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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

10 Jan

The fourth and final edition of our Buffalo Bills’ 2018 season-ending review is our favorite section of the series, where we play general manager and explore what the team needs to add, position-by-position for areas of need, in order to improve and truly become “playoff caliber”, as coach Sean McDermott likes to preach, in 2019. The Bills have 10 picks in the college draft and lots of cash to spend in free agency now that they’ve cleared room under their salary cap, so they should have an active off-season. Here is our list of possibilities, not necessarily in order of the most need:

 

Running Back

 

Whether they keep LeSean McCoy around or not, the Bills have to upgrade their running back stable for next season. GM Brandon Beane has already stated that he plans to spend the large amount of cap money he has wisely, and that he doesn’t expect to go after the “big splash” free agents. That would rule out any attempt to lure Le’Veon Bell, who wouldn’t be a locker room fit anyway since coach Sean McDermott preaches a “team first” mantra and Bell appears to be a “me first” player. New Orleans’ Mark Ingram is also a free agent, but with McCoy expected back, the Bills would be more in the market for a complementary back who is reasonably young. A few possibilities who fit that description are Detroit’s Zach Zenner, Jacksonville’s T.J. Yeldon and Seattle’s Mike Davis. NFL teams today seem to have a “dime a dozen” attitude toward running backs, so the Bills could look to the middle rounds of the draft for one. Keeping in mind that they would expect the drafted player to be the heir apparent to McCoy, as opposed to a free agent complementary back, they could go as early as the third round for a back. Players expected to be available in the mid-round range include Stanford’s Bryce Love, Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr. and Devin Singletary of Florida Atlantic. L.J. Scott of Michigan State and Cal’s Patrick Laird are late round possibilities.

 

Wide Receiver

 

Buffalo is in dire need of what is considered a “#1” wide receiver, and if that is truly what they are targeting, the free agent pickings are slim. However, they need more than just a single addition to the receiving corps and a possible gem in free agency, who fits the “fairly young” and “team first” requirement of the Bills, is Adam Humphries of Tampa Bay. Another possibility is Carolina’s Devin Funchess, given the Beane/McDermott Panther connection, but the team’s fan base would see him as another Kelvin Benjamin fail. In the draft, this isn’t considered a banner year for receivers, but there are quality guys available in the early rounds who could help the Bills, including J.J. Arcega-Whiteside from Stanford, Hakeem Butler of Iowa State and Deebo Samuel of South Carolina. In the later rounds, Collin Johnson of Texas is a large, red zone target at 6’5. Would the Bills consider drafting the University at Buffalo’s Anthony Johnson? He has fallen as far as the fifth round on some draft boards, and Buffalo should have a good inside scouting report on him.

 

Tight End

 

Charles Clay’s days are numbered in Buffalo, and he never was the top tier tight end they thought they were getting when the Rex Ryan regime signed him. The Bills desperately need help at this position, and it would behoove them to find a consistent, play-making “security blanket” for Josh Allen. The top free agent TE available is Oakland’s Jared Cook, but he is 32 years old and will require overpaying, so the Bills should avoid him. In the 2 years he’s been here, Beane has rolled the dice on a particular type of free agent – one coming off a major injury who could possibly have a huge upside if healthy. Jordan Poyer worked out tremendously as he has stayed healthy and provided stability at safety. Last year, it was edge rusher Trent Murphy, and although he never was fully recovered from various injuries, the jury is still out on him now that he will have a full year of recovery time. If Beane decides to go this route again, a perfect target would be Bengals’ tight end Tyler Eifert. He is a former first round talent from Notre Dame who hasn’t made it through a full season healthy in about 3 years. If the Bills’ staff is comfortable that he is fully recovered from his latest injury, a broken ankle, he would be a great addition at only 28 years of age. In the draft, if Iowa’s Noah Fant or Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. somehow slip into the second round, the Bills would certainly grab either one. Possible mid-rounds diamonds in the rough are Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad and Josh Oliver of San Jose State.

 

Offensive Line

 

This is the area where Beane and his scouts have the most work to do. The Bills could possibly part ways with up to 6 of their current O-linemen in an attempt to improve, so reinforcements have to be found. If they decide to not bother trying to attempt to re-sign free agent starters/contributors like John Miller, Jordan Mills and Ryan Groy, they have to make sure they’ve done their homework and the replacements they bring in are actually upgrades. On the free agent front, Chicago tackle Bobby Massie is mentioned as a possibility, but he’s 30 years old. Darryl Williams of Carolina, also a tackle, fits the mold of a Beane signee on 2 fronts – he is coming off an injury and is a Panther. Oddly enough, there is also a player named Darryl Williams, a guard from Mississippi State, who is a second round prospect in the draft. There’s a very real chance that the Bills use their top draft pick, # 9 overall, on an elite tackle. Two players, Jonah Williams of Alabama and Greg Little of Ole Miss, fall in the top 10 range. If the Bills wait until the middle rounds to draft linemen, as they did last year with Wyatt Teller, some possibilities are tackles Andre Dillard of Washington State and Jawaan Taylor of Florida, and guards Chris Lindstrom of Boston College and Penn State’s Connor McGovern.

 

Edge Rusher

 

This isn’t necessarily an area of need with Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson on the roster, and they wouldn’t likely pursue a free agent for this spot. However, if an elite one fell into their hands at the ninth pick of the draft, like Josh Allen of Kentucky or Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, they might consider taking him. This could open up a possible trade scenario involving Hughes for either an extra pick or maybe a veteran player who fits a need elsewhere.

 

Cornerback

 

Again, this isn’t a real position of need if the Bills feel Levi Wallace can hold onto the starting corner role opposite Tre White, but I would consider it a possibility for the team to draft one if an elite one is available at the ninth spot, or if they trade down and pick later. Two candidates are Byron Murphy of Washington and DeAndre Baker of Georgia.

 

Defensive Tackle

 

Kyle Williams’ retirement opens up a hole in the defensive tackle rotation, although the Bills may feel like Harrison Phillips, a third round draft choice last year, can fill the void. Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett is an attractive free agent target. He’s only 26 and is a highly productive player, but there will likely be a lot of teams bidding for his services, including the Falcons, who have made it a priority to try to re-sign. A couple other under-the-radar young FA prospects are a pair of Patriots, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton, although Shelton so far in his career has been an underachiever. It’s a long shot considering their many needs on the offensive side of the ball, but the Bills could consider a top defensive tackle with their first round draft pick, like Michigan’s Rashan Gary or Jeffrey Simmons of Mississippi State. It’s more likely they’ll wait until the middle rounds and look at prospects like Daniel Wise of Kansas or Virginia Tech’s Rickey Walker.

 

Linebacker

 

It would seem like a top priority for the Bills to bring back Lorenzo Alexander, a 35 year old starting ‘backer and locker room force who is a free agent. Another possible scenario might be to take a look at an old friend from Beane/McDermott’s Carolina days, the recently released Thomas Davis, to see what he has left in the tank. He’s a past Walter Payton Man of The Year Award winner who would bring the same leadership to the locker room as Alexander and, if he hasn’t slowed down much, would fit into the starting lineup. Buffalo could use some depth here, so they could use a late round draft pick trying to find a diamond in the rough like they did with Matt Milano a couple of years ago. There’s Devin Bush of Michigan and a pair of MAC prospects on that list – Buffalo’s Khalil Hodge and Northern Illinois’ Sutton Smith.

 

It’s worth noting that the “positions of need” for the Bills that we listed this year include every spot except quarterback and safety. That’s the challenge Beane faces this off-season, and will likely put him in the position of drafting the “best player available” in April’s draft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

09 Jan

In part 3 of our review of the Buffalo Bills’ season, we’ll scrutinize the special teams, woeful in 2018, and the defensive side of the ball, which was the strength of the team overall but still has lots of room for improvement. The team was among the league’s best in yards allowed and was strong against the pass, but had some weaknesses too. They were not very good in red zone defense, had various games where their run defense was gashed, and at times couldn’t seem to get a stop at crucial times. The result – a 6-10 record despite having a respected defensive unit. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier did a decent job overall, but at times wasn’t aggressive enough, to the point where head coach Sean McDermott actually took over the play calling duties during a game. The Bills, in 2019, need to strive to elevate their defense from a “respected” unit to an elite, dominant one. Here is our position-by-position look at the 2018 Bills’ defense and special teams:

 

Defensive Line

 

The team employed a revolving rotation along the line, and the best of the players was Jerry Hughes, despite a drop in his sack numbers. Hughes consistently applied pressure on opposing quarterbacks and was fairly solid against the run. If he can find a way to stop letting those QBs escape when he has them in his grasp, his sack total will go up. Free agent Trent Murphy gets an incomplete grade here due to his inability to stay healthy and contribute regularly. At times he looked like a gamebreaker but just didn’t do it consistently enough. A highlight of the 2018 season was the growth shown by Shaq Lawson, who emerged as a force and may be due for a breakout year in 2019. The retirement of Kyle Williams leaves a hole on the interior line and in team leadership, and Harrison Phillips, Williams’ heir apparent, still has a long way to go to match Kyle’s production. Star Lotulelei didn’t produce any numbers at the other tackle spot but the coaches seemed pleased with his play as a run stuffer. Jordan Phillips was brought in during the season after being waived by Miami and provided a dose of enthusiasm, along with some pretty solid play as a backup tackle. Eddie Yarbrough is the other backup at end, and his playing time seemed to be reduced by season’s end. Mike Love earned a promotion from the practice squad late in the season and got some valuable experience that should help him in fighting for a roster spot in 2019. There are a pair of prospects on the practice squad who will get a look in training camp also – Kyle Peko and Robert Thomas, who had a short stint on the active roster earlier in the season.

 

Linebackers

 

The Bills will have 3 solid starters at linebacker next season provided they re-sign veteran Lorenzo Alexander, who is still performing at a high level at an advanced age. The other 2 spots are manned by possible future Pro Bowlers in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Both showed flashes that they are going to develop into consistent playmakers, and their development is a huge key in this defense, already a respected unit, growing into an elite one. As for LB backups, Deon Lacey has mostly contributed on special teams in his tenure here, and with the bomb squads totally bombing in 2018 the Bills could look elsewhere for a replacement for him. A pair of youngsters, Julian Stanford and Corey Thompson, look like keepers. Both filled in late in the year due to injuries and didn’t look out of place, and Stanford is also a special teamer. There’s one ‘backer on the practice squad about which little is known, Richard Jarvis. He is a graduate of an Ivy League school, Brown, so one can assume he’s an intelligent player.

 

Defensive backs

 

Buffalo was solid in defending the pass in 2018, and a factor in that was the stability of the lineup in at least 3 of the starting spots in their secondary. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who were 2017 free agent gems signed by Brandon Beane, manned the safety positions and although their turnover numbers were down, their play was consistently good. Backups at safety are Rafael Bush, a seasoned veteran, Dean Marlowe, a Carolina Panther retread, and rookie Siran Neal, who came on late in the season to show some spark, especially on kick coverage teams. Lockdown cornerback Tre’Davious White is a future Pro Bowler, while across from him a revolving door developed, starting with the abrupt halftime retirement of Vontae Davis in the second game of the year. The Bills tried a number of options at the spot as the year went on, with Ryan Lewis, Lafayette Pitts and Denzel Rice all getting a shot. The revolving door closed when the Bills promoted undrafted free agent Levi Wallace from the practice squad later in the season. He moved into the starting job opposite White and quietly played well to secure the position, winding up as the top-rated rookie cornerback in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. Another rookie, Taron Johnson, won the important nickel corner job, considered basically a starting position in today’s NFL, and was a revelation. He was also ranked among the top 5 rookie cornerbacks until a shoulder injury ended his season. He is definitely a building block moving forward. Pitts did a good job on special teams and when called upon to play corner, while Lewis’s up-and-down play makes him a question mark to make the team in 2019. Rice is pretty much an unknown entity who will get a better look if he’s brought back next year, as are practice squad members Xavier Coleman and Josh Thornton.

 

Special Teams

 

The disaster that was the Bills’ special teams in 2018 resulted in the ouster of ST coordinator Danny Crossman, who had survived in his position since the Doug Marrone regime. Even the most reliable part of the special teams, placekicker Stephen Hauschka, was inconsistent near the end of the season after being blindsided on the return of a blocked kick. The Bills went through 3 different punters in 2018, and after cutting Colton Schmidt a couple of times it’s safe to say the current regime is done with him. Matt Darr, who finished the year as the punter almost by default, was terrible and likely won’t return to compete for the job next season. The coaches seem to be high on the pair of punters who wound up on injured reserve, Corey Bojorquez, who they snatched off waivers from New England, and Corey Carter, who was injured in training camp. That pair will fight for the job in camp. The Bills got almost nothing from their kick return units, and their kick coverage teams were worse. Taiwan Jones, before he was hurt, Marcus Murphy, Isiah McKenzie, Deonte Thompson, Ray Ray McCloud, Micah Hyde and Victor Bolden all took turns returning kicks and none of them did much to win over the coaches, although Hyde was pressed into duty there mainly because there was no one else capable. The coverage teams need a major overhaul in both coaching and personnel. The firing of Crossman got half of that accomplished.

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

08 Jan

This is part 2 of our four-part series dissecting the just-completed 2018 Buffalo Bills’ season. In this section, we’ll examine, position by position, the team’s offense, which was a major anchor on any chance of team success. Here’s our assessment:

Quarterbacks

 

From opening day until the season’s completion, the quarterback position underwent a complete overhaul in 2018. Not even counting the trading of Tyrod Taylor before the season, the QB room at season’s end looks nothing like it did at the beginning. A.J. McCarron, signed as a free agent to mentor rookie Josh Allen, failed in that role and also failed to win the starting job he was expected to, so the Bills cut bait on him and traded him to Oakland. Nate Peterman actually won the job in the preseason and the plan was to play him while Allen sat and learned. Peterman totally washed out, was waived and Allen took the reins sooner than expected. He had an up and down year but showed continued progress as the year went on and looks to be ready to take major strides in 2019. More importantly, GM Brandon Beane finally got the quarterback order right, bringing in seasoned veterans Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley in-season to mentor Allen. Both Anderson and Barkley have signed extensions to stay with the team, so, entering 2019, for the first time in years, the Bills’ QB situation appears to be stable.

 

Running Backs

 

The failure of the rushing attack was a major disappointment in 2018, resulting in the firing of running game coordinator/offensive line coach Juan Castillo. LeSean McCoy, really through no fault of his own, had the worst season of his pro career. Also, there was little effort to include McCoy in the passing attack, where he can be a dangerous weapon. Fullback Pat DiMarco is little used as a runner but his blocking ability is still valuable. The Bills insist McCoy is part of their plans for next season, and he can be a force to reckon with if the team can improve it’s offensive line play. The backups here are fairly dependable if not spectacular. Chris Ivory is a good short yardage power back, and Marcus Murphy can contribute, although he had injury issues this season. Keith Ford didn’t show much after being promoted from the practice squad for the last few games, and was even inactive for the finale. Taiwan Jones will return after finishing the year on injured reserve, but he’s almost strictly a special teamer. The Bills almost certainly, whether they keep McCoy or not, will look to upgrade the running back stable in the off-season.

 

Receivers

 

Just like the quarterback position, the wide receiver spot changed dramatically as the season progressed. The Bills parted ways with Kelvin Benjamin, a big target with little appetite for fighting for contested balls or even catching easy ones. They also released Andre Holmes, an aging veteran whose main contribution was on special teams. They infused the receiving corps with some youth and speed by signing Isiah McKenzie from Denver’s practice squad and promoting undrafted free agent Robert Foster from their own practice squad. Both helped Allen put some life in the passing game, especially Foster, who emerged as a major deep threat. McKenzie made most of his noise on jet sweeps in the running attack but also had his moments as a receiver. His production waned a bit at the end of the season but he certainly earned a chance to battle for a 2019 roster spot. Zay Jones progressed nicely as the year went on, developing a good chemistry with Allen and showing he will be a big part of the team’s future plans. He does need to work on being a more consistent performer, so 2019 will be a big year for him. The rest of Buffalo’s receiving corps consists of 30 year old free agent to be Deonte Thompson, a stop-gap fringe player who won’t be back, late round draft pick Ray Ray McCloud, who wasn’t much of a factor, and a group of street free agent signees that includes Victor Bolden, Da’Marri Scott, Cam Phillips and Tanner McEvoy. Is there another hidden gem among this group? McEvoy stands out in that he has some past NFL experience, including on special teams, where these guys will have to earn their way onto the roster. The Bills also recently took a flyer on a player who is the top receiver in the Canadian Football League, signing D’haqille “Duke” Williams for next season. He had a troubled college career at Auburn but apparently cleaned up his act while playing up north for the Edmonton Eskimos. At tight end, the pickings are even more slim. Veteran Charles Clay has been a big disappointment, to the point that he was a healthy inactive at the end of the season. He is an almost certain candidate to follow in Benjamin’s footsteps and be released. The only other players at this position are developing projects – Jason Croom, who shows the most promise, Logan Thomas, a converted quarterback who flashed signs of progress at times but was a penalty liability on special teams, and practice squad members Kyle Carter and Keith Towbridge. This is another position that sorely needs an upgrade if Josh Allen is going to be able to continue on an upward trend in his development.

 

Offensive Line

 

This is an area of the team that is in the most need of improvement of any position group, through positive progression of young players and the addition of better options through the draft or free agency. OL coach Juan Castillo was fired shortly after season’s end so the team clearly sees a need for not only better play on the line but better coaching/teaching also. Looking across the team’s line, there is need for improvement at every position. Left tackle Dion Dawkins, who had a solid rookie season in 2017, regressed this past season. The team has to decide whether he needs better coaching or if he needs to be moved over to right tackle and a better option found to man the left side. Rookie Wyatt Teller displaced Vlad Ducasse at left guard as the season wore on, and he showed enough promise there to be expected to hold down the job, especially if a better line coach is brought in to speed his development. Free agent Russell Bodine, signed to replace Eric Wood after a neck injury forced him to retire, wasn’t anything spectacular and ended up the year on IR. Backup Ryan Groy is a free agent, as are the other starters on the right side, guard John Miller and tackle Jordan Mills. We can easily see the team moving on from all 3 of them to try and upgrade the offensive line play and depth. The line play was so inconsistent in 2018 that the backups got plenty of opportunity to show what they had to offer at various times. Ducasse, for one, likely played his way off the roster. He was a healthy inactive late in the year, a clear signal the team is ready to move on from him. Jeremiah Sirles saw playing time at guard and tackle and also as an extra lineman on running downs. He is also a free agent, and it’ll be interesting to see if the coaches thought enough of the versatility he showed to bring him back. Conor McDermott has been a fringe player as a backup guard/tackle for a couple of seasons now, and will be in a major battle to hold his spot again in training camp. Ike Boettger fought his way into the lineup at the end of the season also, putting himself in position to earn a spot next year. There’s one lineman on the practice squad, Andrew Lauderdale, who also figures in the mix. There really is not one standout player among the offensive linemen on the roster, so the Bills will clearly be adding new faces to this group entering 2019.

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

07 Jan

The 2018 Buffalo Bills’ season ended recently with an expected result. After deciding to jettison quarterback Tyrod Taylor last year in order to draft their franchise QB, the Bills took a step back while hoping to take 2 steps forward next season, now that a year of taking the lumps that go with playing a rookie signal caller is over. This is part 1 of our annual four part series reviewing the Bills’ season, starting with the management and coaching. GM Brandon Beane was aggressive in the draft, using draft capital obtained in trades to wheel and deal and pick up 2 important future pieces for the franchise – quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Beane also grabbed a couple of other useful players in Harrison Phillips and Taron Johnson, with the jury still out on the later round choices. In free agency, Beane hoped to repeat the success he had in 2017, signing a player coming off a major injury in Jordan Poyer, who became a solid defensive contributor. The 2018 model, edge rusher Trent Murphy, didn’t deliver the same result as he fought off injuries all year. The team got mixed results from the likes of Rafael Bush, Russell Bodine, Star Lotulelei and Ryan Lewis. The decision to bring in AJ McCarron as a “bridge” quarterback was a mistake, although Beane managed to fix the error by dealing McCarron for a draft pick.  The GM has a huge task ahead of him to replenish the roster this off-season as the expectations will rise considerably next year.

Speaking of expectations, coach Sean McDermott has to produce a winning club on the field in 2019. “Trusting the process” will only fly for a certain time with ownership and the fan base and the young coach, who I believe is the right person for the job, must produce wins next year. As Bill Parcells used to say, you are what your record says you are. In two complete seasons, McDermott’s mark is 15-18, including the playoff loss in Jacksonville last year. That lumps him in with other head coaching mediocrities the Bills have cycled through over the years. Also, there are 2 other glaring weaknesses in the coach’s resume so far. One is his record against the AFC East measuring stick, Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots. McDermott’s Bills are 0-4 and produced only 1 garbage time touchdown, in the late-season encounter  this year, in the 4 meetings. The other is the team’s penchant to suffer blowout losses. Although there were a lot of tough circumstances to explain some of the beatdowns, like the quarterback carousel and injury issues, McDermott has to start winning regularly next year now that he has his young QB in place. His record may line up with the other coaching failures we’ve had here in Buffalo, but I do believe McDermott has firm control of his locker room and has fostered a solid team-first attitude among the players. He and Beane appear to be on the same page with a good plan, but that must translate to wins in 2019.

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Rex Upsets The Hoodie

27 Dec

On this, the final week of the National Football League’s regular season, two old rivals who date back to 1960 and the arrival of the American Football League square off – the New York Jets and New England Patriots. Our final Throwback Thursday post goes back to a divisional round playoff game these 2 franchises played on January 16, 2011. It was one of the few postseason setbacks the mighty Patriot dynasty suffered in the last 20 years, as the Jets and their bombastic coach, Rex Ryan, pulled off a 28-21 upset right in the Pats’ backyard at Gillette Stadium, where they’ve been practically unbeatable over the years. It was the game of a lifetime for Jet quarterback Mark Sanchez, at the time a bright, young prospect who was expected to become the team’s savior, the next Joe Namath. He threw for 3 touchdowns – to Ladanian Tomlinson, who was closing in on the end of his Hall of Fame career, to Braylon Edwards, another rising star at the time, and to Santonio Holmes, who would go on to have a memorable Super Bowl moment later in his career with Pittsburgh.

The real story of the game was Ryan’s Jet defense, which shut down the New England ground game and forced Pats’ QB Tom Brady to pass. Although that never turns out to be a negative result for the Patriots, on this day Brady, arguably the greatest signal caller of all time, couldn’t match Sanchez when it counted. New York sacked him 5 times and intercepted him once. Ryan, who had a habit of tweaking his nose at New England coach Bill Belichick, the dreaded evil genius in the hoodie, with lines like “I respect him but I’m not gonna kiss his Super Bowl rings”, was the surprise winner on this day. The Jets couldn’t sustain the success, however. They lost the AFC Championship game to Pittsburgh 24-19 the following week. Also, Sanchez regressed to the point where his Jet career ended with an embarrassing “butt fumble” play in later years, Tomlinson retired and both Holmes and Edwards became divas who were run out of New York for their attitudes, although Holmes, as previously noted, revived his career later on with the Steelers.

 

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Tom Brady wasn’t the GOAT in the AFC Championship game for the 2010 season

(photo from NFL Memes)

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Dan Marino’s Demise

20 Dec

The 2018 season is winding down for the National Football League, and on this, the second-last week of that season, a pair of Florida-based teams meet on the schedule, the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we’ll venture back to an AFC playoff game played between these 2 teams on January 15, 2000. This game would turn out to be the final one in the illustrious career of Miami quarterback Dan Marino, but on this day the Jaguars didn’t exactly give him a royal sendoff. Marino retired after this game holding most of the league’s passing records, but he certainly didn’t add anything positive to his resume in this contest. Coach Tom Coughlin’s Jaguars dominated the game from the opening kickoff. Mark Brunell threw a pair of touchdown passes, to Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor, and Taylor added a 90 yard scoring run. The Jags’ defense got in the act, also, with Tony Brackens returning a fumble 16 yards for a TD. In what amounted to a complete steamroll, Jacksonville piled up a 41-0 first half lead before Marino salvaged a little pride with a touchdown toss to Orande Gadsden to cut the margin to 41-7 at the half.

The Jaguars didn’t let up in the second half, even though they replaced Brunell with backup QB Jay Fiedler. The second-stringer added 2 more touchdown throws and Chris Howard scored on a short run to continue the carnage. Miami coach Jimmy Johnson mercifully pulled Marino from the game in the second half and the Dolphins’ backup, a non-entity named Damon Huard, was subjected to the same abuse as the future Hall of Famer he replaced. After the wreckage was cleared, the result was a monumental one-sided blowout. On offense, the Jags wracked up 520 total yards. Taylor carried the ball 18 times for 135 yards and scored twice, on the long run and a pass. Smith, the team’s top receiver, grabbed 5 catches for 136 yards and 2 scores. The defense dominated also, holding Marino and company to a paltry 131 total yards. They also sacked the Miami QBs 5 times, held the Miami rushing attack to 21 yards on 18 carries, and forced 7 turnovers. The final result on the scoreboard was as bad as the difference in the statistics – Jacksonville 62, Miami 7.

To be fair, for the 1999 season at least, this wasn’t an evenly matched game before it even started. Jacksonville was one of the AFC’s strongest teams, entering this game having amassed a 14-2 regular season record, while Miami limped into the playoffs at 9-7. Still, with a Super Bowl-winning coach in Johnson and an all-time great passer in Marino leading the offense, a defeat this epic in scope was a total shock.

 

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For Dolphin QB Dan Marino, it wasn’t a pleasant goodbye

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Return of The Dutchman

13 Dec

The Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams meet on this week’s NFL schedule, and our Throwback Thursday feature for the week is a game played between these 2 franchises on November 22, 1959. The game is significant in that it was the first and only time that future Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, a Ram star in the 1950s, played against his former club as a Philadelphia Eagle. He had led a powerful Ram attack for most of the decade, but decided to retire after the 1957 season. He later changed his mind, but the Rams had moved on and instead of bringing him back for the ’58 season, traded him to the Eagles. It wasn’t exactly a “return” for the player nicknamed “The Dutchman”, as the game was played at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field and not in L.A., and it also wasn’t exactly a triumphant display by Van Brocklin in the game either. The Eagles did win, 23-20, to improve their season record to 6-3, but it was a struggle against a Ram club that had won only 2 games all year. The Rams produced more offensive fireworks, as halfback Jon Arnett included an 80 yard run for a touchdown among his 108 yards rushing, while Ram QB Billy Wade fired a TD throw to Red Phillips.

Van Brocklin was efficient enough, completing 19 of 38 passes for 260 yards, spreading the ball around to all his favorite targets – Bobby Walston, Tommy McDonald and Pete Retzlaff among others, but the Eagle TDs came on a 3 yard run by Clarence Peaks and a defensive score on a fumble recovery in the end zone by Jerry Huth. You could actually make the argument that a more important contributor to the Philly win was another ex-Ram who had been exiled and found a home with the Eagles, kicker Paige Cothren, who booted 3 field goals, including a short 14 yarder in the final quarter which proved to be the game-winning points.

The Eagles did go on to finish the ’59 season in second place in the Eastern Division, a vast improvement over a 2 win record in 1958, then won the NFL championship in 1960 in The Dutchman’s final season. The Rams, meanwhile, didn’t win another game, finishing 2-10 after posting an 8-4 mark in ’58. That led to the departure of head coach Sid Gillman, who moved on to the American Football League’s Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, where he was highly successful.

 

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QB Norm Van Brocklin, “The Dutchman”

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Air Coryell

06 Dec

On this week’s NFL slate of games, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers meet, both trying to improve their playoff chances. This week’s Throwback Thursday feature harkens back to a game played between these 2 clubs on September 22, 1985 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The Chargers, located in San Diego at the time, were in the midst of an offensive era known for explosive plays, drawn up by their coach Don Coryell. Engineered by future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts and masterminded by the coach, the team’s offense was labeled as “Air Coryell”. Meanwhile, the Bengals were coached by a guy known to be a bit of a mad genius himself – Sam Wyche. This game was an early season matchup, and an important one for both clubs. The perennially contending Chargers had started off the year with a win and a loss, while Cinci had dropped both of their first games, so they were in desperation mode.

In the first half, the Chargers got a couple of short field goals from Bob Thomas and a couple of short touchdown passes from Fouts to one of his tight ends, Eric Sievers. The Bengals countered with a scoring toss from their southpaw signal caller, Boomer Esaison, to Cris Collinsworth and a one yard TD run by James Brooks, leaving San Diego with a 20-13 lead at the half. Knowing he had to match Fouts’ heroics on offense, Esaison put together a solid third quarter, guiding 3 touchdown drives that ended with a Larry Kinnebrew 4 yard TD and passes to paydirt to Collinsworth and Stanford Jennings. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, the Chargers picked up a pair of touchdowns themselves, on a Fouts to Pete Holohan pass and a backbreaking 58 yard Lionel James run, leaving the teams tied at 34-34 entering the final quarter. When Kinnebrew scored again, on an 8 yard run, to open the fourth quarter scoring, the Bengals took a 41-34 lead and were indeed accomplishing their goal of matching the vaunted “Air Coryell” attack score for score. The Charger defense stiffened after that, however, while the offense produced another electrifying touchdown, this time on a Fouts to James 60 yard pass, along with another Thomas field goal to eke out a 44-41 win in a thrilling barnburner of a game.

Collinsworth’s efforts in the game were gallant – he caught 10 passes for 161 yards and the 2 TDs, but it was no match for the heroics of the 5’6″ James. Nicknamed “Little Train”, he rushed for 127 yards on 12 carries and caught 5 passes from Fouts for another 118 yards, racking up the pair of touchdowns. Overall, the 1985 season wasn’t kind to either club. The Chargers went on to record a rare mediocre record of 8-8, while Cincinnati managed only a 7-9 mark. Despite the losing record, Wyche’s Bengals still finished second in the AFC Central Division, with Cleveland taking the division crown at 8-8.

 

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San Diego’s Lionel “Little Train” James

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Sneakers Game

29 Nov

For the second week in a row, our Throwback Thursday feature ventures way back into the NFL’s past, to December 9, 1934, when two teams who meet on this week’s slate of games, the Chicago Bears and New York Giants, faced each other for the league championship. Whereas last week’s post remembered a Thanksgiving clash between the Bears and Detroit Lions from the ’34 season, this week’s covers the plight of the undefeated Chicago club in the title contest that went down in NFL lore as the “Sneakers Game”. The heavily favored Bears were defending league champions and their imposing “Monsters of The Midway” defense, combined with a frozen Polo Grounds field that made traction difficult, helped the Chicago club to build a 13-3 lead after three quarters of play. The Bears were limited on offense also, managing only 2 Jack Manders field goals and a one yard Bronko Nagurski touchdown run up to that point.

At halftime, one of the Giants’ players mentioned to coach Steve Owen that the players could get better footing if they were wearing sneakers, so Owen sent a friend who helped the team on the sideline during games, a tailor named Abe Cohen, to nearby Manhattan College, in search of the sneakers. The school’s athletic director, Brother Jasper, emptied the lockers of the basketball team and gave the players’ sneakers to Cohen, who rushed back to the stadium. He arrived midway through the third quarter with 9 pairs of sneakers, and key players from the New York team donned the footwear for the rest of the game. The result? Quarterback Ed Danowski supplied 2 touchdowns, on a 9 yard run and a 28 yard pass to Ike Frankian, while star halfback Ken Strong rushed for a pair of scores, from 11 and 42 yards out. The increased traction gained by Brother Jasper’s contribution led the Giants to outscore the Bears 27-0 in the final quarter to secure a rousing 30-13 upset of George Halas’ proud, previously unbeaten Bears.

Chicago players were upset but accepted the fact that they’d been had. In a post-game interview, Nagurski admitted, “We knew something was wrong because all of a sudden they had good footing and we didn’t. The sneakers were the difference…they just out-smarted us.” In the NFL’s strange but true department, this scenario repeated itself 22 years later when these same 2 clubs met again for the championship, this time at Yankee Stadium. The Giants wore sneakers again on a frozen field and the advantage in footing led to a 47-7 blowout win over the Bears to win the 1956 title.

 

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Sneaker-clad Giants’ players in the 1934 NFL title game

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Game In Detroit Is Born

22 Nov

The week 12 NFL schedule this week includes the annual Thanksgiving Day games played in Detroit and Dallas, plus the third contest, played at night. This year, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions meet in an NFC North showdown, which allows this week’s Throwback Thursday feature to travel back in time to the first Turkey Day game played in Detroit. It was played on November 29, 1934 at the University of Detroit Stadium, and both teams were strong contenders in the NFL. In fact coach George Halas’ Bears entered the game undefeated, while the Lions boasted a 9-2 record. Other pro football teams had played on Thanksgiving for years prior to the Motor City’s debut on this day, but the Lions’ owner at the time, George Richards, wanted to start the yearly tradition with his team as a promotion to boost attendance, and he had a major advantage which convinced other NFL owners to allow him to claim the Turkey Day game. He owned a local radio station, WJR, which was a major affiliate of the NBC Radio Network, and was able to secure a deal to get the game broadcast nationally live across the network. The annual game grew into a traditional staple on the NFL schedule. In conjunction, Detroit holds an annual Thanksgiving parade, originally started in 1924 by the J.L. Hudson Department Store, which has been dwarfed over the years by New York’s Macy’s Parade that is nationally televised.

As for the Motor City’s inaugural game, the two strong clubs provided an exciting contest. Passing yardage was at a premium in those old “ground and pound” days, and this game was indicative of the times. Chicago threw for 77 yards while the Bears’ “Monsters of The Midway” defense held the Lions to a meager 37 yards through the air. The hometown Lions kept pace with Halas’ Bears in the first half. In fact, a pair of short touchdown runs by fullback Ace Gutowsky gave Detroit a 16-7 halftime lead. Gutowsky isn’t exactly a household name in pro football history, but he did hold the Lions’ franchise records for single season and career rushing yardage into the 1960s.

The proud Bears battled back in the second half. A pair of third quarter field goals by Jack Manders cut the Lions’ lead to 16-13, and in the final quarter, another Bears’ and NFL legend, Bronko Nagurski, tossed a short scoring pass to Bill Hewitt to give the Bears a hard-fought 19-16 victory. The ’34 season was a bittersweet one for Halas’ Bears. They went on to finish undefeated in the regular season, only to lose 30-13 to the New York Giants in a championship game that became known as the “Sneakers Game”.  The story of that game will surely be the subject of a future TBT post.

 

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Bears and Lions battle on Thanksgiving Day 1934