Bengals at Texans
A playoff win for either the Houston Texans or Cincinnati Bengals would have been a feel good story given both teams’ histories. While the 31-10 Texans victory was certainly fantastic for the organization and its fans, it doesn’t change the fact that most of the game was ugly as hell!
This one was sloppy for both teams for quite some time, but finally, the Houston defense came alive, starting with rookie J.J. Watt’s pick six late in the first half. The D really started to gel midway through the third quarter and it was all Texans all the time from that point on.
In their first playoff game in franchise history (can you believe Andre Johnson had never played in a postseason game? A sports travesty, I know), the Texans and their fans were fired up! Calling Reliant Stadium “loud” would be an understatement and I think that once the Texans got rid of the nerves, the players allowed the crowd to help them take down the Bengals.
Arian Foster attributed nerves to his shaky start, saying after the game, “I was so excited, took a lot of sugar before the game, so had to get that out.”
Foster got it out alright rushing for 153 yards on 24 carries, along with 29 receiving yards on three catches. Foster’s two touchdowns were both spectacular; his 42-yard run through the entire Bengals defense was one of the best plays of the year.
Along with Foster, Texans’ rookie quarterback, third-stringer T.J. Yates impressed (11-20, 159 yards), as did fellow rookie QB Andy Dalton (24-42, 257 yards) for Cincinnati. Despite falling victim to the pressure cooker that was the Texans defense, Dalton, who was sacked four times, has plenty of talent and will improve with time and better offensive players around him.
In the end, the Texans had zero turnovers, the Bengals had three, all interceptions which weren’t necessarily Dalton’s fault, but were damaging nonetheless leading to 14 points, accounting for nearly half of Houston’s scoring. That hurts.
Still in the game trailing 17-10, Bengals DB Chris Crocker dropped a sure-interception that could’ve been a game-changer, as finally, momentum might have shifted in Cincinnati’s favor. That felt like a clear turning point where the Bengals defense seemed to resign and hang their heads.
While the loss drops Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis to 0-4 all time in playoff games, the Texans not only played its first postseason game in its 10-year history, but Gary Kubiak and the gang managed to win it. Even sweeter, the fact that Johnson, who played only in seven games this season due to injury, played great and scored a touchdown in the victory.
Heading into this season, this was thought to be “the Texans’ year,” as the rest of the AFC South looked awful for various reasons. Of course, nothing came easy as Foster missed games with a hamstring injury, LB Mario Williams was lost for the season, Johnson couldn’t stay healthy and then the Texans lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub before losing backup Matt Leinart in his first game as starter. Imagine where the Texans might be had they stayed relatively healthy? My guess is they’d be relaxing somewhere on the bye week watching Wildcard weekend on TV.
Instead, the Texans’ reward for beating the Bengals is a date with the Ravens in Baltimore in the divisional round. Enjoy the win Houston, at least for tonight, as it’s gonna take one hell of a game plan to stomp the birds in Baltimore.
Lions at Saints
Going into the Lions vs. Saints game, I knew the home team would be tough to beat in the Superdome, but I also figure Detroit, making its first playoff appearance since 1999, could steal a victory if New Orleans was having an off night. Unfortunately for the Lions, the Saints were nearly perfect after halftime, leaving the Lions in the dust with a 45-28 victory.
The first half belonged to the Lions, but not by much as Detroit only led 14-10 heading into the third quarter. Usually, Calvin Johnson is an outside receiver, but the Lions switched things up, putting him in the slot, where he didn’t get hammered one-on-one like he would down the sidelines. The move paid off as Johnson had five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
As for the Saints, they played quite well aside from two fumbles which didn’t produce any points for the Lions, but still managed to slow that killer New Orleans offense. After the game, QB-extraordinaire Drew Brees said, “we stopped ourselves a few times.”
According to head coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions problems were as follows:
“We missed opportunities to make interceptions, we failed on 3rd and 4th downs, and we tackled poorly too.”
That sounds about right coach! The Saints beat out the Lions in time of possession by more than 15 minutes as New Orleans notched 34 first downs to Detroit’s 22. How about this; the Saints were successful on 3 of 4 fourth down conversions!
I almost expected to see the Sean Payton pull out the old onside kick to start the second half, a la Super Bowl XLIV, but then figured, naaahhh, it’s not desperation time just yet. The Saints wouldn’t need it.
In the opening drive of the third quarter, Brees aired it out to Devery Henderson for a 41-yard touchdown, and after the Lions ensuing possession (which resulted in a punt), the Saints led a 82-yard touchdown drive complete with a Brees QB sneak on fourth down.
In other words, the Saints played like the Saints. Aside from a first-half fumble, the Lions defense failed to pressure Brees who went 33-34 for 466 yard passing, and three touchdowns. Like in the Bengals vs. Texans game, Lions DB Aaron Berry missed a gimmee interception when a Brees’ pass went right through his fingertips in the fourth quarter.
As for the New Orleans receiving corps, Marques Colston and Robert Meachem each logged more than 100 receiving yards while seemingly every other guy on offense got his in between. Darren Sproles was also fantastic catching and running for a combined 85 yards and two touchdowns, as the little man has proven to be a key pickup for this year’s team. Ya think San Diego is regretting letting him off the hook and not paying up? I bet so!
The Lions played well on offense also. Matt Stafford is no slouch. Did you know that like Brees, he too passed for over 5,000 yards this season? Wild! As for the wildcard game, Stafford passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were to Johnson who lived up to his Megatron moniker finishing the contest with 211 yards on 12 receptions. But that wouldn’t be enough as the Saints defense came alive in the second half, intercepting Stafford twice in the fourth quarter, squashing any chances of a Detroit comeback. The Saints defense held the Lions to only 32 yards on the ground while the New Orleans running backs found a way to weave through the Detroit defense for 167 yards rushing, led by Pierre Thomas (66 yards, TD).
At this point, I can’t ever bet against the Saints offense. They scored five touchdowns against the Lions in the second half, and remember, Detroit was a pretty good second-half team through most of the season. Drew Brees is on another planet and with the help of a powerful offensive line and great position players around him, I think only the Saints can stop themselves at this point.
Unfortunately for us at home, we won’t get to see a Jim vs. Jim Handshake-gate rematch between Schwartz’ Lions and Harbaugh’s 49ers in the divisional round next week, but Saints at 49ers should be a treat nonetheless. The Saints high-flying offense against a tough as nails 49ers defense in San Francisco should not disappoint. As for the Lions, its back to the den until next season. Hopefully Schwartz will keep himself in check and discipline his players accordingly so the Lions can improve and stay in the hunt for several seasons to come.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images, Ronald Martinez and Bob Levey)
Game On In Texas: Rangers Purposely Built Visitors Bullpen To Be A Pain In The…?
The World Series has played out like a soap opera thus far, with Monday’s game five win by the Texas Rangers serving up the strangest script yet. A series of blunders by the St. Louis Cardinals certainly helped lead the home team to a 4-2 victory and a 3-2 series lead, leaving many wondering how such an experienced skipper like Tony La Russa could allow so many miscues when the stakes were so high.
A bit of inside information from one of TV’s more notable sports writers might help explain part of the snafu, as well as lend some credibility to La Russa’s seemingly silly explanation.
La Russa explained his mismatches on the mound as bullpen bloopers of sorts, citing poor communication between the dugout and the bullpen. The Cards manager said that the bullpen coach misheard his instructions over the phone, probably due to the high volume of the crowd noise.
Shout out to Tony Reali, host of ESPN’s Around The Horn for posting an outtake from Tuesday’s show (posted above) where guest Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News said that the visitors bullpen’s sketchy placement and set-up was purposely built that way, putting the away team at a disadvantage. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was built in 1994 and has often been criticized for not having been built with a retractable roof, considering the sweltering Texas summers.
From multiple camera angles on the TV broadcast, it looks like you can’t see inside the bullpen from the dugout, which, I’d bet, the visiting team finds slightly annoying. In an ABC News article, La Russa addressed previous bullpen incidences at other ball parks, saying, “Yeah, smoke signals from the dugout. There are times, like what happened in Philadelphia (during the first round of the playoffs). The phone went out, and so we used cell phones. And then the Phillies brought down walkie talkies, and they fixed the phone.”
I’ve heard of stadiums and arenas undergoing renovations and purposely leaving the visitors locker room untouched for that same reason; to keep a bunch of big, strong, tough athletes in a small, confined and uncomfortable space before games. Within reason, I say it’s a pretty solid display of gamesmanship on the part of home team management and ownership. This kind of stuff shouldn’t affect great teams anyway. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington did undergo renovations heading into the 2011 baseball season, clearly, none of which included the visitors bullpen. I fully expect the Busch Squirrel to exact revenge on the Rangers in St. Louis, completely chewing through the Texas dugout-to-bullpen phone line all together!
Click here for ABC News’ story on Bullpen-gate. http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/cardinals-bullpen-relief-game-14807061
Have you ever set foot in an MLB dugout? I would rather lick a city sidewalk then walk barefoot in a dugout. I’m not kidding. The dirt, water, Gatorade and sunflower seeds aren’t so bad, but puddles of brown chew spit with floating pieces of tobacco, mucus, and bits of food that only one’s dental floss should see is what really gets me.
The truth is that disgusting dugouts doesn’t even make the list of important reasons why a group of senators and health officials from St. Louis and Dallas are asking the players union to agree to toss the tins and play a tobacco-free World Series.
In April of this year the U.S. Congress held hearings on banning smokeless tobacco in Major League Baseball and even MLB commissioner Bug Selig supports the idea. With the players not on board (we’ll get to that in a minute), all that a group of senators could do was send letters to the players union urging them to consider the impact that chewing tobacco and dipping during the nationally televised World Series, which begins Wednesday, could have on millions of children.
The Associated Press obtained the letters sent by Democrat senators from Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Iowa to union head Michael Weiner, which read, in part, “when players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example.”
Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires in December of this year so putting the pressure on at this time is a strategic move in hopes of implementing a ban through the next CBA. In June, Weiner said the union would make an effort to address the issue in negotiations, but a few months earlier when the issue came up on Capitol Hill in April, the Major League Players Association said it discourages players from using smokeless tobacco but would not encourage a ban on the practice. David Prouty of the Players Association said at the time, “We will educate players as to why they should not use it. There is a tension here, because many players do not think they should be banned from using a product which congress has so far, deemed to be legal.”
Flawed logic my friend. Alcohol is legal, yet not allowed to be consumed on the baseball diamond (don’t feel bad for these guys, as we now know, some are drinking during the games inside the clubhouse instead of on the bench, so no biggie there). Cigarettes are also banned from stadiums, and are even outlawed from being smoked on city streets in places like Calabasas and Santa Monica, California, yet are still legal to purchase and use elsewhere. In fact, smokeless tobacco has been banned in both collegiate and minor league baseball for decades.
A few months ago, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble did a story on smokeless tobacco in baseball, claiming nearly one third of MLB players use it. Ike Davis of the New York Mets, who started the habit at age 16 said, “why would you want to start that? It dissent make sense.” Reporter Jon Frankel followed up asking, “so why do you keep doing it?” Davis replied, “it’s called addiction.”
Many baseball players who dip or chew will tell you it’s a disgusting habit they wish they never picked up. So why would you want to expose others to that same fate? In his piece, Frankel interviewed a dentist and professor of public health at Harvard University who studied the topic. The New England native conducted a study using the 2004 World Series featuring his hometown Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. The study found nine whole minutes worth of public use, as in, noticeably seeing tobacco on screen (chewing, spitting, bulge in the mouth, etc), and that five million children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old were watching.
While many players feel like an official ban is too much policing for their liking, I would argue that they are already policed in just about everything from daily schedules to the uniforms they wear. The AP article about the tobacco-free World Series plea says that some players are open to the ban on smokeless tobacco, which is great.
Athletes and entertainers alike often say that they shouldn’t be our children’s role models, but that we, as parents should be the ones setting examples for our kids. I agree, in large part, which is all the more reason why I think smokeless tobacco, which is a proven cause of several cancers, should be banned from major league ballparks.
As a reporter covering the Boston Red Sox, not one day went by where I didn’t see several canisters of chewing tobacco in almost every locker in the clubhouse. Those shiny tins were always the first things on the shelves to grab my attention for some reason. I wonder if the same was true for now 7-year-olds D’Angelo Ortiz and little Victor Martinez, both of whom would come to work with their daddies, David and Victor, donning little uniforms and all, nearly every single home game. I hope Cardinals and Rangers players consider their own children before scooping some dip into their mouths on Wednesday night.
For the Associated Press article with all of the details of the senators’ efforts to have a tobacco-free World Series, click here http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ivlkZ-nWu3Um7FF-xOcWDxhf91Jw?docId=833af3149044498e8e6a6d05a26974f7
To watch the Real Sports with Bryant Gumble story on tobacco in baseball , click here http://tobaccofreeaz.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/hbo-real-sports-looks-at-potential-smokeless-tobacco-ban-in-baseball/