Thursday, January 17, 2008

NFL Preview - San Diego (13-5) at New England (17-0)

The San Diego Chargers stand between the New England Patriots and yet another piece of history, as Norv Turner's squad takes the field at Gillette Stadium for Sunday's AFC Championship.

The Chargers, whose 28-24 road upset of Indianapolis last week put the franchise in the conference title game for the initial time since 1994, will be trying to prevent New England from becoming the first team in NFL history to win its first 18 games of a season.

With last Saturday's 31-20 take-down of pesky Jacksonville, the Patriots matched the 17-0 season-ending mark of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, also advancing to the AFC Championship for the fifth time in the last seven seasons.

New England, which is 5-1 all-time in AFC title games, is trying to become the first team to reach the Super Bowl four times in the same decade since Buffalo made four consecutive trips to the game's ultimate stage from 1990 through 1993.

The Patriots were 38-34 losers at Indianapolis in last year's AFC Championship.

The only teams to capture four Super Bowl titles in the same decade are the San Francisco 49ers (1981, 1984, 1988, 1989) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979), and the Patriots would also have a chance to join that exclusive group if it wins its next two contests.

The visiting Chargers can't reach any milestones of such significance on Sunday, but they can earn just their second Super Bowl berth in franchise history.

San Diego's back-to-back postseason wins over the Titans (17-6) and Colts rank as the organization's first playoff victories since the team reached its only Super Bowl following the 1994 season, losing to the 49ers.

Though the Bolts' current win streak pales in comparison to that of the Patriots, San Diego has won eight consecutive games since opening the year at a disappointing 5-5, and has prevailed in four straight road contests.


The Patriots and Chargers have met twice in the postseason, including last year's 24-21 upset of top-seeded San Diego by the Patriots at Qualcomm Stadium. The only other playoff meeting between the clubs occurred in 1963, when San Diego scored a 51-10 blowout of the then-Boston Patriots in the AFL Championship.

New England has a 18-13-2 lead in its all-time regular season series against San Diego, including its 38-14 Sunday night shellacking of the Bolts at Gillette Stadium in Week 2. The Chargers handed the Patriots a lopsided 41-17 defeat in New England in the previous matchup, during Week 4 of the 2005 campaign. That game ranks as the Pats' most lopsided home loss of the Bill Belichick era.

Belichick is 4-4 in his career against San Diego, including a 1-2 record while with the Browns from 1991 through 1995. The Chargers' Turner is 1-2 in his career against New England, including a road win for his Washington team in 1996 and a loss for his Raiders to open the 2005 campaign. Turner is 0-2 head- to-head against Belichick all-time.


There is major concern for San Diego at the quarterback position heading into Sunday's game, as Philip Rivers (556 passing yards, 4 TD, 2 INT in '07 playoffs) is regarded as questionable for the team's most important contest in 13 years due to two ailing knees. The former No. 4 overall pick had been dealing with pain in his left knee for much of the regular season's final month, and sustained a sprained right knee while following through on a throw late in last week's win over the Colts. If Rivers can't go, the team will turn to career backup Billy Volek, who was 3-of-4 for 48 yards and rushed for a touchdown to finish off San Diego's win last week. Also, for the second straight week, tight end Antonio Gates (4 receptions) is a question mark due to a dislocated toe suffered against Tennessee. Gates had just two catches for 28 yards in limited action against Indy, and No. 2 tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (3 receptions) saw a wealth of time in his place. Wideouts Vincent Jackson (12 receptions, 2 TD) and Chris Chambers (9 receptions, 1 TD) have both been excellent in these playoffs, ranking 1-2 in the league in receiving yards (207 and 188, respectively) during the 2007 postseason. Chambers was still with the Dolphins when the Chargers and Pats met in Week 2.

With the passing game in a battered state, the Chargers will have to rely on a ground attack that is only in slightly better condition than its aerial complement. Two-time defending NFL rushing champion LaDainian Tomlinson (70 rushing yards, 1 TD, 4 receptions) missed the entire second half of the Indianapolis win with a hyperextended left knee, and though he is expected to play on Sunday, it is unclear how much the injury will hamper his productivity. Luckily, San Diego has two excellent reserves in Michael Turner (99 rushing yards) and Darren Sproles, both of whom made an impact against the Colts. Turner carried 17 times for a game-high 71 yards in the win, and Sproles added value by taking a screen pass 56 yards for a key third-quarter touchdown. Tomlinson was held to 43 yards on 18 carries against the Patriots in Week 2, but went for 123 with two touchdowns on 23 totes in last year's AFC Divisional Playoff.

The Patriots experienced some trouble stopping the run during the regular season, ranking near the bottom of the league with 4.4 yards per carry surrendered, but did a good job against a dangerous Jacksonville running game last Saturday. Jaguars running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew combined for just 66 yards on 19 combined carries (3.5 yards per carry), and neither seemed able to get in a rhythm. The three-man front of Vince Wilfork at nose tackle and Richard Seymour and Ty Warren on the ends was productive, with Wilfork and Warren notching five tackles each and Seymour chipping in with four. Veteran inside linebacker and ex-Charger Junior Seau posted a team- high 10 tackles, and leading Patriots regular season tackler Tedy Bruschi had seven.

New England did not have a perfect night against Jacksonville's passing game last week, as the Jags' David Garrard was able to throw for 278 yards with a pair of touchdowns, to wideouts Matt Jones and Ernest Wilford. Still, the Patriots secondary helped the cause with several important plays, including a game-sealing interception from veteran safety and ex-Charger Rodney Harrison in the closing moments. This week, cornerbacks Asante Samuel (4 tackles) and Randall Gay (7 tackles) will have to deal with the duo of Jackson and Chambers, with Harrison and fellow safety James Sanders (8 tackles) lending support over the top. The Pats ranked second in the league in sacks (47) during the regular season, with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Mike Vrabel (12.5 sacks) leading the way, but the team managed just one sack of David Garrard last Saturday. Vrabel's biggest play was a recovery of a Garrard fumble.


As if we needed more evidence that Tom Brady is having an unprecedented and stunning 2007 season, the Pro Bowler gave us last week's performance against Jacksonville. Brady completed 26-of-28 passes, the most accurate aerial day in league history, regular season or playoffs (minimum 20 attempts), for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the scores went to tight end Benjamin Watson, and the third to ex-Charger Wes Welker, who posted nine catches for 54 yards. Also making an impact was Donte' Stallworth, who continued his solid postseason reputation with three catches for a team-best 68 yards. Randy Moss, who was double-covered for much of the night, finished the Jacksonville game with just one reception for 14 yards. Brady was outstanding against the Chargers in Week 2, completing 25-of-31 passes for 279 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Moss (8 receptions, 105 yards, 2 TD) and Welker (8 receptions, 91 yards) proved difficult for the San Diego secondary to defend.

New England running back Laurence Maroney came on strong late in the 2007 regular season, and continued that ascendancy in last week's playoff opener. Maroney, who carried 22 times for 122 yards and a touchdown versus the Jags, now has 428 yards with five scores in his last four outings. Third-down back Kevin Faulk was also active in the Jacksonville win, logging nine total touches totaling 45 yards. Maroney had just five yards on five carries against San Diego in last year's AFC Divisional Playoff, but picked up 77 yards on 15 totes versus the Bolts in Week 2.

Though Brady and the New England passing game experienced success against San Diego earlier this year, the secondary the Pats will be opposing is in a much different state than it was in mid-September. The Patriots' Week 2 win took place prior to the emergence of cornerback Antonio Cromartie (7 tackles, 1 INT in playoffs), who is headed to his first career Pro Bowl after setting a team single-season record for interceptions, and rookie safety Eric Weddle (5 tackles, 1 INT), who has been a force since taking significant time away from Clinton Hart (10 tackles) during the second half of the year. Cromartie and Weddle both had interceptions of Peyton Manning last week, and Cromartie added a key forced fumble of Colts wideout Marvin Harrison late in the first half. The Chargers pass rush, led by outside linebackers Shawne Merriman (9 tackles, 1 sack) and Shaun Phillips (14 tackles), did not manage a sack of Manning last Sunday.

San Diego was hot-and-cold against the run during the regular season, but never allowed the Colts rushing attack to get untracked last week. Indy rushers Joseph Addai and Kenton Keith combined for just 50 yards on 17 carries (2.9 yards per rush) on the day, though the duo did amass 90 yards on 11 combined catches through the air. Somewhat troubling for the Chargers run- stopping crew coming into Sunday's contest is the health status of Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams (3 tackles), who had double knee surgery at mid- season and struggled with an ankle problem in last week's win. Another starter along the three-man front, end Luis Castillo (11 tackles, 1 sack), is suffering from bruised ribs. Those ailments will put additional pressure on inside linebacker Stephen Cooper (24 tackles) to make plays. Cooper, a Massachusetts native, logged 16 tackles against Indianapolis last Sunday.


The Chargers have to be praying that this game doesn't come down to a field goal try, as kicker Nate Kaeding (1-3 FG) has now missed field goals in each of his four postseason appearances to date. Last week, Kaeding hit the right upright on a 48-yard attempt that would have tied the game at 10-10 in the second quarter. The Iowa product, who was 24-of-27 during the regular season, missed a 54-yard kick that would have tied the contests in the waning moments of last year's AFC Divisional Playoff against the Patriots. The Chargers have nothing to worry about in the punting game, as Mike Scifres' excellence has carried over from the regular season (46.1 avg.) to the postseason (48.6 avg.).

Sproles made history against the Colts in Week 10, becoming just the second player in NFL history to return both a punt and kickoff for touchdowns in the same quarter, and his best return in Indy last week was a 30-yard kickoff return.

Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was one of the heroes of last year's Divisional Playoff upset of the Chargers, drilling all three of his field goal attempts including a 50-yarder in the first quarter and a 31-yard game winner with 1:10 to play. Last week, Gostkowski (21-24 during the regular season) was 1-of-2 on field goals, missing a 35-yarder near halftime but making good on one from the same distance in the fourth quarter that pushed New England's advantage to two scores. Chris Hanson had just one punt (a 30-yarder in the fourth quarter) last week after being the least utilized punter in the league (44 punts, 41.4 avg.) during the regular season.

Welker (10.0 regular season avg.) returned Jacksonville's only punt last week for 14 yards, and New England used backup wideout Chad Jackson (4 returns, 78 yards) and reserve d-back Willie Andrews (1 return, 13 yards) on kickoffs.


You have to respect a team that has won eight consecutive games, especially when that team goes on the road and knocks out the reigning Super Bowl champ in a postseason atmosphere. Unfortunately, San Diego's collective health took a major hit in the Indianapolis win, and it's difficult to envision such a battered club pulling off a second straight monumental road upset when it is at far less than 100 percent. The Patriots knew how to exploit the Chargers' deficiencies in Week 2, and they know how to exploit them now. Look for New England, which boasts superior talent, to jump out to an early lead and hold San Diego at arm's length thereafter. The Chargers might be the second-best team in the NFL at this moment. Unfortunately, they happen to be playing the best.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

As seen on the Post Gazette:

Super Bowl chat transcript: 1/31/06
Tuesday, January 31, 2006Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
(Note: Even though Jerry Micco's name was used in the chat room for this discussion, the speaker was PG sports writer Paul Zeise. That change has been made in the transcript.)
steelersXLchamps05: Do you see these 2 teams as great match ups or are the STEELERS too much for the Hawks?
Paul Zeise: No, this should be a great game. The Steelers are probably better but the Seahawks have a couple of things going for them and do some things that could the Steelers problems. The biggest is the speed of their defense. They are a much faster team than I think a lot of people understand. Their linebackers get from sideline to sideline as quick as any in the NFL. I also think because of the presence of Shaun Alexander, who is one of the top running backs in the league, allows Matt Hasselbeck to be as effective as a passer as there is in the league. I think the Steelers will win, but I don't anticipate a blowout.
senioraflac01: Any big surprises from media day thus far??
Paul Zeise: Surprises? Yes, Gilbert Gottfried is every bit as goofy as he comes off in the movies and during his comedy routine. I thought for sure nobody could be that ridiculous in real life, but watching him work the room and promote his DVD, there is no question he isn't acting in the movies. As for football-related surprises? I thought it was interesting that Tommy Maddox had more people surrounding him to interview him than many players who will actually have an impact on the game. I also am surprised at the number of current and former players who are working for media outlets.
steeler34: If you could pick one thing that would derail The Steelers, what would it be?
Paul Zeise: They forget who what got them this far and go back to that tight, afraid-to-lose team that has blown in up in those AFC championship game losses. This team has won because it has played loose and with nothing to lose. They've had fun, they've had a great run but now that they are the favored and are expected to win, will they change? I think that's the only thing that could stop them. They need to remember to play to win the game -- not to steal a line from Herm Edwards -- as opposed to playing not to lose.
Miney: How are all the Steelers players handling all the media attention? Do you think the attention, plus being favored, will affect the motivations that have gotten them to this point?
Paul Zeise: I thought the Steelers did extremely well today. People need to understand how ridiculously overblown this event -- media day, which was today -- is. I previously mentioned that guys like Gilbert Gottfried was running around. Tom Arnold was asking insane questions. There were members of international media, many who didn't speak the best English trying to ask questions in a horde. Players are getting asked questions about all sorts of things that have nothing to do with football. Just people by the boatload firing questions from every direction. But from what I saw, they all handled it in stride and all enjoyed themselves. That tells me this team is loose and seems ready to play. That could change by Sunday, but as of now, this teams seems to be enjoying it all. I think one thing in the Steelers favor is this -- there are a lot of guys on this team who had gotten close and not made it a few times and so they appreciate and value their accomplishment of actually getting to the Super Bowl.
Pickman: Well we have heard Jerrry's pick.....let's hear your pick and who will be the MVP?
Paul Zeise: My pick? I think the Steelers will win something like 38-28. I just think there will be a lot of points in this game. Maybe I'm sappy, but I think Jerome Bettis will complete the story book season, score three touchdowns and win the MVP in his hometown in his last game.
Pickman: I think that if the Steelers have an X factor this game it could be Heath Miller....with this pick you may assume I mean the passing game, but I feel he will be instrumental in picking up Seattle's you agree or see another X factor?
Paul Zeise: I think he'll be instrumental in both areas -- catching and blocking. Seattle gets pressure on the quarterback without blitzing so he'll be called on to do a lot of pass blocking and also releasing as a safety valve for Ben. Blocking is no doubt the area that Miller has made the most progress in and he'll be put to the test often Sunday.
MTW_shadyside: Why is this game getting beat up so much by the national media? I don't think it's any worse than the Pats-Panthers game 2 years ago.
Paul Zeise: A lot of people thought this would be a coronation of Peyton Manning, but he and his "idiot kicker" choked (again) and some people are having a hard time dealing with it. Frankly, I've never understood why fans, care about what national media have to say about their favorite teams. To most of the national media, if it doesn't involve the Yankees, the Cowboys, Notre Dame or the Lakers it can't be good, which is nonsense. There are only two cities who are going to really enjoy any championship game anyway and you live in one of them. So just enjoy it and forget about ESPN.
steelersXLchamps05: Do you think Seattle will be able to handle the 3-4 defense? Didn't have much luck against Dallas>
Paul Zeise: That is true, the game the Seahawks offense struggled the most in was against that scheme. That being said, I can't imagine with this much time to prepare the Seahawks offensive staff won't be able to come up with something different. That's the thing about having two weeks to prepare, there will be few surprises and the extra time usually favors the underdog.
NYCSteelerDiva: I really want to see a razzle-dazzle play. Do you think Cowher is planning some trickery? (Hoping)
Paul Zeise: Well, nothing we've seen from Cowher this far would indicate that he doesn't have at least one or two trick plays up his sleeve. I mean, how many teams can line up with four quarterbacks on the field like the Steelers (Roethlisberger, Ward, Randle El, Wilson)? That gives you a lot of options and a lot of flexibility. The key is timing -- calling those plays at the precise moment so they work.
MTW_shadyside: Do you expect Staley to be back next year? IF he comes back healthy, the running game could be better than it was this year.
Paul Zeise: No, I don't. He has been a good loyal soldier but it is clear they are going to go in a different direction. He just has not, in the past few years, proven he's durable enough to play in a system like the Steelers and Parker is clearly the man of the future (at least for next year!)
MTW_shadyside: I read that the Bears are going to make a run at bringing Randle El to Chicago. Do you think the Steelers will let him leave?
Paul Zeise: Yes, I don't know where he'll end up, but I do think Sunday will be his last game in a Steelers uniform. They have some younger receivers they are going to take a look at and given the kind of money he might command, there are a lot of other players with similar skills who will come at a much cheaper price.
MTW_shadyside: Will Maddox dress this game or will the spot go to an extra linebacker with Harrison just coming back?
Paul Zeise: Yes, Maddox will dress and will be the emergency quarterback. Batch will be the backup -- and wouldn't that be another fairy tale come true -- former Lions quarterback Charlie Batch leading his hometown Steelers to a championship in his former city.
NYCSteelerDiva: What's with this Post Gazette poll about the color pants the Steelers should wear?? It has to be the gold! Speaking as a woman, guys, those gold pants are HOT.
Paul Zeise: Well I will take your word for it. My daughter always refers to football pants as capri pants, which I think is rather funny.
Paul Zeise: OK guys, thanks for all the great questions and we will chat again tomorrow.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Seattle roars into 1st Super Bowl

As the lead quickly grew so did the noise, deafening enough to carry from here to Detroit, where the Seattle Seahawks' name can now be painted upon Ford Field.

Any Super Bowl is sweet for a city, but perhaps never more than the first one.
"It feels good," defensive end Grant Wistrom said, "to bring them something they've always wanted."
Seattle (15-3) joined the Super Bowl club Sunday, with a roar and a romp in its 34-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers (13-6).
Thirty years, they had waited here. Through thick and thin, fog and rain. Through Jim Zorn and Steve Largent and all the others who never quite made it. The stars were finally aligned Sunday.
"They were," team owner Paul Allen said of an enthralled home crowd, "out of their minds out there tonight."
"A great atmosphere," Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "If you were on the other side."
Aligned, too, were the Seahawks. Shaun Alexander, with his 132 yards rushing and two TDs just a week after a concussion.
"If you don't think big and dream big," he said, "you can't get there."
And Matt Hasselbeck, with his two TD passes and precise 20-for-28 completion percentage.
"I'm kind of at a loss for words right now," he said.
And, most of all, the Seattle defense. Its handiwork was extraordinary. Carolina had 36 yards rushing, and did not score an offensive touchdown until 5:09 was left. In the Panthers' first nine possessions, stretching late into the third period, they had three first downs.
The Seahawks applied constant heat on Delhomme and intercepted him three times. They held Steve Smith to five catches and 33 harmless yards -- and three receptions came late.
"They played the perfect game," Carolina cornerback Ken Lucas said. "We got embarrassed tonight."
Smith had been the terror of the postseason with 22 catches in two games, but was shackled by an array of coverages and double teams, and the fact the Carolina ground game could not help take some of the burden.
Smith's one moment of daylight came on a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first half -- Carolina's only points until the last meaningless minutes.
Nick Goings had his bell rung on a tackle late in the first period. He had started for the injured DeShaun Foster at running back. But Goings was gone for good, having gained 2 yards.
That left Jamal Robertson, who had 14 carries in the regular season.
"When it rains it pours," Smith said of the first quarter. "That about sums it up."
Sea--Stevens 17 pass from Hasselbeck (Brown kick), 5:31.
Sea--FG Brown 24, 2:23.
Sea--Alexander 1 run (Brown kick), 14:53.
Car--S.Smith 59 punt return (Kasay kick), 9:05.
Sea--FG Brown 39, 4:03.
Sea--D.Jackson 20 pass from Hasselbeck (Brown kick), 11:09.
Sea--Alexander 1 run (Brown kick), 6:00.
Car--Carter 47 pass from Delhomme (Kasay kick), 5:09.
A -- 67,837.
First downs
Total Net Yards
Punt Returns
Kickoff Returns
Interceptions Ret.
Sacked-Yards Lost
Time of Possession
Rushing -- Carolina, Robertson 4-19, Delhomme 3-15, Goings 5-2. Seattle, Alexander 34-132, Hasselbeck 6-27, Morris 7-24, Strong 4-7.
Passing -- Carolina, Delhomme 15-35-3-196. Seattle, Hasselbeck 20-28-0-219.
Receiving -- Carolina, Robertson 5-37, S.Smith 5-33, Carter 2-88, Proehl 1-19, Mangum 1-10, Hoover 1-9. Seattle, D.Jackson 6-75, Stevens 6-66, Engram 3-34, S.Wallace 1-28, Hannam 1-7, Jurevicius 1-6, Strong 1-3, Alexander 1-0.
Missed field goal -- Seattle, Brown 49 (SH).

Super Bowl gets two deserving teams

Burning questions Sunday on the NFL playoffs:
Q . Will Detroit have the two best teams in Super Bowl XL at Ford Field?
A . There is no doubt that Seattle is the best team in the NFC, and there is no doubt that Pittsburgh is the most deserving team in the AFC. Whether that makes the Steelers the best in the AFC doesn't matter. I'd take their players in a big game over any other team in the AFC.
Q . What did Seattle do to dominate the Panthers?
A . First, the roster they had at Qwest Field on Sunday was better than Carolina's. The Panthers had injuries at running back, and they got worse when Nick Goings went out because of an injury in the first quarter. Goings is their third-string tailback and had to start because of injuries to Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster.
But that's not what won the game for Seattle. It's the way Seattle played -- not who didn't play for Carolina.
Q . Who was under the most pressure for Seattle?
A . Three people. One was Mike Holmgren, the coach. He won one Super Bowl as head coach in Green Bay. This is his seventh season in Seattle, and the Seahawks hadn't won a playoff game since 1984. He got that monkey off the franchise's back when Seattle beat Washington in the divisional round the previous week.
But the NFC Championship game was a lot bigger. He had to prepare a young team that was experiencing something new. They hadn't been this far. He had his offense and defense tuned perfectly to handle anything the Panthers threw at them.
Q . What about Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck? He stepped up in the clutch and didn't make any big mistakes. Did this game validate him as a Pro Bowl starter?
A . Yes. Winning counts more than anything, and Hasselbeck has been outstanding in two playoff games.
Q . Shaun Alexander set a franchise record for the playoffs with 132 yards rushing. Was the heat on him, too?
A . Yes, again. He hadn't had a big game in the playoffs before. Against Washington, he went out early because of a concussion. He carried the load against Carolina -- 34 carries, inside, outside, wherever they needed him. He produced.
Q . In the AFC, the Steelers did what Carolina could not do -- win three road games to get to the playoffs. What is the secret?
A . There is no secret. It's performance. In two years, Ben Roethlisberger has become a dominating big-game quarterback. The Steelers are relentless in every area. Their coach, Bill Cowher, settles for nothing but the best and it shows in how his team plays.
Q . What about the Broncos? Where did they fail?
A . Everyone waited for Jake Plummer to fall apart, and he did. But that doesn't excuse the defensive breakdowns. Cowher and his staff out-coached Mike Shanahan and his staff.
Q . What does it mean for Jerome Bettis to play in his first Super Bowl in his hometown?
A . It's hard to tell who's happier -- Bettis or the people who rooted for him to get there. Playing for a championship doesn't leave room for sentiment.
Q . Pick a winner in Super Bowl XL.
A . On the field, Pittsburgh 27, Seattle 23. Overall, I like Detroit as the big winner.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Win Over Saints is Within Bucs' Control

Hopefully, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a math wizard working somewhere in their front office. Trying to figure out all of the Bucs' various playoff scenarios requires such a genius, as Jon Gruden's club could be anything from the NFC's No. 3 seed in the playoffs to out of the postseason mix altogether by the time Sunday draws to a close.
Instead of trying to figure out all of the vagaries of the playoff picture, the Buccaneers will enter into their regular season finale against the Saints on Sunday simply trying to control what they can, which is beating New Orleans and winning the NFC South title.
The Bucs regained control of their own destiny last week, with their 27-24 overtime win over the Falcons coupled with a Carolina loss to Dallas giving Tampa Bay the upper hand in the NFC South race. Either a Bucs win or a Panthers loss this week will give Gruden's crew their first division title and playoff berth since 2002, when the franchise went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Saints will head to Tampa Bay seeking to end what has been a difficult season on a positive note. New Orleans is just one game back of Houston for the worst record in the NFL, and a Saints loss coupled with a Texans win at San Francisco on Sunday would give the franchise a strong shot at the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
New Orleans, which was a 13-12 loser to Detroit last Saturday, has lost four straight and 10 of its last 11 contests.
New Orleans has a 17-10 lead in its all-time series with Tampa Bay, but was a 10-3 loser when the teams last faced off, in Baton Rouge, in Week 13. The clubs split a home-and-home last season, with Tampa Bay coming up 20-17 road winners in Week 5 and the Saints returning the favor by winning at Raymond James Stadium, 21-17, in Week 15. The road team has now won the last five games in the series. The Buccaneers' last home win in the series took place in 2001, and the Saints are 3-0 in Tampa since.
Gruden has a 4-4 career record against the Saints, including 3-4 since taking over in Tampa prior to the 2002 season. New Orleans' Jim Haslett is 4-4 against the Bucs as a head coach, and is also 4-4 head-to-head against Gruden.
Saints quarterback Todd Bouman (457 passing yards, 1 TD, 5 INT), who has started the last two games in place of the benched Aaron Brooks, has not made anyone forget Archie Manning, Bobby Hebert, or even Brooks himself. Bouman is 0-2 in his two starts, has engineered just one touchdown drive in eight quarters of play, and brings a woeful 46.1 passer rating with him into Week 17. The veteran backup was 21-of-38 for 233 yards without a touchdown or an interception in last week's loss to the Lions. Bouman's favorite targets were tight end Zach Hilton (30 receptions, 1 TD) and wideout Joe Horn (48 receptions, 1 TD), with Hilton catching seven passes for 83 yards and Horn chipping in with six grabs for 70 yards but failing to score his first touchdown since Week 2. Wide receiver Donte' Stallworth (64 receptions, 7 TD), who leads the Saints in all receiving categories, was limited to two catches for 47 yards against Detroit. The New Orleans line allowed Bouman to be sacked just once last week, but has surrendered 37 sacks on the year to date. The Saints are 16th in the league in passing offense (207.2 yards per game).
Bouman will be working against the same Buccaneers secondary that picked Brooks off four times back in Week 13, with three of the interceptions going to Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde' Barber (88 tackles, 5 INT, 2 sacks). Barber had a game-high 13 tackles against Atlanta last week. Elsewhere in the secondary, safety Dexter Jackson (40 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), who also had a pick in the last Saints game, posted his first sack of the season last Sunday. The Tampa Bay pass rush generated a total of four sacks in the contest, including two by end Simeon Rice (38 tackles, 12 sacks). Rice is just a half-a-sack back of the Giants' Osi Umenyiora for the NFC lead in sacks as Week 17 begins. The Bucs are fourth in the league in passing defense (179.6 yards per game).
Though the Saints had done a decent job running the football since starter Deuce McAllister went down with a knee injury early in the season, an acute lack of ground production took some of the blame for last week's loss to the Lions. Three New Orleans running backs combined for just 38 yards on 21 carries, including 33 yards on 13 totes for starter Antowain Smith (604 rushing yards, 3 TD). Backup Aaron Stecker (353 rushing yards, 31 receptions) added just five yards on seven carries, but did catch a couple of passes totaling 13 yards out of the backfield. Smith and Stecker combined for 54 yards on the ground and 56 through the air in their last meeting with the Bucs. The Saints are currently 17th in NFL rushing offense (107.8 yards per game).
The Buccaneers come into Sunday's game ranked seventh in the league in rushing defense (96.3 yards per game), but last week allowed Atlanta's vaunted ground game to pile up 154 yards in a losing effort. Tampa Bay should be able to bounce back against New Orleans and its more conventional style, with linebackers Shelton Quarles (119 tackles, 1 sack), Derrick Brooks (110 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT), and Ryan Nece (71 tackles, 2 sacks) looking to slow Smith and Stecker. Quarles ranked among team leaders with seven tackles versus Atlanta last week, and Brooks posted eight stops to go along with his third sack of the year. Making an impact in the trenches were tackles Chris Hovan (44 tackles) and Dewayne White (30 tackles, 2 sacks), who combined for nine tackles and teamed up to force and recover a Michael Vick fumble. White also made the biggest play of the game on special teams, blocking Todd Peterson's 28-yard field goal try during the overtime session.
Seeking to add to his case for NFL Rookie of the Year honors this week will be Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams (1097 rushing yards, 6 TD, 20 receptions), who last Sunday became the first Buccaneer since Warrick Dunn in 2000 to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. Williams carried 31 times for 150 yards and a touchdown in the triumph over Atlanta, his most productive outing since Week 3. Michael Pittman (372 rushing yards, 33 receptions, 2 TD) spelled Williams with four carries for 17 yards, also catching four passes for 17 yards out of the backfield. Fullback Mike Alstott (78 rushing yards, 24 receptions, 7 TD) had three receptions for 32 yards in the win, scoring his seventh touchdown of the year on a 13-yard catch in the second quarter. The Buccaneers rank 16th in NFL rushing offense (111.8 yards per game).
The Saints have struggled to stop the run for much of the 2005 season, ranking 27th in NFL rushing defense (133.1 yards per game) heading into the final week. New Orleans allowed 136 combined ground yards to Williams and Pittman back in Week 13. Last Saturday, the Saints actually did a credible job against the Lions' rushing attack, holding Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson to a combined 71 yards on 24 carries for the day. Linebackers Colby Bockwoldt (87 tackles), Ronald McKinnon (74 tackles), and Terrence Melton (26 tackles) were at the heart of the effort, with Bockwoldt posting a game-high nine tackles and McKinnon and Melton chipping in with six stops each. The Saints will this week need more productivity from interior linemen and primary run-stoppers Brian Young (49 tackles) and Willie Whitehead (32 tackles, 0.5 sacks), who combined for only three tackles against Detroit.
Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms (1892 passing yards, 8 TD, 7 INT) is fresh off the most prolific outing of his young career, as the third-year pro completed 29-of-42 passes for 285 yards with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions in the overtime win over the Falcons. Simms hooked up often with No. 1 wideout Joey Galloway (79 receptions, 8 TD), who had eight catches for 97 yards, and tight end Alex Smith (40 receptions, 2 TD) was also active to the tune of eight receptions for 75 yards. No. 2 receiver Michael Clayton (32 receptions) will miss Sunday's game with turf toe, meaning veteran Ike Hilliard (33 receptions, 1 TD) will start in his place. Hilliard had just one catch against the Falcons. Simms' touchdown passes last week went to Alstott and fellow fullback Jameel Cook, with Cook going in from nine yards out in the first quarter. The Buccaneer line has allowed 40 sacks on the season, but gave up just two in close to five quarters versus Atlanta. The Bucs are now 25th in the league in passing offense (183.6 yards per game).
New Orleans comes into Sunday's game ranked fifth in the league in passing defense (180.9 yards per game), but could be without up to two of its top defensive playmakers when it takes the field in Tampa. Defensive end Darren Howard (33 tackles, 3.5 sacks) is already down for the year with a knee injury, and top cornerback Mike McKenzie (46 tackles, 1 INT) is questionable with a groin injury. Ends Will Smith (58 tackles, 8.5 sacks) and Tony Bryant (23 tackles, 4 INT) will anchor the pass rush this week, with Fred Thomas (75 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) and Jason Craft (35 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack) likely to occupy the corner slots. Smith had the Saints' only sack of Detroit's Joey Harrington last week, and Thomas had the club's lone interception. Elsewhere in the secondary, safety Dwight Smith (65 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) contributed four tackles to the proceedings.
The Buccaneers won the Week 13 meeting with the Saints by forcing interceptions from New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks, and there is little reason to believe that Bouman will fare much better while working against the rock-solid Tampa Bay defense. Look for the Buccaneers to cause some Saints miscues, cash in on enough short fields to jump ahead by a wide margin early, and to cruise into the playoffs with a decisive victory. Predicted Outcome: Buccaneers 26, Saints 7

Seahawks on Cruise Control Entering Green Bay

Funny how things change.
Just three or four weeks ago, the universally-perceived-as-unstoppable NFL juggernaut resided in a midwestern town known previously as the mecca of amateur sports and the beloved hometown of late-night television smart-aleck David Letterman.
Just a month later, following a pair of one-sided losses and a stunning bout of off-field tragedy, that center of gridiron power has shifted west across two time zones to find itself squarely in the home of month-long rainstorms and pretentiously-slurped exotic coffees.
The Seattle Seahawks, conquerors of the Colts last week and the winners of 12 straight games overall, ride into the final week of the regular season as the perceived superior among the two teams boasting 13 wins and the nine others with 10 or more victories.
And, perhaps more so than their Indianapolis counterparts who have a longer - albeit not necessarily trophy-crowded - playoff pedigree with the current roster, maintaining the momentum through the final week could be of major importance to a Seahawks team still looking to prove itself.
Across the field they'll face the Green Bay Packers, seeking to end the nightmare of a three-win season and suddenly in the early stages of turmoil relating to the future of quarterback Brett Favre, who made noise in a recent interview by inferring that he felt unwanted by the organization.
Working with a largely no-name complement of teammates after a torrent of injuries, Favre has thrown a career-high 28 interceptions while at times single-handedly trying to make plays that would help resurrect the season and make up for a backfield that's bereft of viable run options.
Green Bay owns a 5-4 lead in its all-time regular season series with Seattle, and was a 35-13 home winner when the teams last met, in 2003. The Seahawks last defeated the Packers in 1999, when the prevailed at Lambeau Field by a 27-7 count.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have faced off once in the playoffs, with Green Bay winning a 33-27 overtime matchup in a 2003 NFC First- Round Playoff.
Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, who served in the same capacity with the Packers from 1992 through 1998, is 1-2 against his former team, including the '03 playoff loss. The Packers' Mike Sherman, a member of Holmgren's staff from 1997 through 1999, is 2-0 against both Seattle and his former boss.
Seattle's collection of offensive weaponry may have finally caught and passed the Colts in the final third of the season and, as a unit, the team enters the Week 17 as the NFL's best with an average of 378.0 total yards per game.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is first in the NFC with both 24 touchdown passes and a 98.1 passer rating, to go along with his 3,383 yards. Three more TD throws would give him a career-high single-season total, while four more would put him at 100 for his career as a whole.
Hasselbeck has gone 177 pass attempts on the road without an interception.
Running back Shaun Alexander leads the league with 1,807 yards rushing and one more touchdown on the ground would allow him to pass Priest Holmes's 2003 standard and establish a single-season NFL record of 28.
Former Penn State wideout Bobby Engram has a team-high 64 catches for 748 yards and three touchdowns, while Joe Jurevicius has reached career highs with nine touchdown catches and 683 yards receiving.
The offensive line has permitted just 23 sacks - fourth fewest in the NFL - and the Seahawks' plus-9 turnover ratio is good for third in the NFC.
Defensively, the Packers are eighth overall in the league with an average of 296.3 total yards allowed per week. Their passing average of 168.9 yards allowed is tops in the league.
Defensive end Aaron Kampman has a career-best 6.5 sacks and could lead the team for the first time. Meanwhile, linebacker Nick Barnett has a team-record 184 tackles, which tops the previous mark of 180 set by Mike Douglass in 1981.
The trio of Ahmad Carroll, Nick Harris and Mark Roman shares the team lead with two interceptions apiece.
Favre has too often been forced into the role of all-everything for the Packers in 2005, making up for the loss of several running backs to season- ending injuries and the absence of another legitimate threat to stretch the defense along with wideout Donald Driver (80 catches, 1,103 yards).
Favre has completed 351-of-570 passes for an NFC-best 3,622 yards and 19 touchdowns, but his passer rating has slid to 70.5 with the spate of interceptions. Still, one more TD will give him at least 20 in a season for the 12th straight season and five more get him to Marino career territory at 400.
Rookie running back Noah Herron has become the flavor of the week after injuries have claimed previous incremental title-holders Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Samkon Gado, among others. Herron has particularly non- threatening season marks of 62 yards on 25 carries with a 2.5 per-carry average and one touchdown.
Also, versatile running back Tony Fisher has career highs with 42 catches and 303 receiving yards.
Driver, fully immersed in late-season numbers-compiling mode, needs 97 receiving yards to reach 1,200 for the second straight year and 106 to establish a career-best mark of 1,209. Five receptions would make him the fourth player in club history with 85 in a season.
Seattle linebacker LeRoy Hill is tied for second in the league among rookies with seven sacks, and fellow rookie Lofa Tatupu is second among rookies with three interceptions.
As a unit, the Seahawks' defense has allowed 17 touchdowns in 41 opposition red-zone opportunities - 41.5 percent - the third-best ratio in the league.
Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard leads Seattle with 8.5 sacks, while strong safety Michael Boulware has a team-best four interceptions.
Again, unlike their counterparts in Hoosier-land, the kings of the Pacific Northwest still have a task or two to accomplish before being regarded as the league's true elite. And, fortunately for them, they have an opponent in Green Bay that's more than likely to appease.
Look for Alexander to get his TD record and Hasselbeck to get a few comfortable snaps before heading for the safety of the sidelines to signal the true beginning of the playoff run. Meanwhile, the Packers will continue to flounder and be only too happy to run for the bus. Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 28, Packers 14

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Seattle's `Same Old Seahawks' Now Aim for a Super Bowl Berth

Seattle sports fans had a reason at last to give thanks this week: The city's beleaguered professional football team, the Seahawks, suddenly look like a Super Bowl contender.
The team, derided locally as the ``Same Old Seahawks,'' have been a perennial disappointment, raising and then dashing the hopes of a city that hasn't won a major professional sports championship since 1979. The 1980s heyday of wide receiver Steve Largent, quarterback Jim Zorn and running back Curt Warner is a distant memory.
This year, the Seahawks have reignited optimism and raised it to a new pitch. They've won six straight games, boosting their record to 8-2 when they beat the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 20. The team's performance is the best in its National Football League conference.
``I am actually excited about the Seahawks this year,'' says Brian Acarregui, 38. ``I loved them when I was a kid.''
The Seahawks -- led by running back Shaun Alexander, the NFL's leading rusher, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck -- are selling out tickets in their three-year-old stadium.
Victory has spurred more visits to bars and restaurants by local sports fans who have little else to cheer about lately, as Super Bowl fever heats up.
The Super Bowl, the NFL's annual championship match and American football's premier event, will be played Feb. 5 in Detroit.
It's been 26 years since Seattle won a major professional sports championship -- not counting last year's victory by the Seattle Storm in the Women's National Basketball Association.
1979 Championship
In 1979, when the SuperSonics won the men's NBA title, 50,000 people watched the game in the since-demolished Kingdome, and fans mobbed the team's victory parade route. This year, with the NBA season just under way, the SuperSonics are 5-6.
Seattle's other football team, the University of Washington Huskies, which won a Pacific-10 conference college title in 2000 and a national championship in 1991, lost Nov. 19 to archrival Washington State. That tied the two rivals for last place in the conference. The University of Washington has won just three games over two seasons.
Seattle's Major League Baseball team, the Mariners, ended the season in last place in its division. That prompted frustrated comment even from All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, a sports icon honored by the sale of ``Ichiroll'' sushi at the team's stadium concession stands.
In an interview with the Kyodo News Service published in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper this month, Suzuki said the team's attitude and commitment needed to improve.
`The Three Stooges'
For the Seahawks, being the only winning ticket in town is a shift in fortunes. As recently as 2002, the team's own coach derided his corps of receivers as ``the Three Stooges.''
``This is a team that has the capability to go all the way,'' says Largent, the former wide receiver and an NFL Hall of Famer who played for the Seahawks from 1976 to 1989. He now heads a Washington, D.C.-based trade group called the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.
East Coast teams that play the Seahawks may be in for a surprise, says Shannon Sharpe, a three-time Super Bowl champion and retired Denver Broncos tight end who now analyzes games for CBS Sports.
``They play in the Northwest, so no one knows anything about them,'' Sharpe wrote Nov. 13 on the league's Web site, ``But take my word for it, they are for real.''
The Seahawks moved into a 67,000-seat stadium, Qwest Field, that replaced the Kingdome in 2002. They have sold out the past 21 home games, says Seahawks spokesman Dave Pearson.
It was standing-room only Nov. 20 at the Fox Sports Grill in downtown Seattle, which has seen more people coming in on game days this year.
`Fair-Weather Fans'
``Compared with last year, business is definitely up,'' says Kerry White, 35, chef and proprietor. ``The fair-weather fans are cautiously optimistic, and the people who are huge fans say it's going to be them and Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.''
The Indianapolis Colts, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, are undefeated after 10 games.
The excitement can't erase memories of past letdowns.
Since Seahawks owner Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft Corp., hired coach Mike Holmgren from the Green Bay Packers in 1999, the Seahawks have made it to the playoffs three times, only to lose.
Allen bought the team in 1997 after Washington state voters approved a $300 million bond sale to help build the new stadium, with 51 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed. The previous owner, developer Ken Behring, had threatened to move the team to southern California.
Facing Giants, Colts
The Seahawks' record has been helped by weak competition in their division, says J.R. Williamson, 47, who has followed the Seahawks throughout their 30-year history.
The Seahawks are the only team in the division, the NFC West, with a winning record. Tougher tests are approaching: The Seahawks play the 7-3 New York Giants on Nov. 27 at home and Indianapolis in the last regular-season home game on Dec. 24.
``They'll get to the playoffs and then they'll lose because they have to play against real teams,'' says Williamson.

Battle of Playoff Contenders Pits Bears, Bucs

When perusing the Week 12 schedule prior to the season, this Sunday's Bears/Buccaneers matchup hardly jumped off the page. Neither team was expected to be among the NFC elite, as both Chicago and Tampa Bay were coming off losing ledgers, and neither appeared to have rebuilt themselves into anything resembling contender status.
But as Week 12 begins, both the Bears and Bucs are very much a part of the playoff picture.
Chicago will enter Raymond James Stadium riding a six-game win streak, one that was extended with a 13-3 win over the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field last week. Lovie Smith and company own a two-game advantage over second-place Minnesota in the NFC North, and on Sunday can clinch the franchise's first non-losing ledger since 2001, when the Bears went 13-3.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is fresh off back-to-back impressive victories over the Redskins (36-35) and Falcons (30-27), wins that gave Jon Gruden's team a piece of first place in the NFC South along with Carolina. The Buccaneers need two more wins to post their first winning campaign since the 2002 team went 12-4 and won the franchise's first Super Bowl title.
The Bears hold a 33-17 lead in their series with the Buccaneers, but have dropped their last two head-to-head meetings with Tampa Bay. Last season, Tampa scored a 19-7 home victory over Chicago in Week 7. The Bears' last wins in the series came in 2001, when they swept a home-and-home against their then-NFC Central rival.
Gruden is 3-0 in his career against Chicago, including a win in 1999 while with the Oakland Raiders. The Bears' Smith is 0-1 against both Gruden and the Bucs all-time.
Once again at the controls of the Chicago offense will be quarterback Kyle Orton (1389 passing yards, 8 TD, 11 INT), who has not been spectacular in his rookie season but has generally avoided the big mistake. Against Carolina last week, Orton completed 15-of-26 passes for 136 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, and managed to avoid the Panther pass rush all day. Orton's eighth touchdown pass of the year went to No. 1 wideout Muhsin Muhammad (44 receptions, 3 TD) from three yards out in the first quarter. Muhammad finished with six catches for 49 yards on the day. No. 2 receiver Justin Gage (16 receptions, 1 TD) was Chicago's leading receiver against Carolina, hauling in seven grabs for 81 yards in perhaps his best day as a pro. Tight end Desmond Clark (19 receptions, 2 TD), who is second on the team in catches behind Muhammad, was held without a reception against Carolina. The Bears line has allowed just 18 sacks through its first 10 games. Chicago ranks 30th in NFL passing offense (129.5 yards per game).
Tampa Bay struggled a bit against the Atlanta pass last week, allowing Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to post his first 300-yard passing game of the year. Buccaneer cornerbacks Ronde Barber (55 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and Brian Kelly (21 tackles, 3 INT) figure to see less proficiency from Orton and the Chicago aerial attack on Sunday. Barber and safety Jermaine Phillips (43 tackles) had four tackles each against the Falcons. The Buccaneers managed three sacks against Atlanta last week, including one by linebacker Derrick Brooks that resulted in a fumble for Falcon quarterback Matt Schaub that was subsequently covered by Anthony McFarland in the end zone for a Buccaneer touchdown. End Simeon Rice (24 tackles, 8 sacks) notched his team-leading eighth sack of the year last week. The Buccaneers are now seventh in the NFL against the pass (178.5 yards per game).
Bears running back Thomas Jones (840 rushing yards, 6 TD, 17 receptions) returned to the lineup last Sunday following a one-week absence due to bruised ribs, carrying 25 times for 87 yards in a winning effort. Jones needs 160 more yards to post the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Adrian Peterson (242 rushing yards, 2 TD), who rushed for 120 yards against the 49ers in Week 10, spelled Jones against the Panthers and carried four times for 37 yards. Also getting in on the action versus Carolina was fullback Bryan Johnson (4 receptions), who caught two passes for six yards out of the backfield. The Bears enter Week 12 ranked fifth in the league in rushing offense (134 yards per game).
The Buccaneers have struggled in recent weeks against the run, allowing the Falcons to amass 150 ground yards last week one Sunday after surrendering 144 to Washington's Clinton Portis. Seeking to slow their former teammate Jones will be the Buccaneer linebacking corps of Brooks (64 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT), Shelton Quarles (75 tackles, 1 sack), and Ryan Nece (54 tackles, 2 sacks). Brooks and Quarles combined for 17 tackles against Atlanta. In the trenches, tackles McFarland (17 tackles, 2 sacks), Dewayne White (23 tackles, 2 sacks), and Chris Hovan (24 tackles) had three tackles each in the triumph. Despite their problems stopping opposing running games in recent weeks, the Bucs rank a solid eighth in the NFL versus the run (94.2 yards per game).
One of the most encouraging aspects of the Buccaneers' Week 11 win over the Falcons was the play of rookie running back Cadillac Williams (632 rushing yards, 3 TD), who posted his first 100-yard game since Week 3. Williams carried 19 times for 116 yards and a touchdown in the win, also catching three balls out of the backfield. Backup Michael Pittman (292 rushing yards, 22 receptions, 2 TD) spelled Williams with one carry for six yards against Atlanta. Fullback Mike Alstott (61 rushing yards, 5 TD, 15 receptions), who led Tampa Bay in rushing in its thrilling Week 10 win over the Redskins, carried four times for eight yards and his fifth touchdown of the year against Atlanta. The Bucs are 17th in the NFL in rushing offense (111.9 yards per game) heading into the Chicago game.
Williams will be going up against a Chicago defense that completely shut down the Carolina run last Sunday, limiting the Panthers to 55 ground yards on 16 carries for the day. Linebackers Brian Urlacher (73 tackles, 6 sacks), Lance Briggs (63 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT), and Hunter Hillenmeyer (47 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) combined for 12 tackles in the win over the Panthers, with Briggs' seven ranking tops among that corps. At the point of attack, tackles Tommie Harris (20 tackles, 3 sacks) and Ian Scott (24 tackles, 1 INT) have provided a stable presence all season. Harris posted three tackles in last week's win. The Bears head into this week's game ranked seventh in the NFL against the run (91.2 yards per game).
Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms (989 passing yards, 5 TD, 5 INT) had a relatively quiet game against Atlanta last week, completing 11-of-19 passes for 118 yards with an interception in a winning effort. Simms' passer rating on the year is now at 78.2. Also quiet in the game was No. 1 wideout Joey Galloway (51 receptions, 7 TD), who was held without a reception for the first time this year. No. 2 wideout Michael Clayton (28 receptions) led the Bucs with three catches for 48 yards in the game, and tight end Alex Smith (22 receptions, 2 TD) had three receptions of his own for 43 yards. The Tampa Bay line, which has surrendered 25 sacks thus far in 2005, did not allow one against the Falcons. Tampa is tied for 21st in NFL passing offense (196 yards per game)
The Chicago pass rush was all over Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme last week, sacking the signal-caller eight times to help key the Bears victory. End Adewale Ogunleye (32 tackles, 7 sacks) registered his finest day in a Chicago uniform, posting three sacks on the afternoon. Fellow end Alex Brown (28 tackles, 3 sacks) logged a pair of sacks of his own in the game, and backup Michael Haynes (9 tackles, 1.5 sacks) came off the bench to record one. In the secondary, cornerback Nathan Vasher (30 tackles, 6 INT) continued his stellar 2005 season by logging two interceptions, and enters Week 12 tied for the NFL lead in picks. Elsewhere in the secondary, cornerbacks Charles Tillman (58 tackles, 3 INT) and Jerry Azumah (25 tackles, 1 sack) had eight tackles each in the contest, and Mike Brown (59 tackles, 3 INT) had five stops from his safety position. The Bears rank No. 2 in the league against the pass (160.9 yards per game).
The scoreboard operator does not figure to be too busy in this one, as both teams favor a ball-control approach and rely heavily on defense and field position to win games. In that regard, the Bears would seem to have an edge, since their defense has been the best in the NFL this year, but Tampa Bay's zone defensive scheme could be more problematic for the young Orton than Chicago's more vanilla approach will be for Simms. Look for the Bears to make one more mistake than the Bears, and for Tampa Bay to win a nip-and-tuck battle at home.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

TO Back In Camp

Will the Eagles be able to handle the TO drama for the WHOLE year? TO said he has something "special" for the fans this year,What would that be? The ONLY "special" thing he could do would be to SHUT HIS MOUTH and just play football...........

Friday, August 12, 2005

T.O. Problem Child

T.O. is full of trouble all he does is cause problems with whatever team he is on.He does produce for the teams he has played for, but would you want the problems that he would bring????