Home Is Where The Upset Is

"Can you hear me now? Good. Thanks for making Eli suck today."

"Can you hear me now? Good. Thanks for making Eli suck today."

Eagles 23, Giants 11 – It seems rather odd to me that Eli Manning has been playing in the Meadowlands for his career and yet has trouble throwing in the winds. I thought the addition of Brandon Jacobs for the Giants would turn the tide in their favor this week, but Donovan McNabb’s velocity on his passes cut thtrough when Eli’s fell weak, making the big difference after both defenses generally took the right approach to stopping the running games.  Philly’s defense fared better, stopping New York from ever reaching the end zone. Five trips to the red zone resulted in no touchdowns.  If you’re a Giants fan and the play-calling on 3rd and 4th downs made you want to pull a Buddy Ryan on Kevin Gilbride, I understand. It’s like Andy Reid transferred his crappy play-calling essence across the stadium today.

With no rooting interest left, I’m going to go with Donny Mac: despite all the times Philly has tried to run him out, I want him to win a title — because it will shut them up for the rest of his career.

Steelers 35, Chargers 24 – Final score not completely indicative of the beatdown handed out by the Pittsburgh D upon Philip Rivers. The Bolts offens never really go right after that first quick touchdown drive, and while Ben Roethlisberger completed some great throws and had the opportunity for others, Wilie Parker was the star of the game offesnively, darting in and out of the SD front seven during the entire game.  There was nothing as satisfying as watching Rivers get pounded by Lamar Woodley and Brett Kiesel.

Ravens 13, Titans 10 – Bad delay of game call late obviously, but I have a dirty suspicion that Blatimore would have converted a 3rd and 7 just as well as a 3rd and 2 at that point, because the Titans’ offense shot itself in the foot too many times with turnovers to give the D any encouragement. While Joe Flacco got some deep balls going, we’d advise holding off on the fellating. Those deep throws obscured some rather pedestrian stats and he’s not very good with the short to intermediate passing game. At this point, he’s a younger Dilfer, and Baltimore lost Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington in the War of Attrition. I saw seven guys fall thanks to injury in the second half alone.

Cardinals 33, Panthers 13 – Not quite sure what compelled John Fox to empower Jake Delhomme to throw into double and triple coverage rather than just completing handoffs — the Arizona defense helped, but that can’t be all of it — and it resulted in six turnovers for Delhomme, who telegraphed passes, threw to Steve Smith in triple coverage, and looked like he did for much of the 2007 season prior to going down for the season. That’s probably the last game he’ll play in a Carolina uniform.  Delhomme wasn’t the sole problem: not doulbe covering Larry Fitzgerald the entire game seems like the error of a first-time head coach, no someone like Fox, who ought to be on thin ice next season.

If You Need A Fix…

(Highlight found at Sports on My Mind.)

….the NFL might be the one you call on, your candyman, the one who gives you more and more, if you’re Vegas. A 3.5 point spread in the Steelers’ favor, a last second touchdown on desperation laterals. 17-10 or 18-10, until the replay booth upstairs decided that the first lateral by LaDainian Tomlinson was a forward pass — which I have looked about a dozen times now and still don’t know where the hell that call came from.  The official admitted the overturning of the call was botched, but it still doesn’t hold water.

You know this is whipping up a storm at NFL offices, because they’re sending emails about the rules to people like me, who don’t mean squat in the grand scheme. Here is part of the explanation:

There were three passes on the play. The first was a completed forward pass from San Diego’s Philip Rivers to LaDainian Tomlinson. The second, from Tomlinson to Chris Chambers, was initially ruled a legal backward pass but then reversed in replay to an illegal forward pass. The third, from Chambers, was a legal backward pass that hit the ground and was returned for the touchdown by Pittsburgh’s Polamalu.

The incorrect reversal of the on-field ruling of touchdown was acknowledged immediately following the game by referee Scott Green in the pool report interview with a representative of the media.

If any forward pass, legal or illegal, hits the ground, the play is dead immediately. The officiating crew mistakenly determined that the backward pass that Polamalu legally recovered and returned for the touchdown was the pass that was reversed in replay to being forward and illegal. Therefore, the crew ruled that the ball was dead when it hit the ground and the play was over. (The actual illegal forward pass Tomlinson to Chambers did not hit the ground and therefore the play is allowed to continue.)

If the situation had been handled properly, the defense (Pittsburgh) would have declined the penalty for an illegal forward pass from Tomlinson to Chambers and taken the touchdown.

So, a call is handled correctly by Jeff Triplette and his usually unconscionably bad officiating crew (13 penalties on the Steelers to one for the Chargers, including a complete BS pass interference call on Ike Taylor that should have been called on Vincent Jackson), yet it’s overruled by the replay booth incorrectly; as they don’t even have rule books on hand, apparently.

That was a $64 million dollar swing to Vegas right there on a bizarre play. You’ll have to excuse me if I think that there wasn’t some minor consideration of that. With that in mind, when do the big sports orgs loosen up and, y’know, actually acknowledge that people gamble on sports?  It’s kind of childish and pie-in-the-sky not to, plus, in the case of sports leagues, they can sweep accusations under the rug becuase the people that cover them won’t bother with discussing it. It’s the same “speak no evil” policy that gave the NBA Tim Donaghy.

Again, we don’t have conclusive proof of a fix being in, but this is very, very suspect.

The Red Zone: Getting The Point Across

(Video tip to Black Sports Online.)

Seahawks 34, 49ers 13 – Normally I would not lead with this because there were a litany of better games on, and I was saved from having to watch this travesty by the grace of my local Fox affiliate who rationally decided that no one in our little part of California wanted to watch the Niners get beat. However, it produced the most coherent yet quotable of coach rants from Mike Singletary, who is visibly and understandably frustrated with a quarterback who is responsible for 11 fumbles and 17 interceptions, a tight end that dogged it a bit and cost them 15 yards on a dumb penalty, and a defense that allowed a fullback, a fullback, to gather up 116 yards and two TDs on only four receptions.

Saints 37, Chargers 32 – Essentially, the Chargers stalled themselves early in London, which allowed Drew Brees and whatever mishmash of talent he has catching footballs to get up early and get a lead. 14 penalties for more than 100 penalty yards don’t help, especially when the defense has completely quit or doesn’t have enough to stop any sort of potent offense. The AFC West is slowly morphing into the NFC West, if you can believe it.

Panthers 27, Cardinals 23 – Kurt Warner got the Cards out to a 17-3 lead, but then Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith powered a Carolina comeback in Charlotte, prodded on by an amazing play where Smith looked like he had gone out of bounds on his way to the end zone, but his heel had not touched the sideline while his foot came down near it.

Cowboys 13, Buccaneers 9 – An ugly game in which Tampa Bay essentially got stopped in the red zone when they were able to mount drives, including the last failed drive with less than a minute to go. Brad Johnson threw one TD pass to Roy L. Williams, and if you have any Dallas players on your fantasy teams, I’d advise benching them until Tony Romo comes back.

Jets 28, Chiefs 24 – New York won in spite of Brett Favre as much as they did because of him. The Gunslinger threw three picks, making Tyler Thigpen look like a competent quarterback until Herm Edwards’ late conservative playcalling got int the way. Thigpen finished with two TD passes.

Giants 21, Steelers 14 – Something I’ll never understand about defensive coordinators: you go to all this trouble, if you’re Dick LeBeau, to develop good coverage and blitz schemes to use on Sunday, yet, after your team’s offense gives up and awful safety on a botched punt snap, you play prevent. Of course, when you play prevent, you give up a score, and Eli Manning hitting Kevin Boss to go ahead for good seemed utterly predictable. It would help if Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t spending half the game on his back.

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The Red Zone: Insane Finishes

Falcons 22, Bears 20 – Qualifying for the bizarre in the end.  Kyle Orton is officially a good QB to me now, having led the Bears on an incredible drive for the go-ahead score, and finishing it with a perfect fade throw to Rashied Davis, putting it where only his guy could get it. But then, the Chicago coaching staff decided to squib kick, and those ten extra yards wound up mattering: Matt Ryan, finishing off a 300+ yard day (first of his career), hit Michael Jenkins at the 34 of Chicago with one second left. Jason Elam then redeemed himself from 48 out after missing one that might have iced the game for the Falcons earlier.

Cardinals 30, Cowboys 24 – We all saw the punt block in OT that won the game (nice play.)  But there are concerns now to addressa bout Dallas’ D, which not only couldn’t get any pressure on Kurt Warner (who hit Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston all day), but looked like a colleciton of talent more than a squad. The same went on offense, where Tony Romo fumbled as much as he threw for touchdowns.

Rams 19, Redskins 17 – So, after beating Dallas and Philly on the road and getting a good jump start on the season, Washington gives up five turnovers en route to allowing St. Louis its first iwn on the season. What  a letdown.

Eagles 40, 49ers 26 – Thankfully, Donovan McNabb led a comeback, because this didn’t look good Philly at the end of hte first half, after San Francisco returned a blocked FG for a score and took a 26-17 lead in the third. The Eagles’ defense got into turnover mode, though, creating short fields and reminding the NIners that they are, well, the Niners.

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The Red Zone: He’s Having So Much Fun Out There

Jets 56, Cardinals 35 – Loath to imagine the superlatives that sportswriters will ladel on Brett Favre following a 24-34 day passing with six TD passes (three to Laveranues Coles). Most of this was enabled by five turnovers by Kurt Warner, resulting in 34 2nd quarter points for the faux-NY Titans, one fewer than Arizona was able to scrape up in the 2nd half.

Chiefs 33, Broncos 19 – Larry Johnson runs all over the weak Denver D for 198 yards on the day, but this is the day where living dangerously via the play action pass can bite you in the butt: thrwoing picks, losing fumbles to a clearly talent-inferior team, yet one that gets revved up every time you come to town.  Mike Shanahan is now 3-14 when playing in Arrowhead Stadium; it is never a place where Denver can go an win easily, ever. (And if Kansas City were actually coordinated as a team, the score would have been that much more lopsided. There were three drives that KC should have scored touchdowns on; the first quasrter could and should have ended 21-0 or 24-0.)

Saints 31, 49ers 17 – The return of Deuce McAllister only makes Drew Brees more dangerous: Brees threw for 363 yards and three more touchdowns, torching the San Francisco secondary.

Panthers 24, Falcons 9 – Um, yeah. Like I said, Matt Ryan, meet a real defense, again.  Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith for two TD passes and Muhsin Muhammad for one in the 4th to really ice it.

Jaguars 30, Texans 27 – Jacknsoville digs in when down 24-20, getting a score to go ahead and then kicker Josh Scobee pulls it out again after Houston forces overtime.

Browns 20, Bengals 12 – The less said about this game, the better, probably. It looked like a Cleveland win as soon as everyone shockingly discovered that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing in this cripple fight.

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Context Is Everything

Obviously, over the past couple of days, you’ve likely heard or read plenty about Broncos’ head coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to go for two at the end of the Chargers’ game. Much of it revolves around the testicular fortitude necessary to make such a call (true, because Les Miles thinks that was ballsy) and the rest is about the supposed “offensive genius” of the Rat Fink (which I would argue, went out when John Elway retired.)

I am not arguing that Shanahan isn’t a very good to great coach.  The majority of Super Bowl winning coaches fall in that category, particularly ones who win back to back — no matter the great talent level, coach input, motivation, and game planning must count for something. He is very good with good personnel on offense and knows how to identify it. (At this point, he looks very savvy for going after Jay Cutler when fans in 2006 were wondering why he didn’t go higher in the draft for Matt Leinart or Vince Young if he was going to trade up.)

And that call made sense. If your defense is bleeding, having given up 28 points in the second half, it’s a much smarter call to take a shot at winning the game right there and then rather than risk the capriciousness of a coin flip in overtime, where you may not get the ball. At that point, the team that wins the coin flip wins the game.  While I don’t like citing Easterbrook too much, if the percentages are so good for two-point conversions, coaches should be going for it more often.

But neither Easterbrook nor Michael Silver nor any analyst can really go into the reserve that allows Shanahan to make a call like that, because it’s not something you can call and confirm.

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The Red Zone: Eddie Guns Misfires

Broncos 39, Chargers 38 – I’m a Denver homer and even I will admit that referee Ed Hochuli completely blew it. We shouldn’t have had that chance to win that game. That said, it was smart and ballsy to go for two after Jay Cutler threw it to Eddie Royal for the touchdown because it was playing with house money and because San Diego would be reeling from getting fucked over. These teams will be fighting for the AFC West crown, because Philip Rivers and that offense know how to close and come back. They wouldn’t have gotten to the AFC championship game if they didn’t. Cutler is still learning how to finish, and there could be some shaky times. But each offense looked really good for a half.

Patriots 19, Jets 10 – The game ended with the old Brett Favre that we’ve gotten used to: a late pick-off by Brandon MeriweatherMatt Cassel threw for 165 yards, didn’t throw any TD passes, but didn’t muck it up and while he’s not going to be raging up any fantasy rosters, he might stand a chance of getting the Patriots back to the playoffs.

Titans 24, Bengals 7 – How long is Marvin Lewis for this world of NFL coaching? He’s been undermined and this looks to be the worst team he’s ever fielded in his years in Cincinnati.  Kerry Collins, relieving Vince Young, threw for one touchdown and dispensed the ball to LenDale White and Chris Johnson to eat up yardage. Tennessee’s defense got lethal, and now they are in first place in the toughest division in football.

Bills 20, Jaguars 16 – What world is this we live in, with Buffalo starting 2-0?  Trent Edwards is looking like the starting quarterback they’ve been looking for (it helps if you have Marshawn Lynch to hand off to) by throwing a fourth-quarter touchdown against a tema that was in the playoffs last year.

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The Red Zone: Week 1 Highlights

Patriots 17, Chiefs 10 – It’s all about Tom Brady probably being out for the season, and the Patriots’ chances riding on that — so much so that it overrode the game itself, where the Chiefs failed at a last second comeback. Now, it’s a question of whether Bill Belichick will stick with Matt Cassel or who he will bring in to take Brady’s place.

Eagles 38, Rams 3 – More notable for Donovan McNabb being good as we’re used to from him, with three TD passes. Here’s how lousy St. Louis is: Philly had three — count ’em — three receivers reach the 100-yard mark for the game.

Cowboys 28, Browns 10 – The Cleveland hangover from the pre-season is still there, and Tony Romo and Marion Barber basically tore it up, so much so that Felix Jones could get into the act late too.

Jets 20, Dolphins 14 – Brett Favre throws two classic Gunslinger TDs (one on fourth down when kicker Mike Nugent twinged his leg) and the New York secondary picks Chad Pennington in the end zone to seal the win.

Bills 34, Seahawks 10 – Two massive special teams plays, a punt return by Roscoe Parrish and a fake punt to a TD pass, help bolster a rout of the NFC West favorite.

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Play At Your Own Risk

Far be it for me to criticize a player’s decision about his own personal health, no matter what the sport. None of us are privy to the full information Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman got from his doctors regarding those two ligaments in his leg, but when I hear or read the words “possibly career-ending” attached to any aspect of the report, I hope the Gigantor isn’t making the wrong decision when he says he’s going to play hurt.

This mentailty is part of the NFL culture, it’s part and parcel of what we love about football at all levels, whether high school, college, or pro: these are gladiators who wnat to play, no matter how badly the bruising and nicking gets.

But this is a league where there are no guaranteed contracts, where you can be cut on a whim, and even if you play hurt, management can come back to you after the season and say, “Well, your numbers were down, you played hurt, but we have to consider your injury history.”

If I were Merriman, I’d have shut it down for the year and hoped to come back at full strength. But I’m not him — I don’t have that drive and ego necessary to be a pro athlete at the top of his game. And for all the crap he deservedly took after testing positive for steroids, I hope he makes it through without making it worse.

No one wants to see a career go down the tubes unnecessarily.

Injured Merriman opts to begin season [San Diego Union-Tribune]

Ill-Advised NFL Previews: AFC West

1) San Diego Chargers – Much like the Seahawks in the NFC West, the Bolts are head and shoulders above the rest of the division on both sides of the ball. I don’t need to go over who’s on this team in terms of the big stars; but let’s say it will be interesting to see what a full season with both Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson at the wideout positions in order to pump up Philip Rivers’ stats.  The stiff defense remains pretty much the same, and since Norv Turner got a team to the AFC championship game, I’m not sure I can mock him on that front any more, particularly when there was a good chance of him beating the Pats using a gimpy Rivers along with a combo of Michael Turner and Darren Sproles in the backfield. Obvious division winner.

2) Denver Broncos – I’m not even sure they should go this high. Pre-season games are known to lie and without Brandon Marshall for two or three games due to suspension, the receiving corps is particularly thin. Still waiting for the existence of a regular pass rush to emerge during the season, although it would be nice if the D-line makes it through the season unhurt. O-line is in a rebuilding year. I’ll believe Mike Shanahan’s promise that this team will make the playoffs when they actually do make the playoffs.

3) Oakland Raiders – This team may have too many running backs to go around, and they’re producing in pre-season, but you never know how that translates. If their offensive line keeps blocking, they’ll steal games and play spoiler for several teams, although I don’t believe any team paying Javon Walker that much money to be a #1 receiver will be landing a Wild Card.  Honestly, depending on the first couple of games, they could be a good candidate to finish second if JaMarcus Russell is anything resembling efficient, because Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden should be good enough to get some yardage.

4) Kansas City Chiefrs – Trade away your best pass rusher, get an injury-prone defensive stud in the draft, and still stuck with Brodie Croyle as your quarterback. It’s hard for me to hate the Chiefs like I should as a good Broncos fan, because their fans are stuck with Carl Petersen and Herm Edwards still running the show badly.