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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jets Ink Chris Johnson to 2-Year Deal

The New York Jets get their man. In desperate need to address their beleaguered running attack the Jets are reported to have completed a 2-year deal with former Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Johnson, 29, who was released by the Titans a couple weeks ago, visited the Jets training facility in Florham Park on Tuesday, had a physical and was reported hanging out at a Brooklyn Nets game. On Wednesday he signed a two-year deal with New York; money was not disclosed as the story broke.

Johnson's release came from the fact that his productivity had been lagging the past few seasons, and there were reports that the new Titans regime was not crazy about his work ethic.

Whatever the case may be, the Jets are getting a serious upgrade in the backfield. He can generate big plays both in the backfield and in the passing game. With Chris Ivory as his understudy, Johnson will certainly have fresh legs when the Jets use him.

It wasn't that long ago that Johnson was one of the best running backs in the game. In 2009 he ran for 2,006 yards earning the nickname CJ2K. However, his numbers have declined since then. Twice in the last four seasons, he has just barely rushed for more than 1,000 yards. 2013 was his worst season, rushing for 1,077 yards and a 3.9 yards per carry average.

One would imagine that changing places and coming to the Jets might re-energize him. Plus the Jets have had success with aging backs in recent years. They got a lot out of Thomas Jones in 2009, and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2010. While, he is not old, Johnson is approaching the "decline" threshold of 30 years-old, this should be fun to see how he fools the experts.

The Jets offense looks better on paper now, then what it did months ago. They have a solid receiver in Eric Decker, likely a new starting quarterback in Michael Vick, and now Johnson. Look for Gang Green to go wide receiver and tight end in the draft to fill out the talent on the offensive side of the ball.

While, its a solid move, it's not one to get too excited about. We still have to see how Johnson adjusts to life in the Big City, and how this team comes together.

NOTES: NFL schedules will be released by the league on Tuesday, April 22. 

Giants Ink Josh Freeman to back-up Eli Manning

The Giants have a new back-up plan in case they ever need to worry about the health of quarterback Eli Manning, after signing Josh Freeman to a 1-year deal.

Manning, who is going under the knife with ankle surgery that will likely keep sidelined until late June. However, Manning was beaten up last year by defensive fronts for many reasons, but the biggest culprit was the poor play from his running game and offensive line; the former Super Bowl MVP had everything, plus the kitchen sink dumped on him in 2013.

It only makes sense that the Giants go out and get a decent back-up, just in case.

So Big Blue went out and inked Freeman. Freeman, the former quarterback of the Buccaneers and Vikings is at a new stage in his career. He was much maligned last fall as a poor clubhouse leader and was jettisoned by the Buccaneers; however the popular opinion is that Freeman was having issues getting along with former Bucs coach Greg Schiano.

So, Freeman moved on to Minnesota at mid-season, and spent the rest of the year playing a game of musical chairs with the Vikings and their hairy quarterback situation.

To say the least, he was the best option available to the Giants at this time, and he is a definite upgrade from Curtis Painter, who has been the back-up to Manning. Expect Painter to get his walking papers.

Freeman's best season came in 2010 when he threw 25 touchdowns to six interceptions for the Bucs.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Jets Set to See Sanchez & Eagles In Preseason

The 2014 NFL preseason schedule has been released for all 32 NFL teams, and the Jets know when they will get a chance to see Mark Sanchez again, this time as an Eagle. After both teams basically exchanged back-up quarterbacks, the Jets and Eagles will face off in their traditional week 4 match-up in the preseason.

Usually the fourth game of the pre-season is pointless, but if Michael Vick and Mark Sanchez see any time in the contest, rest assure that the media will go nuts over it. Oh, by the way, the Giants and Jets will face each other in week three of the preseason.

Here is the schedule:

NYGiants Schedule
Aug. 3 vs. Buffalo (HOF) ..... 8:00 NBC
Aug. 9 PITTSBURGH ......... 8:00 WNBC
Aug. 15 @ Indianapolis ......... 8:00 WNBC
Aug. 23 @ NY Jets ............... 7:30 WCBS
Aug. 28 NEW ENGLAND ... 7:00 WNBC

NY JETS Schedule
Aug. 10 INDIANAPOLIS .... 8:00 WCBS
Aug. 15 @Cincinnati ............ 7:30 WCBS
Aug. 23 NY GIANTS .......... 7:30 WCBS
Aug. 28 @ Philadelphia ........ 6:30 WCBS

The regular season schedule will be coming out in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Napier Leads UCONN Huskies to National Title over Kentucky

UCONN 60/KENTUCKY 54 

It was as improbable a finish as it was a run. The University of Connecticut Huskies are on top of the college basketball world, beating back an equally good Cinderella-tale in the Kentucky Wild Cats, 60-54 in Big D. The Huskies who were ranked 7th in the East region of the tournament and nearly forgotten by just about every expert, blew up everyone's brackets on Monday.

Who would have thought that a team that was once blown away 81-48 by Louisville exactly one month ago would find itself hoisting up the National Championship trophy? But they are, and its a testament to second year head coach Kevin Ollie, who went a perfect 6-0 in the NCAA tournament.

Ollie's super cool, and player friendly demeanor was the backbone of this great run. His confidence in his players when they beat back Villanova, a two seed, in the second game of this 64-team tourney was evidence that something good was cooking on the stove. He backed his players every step of the way, gave them a reason to believe, and they paid him back with a run for the ages.

Former Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, who watched from the stands throughout the run, must have a smile on his face from ear to ear, as he watched his former point guard and assistant coach take the team to its fourth national title in 15 years. You could almost see the confidence and lessons that Calhoun bestowed upon Ollie burst through his pours whenever he coached on the sidelines, or spoke with the media afterwards.

When the Huskies dominated Michigan State at the Garden in the Elite 8, en route to this Final Four, you knew this team had something special. They had the swagger of a champion; a gleam in their eyes that they didn't care who stood in their way, they would not be denied.

They destroyed Florida, a team everything and their grandmother thought would be a shoe-in for the National title in the Final Four. They erased a 12-point deficit to the Gators in the first half and turned it into a route, forcing Florida to make shots they never felt comfortable making, while Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels did their thing to dismantle the Gators.

Now facing Kentucky, a team that had an equally magical run through this tournament, it would be easy to think that Connecticut had met their match. The Wild Cats were pulling games out of their hats in the final seconds against Louisville and Wisconsin. Kentucky may have played the best game of this year's tournament when they came back to beat unbeaten Wichita State in the second round.

Without question, these were the two hottest teams in the country, and it was almost a shame that someone had to lose Monday.

But on this day it was all Connecticut, all the time. Kentucky never had the lead, and only twice were tied, 2-2 and 6-6. The closest they ever came was one point when Wild Cats hero Aaron Harrison opened up the second half with a three pointer to make it 35-34, but even that wasn't enough.

The Huskies were faster, smarter, more physical, and better at the free throw line. Midway through the first half, the Huskies opened up a 9-2 run, highlighted by a monster corner three-pointer by Napier as the Huskies built a 17-8 advantage.

You could almost feel the life being sucked out of Kentucky when Terrance Samuels hit a layup, Napier nailed another three-ball and Daniels hit a jumper to push the lead to 11-points, 26-15. Kentucky needed a run, or they were going to get run out of Dallas.

Give credit to Kentucky. James Young's three pointer, and Aaron Harrion's steal and dunk settled things down at 30-20, and helped Kentucky crawl back into it by halftime, 35-31, but there was something about this Connecticut team.

Kentucky didn't help themselves in the second half. They were missing free throw shots and jumpers like it was going out of style. Connecticut gave the Wild Cats a chance to take control of the game when Napier and Co. got careless with the basketball on their end, but Kentucky just couldn't get the ball to drop. At one point the Wild Cats missed five consecutive free throws. Free throws that Kentucky coach John Calipari wishes he had back.

With the game still reasonably close, German born, Niles Giffey and Napier put the nails into Kentucky's coffin. Giffey banked a three-pointer from the top of the arch to make it 44-39, and Napier added a jumper and three-pointer of his own to make it 51-47. The final dagger came from Giffey, who hit one last three ball to make it 54-49 with 6:39 to go.

When Giffey hit that last three, you could feel the party starting to simmer and explode in Storrs, Connecticut.

Napier, along with teammate Ryan Boatright willed this team to victory throughout the postseason. Boatright even spent the final 8:30 of this championship game on a bum ankle that he tweaked on a jumper. He wasn't going to miss out on this finale.

Napier was named game MVP with 22 points and 8-of-16 shooting. The Huskies as a team shot 41% from the floor, and were a perfect 10-for-10 in free throws. Kentucky, on the other hand, shot only 39% from the floor, and were a horrific 13-for-24, or 54%, from the foul line.

Congratulations Connecticut. They proved to all of us that while the regular season is very important, it's not how one starts, but how one finishes, and the Huskies finished as clearly the best team in basketball. That is all that matters.

In Jeter's Final Home Opener, Yankees Take Care of O's

YANKEES 4/ORIOLES 2

Every move Derek Jeter makes this season is going to be magnified to the nth degree, and Opening Day at Yankee Stadium was no different.

Before a half full stadium the Yankees did everything they could to make Jeter's final home opener into a Yankees classic. They tried to get the crowd riled up to give Jeter a standing ovation during team introductions -- which didn't exactly happen, ironically -- and then brought out Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada for a first pitch of the "Core 4." Where's Bernie Williams?

While it was one of many moments to come at Yankee Stadium for Jeter, he was probably happiest being on the field for the game, and happier with it's outcome. Jeter was the first to race out to the field when the Yankees finally took the field for the first inning, and was seen smiling and enjoying opening day as the day wore on.

Meanwhile, he let his teammates carry New York's 4-2 victory over the Orioles. Yangervis Solarte, who is quickly turning into a fan favorite, had a sparkling day. He was 1-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI. He scored the games first run on a double-play groundout by Jeter, and later drove in his sixth run of the year on a single to right to drive in Alfonso Soriano.

It was also a big day for Jacoby Ellsbury, who was making his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes, and he didn't disappoint either, going 2-for-4 with an RBI.

Hiroki Kuroda, rebonded nicely from a loss in Houston with a quality start against the O's. He held Baltimore to two runs on eight hits in six and a third innings. He improves to 1-1 on the season.

The Yankees continue their three game series with the Orioles, Tuesday afternoon.

NOTES: While all seemed right with the world on the home opener, it really wasn't. An odd sight happened in the ninth inning of the contest, that might have gone slightly unnoticed. Instead of David Robertson in the night, it was Shawn Kelly. While Kelly got the save, Robertson's absence is bad news. Shortly after the game it was revealed that Robertson would hit the disabled list with a grade one groin strain. Now the Yankees bullpen is in dire straits. Kelly is the only viable option to close with Adam Warren -- a guy who could really be a starter, and Dillon Betances, who is a rookie and learning the ropes of the majors.

If Robertson is to miss extended time it's bad news for the Yankees, who are already missing first baseman Mark Teixeira with a hamstring injury.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka wins MLB debut for Yankees

YANKEES 7/BLUE JAYS 3

Mashairo Tanaka welcome to Major League Baseball. Major League Baseball meet Mashairo Tanaka.

It wasn't easy early on, but Tanaka settled in and delivered a solid performance in his first regular season game in pinstripes.

Given an early 2-0 lead, Tanaka couldn't hold it -- maybe he had some early butterflies in his first start. He gave up a solo home run to Melky Cabrera on the third pitch of the first inning to cut the Yankees lead in half; and in the second inning, surrendered a two-run single to Jonathan Diaz to put Toronto in front 3-2.

It would be the last time the Blue Jays would score on Tanaka.


From that point Tanaka gave up only two hits and shutout down a very solid Blue Jays lineup. It was the kind of dominating performance that allowed his team to not only come back, but it sent the message that Tanaka is indeed ready for this new challenge in his career.

The Yankees chose a good day to come out of their offensive doldrums. They pounded out 16 hits with all but Brian Roberts getting a hit on Friday. The bottom of the order was huge again, with Ichiro Suzuki collecting two hits, and new surprising youngster Yangervis Solarte putting up two more hits and driving in three runs.

It was Solarte's two run double in the third inning that put New York up for good, 4-3. He would add another RBI on his second double of the day in the ninth. Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, and Brian McCann also had RBI's for the Yankees.

With the win the Yankees pull to .500 (2-2) on the young season. So much for all the early panic, the Yankees are a half game out of first behind Tampa Bay.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Francesa, Boomer and Carton Spat Over Murphy Paternity Leave Hits National Level

When Daniel Murphy decided to spend time with his pregnant wife as she was about to deliver the couples child, little did he think it would create a firestorm that has now become a national storyline. 

It all started on Opening Day when a few upset Mets fans decided to call into the radio stations questioning Murphy for skipping the Mets season opener to be with his family. The comments were initially brushed aside as incompetent comments from incredibly incompetent fans. 

Then, WFAN radio hosts Mike Francesa, Craig Carton and Boomer Esaison decided to jump to the fray to lend their opinion on the matter, and their outrage over Murphy's decision to be a husband and father first was not only classless, it leaves a horrifically bad taste in the mouth about the talk radio giant, WFAN, and the hosts are now on the defensive. 

It all started with Craig Carton who blasted Murphy for missing the first two games of the Mets season to be with his family in Florida, because it forced the Mets to bring up Wilmer Flores. 

"To me, assuming the birth went well, assuming the baby is fine ...  you have a good support system and you get your ass back to the team and play baseball ... you are not breastfeeding the kid," Carton blasted on his AM show. 

Esaison, the typically more logical partner in AM drive crime, looked uncomfortable as Carton ripped Murphy, saying the second baseman had legal rights to be with his wife. Then, perhaps out of pressure by Carton to take a hard stance he dropped a heck of bomb when he said he would have suggested to his wife get a c-section so he could play in Opening Day. 

To his credit, Esaison apologized on his radio show Friday morning. "I felt bad that Daniel Murphy and his wife were dragged into a conversation and their life was exposed. That is my fault. It's my fault for uttering the word c-section, and it put their lives under a spotlight." 

However, Francesa probably spent the most time breaking down the Murphy "situation." Big Mike spent 22 minutes ripping apart Murphy's decision to be with his wife for more than a few hours. Francesa went with the old school approach, citing that baseball players shouldn't be with their wives, and should entrust nurses and staff to be there instead. He even went as far as to call the federal rules of paternity leave a "scam." 

"... I was in the room, they handed me the (my) babies when they were born. What was I going to do afterwards? The babies went to the nursery, my wife fell asleep. I went to work," Francesa said laughing. "What do I do, sit there? I don't get it. I'd rather go out and get a couple of hits if I were a baseball player. The best thing I can is go out and play, go make some money." 

When a caller tried to call up Mike and correct him for his extreme comments, Francesa shut him down in typical Big Mike fashion. 

"I don't care. He's a major league baseball player. You explain to me why he needs to be there. Unless there's complications, that's a different story. In the old days they weren't allowed to leave (the team). Now they let the players leave. But why should they be gone more than a day?" 

Francesa tried to back out saying his biggest issue had more to do with the number of days for paternity leave, problem is he didn't choose his words wisely the other day. Now he is getting blasted from left to right by the national media. And he deserves it. 

Francesa's comments were insensitive. Francesa should have hung up on the Mets fan who called into the show to rail against Murphy. If he had, this wouldn't be a story today. Instead, he turned it into a rant. 

What Francesa, Carton and even Esaison don't seem to understand is that MLB Paternity Leave is by rule, three days, agreed upon in the Collective Bargaining Agreement by baseball and the players union. The players understand that while they are enjoying the fruits of being an major league baseball player, it isn't forever. Being a father is forever. Murphy wanted to be there as long as he could to make sure everything was fine with his family. That is his right, it's his life. 

To make matters worse this saga will likely fracture, if not strain, any relationship these hosts have with the Mets organization. The Mets already left WFAN earlier this year to have their games broadcast on WOR 710. However, that probably didn't preclude any Mets from being guest callers into shows. Now, with this, that might change. 

Keep in mind Francesa is no stranger to ruffling feathers. Even the New York Jets want nothing to do with him. 

These hosts should have thought twice before jumping all over this story. They should know well enough the boundaries between on the field and off the field stories. Personal lives should never be discussed, period. These guys know, better than most, that professional athletes are just human beings. But, alas like everything else, that was forgotten. Now the question is, can the trust be reestablished? 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Nationals Sweep Away Mets to 0-3 Start

NATIONALS 8/METS 2 

If the first two days of the season weren't enough of a sign that things are amiss with the Mets, than final game of the clubs' opening series was the straw that broke the camels back.

With their best pitcher on the mound, Zach Wheeler, and with full knowledge they would not face Nationals flamethrower Jordan Zimmerman, the Mets put together another stink fest en route to their first 0-3 start since 2005.

In 2005, when the Mets opened 0-3, they would go onto finish with a record of 83-79. However that was a team that was expected to win. They had a veteran team with Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, as well as two young stars in David Wright and Jose Reyes. It was the first year of what turned out to be the Mets mini-run.

This year's club is not expected to do anything, and through three games they haven't.

They look lost at the plate, having struck out a combined 31 times over the first two days, the bullpen is a nightmare, and the kids are not exactly alright, struggling through the learning process. Terry Collins must be wondering how much longer he'll have left as manager if this losing continues.

Here were the Mets with Wheeler on the hill, a 2-1 lead in his pocket, and the Mets fumbled it away.

Wheeler walked Sandy Leon to lead-off the fifth inning, then surrendered an RBI single to Denard Span to tie the game at two. Finally, Jayson Werth drove home Span with a single to right. The Mets did everything wrong when it mattered, while the Nationals did everything right. Washington looks like a playoff team in early April.

Long after Wheeler left, the Nationals blew the game open in the seventh inning with a four run frame. Adam LaRoche punched a two-run single to first that bounced off the glove of Lucas Duda. Ryan Zimmerman, who homered earlier in the game, drove in another run on a single to center, and LaRoche scored on a throwing error by Daniel Murphy to make it 7-2.

Is there hope for this team? Will they ever be able to muster enough offense to help their starters? One has to wonder. This team looks very raw in a lot of places, and the fact that this is a team with so many fringe major leagures' on the squad, the front office's decision making is finally coming back to bite them.

The Mets wrap up this opening home stand with three games against the Reds, before embarking on a nine game road trip to Atlanta, Anaheim and Arizona. It could be the trip from Hell if things don't change soon for the Metropolitans.