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NFL – Bills’ Game Review

28 Sep

Sunday’s contest against the Houston Texans was probably Buffalo Bills fans’ worst nightmare. The quarterback their team dumped a couple years ago, Ryan Fitzpatrick, outplayed the current QB, EJ Manuel, as the Texans won 23-17. For the second straight week, the Bills needed Manuel to bring them from behind to pull out a win, and for the second straight week he failed. He not only wasn’t up to leading a winning fourth quarter drive, he also was directly responsible for at least a ten point swing in the score as he handed Texans’ superstar J.J. Watt a gift-wrapped 80 yard interception return for a touchdown while his team was already in field goal range. The play wasn’t a desperation forced throw into coverage, it was a simple swing pass to a back that he lofted into Watt’s hands. It was just another example of Manuel’s inability to see the field and read the defense. Manuel also had numerous inaccurate throws during the game in which he missed open receivers and blew chances to keep drives alive. He still seems to be overthinking the game rather than just playing. In fact, his best play of the day came on a play when he scrambled out of the pocket and found Mike Williams wide open for an 80 yard score. Coach Doug Marrone seems content to live with the lumps (and losses) that the team will have to put up with while Manuel learns, even though his job could be on the line with the impending ownership change. In Manuel’s defense, he has had a better start to his career so far than such legends as Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, John Elway and even Peyton Manning, but with the immediate success of recent young QBs like Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton, there isn’t much patience shown by fans these days. Also in Manuel’s defense, his offensive line didn’t protect him very well, and for some reason the offensive strategists had him throw the ball 44 times, while Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller totaled only 22 carries (for a respectable 93 yards). This was a dubious game plan considering Houston had surrendered almost 200 yards on the ground the previous week against the New York Giants.

The play of their young quarterback wasn’t the only reason the Bills lost on Sunday. The defense, although they probably played well enough to win if they’d gotten some offensive help, allowed Fitzpatrick to make just enough plays, with timely scrambles and completions, to pull out the win for his team. The defensive game plan was to shut down Houston’s rushing attack and force Fitz to win the game with his arm, a position he’s never been very good in. The Texans’ rushing attacked produced next to nothing, yet Fitzpatrick didn’t get smothered by the defense, which still is a long ways from being dominant. The “Amish Rifle” instead got his team the win. What’s discouraging about allowing a journeyman like Fitzpatrick to beat them is wondering how will the defense cope with legitimate passing threats on their upcoming schedule – Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and Minnesota’s new starter, Teddy Bridgewater.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

28 Sep

allenwranglersIFL

Logo of a team that played in the Indoor Football League, the Allen Wranglers. The team began its’ existence as the Arkansas Twisters in 2000 in the old af2 league, and changed names to the Diamonds when they began play in the IFL in 2010. The club was sold and moved to Allen, Texas in 2011 and played there for 2 seasons. Their general manager for a short period was former Dallas Cowboy Drew Pearson, and they made national headlines in 2012 when they signed Terrell Owens to a contract to play for them. After another change in ownership in 2013, the team again changed its’ name, to the current one, the Texas Revolution.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

28 Sep

72toppsvillapiano

1972 Topps football card of former National Football League  linebacker Phil Villapiano, who enjoyed a 13 year career in  the league with the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills. He was a four time Pro Bowler and a key defensive player on the Raiders’ Super Bowl XI championship team. Since retiring, Villapiano has worked in the logistics business and been involved in numerous charitable causes, including helping raise funds to rebuild the Jersey shore following Hurricane Sandy, and fund-raising efforts for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and to help find a cure or ALS.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Vikings’ Season of Heartbreak

25 Sep

The National Football League’s week four schedule includes a match between the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons, and so this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday returns to 1998, one of the most successful seasons in Vikings’ history. That is, right up until January 17, 1999, the date of the NFC title game that season between the Vikings and Falcons. The game was a match between the conference’s 2 best teams, with the Vikings finishing 15-1 and the Falcons 14-2. In a fact that made it perhaps a true “modern era” title game, it was the first conference championship game in NFL history played between two teams who played their home games in domed stadiums. Coach Dennis Green’s Viking squad featured a high-scoring passing attack led by quarterback Randall Cunningham throwing to his dynamic receivers – Chris Carter and Randy Moss. Their offense set an NFL record by scoring 556 points, and the team was undefeated at home. The Falcons, under coach Dan Reeves, were led by a journeyman QB, Chris Chandler, and behind young running back Jamal Anderson, were affectionately known to their fans as the “Dirty Birds”, after a winged touchdown dance the players did when they scored. The Vikings had been so dominant that year, with 10 Pro Bowlers on their roster and having won their home games by an average of 23 points, that Atlanta came into the title game as 11-point underdogs despite losing only twice all season.   It turned out to be one of the league’s most exciting title games of all time, as Minnesota, as expected, jumped out to an early lead only to see the Falcons rally to overcome a 13 point deficit. Still, the Vikings pulled ahead 27-20 and drove into field goal position with the chance to go ahead by a pretty much insurmountable 10 points. Old pro Gary Anderson was the Vikings’ kicker, and had completed a “perfect” regular season, having made all his extra point and field goal attempts. However, he sent a 38 yard attempt wide left, his first miss of the year, leaving an opening for Atlanta with just over 2 minutes left. Chandler drove his club down the field and hit Terance Mathis on a 16 yard TD pass to tie the game and send it into overtime.   The teams traded punts in the extra session before Atlanta’s kicker,Morten Andersen, another seasoned vet, hit the game winning field goal from 38 yards to send the underdog Falcons on to the Super Bowl. Chandler’s performance was memorable, as he threw for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns while limping around on an injured ankle. It was an unfortunate ending to a sensational season for the Vikings, but it should be noted that they lost 5 starters to injury during the game. The bottom line was that the franchise that had four Super Bowl losses on its’ resume, this time found a way to come up short in the conference championship, with probably the most talented roster in team history.

 

mortenandersen

Falcons’ kicker Morten Andersen celebrates his game-winning kick (photo courtesy of petemyersrules.com)

 

 

 

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

25 Sep

monmouth9304

Logo of a small college football program, the Monmouth College Hawks. The school, located in New Jersey, has had a football program since 1993, and became a Division I Independent team in 2013. They began play in the Big South Conference this season. Two Monmouth alumni are currently playing in the NFL – receivers Miles Austin and Chris Hogan.

 

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

25 Sep

86toppsgaryanderson

1986 Topps football card of former NFL placekicker Gary Anderson, a native of South Africa who played 23 seasons in the league with 5 different teams. He spent 12 of those years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and is that franchise’s all time leading scorer. He holds the distinction of having a perfect regular season, in 1998 while with the Minnesota Vikings, when he made all 35 of his field goal attempts and all 59 of his extra point attempts. Anderson was a four-time Pro Bowler and was named to the NFL’s All Decade teams for both the 1980s and ’90s.

 

NFL – Bills’ Game Review

22 Sep

After their surprising start to the 2014 season, the Buffalo Bills came down to earth on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, a formidable opponent that made the playoffs in 2013 and upset the defending champion Seattle Seahawks last week. The Chargers prevailed, 22-10, with a workmanlike performance in which they seemed in control from the opening kickoff. They didn’t have overwhelming statistics, and their running game didn’t accomplish much, but their veteran quarterback, Philip Rivers, picked apart the Buffalo secondary with a surgical perfection, continuously connecting with his receivers in third and long situations to keep drives alive. After beating Seattle mostly by controlling the ball, the Chargers used the same formula to bury the Bills. Rivers guided his offense to long, time-consuming drives that resulted in touchdowns on his team’s first possession of the game, and on their first possession after halftime, and settled for field goals on the others. He was able to beat Buffalo’s secondary for big plays on several occasions, the type of deep passes defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit didn’t give up in the first 2 games. Speaking of coordinators, San Diego’s offensive coordinator is a familiar face to Bills’ fans – former backup QB Frank Reich – and his game plan was perfect. Rivers, an eleven year veteran with the reputation of being a gunslinger, ran the offense perfectly and patiently, keeping the Bills’ defense off guard and confused all day. It was the type of offense Reich ran when he had his chances to play here. San Diego clearly won the battle of the trenches on both sides of the ball, keeping Rivers mostly comfortable in the pocket on offense and harassing Bills’ QB EJ Manuel all day on defense.

After getting contributions from all three phases in the first 2 games that resulted in wins, the Bills were flat on both offense and defense this time. The secondary was torched, but at the same time the Bills’ vaunted defensive line didn’t generate much pressure on Rivers, especially early in the game when the outcome was still in doubt. Also, this was a game in which Buffalo needed Manuel to step up his game and lead the offense on scoring drives, and he wasn’t up to the task, looking nervous and uncomfortable most of the afternoon. His accuracy wasn’t good, and his decision-making even worse. He struggled all day to connect with his wide receivers, seemingly afraid of forcing throws, and generally looked for his safety valves – either the backs or tight end – on short throws instead of going deep. The worst decision ended any doubt about the final result, when Manuel threw the ball away from the end zone and was called for intentional grounding, resulting in a safety. The Bills now go on the road for 2 weeks, visiting Houston and old friend Ryan Fitzpatrick next week, followed by a trip to Detroit to face the Lions, who are usually pretty tough to beat at home. Manuel will be under pressure to outplay Fitzpatrick, who he replaced as the Bills’ starter. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles that challenge.

 

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

22 Sep

northwestern5967

Logo of a college football team, the Northwestern Wildcats, used from 1959 until 1967. The team was a charter member of the Big Ten conference, beginning play there in 1896, and despite being part of one of the country’s top gridiron leagues, has never been considered a football powerhouse. The fact that the school has always had high academic standards has surely hurt their chances of recruiting top prospects over the years, but despite that many former Wildcat alumni have gone on to play in the NFL, including Otto Graham, Chris Hinton, Ray Wietecha, Irv Cross, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Steve Tasker.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

22 Sep

62fleermatsos

1962 Fleer football card of former pro football linebacker Archie Matsos, whose entire seven year career was spent in the old American Football League. Matsos played for four different teams – Buffalo, Oakland, Denver and San Diego, and was an AFL All Star in his first four years. After 2 All Star seasons in Buffalo, Matsos was traded to the Raiders for 3 players, in one of the first moves made by Oakland’s new coach, Al Davis. It was the first of many shrewd personnel moves by Davis, as 2 of the 3 players sent to the Bills failed to make the team, while the third played only 3 games for the team.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Longest Game

18 Sep

The Kansas City Chiefs meet the Miami Dolphins in one of the week 3 matchups on the NFL schedule, and that will make the “Throwback Thursday” feature for this week a game played between these two franchises on Christmas Day, December 25, 1971, that became the longest game played in league history. The game was played in the era prior to regular season overtime being implemented, but because it was a playoff game it had to be played until a winner was determined, and wound up going into double overtime. The Chiefs, under coach Hank Stram, had won the Super Bowl 2 seasons earlier, having shocked the Minnesota Vikings to give the upstart AFL their second straight title before the merger took full effect and the AFL was dissolved. It was the last game played at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, as the Chiefs would move into their new home, Arrowhead Stadium, the following year. Both coaches, Stram and Miami’s Don Shula, would go on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as would 12 other players involved in the game. The game was a see-saw affair, as K.C. jumped out to a 10-0 lead, only to see the Dolphins come back to tie. The teams traded scores and Chief quarterback Len Dawson then engineered a classic 91 yard scoring drive, with unsung back Ed Podolak supplying much of the yardage and capping off the drive with a three yard TD run. Miami’s Bob Griese then matched Dawson by guiding the Fish to a tying score, hitting tight end Marv Fleming with a short touchdown pass to cap it off. When Podolak returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to the Dolphins 22 yard line, it looked like the Chiefs were a lock to win, especially since their field goal kicker was Jan Stenerud, arguably the best kicker of the era and still the only pure placekicker to make it into the Hall of Fame. Stenerud, however, sent his game-winning 31 yard attempt sailing wide right, and suffered his own personal Scott Norwood moment 20 years before the Bills’ kicker’s failed attempt. The game then went on long into the night, before the Dolphins’ Garo Yepremian finally won it with a field goal after 82 minutes and 40 seconds of playing time. It became the longest game in pro football history, surpassing the 1962 AFL title game between the Houston Oilers and Dallas Texans. The Texans won that game, and ironically the coach and quarterback of that Texan team were Stram and Dawson, as the Chiefs began their AFL lives in Dallas as the Texans before moving to Kansas City.

Podolak had a game for the ages in a losing cause for the Chiefs. He rushed for 85 yards on 17 carries, caught 8 passes for another 110 yards, returned 3 kickoffs for an amazing 153 yards, and with an additional few yards on punt returns, set an NFL record with 350 all-purpose yards in a single game, a mark that still stands today, some 40+ years later. Miami fullback Larry Csonka was quoted as saying afterwards that the game was going to be played until “somebody won, or died.” The win was the first playoff victory in Miami franchise history, and they would go on to advance to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys.

 

willie_lanier_1971_12_25

 Chiefs’ LB Willie Lanier takes on Miami FB Larry Csonka (photo courtesy of Spokeo.com)