June 28, 2017

Bears 21, Buccaneers 13: Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Team With More Touchdowns

The NFL is sort of like a nudist colony in that you always hope to find someone who looks worse than you.

And so for the second straight week the Chicago Bears discovered the football equivalent of that fat naked guy with more hair on his back than his head and, for the second straight Sunday, the Monsters of the Slowly Upward Mobility squeaked out a victory.

This time the unwashed farm animal was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; a team that makes a corpse look spry, as the Bears won 21-13 at Chicago’s soggy Soldier Field to improve to 5-6.

But even though the Bucs are sloths with thigh pads the Bears once again had to fight back. The Bears, because they’re silly little rascals, again started out a bit sloppy and unsure and trailed 10-0 at halftime, just as they did the week before against the Vikings at Soldier Field but, just like they did against the Vikes, Chicago rallied in the second half and even beat Tampa by the exact same 21-13 score that did in the Vikings.

Marc Trestman’s halftime speeches must be getting quite saucy.

To say that the Bears needed this victory is like Aron Ralston saying he’s really glad he didn’t have to cut off his other arm, too, because while the Bucs are bad they’re a different kind of bad. The Bucs came to Chicago coached by Lovie Smith, the man who roamed the Bears’ sideline for nine years and took Chicago to a Super Bowl after the 2006 season, and Tampa is quarterbacked by Josh McCown, who was Jay Cutler’s backup with the Bears last year and often was much better.

If the Bears had lost to those guys Chicagoans would not have been clamoring to get them back, they would have been clamoring for an icicle in the eye.

If you look at (some of) the numbers, McCown looked better than Cutler again on Sunday, compiling 341 yards through the air with two touchdowns while Cutler only put up 130 yards and one score. But McCown, whose greatest trait with the Bears last year was probably that he almost never turned the ball over, was picked off twice by the Bears on Sunday while Cutler was not intercepted at all.

McCown also lost a fumble, so did Cutler, so the old pals have something to talk about.

Chicago’s defense, which has more haters than Nickelback, kept the Bears in the game, bending but not breaking and making some big plays until the offense awoke in the third when Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery for a two-yard score. A few minutes later it was ‘ol reliable, running back Matt Forte, who scampered for a 13-yard TD run and then, after a Ryan Mundy interception of a poorly thrown McCown pass deep in Bucs’ territory, it was #22 again, this time for a one-yard TD, and the Bears suddenly led 21-10.

See, that’s how you do that.

This was one third quarter we were glad not to be stuck in the bathroom.

The Bears dodged the rain and fog and a few threats from Tampa in the fourth, most notably forcing Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson to fumble at Chicago’s seven yard line, killing a great scoring chance, before the clock eventually hit zeros and could it be that these Bears are really still alive?

Sure, they’re beating bad teams but that’s what not-bad teams do.

Our Bears are 5-6 and now head to Detroit for Thanksgiving to break bread with the Lions, a team with a lot of star power but not a lot of consistency. Sound familiar?

After that the Bears host the Saints, then the Cowboys, then are visited by the Lions before finishing 2014 in Minnesota.

The Bears need to win all of those games to finish 10-6 and have postseason hope. So which one of those games is a probable loss? Which of those teams is absolutely better than the Bears?

The answer is: the Cowboys. But that game will be in Chicago, at night, in December.

These Bears cannot do it, can they? They cannot make it three straight victories by winning in Detroit and keep alive the prayer of winning seven straight to rally from the depths of football folly to reach the playoffs.

They just can’t, they can’t and they can’t.

Can they?

It’s worth watching.

 

Buccaneers 42, Raiders 32

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their way out to Oakland, California to take on the Oakland Raiders.  The Bucs were coming off an impressive 36-17 over the Minnesota Vikings and the Raiders were coming off a 26-16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.  Tampa won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Running back Mike Goodson ran the ball out of the end zone and was brought down at the 17-yard line.

The Raiders had the ball for a grand total of 50 seconds on this drive and quickly punted the ball away.  Tampa took over at their 28 and quarterback Josh freeman scrambled up the middle for a gain of 13 on first down.  A four-yard run by running back Doug Martin on second down set up a third and six.  On third down, Freeman was sacked by defensive end Andre Carter.  The ball came loose, but the Bucs maintained possession and punted the ball away.  The Raiders took over at their 16 and proceeded to do what they did on their previous drive.  They did absolutely nothing.  Another punt by Lechler had the Bucs starting at their ten-yard line.

On first down, Freeman completed a five-yard pass to tight end Nate Byham.  A roughing the passer penalty on defensive tackle Tommy Kelly gave the Bucs 15 more yards and a first down at the 30.  From the 30, Martin ran up the right side for 12 yards and a first down.  Wait! Another flag has been thrown!  Could it be the dreaded horse collar tackle on safety Tyvon Branch?  That’s the correct answer and there’s another free 15 yards for the Bucs.  Some more carries by Martin and a pass to wide receiver Mike Williams gave the Bucs a first down at the Raider 20.  The next three plays netted the Bucs minus one yard and kicker Connor Barth came on for a 39-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was blocked by defensive end Lamarr Houston.  Houston recovered the ball and ran up the right side.  He was dragged down at the Tampa 44-yard line.

Running back Darren McFadden got the next drive off to a good start with a seven-yard run up the left side.  An offside penalty on the Bucs gave the Raiders a first down at the 32.  Two more runs by McFadden moved the ball to the 20.  They would get as far as the 11 and the drive stalled there.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski trotted onto the field and nailed his 29-yard attempt.  That put the Raiders up 3-0 with 45 seconds to go in the first quarter.

Starting at their 20, the Bucs were flagged for holding on first down and that penalty moved them back to the ten.  A five-yard run by Martin made it third and 15 from the 15.  On third down, Freeman escaped the pass rush and launched a bomb down the middle to wide receiver Vincent Jackson for a gain of 68 yards.  Jackson was flagged for a 15-yard taunting penalty after the play and that put the ball at the Raider 36.  16 yards on two carries by Martin moved the ball to the 20.  On first down, Freeman looked for Jackson again and found him open in the end zone for a touchdown.  Barth made the point after and the Bucs led 7-3 with 13 minutes to go in the second quarter.

Starting at the 20, the Raiders went to the air again.  A nine-yard pass to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and a 21-yard pass to wide receiver Denarius Moore put the Raiders near midfield.  After that, they went nowhere.  Palmer was sacked on third down for a loss of nine and the Raiders were forced to punt.  However, the Bucs were called for a roughing the punter penalty and that gave the Raiders new life.  On second and ten from the Tampa 47, wide receiver Derek Hagan got behind the secondary and was wide open.  Palmer saw him and hit him stride for a touchdown.  Not so fast, my friend.  Our good friend, right tackle Willie Smith was flagged for holding and the touchdown was called back.  It’s a rare occasion when I agree with the officials, but this was definitely holding.  No doubt about it.  That deflated the Raiders and they were forced to punt.  Instead of punting, they tried a fake.  Lechler completed a pass to running back Taiwan Jones, but he was nowhere near the first down marker when he was brought down.  That gave the Bucs the ball at their 46.  Also, McFadden left the game after this drive with a leg injury and would not return.

The next three drives all resulted in punts.  With 1:41 to go in the half, the Raiders took over at their 29.  Palmer launched a deep ball up the right side for Heyward-Bey and he made a beautiful one-handed catch for a gain of 46 yards.  He was pushed out of bounds at the Tampa 25.  Two incomplete passes made it third and ten.  On third down, Palmer looked for wide receiver Rod Streater and found him on the right sideline for a 25-yard touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 10-7 with 1:20 to go in the first half.

The Bucs would start at their 21 with time running short.  Passes to Martin and tight end Dallas Clark had them moving again.  A 22-yard pass up the right side to Williams put the ball at the Raider 38.  A false start penalty and a seven-yard pass to Martin stopped the drive at the 36.  Barth came on for a 54-yard field goal attempt and his kick was no good.  At the end of the first half, the Raiders led 10-7.

We’ve seen this before.  The Raiders go into the locker room at halftime with a the lead or trailing by a small margin and come out flat in the third quarter.  I wish I could tell you that didn’t happen in this game.  I wish I could tell you that.  But I can’t tell a lie.  Doug Martin looked like a man possessed in the second half.  The Bucs started at their 20 and quickly got a first down on a 12-yard pass to Clark.  Martin kept the ball moving with gains of ten and six yards.  A 12-yard pass to D.J. Ware on third and four made it first down at the Raider 45.  Martin finished the drive on the next play as he ran right up the middle and cut up the left sideline for a touchdown.  Barth made the point after and the Bucs now led 14-10 with 12 minutes to go in the third quarter.

The flat Raiders punted after three plays and the Bucs started their next drive at their 40.  On third and five from the 45, Freeman found Williams on the right side.  Williams caught the pass and headed up-field for a gain of 37.  Two more runs by Martin made it third and three at the Raider 11.  This time, they didn’t need to run a play.  Apparently Lamarr Houston was feeling generous and decided to jump offside and give the Bucs a first down at the six.  On second and goal from the four, Freeman found Williams for a touchdown.  Barth made the point after and the Bucs now led 21-10 with a little over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Raiders started at their 20 again and Palmer brought out the no huddle offense. Passes to fullback Marcel Reece, Goodson and Moore got the ball rolling into Tampa territory.  But on third and three from the 44, some miscommunication between Palmer and Moore led to an interception by cornerback Leonard Johnson.  Two plays later, Martin got loose again.  This time it was a 67-yard touchdown run.  Barth made the point after and the Bucs now had a commanding 28-10 lead with two minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders got the ball at the 20 and Palmer spread the ball around to all his receivers.  Palmer completed passes for gains of 36 and 15 yards to Reece to put the Raiders deep in Tampa territory.  On second and five from the 16, Goodson caught a pass for a gain of 12 and a first down at the four.  He was hurt on the play and would not return.  On the next play, tight end Brandon Myers got his first touchdown of the year as he dove into the left side of the end zone.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders closed the gap to 28-17 with 14 minutes to go in the game.  You would think that touchdown would have given the Raider defense some momentum and inspiration to get the ball back into Palmer’s hands.  It didn’t.  Starting at their 30, Freeman handed the ball off to Martin and he proceeded to run off right guard for a 70-yard touchdown.  Barth made the point after and just like that, the Bucs led 35-17.

All the Raiders could do now was throw.  McFadden and Goodson were out with injuries and Reece was lining up in the backfield.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Reece is the most versatile player on the team.  He can play receiver, tight end, fullback and do anything that is asked of him.  Palmer hooked up with Streater for gains of eight and 15.  Then he found Moore for 26 and Reece for 17 to move the to the Tampa 17.  A holding call on guard Mike Brisiel moved them back ten yards.  Another completion to Reece and one more to Streater set up a first down at the 15.  Palmer looked for Streater in the end zone, but the pass fell incomplete.  However, the Bucs were flagged for pass interference.  On first and goal from the one, Palmer found Myers again for his second score of the day.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders now trailed 35-24 with a little under ten minutes remaining.

An onside kick by the Raiders ended up with the Bucs recovering the ball and starting their next drive at the Raider 44.  A ten-yard pass to Byham and an offside penalty on Seymour made it first and five at the 29.  From the 29, running back LeGarrette Blount and Freeman had some miscommunication on a hand-off and the ball fell to the ground and bounced crazily down the left side of the field.  A mad scramble ensued and Seymour came away with a fumble recovery.  That breathed a little more life into the Raiders and they took over at their own 35.

On third and ten, Reece caught a pass across the middle for a gain of 20 and a first down at the Tampa 45.  An incomplete pass intended for Myers, a short pass to Hagan and a short run by Jones set up a fourth and two at the at the 37.  Palmer’s pass to Moore fell incomplete, but pass interference was called on cornerback Eric Wright and that kept the drive alive and gave them a first down at the 24.  A holding penalty on Jared Veldheer moved them back ten yards, but Palmer kept his composure and he hooked up with Myers and Streater to set up a fourth and two at the 16.  Palmer took the snap and ran up the middle for three yards and a first down.  From the 13, Palmer found Reece in the end zone for a touchdown.  They decided to go for two and despite the massive pressure from the defense, Palmer got his pass off and it was caught by rookie wide receiver Juron Criner.  The score was now 35-32 with 3:51 remaining.

The Oakland faithful rose to their feet in support of the Raider defense as the Bucs started from their 20.  On first down, Martin was thrown for a loss of one.  A pass to Jackson fell incomplete and two delay of game penalties moved them back ten more yards.  A 12-yard pass to wide receiver Tiquan Underwood  gave them some breathing room and they punted the ball away.  The Raiders started at their 38 and with three timeouts, it was looking like they might be able to tie the game or even take the lead.  On first down, the Bucs brought the pressure and Palmer was hit as he threw a sideline pass intended for Streater.  The pass fell incomplete.  On second down, they dropped into coverage and Palmer’s pass intended for Moore was picked off by safety Ahmad Black.  Once again, it looked like Palmer and Moore were not on the same page.  The Bucs took over at the Raider 22 and three plays later Martin found the end zone again for his fourth touchdown of the day.  Barth made the point after and that made it 42-32 with just under two minutes to go.  Palmer was picked off again on the next drive and the Bucs ran out the clock from there.

For the Bucs, Josh Freeman completed 18 of 30 for 247 yards and two touchdowns.  Vincent Jackson led the Bucs with two catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.  Freeman spread the ball around to nine different receivers and Mike Williams and Doug Martin led the team with four receptions apiece.  Speaking of Doug Martin, the Oakland native ran for 251 yards on 25 carries and four touchdowns.  The Raider defense clearly had no answer for him.  Defensively, linebacker Lavonte David led the Bucs with 14 solo tackles and two tackles for a loss.  All totaled, the Bucs picked off Palmer three times and sacked him twice.

For the Raiders, Carson Palmer completed 39 of 61 for 414 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.  Marcel Reece led the Raiders with eight catches for 95 yards and one touchdown.  Palmer spread the ball around to ten different receivers and managed to get the ball off despite being under heavy pressure throughout the game.  In what little time he played, Darren McFadden rushed for 17 yards on seven carries before leaving with a leg injury.  As a team, the Raiders rushed for 22 yards on 11 carries.  That’s beyond pitiful.  Defensively, Tyvon Branch led the Raiders with nine solo tackles, one tackle for a loss and one pass defensed.

Well, I give the Raiders credit for not giving up when they were down 28-10.  In previous years, they would have just folded and given up.  This team kept fighting and I still don’t know why they kept throwing the ball on the drive where they were trailing by three.  They had plenty of time to mix in some running plays with Reece or Jones.  They had all of their timeouts and the two minute warning to help preserve time.  They also had Janikowski warming up on the sideline and he can kick a 60-yard field goal if needed.  All they had to do was gain about 30 yards.  That false sense of urgency is what cost them.  This loss was a complete heart breaker that dropped them to three and five.  The win improved the Bucs to four and four.  Up next is a trip to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.  The Raiders have never won in Baltimore and this will be a very tough game.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

 

 

Not Bloody Good, But Good Enough

The British must think we Americans are a frightening, yet silly and somewhat amusing bunch, with our gladiatorial games, hegemonic culture, economy and military and nearly naked cheerleaders.  The Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers built on these international fears and follies in Sunday’s 24-18 victory by the Bears at London’s Wembley Stadium, a place normally home to European football- which is soccer – and also rugby matches and George Michael concerts which Bucs fans were hoping to exchange their tickets for.

TV viewers were informed several dozen times, or perhaps several thousand times, that the game was being played in England and that the British – our toothless, tea-swilling forefathers – adore American football.  So much, apparently, that nearly 77,000 tickets were sold.  Unfortunately, Wembley holds about 82,000.  Nevermind that, as we know things are tough all over.  But the party line from game organizers that the NFL lockout which ended three months ago was the cause of slow ticket sales – the first time ever a regular season NFL game in Europe didn’t sell out – holds about as much water as your average set of British teeth.

But let’s be positive and, for the Bears, there was a lot of that, starting with running back Matt Forte who certainly must be a horse to watch in the MVP race and also on the shortlist as the next U.S. ambassador to the Isle of Man.  Forte got the Bears on the board and the Brits on their feet with his 32-yard TD run in the first quarter which was not only marvelously Simpsonian but also the longest TD run in international history.  Forte ran for 145 yards, which is also an international NFL record, and compiled 183 total yards which means he not only was named the “Player of the Game” but also, when he finally gets that new contract, might demand that he be paid in Euros or Chad & Jeremy albums.

The Bucs bounced back when Ronde Barber mugged Forte in his own endzone in the first quarter to make the score a curious 7-2 which sounds more like a baseball score or the British ratio of households to eyebrow tweezers.  Giving up a safety is humiliating but give praise and credit to Ronde Barber and let us take a timeout to ask: Is he a Hall-of-Famer?  Tiki’s twin made his 190th straight start on Sunday and by notching his first career safety he adds to the 14 career defensive touchdowns he’s tallied in his now 15 seasons in Tampa.  Barber would later make a brilliantly acrobatic ambush of a sack on Jay Cutler late in the fourth quarter that helped hold Chicago to a field goal and kept Tampa’s hopes alive and it was his 27th career sack, the most by any cornerback in NFL history.  The good twin has made five Pro Bowls, been first team All-Pro three times, helped win a Super Bowl and has yet to dump his wife for a young floozie or look stupid on the Today Show.  Let’s all be revved up for Ronde.

The Bears extended their lead in the second quarter when Jay Cutler (he’s really, kinda, sorta pretty good, isn’t he?) hit receiver Roy Williams for a 25-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown to make it 14-2 which will also be the Green Bay Packers’ record this year even if Aaron Rodgers starts playing with his legs taped together and cheese stuck up his nose.  Unlike Forte – or most NFL players – Williams didn’t perform any crazy dances, gestures or celebrations when he scored.  That could be because Mr. Williams is a classy professional.  Or it could be that before this game he thought he was only allowed in the endzone with a passport.

At halftime the score was 14-5 and the FOX broadcast crew ran into some trouble when Heathrow Airport security realized they never should have let Daryl Johnston’s sport coat get through customs.   With all that settled, the teams took the field for the second half and the Bears eventually made it 21-5 when Marion Barber scored on a 12-yard run to cap off a seven-play, 55-yard scoring drive.  Ever since the Bears signed Barber in the offseason the hope at Halas Hall was for a balanced ground attack with Forte and Barber that would gain yardage, eat up the clock and keep Jay Cutler alive.  It’s all happening.  Barber is a great compliment to Forte and Mr. Forte seems to be well aware.  Forte is having an MVPish season because he’s healthy, he’s great, he’s trying to get a new contract and he has #24 breathing down his neck.  When the Bears finally do pry their fingers from their purse for Forte they had better save a few pennies for Barber as well.  Either that or they should buy something nice and shiny for Ronde Barber.

The Buccaneers’ defense got some pride late in the game and stymied the Bears for most of the rest of the second half and Tampa’s offense also finally decided to get off the plane as Josh Freeman threw fourth quarter TD’s to Kellen Winslow and then Dezmon Briscoe and suddenly the Brits were getting their Euros’ worth as, with the score 21-18, it was a ballgame.  The Bears responded by marching down the field and getting a 25-yard field goal from Robbie Gould who missed an earlier attempt for his first miscue of the year.  He must hate England.  Gould’s field goal should have been a touchdown but the Bears got goofy near the goal line and, instead of giving it to Forte, tried a few dumb passes and blah-blah and Ronde Barber also made his aforementioned super sack of Cutler to keep the Bears from the endzone.  But the Bears actually got another chance because Bucs corner Aqib Talib – the guy who plays opposite Ronde Barber and is basically a polar opposite when it comes to ability, class and intelligence – committed a personal foul by sticking his fingers in Roy Williams’ facemask (maybe he thought that’s how you make friends in England) after Barber had sacked Cutler.  This gave the Bears another four chances to score a TD.  They didn’t, but they did eat up about another 90 seconds of clock before Gould’s field goal and thus Tampa had less than two minutes left to go 80 yards for a game-winning TD.  They didn’t.  D. J. Moore  – the little cornerback who can – intercepted Freeman for the fourth Bears pick of the day and the Bears had the victory – and were allowed to get in line ahead of the Bucs for all of England’s finest meats and cheeses at the postgame spread.

Part of the reason the Bears won is that they employed the strategy that helped them go 11-5 and nearly reach the Super Bowl in 2010.  It’s called: getting lucky.  The Buccaneers were without starting running back LeGarrette Blount and then lost Earnest “I was already living in Florida when Ponce de Leon arrived” Graham on their first offensive series.  That left the Bucs with only the services of Kregg Lumpkin who was held to just 15 yards on eight carries.  And by the end of the third quarter Tampa was also down to its third-string center a guy who is never really a center just like the third girl you call for a date is usually a guy.  And, Tampa offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood commits so many penalties he might be the first-ever recipient of the Phil Pozderac Trophy.   On top of all that there was Talib’s big blunder and it all added up to helping out the Bears playbook which specifically states that the best strategy is to play dumb, unlucky teams.

Talib’s transgression might not have been much of a surprise because this wasn’t always a tidy game.  Late in the first quarter there were three successive plays that went like this: Interception, interception, safety.  Then in the fourth quarter there was an interception, a fumble, a personal foul and a reversal after a replay review – all on one play.  At this point a scattering of “bollocks!” and “buggers!” could be heard throughout Wembley Stadium.  Then a few moments later there were cheers, laughter and a few “wankers” when a likely over-served bloke left the crowd and pranced around the field before a few bobbies got hold of him and carried him off and made him look up Eddie Izzard’s dress.

Despite the sometimes sloppy play and disappointing attendance Europe does seem to have a thirst for our great American game.  Throughout the broadcast, FOX kept finding fans who donned not just Bears and Bucs gear but there also seemed to be supporters of just about every NFL squad.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told FOX that the league is getting increasingly popular in Europe and even went so far as to muse that London might someday get its own NFL franchise and I’m betting most people in Miami are hoping it’s the Dolphins.

The Bears now come home from England and have a bye week and I hope Johnny Knox got on the plane because if I were a British talent scout I would have had a ten million pound check in my pocket and these words on my tongue “Johnny Knox Rocks the Piccadilly Circus.”  Assuming, wildly, that didn’t happen and Johnny and friends are all back in Lake Forest the Bears know they will always have London as they set their sights on Philadelphia for their next game, against the Eagles, on Monday, November 7.   This will be another primetime appearance for the Maybes of the Midway and comes against an Eagles team that, after this coming Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, will either be back in the fight at 3-4 or ready to take a knee at 2-5.

A defeated and deflated Eagles team would be better for Chicago’s cause but the truth is it might not matter because the Bears have always done a decent job of shutting down Michael Vick.  And the Bears continue to improve at protecting Cutler and overall putting him in better position to make plays and not just because he’s standing up.  And if Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz uses the extra week of practice to remember this and not institute more no-protection razzle-dazzle and Forte spends the fortnight packed in ice and counting the money he still doesn’t have and the Bears defense continues its mini-resurgence (Turnovers! Turnovers! Turnovers!) then a win in Philly won’t just be hoped for, but expected.   If that happens the Bears will be 5-3 and, thanks to another loss by Detroit, within a Jim Schwartz swing of second place in Green Bay’s rearview mirror.  That’s another reason this victory over Tampa was so important.  There’s no way the Bears are going to catch the Packers for the division crown and another loss against a potential NFC wild-card rival would have been devastating.  As it is now, the Bears would actually grab a wild-card spot behind the Lions as Chicago is ahead of already-vanquished Tampa and Atlanta in tiebreakers.

So, yippee.  There are nine games to go and the Bears have a lot of growing to do.  They’re not where they want to be but they’re not very far from where they need to be.  They won the hearts and minds of the British and now it’s back to the new world, and a very interesting two months.

Other Thoughts:

Muammar Qaddafi got off easy compared to what the Saints did to the Colts.

I could have watched the Seahawks-Browns game but instead stood in the corner for three hours and gnawed on stucco.  I stand by my choice.  I would have done the same thing for Monday night’s Ravens-Jaguars game but the World Series was on the other channel.

Wisconsin lost to Michigan State in a thriller which means no Big Ten team will have a chance to get demolished by Alabama or LSU in the BCS title game.

Chris Johnson was the third best running back – at best – in the Titans’ 41-7 loss to the Texans.  Houston has two great running backs, a great receiver and a good quarterback.  The 4-2 Texans also have the league’s eighth best defense.  Does anyone realize this?

The NFL’s top six defensive teams are in the AFC, along with eight of the top ten.  Four of the league’s top five offensive teams are in the NFC – all except the top team, New England.

The New Orleans Saints scored more points Sunday (62) than the St. Louis Rams have scored all season (56.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Vikings, Hello London

Life for an NFL player is pretty good.  Take the members of the Chicago Bears – they beat the purple off the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football and what do they get for groin-kicking one of the league’s worst teams?  An all-expense paid trip to London!

We ordinary mortals get rewarded for doing what we’re supposed to do by simply being allowed to keep our jobs –most of the time – but NFL players are rewarded with foreign trips, contract extensions and even the occasional giggle from Suzy Kolber.  Remind me to be reincarnated with 4.4 speed.

The Bears, like most teams, were good against the Vikes compiling a 39-10 triumph over the nit-wit Norsemen at Soldier Field to improve to 3-3 and stay within a snowball’s throw of the 6-0 Green Bay Packers and 5-1 Detroit Jim Schwartzes in the NFC North.  It was a nice outing for Jay Cutler who threw for 267 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, was only sacked once and didn’t need any help finding his teeth or testicles before the postgame press conference.  The 1-5 Vikings are not good, not good, not good but they do have a talented pass rush and the Bears, with Lance Louis inserted at right tackle and Chris Spencer at right guard, did a good job of protecting Jay and opening holes for Matt Forte who put together 123 total yards and 35 more requests for a new contract.

And then there’s the man who deserves his own bubble gum card, rock opera, red Cadillac and small moon: Devin Hester.  Mister Hester, if you haven’t heard – and that probably means you play or coach for the Vikings – is quite adroit when it comes to catching the football on kickoffs and punts and took one such offering from the purple turf eaters 98 yards for a score.  Hester now has 16 career returns for touchdowns and will certainly receive at least as many votes in the next Republican straw poll.  Memo to the world: unless you’re a Rockette, don’t kick at Devin Hester.

The Bears also had a new look at safety with rookie Chris Conte – whose grandfather is the actor Richard Conte who got gunned down in “The Godfather” and that means don’t mess with this kid – getting the start alongside second-year fella Major Wright.  Messrs. Conte and Wright weren’t tested all too much by Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb who, by this time next year, will be selling McNabb Burgers instead of throwing passes – but give the young men credit for flying to the ball and helping hold Adrian Peterson to just 39 yards rushing.  Is this the time to mention that Peterson is making $14.3 million per season and Forte is making $600,000?

So now the Bears are off to England for a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and hopefully a kiss from Pippa Middleton.  This will be Chicago’s first game on foreign turf since last season when they took their troubles to Toronto and squeezed out a 22-19 decision over the Buffalo Bills.  The Bills were bad way back then but this is 2011 and the Bucs are good.  Tampa returns to the motherland with a 4-2 mark and fresh off a 26-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints.  Of course, just the week before the Buccaneers got throat-punched by the suddenly sassy 49ers, 48-3 in San Francisco, so it’s unclear which Tampa team will be eating crumpets and avoiding dentists next Sunday.

And we also have no idea how the Bears will play.  Or do we?  Chicago is basically in a pattern this year of beating poor or so-so teams – Falcons, Panthers, Vikings  – and losing to good ones – Saints, Packers, Lions.  So that would mean the Muggles of the Midway will likely get their passports punched with a loss.  But the Bears have only given up one sack in two of the past three games and are facing a Tampa team that is just 25th in defense, 15th in offense and will likely be without running back LeGarrette Blount.  The Bucs do have Earnest “I’m very old” Graham who ran for 109 yards against the Saints but otherwise don’t seem to have much of an offensive threat.  So it’s not crazy to think the Bears can beat the Bucs, improve to 4-3, rest up on their bye week, and then go to Philadelphia to pluck the flightless Eagles and enter the halfway point 5-3.

Could it be?

The Bears know that it pretty much has to be.  There are ten games left in the season but it’s already looking next to impossible to catch the Packers, and the Detroit Jim Harbaugh Haters won’t be easy to tackle either.  And having already lost to the Saints, the Bears cannot afford another NFC defeat.  So this game Sunday could be a win and really they’re all starting to feel like a must-win.  Hopefully they put on a jolly good show across the water but Bears fans will simply settle for a plain old points advantage.

And, win or lose, I suggest Lovie Smith take his Bears to visit the gravesite of Benny Hill.  Because football, you see, is just a game.  And sometimes you have to laugh even if you lose.

Lee Roy Selmon Announces Retirement (1986)

It was not a surprise on April 23, 1986 when star DE Lee Roy Selmon announced his retirement. He had not appeared in a game since the Pro Bowl following the ’84 season where he suffered a herniated disk in his back. Selmon was forced to sit out all of 1985, hoping that surgery would not be necessary and that he would be able to return to action. But once he received word that even with surgery there was no certainty of playing again, he made the decision to retire. At the press conference, he said “I’m just thankful I was able to play ten years.”

It had actually been just nine years encompassing 121 regular season games, but a great nine years. Selmon’s retirement marked a significant milestone in Buccaneers history. He was the first player ever drafted by Tampa Bay with the initial overall pick as an expansion team in 1976 (the other new team that year, the Seattle Seahawks, lost a coin toss to the Bucs and chose second). His college credentials at Oklahoma were outstanding, where he had won both the Outland and Lombardi trophies for his play on the line. Head Coach John McKay was looking to emphasize defense in the new team’s first draft, and going with the best defensive player available made sense. In the second round, Tampa Bay picked Selmon’s older brother (by 11 months), Dewey, a defensive tackle (he was moved to linebacker in his second pro season); the two had played together in high school and college, and would now have the opportunity to do so again in the NFL.

The Buccaneers got off to a rough start, even for an expansion team, losing all 14 games in ’76 and the first 26 altogether before finally winning the last two contests of the 1977 season. The defense was the league’s worst in ’76, not helped by Selmon missing half of the campaign due to a knee injury.

The team began to improve in 1977, and Selmon was a key contributor. When they won their first game, at New Orleans, Selmon had three sacks (not yet an official statistic) and 12 tackles. The big breakthrough came in 1979, however, as Tampa Bay went 10-6 and advanced all the way to the NFC Championship game.

The overall performance of the defense was significant to the club’s success in ’79, and not surprisingly, Selmon led the way. Playing at right defensive end in a 3-4 alignment, he recorded 11 sacks (unofficially). He also had 117 tackles and forced three fumbles (with two recoveries, one for a touchdown). For his efforts, Selmon was a consensus first team All-Pro selection, went to the Pro Bowl for the first of six consecutive years, and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

Brother Dewey was part of an outstanding group of linebackers that included Richard Wood at the other inside spot and David Lewis and Cecil Johnson on the outside. The secondary was the most effective in the league and consisted of cornerbacks Jeris White and Mike Washington and safeties Mark Cotney and Cedric Brown. The other two starting defensive linemen, nose tackle Randy Crowder and left end Wally Chambers, rounded out the solid unit that ranked first overall in the NFL – they gave up the fewest points (237), total yards (3949), and passing yards (2076).

The Buccaneers failed to sustain the success of 1979 – they sank back to 5-10-1 in ’80 and made it to the postseason just twice more during Selmon’s career.

The 6’3”, 250-pounder was often double- and triple-teamed by opposing offenses, yet his speed, strength, and agility made him an impact player in any event. In 1980, with offenses concentrated on stopping him, Selmon was credited with 72 quarterback “hurries” to go along with nine sacks. In all, he was credited with 78.5 sacks and 380 “hurries” over the course of his career.

Selmon received first or second team All-Pro recognition in five of his nine seasons, and was an All-NFC choice (first or second team) after seven of them. It was hardly surprising that the Buccaneers retired his number 63; he also became the first inductee into the team’s Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium in 2009. Selmon was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

Brother Dewey also played well for Tampa Bay (he was named team MVP in 1978) until a thigh injury suffered in training camp knocked him out for the 1981 season; he was traded to San Diego, where he played one year in ’82 prior to retiring.

Pleasant and soft-spoken off the field, Selmon was a terror on it. As Coach McKay put it at the time of Selmon’s selection to the Hall of Fame, “He was almost unblockable. I can’t imagine anyone being better. He was the heart of our team. At a time when we were pretty fair, he was what made us pretty fair.” Doug Williams, the club’s quarterback during much of Selmon’s career, added, “If he had been in a four-man front, they would have banned Lee Roy from the game.”

Maybe the most telling tribute came from an opposing offensive tackle, Ted Albrecht of the Bears, who once told an assistant coach at halftime of a game against the Bucs, “There are four things in the world I don’t want to do under any circumstance. Number one, I don’t want to milk a cobra. Number two, I don’t want to be buried at sea. Number three, I don’t want to get hit in the head with a hockey puck. And number four, I don’t want to play the second half against Lee Roy Selmon.”

 

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

 

Trades Involving Big Name QB’s That Never Happened

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1987 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trades

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

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

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

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trade

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

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

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

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

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Phil Simms Trades

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

 

1993 NFL Draft – Rumored Joe Montana Trades

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1995 NFL Draft – Rumored Mark Brunell Trades

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

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

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

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

 

2010 NFL Draft – Rumored Ben Roethlisberger Trades

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

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

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

 

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

 

Andrew McKillop runs the sports research blog SportsDelve.com.