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Offense, Offense And More Offense: NFL Division Weekend Storylines 0

Posted on January 15, 2013 by Andy Larmand

Does it have to be over? That was one of the best weekends of sports we have ever seen. The only bad thing about the Super Bowl getting closer is less football games over the weekend.

If it looked familiar to you, there’s good reason for that. The four AFC teams in the divisional round this past weekend were the same final four as last season and it was the first time that phenomenon has ever happened. Defense was certainly hard to come by on both Saturday and Sunday. We have a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.

Obi-WON-Jacoby: Joe Flacco's 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, where the Ravens eventually shocked the Broncos.

Obi-WON-Jacoby: Joe Flacco’s 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, where the Ravens eventually shocked the Broncos.

What. A. Game. The Ravens and the Broncos opened the weekend in one of the best postseason games we have seen in a while. Despite two return touchdowns from Trindon Holliday, Denver fell to the underdog Ravens, 38-35, in the first double-overtime game in the NFL since the Panthers beat the Rams in another divisional playoff game on Jan. 10, 2004 – they ended up making it to the Super Bowl that year. Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones with a 70-yard pass to tie the game at 35 with 31 seconds left in regulation and tied Eli Manning for the most road playoff wins with his fifth. If you missed it, start kicking yourself. Peyton Manning, who had won nine straight starts against the Ravens coming into the game, tied Brett Favre for the most playoff losses by a quarterback in NFL history. In 12 playoff appearances, which are tied for the most ever, he is now 9-11, including eight seasons of one-and-done performances. In what has become his typical fashion, he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. The Ravens got 17 points off of those turnovers, including the game-winning field goal with 13:18 left in the second overtime period following Corey Graham‘s second pick of the night.

The game featured three return touchdowns, including two in the first 5:11 and also saw a 42-second stretch in which the Ravens scored two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead. Holliday’s 90-yard punt return was the first ever in Denver postseason history and the longest by any player ever in the playoffs. His 104-yard kick return for a touchdown was also the longest return TD in playoff history and he became the only player to ever return both a kick and a punt for touchdowns in the same playoff game. Finally, Holliday became the first player to ever score two touchdowns of any kind of 90 or more yards in a playoff game. Baltimore lost one fumble on the day and have now lost three in their first two playoff games this year after losing just five in the regular season. The 28 combined points in the first quarter of the game were more than the four games combined for in the first quarter last weekend. It was only the third time in the Super Bowl era that both teams scored 14 or more points in the first quarter of a playoff game. It was also the first ever playoff game with an offensive (Torrey Smith, Brandon Stokley), defensive (Graham) and special teams touchdown (Holliday) in the first quarter.

The 35 points are the most the Ravens have ever allowed in their playoff history. The Broncos lost their first overtime playoff contest as they had been 2-0 in such games entering this one, including the victory over the Steelers last year. Baltimore improved to 1-0 in overtime playoff games. Graham became the sixth player in the last five postseasons to pick off multiple passes in a playoff game. Three of them are Ravens. The combination of Flacco and John Harbaugh is going to its third AFC Championship game in their five seasons together (0-2). Justin Tucker‘s 47-yard field goal to win the game was his only one of the night, the fourth-longest overtime field goal in playoff history and the longest ever by a rookie. Ray Lewis made an astounding 17 tackles and will live to play another week. The game lasted 76 minutes, 42 seconds. It was the fourth-longest playoff game in NFL history and the longest since 1986. Manning fell to 0-4 in his career in the postseason when the temperature was lower than 40 degrees and his 21 career postseason interceptions are the fourth-most ever. Denver committed 10 penalties in the game for 87 yards. Smith’s 59-yard TD reception just before the half was the second-longest in Baltimore postseason history. Manning took a knee with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter, still possessing two timeouts.

Well, that was a good start. The Ravens will travel to Foxboro for a rematch of their Week 3 game with New England on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

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Season In Review: 32 Storylines From The 2012 NFL Regular Season 0

Posted on January 03, 2013 by Andy Larmand

It’s been a good one and I’m sure I speak for everybody when I say we’re all sad to see it go, but the 2012 NFL season has provided us with exciting finishes, triumphant record-breaking performances, comebacks, winning streaks, losing streaks and of course, replacement officials. Disappointments, pleasant surprises, rookies leading their teams to the playoffs and unspeakable tragedy have all left their marks on the past 17 weeks as well.

Here are 32 of the biggest stories – one about each team – from the 2012 regular season of NFL football.

Ryan Lindley watches as Janoris Jenkins (left) scoots into the endzone, returning another Arizona pass for a touchdown.

Flew into a wall: Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley watches as Janoris Jenkins (left) scoots into the endzone, returning another Arizona pass for a touchdown.

Arizona Cardinals (5-11, 4th in NFC West): Normally, when you lose nine games in a row, that’s the biggest story of the year. That was not the case for the Arizona Cardinals this year, however. Following the rib injury to starting quarterback Kevin Kolb in Week 6, things went from bad to worse in the desert as the Cards spiraled from a 4-0 first place team all the way to the bottom of the NFC West. Arizona’s quarterbacks, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer, were three big reasons why. In that time frame, they combined to go 1-9 and throw 18 interceptions to just three touchdowns. A five-game stretch even resulted in Lindley throwing more touchdowns to opposing teams via interception returns (four) than he threw to his own receivers (zero). A few of the trio’s passing highs included 74, 72 and 64 yards. It probably didn’t help that All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had just 20 catches for 213 yards and no touchdowns in the final seven games of the season. Either they will trust that Kolb will return healthy next season or one would think they spend their first-round pick this spring on a competent quarterback. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired by the team on ‘Black Monday.’

Atlanta Falcons (13-3, 1st in NFC South): The Falcons went 13-3 in 2012 and locked up their second straight No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, but that’s not really news – at least not until they actually do something in the playoffs. Matt Ryan improved his home record to 33-4 in five NFL seasons, but that wasn’t even the biggest thing, in my opinion. For the sixth consecutive season, Roddy White played in all 16 games (hasn’t missed a game in his eight-year career) and put up what would seem like Pro Bowl worthy numbers. He did not make it, however, but teammate Julio Jones did. White had 13 more catches and 153 more yards than Jones on the season. Interesting. In fact, White has finished out of the top 10 in receiving yards just once in the last six seasons (2009). In the last six seasons, he has ended up ninth, eighth, second, 13th, fourth and eighth in the NFL in receiving. He has gone to just three Pro Bowls, however, including one due to an injury of another player. The biggest story out of Atlanta this season may just be the fact that one of the most productive receivers in the league from year to year was snubbed from the Pro Bowl after once again bringing that consistent level of exceptional play. Should he be mad? Yes.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 1st in AFC North): It was kind of a tale of two seasons for the AFC North champion Ravens. They began the year 9-2 and were in the driver’s seat in the division as well as in good position in the hunt for a first-round bye. Then came injuries, however. Already without Pro Bowl defensive lineman Terrell Suggs, All-Pro Ray Lewis tore his triceps in Week 6 and was out for the rest of the regular season. In Week 7 against Houston, Suggs would return. Their success in the last few seasons shows the importance of those two players to the team. As if the Lewis wasn’t bad enough, cornerback Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in the same game and he, too, was lost for the year. Lewis is slated to make his return this weekend, but without these three players all on the field in the second half of the year, Baltimore went from a 9-2 team to one with an average 10-6 record. Should they face an early exit in the playoffs, these injuries will have likely given them their death sentence as the up-and-down offense can’t really be counted on.

Buffalo Bills (6-10, 4th in AFC East): As one of the most disappointing teams of 2012, the Buffalo Bills were projected by some to be contenders in the AFC East and perhaps even make the playoffs. That illusion was quickly lost, however, after the team began the year with a 3-6 start, including a 48-28 loss to the Jets on Opening Day. They finished 6-10 at the bottom of the division for the fifth straight year. Buffalo has missed the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons. Of the six teams that they did beat on the year (the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals, Dolphins, Jaguars and Jets), not one of them had a winning record. In fact, they had a combined record of 27-69. The defense, which was supposed to be solid with the addition of Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus in his second year, gave up 45-plus points four times on the season as the Bills finished 31st in the league in rush yards against, allowing 145.8 per game. C.J. Spiller did have a solid season as he finished eighth in the league with 1,244 rushing yards, but a knee injury to Fred Jackson really ended up hurting the offense, which finished 19th in the league in total yards. Buffalo fired head coach Chan Gailey on Monday.

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season, but the Panthers still finished below .500.

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season, but the Panthers still finished below .500.

Carolina Panthers (7-9, 2nd in NFC South): For the third straight year the Panthers finished under .500, but for the second straight year they had a dynamic rookie on the field with them. As the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft, linebacker Luke Kuechly not only led the team in tackles, but he led the entire league. He finished the season with 164 while also picking off two passes, recovering three fumbles and deflecting eight passes for the 10th-ranked defense in Carolina. He was not selected to the Pro Bowl, however. Kuechly was so impressive that he may have even slightly overshadowed the sophomore season of Cam Newton, who was just the third quarterback ever to lead his team in rushing yards in a season. With the two of them as their foundation, the future looks bright in Carolina if they can build around them. They could return to the playoffs as early as next year for the first time since 2008.

Chicago Bears (10-6, 3rd in NFC North): You can have a good beginning. And you can have a good end. But if you don’t have a good middle, most of the time, success is not on the horizon. The Chicago Bears found this out the hard way in 2012 as they became just the second team since 1990 (out of 53) to miss the playoffs after starting a season 7-1. Unfortunately for them, they lost five of their next six before finishing the season with two straight wins, but by then, it was too late. Jay Cutler‘s injury had a bit to do with it, but ultimately the offense they put out on the field could not get it done in the second half of the year as they averaged just 17.3 points per game in the final eight weeks of the season. Chicago has now missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons with their only playoff run ending in the NFC Championship Game to the eventual champion Packers two years ago. Head coach Lovie Smith was fired on Monday in a very surprising move that could ultimately result in more bad than good for the team.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 2nd in AFC North): The Bengals are going to the playoffs for the seconds straight year behind their talented second-year playmakers Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Green really made a leap in his second year as he finished 10th in the league in receiving yards (1,350), tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (11) and seventh in receptions (97) while making his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He even had a stretch early in the season in which he caught a touchdown pass in nine consecutive games. His 84.4 yards per game also cracked the top 10 in the league. As the team’s biggest name on the offense, Green continued to put up monster numbers even when drawing the best coverage schemes from opposing defenses. His 164 targets in 2012 were tied for fifth in the league behind five of the best receivers of this generation. Green came up seven catches shy of breaking the record for the most receptions by a player in his first two NFL seasons as Cincy opted to rest most of its starters in their season finale. He has a chance to be the most productive receiver in Ohio since Chad Johnson.

Cleveland Browns (5-11, 4th in AFC North): In a backfield that featured two rookie starters in quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, the Cleveland Browns were not able to avoid a second straight last place finish in the AFC North, but did win one more game than they did last year (four) if that’s any consolation. Richardson broke Jim Brown‘s franchise record for most rushing yards in a season by a rookie with 950 and also scored 12 total touchdowns. He started every game he appeared in and went over 100 yards three times before being forced to miss the team’s final game with an ankle injury. Weeden also missed the season finale with a shoulder injury. In 15 games at quarterback, he was 297-of-517 passing for 3,385 yards and threw 14 touchdowns. If both of them can come back healthy next year and the Browns can put some other pieces of the puzzle together, they look to be able to contend in the tough AFC North in 2013. Head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert were both fired by the team on Monday.

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Scoreless In Seattle: Week 14 NFL Storylines 2

Posted on December 12, 2012 by Andy Larmand

As Christmas approaches, some NFL coaches were doing whatever they could to get back on the nice list in the eyes of their owners. Teams that hadn’t been doing a lot of winning this year found ways to get the job done in upset style in Week 14, but some, however, continued to fall face first into the snow (or desert sand).

No. 1: Peyton Manning got the Broncos to the 10-win mark for the first time since 2005 as he has the team poised to make a playoff run.

Peyton Manning highlighted the weekly Thursday night game as he threw for 300 yards for the first time since Week 10 at Carolina, but threw just one touchdown pass after eight in his previous three games. This marks the seventh time in his career that he has thrown 30 or more touchdowns in a season. He also turned the ball over at least once for the sixth straight game, but his Broncos still won their eighth straight, beating division rival Oakland 26-13 on Thursday night to improve to 10-3 on the year. The eight-game win streak is the longest for the Broncos since 1997-98 and with their 10th win of the year, they have hit double-digits in wins for the first time since 2005. The Denver D picked off at least one pass for the ninth straight game. Denver’s five-game lead in the AFC West is tied for the Falcons for the largest division lead through 14 weeks.

Rookie running back Doug Martin, a regular name in this post, became the first rookie running back since 2008 to record 1,500 yards from scrimmage in Tampa Bay‘s last-second 23-21 loss to the Eagles. Philly won for the first time in nine weeks behind Nick Foles, who threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner as time expired. He became the second rookie in as many weeks to win a game with a TD pass as time expired (Luck). All seven of Tampa Bay’s losses this season have been by eight points or fewer. The Eagles now have as many wins (one) since Oct. 1 as the Phillies.

Don’t look now, but the Jets – yes, the New York Jets – have won two straight after picking up their first ever win in Jacksonville Sunday by a score of 17-10 and are now being considered as a team with a chance to sneak into the playoffs. Mark Sanchez was back in there, but the Jets found the endzone twice on the ground and picked Chad Henne off twice en route to their second straight win and third in four games. Montell Owens scored his first rushing touchdown since 2008 for the Jags, who have lost two straight. Sanchez didn’t throw an interception for just the fourth time this year.

The joke that is the Arizona Cardinals just keeps getting funnier as they dropped their ninth straight game after starting the season 4-0. They didn’t just lose though – they lost 58-0 (not a misprint) to the Seahawks. The Seattle defense forced eight turnovers (four fumbles, four interceptions) and led 38-0 at halftime – their largest halftime lead since 1977. Marshawn Lynch ran for three touchdowns on just 11 carries and finished with 128 yards – his first multi-TD game of the year. Larry Fitzgerald remainedinvisible as he caught just one ball for two yards and Arizona quarterbacks John Skelton and Ryan Lindley combined to go 19-of-39 for 111 yards and four interceptions. The 58-point margin of victory is the largest in Seahawks history and the 58 points are the most the team’s ever scored in a single game. Not surprisingly, the 58-point loss is good for the worst in the 92-year history of the Cardinals.

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Sanchez Finally Benched: Week 13 NFL Storylines 0

Posted on December 05, 2012 by Andy Larmand

Mark Sanchez may have pulled off a miracle by remaining in the New York lineup for 12 weeks, but it appears his reign as starter may be over after being replaced in the 2nd half of Sunday’s game. Surprisingly, without “butt fumble” in there, the Jets got a win. So did 15 other teams.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez may have finally found something he’s good at: holding the clipboard and keeping Tim Tebow (left) company on the New York bench.

The Saints traveled to Atlanta to take on the division-leading Falcons on Thursday night in a game that they had to have to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Drew Brees, however, threw FIVE interceptions and saw his NFL-record streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass end at 54 in a row. This was the first time since Oct. 4, 2009 that Brees did not throw a touchdown pass in a game and the first time he, or any Saints quarterback, has ever thrown five picks. Roddy White had no catches in the 1st half for the first time in his last 78 games. His first catch came with less than two minutes left in the 3rd quarter.  With four on the night, tight end Tony Gonzalez now has at least 70 receptions in 10 straight seasons, tying the NFL record, and 13th season overall, tying that record as well. Matt Bryant made a 55-yard field goal in the 4th quarter and has now been good on his last seven kicks of 50 yards or more. Atlanta improved to 11-1 with the 23-13 win and has won 46 of 47 games when holding a lead at any point in the 4th quarter. The Falcons converted on just one 3rd down in the game (1-11). With the Tampa Bay loss to Denver, the Falcons clinched the NFC South for the second time in three seasons.

Stevan Ridley scored a rushing touchdown in his fifth straight game as the Patriots improved to 9-3 and won the AFC East, beating the Dolphins 23-16 in South Florida. Tom Brady did throw his first interception in his last 202 passing attempts in the 1st quarter – that had been the longest active streak in the NFL. He also threw a touchdown pass in his 44th straight game – the longest active streak in the NFL since Brees’ was snapped on Thursday night. With a second quarter reception, Wes Welker went over 1,00 yards receiving for the fifth time in his career, extending his Patriots record and he tied Jerry Rice‘s all-time record with 17 10-reception games. He had 10 catches for 89 yards…in the 1st half! If that wasn’t enough his 12 catches for 103 yards got him to the 10-catch, 100-yard mark for the 16th time in his illustrious career – the most all-time. Ridley became the 12th Patriot to run for 1,000 yards in a season. The Patriots clinched the AFC East for the fourth straight year and have won 20 straight games in the second half of the season. Brady became the first QB in NFL history to win 10 division titles. Finally, the Pats have won 12 straight regular season December games, dating back to 2009 and are currently on a six-game winning streak.

Something had to give in the Meadowlands as the 4-7 Jets hosted the 4-7 Cardinals – losers of seven straight following their undefeated start. It certainly was not a pretty thing to watch. Sanchez gave Brees a run for his money, throwing three interceptions in a game that ended 7-6 in their favor. He was finally pulled by Rex Ryan, but not for Tim Tebow – for Greg McElroy, who promptly threw a TD pass. Tebow was inactive for the game with a rib injury. The Cardinals have lost eight straight following this ugly game. New York improved to 4-111 in their history when scoring seven points or less in a game. Arizona did not convert on a 3rd down the entire day (0-15). The Jets improved to 1-6 all-time in games that Sanchez has thrown three or more interceptions. The two teams combined for more punts (16) than points.

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NFL: The Storylines From Week Five 0

Posted on October 10, 2012 by Andy Larmand

Drew Brees celebrates with teammate, Devery Henderson after he threw a record-breaking touchdown pass on Sunday. Bress now has a TD pass in 48 straight games – breaking the record set by Johnny Unitas.

As always, it was another exciting week in the NFL with records being broken, upsets being recorded and Tim Tebow leading the Jets to a win. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Nevertheless, it was still another very exciting week in football that made us fans all grateful that we get to watch the game every week – and that the replacement referees are gone for good.

Now’s the part when I reminisce about both the good and the bad that the games had to offer.

First and foremost, Saints quarterback, Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game – a new NFL record. The previous record was 47 held by Johnny Unitas. The record-breaking pass was one of four for him on the night and came in the 1st quarter to Devery Henderson from 40 yards out. More importantly, the Saints picked up their first win of the season, 31-24 over the Chargers.

Five teams did not allow a touchdown in their Week 5 games. It’s not surprising that three of them were the Ravens49ers and Bears. It is surprising, however, that the other two were the Rams and the Chiefs. The Chiefs were the only team to not allow a touchdown and lose the game. The Ravens beat them, without scoring a touchdown, 9-6.

Two teams – the Bears and the 49ers won by more than 38 points. The 49ers beat the Bills 45-3 and the Bears crushed the Jaguars 41-3.

The Cardinals suffered their first loss of the year, falling to the Rams 17-3 on Thursday night.

San Francisco set a franchise record with 621 yards of total offense in their win against Buffalo. It was also the most yards that the Bills have ever given up. Alex Smith threw for 303 yards and three TD’s. The Bills also became the first team to allow 550+ yards of offense in consecutive weeks since 1950.

The Bears recorded an interception return in their third straight game for the first time in their history. Charles Tillman returned a Blaine Gabbert pick 36 yards in the 2nd quarter to make the score 13-3 Bears.

The Patriots scored 3+ rushing touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time since 1978. Touchdowns were scored by Shane VereenStevan Ridley and Tom Brady. Brady also threw a touchdown pass in his 38th straight game – remaining ten behind Brees for the all-time record.

Green Bay blew an 18-point halftime lead to the Colts and lost the game 30-27. Andrew Luck threw two touchdowns and Reggie Wayne had 212 yards receiving as the Pack blew their largest halftime lead since 1957.

In case you were wondering, the Browns are still winless. They fell to 0-6 after blowing a 14-0 lead against the Super Bowl Champion Giants. Dating back to last season, Cleveland has now lost 11 straight which is tied for the longest losing streak in its franchise history. On the bright side, rookie running back, Trent Richardson, recorded  a rushing touchdown in his fourth straight game.

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