and creating these areas that we can throw into.  But it helps us in throwing into those different areas.  Field Balance Theory.  If we can get a guy in every one of those areas, then we can control the field.


TT – How do you think you influenced today’s West Coast Offense?


SG – Well, I think that we’ve influenced it because number one, we have created a good short passing game, which is important.  We got backs and ends that can run and catch, that’s the key thing.  You gotta have a guy that can catch a football and run with it after they catch it.  That’s the 49er theory.  So that’s basically what it’s all about.


TT – So it’s really as much pulling certain types of personnel.


SG – That’s right, and then having guards who can run and block, trap and block.  That’s essential.  So that’s about what it’s all about.  We’ve been successful throwing the ball because we used a mirrored system.  We put two guys the same distance and the guy that’s open will get the ball.  If we widen two guys out there and if one is open we’ll get it to him.  If there isn’t anybody open, that’s where our tight end comes into effect.  He’s in the middle getting free somewhere.


Todd Tobias runs the blog Tales from the American Football League where this article was originally published on November 7, 2011.


My Favorite Division

I have enjoyed watching my Chicago Bears go to battle against the AFC West these last few weeks even if I haven’t always enjoyed the results.

The AFC West has long been my favorite division in the NFL and, thanks to a strange bit of scheduling, the Bears have faced AFC West teams three straight times with one more to go, on the road against the Denver Tebow-Broncos.

The AFC West is cool because it always provides a spicy mix of the good, bad, snowy and sunny.  The San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos all play outdoors and the AFC West is the only division in which every team plays on grass.  In the AFC West you’ll see games in the snow in Kansas City and Denver, in the mud in Oakland and in the sun in San Diego.  No other division offers all the elements.

The AFC West also has tradition.  The Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos have all been around since 1960.  Only one other division, the AFC East (Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, Giants) has had all four of its teams around as long or longer.

Tradition, weather, how about wins?  All four teams in the AFC West have a lifetime winning percentage above .500.  No other division can boast that.

The AFC West has the Oakland Raiders, three-time Super Bowl winners who have been terrible for nearly a decade but, like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers and Newt Gingrich, are always attention-worthy.  The Raiders are currently resurgent and, at 7-5, could very well make the playoffs.  If so, TV ratings will certainly increase as everyone loves to hate the Raiders.  They’re the Oakland Raiders.  They just are.

The Denver Broncos have played in six Super Bowls, winning two, and currently have the league’s most controversial/loved/hated/discussed player in Tim Tebow.  Watching snowy games in Denver (from the comfort of one’s living room) is one of the things that makes the NFL special.

The San Diego Chargers have been one of the NFL’s most visible, and visibly disappointing, teams over the last several years and have one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Philip Rivers and, like the Raiders, have some of the most gorgeous cheerleaders outside of Dallas.

The Kansas City Chiefs played in the first Super Bowl, have won another, have 14 Hall-of-Famers and have a higher lifetime winning percentage, .518, than the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets.  Would you have guessed that?

John Madden, Al Davis, Ken Stabler, Otis Sistrunk, Marcus Allen, Hank Stram, Fred Williamson, Jan Stenerud, Junior Seau, Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, LaDanian Tomlinson, John Elway, Lyle Alzado, Terrell Davis, Mike Shanahan and Rich “Tombstone” Jackson, to name a few, have all plied their trade in the AFC West.

Teams from the East Coast will always get the most attention especially as long as, (regrettably) ESPN remains the behemoth it is and teams from the Midwest like the Bears and Green Bay Packers will always get that favorable “old school grit” label.  But year-in and year-out the AFC West plays the most fun and colorful football.  There’s passing, there’s running, there’s defense, there’s weather, there are beautiful women and there’s winning.  It’s my favorite division, and I welcome you all to watch.


The Broken Thumb of Despair

The Chicago Bears beat the San Diego Underachievers, 31-20, at Soldier Field on Sunday for their fifth straight win and are now 7-3 and in prime position to make the playoffs.

Let’s just stop there, smile, and pack our bags for Oakland, ok?  Please?

Sigh…aw, hell.  Here’s the other part: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has a broken thumb on his throwing hand and will almost certainly miss the rest of the regular season.  I need to keep typing so it will prevent me from stabbing out my eyes with a dirty fork.

Cutler broke his thumb late in the game while running down San Diego defensive back Antoine Cason who had just picked off a Cutler pass and was steaming for the endzone.  Cutler helped knock Cason out of bounds and the Bears then picked off Philip Rivers to end the threat and effectively seal the victory.  So it comes down to this: Jay Cutler, the man whose toughness was questioned by so many players, fans and other fools last season was in the midst of his best season with his best team and playing tougher than any quarterback, or perhaps any player, in the NFL, and his season gets shot to hell by making a play that many other quarterbacks would never even attempt.  And the interception wasn’t even Cutler’s fault.  Johnny Knox fell down.

Now the Bears turn to Caleb Hanie who has been in mothballs since stepping in heroically in last season’s NFC title game loss to the Green Bay Packers.  Cutler left that game with a knee injury and people – idiots – thought he was wimping out.  He wasn’t.  And if anyone doubts Jay Cutler’s mettle they haven’t seen a single play of the Bears this season.

Part of the reason Cutler took so much undeserved heat for that championship game loss is that it appeared he wasn’t giving Hanie any advice or guidance, but that was later proven to be not so.  Now Cutler will have to give Hanie a few tips on how to win not just one game but, hopefully, four of the next six, at least, to keep Chicago’s playoff hopes intact.  Whatever Cutler said, or didn’t say, to Hanie last January worked well as #12 played great, going 13-for-20 for 153 yards, a TD and two interceptions.  Yes, the picks were killers.  One of them was returned for a score and the other one came courtesy of Sam Shields on the 12-yard line with just seconds left on the clock with the Bears driving for the tying score.  But Hanie had his guys on the move.  And he was never afraid.

Hanie has no chance of playing as well as Cutler for the reminder of the regular season.  He simply doesn’t have the arm, athleticism or experience.  But the kid from Colorado State does have guts.  And gumption.  And while those traits are not enough to be a legend they are more than enough to be a leader, or at least a survivor.

The Bears now play the Raiders, followed by the Chiefs, Broncos, Seahawks, Packers and Vikings.  If the Bears defense keeps finding ways of finding the ball, Matt Forte continues to run as he has, the (suddenly injury-riddled) offensive line maintains its recent vigilance and, most important, offensive coordinator Mike Martz provides Hanie with a sensible game plan, the Bears can still finish with 11 wins.  Then, seven weeks from now, Cutler will be ready to return and Chicago will have a legitimate shot in the championship chase.

But what if Hanie’s playing really well…?  Maybe…

Nah, don’t go there.  Live in the world of cleats and grass.  Keep it authentic and sober.  The Men-at-arms of the Midway find ways to win and keep nearly every Sunday interesting.  Let the next six weeks unfold as they may.  It’s getting cold, it’s getting hot, it’s getting better.

Circle the wagons.  And don’t even think about surrender.