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Nov
16

4th and 2: What Should You Do?

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Last night, the Indianapolis Colts defeated the New England Patriots 35-34 in a game that was certainly one for the ages. Quarterback Tom Brady finished with 375 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 110.7 rating.  Peyton Manning finished with 327 yards, 4 touchdowns, a 97.4 quarterback rating (and most importantly, the victory). These two perennial stars proved why they are mentioned as the best in the game and already headed for the Hall of Fame.

A game that was seemingly dominated by the Patriots through three quarters took a 180 degree turn 42 seconds into the fourth. Brady threw a jump ball to Randy Moss to put the Pats up 31-14. In any other case and against any other quarterback, this would have probably been the dagger to end it. However, Manning had no intentions of leaving his home stadium with a loss. It took him 2:04 to execute a five play, 79 yard drive that ended with a 29-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon.

The Colts’ defense got the ball back, and Manning threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage. He was trying to force the ball downfield, and later admitted that this was a bad throw, and a poor decision. His interception led to a Pats field goal which put them up 34-21.

Once again, Manning worked his magic. He drove right down the field on six plays for 79 yards, ending the drive with a touchdown by running back Joseph Addai. This score put the Colts within six points. The amazing aspect of these two fourth quarter drives is that he executed them under four minutes total!

The proceeding chain of events can be seen from both sides of the fence. The Patriots couldn’t get anything going on offense and found themselves in a fourth and two situation, with 2:08 left. Once again, if this were any other coach on any other team, this would have been a no-brainer call; punt the ball!

But, the fact that there is even a decision to make here is what makes this game so special every year. The chess match involved between these teams is unparalleled. Coach Bill Belichick felt that if Manning got the ball back on offense, he was going to score a touchdown regardless of field position. The way the game was going, the Patriots failed to stop the Colts on two key fourth quarter drives.

I believe that this is what propelled Belichick into his decision on fourth down to go for it. Many people saw this as undermining his defense, but Belichick knows his team better than anybody. And if he felt that his team could not stop Manning at that point and time, then his decision was warranted.

On the other hand, people are asking why Belichick would make it so easy for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. It took Manning only four plays to score a touchdown, and he ensured that it was the final drive of the game by using most of the clock. Had Belichick decided to punt, he would have given Manning a longer field to work with.

In any event, I believe that the results would have been the same. The Pats’ shortcomings came from their inability to gain a first down on that final drive, as opposed to the decision to go for fourth down. Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. Punting the ball would have given Manning over two minutes, with two opportunities to stop the clock (one timeout and the two minute warning). Can you remember the last time Manning was in that situation and failed? I can’t.

Belichick will probably take heat all week for making this decision. In his defense, he is the head coach and it is his decision to make. Everyone knows how capable he is as a coach, so he should be given some benefit of the doubt. There may have been more favorable results but nevertheless, the decision was still made: only this time it backfired.

It is his job to put his team in the best position to win the game, and he felt as though he was doing that. Unfortunately, one team had to lose and that’s just the nature of the business. You win some, you lose some.

With this major victory over their recent rivals, the Colts have put themselves in a prime position to do what their counterparts did two seasons ago; finish the regular season undefeated. They have favorable matchups the rest of the way, with their remaining seven opponents having a combined record of 32-34. And by the way, three of those games will be at home.

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The Philadelphia Eagles improved to 4-2 as they defeated the Washington Redskins 27-17. But don’t pay much attention to the score, because the game was not that competitive. Very few players from both sides showed up on Monday night.

This division is viewed as one of the most competitive ones in the league. This was also supposed to be a game for the ages, with two rivals looking to get their season back on track. Well, outside of two key plays made by Eagles wide receiver Desean Jackson, this game was one of the more boring Monday night matchups of the year.

deseanjackson

The game started with an electrifying end-around reverse to Jackson, which he took 67 yards for a touchdown. The only other explosive play in the game was when Jackson ran a perfect double-move that fooled two defensive backs, and quarterback Donovan McNabb found him deep for a 57-yard touchdown. Outside of these two plays, the rest of the game was dominated by the defenses.

The Eagles’ defense was fortunate enough to capitalize on four Redskins’ turnovers, scoring a touchdown on one of them. Even after the Eagles recorded six sacks, one interception, and forced three fumbles, their win margin was only 10 points. McNabb has obviously struggled to get back to Pro Bowl form since returning from his rib injury, and it’s transparent on the field.

The problems with the Redskins’ offense were expected because we’ve seen how bad its gotten ever since Joe Gibbs retired. In any event, the Eagles boast one of the top offenses in the league every year. I believe that if it weren’t for those two amazing plays by Jackson, this game could have easily had a different outcome (just like the game in Oakland).

The Redskins offense proved once again to be the reason that the team can no longer compete in the division. Even after stripping head coach Jim Zorn of his play-calling duties, the Redskins offense remained stagnant. Hopefully, they realize now that play-calling isn’t the main issue with their team, and players are actually going to have to make some plays in order to be successful. Simply evaluating everyone out there, from the dumbfounded looks on quarterback Jason Campbell’s face to the temper-tantrums thrown by running back Clinton Portis on the sidelines, this team is in disarray, and needs a serious reorganization ASAP. Someone needs to inform owner Dan Snyder that he is not George Steinbrenner, and he does not own the New York Yankees. He also needs to know that this is not the MLB. You can’t just throw $100 million at a guy and expect your team to automatically elevate its level of play, especially if the guy only plays half of the defensive snaps!

Enough about that horrid Monday night game: let’s look ahead to what many are calling the drama of the year. If you haven’t heard, Brett Favre is returning to Lambeau Field! The only difference is that he will be there for the first time as a visitor. He is returning to face the youngster that ousted him from his beloved city of Green Bay. As if the timing couldn’t be any worse for Favre, the city of Green Bay just named a street after quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Favre will have to be able to control his emotions and focus on the game of football if he is going to be successful in his return home.

aaronrodgers

Besides all the hype surrounding Favre and Rodgers, there is still a football game that needs to be played. The Minnesota Vikings already defeated the Packers once in week four. That game featured Favre nearly playing a perfect game, finishing with 271 yards and three touchdown passes. Rodgers, on the other hand, had a decent game statistically but a horrible game overall. He was responsible for two turnovers and was sacked eight times. If the Packers want any chance at beating one of the best defenses in the NFL, then it must start with the offensive line learning how to pass protect. On paper, the Vikings have a better offense, defense, and special teams. This does not bode well for the Packers, who need to win this game in order to stay competitive within the division.

The Packers have a decent chance to win this game because it’s at home. They brought the Vikings out of the dome and into the snow. We all know Favre is used to cold weather games (especially big ones), but what about the rest of his teammates? This game will be decided by the team that makes the fewest mistakes, and unlike Favre’s situation, Rodgers has to carry the weight of the team on his back. We’ll see how he performs in the biggest game of his short career this Sunday.

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Oct
26

Undefeated, But for How Long?

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After seven weeks of what has already been an exciting NFL season, three undefeated teams remain: the Indianapolis Colts, the New Orleans Saints, and the Denver Broncos. The Saints expected these results when they first acquired Drew Brees. The Broncos, however, didn’t expect these results for at least a season. The Colts have been there and done that several times throughout the Peyton Manning era. In any event, the fact is that these teams have accomplished their goals up to this point, even though they’ve done it in different ways.

The 6-0 Saints boast the most efficient offense in the NFL, and it all starts with Drew Brees’ arm. He is third in passer rating, fourth in touchdowns, and seventh in passing yards. As a team, the Saints are fourth in total offense and lead the NFL in offense by almost 10 points per game. Without a doubt, Brees is having an MVP season, and this is exactly what the Saints envisioned when they acquired him in 2006. There have been very few shortcomings on offense ever since the quarterback arrived. And unlike past Saints teams, this 2009 version has added an aggressive defense to match their acclaimed offense. The Saints went from being ranked 23rd overall in total defense in 2008 to eighth this year.  With a defense that can equally hold its own on the football field, the Saints are definitely a team that is headed in the right direction.

The Saints had sort of a close call this past Sunday when they traveled to Miami to take on the Dolphins. They uncharacteristically fell to a 21-point deficit, the biggest they have faced all season. Yet, the Saints proved that they could win another way. We’ve seen the many different ways this team was capable of winning in the past: it’s no secret that they can do it with offense, as they did in the first game of the season when Brees torched the Detroit Lions for six touchdowns. We have seen them win with defense, as they did against the New York Giants where they forced them into two crucial turnovers. This past week, we saw that the Saints have the ability to fall behind, and depend on the arm of their clutch Pro Bowl quarterback to win the game for them . . . even when he doesn’t live up to expectations to start a game. The NFL’s leading passer inked his worst game of the season to date, throwing three interceptions, losing a fumble, and taking five sacks. However, Brees performed when it mattered, leading his team to touchdown drives of 82, 79, and 60 on successive possessions in the second half. The Saints outscored the Dolphins 22-0 in the 4th quarter to capture their sixth straight victory of the season. Looking ahead at their schedule, their next significant game comes Week 12 against the New England Patriots. Yes, we have to wait four more weeks in order to tell if this Saints team is for real.

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If you have been reading my other posts, then you know that the Broncos are well-chronicled on our website. Why? Because they are, by far, the biggest surprise of the year. Nobody expected them to be undefeated this far into the season. But the real test for the Broncos is yet to come. They still have two games remaining against the horrid Kansas City Chiefs, and one game against the Oakland Raiders. Would anyone kill me if I already penciled in three more victories for them? I doubt it. However, the rest of their non-divisional games are against some of the best teams in the NFL, who are also fighting for playoff positioning. The Broncos have a daunting schedule going forward, starting next week with the Baltimore Ravens. After the Ravens, they still have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, Giants, Indianapolis Colts, and Philadelphia Eagles. We will see what the Broncos are made of after their next two games.

The Colts are the third and final undefeated team in the NFL. To be honest, I completely expected this from a veteran team. Many would argue they have the best quarterback in the league in Peyton Manning. Before the season started, I predicted the Colts would start off 8-0. I didn’t even consider that to be going out on a limb, especially once you looked at their first eight games on the schedule. Their first true test will be against the Patriots in Week 10. Circle this one on your calendar because it will be a game for the ages; that is, if the Colts remain focused on a week-by-week basis, and don’t overlook any teams in-between (such as their division rival Houston Texans in Week 9).

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Can anyone tell me why the 2-2 San Diego Chargers were favored by three points to defeat the undefeated 6-0 Denver Broncos? It seems like every year, the Chargers are handed several unwarranted accolades before the season starts. For the last five years, it’s become standard to see NFL analysts picking the Chargers as their Super Bowl favorites.

Well, in the last five years, I can’t remember the Chargers overcoming either of their on-field archrivals: the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots. Since they haven’t beaten either of those teams, I can’t understand why we continue to praise them. It’s about time that we start watching and analyzing the game of football from an unbiased point of view and stop attempting to rename chickens as ducks every year.

If you were able to see through the hype this time around, you knew the Chargers came into this year looking just as vulnerable as they did last season. Let’s not forget they needed a four game winning streak (vs. the Raiders, Chiefs, Bucs, and Broncos) and a Broncos three game collapse in order to make the playoffs last year. Nevertheless, they looked no different Monday night when the Broncos avenged last year’s game that essentially eliminated them from playoff contention. Denver rushed for over 100 yards, and quarterback Kyle Orton went toe-for-toe with the much-hyped Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers. Orton ended the day with 229 passing yards, two touchdowns, and a 115.4 quarterback rating.

Both the offense and defense performed as expected for the Broncos. What was extremely surprising was the special teams play in this game, which featured a total of three returns for touchdowns, one by the Chargers and two by the Broncos. The Chargers pride themselves on having a sound special team, especially since they send at least two players to the Pro Bowl every year. Well, Eddie Royal had little respect for what the Chargers’ special teams had accomplished in the past, torching them for a 93-yard kickoff return and a 71-yard punt return. Royal became the first player in Broncos history to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game, leading undefeated Denver to a wild 34-23 win over the San Diego Chargers.

The only bright spot that head Coach Norv Turner can build on is the fact that LaDanian Tomlinson looked healthier than he has at any point in the last two years. He was running with an attitude, which is a welcome change after seeing him spend many games being ineffective, if not sitting on the bench. For at least one night, his trademark cuts, quickness, and elusiveness seemed to be back. If he can get going, then maybe the Chargers’ season isn’t a forgone conclusion quite yet. And let’s not forget about Darren Sproles reinforcing what we already know: he is an electrifying player when used the right way.

Looking ahead to next Monday night, the Philadelphia Eagles are taking on the Washington Redskins. This is an intriguing game because both of these teams have glaring issues that need to be resolved. Redskins head Coach Jim Zorn was stripped of his play-calling duties this past week after scoring only two field goals and losing to the winless Kansas City Chiefs. It seems like management is giving him subtle signs that unless he gets this team turned around quickly, he could be on his way out.

The Eagles compounded their division problems by losing to the Oakland Raiders. Truly an embarrassing loss for head Coach Andy Reid, and incumbent starter Donovan McNabb. This is the same Raider team that was eaten alive by Eli Manning and the New York Giants. In fact, I recall Manning ending the first half with 173 passing yards, two touchdowns, and a perfect quarterback rating (backup quarterback David Carr ended up finishing the game with over 100 yards and a touchdown). The blunder by the Redskins against the Chiefs is somewhat acceptable, because the Redskins have looked horrid all year. The Eagles on the other hand, have disappointed many by losing a game they should have won convincingly.

On the bright side, both teams have a chance to redeem themselves come Monday. I’d put my money on the Eagles, since their issue was more about underestimating the competition and failing to prepare properly for a west coast game, rather than lack of talent and coaching. The Redskins, however, have a lot more pressing issues to deal with, starting with their head coach and ending with their quarterback.

Get ready for another exciting Sunday, followed by a much-anticipated division rivalry on Monday Night Football!

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Oct
22

Upper Deck: Home of the No. 23

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Very few people would argue with me if I said that Michael Jordan was the best player to ever step on to a basketball court. What many don’t understand is that Jordan was not simply blessed with unbelievable talent. He was never the fastest player on the court, nor the strongest. He didn’t even make his high school basketball team the first time he tried out. Something else made him great and it was something that no one else at the time seemed to have: heart. One thing that can’t be taught is having the passion and drive to persevere through hard times. Jordan lived by the motto of “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Jordan displayed this passion for the game his whole career. This is the reason that he is also one of the most respected basketball players of all time.

When Jordan entered the NBA in 1984, he quickly emerged as a rising star. Since then, people have been in a rush to anoint someone else as the “next MJ.” The title has gone to many unworthy people such as Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Penny Hardaway, and even J.R. Rider! Many felt that the closest comparison to Jordan would be Kobe Bryant. But that was before LeBron James entered the league. Like Jordan did, James wears uniform number 23, largely out of respect for his favorite player of all-time. That isn’t the only thing James mimics about Jordan. James has undergone Jordan’s offseason and regular season workout routine. When Jordan finishes a regular/postseason, he takes a couple of weeks off, and then gets right back to work. He chooses one facet of his game that he could improve on and works on that during the entire offseason. This is the same regimen that James employs. Additionally, James can seemingly fly like Jordan, and also shares a similar understanding of the game.

Home of 23 Poster - LeBron

For all of these reasons that symbolize greatness is why Upper Deck signed an exclusive partnership with James. He has joined his idol – the other No. 23 – as an exclusive representative of Upper Deck. Not only is James following Jordan on the court, but off the court as well by making smart and timely business decisions. Jordan has been an exclusive partner with Upper Deck since 1991. He is also one of the most successful sports businessmen of all time, a moniker James would like to wear as well.

Jordan LeBron Ad

James got off to the right start by teaming with Jordan and Upper Deck. Their job now is to help revitalize the trading card industry, and reaffirm Upper Deck’s position as the industry leader. If you would like to collect any trading cards or memorabilia that boasts a signature from either of these living legends, look no further than Upper Deck. We have several pieces of autographed memorabilia that would more than satisfy any collector.

bulls floor

One of the more intriguing pieces in our inventory is a Jordan-autographed Bulls game-used floor. Between 1996 and 1998, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominated the NBA like no other team in history, setting the record for victories in a single-season (72-10, 1995-96) and over a three-year span (203-43, 1995-98). Upper Deck presents a direct link to that historic era with a familiar section of the playing surface, an authentic piece from the 1996-98 United Center floor featuring the Bulls team logo. This amazing showpiece measures 8’ x 8’ and will be signed and custom inscribed by Michael! Be the first to own this extremely rare 1-of-1 piece of memorabilia by visiting www.upperdeckstore.com.

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