Monday, January 16, 2017

Week 19 NFL Notes

The city of Los Angeles is now home to two NFL teams that don’t have much place to go but “up,” this time the Chargers from San Diego. This should not have come as a “shock” to Charger fans; the owner had been threatening to do this for years if the city had not approved funding for a new stadium, which everyone seems to agree had to happen sometime if the football team was to stay. It was a question of will, and there seemed to be none of it from local politicians, the NFL, league owners and ultimately, the “fans.” There are those who claim that fans were “stabbed in the back,” but in the most recent referendum, 58 percent of the “fans” voted against partial city funding for a new stadium. Why? Because they didn’t believe the threat to move the team? Or they just didn’t really care if the team stayed or not?

We have seen this dynamic played out in Seattle. Unlike in Sacramento, where the city and the NBA worked overtime to insure that the Kings stayed in town, Seattle and its “fans” just let an Oklahoma businessman and commissioner David Stern take their NBA franchise away. We don’t have to quibble about the “reasons”; it was simply allowed to happen because, let’s face it, hardly anyone really cared. After all, in the final years, the team wasn’t winning, and there was no “superstar” or charismatic personality on the team that a “fan” could have a vicarious connection to. 

After a few years, a relatively unknown businessman with local connections named Chris Hanson saw himself as a “savior,” offering to help build a state-of-art facility for both the NBA and the NHL. He even bought the land for the project. “Fans” were excited; the city was initially “excited” and so even was the county council The only people who were not “excited” was the Seattle Times editorial board, which railed against the proposal day and night for reasons that seemed arbitrary and mean-spirited, and the Port of Seattle, which felt the “pulse” behind the façade, and decided there was not enough real public support that it couldn’t ignore, like the support for new facilities for the Seahawks and the Mariners that it had to accept or face intense public anger if it opposed. 

Today, Hanson is being vilified—even after offering to pay for a new arena through private funding only. Mike Salk on the local ESPN affiliate has the hypocrisy now to criticize Hanson for not doing offering this “sooner.” Isn’t this arena is supposed to be for the benefit of the community? Maybe there are those who think not; you have the new mayor with a particular insular worldview and a female-dominated city council that opposes the Hanson proposal out of sheer arbitrary whim. Don’t tell me they have other more important “priorities”; both the mayor and the city council have done absolutely nothing to solve the problem of homelessness and low-income housing in Seattle—in fact have been completely spineless in the face of opposition from the better off in this city. Yet when someone offers them something for nothing, what do they do? They trumpet a “new” phony proposal to “renovate” Key Arena, which is just plain nonsense; it needs to be completely destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up—and the city isn’t going to support that, and without it no NBA team is returning. And this talk about an NHL team—even the Seattle Times barely mentioned the local WHL team’s run to the league finals last season, a team that doesn’t even play in Key Arena, but way in the Kent boondock. 

But I’m not a Seattle fan of anything, and much better news awaits:

Packers 34 Cowboys 31 ESPN’s Steven A. Smith is a big Aaron Rodgers guy, and he found it impossible to believe how new ESPN “analyst” Donavan McNabb (the quarterback that Rush Limbaugh was fired from his ESPN commentator job for criticizing) could give the Packers no chance in beating the Cowboys. McNabb claimed that the Packer team that had lost to the Cowboys 30-16 were still the same team that was playing now. Smith pointed out the fallacy of this simplistic reasoning, that the Packers over the past seven games had found its rhythm, and were clearly the hottest team running, and Rodgers was playing as well as he had ever played. But when politics and bandwagon fandom is involved, reason has no place.

The Cowboys were the consensus pick, but were they really the “better” team? The Cowboy lost two of their last three games, and they were still playing with a rookie quarterback. We’ve seen this before; Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie too, when he led the Steelers to a 15-1 record and lost his first playoff game. The reality was that the Cowboys; season was too good to be true, and as the team on role, the Packers led 28-13 in the fourth quarter. Yes, there were some nervous moments, when shades of the 2014 NFC title game against the Seahawks lurking, when the Packers led 19-7 before an impossible late game collapse. Yes, Dak Prescott found his rhythm, leading three straight scoring drives against the suddenly sieve-like Packer defense. Prescott would throw for 302 yards, and Ezekiel Elliot would run for 125 yards. 

But in the end, the Cowboys lost to the team that wasn’t faking everyone out like they did all season. A 56-yard field goal by Mason Crosby helped stem the tide, and with the Packers facing a third and 20 at their own 32 yard line, overtime beckoning, Rodgers—who had thrown three Hail Mary passes for touchdowns these past two seasons—had a magic pass for this game too, even without both Jordy Nelson and Davante Adam: a perfectly timed and place rope down the sideline into the hands and tap-dancing feet of Jared Cook, stopping the clock with 3 seconds remaining at the Cowboys 33 with only time for Crosby’s game winner. For Packer fans, we did not see enough of this cold-blooded play from Brett Favre; but from Rodgers, it almost to be expected.

McNabb and his partner on their ESPN radio show afterwards opened with a somber, dirge-like performance, advising the losers both on the field and in the booth to drown out their sorrows at the bar with Crown Royal. The Cowboy bandwagonners advised that they trade Tony Romo immediately to provide “help” for Zak and “Zeke” for next season, not considering that this season might actually be a “freak” occurrence (the first Aikman/Irvin/Smith Cowboy team was 1-15), making the same kind of assumptions made about Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin 3 that turned out to be pipe dreams.

Steelers 18 Chiefs 16 The ailing diva Ben Roethlisberger didn’t do much in this game, and fortunately he didn’t have to. Le’Veon Bell ran for 170 yards, and Alex Smith once more demonstrated that he is simply does not have sufficient confidence or arm strength to take a team on his shoulders or cajole them to victory in a winnable ball game. The Chiefs defense allowed six scoring drives, but kept the Steelers out of the end zone each time. But quarterbacks like Smith have this inability to take advantage of such assistance. Whenever scoring 20 points in a game is putting too much “pressure” on a team, one wonders why a team even bothers to play when it has such low expectations. The Chiefs are without doubt a good team that is just coasting because it is only getting “competent” play out of the quarterback position.

Falcons 36 Seahawks 20 I happen to be of the belief that the Seahawks “run” is over. Their defense is inconsistent (the Legion of Boo, rather than Boom), and their quarterback play  is no longer feared because the unpredictable has become predictable. Yet for all of that the Seahawks still held that “wild card” that puts unease in the mind of opponents, that in the past they have shown that if an opponent gets too comfortable with a lead, the Seahawk offense will suddenly spring to life, and the opponent will become too dazed and confused to respond. There was still a “chance” with the score 29-13 in the fourth quarter, two touchdowns and two two-point conversions away from a new day. But this time it was Matt Ryan and the Falcons that kept the foot firmly on the accelerator, and this time it was Russell Wilson trying to do too much at end, throwing two interceptions against a team that was more confident in it destiny.

Patriots 34 Texans 16 The Texans’ defense gave Tom Brady fits all night, but again, if your opponent is offensively incompetent, doing just enough is good enough. That the Texans were still just one score down early in the fourth quarter is a testament to its defense, but in the end, it didn’t do enough. If the Texans had a good running game, they might have had a chance by keeping Brady off the field. But it all depended upon Brock Osweiler, who is a quarterback who seems to be much less than what is advertised. He is 6-8 and yet can only throw pint-sized passes. Every time he threw the ball downfield, nothing good happened. He can see over the heads of everyone, yet he threw three costly and dimwitted interceptions. The Patriots easily played their worst game of the year (even compared to the loss against the Seahawks), yet because they have a winning mentality and have no sympathy for fools, even a game effort by the Texan defense was not going to be rewarded with anything more than an honorable mention.

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