Call in the Replacements: Monday Night Meltdown

There was plenty of excitement to go around on Monday night in Seattle.  The Seahawks were fresh off a win against the Cowboys and ready to show off Russell Wilson, a rookie at the helm of a team with one of the NFL’s most loyal fanbases.

The primetime spotlight and a national TV audience gave the Seahawks the attention they had long been waiting for.

Sacking Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first half, the Seahawks didn’t disappoint either, providing the offense with an opportunity to secure a win that could potentially be a good indicator of a turnaround in the Pete Carroll era.

That opportunity was glorified by one final play.  On fourth down and ten yards to go with a mere 8 seconds left on the clock and the Seahawks trailing 12-7, Russell Wilson rolled left, squared up and fired a pass into triple coverage in the back left corner of the end zone.

The questionable call improved Seattle’s Monday Night record to an amazing 17-8.

After hanging in the air for a split second, the ball appeared to have been picked off by safety M.D. Jennings, a play that would have effectively ended the game for a feisty Seahawks squad.

At the last possible moment, however, Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate got a hand on the secured ball and the two fell to the ground and were smothered by players from both teams, making it difficult to see who had the ball for the longest time.

In what was widely considered to be an outrageous call, both referees signaled a touchdown on the play, giving the Seahawks a 13-12 lead and the victory on the field.

A booth review following the 24-yard touchdown in question led to even more incredulousness.  Not only was it revealed that Jennings did in fact have control over the ball at the “moment of truth,” but also Tate pushed Packers defensive back Sam Shields to the ground before leaping to “make the catch.”

The call should have been offensive pass interference and would have, again, ended the game with a Packers win.

Instead, the Seahawks now have a 2-1 record and hold a signature win that could give them the confidence to make a run at either the NFC West crown or a Wild Card spot.

League officials have acknowledged that the ruling on the field was incorrect Monday night but did not make any efforts to condemn the play and certainly didn’t attempt to reverse the call.

A number of the replacement refs were actually fired by the Lingerie Football League.

The league doesn’t have the authority to reverse a call from any game, but the play brings up the bigger issue of poor officiating throughout the first three weeks of the season.

Currently, NFL referees are in the midst of negotiating a contract with the NFL and have been locked out until a deal is reached.  “Replacement” referees from the NCAA, Arena Football League, XFL and even the Lingerie Football League have been brought in to try and fill the void and have been berated and criticized by NFL players and coaches for a plethora of blown calls.

NFL refs are trying to gain more complete 401k’s and better compensation, an increase in pay that would cost the NFL just under $40,000 per referee.

While the price is a bit steep to bring these officials back on Sundays, the consistent incorrectness of the replacement refs is making the new contract appear more and more worth it every week.

It’s unclear when we’ll be seeing the likes of Ed Hochuli’s biceps on the field, but for now all we know is that the Packers are 1-2, the Seahawks are 2-1 and there are a lot of unhappy football fans across the nation.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL

So… Who are This Year’s Best Teams Again?

A wild 2012 NFL season took a turn for the crazier this week. Seven of last year’s playoff teams lost and six of them are below .500 after three games.

The drama started with the 49ers los to the Vikings in which San Francisco’s dominant defense allowed 24 points to a below average Vikings offense. After looking like perhaps the league’s best team through two weeks, the Niners week 3 loss to Minnesota has cast some doubt over the team’s invulnerability.

After a strong start to the season, the 49ers were unable to stop the Vikings in Week 3.

The Packers, who lost to the 49ers in their season opener, dropped to 1-2 on the year after Monday’s loss to the Seahawks. Aaron Rodgers has not lived up to last year’s MVP season thus far, with just 3 TDs and 2 interceptions, and Green Bay has not looked like the Super Bowl favorite many projected the to be.

While not a member of last year’s playoff group, the Eagles are a team full of talent that have had high expectations for several years. After escaping with two narrow victories over the Browns and the Ravens, Philadelphia was crushed by the Cardinals 27-6. Arizona is a surprising 3-0 to start the season.

The Lions dropped to 1-2 after falling to the lowly Titans in overtime. While Detroit league’s the league in passing, their struggles running the ball and on defense have haunted them so far this season.

The Jets have actually played pretty well this season, with a 2-1 record, but they just learned they have lost their best player, Darrelle Revis, for the season with a torn ACL. This could cause their defense to struggle the rest of the year.

Winless on the season, Drew Brees and the Saints are in need of a hug.

With coach Sean Payton missing, the Saints have been a completely different team than the past several years. After being one of the league’s most dominant teams for years, New Orleans has yet to win a game yet this season, dropping to 0-3. That record is even worse, considering their competition has been the Redskins, Panthers and Chiefs, who haven’t looked great against anyone except the Saints.

After looking strong in their season opener, the Peyton Manning and the Broncos have haven’t looked as good since, losing close games to the Falcons and the Texans. Granted those two teams are both 3-0, but Denver’s offense hasn’t flowed quite as smoothly as the Colts were with Manning at the helm.

There was a major overhaul in Pittsburgh over the offseason and so far, things haven’t worked out great for the Steelers. Plagued by injuries, the Steelers have the second fewest rushing yards, with running back Rashard Mendenhall and guard David DeCastro out. With Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, the Steelers have dropped to 1-2.

The Steelers have reason to hang their heads, with a record of 1-2 on the year.

The Patriots have also fallen to 1-2 on the year after Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. New England has lost consecutive games by a total of 3 points, so it’s not panic time yet, but the dominant offense attack we’ve become accustomed to from the Patriots is not the same this year, as Tom Brady has just 4 touchdown passes on the year.

After three weeks, just three teams remain unbeaten: the Cardinals, Texans and Falcons. Of that group only Houston and Atlanta seem for real. Of the many teams expected to contend for the Super Bowl, only those two teams have lived up to the hype.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL

Top Storylines from Week 4 of College Football

1) Florida State Is Back

Wind back the clock to the 1990’s. The Seminoles were the decade’s most dominant team – four national title game appearances, two championships, and consistent ten win seasons. What followed though was a decade plus of mediocrity. But on Saturday night, Florida State has finally started to reemerge into the national spotlight. On Saturday night in primetime, the No. 4 Seminoles crushed the then-No. 10 Clemson, validating their status as of the nation’s premier teams. Redshirt senior QB E.J. Manuel showed he’s capable of leading his team on the big stage. Florida State’s remaining schedule looks relatively easy aside from a showdown with No. 11 Florida. With all the hype on Alabama and Oregon, the Seminoles might be the dark horse team that wins it all.

2) Notre Dame Is For Real

Image

Will Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o be the first defensive player to win the Heisman since 1997 when Michigan CB Charles Woodson won the award?

On Saturday, the Fighting Irish accomplished what they hadn’t done in a decade – start a season 4-0. Usually, a program known for it’s star quarterbacks, Notre Dame has won games behind its physical, hard-hitting defense. In total, then-No. 18 Michigan and then-No. 10 Michigan State scored nine points. If Notre Dame and its defense can continue their success, linebacker Manti Te’o should get serious Heisman consideration. Notre Dame has turned their early season quarterback controversy into a devastating two-quarterback system that has worked to perfection. Everett Golson has gained valuable experience while Tommy Rees has delivered late when his team has needed him.

3) Collin Klein Has Joined The Heisman Race

Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein vaulted himself into the Heisman Trophy discussion when he engineered a 24-19 upset rout of the then-No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners at home. In the weekend’s biggest upset, Klein passed for 149 yards and ran for 79 yards. It’s not an outrageous stat line, or even a stellar stat line, but it is a winning stat line in one of college football’s toughest environments. On the season, Klein has 10 total touchdowns and is his team’s catalyst on offense. Kansas State (4-0) will go as far as Klein can take them, and if they can run the table, he just might win the Heisman.

4) What Is Happening To Matt Barkley?

USC QB Matt Barkley was once the Heisman frontrunner, but fallen far from that throne. Last week’s 2 INTs, 0 TD in a loss to Stanford was supposed to be an anomaly until the senior followed up with another bummer this week. In USC’s unimpressive 27-9 win against California, Barkley threw for just 192 yards and 2 INTs to go along with 2 TDs. With two future first round picks at wide receiver, Barkley’s performance has been nothing short of downright atrocious. Also, his inability to throw an accurate deep ball has been another question mark. Barkley may not just be losing the faith of Heisman believers, but also of NFL scouts.

1 Comment

Filed under Football, NCAA

Miguel Cabrera Sets His Sights on the Triple Crown

1967 was an interesting time for America—the Rolling Stones made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? was the talk of cinema fans everywhere and Super Bowl I ended with a 35-10 victory for the Green Bay Packers over the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was also the last MLB season in which all three categories of the American League batting Triple Crown (batting average, home runs and runs batted in) were won by the same individual.

45 years ago, Hall of Fame inductee Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox dominated his American League competition, finishing with a .326 batting average, 44 homers and 121 runs batted in.

The Tigers slugger is closing in on a feat that has not been accomplished since 1967.

2012 provides baseball fans everywhere with yet another opportunity to witness a feat more rare than a perfect game.

With yet another home run in the fourth inning of the Detroit Tigers’ Saturday afternoon game against the Minnesota Twins, Miguel Cabrera moved into a tie for a league-leading 42 four-baggers, giving him at least a share of the AL lead in batting average (.332), homers (42) and RBI (131).

Since 1878, there have been 23 perfect games but only 15 Triple Crowns (to only 13 different players) won in Major League Baseball.

The Triple Crown was won twice by both Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams, but both thrived in eras (1920’s for Hornsby, 1950’s for Williams) in which opposing pitchers and potential competition for batting titles were not as muscular, physically fit or well-versed in film study.

The Detroit Tigers third baseman has quietly found himself knocking on the door of history, however.  Rookie phenom Mike Trout of the Angels received a great deal of attention when he had an AL-leading .350-plus batting average in late July and Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton was setting an unprecedented home run pace during the first two months of the season with 21 homers as of May 29.

Hamilton put up Home Run Derby-like totals for the first two months of the 2012 season.

Though Hamilton currently sits at an impressive 42 home runs and Trout should be a unanimous AL Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove choice, the two have cooled in later months, Trout due to the fact that he is a rookie who is not used to a 162-game schedule and Hamilton because he’s, well…human.

After a somewhat slow start, Cabrera has been wielding a hot bat of late, hitting .357 over the last two months.

Detroit has 12 games remaining on its schedule, and it’s certain that Cabrera won’t be spending those final matchups thinking about the Triple Crown but instead about the heated division race his team now finds itself in.

As of Saturday night, the Tigers (80-70) trailed the Chicago White Sox by .5 games in the AL Central.  The two teams will not play head-to-head in the season’s final two weeks, but intra-division matchups with the Royals and Twins will make for an interesting sprint to the finish.

For these last 12 games, much of the Tigers’ success will depend directly on the personal offensive success of Cabrera.

Though it won’t be his primary focus, contending for a Triple Crown is nothing to be taken lightly.

Considering the company Cabrera would join and the length of time the Crown has been without a home (nearly half a century), Tigers box scores will certainly be worth peeking at in the coming days.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under MLB

New York Giants Back on Track

The Super Bowl high in New York has worn off pretty quickly this season. The Giants followed a disappointing performance in the season opening loss to the Cowboys with a disgraceful showing in the first half against the Buccaneers in week 2. Eli Manning threw 3 interceptions in the second quarter and the Giants went into the locker room at halftime trailing 24-13 and looking on the verge of dropping to 0-2 on the season.

For the first time this season, the Giants looked like a team that could be a Super Bowl contender.

Then the fourth quarter rolled around. Rather than give up and move on to the next game, Manning led the team to a 25 point quarter, showing the world once again why this team won last year’s Super Bowl, and earning the win in the game’s final minute. But this incredible comeback was lost in the midst of a controversy as Manning attempted to take the final knee, but was instead knocked over by an unexpected Tampa Bay pass rush.

As tempers flared and arguments spewed forth regarding the sport’s ethics, news of the Giants re-emergent dominance in the fourth quarter was pushed aside. In front of a national audience on Thursday night, Manning & Co. made sure to remind everyone what they missed, trouncing the Carolina Panthers 36-7. While the offense looked strong behind an efficient Manning and an excellent performance by Andre Brown, filling in for an injured Ahmad Bradshaw, it was the defense that shined in this game. After opening the season with two less than stellar defensive performances, giving up a combined 58 points, the Giants defense held a dangerous Panthers offense to just 7 points, forcing 5 turnovers, including 3 interceptions thrown by Cam Newton. The stout defense was bolstered by the return to health of cornerback Prince Amukamara. After playing two games with a banged up secondary, getting Amukamara back helped shut down Newton’s passing attack and should bode well for the Giants for the rest of the season.

Eli Manning won the quarterback battle against Cam Newton, throwing for 288 yards and a touchdown.

As the defense got healthier, New York’s offense went a bit in the other direction, playing without Bradshaw, the starting running back, and star receiver Hakeem Nicks. Yet even without their offensive cornerstones, the Giants’ offense played their most efficient game of the season thus far. Two backups filled the void made by the injured starters. Brown ran for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns while wide receiver Ramses Barden pulled an Ogletree, matching his 2011 season totals in just one game. Barden caught 9 passes for 138 yards, besting the 9 catches for 94 yards he had all of last season.

With the defense returning to health, the offense finding a way to stay productive despite its injuries and Eli Manning playing in superstar form, the New York Giants finally looks like a team ready to defend its title.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL

AL MVP: Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera

The AL MVP race is suiting up to be sports’ tightest MVP race this year. It is a two-man race between the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera.

Mike Trout, the 21-year-old rookie phenom, has been a key figure in the Angels’ turnaround. Before calling up Trout, the Angels were a disappointing 6-14. Since Trout’s arrival, the team is 75-54, a winning percentage good enough for the first wild card in the AL.

Image

Only two rookies have won the MVP award: Ichiro (2001), and Fred Lynn (1975). Will Trout join this elite class?

Trout is batting .327, second in the American league, with 27 HR and 77 RBI. Aside from being one of the game’s best hitters, he has game-changing speed and gold-glove defense in Center Field.

Trout has an AL-leading 46 steals, while only having been caught four times. Also, 63% of the time, he has taken the extra base on a hit. (advancing two bases on a hit, three bases on a double) That track-like speed has propelled Trout to the top of the runs scored category in the AL with 118, 18 ahead of the next closest player even though he missed the first 20 games of the season.

Defensively, Trout has been no stranger to Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems or SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. He has taken away a league-leading four home runs this year.

Perhaps the most telling statistic of Trout’s case is his WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which calculates the total number of wins that any player adds to his team over the course of a season. Trout is the AL-leader in WAR with 10.3, while the next-closest player only has 6.6.

On the other side of the AL MVP argument is baseball’s best hitter this season, Miguel Cabrera.

Image

Hard to believe the Marlins traded Cabrera to the Tigers in 2007 because they didn’t want to pay him. Dear Miami: He’s worth it.

Cabrera is making a strong push for baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967. He leads the AL in hitting (.333), RBIs (130) and is second in HR with 41, one behind league-leader Josh Hamiliton.

The Triple Crown is leading the league in batting average, HR, and RBIs in the same season and is one of baseball’s great statistical achievements. Because of more teams, more players and a higher development of those players, a Triple Crown in this age could be baseball’s greatest statistical achievement in one season ever.

If Cabrera does accomplish the rare feat, it will hard to deny him the hardware in a sport where statistics have the final say.

His other statistics are also MVP-worthy: first in slugging (.612), second in hits (189) and runs scored (100) and third in WAR (6.3).

While both candidates’ teams are in the playoff hunt, neither team would be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today. The Angels are 3.5 games back of the Oakland A’s for the second wild card spot. Meanwhile, the Tigers are 2 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

Whosever team makes the playoffs will probably win the MVP award. If neither the Angels nor the Tigers make the playoffs, this could be an MVP race that comes down to a handful of votes.

Regardless, either candidate is fully deserving of the award.

Leave a comment

Filed under MLB

Bucs vs. Giants: Was the Final Play Dirty?

The Giants were well on their way bouncing back from a Week 1 loss to the Cowboys, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41-34 late into the fourth quarter.

With 5 seconds left on the clock, the Giants rolled out the standard victory formation, with a couple extra linemen lined up sideways for protection but not expecting any sort of resistance.

All of a sudden, the Buccaneers defensive line dropped down as if to begin running a 40-yard dash and plowed into the center of the offensive line, dropping Giants quarterback Eli Manning on his rear.

Justin Tuck tried to remain calm following the Bucs’ play-in-question.

The immediate reaction from the Giants sideline was anger.  It could be seen in Tom Coughlin’s face, Eli Manning’s confusion and defensive end Justin Tuck’s words.

“I am trying to be politically (correct),” Tuck said. “I thought it was a classless play. That is how you get guys hurt. I have been in this league for eight years and that is the first time that I’ve ever seen that. There have been guys that’s been in here a lot longer than I have and that is the first time they have seen it.”

The play brings up a few important questions: is the final play of an all-but-in-the-books NFL game something to be taken seriously?  Where does concern for safety begin and the hunger to fight until the final whistle end?  Why is this even an issue?

Giants players, coaches and fans do have an argument: the way the play was run appeared to be a bit malicious, though technically legal.  Three of Tampa’s defensive linemen locked in on center David Baas, taking him out just above the knees and forcing him into Eli Manning.

Coverage on this final play looked like more of a punt-block package and was overly aggressive considering the fact that a fumble recovery would have left either one second or no time at all on the clock to run a Hail Mary for the tie.

Still, what kind of message does it send to young football players and children in general to assume the last play of the game is meaningless?  No team enjoys losing, so it’s not exactly fair for the Giants to assume that the Bucs should submit while Eli Manning gallops off into the sunset with the game ball.

Though attacking the victory formation is extremely unorthodox, especially at the professional level, but it is something that worked for first year head coach Greg Schiano in the past.

Schiano, formerly the head football coach at Rutgers, looks to revamp a Bucs team that disappointed many last season.

At Rutgers, Schiano employed this never-quit play call numerous times, forcing four fumbles in his last five years with the program, so given this success it would make sense that he would try it at the next level, even though higher player awareness limits the possibility of catching the offense napping.

Regardless, the “bull rush” is something that won’t be forgotten by Tom Coughlin, Justin Tuck and the rest of the New York Giants anytime soon.

Fortunately, both teams will have time to cool off before their next meeting, which won’t be until at least next season.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL