August 24, 2017

Lions 34, Bears 17: Hell With Extra Gravy and Thanks For Nothing

The Chicago Bears got off to a blazing start in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, we’re talking hotter than a rear-ended Pinto, and led 14-3 after the first quarter.

Then, the tryptophan kicked in, the Lions awoke and, in the end, the Bears looked like an Edsel with the tires slashed and lost 34-17 to fall to 5-7 and the playoffs now appear more remote, distant and delusional than ever.

The Bears knew running against the Lions would be difficult so they instead tried running from the running game, compiling just seven carries for a mere 14 yards. If you only run seven times you had better be able to throw well and the result there for Chicago was like sitting in an out-of-gas Gremlin during a snowstorm. You know, kinda cool, but ultimately very cold and pointless.

Unless you’re with a girl or have a bunch of brownies.

Neither of these were the case for our beloved Bears as Jay Cutler hoisted it an eye-popping 48 times with 31 completions, two touchdowns and two interceptions and a lot of vexation.

Was the Bears defense any better? Other than a Jared Allen strip sack of Matthew Stafford in the first quarter that set up the Bears’ second touchdown, no.

We’re saddened to be at 5-7 but not terribly surprised, at least not anymore. And, we wish we could go and hide, or at least stay out of the spotlight for a bit. The tough thing is another Thursday night awaits, and it’s bringing Cowboys with it.

The Bears don’t do well in the bright lights of primetime. Lately, the Bears don’t do well under the glow of a flashlight in a tent in the backyard with your friend Timmy, a six pack of Orange Crush and the ladies underwear section of an old Sears catalog.

The Cowboys lost on Thanksgiving, too. It’s a pity. If Dallas and Chicago had both won then this Thursday’s contest would have been a tense, chilly showdown of playoff aspirants. Instead, the Cowboys still have, at 8-4, a solid chance at playing in January but the Bears, unless some impossible math and acrobatics occur, can only be spoilers.

Sometimes the best thing for a bad mood is to spread it. The Bears will try. A win over the Cowboys would be an early Christmas gift. It would be nice because we’ll be home in January and probably next Thanksgiving, too. –TK

Turkeys Can’t Tackle

Thanksgiving Day saw the Oakland Raiders travel to the great state of Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys.  The Raiders were coming off a horrible 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans and the Cowboys were coming off a 24-21 win over the New York Giants.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski booted the ball nine yards deep into the end zone and Dallas return man Terrance Williams ran it out.  When he reached the 23-yard line, he was hit and the ball came loose.  Rookie wide receiver Greg Jenkins alertly picked it up and returned it for a Raider touchdown.  The play was reviewed and the call was upheld.  Janikowski made the point after and just like that, the Raiders had a 7-0 lead with 14:48 to go in the first quarter.

That play was followed by two punts from the Raiders and three from the Cowboys.  Both defenses were playing very well.  With a little under a minute to go in the first quarter, Dallas punter Chris Jones sent a punt high in the air that was fair caught at the Oakland six-yard line by Jenkins.  I was hoping he would let it go through the end zone, but that wasn’t the case.  So, on first down from the six, quarterback Matt McGloin fumbled the snap.  It bounced to the right and rolled to the left.  Running back Rashad Jennings tried to pick it up and run with it, but the ball bounced off his hands and was recovered by defensive end Kyle Wilber at the Oakland two-yard line.  That great field position was taken advantage of on the first play as running back DeMarco Murray ran off left tackle for a two-yard touchdown.  Kicker Dan Bailey made the point after and the score was now knotted at seven with 43 seconds to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders got the ball back at their 21 and on third and seven, McGloin completed a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Rod Streater for a first down at the 44.  A short run by running back Darren McFadden and a completion to tight end Mychal Rivera moved the Raiders down to the Dallas 29.  Two more plays gained one yard and on third and nine from the 28, McGloin hooked up with rookie wide receiver Andre Holmes for a gain of 20.  A false start moved them back five yards, and on first down from the 13, Jennings was thrown for a loss of three.  On second and goal from the 16, McGloin completed another pass to Holmes for a touchdown.  But the ruling was reversed because he did not break the plane.  That put them on the one-yard line and Jennings took it in from there for a touchdown.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 14-7 with 10:13 to go in the second quarter.

The Raider defense continued to play well and quarterback Tony Romo threw three straight incomplete passes.  Jones punted and Jenkins fielded the punt at the Oakland 36.  He returned it 14 yards to set the Raiders up with good field position at the 50.  On first down, Jennings took a direct snap out of the wildcat formation and was stopped for no gain.  McGloin found Jennings up the left side for a gain of 16, but that play was brought back due to offsetting penalties.  A short run by McFadden and a completion to Rivera gave the Raiders a first down at the 40.  Three straight runs by Jennings moved them down to the 22.  From the 22, McGloin hooked up with Holmes again for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 11.  Two short runs by Jennings and a seven-yard pass to wide receiver Jacoby Ford gave them a first and goal at the one-yard line.  Jennings got the call on first down and took it into the end zone.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 21-7 with 1:56 to go in the first half.

Surely they could stop Romo and the Cowboys again, right?  No problem.  The defense had been playing very well throughout the half and I saw no reason why they couldn’t take a 21-7 lead into the locker room.  Well, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver had other ideas.  The pressure from the defense was nonexistent.  Romo had time to find his receivers and two passes to tight end Jason Witten and one to Murray moved them quickly from their 27 to the Oakland 32-yard line.  From the 32, Romo dumped a short pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant.  He was hit by cornerback Mike Jenkins and the ball came loose.  This was a golden opportunity for the Raiders to bring this drive to an end, but the ball was recovered by the Cowboys.  On third and seven from the 29, Romo found Bryant again for a gain of 25.  Two plays later, Murray took it into the end zone for a Cowboy touchdown.  Bailey made the point after and the Cowboys now trailed 21-14 at halftime.  It was truly amazing how they hadn’t been able to go anywhere throughout the first half and then they suddenly went 70 yards in under two minutes.  Gee, I wonder why that happened.  Actually, I know why it happened.  All the blitzing and pressure was gone.  The Raiders went soft and the Cowboys took full advantage of it.

Still, the Raiders were winning.  But I’m pretty sure the Cowboys made adjustments at halftime.  It looked like the Raiders devoured a couple of turkeys at halftime and didn’t make any adjustments.  Maybe Jerry Jones snuck a couple of turkeys into their locker room during the second quarter.  The Raiders got the ball first and aside from a 21-yard pass to Holmes, they went nowhere.  Also, guard Andre Gurode was flagged for his THIRD false start penalty.  Gurode, you USED to be a Cowboy.  You don’t play for them anymore.  I’d appreciate it if you’d wait for the ball to be snapped before you start moving.  Stop doing favors for your former team!

Punter Marquette King punted the ball away and the Cowboys took over at their 13.  On third and 13 from the ten, Romo avoided the pressure and completed a 14-yard pass to Williams.  Running back Lance Dunbar was brought into the game and on second and four from the 30, he broke off a 45-yard run right up the middle.  He was finally dragged down at the Oakland 25 by cornerback Phillip Adams.  A completion to Murray and another run by Dunbar had the Cowboys knocking at the door again.  A touchdown run by Murray was called back due to holding on the Cowboys.  But that didn’t seem to bother them too much and three plays later, Romo found Bryant in the end zone.  Bailey made the point after and the score was knotted at 21 with 5:11 to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders went three and out and punted again.  The Cowboys started at their 35 and on third and six from the 39, Romo dumped off a short pass to Witten.  Both linebacker Kevin Burnett and safety Brandian Ross were there to stop Witten short.  However, they could not bring him down.  Witten powered his way to the 42 for a first down.  A couple of runs by Dunbar and a seven-yard pass to Murray had the Cowboys in Oakland territory again.  Another run by Murray and an unnecessary roughness penalty on linebacker Sio Moore gave the Cowboys a first and goal at the seven-yard line.  From the seven, Murray took the ball up the right side and the gassed Raider defense let him score his third touchdown of the day.  Bailey made the point after and the Cowboys now led 28-21 with 14:20 to go in the game.

Both teams punted on their next possessions and the Raiders got the ball at their 44.  On first down, McGloin hit Holmes in stride for a nice 35-yard gain.  Then, he looked for fullback Marcel Reece across the middle and the pass was broken up and almost picked off.  On third and nine from the 20, McGloin made a costly mistake.  He threw a high pass for Ford in the corner of the end zone.  Ford is the shortest receiver on the team and although he does possess some good leaping ability, he was no match for cornerback Brandon Carr.  Carr picked the pass off in the end zone and that brought the drive to an end.  Standing in the middle of the end zone uncovered was Rivera.  How McGloin didn’t see him is beyond me.

The Cowboys took over at their 20 and proceeded to roll over the Raiders.  Dunbar and Murray grinded out some tough yards and the Raiders simply couldn’t stop them.  Granted, they had players in position to stop them, but they didn’t wrap them up.  A 14-yard pass to Murray and a short run by Dunbar netted a first down at the Oakland 27.  Several more carries by Murray set up a first and goal at the ten.  Murray ran off left tackle for three, Bryant caught a short pass and on third and goal from the three, Murray ran up the middle looking for his fourth touchdown of the day.  It wasn’t meant to be as he was stopped short by defensive tackle Vance Walker.  But that didn’t matter.  If Bailey made his 19-yard field goal attempt, the game was pretty much over and done with.  The kick was good and the Cowboys now led 31-21 with 1:56 to go in the game.  The Raiders managed to get a 45-yard field goal on their final possession, but the onside kick was recovered by the Cowboys.  Game over.  Final score: Cowboys 31 Raiders 24.  The loss dropped the Raiders to 4-8 and the Cowboys improved to 7-5.

For the Raiders, Matt McGloin completed 18 of 30 for 255 yards, no touchdowns and one very costly interception.  Andre Holmes had a great day and led the team in receptions with seven and yards with 136.  The normally effective running game was held in check by the Cowboys.  All totaled, the Raiders rushed for just 50 yards on 25 carries.  Jennings led the team with 35 yards on 17 carries and two short touchdown runs.  Defensively, Nick Roach led the Raiders in solo tackles with ten and had two sacks and one tackle for a loss.

For the Cowboys, Tony Romo completed 23 of 32 for 225 yards and one touchdown.  Dez Bryant led the team in receptions with seven and yards with 61 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Lance Dunbar led the way with 82 yards on 12 carries and DeMarco Murray added 63 yards on 17 carries and three touchdowns.  As a team, the Cowboys rushed for a total of 144 yards on 30 carries.  Defensively, safety Barry Church led the Cowboys in solo tackles with six.

Well, once again, the Raiders got off to a good start and blew a 14-point lead.  They just can’t seem to finish games.  It has become highly annoying.  If they had been able to win every close game they’ve been in, they’d be 9-3 instead of 4-8.  Up next is another trip across the country to play the New York Jets.  The Jets have not been putting many points on the board in recent weeks, so they’re due for a big game.  If the Raiders keep playing soft and don’t pressure the quarterback, the Jets just may come away with a win.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

Sweet Victories and Happy Memories

For the casual football fan, Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity to watch the Lions and Cowboys – preferably over dinner – and spend some down time with the ones you love.

My Thanksgiving for the last several years has begun at Andrus Field, the oldest continuously used football field in the United States, with several thousand people.

Corwin Stadium at Andrus Field in the heart of Middletown, Connecticut has been the one and only playing field for the Wesleyan University football team since the 1880s. Surrounded by academic buildings both modern and historic in the center of the campus, it has become the Thanksgiving meeting place for high school football zealots eager to see the city’s crosstown rivalry, the Middletown Blue Dragons vs. the Xavier Falcons.

This year’s contest produced more than 5,000 spectators for the 10 a.m. contest, the results of which, to my satisfaction, were the same as last year: the Falcons rolled to a decisive 48-6 victory. The win capped the second consecutive undefeated season for Xavier (10-0) and secured the top playoff seeding in defense of its Class LL (Connecticut’s largest high schools) state championship.

Throughout the season the Falcons had narrowly enjoyed the number one ranking in the state polls. Despite having won 23 straight games at this point, Xavier was still just a vote or two away from being supplanted by the Masuk Panthers of Monroe, quarterbacked by Connecticut’s two-time Gatorade player of the year, Casey Cochran. The players knew they had targets on their backs. Every opposing team and player was “up” for the match against them, wanting the prize of knocking off the state’s best team.

The Falcons were by no means a group of no names, but the team’s strength was in its unity. With 20 seniors, the group had formed a bond – an interdependence and trust – that produced confidence and incredible sense of purpose.

The defensive squad, particularly, had a synergy that made it a dominant force, allowing an average of just eight points per game throughout the season. The blitz-oriented scheme not only was stingy in surrendering points, but also resulted in frequent tackles in the backfield. Resulting field position gave the Falcons run-first offense frequent opportunity to find paydirt.

The following Tuesday, the Xavier squad beat the eighth-seeded Glastonbury Tomahawks 34-6, holding them scoreless until the fourth quarter. Four days later, in the semifinal game, the Falcons trailed for the first time this year, 7-6 against Norwalk. They recaptured the lead just three plays later and didn’t look back, beating the Bears 55-14. Masuk’s season came to an end however, losing to Hand High School of Madison.

Saturday, December 10, brought the sublime: the state finals against the Staples Wreckers of Westport. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state’s governing body for high school sports competition, had wisely secured Rentschler Field (home of the UConn Huskies) for its championship games. In the state’s premiere football stadium, the Falcons triumphed 42-7, defending their title and securing the unanimous number one ranking. To add to the sweetness of the championship, Xavier’s resounding defeat of previously undefeated Staples was a bit of vindication too. Staples was the last team to beat the Falcons, in the 2009 semifinals.

The undefeated streak now stands at 26 games.

Xavier will bid farewell to its 20 seniors, but will send with them fond memories of two undefeated seasons and consecutive state titles. Of more enduring value however, will be the bonds of friendship and the sense of confidence in staring down adversity.

The experience of playing sports in high school offers little in comparison. Developing personal skills, practicing teamwork and devising strategies to succeed and advance are cemented. The Xavier players have all this, and an abiding sense of accomplishment too.