Monday, February 8, 2016

Peyton Manning rides off with second Super Bowl title


If this is indeed the end of Peyton Manning's career, he goes out on top as a World Champion. Manning, like he had been throughout the 2015 season, was not at his best, but it didn't matter because Denver's defense was absolutely amazing against the Panthers.

The Broncos defense picked up right where the left off in the AFC title game, harassing Cam Newton all night. They sacked the showboating quarterback seven times, forced two fumbles via strip sacks, and intercepted him. By the time the fourth quarter ended the smile had disappeared from Newton's face, replaced by a look of bewilderment and frustration.

Von Miller was named Super Bowl MVP and rightfully so. It was Miller's strip of Newton on third and nine with 4:04 to go in the game that proved to be the final dagger and turning point of the night. The Panthers were only down six point, 16-10, and Miller shut the door in Carolina's face. The free agent-to-be slapped the football out of Newton's hand and linebacker Demarcus Ware tried to scoop it off the ground with one hand. The ball bounced around for seemingly forever, before T.J. Ward fell on it at the Carolina four-yard line. The game was over.

Miller finished with six tackles, 2.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and a forced fumble. DeMarcus Ware also had two sacks and three tackles.

Give a lot of credit to Wade Phillips for an incredible game plan against the Panthers. He found a way to get his players to contain Cam Newton in the pocket, and totally shutdown Jonathan Stewart. A Carolina offensive line that had bullied the entire NFL all year was bullied by Denver's front seven for sixty long and hard minutes on Super Sunday. While Miller gets the MVP award, it was Phillips' genius schemes that were the main reason why Denver is hoisting its third title in franchise history.

Also, give a lot of credit to Head Coach Gary Kubiak who found a way to get a team comprised of star players to come together and unselfishly play as one for the greater cause. The Broncos had a wild regular season, and for them to find themselves at this point is a true statement to him and the team he and his coaches built.

As far as this game was concerned, it was a true slugfest between two incredible defensive teams. On the Carolina spectrum however this defeat was a lost opportunity, remembered best for one play in the first quarter of the game that was clearly the turning point of the entire contest. With Denver leading 3-0, Newton connected with Jerricho Cotchery around the 40-yard line with the receiver going down to the ground while clutching the ball with one hand. However the initial call by the refs was incomplete.

Replays on CBS clearly showed that Cotchery caught the football, but after an instant replay challenge by Carolina, official Clete Blakeman ruled that Cotchery never maintained possession of the football. The ruling was truly a horrible mistake by Blakeman who is not stranger to criticism. Blakeman was the same ref who was in the middle of the coin-flip disasters in the Jets-Patriots and Cardinals-Packers games. To be honest and fair, Blakeman blew the call. Cotchery should have had a first down.

Now stuck in the shadow of their goal-line, Newton was hurried and striped sacked by Von Miller, with Malik Jackson eventually falling on the football in the end zone for the score giving Denver a 10-0 lead. Clearly the horrible call by the refs cost the Panthers dearly. Had they made the right call on the Cotchery catch, who knows where this game would be at the end of the day. In a league year where officials have struggled to distinguish between a catch and a non-catch, this call was truly disturbing, especially in a game of this magnitude.

That being said, the Panthers did little to help themselves. For the entire evening the Panthers either shot themselves in the foot or couldn't find an answer for the Denver defense. Here is the list of mistakes by Carolina:

1) Down 10-7, the Panthers fail to cover a punt properly, allowing Jordan Norwood to gash them for 61-yards down the sideline to set up a Denver field goal to make it 13-7.

2) On the next Carolina possession, Mike Tolbert fumbled after gaining 11-yards across midfield giving the Broncos the football back.

3) After Carolina got the football back on a Manning interception, they went three and out on offense.

4) The Panthers took four and a half minutes off the clock on their opening possession of the second half only to watch Graham Gano miss a crucial field goal as the ball bounced off the goal post.

5) Down 16-7 and driving the football into Denver territory, Newton throws a costly interception to T.J. Ward.

6) Carolina's two fourth quarter possessions following Denver punts, ended in a punt and a strip sack fumble.

7) Remember in December Josh Norman drew a lot of attention for his fight with Odell Beckham Jr.? Yeah, well Norman got burned on a holding call at the goal-line, giving Denver renewed life. C.J. Anderson plowed into the end zone from there to ice it for the Broncos.

The Broncos deserved to win this Super Bowl. They were the better team, and packed a great defense too boot. In NFL history, this is the 10th time a top ranked defense won a Super Bowl. Denver's efforts throughout the 2015-16 season on the defensive side of the ball is legendary, and deserves to placed right up there with the 85 Bears, the 2000 Ravens and 2013 Seahawks. These guys were amazing.

As for Peyton Manning, he didn't have his best day. He completed only 13 passes for 141 yards with a pick. His arm is not what it once was, his body is failing him at this point in his playing career, yet he went out there and managed the game well enough to get the win. Manning had a legendary career with Indianapolis and Denver. His win in Super Bowl 50 gave him 200 career wins, the most among any NFL quarterback; this for a guy who is now a two-time Super Bowl champion, five time MVP and the league's leading passer all time. We will never forget what an amazing quarterback Manning was in the NFL. He changed the game, and in return played with true professionalism and class. Congrats Peyton on a job well done.

NOTES: The Super Bowl halftime show will go down as one of the worst in history. It didn't take long for Twitter to explode in rants against the halftime show, as people blasted Coldplay, Bruno Mars and Beyonce. It was ugly, real ugly.

The commercials? They sucked. But we did get this nice gem. JASON BOURNE.

Cam Newton did his own Bill Belichick impression during the postgame press conference. Classy and Cam Newton apparently don't gel after losses. And speaking of Belichick, his quarterback Tom Brady was relentlessly booed by the Super Bowl crowd during the a ceremony honoring past Super Bowl MVPs. Not only was Brady severely booed, but so was his former teammate Deion Branch. Nobody likes the Patriots that much.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Favre Enter Hall of Fame. T.O., T.D, Warner Left Out

For much of the week I have been preparing myself to write a post tonight ripping the NFL for getting it wrong with the Hall of Fame voting. Just the idea of Terrell Owens putting on a yellow jacket would have been enough for me to go bonkers in killing the writers decision. But, you know what? The it right.

The NFL formally announced its eight Hall of Fame finalists who will enter the hallowed Halls in Canton, Ohio this summer. They included: quarterback Brett Favre, receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, linebacker Kevin Greene, head coach Tony Dungy, quarterback Ken Stabler, offensive lineman Dick Stanfel, and former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. 

Before I discuss the guys who didn't make it, let me tackle the guys who did. 

Favre was an automatic. This was going to be remembered as his class. While Favre's career ended ignominiously with the Jets and Vikings, for 16 years he was the Green Bay Packers. His vibrant enthusiasm, the heroic comebacks, the gun-slinger mentality defined Favre's career as he revitalized the Packers franchise, bringing Super Bowl success back to Title Town. I will never forget how much fun it was to see number 4 when he was in his prime. No matter the score, you just knew there was a chance for the Packers to comeback and win the game, because they had Brett Favre under center. He was always good for that late miracle finish. He was truly a national treasure on the football field, and we as fans were lucky to have seen him at his best. 

Marvin Harrison is an interesting choice. Perhaps this is protest vote of Owens, who was the complete opposite of Harrison. Harrison was considered the ultimate teammate by many, a quiet, unassuming fellow who teamed up with Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne to form one of the most dynamic passing offenses of the 2000s. I thought he was deserving to get in eventually, although I will admit, it was surprising he got in on the first ballot. 

As for Kevin Greene and Orlando Pace, both were deserving. Pace was a dominant tackle for the Rams in the last decade, and Greene was one of the most feared pass rusher for both the Steelers and Panthers in his career. 

Regarding Tony Dungy, one can argue that his Hall of Fame candidacy is debatable for some, considering he has only one Super Bowl ring. Dungy had incredible success in Tampa Bay, even though he never won a Super Bowl there. He turned that franchise around from a perennial loser into a perennial winner and contender. Ask anyone who played for Dungy, they loved playing for him.  It is sad in a way that the Buccaneers finally won the big game one year after Dungy left for Indianapolis. With the Colts, Dungy had a steady and calm hand on the operation, as Peyton Manning did the dirty work to get the Colts to a Super Bowl title in 2006. 

Now, regarding the big three that did not get into the Hall of Fame. There had been a lot of talk regarding the candidacy of Terrell Owens, Terrell Davis and Kurt Warner. It sounded pretty good that at least one of them would get into the Hall of Fame this week, but that did not happen. I can't argue with the decision to leave all three of them out. 

Let's take Warner for example. While Warner has a terrific rags to riches story, he only had three really good seasons as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Ironically his three best seasons were years he took the Rams and Cardinals to Super Bowl appearances, and his epic season in 1999 was legendary. However outside of that Warner spent much of his time struggling to even hold onto a starting job, losing out to the likes of Mark Bulger and Matt Leinart. Mark Bulger and Matt Leinart?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? That's not exactly Hall of Fame worthy. 

As for Davis, he too had a lot of success in a very small sampling. His two best seasons were in 1997 (1750 yards rushing) and 1998 (2008 yards rushing). After the 1998 season Davis struggled to stay healthy and never reclaimed his old self, retiring from the game in 2002, barley amassing 1100 yards in his final three seasons. Davis was electrifying for two years, but I don't think that makes him Hall of fame worthy. Davis ran for only 7,607 yards in his career; 3,758 of those yards came in 1997 and 1998 combined.

And then there is T.O. I don't care that Owens is second all time in receiving yards, because when we think of T.O. we don't think of clutch moments, or great plays. Instead we think of a selfish player doing sit-ups in his driveway in Philadelphia while protesting the Eagles and quarterback Donavan McNabb.

Owens made a living hell for every team he played for, wearing out his welcome in San Francisco, Philly and Dallas. His "me-first" personality was bigger than the game at times, and because of that it will keep him off a lot of ballots. 

Kaepernick to Jets makes absolutely zero sense

It must be February better known in New York as the perfect time to start spreading rumors without any validity whatsoever. And who better to start spreading ridiculous rumors than the New York Daily News and Manish Mehta.

Mehta reported earlier this week, among all the hoopla around Super Bowl 50, that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wants out of the Bay area and prefers to play for the New York Jets in 2016.  Why Kaeperrnick would even want the Jets over 30 other teams in the NFL is not stated, although we can guess it has something to do with the glitz and glamor of New York City.

The fact that this is even a rumor is a total joke. From the financial standpoint, acquiring Kaepernick makes next to little sense. He has five years and $114 million remaining on his contract, and is due $11.9 million in base salary on April 1. Trading him would be next to impossible considering the financial obligation a team would have to take on for a guy who has slowly become a bust at the NFL level.

On top of that the 49ers would save more money by just cutting Kaepernick, so why should the Jets or any interested party even rush into a deal.

Secondly, why on this planet would the Jets even want him? He doesn't fit Chan Gailey's system, and the Jets have already stated they have every intention of bringing Ryan Fitzpatrick back for 2016. Continuity at the quarterback position is a premium these days with the Jets, and Fitzpatrick has a chance to give them some stability. Kaepernick is head-case, played disinterested last season, and rumors swirled that he is not well liked by his teammates. Not to mention Kapernick's play at the position has rapidly even surprisingly, declined the past two seasons. Why would the Jets even want to take that gamble? It makes absolutely no sense.

So what we have here is another report created by Mehta that probably has little to no truth to it. In fact the story was even debunked as false by the Star Ledger of New Jersey  who actually contacted somebody close to Kaepernick and found out there is no truth to Mehta's story that he wants to leave the 49ers for the Jets.

It's the silly season folks. New York tabloids are bored to tears by the fact there is no New York football to speak of this winter, the Knicks and Nets both suck, nobody cares about the Rangers, and baseball season is too far away. So in order to sell drive social media into a tizzy we get reports like this.

Hopefully the Jets stay away from Kaepernick -- it would be a the best decision they would make to start this offseason.

Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos Podcast

The Broncos come into Super Bowl 50 a heavy underdog to the high-flying Panthers. The story of the game, of course, centers around Payton Manning and whether or not this will be his final game as a professional athlete. Manning had an injury riddled year in 2015, but came back to do just enough to help the Broncos push across two wins in the playoffs. The real guiding light behind Denver's success this year has been their defense. Led by Von Miller, the Broncos were first in just about every statistical category throughout the year in defense.

If the Broncos are to win Super Bowl 50, their defense will have to be the difference.

Below is my podcast focused on the Bronocs with Kirk Michael Davis of Bronco Planet as we discuss everything Bronocs.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Super Bowl 50: Inside the Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers are set to appear in their second Super Bowl in franchise history, and come into Super Bowl 50 a 5.5 point favorite over the Denver Broncos. No doubt this Panthers squad is much more talented and better than the one that lost Super Bowl XXXVIII to the New England Patriots in 2003.  For one, they have the better quarterback coming into this Super Bowl in Cam Newton, and they have a defense that can shutdown anybody any given Sunday.

Defensively the Panthers are pure ball-hawks. From a secondary led by Kurt Coleman, Josh Norman to outstanding linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the Panthers lead the NFL in takeaways with 39, and turnover margin +20. In the playoffs the Panthers bury both the Seahawks and Cardinals thanks in big part to their defense.

Offensively, Newton is going to win an MVP award, and he can thank he offensive line for that. The Panthers beat people up front, a big reason why Newton not only has put up outstanding numbers, but running back Jonathan Stewart enjoyed a renaissance campaign in 2015. While the Panthers don't blow people away at wide receiver with the likes of tight end Greg Olsen, and receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerhico Cotchery, all of them have enjoyed big seasons because Netwon has elevated their play throughout the year.

Below is a further breakdown of the Panthers Super Bowl chances in a pod cast I did with Brian Beversluis of Cat Scratch Reader, a subsidiary of SB Nation. Enjoy the show. On Wednesday, I will talk with Kirk Michael Davis of Bronco Planet.



Super Bowl Showdown: Broncos vs. Panthers the battle of the quarterbacks

We are days from watching the ball kick-off at Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. The headlines are pretty obvious at this point heading into the game, and we'll get to them in just a second. First let's quickly recap how these two teams got to this point.

Denver got to this point thanks in big part to a suffocating defense. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 in one of the greatest unit performances in a AFC title game. They were unrelenting against the  Patriots, sacking Tom Brady four times, and forcing to make one uncomfortable throw after another. Denver held the Patriots to no points on consecutive possession inside Denver's 10-yard line, before the Patriots finally scored a touchdown with just minutes to go in the game. Then the Denver D made another spectacular play, picking off a Tom Brady pass on a two point conversion to preserve a 20-18 victory.

Meanwhile, the Panthers dismantled the Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship. The game was over basically in the first quarter with the Panthers jumping out to a 17-0 lead, thanks to touchdowns by Tedd Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown. The Panthers D, completely dominated the game, forcing four interceptions of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Considering this effort came a week after the Panthers nearly blew a 31-point lead to Seattle, their effort in the NFC Championship was a true statement to how good this team is.

As we prepare for Panthers-Broncos, we have already seen plenty of headlines and subplots prop up during the bye week, most notably headlines concerning both quarterbacks. In a NFL dominated by the quarterback, this Super Bowl is no exception. In a lot of ways this game is both a coronation and a passing of the torch.

For Peyton Manning, this might be his last game. He hinted at it to Bill Belichick during their post-game handshake in the AFC title game, and their have been unconfirmed stories linking Manning to retirement after the Super Bowl. While, he won't admit it publicly, it is hard to fathom that Manning will play next fall. He's 40-years old and has become a shadow of his former greatness. Manning had the worst regular season of his career, throwing only nine touchdowns and turning it over 17 times. He suffered a foot injury that kept him out of nearly half the season, and the Broncos bizarre regular season got to the point where people were debating whether Denver should stay with Brock Osweiller at quarterback for the playoffs.

Manning's time is over. He knows it. We all know it. The ultimate conclusion to a Hall of Fame career, and the ultimate middle finger to the critics who have stomped on Manning's accomplishments because he's not Tom Brady, would be for the Broncos to win this Super Bowl. John Elway, Manning's boss, went out a winner with back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998. Michael Strahan (Giants), Jerome Bettis (Steelers) and Ray Lewis (Ravens) were other Hall of Famers who went out on top. Storybook finishes don't happen often, but in the case of Manning this would be the greatest finish to a career ... if it is indeed over.

On the other side we have Cam Newton. He along with Seattle's Russell Wilson is this generations answer to Brady and Manning. Both are going to be at the top of this NFL for a long time to come, and now it is Newton who is getting his shot at the ultimate prize. While scrambling quarterbacks is nothing new to the NFL circuit, Newton is a bit different. For starters, at 6'5", 245 pounds, Newton is much bigger than any of the other scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL. He has a gifted arm and tremendous power in his legs. When he goes into defenders it is like a tight end playing quarterback. He is the ultimate blueprint of what a modern 21st Century quarterback should look like: big, athletic, versatile. If he hasn't already, Newton is redefining what scouts will look for in quarterbacks for years to come.

Sadly, we aren't talking much about Newton's quarterback prowess. Rather we are spending more time talking Newton's so called "antics" on the field. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of showboating, but to be honest Newton's playful antics on the field are nothing more than just that -- a man having fun with his teammates.

Whether it be Newton ripping his shirt like Superman after touchdowns, or dabbing after scrambling for first downs, people have interpreted this as Newton showing people up. I don't know how that is even the case. Newton's celebrations are his way to amp up his teammates. He enjoys getting his teammates involved on the sideline when things are going well, and is the ultimate cheerleader for all 53 men on the roster. He does it for them and them only. He is not trying to show people up. In a lot of ways, Newton is displaying leadership by showing he can go out there and have some fun while he works.

Plus, who in their right mind thinks that Newton giving a football to a kid is a bad thing? I sure don't.

This is not Terrell Owens pulling a sharpie out of his sock, or running to the star in Dallas and demonstrating on it. Nor is this Randy Moss pretending to pull his pants down and moon fans in Green Bay. Cam Newton is about team, period.

Ironically, if these two quarterbacks squared off against one another on such a stage three years ago, Manning would be the better quarterback coming into the match-up. Manning was coming off a 55 touchdown performance that year, and Newton was still a young guy learning the ropes. The roles are reversed now. It is now Newton's time, and for Manning -- one last chance in the sun.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Terry Collins Expects to Win World Series

Terry Collins is no Rex Ryan. He has built a reputation as one not to speak his mind too often in public, and certainly would never try to write blank checks his team can't sign. However earlier this week, Collins was not afraid to speak his mind declaring that now is the time for his New York Mets to finish what they started in 2015, and win the World Series.

“We can do this. We talked last spring about the postseason and we did win. Now what are we going to do to get the ultimate win, to finish this thing off?
"You create your own expectations. How are we going to go about doing that? I’ll tell you exactly how: We’re not changing it up much, but we’ve got to run the bases this much better, we have to strike out this much less, play a little more defense in the World Series.
"You got to have those expectations. If you are afraid of it, you are in the wrong sport. You talk about goals in baseball, there is no bigger goal, and until you get to the World Series, you don’t really understand how much fun it is.’’

There are two ways to look at these comments. For the cynic, this could be interpreted as a blank check that the Mets now have to fill. On the other hand this is a terrific motivational speech that Collins has shared with the rest of us.

Here is the fact, the Mets should expect to be a World Series team. They were just there last year, during a year many thought they would be lucky to win 80 games. They defied the odds, and with the help of Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Murphy and superb young pitching, the Mets made it to the ultimate series.

The Mets and Collins aren't stupid either. They know that the entire National League is gunning for them in 2016, so why not go right out and welcome the challenge as defending National League Champions and set the bar high that just being good enough to be in the World Series is not enough.

Granted, we all know the NL is going to be tough this year. The Nationals surely won't choke they way they did down the stretch for the second straight year, they are too talented. The Giants and Diamondbacks have playoff expectations out west, and the NL Central's three headed monster of the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates will be formidable yet again. So the Mets know their work is cut out for them.

But, you know what? They are ready for this challenge. I love the the confidence Collins has in his team. He has earned that right considering the number of years of bad baseball he had to endure as manager prior to 2015. Bring on the new season.

Mets Will Retire Piazza's 31 on July 30

The Mets are on a roll. Not only did the franchise do the right thing and come to terms on a contract with Yoenis Cespedes, but they finally decided to retire Mike Piazza's 31.

Piazza who was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this month will become only the second Mets player to have his number retired by the franchise, the other being Tom Seaver. The Mets will officially do the honors on the night of July 30 before a game between the Mets and Colorado Rockies; some four weeks after his official enshrinement.

Having Piazza's number retired is long overdue. While the Mets inducted Piazza into their own Hall of Fame three years ago, at the end of the 2013 season, they never retired his number at the same time. It was a matter of time before the Mets finally pulled the trigger and electing to do so on the heals of Piazza's HOF induction makes perfect sense.

Keep in mind the Mets have taken a lot of public backlashing when it comes to honoring its past. Too many times it has come across that the team ignores too much of its own history. The Mets have one three retired numbers, Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges and Seaver. Stengel and Hodges, were only managers of the Mets, and are more nods to their New York baseball history than Mets history. The Mets still haven't retired Keith Hernandez's 17, Gary Carter's 8 or Jerry Koosman's 36. Fans have clamored that the team should retire more numbers -- but the team has refused unless for a special reason.

Hopefully Piazza's number retirement ushers in a period of the Mets retiring a handful of numbers important to their history. I'm not asking for the Mets to be like the Yankees who have retired WAY TOO MANY jersey numbers, but, a little nod to the Mets past success would be a nice gesture, if not to the fans, then to the men who played in those respective eras.