Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Super-bumper double NFL - the Velvet Bear

Sorry NFL fans - Ebren here - due to my rubbishness as an editor [please don't tell my real employers] you have a super, bumper double roundup to enjoy. See, it's a good thing really.

Thanksgiving games, just a week after the turkeys were pardoned
There are three traditional elements to Thanksgiving. The turkey dinner, the Macy's Day Parade in New York, and a football match involving the Detroit Lions. Yep, for 68 years the good people of the United States have scoffed down their Thanksgiving feast whilst watching a team which not only hasn't won anything since 1957, but has actually only won one playoff game since the Superbowl began 42 years ago - in 1991.

Judging from Thursday's game, that isn't going to change very quickly. The Lions were woeful against the Packers. If Green Bay hadn't gone to sleep in the final quarter and allowed them back into the game, they'd have been thrashed. As it was, a 37-26 loss flattered them beyond belief.

In the second Thanksgiving match, the Cowboys destroyed the Jets 34-3 without ever playing anything like their best. In fact, by the third quarter both teams seemed to have their eyes on the turkey and the only big surprise was that they had only scored three touchdowns, one of those from an interception and none of them by Terrell Owens. That situation was rectified mid-way through the fourth quarter, but in truth the game was so one-sided, it was hardly worthy of the occasion. The Jets were utterly clueless on offense, giving Kellen Clemons no protection, but no-one to pass to.

The game had been billed as a match up between the Jones brothers - Thomas, running back for the Jets, and Julius, who fills the same role for the Cowboys. Thomas left the Bears in a huff at the end of last season and must now be regretting that decision, much in the same way that anyone would if they had an 11 week hangover. Julius didn't have a great day - no-one did - but he didn't have to be great to outshine his brother.

In the final match, the Colts got back to winning ways with a 31-13 win over the Falcons. Atlanta actually ended the first quarter 10-0 up, before the Colts got into their stride, winning the second 21-3 and then shutting the Falcons out for the second half. There were signs that they are returning to the form which made them champions last year.

More after Sunday's games, including a preview of the big Packers v Cowboys game next Thursday.

The next installment: before you can even draw breath or make a cup if tea - take that BBC3
It is less than a month since we went through all of the hype around the Patriots-Colts game and this week we’re getting even more, this time over Thursday’s matchup between the Packers and the Cowboys.

Whilst a game between two sides with 10-1 records doesn’t quite have the cachet of two unbeaten teams slugging it out, there is an obvious parallel with the earlier game in that these are two teams who are clearly going to be in the playoffs, but who cannot meet in the Superbowl as they play in the same conference, the NFC. Most people - myself included - do see it as a preview of the NFC championship game on 20 January 2008.

Quite what we can learn from this game is hard to fathom. Both sides have very good records despite being very limited on offense. The Cowboys’ threat comes exclusively from the almost twin-like telepathy between young quarterback Tony Romo and the fastest ego on legs, veteran receiver Terrell Owens. The Packers don’t even have that. The only reason they are an attacking threat is the class and guile of Brett Favre, and the fact that he is experienced enough to find a way out of most situations they find themselves in. Interestingly, though, if a defense puts either of these two under pressure, they both use the same get-out move, throwing a short pass to a tight end.

Knowing all of this, it is arguable that the success of these two teams has come more on the back of the inadequacies of their opponents, rather than because either is spectacularly good. It is worth noting that both sides lost their one game to the Patriots and that neither has played the Colts. For all of the hype, this has the makings of an average game between two slightly better than average sides. I’ll take the Cowboys to just shade it.


A thriller at Soldier Field as Chicago come from behind to beat the Broncos 37-34. Rex Grossman led them to two touchdowns in the final five minutes of normal time and Robbie Gould then kicked the winning field goal in overtime. In truth, it was a game dominated by ineptitude. The first 10 of the Broncos’ points came from Chicago mistakes, whilst two penalty calls cost the Bears a touchdown and an interception of their own. Then Denver repaid the compliment by doing the one thing everyone else has been bright enough not to do this season and kicked a punt straight down the throat of Devin Hester, which he promptly and predictably ran back for a 75 yard touchdown. Then, just for good measure, they did it again later in the game and handed Hester an 88 yard return.

The Patriots kept their unbeaten record, but were taken right to the wire by the Eagles, eventually winning 31-28 - only the second time they have scored less than 34 points in a match this season.

Eli Manning came good again, throwing four interceptions as the Giants lost 41-17 to the Vikings. Three of those interceptions were run back for touchdowns, giving the scoreline a somewhat distorted look. Oh, and Peyton was watching from the stands, too.

Just when you thought the Rams were turning their season around, they spectacularly blew it against the Seahawks. From 19 -7 up at half time, they conceded 17 unanswered points in the second half. As the game clock ticked away, they camped on the Seattle one yard line, only for quarterback Gus Frerotte to drop the ball.

The Bengals finally woke up to the fact that they were confusing the hell out of everyone watching them and thrashed the Titans 35-6, including three touchdowns for Chad Johnson

The Browns continued their surprise run to the playoffs with a 27-17 win over the Texans. Two more touchdowns for Derek Anderson took him to 22 for the season and he only needs one more to make him their most successful quarterback in thirty years.

The Bills, Panthers and Redskins were all even worse than usual and deservedly lost, but the 49ers at last managed a win, beating the Cardinals in overtime despite being second best all game. Of their three wins this year, two of them have been against Arizona.

The Dolphins lost to the last kick of the game again. What was remarkable was that, at the time, the match was tied at 0-0. Atrocious conditions meant that the pitch was barely playable and both they and the Steelers struggled horribly in the conditions. Even worse for the Dolphins was that they lost Ricky Williams for the rest of the season with an injury.

Finally, very sad news from Washington. The Redskins’ safety (think ‘centre back’) Sean Taylor has died after being shot by a burglar on Sunday night. He’s the second NFL player to die in a shooting this year.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Keeping a stiff upper lip - premcorrespondent

Over the decades of England has developed a great reputation on the world stage.

Never let it be said that we will compete in a tournament we consider unworthy of our great talents (recent Olympics, pre-in-50 World Cups, post 1970 World Cups, finals of major tournaments).

Never let it be said that we are not generous in giving stepping out of the spotlight to letter smaller teams shine (America 1950, Austria 1979, Wales 1980, Australia 2003)

But perhaps the greatest tradition in all England is our history of Great Goalkeepers - from Fatty Foulkes to Rotund Robbo.

And this weekend the skills of the English glovesman were once again on display.

Paul Robinson and Robert Green - England's numbers three and four (of five or six depending on whether Ben Foster and Chris Kirkland are fit) faced off in a London derby.

Both performed exquisitely, with a string of saves (one from a penalty - and we all know how accomplished English strikers are at taking those). But both were let down by Jonny Foreigners in their defence to concede. Nevertheless it is fair to say both men made their point, and earned one each for their teams.

It was therefore left to English numbers one and two to outdo them.

Duly David James calmly added to his record tally of clean sheets as Portsmouth won comfortably 2-0 against Birmingham, while the current wearer of the iconic England No 1 shirt Scott Carson let nothing past him as his Aston Villa side beat Middlesbrough (with their inferior Australian keeper) 3-0 away.

Another clean sheet went to Carl Cuddich at Chelsea - a keeper vastly improved since he qualified to play for England (although he remains behind Foster in the standings) - his heroic performance saw the blues record a good 2-0 win, despite some temperamental foreigner in his side being sent off.

Over in Manchester, Bolton managed to overcome their lack of a bulldog between the posts with some traditional English tackling against the clever continentals at Manchester United. With Yeoman Kevin Davis showing that flouncing Frenchy Patrice Evra what it means to play the game like a man. Evra was luck to stay on after petulantly kicking out at the stout-hearted Englishman - but his effete foreign kick missed like a cannon aimed at the Victory. Bolton duly won 1-0.

Our inferior Celtic cousins saw the error of their ways as well at Goodison Park. Lazy, stupid Oirishman Roy Keane (probably drunk on Guinness) lacked the wherewithal to defeat Everton captain Phil Neville's stout English hearts - with the blues pulverising Sunderland (which is suspiciously close to the Scottish border) 7-1. Goalkeeper Craig Gordon was busy looking for coins that had been dropped near the goal area for four of the goals and was enjoying a dram of whisky for the other three.

Down in London Celtic the complexions of Welshman Mark Hughes and the Northern (the good bit) Irish Laurie Sanchez showed their tactical naivety - both managers letting their side let two goals in, and failing to win. But things are harder in the Premier League than managing a bunch of second division "international" players. However, they are allowed to pick from the flower of English youth now, and duly both Warnock and Murphy scored for their side before having their good work undone by unreliable allies.

England's Sven Goran Eriksson showed the lack of judgement that saw him hounded from Every Single Manager's Dream Job by keeping English keeper Joe Hart on the bench. His side therefore let a goal in. Fortunately greasy and cowardly Italian Steve Coppello had picked an American to keep goal, and despite being allowed to use his hands (much like in the colonial's own version of the beautiful game) he let two balls into the "endzone". Sven's England connections assuring another domestic triumph.

Decorated Englishman Steven Gerrard scored the first, then set up colleagues for two more - displaying our Great National Qualities of modesty and fair-mindedness - as another Hapless Irish Keeper was beaten three times and Liverpool defeated (suspiciously close to the Scottish border) Newcastle 3-0 to round off truly another spiffing week for the Nation that gave birth to the beautiful game.

See you all at 2008, where our superiority will once again be demonstrated to massed ranks of awed spectators as we defend our crown as greatest footballing nation on earth.



Tweet it, digg it