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The Sublime and the Ridiculous: Week 6 in the NFL

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

A coach complaining about a poorly executed handshake, and another coach getting his leg broken by his own tight end… there were plenty of ridiculous moments in week 6 of the NFL, and we’ll get to those after looking at what caught the eye on the actual playing field this past weekend.

From the sublime…

Just over two minutes remaining at Gillette Stadium on Sunday and the Cowboys are leading the Patriots by three points. Tom Brady has the ball in his hand at the New England 20 yard line. What do you think happens next? That’s right, Brady leads his side up the field and ends up throwing an 8 yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez. Not only that, but the cold-blooded Brady only leaves 22 seconds on the clock for the Cowboys to respond (they couldn’t). This was another brilliant example of the style, control and efficiency of one of the greatest QBs the game has ever seen.

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler can’t believe that people kick the ball to Devin Hester. Those of us unaccustomed to punting an oval shaped object on an American football field can only assume that eleven 6ft 4, 250lb men trying their level best to break you in half, can only disrupt your ability to kick the ball into the perfect spot on the field. Maybe that explains why Hester receives the ball so often in punting situations. But there is little excuse for kickers during kickoffs. On Sunday night against the Vikings, Hester returned a career-long 98 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, as the Bears cruised to a 39-10 victory. Electric stuff.

Probably only fair to give the Philadelphia Eagles credit when it’s due. After a four-game losing streak they finally got their second win of the season at Washington following a 20-13 victory over the Redskins. The Eagles went back to basics, concentrating on tackling and controlling the clock for over 38 minutes. Star of the show however was safety Kurt Coleman who claimed three interceptions, putting Redskins’ QB Rex Grossman on the fasttrack to the bench.

To the ridiculous…

Now this… this was ridiculous. Easily the most talked-about moment of the weekend’s football, and possibly the most controversial event of the season so far. No prizes for guessing, it’s the already infamous post-match dust up between 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh and his Lions’ counterpart Jim Schwartz, following San Francisco’s late victory at Ford Field on Sunday. AKA “handshake-gate”. If you’re reading a blog about the NFL, then you’ll know what’s being discussed here.

The handshake/backslap/aggressive run/shouting and ensuing faux melee isn’t what’s most ridiculous here, but rather the subsequent reaction to it over in the US. It’s like the whole morality of the country has been thrown into disrepute by the behaviour of these teams. Calls for bans and fines. Basically the US media has gone into overdrive on this one. Predictably so.

Let’s break this thing down. Two coaches running down the field – barely staying on their feet – followed by a few guys from the opposing teams rushing into a corner before, em… looking at each other? That’s not a fight, or a brawl. That’s nothing to warrant long-term bans or fines (and the NFL themselves appear to agree, having refused to dish out any punishments). What it is, is good comedy – especially Harbaugh’s post-match interview in which he effectively workshopped the handshake – but little else.

Most of us here in Ireland have probably seen worse at under-14 hurling games, where mass brawls break out at the mere awarding of a sideline puc. Where lumps of ash are cracked off the nearest bone. Referees have been known to be locked in the boots of cars; and when they’re lucky enough to leave the ground in one piece they’re likely to be ran off the road. What happened in Detroit is an insult. An insult even to the concept of ‘handbags’. Imagine if the 49ers players came out of the changing rooms with sticks!

It would be interesting to see the American media reaction if a proper fight broke out in the NFL. Hopefully some day we’ll get the chance to find out.

Moving on… one coach that suffered a real bad break on Sunday was the Saints’ Sean Payton. Not only did his side lose in Tampa Bay, but he also got knocked sideroads as he stood along the touchdown during the first half of the game. Doing the damage was his tight end, Jimmy Graham. Payton tore an MCL and fractured the tibia in his left leg. He has subsequently had surgery on his knee and leg and is expected to call the plays against the Colts this Sunday from the press box.

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The Sublime and the Ridiculous: Week 5 in the NFL

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

There was plenty more fun and frolics in week 5 of the NFL. The Neutral Zone breaks down some of the more memorable moments…

From the sublime…

The Detroit Lions have not been 5-0 since 1956. Until now. A 24-13 victory against the Chicago Bears in front of the Monday Night Football cameras cements their unbeaten start to the 2011 season. It was a slow start to the game and Detroit trailed 10-7 at half-time, but 17 second-half points propelled the Lions to victory. Jahvid Best ran for 163 yards, averaging 13.6 yards per carry. Calvin Johnson received five balls and still made 130 yards. When these guys have the ball they’re hard to stop. It’s been a sublime start to the season for Detroit and the way they are currently playing, it might just continue for a while.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a touchdown like the one at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday that helped the Kansas City Chiefs to a four-point victory over the Colts. It defied gravity, and for the most part defied belief. Take a bow, Dwayne Bowe. His touchdown catch in the endzone was something to behold. One moment he was falling over, the following moment he was in the air, then next he was doing a star-jump/cartwheel on one foot. And all the while he was catching the ball with one hand. Part poetic, part balletic, it was mainly very dramatic. Thank God for NFL’s Red Zone coverage, and thank God for Sky Sports having the good sense to allow us to access it.

Who’s going to stop the Packers? 14 points down in Atlanta and stay still find a way to conjure up a victory. And a comfortable one at that. They can win ugly, they can win pretty… but they just win. And Aaron Rodgers finished just four yards shy of 400. St. Louis and Minnesota are next up for Mike McCarthy’s men – two teams with only one win between them. The trip to San Diego in November might tell us a little more.

To the ridiculous…

Last week it was Jeremy Maclin who was stripped of the ball as the Eagles threw a big lead away en route to defeat against the 49ers. This week Jason Avant outdid Maclin, fumbling twice in the second-half to help the Bills to victory in Buffalo. But the most ridiculous moment of this game came right at the very end. Facing a Buffalo 4th and 1, with barely 40 seconds on the clock and zero timeouts remaining, Philadelphia knew that the Bills offense would try and draw the Eagles offense offside. Time then to stand firm and let Buffalo kick, right? Right?! Not if you’re Juqua Parker, the Eagles’ defensive end, who thought it would be a good idea to get a run on Buffalo and subsequently jumped before the snap. Yellow flag. Game over. As if five turnovers wasn’t bad enough, these crazy, stupid msitakes are killing this Philadelphia team. That moment of madness from Parker smacks of a team that is just not adequately prepared to win football games.

Tom Brady has never thrown an interception in the red zone at home. Now that is truly a ridiculous statistic. Or at least it was. No, really… that was a true story up until Sunday. In the final play of the first half at Foxboro against the New York Jets, the Patriots were in the red zone, and looking like they would increase their lead with a field goal at the very least. But Tom Brady obviously wanted a go at a touchdown first, and his arrowed delivery reached the hands of Rob Gronkowski in the endzone. However, the tight-end could not hold on, and Jets corner-back Antonio Cromartie gratefully accepted the ball with open arms. This was just a great Tom Brady statistic, but now it’s gone. And it wasn’t even his fault.

Guess how many false starts the Chicago Bears committed in Monday night’s loss to the Lions? Nine. Yes nine! With six of these coming in the first half. Anyone who stayed up to watch the game on ESPN will most likely have been seeing yellow flags in their sleep. The Bears are struggling to get anything going on offense. Jay Cutler had one of his better games, throwing for 249 yards, yet they could only amass 13 points. Giving up over 100 penalty yards doesn’t help. A home tie against the Vikings this weekend should see them back up to .500, but Adrian Peterson lies in wait for a defense struggling to stop the run.

Another place in the ‘ridiculous’ column this week for the Giants’s Victor Cruz. Last week he drew our attention for crazily giving up the football against the Cardinals. This week he’s back in again, for a simply ridiculous salsa dance following a very nice touchdown against the Seahawks. Seriously, what does this guy be thinking? It actually wasn’t too bad, but he’s got a bit to go yet if he wants to fill Hines Ward’s tap shoes.

The Sublime and the Ridiculous: Week 4 in the NFL

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

The games at Dallas and Philadelphia on Sunday past both flitted seamlessly between the sublime and the ridiculous, but there was plenty else to catch the eye as the NFL regular season hit the quarter-way point.

From the sublime…

It was another exemplary performance from Aaron Rodgers and the packers on Sunday. This time the Denver Broncos bore the brunt. Rodgers threw for four touchdowns and rushed for another two to help Green Bay to another facile 49-23 victory. I mentioned last week that these Packers have been near faultless so far, and Sunday was another example of how difficult they will be to stop this season. There are some question marks hanging over their defense, with 97 points conceded in four games, but the offense is absolutely purring, and at the minute they are quite rightly the clear favourites to win the Lombardi trophy in back to back seasons.

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Last week the Chicago Bears were castigated for only producing 13 (thirteen) rushing yards in a 10 point loss to Green Bay. It was a game that had remained reasonably close throughout, but the Bears appeared to shoot themselves in the foot. Fast forward seven days and Chicago put up a 34-29 win over the Panthers with running back Matt Forte racking up 205 yards, a career high. That is some production. But hey, Lovie Smith… what took ya so long?! Probably the happiest man on Soldier Field was Jay Cutler. He only got sacked once. Bet there weren’t as many painkillers required for him on Monday morning past. Cutler will have a better chance to be more productive for Chicago if the Bears can get their running game together, and Sunday was a good start. Okay, it was only the Panthers, but the Bears are still hanging around. Oh, and it helps when you have Devin Hester returning punts!

The Patriots are still hanging around also. Apparently last week’s defeat to the Bills didn’t finish their season after all. 4 interceptions last week in Buffalo, zero this week in Oakland. That’s how Tom Brady’s offense responds to defeat. They right the wrongs and win without their opponents even sniffing victory. It may have been less spectacular than some of New England’s recent wins, with Brady throwing for just (!) 226 yards, but this was an excellent team performance from the Patriots. They were blemish free. One man that caught the eye, and almost everything else was Wes Welker. Still Brady’s go-to man, Welker had 158 receiving yards, and looks as good as ever. At least 30 points for 12 consecutive games, the Patriots are going nowhere for a while yet.

To the ridiculous…

The ‘Victor Cruz thing’ in the Giants victory at Arizona still isn’t making any sense. It’s difficult to understand what the umpires were thinking of when they ruled that Cruz had given himself up and was therefore down. This was an instrumental play in the game and it ultimately decided it’s outcome, but that should be immaterial. No matter what point in the game the play came, the umpires just have to see that Cruz tripped, stumbled and fell and promptly disregarded the football without having been touched. It’s even more difficult to rationalise what Cruz was at. A horribly careless play from the wide receiver, and the very least it deserved was to cost the Giants the game. The only thing I can think of was that Cruz thought he was playing in a college game. He might not get so lucky the next time.

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Baltimore’s win at home to the Jets was a sight for sore eyes. And tired eyes, if you stayed up to watch the outcome of this one on Channel 4. Or maybe you found it funny. It was slapstick quarterback play at it’s best. Or worst. With Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez resembling Laurel and Hardy in an error-strewn game for both. They had a grand total of zero touchdowns between them. Flacco was 10-31 and threw 2 interceptions, while Sanchez was reduced to a stumbling mess. He was 11-35, but it was his three turnovers – each returned for touchdowns by the Ravens – that really cost the Jets in this one. According to Jets coach Rex Ryan, Sanchez “struggled mightily”. So did the Jets… and it’s the Patriots up next.

Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount will be happy to learn that he’s made it into this particular part of the column for all the right reasons. In fact he should probably be in both the sublime and ridiculous sections, for his performance against the Colts during the Bucs 24-17 victory on Monday night. Blount ran for 127 yards and a touchdown as Tampa eventually ground down a spirited Indianapolis challenge. He was the match winner in a game that never truly settled, and the Colts just could not stop him. The ridiculous part: there was a play at the end of the game when Blount ran for about ten yards after contact, with no less than 4 Colts hanging off his legs. This man just won’t go down, and he may prove to be the perfect foil for the ever-impressive Josh Freeman.