Thursday, October 25, 2007

NFL Week 7 - the Velvet Bear

I sparked a discussion on here a few weeks ago when I compared kicking in the NFL to that in rugby. Opinion seemed to be pretty divided as to whether it was easier to kick on your own, from anywhere on the pitch, with a minute to prepare yourself, or easier to do it NFL style – you line up in front of the posts, but one guys throws the ball back between his legs to a second guy, who stands the ball upright on the ground and holds it whilst you kick it. All within 40 seconds and without you getting the chance to do a Johnny style pose beforehand. And the posts are higher, too.

It is an argument which you can never win. The two styles are too different. The only thing you can say is that, in an indoor arena, it is probably easier to kick in the NFL. But then where does that leave someone kicking in the Millennium Stadium when the roof is closed?

What I can tell you is that, with an eerie sense of timing, the NFL kicking record fell on Sunday, as Rob Bironas of the Tennessee Titans kicked 8 field goals in their 38-36 win over the Houston Texans. The last of these came from the very last kick of the match to win it and break the record.

In truth, the Texans didn't deserve to win, having scored 29 of their points in the final quarter to put themselves back into the match, in a thrilling spell which included a 57 yard touchdown pass by quarterback Sage Rosenfels. I mention this for no reason other than to cram one more silly name into this article.

Elsewhere in the NFL:

● I feel slightly bad about something. I've rather ignored Tom Brady thus far. The problem is that, whilst Brady is a thoroughly nice guy, he plays for the Patriots, who are such an unloveable team it is not true. Frankly, you could send Brady out with a team full of fluffy bunny rabbits, new born babies and kittens and you still couldn't love the Pats. Even so, their form (as I mentioned last week) has been awesome and Brady himself couldn't be playing better. This week he threw six – yes, SIX – touchdowns as the Pats beat the Wembley-bound Dolphins 49-28;

● The Dolphins remain winless and Sunday's big game looks like being something of a walkover as the Giants go 5-2 by thrashing the 49ers. San Fran backup QB Trent Dilfer was sacked 6 times, one of which led to a fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown all in one;

● No apologies for making this so prominent. In a game of astonishing offensive ineptness, the Bears stunned the Eagles, their fans, me and probably themselves by going 97 yards on their final drive of the game to win 19-16. In fact, when they started the play at their own three yard line, with less than two minutes on the clock and no timeouts left, I stopped watching;

● Comeback of this year – and possibly any other – is in Oakland, where the Chiefs' Priest Holmes plays his first game since a neck injury threatened to end his career in 2005. He has little impact in a grim match which ends 12-10 to the Chiefs, but it's good to see him back;

● Definitely out for this season are Dolphins QB Trent Green, Safety Renaldo Hill and RB Ronnie Brown. The lengths some people will go to to avoid a trip to London. Renardo Foster of the Falcons joins them in the treatment room for the next few months;

● The Falcons' season keeps getting worse, as star TE Alge Crumpler misses their game against the Saints and latest QB Byron Leftwich is injured in the third quarter. Needless to say, the Saints win 22-16;

● A thriller in Cinci as the Bengals outscore the Jets 38-31, in Denver where a last second field goal gives the Broncos the win over the Steelers by 31-28, and in Washington as the Cardinals, despite dominating the game, miss a 54 yard field goal with the last kick of the game to lose 21-19;

● The Lions are this year's surprise team and they continued their good run against the Bucs. Two Jeff Garcia fumbles led to touchdowns as they go 4-2 with a 23-16 victory;

● Last week the Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck and several teammates narrowly avoided serious injury when an overhead camera broke away from its cabling and landed on the pitch just behind them. This week they were in little danger of breaking sweat against the Rams as they won 33-6;

● The Colts continued their quiet dominance by beating the Jags 23-7 in Jacksonville, but they are far too boring to write about;

● The bush fires in California force the Steelers to move to Arizona for the forseeable future;

● Good news for Vikings fans as Tavaris Jackson breaks a finger. Oh, hold on, who does that leave you with? Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger? HAHAHAHAHAHA Good job it's not a season ending injury;

● Latest victim (if you'll forgive the expression) of the NFL clean up campaign is the Rams' Claude Terrell, who is sacked after being accused – accused, not convicted – of assaulting his wife;

● Suspended players Chris Henry and Tank Johnson are cleared to return to practise with their teams, if not to actually play;

● The NFL adds $10m to the fund to provide for retired players who fall on hard times, to equally large cheers and complaints that it is not enough;

● Michael Vick places his house in Atlanta on the market. Well, he won't be needing it for a few years. Hopefully;

● Finally, sad news as Max McGee, who scored the first ever Superbowl touchdown, dies in a fall at the age of 75. Quite what he was doing on the roof at his age is anyone's guess.

Right, I'm off to Wembley...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mad Boks and Englishmen - premcorrespondent

While all Englishmen and women (well the ones that speak posh) were concentrating on whether a mix of public schoolboys, Rugby League converts and organo-phosphate poisoned farmhands could turn over the descendents of the Voortrekkers (and Percy Montgomery), proper football went ahead as usual... alas.

The lunchtime kick-off resounded to thousands of scousers (and some Liverpool supporters) baying for blood, but only one cry was answered in the affirmative - when Mark Clattenberg, on second thoughts, agreed with Stevie G that Tony Hibbert should get a red card and duly dismissed him. Stevie was soon hooked by Rafa who knows that it's the CL that will make his reputation, not parochial events like the.... Premier League.

While the England man cleared Tesco bags off the bench and settled down to sign photos for Clattenburg, Dirk Kuyt was showing that he could become the new Cantona and Carragher was pulling Lescott down on to his prone body like an aspirant porn star. Everton 1 Liverpool 2 and David Moyes minus 30 grand, once the FA blazers get round to a hearing. The Merseyside teams are now 11th and fourth respectively, which is where they are likely to finish. The Premier League have kindly given Clattenberg next weekend off so he can reacquaint himself with the rule book.

The six three o'clock games (a generous quota these days) saw Arsenal continue their season of wonder goals with a 2-0 win over a Bolton side bereft of the managerial influence of Sammy Lee (yes, there was no difference). Chelsea cruised to a 2-0 win at the Riverside over long term residents of "The Best League in the World" Middlesborough. Elano continued his quest to wrest the Footballer of the Year award away from little Cesc with another virtuoso display for Citeh as they ran out 1-0 winners over Mrs Doubtfire's Birmingham.

Sven's success in England and overseas gives him the kind of CV the FA will be looking for to replace Steve McClaren... or maybe not. The other three matches brought Portsmouth more points with a 0-2 win at Wigan, Fulham draw nil-nil with Derby in a game that won't have pleased Frankie Howerd lookalike Laurie Sanchez and Tugay (see above) leading his mob to victory over the Royals, as Blackburn ran out 4-2 winners over Reading.

On a channel nobody can watch except if you're at the pub, Manchester United defeated Aston Villa 1-4 without the help of Ronaldo, but with plenty of assistance from Rob "Hey, Look at Me!" Styles, who secured his usual quantum of camera-time by giving penalties and red cards to the Villa.

Roy Keane had squeezed out a very scary beard in the international break, but the face furniture (and all the talk of Black Cats - where did that come from?) didn't bring any luck, as West Ham were flattered by a 3-1 scoreline.

Champions League 2009 non-contenders Tottenham Coldspurs rounded out the weekend's fixtures with a 3-1 defeat at Big Sam's Newcastle. Martin Jol was doing his head slightly tilted back Mussolini look, but he'll be hanging from a lamp-post soon (metaphorically, I think).

And that's it, with just a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of European matches to keep us going before the weekend's matches kick off. Enjoy Friday!

Monday, October 22, 2007

NFL Week 6 - the Velvet Bear

I was struggling for a theme for this week’s missive, but then someone (no names, no pack drill) very kindly used the phrase ‘thuggery versus skill’ elsewhere on this site and gave me a neat tie in to events on and off the field over the past week.

Those of you who have been reading since my first article will know that the NFL is trying desperately to clean up its act following a rather large number of player misdemeanours. That extends not only to acts off the field, but acts on them as well. Players are now routinely fined for going beyond the bounds of what the NFL decides is fair and reasonable. This week alone:

· Mike Vrabel was fined $5000 for the tackle which I referred to last week;

· Kyle Van Den Bosch of the Titans is $7500 lighter after a low tackle on Falcons’ QB Joey Harrington;

· Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars needed a real cash machine after picking up a similar fine for a touchdown celebration where he pretended the goalposts were a cash machine – yes, in the NFL you can now be fined for over-celebrating, although Jones-Drew has been so poor this year I reckon the fine was $500 for what he did and $7000 for having the nerve to draw attention to himself after being such a useless waste of space for the first five weeks.

Basically, in the modern NFL, anything which looks a bit bad on television is going to cost you. It generally takes a week or two for the fines to filter through, but it is a safe bet that anyone who was pulled up for a horsecollar (a tackle around the neck) or facemask this week won’t be spending too much money for another seven days. Given that all of the protective equipment prevents some of the sneakier pieces of foul play you find in other games – it is hard to eye gouge through a helmet – picking up the offenders isn’t the hardest job in the world and indeed you wonder why the league didn’t get tougher before now.

On the other hand, it is all a question of proportion. Is tacking someone high, or late, really only worth as big a fine as using the goalposts as a celebration prop? Surely not. In the examples given above, either Jones-Drew was hard done by, or the other two got off very lightly.

The week’s other news
Tom Brady throws a career-best 5 touchdown passes – two of them to the littlest and least well known of their formidable receiving quartet, Wes Welker – as the Pats destroy the Cowboys 48-27. In doing so, he sets a new record as the first QB to throw three touchdowns in six consecutive matches. There is some talk among pundits that the spying affair has so galvanised this team that they will be hard to beat; in truth, they are simply enjoying having every player fit and on the top of his form. Whilst it is very hard to see anyone beating them at the moment, you get the feeling that it only takes one or two of them to have an off day and the wheels will come off in spectacular fashion;

The Chiefs beat the Bengals 27-20; Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez scores two of their touchdowns to break the record for the most touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history;
Vinny Testaverde (aged 753) extends his own record for the number of consecutive seasons with a touchdown pass to 21 as he leads his new team the Carolina Panthers to a 25-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals;

Testaverde is a mere stripling compared to 59 year old Mike Flynt, who became the oldest college football player in history on Friday night;

The Rams’ dire season continues as they crash 22-3 at the Ravens;

Over in Jacksonville, the Jaguars beat the Texans 37-17. That man Jones-Drew runs in a touchdown and then bows to the crowd, who hail him for the prize idiot he clearly is;

In the battle of the Adrian Petersons, it is the Viking of that name who comes out on top, going in for three touchdowns against the Bears (and his namesake) and leading Minnesota to a surprise 34-31 victory;

A 43 yard field goal with just 11 seconds remaining gives the Buccaneers a 13-10 victory over the Titans in a game so awful the only thing you could say is that neither side deserved to win;
The Packers beat the Redskins 17-14 and it is another record for Old Man Favre. He might not want this one, though – he has now been intercepted more often than any other QB;

Anthony Hargrove of the Bills will be ordering extra toilet paper after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, drawing a $300 dollar fine from the court and a the prospect of an uncomfortable meeting with arch-disciplinarian Roger Goodall;

Goodall is also due to hear Tank Johnson’s application to resume playing any day now and is – rumour has it – likely to say ‘yes’ for once in his life;

And continuing the Goodall theme, he has also hinted that, one day, the Superbowl may be played outside the USA – meaning London;

The Cardinal’s QB problems continue as Kurt Warner picks up an elbow injury, leaving only Tim Rattay available. They’ve signed Tim Hasselbeck as back up to him, which means they now have none of the quarterbacks they had six weeks ago. Hasselbeck is the less talented brother of the Seahawks’ Matt, which makes him about ¼ the talent of Eli Manning, or 1/8th of a full Peyton…

Finally, good news of Kevin Everett, who is now walking again with the aid of a special frame, but sad news of Cowboys legend Ron Spring, who is in a coma after a kidney transplant (donated by a former team-mate) failed.

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