Articles By Athlon Sports
By RALPH VACCHIANO
There isn’t much that can get a rise out of Bill Belichick, the stoic, unemotional, coach of the New England Patriots. He’s been to four Super Bowls as a head coach, won three, and built himself a dynasty in New England. But talking about the power he’s built rarely elicits a smile.
It’s different, though, when Belichick is asked about the past – specifically the great New York Giants teams he was a part of in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He was the genius defensive coordinator back then under the future Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, helping to guide one of the NFL’s greatest teams.
Ask Belichick about that if you want to see him smile. Talk to him about those teams if you want an expansive answer. Even as his Patriots prepare to face the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, he was peppered with questions about his days as an assistant with the Giants. That is something he could talk about for hours.
That was an experience he described as “awesome.” It was a enough to make him smile.
“It was a great job,” Belichick said. “It was awesome. I loved that job. I loved coaching the Giants’ defense. Being in New York, being a part of that great organization and those great players I had the opportunity to coach.
“In all honesty, I wasn’t thinking then about if this was what I was going to do at some other point. We were trying to win there. We won in 1986, and it was a great year. We rebuilt the team, and we won again. I was consumed with that. I really just try to live in the moment.”
It was a great moment in time, of course, and Belichick was a major part of it. The Giants’ defense, choreographed by Belchick led the way to Super Bowl titles in 1986 (XXI) and 1990 (XXV). It helped that he had great players like Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, George Martin, Leonard Marshall, Jim Burt and so many more.
Belichick, though, is the one that put them together. Belichick is the maestro who made them sing.
“We had a great staff and great players,” the Patriots coach recalled. “One of the biggest things I learned, that I can’t do today, but I know, is how tough those players were. We practiced every day in pads -- every single day in pads. There were years that we practiced every single day on the turf before we had the grass practice fields up there on the hill
“We did 9-on-7 -- which is a good-tempo running drill -- on a regular basis. In training camp, we went out in pads every day. We hit every day. We did 9-on-7 every day. There was no way Bill (Parcells) would go out on the field without doing 9-on-7. We’d skip stretching before we’d skip 9-on-7.”
Times, of course has changed and so have the rules, which has forced Belichick to – reluctantly – change, too. Still, he made sure to have his Patriots practice at least once in pads during Super Bowl week. The lessons he learned from Parcells and those great Giants teams were not easily forgotten.
And the biggest lesson he learned is that football players – really great football players – are supposed to be unbelievably tough.
“When you get those guys crashing into each other – Jumbo (Elliott) and Mark Bavaro blocking (Lawrence) Taylor, (Carl) Banks, (Jim) Burt and all them – they just lined up and played football,” Belichick said. “I know it was a different era, but it will never be like that again. I learned players can be tough, they can be physical, they can do more than they think they can do.”
He tried to take that approach with him in his first job as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns. But when the results weren’t good, he was criticized for being too tough on his players – something he even still finds a little hard to believe.
“Maybe I took it a little too far in Cleveland, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “It was kind of the same thing when I got there. People said that we were too demanding and we were doing too much. I was thinking to myself, ‘I was with the Giants for 12 years. I saw this every day for 12 years. Don’t tell me we can’t go out there and have 9-on-7 two days in a row. I know we can.’ ”
Now, all these years later, he finds other ways to get the toughness out of his players. It’s his responsibility now, and he’s the undisputed king of the coaching fraternity. He won’t talk much about that during the run up to Super Bowl XLVI, but he will gladly talk about where all his strengths came from. He was once a Giant, and he still considers that one of the best jobs he ever had.
By David Schuman
Alabama beat LSU for the national championship 23 days ago, but for the true diehards, the second season was just getting underway. I’m talking about the offseason, the recruiting season. For those who consume college football in a manner similar to the way Morris Claiborne gobbles up an entire half of the field, today is Christmas and the Super Bowl all wrapped up into one glorious bonanza.
It’s the holiday known as National Signing Day.
Do you feel that? That tingly feeling in your gut? How about the lightheadedness? We call that hope, my friend. Hope that with this recruiting class, your program is ready to take that next step. Hope that college football’s next star just signed his letter of intent to walk on your campus. Hope that your prayers have been answered.
Nowhere is all of this a bigger deal than in SEC country. Being a Vanderbilt student originally from New York, I have only recently been introduced to the rowdy institution that is football in the South. The enormity of National Signing Day became clear pretty quickly though. Legions of fans, including grown men and women who have jobs and families, unashamedly hang on every word of 18 year olds they have never met. You can now add the Twitterverse to that as well, which brings a whole new dizzying quality to the hysteria.
I say “hysteria” because there is a potent measure of irrationality about the whole thing. You know how it goes. If your archrival picks up a commitment from a guy you wanted, the first assumption is that the rival must have bent the rules. You pull out all your defense mechanisms, saying things like, “Well, if he’s susceptible to being seduced by Rival U, he’s not the kind of kid we want anyway. We’re probably better off without him.”
Anyone who follows the recruiting battles even a little can see how heated it gets. The controversy even manages to wedge itself between families. The most recent example is what happened with Landon Collins this year. At the Under Armour All-America game, the five-star safety from Geismar, Louisiana committed to Alabama in front of the national TV audience. His mother proceeded to…well, check it out for yourself.
Now, some may say the hype has gotten out of control. With top prospects now holding press conferences to announce their choices, there is justified criticism that these teenagers are being celebrated before they have accomplished a thing. Remember Jimmy Clausen with his limousine and rings? The image still makes me nauseous, but the fact is National Signing Day has become a spectacle because there is a demand for it. Websites such as Rivals and Scout have made recruiting a year-round event that doesn’t look to be waning in popularity any time soon.
Basically, we obsess over Signing Day because of the rush. The unbeatable thrill of reeling in the big fish after months on the recruiting trail. For an Auburn fan, beating out Alabama for a prized recruit can feel almost as good as winning the Iron Bowl. And you’re not paying attention if you don’t think Michigan fans, after the insufferable Rich-Rod era, are outright giddy about their Top 5 class.
So sit back and enjoy today, the day where the wellspring of hope runs eternal. Even for non-SEC fans. Well, let’s be real. They don’t have a shot.
— by Mark Ross
Let’s start with Tom Terrific’s numbers — a two-time NFL MVP with nearly 40,000 yards passing, 300 TDs and a career passer rating of 96.4 in his 12 seasons. He has started 159 games in the regular season and won 124 of them, which is the fifth-most of all-time. To put in another way, No. 12 has won nearly 80 percent of the games he has started in the regular season.
As impressive as that may be for the regular season, Brady has nearly the same winning percentage (76 percent) in the postseason. For his career, Brady is 16-5 in the playoffs, which ties Joe Montana for the most postseason wins by a starting quarterback.
Brady also is the in top 5 on the all-time list when it comes to postseason touchdowns (36, 3rd), passing yards (5,009, fourth) and completions (472, 2nd) in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). Montana has the most career playoff touchdown passes with 45, while Brett Favre has the most yards (5,855) and completions (481).
Most importantly of all, Brady will have his chance to claim the record for most postseason wins and add to his playoff stats this Sunday when his New England Patriots take on the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. This will be Brady’s fifth Super Bowl as a starting quarterback, which will tie John Elway for the most starts in the “Big Game.”
A win would be Brady’s fourth in five Super Bowl appearances, which would tie him with Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most victories by a starting quarterback. Brady also will tie Montana for most Super Bowl MVPs if he gets his third one in Sunday’s game. Brady already holds the record for most career completions in Super Bowl history and could break the marks for both passing yards and touchdowns on Sunday.
The bottom line with Brady is this – he’s a winner, a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer and deserves to be in the “Greatest of All-time” conversation, even if his Patriots fall to the Giants on Sunday. Not bad for someone taken in the 6th round, no. 199 overall, of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Consider that Brady will be 35 when the 2012 NFL season starts this fall. Outside of missing basically the entire 2008 season after going down with a knee injury in Week 1, Brady has been durable. Since taking over for Drew Bledsoe as the Patriots’ starting quarterback in Week 3 of the 2001 season, Brady has started all 159 regular-season and 21 postseason games he has played in.
Brady should have several more productive years ahead of him, meaning he should only add to his already impressive statistics. Further, considering the Patriots have been in the playoffs all but two of his 11 seasons as the starter (with one of those being 2008 when he only played in Week 1), Brady should have plenty of opportunities to claim basically every postseason passing record that exists.
The point is this, all but one of the quarterbacks that have already been mentioned — Montana, Favre, Elway, Bradshaw — are Hall of Famers (Favre will be once he’s eligible) and generally a part of the “Greatest of All-time” conversation, to some degree. One would probably want to add Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, and perhaps one or two others to the list as well.
Regardless of who is on this list, Brady measures up to them all, whether your measuring stick for greatness is statistics, wins or postseason production. And while he may not be your choice for “Greatest of All-time,” he at least needs to be mentioned any time you have the conversation.
After all, Brady already has won more Super Bowls than Favre, Untias, and Marino combined. How’s that for your conversation starter?
Believe the hype. As far as intrigue goes, Super Bowl XLVI has the potential to be one of the greatest ever.
Yet, potential is just that. Much as we would like, there’s no way to know whether Sunday’s Giants v. Pats battle will come down the last play, like its Week 9 counterpart did. We can hope that Super Bowl XLVI will be an edge-of-your-seat slugfest, similar to New England’s Week 17 victory in 2007, but we just don’t know. It’s foolish to pencil in a game even half as exciting as either of those, let alone (arguably) The Greatest Game Ever Played.
But we know what’s on the line. Not many Super Bowls have has as many – legitimate — storylines and angles heading into media week as this Big Game does. There’s no need for manufactured stories. This is Brady vs. Eli, in Peyton’s House. Tom vs. Billy Boy. Red Face vs. Hoodie. New York vs. Boston. Part Deux.
Of course, having real things to talk about has never stopped the media from talking about other things. This is the story of those things, and why they are WTF-worthy.
As always, quotes below are paraphrases of general idiocy.
“The Giants and the Patriots Are Two of the Worst Teams to Ever Play in the Super Bowl.”
There’s some truth to this. The Giants are owners of a -4 point differential in their 9-7 regular season as well as Aaron Ross. An eighth grade substitute math teacher is their chief signal caller on defense. That defense, for parts of the regular season, was something beyond porous while their running game, ranked dead last, was even worse.
Meanwhile, the Patriots didn’t beat a winning team until the season’s 20th week and prominently feature five or six trashcans as defensive starters. Their best outside receiver, Deion Branch, had his last relevant moment nearly a decade ago, when he won the MVP of the last Super Bowl without a roman numeral ‘V’ in its title. And most recently, their GOAT quarterback was severely outplayed in the AFC Championship game by an opponent known best for his ‘goat’ status and his weird, half-goatee choice in facial hair.
Yet, everything is relative, and the Giants and Pats’ apparent shared mediocrity is no exception. The 2011 NFL season was nearly unparalleled in its parity, with 18 of the league’s 32 teams winning between six and ten games.
The Kansas City Chiefs, despite losing perhaps their three best players to season-ending injury, won seven games and finished in fourth in the AFC West. The three teams ahead of them each won eight times.
The Colts, the league’s worst team, were without services of the best damn spokesperson the quarterback position has ever seen. Conversely, the league’s best team – the 15-1 Green Bay Packers, may they rest in peace – was quite literally one-dimensional.
Never as great as we were made to believe, the Packers were able to succeed against middling competition as eventual league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the team’s 3rd-ranked passing attack compensated for a 27th-ranked rushing attack and the league’s worst defense. Once they reached the postseason, Rodgers’ margin for error narrowed. No one else was able to pick up the slack.
If the 2011 NFL Season is remembered correctly, it will be thought of as a season of the extra-ordinary, a year in which the mediocrity of the majority allowed the select talented few to look even more talented by comparison.
Matt Stafford and Eli Manning are very good players, but it is difficult to believe they are half as good as Dan Marino once was. Eli fell 150 yards short of breaking Marino’s single-season passing mark, while Stafford and Brady and Drew Brees were able to break the nearly 30-year-old record.
More important, however, the watered-down competition presented the perfect opportunity for an underdog to start gnashing its teeth. Recipe for 2011 success: get hot at the right time, do two or three things right while everyone else only does one, make as few mistakes as possible, then pray. The Giants can confidently say they followed that recipe better than anyone else. Lucky? Perhaps. Opportunistic is probably more apt. The Giants did both what they needed to and what no one else was able, and now they’re in Indianapolis as a result.
On the other side, the system meant a team as flawed as the Patriots would face as little resistance as possible on their path to Indy. Their flaws, especially in the regular season, would go relatively unexploited. Top it off with Tebow and Flacco in January, and its fair to say the Pats haven’t faced a team better team all season then they will on Sunday.
They did lose to the Giants in Week 9. But these ain’t November’s Giants. And while the 2012 iteration might not be The Best Team Ever, in the Year of the Extra-Ordinary, it’s difficult to make the case that they don’t deserve to be there.
“If Eli Wins The Big One – Again – He Might Just Be Better Than Peyton”
No, he won’t be. Not even might be. There’s no question here, no debate, not even if Eli wins, throws for 600 yards, wins the Super Bowl and somehow steals Giesel away from Tom in the process. Probably not even if he came back next year, dropped Gisele for Kate Upton, then threw for 600 yards in a third Super Bowl MVP performance.
In sports, we value two things above all else: the now and the championship. We elevate our winners while forgetting the ones who have done so in the past. Yes, winning is the most important thing. But contrary to what we’ve been told, it’s not the only thing. It’s completely foolish to eschew a decade of achievement in favor of two February nights, glorious though they may be.
Over thirteen seasons, Peyton Manning passed for less than 3,700 yards exactly never. He’s passed for over 4,000 yards on 11 different occasions, a feat Eli’s accomplished thrice. Peyton’s thrown at least 30 touchdowns six times and 49 touchdowns once and won four MVP awards and made five All-Pro first teams and three All-Pro second teams.
Eli’s thrown for 30 touchdowns once, in a season in which he threw 25 interceptions. He’s made two Pro Bowl teams. And great as he may be, he can’t make claim to any of the other accolades and statistics that make big brother quite possibly the greatest player of all time.
Before the 2011 season, Eli wasn’t even considered the best quarterback in his division, let alone his family. And while he has been consistently great this year, and while his past has been better than anyone gives him credit for, there’s no way thirteen extra wins can bring a man from good to G.O.A.T. Perspective, people. Have some.
“Tom Brady is As Good As Ever.”
Patently false. Don’t get me wrong, Brady is still the league’s best quarterback and quite possibly the best to ever play the position. He threw for five thousand yards and 39 touchdowns this season. Not exactly Rex Grossman-type numbers.
But watching him on a game-to-game basis, it is quite clear this isn’t the same unbeatable stalwart we’ve always watched. Maybe you can blame that on a weaker-than-usual offensive line and outside receivers, and maybe you’d be right. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that there aren’t a few more passes thrown astray and a few more balls held a bit too long than ever before. The numbers say this is one of Brady’s best seasons, but the eyes say something different. And if there’s anything this upside-down, Eli-better-than-Peyton season has taught us, it’s to trust your eyes. And your gut. And then give both of them a whole lot of open field and shitty defensive backs to work with.
“Lock Up Tom Coughlin, He’s Going to Be Here For a While.”
There’s no debate: Tom Coughlin has earned himself a long term contract extension. But that’s if he wants it.
Last week, Coughlin and son-in-law/Guard Chris Snee shot down suggestions that retirement might be in the old man’s near future, but it’s certainly something to still keep in mind. Coughlin is the league’s oldest coach and will also be it’s only active one – other than Bill Belichick — to have his name on multiple Lombardi trophies. There’s little left for him to accomplish and not much time left for him to do it. Even if Tom sticks around for his ninth season in New Jersey, it’s hard to see him coaching for much longer. Bill Cowher, anybody?
Jesse Golomb is the Editor-in-Chief of TheFanManifesto. Follow him on twitter, or drop him a line via email.
What once seemed unfathomable – Peyton Manning NOT in an Indianapolis Colts uniform – seems not so improbable with every passing day. Picking up the pieces from a disastrous 2-14 season, Colts owner Jim Irsay, new general manager Ryan Grigson and just-hired head coach Chuck Pagano have a lengthy to-do list on their hands. And that list most likely starts with who will be under center for the Colts next season.
For starters, Manning is due a $28 million roster bonus on March 8 as part of the five-year, $90 million contract extension he signed last summer. Everyone knows what happened after that — he had neck surgery in September, missed the entire 2011 season during which the Colts win just two games, which in turn
“earned” them the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft where everyone is expecting them to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Irsay has already publicly stated that even if Manning is given a clean bill of health that the Colts will take a quarterback with the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. Whether that be Luck or Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III from Baylor remains to be seen, but in some ways this is similar to the situation the Colts found themselves in back in 1998.
Back then the Colts had the No. 1 overall pick and were reportedly somewhat torn between drafting Manning, who played for the University of Tennessee, or Washington State’s Ryan Leaf. In the end, the Colts took Manning and the Chargers traded up to get Leaf at No. 2. The rest, as they say, is history.
Whether or not the Colts find their next franchise quarterback in April in either Luck or Griffin only time will tell, but it still doesn’t answer the question what to do with their current franchise quarterback. The good news is that under the terms of the new CBA, the financial cost of keeping both Manning and the No. 1 overall draft pick isn’t nearly as burdensome as it once was.
Two years ago, the St. Louis Rams took Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the first pick and signed him to a six-year, $78 million deal. The contract had $50 million in guaranteed money and was the largest contract ever for an NFL rookie. Last year, the Carolina Panthers took Auburn quarterback Cam Newton No. 1. Under the terms of the new CBA, which introduced a rookie wage scale, Newton signed a four-year, $22 million deal, all of it guaranteed.
In guaranteed money alone, the Panthers will pay $28 million less to Newton than the Rams will for Bradford. Whoever the Colts select at No. 1 will sign a contract similar to Newton’s and that alone will make it considerably easier for the team to afford their new franchise quarterback and Manning. Remember, Manning still has $63.6 million left on his contract extension, including the $28 million roster bonus due on March 8, which goes through 2015.
In fact, because of the structure of Manning’s contract and NFL rules, in many ways it will cost the Colts less to keep Manning than it would to get rid of him, whether that be by trading him to another team or simply releasing him.
For one, while Manning’s roster bonus is due on March 8, the Colts actually can’t trade him until March 13 because of league rules. At that point, if the Colts did decide to trade him, it would cost them the $28 million for the roster bonus and then an additional $38 million towards their cap.
This just doesn’t seem like a wise move for a team that already is dealing with cap space issues. And that’s without even discussing finding a feasible trading partner, a team that has a need for a 36-year-old quarterback with an ever-growing medical file and, more importantly, the cap space to fit him.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t several teams out there who wouldn’t jump at the chance to bring Manning on board. It’s just that given all of the factors, there probably aren’t that many teams that are in a position to even consider a trade, should the opportunity become available.
It also doesn’t seem likely that they would simply cut Manning. For one, it would still cost the Colts an estimated $10.4 million cap hit to end ties with him. Although that would be cheaper than the cap hit associated with trading him, it would amount to “dead” cap space for them since Manning would no longer be on the roster.
Cutting Manning also makes him a free agent, meaning he can sign with any team and the Colts would get nothing in return. Given Manning’s success with the Colts, not to mention his rapport with fans and standing within the Indianapolis community, that doesn’t seem like a wise move either.
There’s also the option of reworking Manning’s contract and push the date the $28 million roster bonus is due back, although it remains to be seen if that’s even possible or it’s something Manning would even consider.
So while the Colts’ leadership mulls over the options and potential ramifications associated with them, the underlying question to all of this goes back to one thing – is Manning healthy? He will have to undergo a physical prior to the March 8 roster bonus due date, and if he passes, then the aforementioned options are fully in play.
If he doesn’t pass his physical, cutting him probably comes into play even more as the Colts will have to weigh the risks of keeping him on the roster in hopes that he will eventually become healthy. Failing his physical would also greatly impact his chances of signing with another team should he become a free agent. Manning himself could also take the decision out of the Colts’ hands, healthy or not healthy, and choose to retire. It still seems a little early to discuss that possibility, but you never know.
In the end, if Manning is healthy, cleared and able to play, the Colts could be looking at a situation similar to the one the Green Bay Packers had just seven years ago. In 2005, the Packers drafted Rodgers with the 24th overall pick. He backed up Brett Favre, who like Manning is a future Hall of Famer, before taking over as the starter in 2008. Two years later, Rodgers led the Packers to a win in Super Bowl XLV and has established himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL
To be fair, when the Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005 no one had any idea that he would become the elite NFL quarterback he is or that Favre’s career in Green Bay would end like it did. That said, one cannot help but notice the similarities, or irony even, between the Packers’ situation then and the Colts’ now.
So in many ways, the Colts’ future is tied directly to Manning’s fate. If healthy, the Colts’ leadership and fans are both hoping for a path similar to one the Packers started on in 2005. If he’s not healthy, then they will turn their attention to 1998 when a young, franchise quarterback came on board and took the team to places it had never been before. Either way, it appears that No. 18’s days as the Colts’ field leader are numbered.
— By Mark Ross
By David Schuman
Saturday afternoon, the West Virginia Mountaineers (15-6, 5-3 Big East) travel up to snowy Syracuse to take on the No. 4 Orange (21-1, 8-1 Big East). The matchup has admittedly lost some of its luster since West Virginia got blown out at St. John’s 78-62, but it’s still a battle of top-five teams in the conference so it should be a good one.
On display will be arguably the nation’s top team in Coach Jim Boeheim’s squad as well as a favorite for Big East Player of the Year, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones.
Jones is a bona fide star, averaging 20.9 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game. Don’t expect him to come off the court too much either, as he also averages a robust 37.6 minutes per game. In his senior season, Jones has emerged as the leader of the surprising Mountaineers. Along with senior guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant and his 17.4 per, the two make a formidable inside-out combo.
Syracuse is going to have more difficulty than usual containing Jones without 7-footer Fab Melo in the paint. The improved sophomore has missed the last two games with unspecified academic issues and it’s not looking like the matter will be resolved in time for this one. Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone is clearly weaker without Melo so that bodes well for West Virginia.
They still, however, have to contend with the rest of Syracuse’s talent and depth. With guys like Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters, the Orange will probably be favored in every game left this season. As well they should too, because this team runs the break well and uses their length and quickness to stymie opposing offenses.
As good as West Virginia has been, they are coming off a loss where they didn’t play their best and ‘Cuse is undefeated at the Carrier Dome this year. It’s hard for me to predict anything but a win for the home team, although it could be close. I’ll take the Orange, 69-60.
It's not every day that a ball boy makes almost as much news than the tennis players he's working for. But this ball boy at the Australian Open made an amazing catch during the Federer/Nadal semifinal tennis match.
Nadal ended up winning the match in four sets 6-7, 6-2, 7-2, 6-4, setting himself up as officially past his rival Federer. But one of the matches highlights came when Federer hit a first serve out, which Nadal hit back. Federer then hit the ball, with a fair bit of velocity off to the side of the court. That's when the ball boy quickly made a one-handed catch in the air and the crowd erupted in applause.
How are you supposed to know what a "heron" is if you don't live by any swampy marsh? So, when you're at a spelling bee and someone asks you to spell the word "heron," it's impossible to comprehend what they're saying to you. Is it Harangue? Hairline? Hairwing?
Can you please repeat the word? Can you please repeat the word? What's the word again? Harrowing? Harrow? Can you use it in a sentence again?
And the best part of this video, it has a happy ending...followed by an ironic next word.
If any normal team were to start three freshmen and two sophomores, conference road games would surely be a daunting prospect. Fortunately for Coach John Calipari, his newly minted No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (20-1, 6-0 SEC) are anything but normal. The supremely talented group went into Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday to face the Georgia Bulldogs (10-10, 1-5 SEC) and came away with an easy 57-44 victory.
Georgia kept it close at the beginning, managing to only be down one with 6:40 left in the first half, but Kentucky pulled away from there and the game was never in doubt.
Several players contributed to the effort, as has become the trademark of this Kentucky team, but Darius Miller led the way with 19 points off the bench, including 4 of 4 from beyond the arc. Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tallied a double-double, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
As easy as this win was, it never felt like the Wildcats were dominating. This was their lowest scoring output of the season and they played the second half in unimposing fashion, outscoring the Bulldogs only 19-18.
To be fair, it was clear Georgia wasn’t going to make any kind of run, but that speaks more to the tough season Coach Mark Fox’s squad is having. They just don’t have the firepower, especially after losing former stars Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Both are now buried on the end of the Los Angeles Clipper bench while Georgia shoots the second lowest FG% of any team in a power conference.
Despite Kentucky’s ho-hum offensive night, not enough can be said about their defense. The anchor is freshman Anthony Davis, and let me tell you: he is the real deal. Coming into the game, he led the nation with 4.7 blocks per game. Tonight he added five more. Get ready for this eye-popping stat though. Davis has 98 blocks on the season, which is more than Duke, Ohio State and Wisconsin have on their entire teams.
Davis’ mere presence is enough to alter shots. It seemed like Georgia got tentative about going inside, settling often for three point shots. The strategy didn’t pay off, however, as they only converted 5 of the 18 attempts.
The one strange thing about Calipari’s game plan tonight was Davis’ role on offense. The likely #1 overall pick in next June’s NBA draft only had two field goal attempts tonight. Why is this kid not getting the ball more? It was perplexing to watch.
Obviously, Kentucky is the team to beat in the SEC, and arguably in the entire country. Vanderbilt is keeping pace in the SEC standings at 5-1, and they have two games left against the Wildcats, but they can probably only hope for a split because this team is just so talented.
That being said, I would not pick Kentucky to cut down the nets in April. It’s just too risky a choice given their youth. The inexperience seems to be less of an issue this year than with any of Coach Cal’s recent teams, but to paraphrase Brad Nessler during tonight’s broadcast, every time Kentucky comes to town, it’s like the Super Bowl for the other team. Combine the intensity of the Super Bowl with the usual Madness of March, and I see a major upset in the Kentucky Wildcats’ future.
By David Schuman
—by Mark Ross
Similar to the American League, this offseason has seen plenty of changes when it comes to the pitching staffs in the National League. Trades and free agent signings have not only impacted rosters, but have been made in hopes of shaking up the standings in Major League Baseball's Senior Circuit.
In the National League East, not only do the Marlins unveil a new name (Hello Miami, good-bye Florida), new look (logo, colors, uniforms), open a new stadium and have a new manager (Ozzie Guillen), they also have committed nearly $200 million to free agency this offseason. While more than half of that is shortstop Jose Reyes’ six-year, $106 million contract, the Marlins also gave a four-year $58 million deal to left-handed starter Mark Buehrle and a three-year, $27 million deal to closer Heath Bell.
Besides reuniting Buehrle with Guillen, his former manager with the Chicago White Sox, the Marlins also acquired another veteran starter who pitched in the Windy City, Carlos Zambrano. The Chicago Cubs sent the mercurial right-hander and cash considerations (Cubs are reportedly paying more than $16 million of Zambrano’s $19 million 2012 salary) to the Marlins for right-hander Chris Volstad in a Jan. 5 deal. Guillen, who is friends with Zambrano, publicly stated his desire to bring Zambrano with him after he was named the Marlins’ manager, and now it will be up to him to keep his fellow fiery Venezuelan in check and under control.
In Buehrle and Zambrano, the Marlins get two veteran workhorses to team with their returning core of Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco. There are lingering questions about Johnson’s health, he was sidelined for most of the season with shoulder inflammation but is expected to be ready for spring training, and the obvious questions about Zambrano’s temperament/mindset, but if everything goes right, this has the potential to be a potent starting rotation.
It also didn’t hurt that the Marlins went out and signed Bell, who averaged 44 saves in his three seasons as closer for the San Diego Padres. It remains to be seen if Bell’s production will be impacted switching from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to new Marlins Park as his home stadium. Still, considering the Marlins blew 19 saves last year compared to just five for Bell, a change at the backend of the bullpen may end up being just what the Marlins need to make some noise in 2012.
Another NL East team positioned to make some noise in the near future, if not this year, is the Washington Nationals. A young team on the rise, the Nationals already had two top-flight starting pitchers in right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman. Then on Dec. 23, the Nationals added left-hander Gio Gonzalez in a trade with the Oakland A’s.
The cost for Gonzalez was high, as the Nationals sent the A’s three of their best pitching prospects and another player in return, but it was a price they were willing to pay to add the 26-year-old who made his first All-Star team last season. With Gonzalez in the fold, the Nationals have three starters who are capable of winning 20 games and striking out more than 200 batters every season.
That being said, the trio most likely will not reach those milestones together this year, as Strasburg’s innings are expected to be limited to around 180 or so in his first full season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2010. Regardless, the future looks bright for the Nationals thanks in part to their new 1-2-3 punch at the top of their rotation.
For now, the best 1-2-3 punch in the division, if not all of baseball, belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies. In Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the defending NL East champions not only have two Cy Young winners (Halladay, Lee), they have three hurlers who each won at least 14 games, pitched at least 216 innings, had an ERA of 2.79 or lower and made the All-Star Game last season. And if that wasn’t enough, they all finished in the top 5 of voting for last year’s NL Cy Young Award.
While Philly’s Big 3 is back for a second season together, there will be a new closer as Jonathan Papelbon comes over to the NL. Papelbon, the closer for the Boston Red Sox the past six seaons, signed a four-year, $50 million free agent deal that could be worth as much as $63 million over five years. He has 219 saves in his career and should add plenty more to that number closing for one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball.
Similar to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL, the Atlanta Braves have one of the youngest starting rotations in baseball. Tim Hudson, 36, is far and away the oldest of the Braves’ starters. The rest of the rotation includes Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrgens and Brandon Beachy with Mike Minor, Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran expected to fill the fifth spot. Of these, Jurrgens is the oldest at 26 and Teheran, the youngest, will turn 21 later this week.
There are plenty of health-related question marks surrounding the front of the Braves’ rotation. Hudson underwent surgery in November to repair a herniated disc in his back, Hanson missed the last two months of last year with a partially torn rotator cuff, and Jurrgens has missed significant parts of the past two seasons due to different injuries. However, if these guys are healthy and are able to produce like they have in the past, they could combine with the young guns to form a formidable rotation with the potential to be something truly special.
In the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds are hoping this season ends up being special as they are in “win now” mode after making several big moves. The first one came on Dec. 17 when the Reds acquired Mat Latos from the Padres for pitchers Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger and two of the organization’s top prospects in first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal.
The Reds gave up a lot to get Latos, who they hope will team with Johnny Cueto (9-5, 2.31 ERA in 24 starts last season) to give them up essentially two aces in their rotation. Latos, 24, is 23-24 with a 3.21 ERA and 374 strikeouts in 379 innings the past two seasons, but that was with the aforementioned Petco Park as his home base.
Now, he will call the launching pad known as Great American Ballpark his home stadium. Last year, 209 home runs were hit in Great American compared to 100 at Petco. And for his career, Latos has been more of a flyball pitcher compared to a groundball one (0.81 G/F ratio entering 2012). Latos, who received less than five runs of support per start last season, should figure to benefit more in that department this season with the Reds’ offense. On the other hand, it’s also fair to expect him to give up a few more runs each start, especially with him pitching his home games in a hitter-friendly environment.
Latos also has a reputation for being somewhat of a hothead and never being afraid to show his emotions on the mound or in the dugout, especially when things aren’t going his way. It will be up to pitching coach Bryan Price and manager Dusty Baker to guide him through the adjustment period with his new team, situation and home ballpark to get the front-line starter production they, in essence, paid for and, more importantly, need if they have any hopes of contending.
The Reds weren’t done with their pitching makeover with just Latos, however, as on Dec. 23 they acquired reliever Sean Marshall from their division rivals, the Cubs. The Reds sent the Cubs three players in return for the left-handed Marshall, who has thrived as a set-up man the past two seasons. He is 13-11 with six saves, a 2.45 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 150 1/3 innings in that span.
Marshall will continue his role as set-up man for the Reds, where he will precede their new closer, Ryan Madson. Madson, who won a World Series and played in another in his nine seasons with the Phillies, signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal to try and help the Reds make it back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1990.
Madson, like Latos, will be under pressure to perform, as he will be replacing the departed Francisco Cordero. Although it may not have always been pretty, Cordero was effective in his four seasons as the Reds’ closer, averaging 38 saves per season. To put it another way, Cordero’s lowest single-season saves total with the Reds was 34. That’s two more than Madson saved last year in his first full season as the Phillies’ closer.
With Latos, Marshall and Madson on board, the Reds are hoping they have the arms to take down the defending World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals and defending NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers. While the Cardinals will look to defend their championship without first baseman Albert Pujols (signed with Los Angeles Angels), manager Tony LaRussa (retired) and pitching coach Dave Duncan (leave of absence), they will welcome back a key piece to their starting rotation in Adam Wainwright.
Wainwright missed all of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last February. Prior to that, he won 39 games with a 2.53 ERA and 425 strikeouts in 2009 and 2010, and finished in the top 3 of the NL Cy Young voting both years. Even if he’s not back to his old self right away, the Cardinals’ starting rotation is already better of with Wainwright, who will team with Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook.
Meanwhile, the Brewers will look to their pitching to carry the load even more this season with the departure of Prince Fielder and the expected 50-game suspension for NL MVP Ryan Braun. Last year, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum combined for 46 of the Brewers’ franchise-record 96 wins, and will probably need even more this year to have any hopes of defending their division title.
Like the Brewers, the Arizona Diamondbacks are looking to defend their division title , and they went out and got another arm this offseason in hopes of keeping them atop the NL West standings. On Dec. 13, the Diamondbacks acquired right-handed starter Trevor Cahill, along with left-handed relieved Craig Breslow, from the Oakland A’s. The A’s received pitchers Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook and outfielder Collin Cowgill in return.
Cahill, who will turn 24 on March 1, has 40 wins in three major league seasons and will join a rotation that already includes Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. Kennedy, the oldest of the three at 27, is coming off a 21-win season where he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Hudson won 16 games last year and the Silver Slugger award as the best hitting pitcher in the NL. Together, the trio has the potential to each win 20 or more games this season and beyond.
Likewise, the San Francisco Giants, the Diamondbacks’ division rivals, have three starters of their own that are capable of winning 20 or more games in a season. Tim Lincecum, the two-time NL Cy Young winner (2008-09) has come the closest with 18 wins in 2008, while Matt Cain (12-11, 2.88 ERA in 2011) and Madison Bumgarner (13-13, 3.21 ERA) each appear to have the stuff to do it. And that’s leaving out Ryan Vogelsong, who led the staff with a 2.71 ERA last year, and the guy who has actually won 20 or more games in a season, Barry Zito (23 wins in 2002 with the A’s), in the process.
So just like the AL, the NL appears to be well armed, if you will, especially as it applies to teams who are planning on contending. And if any of these teams are looking for even more pitching, there are plenty of free agents still out there (Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, Francisco Cordero, etc.) and probably a pitcher or two (Cubs’ Matt Garza, Gavin Floyd of the Chicago White Sox, namely) that could be pried away from their current team, if the price is right.
What other moves, if any, are made by these supposed contenders will probably come down to one question – does my team have enough “arms” to compete, or more specifically, win? This is a hard enough question to answer once the season starts, let alone the end of January. But it’s definitely not a question they will want to revisit come the end of the season, especially if they are one of the teams watching, and not playing in, the postseason.
— by Mark Ross
Pitchers are scheduled to report to spring training in less than a month, and if Major League Baseball’s offseason is any indication, a lot of teams’ postseason hopes will be riding on those arms that will get tuned up in Florida and Arizona.
Between free agent signings, trades and injury comebacks, more than half of MLB's 30 teams will enter the season with a different starting rotation compared to the start of the 2011 season. More to the point, teams that are expected to contend this season made a majority of the biggest moves, adding significance, not to mention, scrutiny, to these transactions.
In the American League, the Los Angeles Angels struck first when they signed C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million deal. Adding the left-hander to a starting rotation that already features Jered Weaver, who finished second in the AL Cy Young voting last season, and Dan Haren is no less significant than the fact that adding Wilson also meant taking him away from the Angels’ division rival, the Texas Rangers.
Last season, Wilson went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA for the Rangers, earning his first All-Star Game invite and helping them reach the World Series for a second straight year. In Anaheim, he will team with Weaver and Haren, who combined to win 34 games and strike out nearly 400 batters.
The Rangers didn’t sit idly by, however, as in December they won the rights to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish with a posting fee of $51.7 million. The defending AL West champs then completed the deal with the 25-year-old right-hander by agreeing to a six-year contract worth about $60 million just prior to the deadline to sign him within the 30-day negotiating period.
Darvish, who went 18-6 last season in Japan with a 1.44 ERA, will join presumed Opening Day starter Colby Lewis, and most likely, Dexter Holland, Matt Harrison and converted closer Neftali Feliz in the Rangers’ rotation. Alexi Ogando, who won 13 games as a starter last year, is also a possibility, but at this point it appears he will take Feliz’s place in the bullpen this season.
Like their AL West counterparts, the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland A’s also joined in on the rotation makeovers, albeit following a different strategy. Last week, the Mariners agreed to send two young pitchers, Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, to the New York Yankees for top prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi. The A’s also traded away two young starting pitchers, sending right-hander Trevor Cahill and left-handed reliever Craig Breslow to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a Dec. 9 trade and two weeks later shipping left-hander Gio Gonzalez and a prospect to the Washington Nationals. These two trades brought the rebuilding A’s a total of seven players, five of them pitchers, in return.
While Gonzalez and Cahill are significant additions for the Nationals and Diamondbacks respectively, Pineda to the Yankees could turn out to be the real game-changer. Pineda, who went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings as a rookie last season, was expected to team with former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez as the Mariners’ 1-2 punch for years to come.
Now, the 22-year-old right-hander goes to a legitimate World Series contender and helps the Yankees fill what was a glaring need – starting pitching depth beyond CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. The Mariners did well by adding the young, impact bat they needed in the slugging Montero, but they did this trade with an eye towards the future, while the Yankees are focused on the present.
And if adding Pineda wasn’t enough, Yankees GM Brian Cashman bolstered the rotation further by agreeing to a one-year, $10 million deal with free agent Hiroki Kuroda the same night he brokered the trade with Seattle. Kuroda, 36, is considerably older than Pineda, but over the past four years he has posted a 41-46 record with a respectable 3.45 ERA. Last year, he went 13-16 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the right-hander was ninth in the National League with a 3.07 ERA.
With Pineda and Kuroda joining Sabathia and Nova in the rotation, the Yankees have three candidates – A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes – for their fifth spot, a luxury they didn’t have just two weeks ago. The Boston Red Sox, the Yankees’ AL East rivals, are making some tweaks to their rotation as well, but their move came from in-house as they are switching Daniel Bard from a reliever to a starter.
Bard figures to join lefty Jon Lester and right-handers Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz with Aaron Cook, Vincente Padilla and Carlos Silva coming to spring training in hopes of securing the fifth spot. Starting pitching depth will be critical for the Sox this season, who at some point hope to get Daisuke Matsuzaka back after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June. In addition, the team will be without the services of John Lackey, who will miss the entire 2012 season after having Tommy John surgery during the offseason.
For now, one could argue that the Yankees appear to have the strongest starting rotation in the AL East, which is saying something since the division also includes the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa definitely has the youngest rotation in the league, not to mention the majors, as the Rays will trot out left-hander David Price, workhorse James Shields, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and young phenom Matt Moore, one of the early favorites to win the award this season, with either Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann rounding out their starting five. Shields, who turned 30 in December, is the oldest of the six, while Davis, Hellickson, Moore and Price range from 22 to 26 years old.
The AL Central was the quietest of the three divisions when it came to pitching acquisitions in the offseason, but in case of the Detroit Tigers it’s a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” After all, the defending division champs’ rotation is headed up by none other than Justin Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP. Following Verlander, the Tigers look to have righties Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, and possibly 20-year-old Jacob Turner, their top pitching prospect, in their rotation.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians acquired veteran right-hander Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves last October and will add him to their young core of starting pitchers Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Tomlin in hopes of competing with the Tigers for division supremacy.
And if that wasn’t enough pitching turnover to digest, some of these same teams tinkered with their respective bullpens as well. The most significant moves along those lines involved the Rangers and Red Sox, who will have new closers in 2012.
The Rangers signed Joe Nathan away from the Minnesota Twins to take Feliz’s place, while the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey from the A’s to replace departed closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Red Sox also acquired Mark Melancon from the Houston Astros in a separate deal. Melancon, who saved 20 games for the Astros last season, is expected to take Bard’s place as the Sox’ set-up man this season.
What’s more, this is probably not the last of the pitching changes that will be made before the season even starts. For one, dozens of free agent pitchers remain unsigned, including a three-time All-Star and two-time 20-game winner (Roy Oswalt), a starter who’s averaged more than 200 innings over the past four seasons (Edwin Jackson), and a closer who’s saved 34 or more games the past five seasons (Francisco Cordero), to name a few. There also are pitchers like Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs and Gavin Floyd of the Chicago White Sox, who are reportedly available via trade.
So regardless of what other moves happen between now and Opening Day, or even during the season itself, the arms race has clearly begun. Now it’s a matter of seeing which team has the arsenal to play, and ultimately win, in October.
And with that, the Tigers filled a huge hole after the loss of their All-Star catcher Victor Martinez to a knee injury. It also makes the Tigers a major player and gives them three starters with salaries over $20 million a year. Contrast that to 2004, when their entire payroll was close to $60 million.
So while others will debate how the Tigers will find a way to put three players into two positions (1B and DH) (Will Miguel Cabrera move back to third base when Martinez comes back from the DL?), let's look at how this signing affect baseball fantasy drafts.
The first glance is that Fielder will probably drop a little, given that the Tigers park is more of a pitchers park than his previous home in Milwaukee. But honestly, that's probably a minor issue for Fielder, who usually puts up pretty steady homer numbers.
What this is very good for, is Miguel Cabrera, who will have some of the best protection in the majors with Fielder hitting right behind him. There were questions as to how the loss of Martinez would affect his draft position, but now a very wealthy Fielder will make sure Cabbie gets plenty of balls to hit.
And as long as he's sober, he's going to crush it once again this year, and is my pick for the #1 draft slot over Albert Pujols in fantasy baseball.
Would you be happy with either one? Sure. But whenever a player moves to a new city, like Pujols did this offseason when he switched from the Cardinals to the Angels, you never know how that's going to affect a player (ahem, Adam Dunn.) A new league,a new set of pitchers, a different ballpark could all have affects on Pujols as he gets himself settled into Anaheim.
While Cabrera, on the other hand, will have the same consistent routine he had last year, with an arguably even better guy behind him.
To be honest, the best pick this year is #2 overall. That way you're assured of one of these guys, but if you're lucky enough to land #1 overall, as hard as it is to pass up Pujols, go for Cabrera. Just don't take him out for drinks after his games.
You probably didn't know who Chuck Giampa was before you watched this video. And there's a chance that you may never see him again after he completely botched his announcing debut on Showtime's Boxing show.
As you can see, he's clearly not ready to be in front of the camera. And add to that, it seems like he thinks he's not doing a live run, but a taped one. And then add to that that he looks like a human version of Eyore, you've got yourself an Internet classic.
With the passing of Joe Paterno over the weekend, many people are struggling to put his career in perspective. On one hand, he was a rare coach who won without ever getting caught up in a big NCAA scandal--a rarity in college football these days--but on the other, his legacy will foreever be tarnished by the horrific Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
So we asked our Athlon editors (who know more about college football than most people have forgotten) to look back on JoePa's complicated career.
By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Joe Paterno’s legacy has been completely tarnished because of his role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. There aren’t many acts that could have ruined the reputation of the Penn State legend with 400+ wins, but repeatedly being an enabler to a pedophile is one of them. That’s a harsh reality, and it feels uncomfortable to write. But it is reality, even if many Nittany Lions and others around college football are choosing to ignore it.
The quotes from some media and college football coaches calling Paterno “classy” and “a great man” ring very hollow because of what we now know. His choice to cover up for a child molester in order to protect the interests of a business/football program is sick and disturbing. That type of behavior does not fall under the category of “people make mistakes” or “I’ll just choose to remember the positives”.
Many people will says those words this week in regards to Paterno, but that’s just putting your head in the sand for fear of facing a tough reality. It’s difficult for Penn State fans, ex-players or just fans of football to see their belief system crushed, and many will be in denial over what happened on the Penn State campus. Joe Paterno did some amazing things on the football field, but unfortunately his legacy will now be the repeated enabling of a sick pedophile. Success with honor? Not so much.
By Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
January 22, 2012 was a sad day for many college football, Big Ten and Penn State fans. I, personally, never would have thought I would be writing stories this season about the firing and death of a legend. In fact, it was an extremely surreal experience hosting my radio show on November 9, the day Paterno was classlessly (albeit justifiably) fired via phone, and then again on Sunday. The winningest coach of all-time was not a perfect man — no man is — and his mistakes will, rightly so, never be forgotten. There will be a portion of the population that will never be able to hold respect for Joe Paterno ever again, and I would never try to convince them otherwise. His final legacy will be debated until the end of time. But Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports pinpointed my feelings precisely on a day that "piling on" was totally unnecessary. Sunday was a day to have respect for the dead (and his loved ones) and to honor a man whose 70 years of good still dramatically outweighed the year(s) of bad:
"Paterno reached too many, taught too many, inspired too many. And for years and seasons, for decades and generations to come, those that drew from his wisdom will pass it on and on. That will be his most lasting legacy. No, his worst day can’t be forgotten. Neither can all the beautiful ones that surrounded it."
Joe Paterno's legacy as arguably the greatest college football coach to ever live is absolutely tarnished, but will never be erased.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The final chapter of Joe Paterno’s career was certainly not how most pictured his tenure at Penn State would end. Just over a week after earning the Division I record with his 409th win, Paterno’s tenure came to an abrupt end as the Penn State board of trustees fired him as a result of the ongoing Jerry Sandusky investigation. While the final chapter will certainly leave a mark on Paterno’s career, there’s no question he is one of college football’s icons and a coaching legend.
Considering the win-now mentality, coaches are afforded very little time to build a program. And college football may not see a coach spend 46 years at one school and earn 409 wins at one stop again. Another remarkable note about Paterno’s career at Penn State was the fact he never ran into any major trouble with the NCAA and his teams were near the top of the nation in graduation rates. Some are certainly going to remember Paterno for the surprising end to his tenure, but I think most will remember him for the 409 wins and being one of college football’s most influential coaches.
By Nathan Rush
Joe Paterno may have left a dark cloud lingering over Happy Valley — in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal — but the 85-year-old was undeniably the architect of something bigger than himself, once upon a time. There was a "Great Experiment" and a "Penn State Way" that were personified by the wavy-haired Brooklyn native who wore thick-rimmed glasses, a blue tie, rolled up khakis and black sneakers. More than the 409 wins and two national championships, JoePa's legacy will be defined by the countless lives he impacted — including all Penn Staters, his decades of Nittany Lion players, young coaches around the country and, yes, the victims of Sandusky, if in fact Paterno knew what he appears to have known about the actions of his longtime defensive coordinator. Even in defeat, Paterno taught us all several valuable lessons that are as timeless as the classics he once studied at Brown. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Do the right thing, even if no one is watching. In the end, the truth will come to light. Joe Paterno was a tragic hero whose story — both rise and fall — will be told for generations to come.
By Rob Doster (@athlondoster)
As a kid, I preferred my football southern-fried, so I tended to dismiss the guys in the boring blue-and-white uniforms and their odd-looking little coach in his bulky black-rimmed glasses as little more than a regional curiosity that had no business on the field with the Alabamas of the world. That perception eroded as Joe Paterno and his program elbowed their way into the college football elite, asking only for an opportunity to prove they belonged and then delivering over and over on the big stage. Dismissal gave way to grudging respect, and finally to outright admiration for the Penn State Way. Sadly, Paterno leaves a complicated legacy tarnished by scandal. But in the immediate aftermath of a man's death, I prefer to focus on the positives, and there were plenty of those. Rest in peace, Joe Pa.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Joe Paterno roamed the sidelines in the first college football game that I remember watching. I was seven years old, dressed in crimson pants, an Alabama t-shirt and an Alabama cowboy hat. It was the 1979 Sugar Bowl, featuring No. 1 Penn State vs. the No. 2 Crimson Tide.
We had recently moved to New Jersey, and my parents hosted a party to watch the game that would end up settling the national title. Seemingly all of my parents’ friends were fans of Penn State, which at that time was basically the home team for college football fans in North Jersey.
We were fans of the Tide. My dad, a 1961 Alabama grad, hung a Bear Bryant poster in my room while I was still in a crib. He was eager to show his new friends in the Northeast what SEC football was all about. Read the rest here
This is exactly what popped in my head when the Miami Dolphins announced that someone named "Philbin" was going to be their next head coach.
Now that Regis Philbin has quit his time as co-host of the long-running "Regis and Kelly" show, it seemed like maybe this could be more plausible than originally thought. Regis loves sports in general--especially Notre Dame football. So why wouldn't he be able to lead Miami onto the field on Sundays? Some coaches are more inspiration guys than Xs and Os guys.
And who wouldn't want to go out and beat the crap out of the Jets after a pre-game speech by Regis and his trademark cadence?
Of course, it's actually some guy named Joe Philbin who was named the Dolphins coach. But who would you rather see roaming Miami's sidelines?
Joe Paterno roamed the sidelines in the first college football game that I remember watching. I was seven years old, dressed in crimson pants, an Alabama t-shirt and an Alabama cowboy hat. It was the 1979 Sugar Bowl, featuring No. 1 Penn State vs. the No. 2 Crimson Tide.
We had recently moved to New Jersey, and my parents hosted a party to watch the game that would end up settling the national title. Seemingly all of my parents’ friends were fans of Penn State, which at that time was basically the home team for college football fans in North Jersey.
We were fans of the Tide. My dad, a 1961 Alabama grad, hung a Bear Bryant poster in my room while I was still in a crib. He was eager to show his new friends in the Northeast what SEC football was all about.
Alabama, of course, won the game, delivering the Bear his sixth and final national title. It was a happy day in the Light household.
At the time, I didn’t know much about the man on the other sideline. But as a fan of the sport, I grew to respect Paterno and his team. I didn’t necessarily like Penn State during my formative years — in fact, I rooted against the Nittany Lions until I got to college — but it was a program that I admired.
It’s cliché, but Paterno did things the right away. Simply put, he is one of the greatest coaches in the history of team sports. But is that how he will be remembered? Or will we remember him for the final three months of his life and the scandal that ended his 46-run as the boss in Happy Valley? It’s a complicated question. And a personal question.
I want to remember Paterno for all of the good things he did for a sport I love. But then, as the father of a 7-year old boy, it’s hard for me to ignore what we have learned about this legendary figure in the past few months.
We will never truly know how much Paterno knew, but I find it hard to believe that he didn’t know that Jerry Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator and long-time friend, was committing these atrocities. Paterno was most powerful man in State College and the CEO of one of the top football programs in the nation. There is no way he didn’t know something was going on.
And for that, I can’t not think of Jerry Sundusky when I think of Joe Paterno. Whenever I hear his name, the first image that pops into my head is Sandusky — and it’s not a pleasant image. I don’t know if I will feel the same way in a year, or in five years.
But for now, my memory of Joe Paterno is more about grand jury testimony, child abuse and power than it is about Penn State football.
by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)
We're pretty sure this is what happened after the Giants beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday.
Eli probably got on the phone and called up the Pats to see if they wanted to play a little football at his brother's house in Indianapolis.
Enough with the prognosticating. Giants fans should simply enjoy a ride that might be the best one yet.
Everything about the 2011 Giants has been said and said again. And again.
Eli is full of crap, how dare he put his name next to Tom Brady’s! Except, actually, he might be Elite but not quite as good as Brady or Rodgers or Jesus – but wait, hold on a second, because Eli’s playing really good right now and is approaching Elite status, so now we’re seriously starting to wonder whether or not you can spell Elite without E-L-I.
Hold on. I’ve just received a call from my source, who is telling me that, yes, we’ve just now finally decided, ONCE AND FOR ALL, that ‘Elite’ cannot be spelled without its first three letters.
What have we learned from the 2011 Giants that we didn’t know before? That Antrel Rolle likes to talk? That Brandon Jacobs does too, sometimes derisively to fat people?
That Tom Coughlin’s reputation, for at least the third time in his Giants tenure, has bobbed and weaved before capsizing, like a poorly-piloted cruise ship? That not throwing millions of dollars at a possession receiver with a shakily-reconstructed knee was a shrewd, ballsy move? That eschewing a big commitment to an oft-injured tight end who had never caught more than 42 passes was similarly awesome?
We didn’t know about Victor Cruz. And now we do. So now, every sportswriter and blogger with a minimal vested interest in New York sports, go and write 4,000 words that have been written a thousand times before.
Save for my ill-fated prediction in December, I haven’t written a word about the Giants in three months. Strange, for a man who lists February 3, 2008 as one of the greatest nights of his life, a diehard whose house is lined with Giants regalia, a fan whose authentic #88 jersey hasn’t been washed in almost as long – god forbid it not be dry on game day.
Why not? Sure, I’d rather not waste my time writing old words. But, even more so, I’d rather just enjoy the ride.
That’s my message to Giants fans. Enjoy the ride. A ride that may – or frankly, may not—turn out to be the ride of your life.
Most of us have already dreamt of knocking off Brady and Belichick yet again, of silencing every doubter who calls our team’s 2007 greatness a fluke. Some have gone so far as to check airfare to Indianapolis, only to shudder at the cost. We’re already debating whether we should have the championship parade in Newark or Manhattan, which is a stupid debate not just because Newark sucks and Chris Christie is fat but because, to even reach that point, the Giants, with a record of 11-7, will need to triumph over two teams with a combined record of 29-5.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves.
But guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. In 2007, we were behind the curve. Greatness hit us by surprise. We watched an unlikely band of misfits, future St. Louis Rams and spongebob-band-aid-wearing defensive backs fight their way to a world title. We rejoiced. We tasted greatness, but by the time we had apprehended what had happened, a bullet was in Plaxico’s leg and the parade screeched to a halt. So we wanted another taste. And it hasn’t come. Until now.
On the doorstep of similar achievement, the 2011 Giants are a different beast entirely. Their greatness comes not from their unlikeliness or from a Conference Championship game appearance or their newfound dominance on both sides of the ball.
If there’s greatness in these Giants, it’s derived from the potential of watching the perfect title run. In 2007, we experienced the purest form of an underdog story: 53-scrappy Davids unseating the undefeated behemoth thanks to a great play from a receiver who would never catch another ball as long as he lives.
This year? We’re still the underdog. We’re 9-7 going against 13-3 and hopefully 14-2. Yet we still believe – nay, we expect. In 2007, we didn’t believe. Those Giants didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Cowboys, or the Packers, or the Patrioits. And then suddenly, before we even knew what hit us, it happened. Greatness caught us by surprise. We won’t be caught napping again.
We’ve spent the last four years yearning for that greatness and have lamented and screamed and sulked every time it hasn’t come. Few honest Giants fans would tell you that they believed in that 2007 team. They’d tell you they were converted only when that ball glued itself to Tyree’s helmet, or maybe not even until Brady’s final pass eluded Randy Moss and fell to the turf.
Today? Find me a Giants fan who doesn’t believe that his team’s destined for Disney World. Good luck.
In 2012, we are excited because we feel it coming. That may be irrational, it may be arrogant, and it may even be self-defeating. But our readiness for greatness is no less real. These Giants haven’t scraped by four of the league’s supposed contenders, like their 2007 counterparts did; they’ve annihilated them.
We’ve watched Aaron Rodgers made to look only slightly better than Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan made to look like Mark Sanchez and Eli Manning made to look like Aaron Rodgers. Everything is coming together at just the right time and in just the right way, with enough build-up and emphasis to keep us on the edge of our seats, shivering in anticipation. It’s all come together to make us believe.
We’ve dismissed the massive challenge of the Niners’ nasty defense and now we're ready for the Patriots high-flying attack. When and if our team take the Super Bowl crown in 2012, we’ll be ready to celebrate.
Or to cry when Tom Brady passes for four hundred yards. Either way, it will be bigger and better this time.
Steven Tyler isn't really known for having a good voice. Sure, he has an interesting voice, and that stuff he does at the end of "Dream On" sounds pretty cool, but let's face it, he squeals and screeches more than hits solid notes.
And that all became clear during his performance of the National Anthem before the Patriots and Ravens AFC Championship again.
The American Idol judge, who watched the game from Pats owner Robert Kraft's booth, was sort of like a watching a car wreck. He never really flubbed it or forgot the words, but his wavering voice just made viewers uncomfortable and he didn't really sound very strong. The only parts that got the crowd riled up was when he leaned on his classic screeching.
We doubt he'll be invited back to sing anymore national anthems in the future. But if it was up to us, we'd love to see a duet between him and Christina Aguilera before the Super Bowl.
Joe Paterno, the recently embattled Penn State football coach, has died at the age of 85 from lung cancer complications.
The man who has won more football games than anyone else and was seen, until recently, as one of the most honored and respected men in the game wasn't able to survive his fight with the deadly disease.
His family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death.
Paterno's son Scott announced Nov. 18 that his father was being treated for lung cancer, which was diagnosed in mid-November during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness.
Jay Paterno, one of Paterno's sons, thanked fans for their support Saturday.
"I appreciate the support & prayers. Joe is continuing to fight," Jay Paterno wrote on his own Twitter account.
The storied career of "JoePa" included 409 wins in 46 seasons and two national championships.
Paterno died at State College's Mount Nittany Medical Center, where he had been undergoing treatment.
Paterno remained connected to a ventilator into Sunday, individuals close to Paterno's family told The Washington Post.
The newspaper reported the family had communicated to the hospital his wishes not to be kept alive through extreme artificial means.
Paterno's cancer diagnosis was revealed Nov. 18, nine days after he lost his Penn State head coaching job in the fallout of sexual abuse charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
But his reputation for success with honor was shattered when a former assistant was charged with molesting 10 boys during a 15-year span, including some in the Penn State athletic complex.
Critics said Paterno should have done more to stop it. He was fired Nov. 9.
How much a of a role the scandal that severely tarnished the reputation of the man whow as considered the grandfather of college football played in the speed and his ability to fight his illness will never be known. But it's probably safe to say that this whole ordeal weighed on him very, very heavily.
Joe Paterno recently told The Washington Post that he did not know how to deal with the report from Mike McQueary that his former defensive coordinator--Jerry Sandusky--was accused of abusing a boy in the showers.
"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," he told The Post in an extensive two-day interview at his home. "So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."
In all, Paterno guided five teams to unbeaten, untied seasons.
The Final Four has been set, and it might not have been the one you were expecting. The AFC did get its top two seeds through to the championship, but over in the NFC the two best teams – or what everyone thought were the two best teams (the Packers and Saints) are gone.
That leaves this: The Baltimore Ravens (13-4) vs. the New England Patriots (14-3) on one side, and the upstart New York Giants (11-7) vs. the San Francisco 49ers (14-3) on the other. On Feb. 5 two of them will meet in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.
We’ll find out soon enough whom those teams will be. The question right now is: Who do you want to see? Do you want a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, one of the greatest ever played? Or a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV, which might have been one of the worst. How about a battle of franchises that have 11 Super Bowl appearances and eight championship rings between them? Or maybe the Harbaugh Brothers Bowl?
Or what about any matchup that involves a team from Baltimore playing in Indianapolis, 28 years after Indianapolis stole a football team from Baltimore?
Keep all that in mind when you’re watching the championship games on Sunday. Which of these four matchups do you want to see?
New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers
There have been 45 Super Bowls and 11 have featured one of these teams, but never has there been a game that involved both. The Patriots are a dismal 3-3 in the big game, while the 49ers are a sparkling 5-0. It’s been 18 years since the 49ers – one of the dominant franchises of the ‘80s – has been to the Super Bowl, and you can bet they’re still smarting over the Steelers picking up their sixth ring two years ago.
Beyond the franchise matchup, there’s Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest coach of this generation, facing Jim Harbaugh whose 14-3 rookie year as an NFL coach has been spectacular. Alex Smith, in his long-awaited breakout year, would go a long way towards proving he’s for real by beating Tom Brady. And then there’s the age-old question: Does defense really win championships? The Patriots don’t really have one. The 49ers definitely do.
New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
This might be the most tantalizing matchup of all, considering they played four years ago in Super Bowl XLII and they put on one of the greatest NFL shows ever. The Giants won that game, of course, in spectacular, come-from-behind fashion complete with the David Tyree catch that became an iconic play.
What the Pats likely remember most is this: They were 18-0 and dreaming of the NFL’s second perfect season and its longest. They were an absolutely offensive machine that year and looked nearly unbeatable, until the Giants’ pass rush left them overwhelmed. Now the Giants’ pass rush is leading their charge again, with many people finding comparisons to their miracle run in 2007.
The Patriots would love to get in their way in the end, this time with much different results.
And if that isn’t enough, how about this: Eli Manning, months after insisting he was an “elite” quarterback in Tom Brady’s class, getting a chance to beat him in the biggest game? Or what about Brady and Eli Manning battling it out for another ring in Peyton Manning’s backyard?
Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants
Most of the players on these teams were mere kids when the Ravens, with their all-time defense, hammered the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, putting a stain on Jim Fassel’s pretty good coaching career in New York that he never really washed away. One guy who clearly remembers will be Jessie Armstead, now an assistant with the Giants.
In that game he had an early interception that he returned for a touchdown that was nullified by a terrible defensive holding penalty on defensive tackle Keith Hamilton. That play could’ve turned everything around. Instead the Giants fell apart and were beaten by Trent Dilfer, one of the worst quarterbacks to ever win the big game.
This game also would pit two strong defenses against each other, and linebacker Ray Lewis – arguably the greatest defensive player of his generation – against Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who might turn out to be one of the best of the next.
Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers
The headline would be Ravens coach John Harbaugh vs. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who may already be the most successful coaching brothers in any sport, ever. John has been knocking on the Super Bowl door ever since he took over the Ravens. It’s hard to imagine he wants to see Jim on the other side when he finally kicks it in.
It would be compelling TV, though, and a great storyline for the entire week. Never have two brothers faced each other with stakes this high.
And if you can get past that, this also is the matchup that probably should’ve been most likely, considering how the NFL has gone this season. It’s been the Year of the Quarterback, with three of them topping 5,000 yards and passing offenses exploding all over the league.
Wouldn’t it just figure, then, that the Super Bowl would feature two of the best defenses in the league?
By RALPH VACCHIANO
So, it's happened. Someone finally got a tattoo of Tim Tebow Tebowing. With an oversized Bronco riding over a Denver sky to boot.
Aside from the minor issue that the Tim in this tattoo isn't properly Tebowing--his fist should be on his forehead--can we just say that it's probably not a very good idea to get a tattoo of a trend or fad.
I have a hard enough time buying a jersey of a relatively young player I like, for fear that his next season will be a dud and I will have blown $150 on someone I will hate in a year (I'm looking at you Curtis Enis). But to go full tattoo on a player who is pretty close to statistically the worst quarterback in history is a level of either stupidity or faith that is unprecedented.
What happens if Tebow plays like he plays this year, but his defense and kicker doesn't bail him out of games. What happens if Tebow goes 3-13? What good is a tattoo of a quarterback if he's benched mid-season? I can take off that Curtis Enis jersey. But you can't really take off a tattoo that covers 30% of your back.
Let this be a lesson, kids. If you're going to go through with getting a tattoo, make sure it's of a guy who's already reached legend status.
For a much-hyped Top 10 matchup, this one wasn’t really close. The No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (16-3, 4-2 Big Ten) creamed the No. 8 Indiana Hoosiers (15-3, 3-3 Big Ten) 80-63 on their home court.
With both teams coming off disappointing losses, Coach Thad Matta’s Buckeyes showed a defensive intensity that they were sorely lacking at Illinois. Indiana turned the ball over 12 times in the first half alone, which was a major factor in the 35-14 halftime deficit.
All-American sophomore Jared Sullinger, who before the game took responsibility for his team’s defensive lapses, finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. His performance, along with point guard Aaron Craft’s 8 points, 7 assists and 3 steals, gave the Columbus crowd a lot to cheer about.
But on this day, Lenzelle Smith Jr. stole the spotlight from his better known teammates.
The one starter that even serious fans probably don’t know much about, Smith finished with a career high 28 points on 10 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. Not bad for a guy who averages 5.2 points per game. His previous career high was 12.
The Hoosiers dug themselves too big of a hole in the first half and were never able to mount a serious rally. It didn’t help that their usually terrific shooting failed them. As a team, they shot 7 of 21 from deep despite leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage coming in at just under 46%.
Freshman phenom Cody Zeller was a bright spot, however, with 16 points and 6 rebounds. He continues to impress, as he showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and muscle his way inside. With Zeller manning the middle, the Hoosiers have a bright future.
One of the best stories in college basketball this season is the job Coach Tom Crean has done in Bloomington. Restoring a blue-blood program to national prominence has been no easy task, but in his fourth season, Crean should be in the conversation for National Coach of the Year.
As for Ohio State, they definitely looked the part of a Final Four contender today. A few conference slipups on the road does not the change the fact that this team has the talent to go all the way. They lead the country in rebounding margin, and if they play defense like this more consistently, the Buckeyes will be one scary team come March.
By David Schuman
Jeff Fisher is no longer retired after accepting the head coaching position with the St. Louis Rams.
After going back and forth between the Rams and the Miami Dolphins, Fisher ended up with St. Louis due, in large part, to the structure of the deal. No details of the deal are known, but it sounds like Fisher got most of what he wanted. He'll essentially be able to pick who's in his front office, but he doesn't get full GM duties and final say.
So who wins and who loses when one of the most coveted head coaches in the NFL signs with a team.
The St. Louis Rams
The Rams get a very respected head coach who is not only good with the X's and O's, but he's a guy who brings stability to the team. He coached the Tennessee Titans for 16 years. And the only reason he had a falling out with Titans management is because their owner Bud Adams is a little bit looney. Fisher was never a guy who dabbled in TV, so you don't have to worry about him focusing on anything except football. This is a great score for the Rams. He also had the 5th best winning percentage during his time in TN, so that's not too shabby, either.
You want to run the ball? Then Fisher is your man. Sure, some of his stats are slightly skewed with the stellar Chris Johnson, but according to Matthew Berry, but during Fisher's last three years in Tennessee, the Titans had the 2nd most rush touchdowns, the 4th most rushing yards and the 8th most rushing attempts. Steven Jackson still has one or two good years left and Fisher knows how to use his running backs appropriately.
Aside from Magnum P.I., can anyone rock a moustache like Jeff Fisher? Didn't think so. Look for mustaches in the St. Louis stands to have a great year in 2012.
Aside from all the reasons mentioned in the St. Louis Rams section on how great Fisher is, it looks like this was the Dolphins last chance to get a big-named head coach. By all accounts John Gruden and ex-Steelers head coach Bill Cowher are staying where they are, which means the Dolphins fans will not get a celebrity coach who will help breath some life into the South Florida football team.
Sam's not necessarily a loser in this, but he should be a little concerned. Fisher struggled to deal with his quarterbacking situation in Tennessee, and his fight with owner Bud Adams over Vince Young (Fisher was against Young, Adams was for) was his ultimate undoing with the Titans. But Fisher will be scrutinized very quickly with his news team, and he knows that with an older running back, the Rams will go as Sam Bradford goes. That added pressure may shorten the leash on Bradford.
Wait, you're probably wondering how one player can be both a winner and a loser in the same article. Well, with the St. Louis Rams very high draft pick and Trent Richardson dangling there for Fisher, a run-first coach, he may be too good for Jeff to pass up. If the Rams do everything they can to get Bradford help and go for someone like Justin Blackmon, then Jackson will be a winner. If Fisher thinks Steven's best days are behind him, he may take Richardson, spelling doom for his time under the arches.
The New York Giants already have a formula for how to beat the Green Bay Packers. Other than the Kansas City Chiefs, who actually beat them, nobody came closer to doing it than the Giants did on Dec. 4.
That game was the perfect example for them of both what to do and what not to do against the defending Super Bowl champions as they head into their much-anticipated rematch in the divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon. The Giants’ offense exposed the Packers’ defense. Meanwhile the Giants’ defense learned a tough lesson about how good Aaron Rodgers really is.
Still, the Giants pushed the Packers right to the end, losing 38-35 on Mason Crosby’s 30-yard field goal as time expired.
It left the Giants feeling like the Packers got lucky, because the Giants didn’t give them their best shot.
“We didn’t play our best game,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. “I think that’s encouraging to know that we hung in with the best team in the country and didn’t come close to playing our best game. Our motto is to just go out there and play our best game and see what happens.”
It will help the Giants that they’ll have defensive end Osi Umenyiora and receiver Mario Manningham, both of whom didn’t play the first time around. Linebacker Michael Boley and Tuck will also both be seemingly at full strength, too.
So the pieces are in place for a Giants upset. Here are five things they have to do, lessons they need to learn, knock off a Packers team that has won 21 of its last 22:
1. Hammer Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers is very likely the MVP of the NFL and since late last season – starting with a 45-17 hammering of the Giants the day after Christmas, 2010 – he’s played quarterback better than almost anyone in football. He also has a deep array of receivers and can throw to as many as a dozen people in any single game.
Against the Giants he threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns. The biggest reason is because the Giants’ defense gave him plenty of time to pick them apart.
“You can’t let (Rodgers) get a breath of air,” said Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson. “You’ve just got to stay on him and keep that pressure, because as soon as you give him that ability to come up from under and catch his breath he bangs you for a 45 yard gain.”
2. Hit the Packers' receivers
Just as important as the fact that the Giants gave Rodgers time is the fact that they gave his receivers’ room. In that game, the Giants spent way too much time in a soft zone and they gave the Packers’ receivers and tight ends a cushion at the line of scrimmage.
They took advantage of that, and they will if they’re given the cushion again.
“Basically you get your hands on the receivers, disrupt those routes, disrupt the timing of the rhythm of their offense, get to the quarterback, rattle him a little bit, and get him thinking about where the next sack might come from,” said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. “It changes the dynamic of the game.”
3. Think deep thoughts
The third play of that first game for the Giants was a 67-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to tight end Travis Beckum. They knew going in they could take advantage of a porous Packers secondary. This game should be no different considering the Green Bay defense ranks 32nd overall, 32nd against the pass and has given up 71 pass plays of 20 yards or more.
The Giants are a big-play passing team and they seem to think that’s a matchup they can exploit.
“In the secondary they like to gamble a lot,” said Giants receiver Victor Cruz. “They like to take a lot of chances or risks, which means they either win or lose big, which explains why they lead the league in interceptions and lead the league in giving up the big play. We’ve seen that on film and we’ve seen the different areas we can take advantage of.
“And if it doesn’t work the first time, but we see the opening we’re going to call that play to take advantage of it. Whether it worked the first time, we’re going to come right back to it.”
4. Keep a tight grip on the tight end
Jermichael Finley had six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Giants the last time, and he could’ve had a few more. He also drew a key, late illegal contact penalty on Giants linebacker Jaquian Williams who was trying to defend him. The Giants have a history of struggling against tight ends, though in their last three games they’ve shut down the Jets’ Dustin Keller, the Cowboys’ Jason Witten and the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez.
The difference? Boley is back, and not only can he cover tight ends but he makes this defense whole.
“We can do what we do,” said safety Deon Grant. “(In the first game), guys were just out there guessing, switching around. Some guys were getting more playing time than they expected. With Boley, we’re able to play man to man with the tight ends.”
5. Don’t do anything stupid
The flip side to the Packers’ porous secondary? Green Bay led the NFL with 31 interceptions. It’s a high-risk, high-reward team, but considering how good their offense is the rewards are extremely high. The Packers average more than 40 points per game at home and have averaged 35 points per game over their entire season.
The worst thing the Giants can do is shoot themselves in the foot with bad penalties, or give the Packers a gift with a turnover in a key spot. Because no team in the NFL is better equipped than the Packers to make a mistake-prone opponent pay.
By RALPH VACCHIANO