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NFL Week Four: Hits and Misses

Miss: New York Jets Offense

Mark Sanchez, formerly known as “Sanchize”, was supposed to save the franchise. In his first two seasons, he was the “it” guy, and now he’s the fall guy. The Wildcat offense has been even worse than Sanchez, who is struggling to even complete 50% of his passes. Sanchez threw for just 103 yards with an INT and a fumble. Meanwhile, the run game has fallen far from its 2009/2010 dominance. With no end in sight for the Jets offensive struggles, Rex Ryan’s dream of a Super Bowl run has slowly become a nightmare only four games in. That nightmare is only just beginning, as the 2-2 Jets face the 4-0 Texans and the 2-2 Patriots within the next three weeks.

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Can the Falcons go undefeated?? Too soon? Too lofty? It’s hard to doubt Matty Ice the way he’s playing right now

Hit: Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan seems to redefine the word “WOW” every week. Down one with 1:09 remaining and no timeouts, the Falcons started at their own one. That wasn’t an issue for “Matty Ice”. From his own end zone, Ryan held firm in the pocket and launched a deep ball for Roddy White, who made the spectacular grab down the field. After a few more accurate throws by Ryan, Matt Bryant kicked the game winning field goal. Just like that, Ryan’s team is 4-0 and he has solidified his position as the game’s best QB right now. 

Miss: Buffalo Bills Defense 

That much-improved defense of the Bills has fallen far short of expectations. On Sunday the Patriots scored 52 points on the Bills, including 35 straight second half points. This Bills defense is the same defense that gave up 48 points to the Jets in week one. In the offseason, the Bills, a small market team, signed defensive end Mario Williams to a $100 million+ contract. That investment has looked like a bust so far, as Williams, a former No. 1 overall pick, has only 1.5 sacks so far.

Hit: Arizona Cardinals

It didn’t look pretty, but it looked like a win for the Arizona Cardinals. Against Miami, they were outgained 480-297 in total yards and trailed 13-0 at halftime. Late turnovers by QB Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 431 yards, one short of the rookie record, did the Dolphins in. Under pressure, Tannehill threw an INT on the Dolphins first possession in OT to set up a game-winning field goal. The Cardinals have now won 9 of their last 11, and are 4-0 on the season.

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Just How Bad Did Roger Goodell and The NFL Screw Up?

Finally the NFL did what was right.

Finally Commissioner Roger Goodell practiced what he preached.

And finally, the real referees will return to their jobs.

It took a national televised debacle, one the likes the NFL has never seen before, to end the stalemate between the NFL and the league’s referees.

That now infamous play has changed this NFL season forever.

The Packers are 1-2, tied for last in the NFC North instead of being 2-1 and tied for first place. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are 2-1 and in position to make a run at the postseason.

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One referee signaled touchdown while the other referee signaled timeout, which usually happens after an interception.

For the NFL and Goodell, it can’t get any worse. Their refusal to budge and send competent referees to the job has altered the seasons of the both of these teams, and the entire playoffs. Now the league has to hope that both the Packers and the Seahawks miss the playoffs by more than one game so that playoff spots, playoff seedings and home field advantages aren’t impacted. If not, then the whole season has been tainted and compromised by referee mishaps.

While that stain on the season has a chance to fade, the stain on Roger Goodell’s legacy is permanent.

Goodell, commissioner since 2006, built his reputation on protecting the integrity of the league and making player safety a cornerstone of rule changes. He delivered heavy punishments to players like Adam “Pacman” Jones and the Michael Vick for disgracing the game. He instilled rules that banned late hits on the quarterback, head-to-head hits and the hitting a player up high.

However Goodell’s decision to allow heavily outmatched replacement officials to referee NFL games went against both of those principles.

By not putting the highest quality of officials on the field, Goodell disgraced the reputation of the game and allowed the failures of those officials to make the league a laughing matter on television networks nationwide.

The replacement referees weren’t even from the highest level of college. Rather they from non-BCS conferences in Division 1, lower college divisions, junior colleges and high school.

Aside their overuse of pass interference penalties though, the replacement referees penalties called relatively the same amount of penalties as the actual referees did up until this point in 2011.

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Hines Ward has some competition for league’s dirtiest offensive player…

Instead, the problem was their inability to control the game. From numerous after-the-play cheap shots to unnecessary player scrums, control was far from the norm.

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III told the media that St. Louis Rams defenders hit him several times after the play ended. Video evidence confirmed his remarks.

In week two, Golden Tate delivered a vicious hit on a defenseless player while his quarterback broke the pocket to run the ball. Tate, who wasn’t flagged, should have been called for block-in-the-back. A week later, Tate pushed a defenseless Green Bay defender on the final play on Monday Night’s game.

In all these situations, player safety remained second to Goodell and the league’s dispute with the regular referees. Luckily no player was seriously injured.

The replacement referees put the NFL players’ safety in danger, and Goodell and the league allowed that to happen.

This weekend the regular referees will take over but the damage has been done.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Surprising Performances in NFL’s First Two Weeks

Week 2 concluded Monday night as Matt Ryan and the Falcons held off a late surging Broncos team led by Peyton Manning. With the exception of the Broncos’ first quarter, both teams have looked strong in their first two games, but that was expected. It’s the unexpected performances that are the interesting ones.

It’s been just two weeks, so there’s bound to be some flukes, but so far, several players have turned some heads with their play. And it’s not all for good reasons.

Despite his poor play, Vick has found a way to win games for the Eagles.

Michael Vick: After an incredible 2010 season, Vick regressed a bit last season, upping his interception total from 6 to 14. So far this year, Vick is making it look like that regression is exponential; he’s matched the 6 interceptions he threw in 2010 and it took him just two games. Even more surprising than his struggles is the fact that he somehow has led the Eagles to two wins. Vick has led Philadelphia to consecutive come from behind victories with last minute touchdown drives. His inaccuracy will come back to haunt him eventually, but thus far he’s been escape his struggles.

Drew Brees: When coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, two theories arose regarding the Saints success this year. Either Drew Brees, who is as much an extension of his coach as any quarterback in the league, would step up in Payton’s absence and lead New Orleans to another winning season, or the lack of Payton’s offensive mind and leadership would derail the Saints. So far, the latter seems to be the case. Brees has looked very un-Breesish, completing just 54% of his passes and tossing 4 interceptions. Qualitatively, he doesn’t seem to have the same control over the game that has made him so dominant for the past half decade. The Saints are 0-2 and Brees will have to step up his game if he hopes to get his team back on track.

Spiller has looked like a superhero this season.

CJ Spiller: A year ago, Spiller had 561 rushing yards. In just two games this season, he’s already reached haf that amount, totaling 292 rushing yards. With Fred Jackson’s injury, Spiller has become the feature back of Buffalo’s offense and has embraced the role. Adding to his gaudy rushing yards are some equally impressive stats: 10.1 yards per carry, 3 rushing touchdowns, and 72 receiving yards.

Chris Johnson: CJ2K may need to change his Twitter handle soon. After rushing for 2,000 yards in 2009, Johnson barely cracked a thousand last season. If he gains that many this year, it’ll be a surprise. In 2 games this year, Johnson has 19 carries for 21 yards. Yes, that’s 1.1 yards per carry, good for last in the NFL. With a longest run of 7 yards, Johnson looks beyond washed up in his fifth year in the league.

Darren McFadden: The knock on Run-DMC has always been his durability, not his ability to gain yards. So far, McFadden hasnt dealt with injuries, but hes notched just 54 yards in two games, averaging 2.1 yards per carry. After averaging over 5 yards per cary the past two years, McFadden is playing well below his norm. He’s also been struggling in the passing game. He’s been targeted the second most in the league with 25 passes thrown his way, but he’s only been able to come up with 15 of those. He had two particularly egregious drops Sunday against the Dolphins.

Larry Fitzgerald: In this case, Fitzgerald is more of a victim than a culprit. He has just 5 catches for 67 yards in two games, far below the numbers his fellow star receivers are putting up. But this is much the results of poor quarterback play, as the position battle between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton never got resolved during the preseason.

This is terrifying.

Clay Matthews: Matthews’ play has been more eye-opening than surprising. His 6 sacks not only double the second highest total this year, but also match the number he had all of last year. He’s played out of his mind thus far.

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The Chase For Perfection Goes Awry

USC had perfection in the making – an undefeated season, the Heisman-winning quarterback, and a possible BCS national title. Then those dreams of perfection stumbled, and crashed, as the No. 2 Trojans did in a 21-14 loss to No. 21 Stanford

The team with all the hopes and aspirations, driven even higher by coming off their two-year bowl ban, looked flat in defeat.

With 11:19 left in the second quarter, running back Silas Reed scored a touchdown on a one-yard run to give USC a 14-7 lead.

From there though, the Trojans played as if they were on cruise control. The precision and focus USC relied on earlier seemed to evaporate. At the center of it all was quarterback Matt Barkley.

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“Guys wait, just listen. I’m telling you, I’m not all hype!”

Barkley missed easy short throws and failed to break the pocket early enough at times.

When the big moment did arise, he didn’t deliver. With the Cardinal riding the momentum after just having tied the score at 14-14, Barkley engineered the Trojans to a measly three-and-out on their next possession.

Stanford then scored another touchdown to take the lead, and the game, 21-14. The Trojans had one last possession to right the ship, but costly penalties and the inability to protect Matt Barkley did them in.

Maybe the most baffling part was what USC tight end Randall Telfer alluded to afterwards, when he said the Trojans were “not as mentally prepared as we should have been.”

Stanford, ranked and coming off three consecutive wins over USC, gave them no indication that this game was going to be a cakewalk.

If there were distractions, Coach Lane Kiffin’s antics were at the forefront of them.

Kiffin, who has a strict policy that bans media members from reporting injuries that occur at practice, felt a local reporter, Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News, had broken those rules when he reported of an injury to a Trojans kicker earlier in the week. Consequently, Kiffin banned him from two weeks of practice and the next home game. Wolf though received the news from outside sources, not from practice, and USC officials wisely overturned those punishments. Still the whole incident became a widespread fiasco.

Stanford has won four out the last five with USC, beginning in 2007 when the Cardinal, a 41-point underdog, shocked the No. 2 Trojans 24-23 in the Coliseum.

Another distraction may have been all the attention on one of the most heralded Heisman campaigns ever by USC for Matt Barkley.

Barkley though looked far from that Heisman-frontrunner on Saturday night.

With two future NFL first round wideouts at his disposal, the senior led the offense to an underachieving 14 points while throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns.

Luckily for USC the loss doesn’t eliminate them from the national championship picture even though they are now ranked No. 13 in the AP Top 25.

Many of the teams ranked ahead of the Trojans are undefeated, but will play each other, including No. 1 Alabama/No. 2 LSU, No. 4 Florida State/No. 10 Clemson, and No. 6 Oklahoma/No. 12 Texas.

USC meanwhile will play No. 3 Oregon, No. 11 Notre Dame, No. 19 UCLA, No. 22 Arizona and a possible rematch with Oregon/Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Trojans, with a strong schedule coupled with an early loss, rather than a late loss, could climb back into the top two if they win out.

If the Trojans can make that climb, Matt Barkley should return to the Heisman spotlight.

It may not be perfection for USC, but it can still be confetti.

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Notre Dame Moves to the ACC

On Wednesday, the ACC popped the question.

Surprisingly, Notre Dame responded with a “yes.”

It’s like that marriage, or at least in this case, engagement, that no one expected.

When the news spreads, people can’t seem to wrap their heads around it – Really she picked him? Why would she settle for that?

Well she, being Notre Dame football, was once the nation’s darling. The gorgeous woman with all eyes glued on her, but with eyes seemingly for no one else. Independent, but far from alone.

But people, and programs, change.

So Notre Dame has officially decided to move from the Big East to the ACC in all sports, except football where the school remains an independent. The Irish will play five games against ACC opponents annually, which almost half of their schedule.

Notre Dame, once an elite program, seems to have fallen into mediocrity but still remains one of college footballs most marketable programs.

Yes Notre Dame football didn’t join the ACC, but college football’s landmark independent school has finally become tied to a conference, which is a huge step in that direction.

The move though seems like the best one for Notre Dame.

The Irish switched conferences while maintaining their independent status and their lucrative television deal with NBC. Leaving the Big East was also a smart move, because as college football moves toward bigger “super” conferences, the deteriorating Big East seems to the odd man out.

But why the ACC and not the Big Ten?

It’s because Notre Dame is intent on promoting their brand. Since they are already located in Big Ten country, playing along the coast will give the program a bigger opportunity to spread their brand and consequently, attract more recruits from that region.

The Atlantic Coast Conference itself was another winner in this deal.

With an upcoming playoff and the end of the BCS, Notre Dame football, one of college football’s premier programs, may soon be forced to join a conference and would, in that situation, join the ACC.

That possibility, along with playing Notre Dame five times annually, will allow the ACC to renegotiate its television deals for more money. Thus, each conference member will now receive even more money each year.

Also the likelihood that Notre Dame would leave the ACC seems close to none, as the conference raised its exit fee from $20 million to a ridiculous $50 million.

But if there are “winners”, then there have to be “losers”. In this case, the Big East conference was a definite loser.

Had the Big East conference been able to recruit Notre Dame’s football program, it would have received a significant jolt in generating revenue, signing lucrative television deals, and garnering national attention.

The loss of possibly adding Notre Dame football, and the loss of Notre Dame altogether, deal another blow to the reeling conference. In the last year alone, Syracuse, Pittsburg and West Virginia have all left the Big East. It remains to be seen how long the Big East will continue to be a premier conference, assuming it still is.

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