Friday, February 21, 2014

Off-Field Issue Intensifies Pressure on Rice

After a career-worst year in 2013, this incident has put Ray Rice's future in Baltimore in doubt.
(Photo Credit: Google/ESPN.com)
Ravens running back, Ray Rice was arrested in a domestic dispute with his fiancee. This news comes as a surprise to many because Rice's character wouldn't lead you to believe he would do something like this. The Baltimore Ravens organization doesn't like dealing with situations like this. However, they have always handled these situations in the best way. They will wait for all the facts to come out, and let the legal process play out. This was one mistake in an otherwise clean rap sheet for Rice.

This situation alone will not compel the Ravens to cut Rice. But his play on-the-field combined with this? That's another question entirely. Rice is coming off the worst season of his career. He averaged 3.1 yards a carry and only scored four touchdowns. He didn't look like Ray Rice. He looked slow and out-of-shape, and perhaps injury played a bigger factor than he let on. Questions of "is he done?" surfaced. [Was he getting worn down by the beating he's taken over the years? Or did he just get fat and happy after winning a Super Bowl?]. Either way 2014 was a make-or-break year for him before this incident. Now? The pressure just ratcheted up.

The NFL is reviewing the case and determining what punishment Rice may receive. If he misses games it's possible that he could lose his starting job. There are cap implications to cutting Rice, implications that may be too crippling money-wise for the Ravens. That will work in Ray's favor, and the organization will give him an opportunity to come back and prove himself. A suspension though [particularly a long-term suspension], would hurt his chances of doing that.

Rice's actions have opened up more questions for the Ravens [and all but cemented the possibility that they will draft a running back come May]. Can they depend on Bernard Pierce [always banged up] to assume the starting role? Can a rookie come in and have instant success? When Rice comes back will he be in great shape? Or will he even be good enough to start? Any way you slice it, Ray Rice is in big trouble. The question is will it be limited to legal trouble or will it potentially end his football career in Baltimore?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

You're Not Our Rival

Many believe that Duke-Syracuse has
become a rivalry after 1 conference game.
(Photo Credit: Google/Zimbio.com)
The date was February 1, 2014. The Duke Blue Devils traveled to Syracuse to play the Orange in what would become the "game of the year" [at the time]. And by all means, it was. Big shot after big shot [most notably Rasheed Sulaimon's three that sent the game to overtime]. The hype leading up to the game was enormous in Syracuse. They had waited months for that day, it meant the world to them and their fans.

However, the same could not be said for the Blue Devils and their fans. Of course, we all knew the importance of the game itself. [It was a huge conference game for both teams]. But Duke fans didn't want to beat Syracuse because they were Syracuse. It didn't mean that much to us [keep in mind, Syracuse was selling "Beat Duke" gear months prior to this game]. Duke wasn't selling "Beat Cuse" gear. The media [ESPN] was driving the hype for this game more than anyone [besides Syracuse fans]. It was being proclaimed as "A Rivalry is Born", and once the game was over it was cemented by many as "the First Chapter of what could become the best Rivalry in College Basketball." [STOP IT].

Rivalries are never born after 1 game, or even 1 season. It takes years for them to develop. The media loves to engage in hyperbole. They overrate and overhype everything nowadays, but this was blasphemous. In order for something to be considered a "Rivalry" hate has to come in the equation. [And I don't mean from 1 side]. Yes, Orange fans hate Duke but so does everyone else that isn't a Blue Devils fan. That doesn't make you our rivals. When Duke fans garner the same hatred for Syracuse that their fans have for us, that's when you can say "A Rivalry is Born." That's not to say that Duke-Syracuse won't become a rivalry eventually, but right now? No, it's nowhere near that and a lot is going to have to happen for it to get to that level.

There are more factors that come into determining a rivalry: how often you play, what's on the line, and the moments on the court. It's why Duke-UNC has stood the test of time. No matter what the stakes are, you know when you go to Duke you have to beat UNC and vice versa. You don't need the media to tell you how much that means to each school and fanbase. [Ppl will be reminded of that when they play on Thursday].

Duke played it's final game against Maryland on Saturday and what many believe is a "rivalry." It was definitely a rivalry in the early 2000s when those two were battling in meaningful and memorable games. [In the regular season and postseason]. But what happened in the games is what ultimately made Duke fans dislike Maryland. That faded as the years passed by and it became more important to Maryland fans. [It became just another game to Duke fans]

Larry Bird & Magic Johnson didn't become rivals overnight.
(Photo Credit: Google/ESPN.com)
The media has played a big role in making people believe that something is a rivalry when it's not. They did it in the late 2000s with the whole Kobe Bryant and LeBron James campaign. Nike came out with the puppets & commercials and the NBA went along with it. They ultimately fooled fans into believing that it was a "rivalry" when in actuality, it wasn't even close. Those two didn't hate each other, they didn't play enough to even dislike each other. [If there was a rivalry at all it was because the fans of each player were going at it]. Every time Kobe and LeBron played together people would say "this will be the next best rivalry since Magic-Bird." [They never met in The Finals]. Now the conversation is Kevin Durant and LeBron. "Best individual rivalry since Magic-Bird." 

The thing many people forget is that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were rivals BEFORE they got to the NBA. They met in the National Championship in college, and ever since Magic beat Larry in that game it stuck with him. They met multiple times in the NBA Finals. They outwardly admitted their disdain for each other [although they respected each other much more]. They never worked out together in the offseason [KD and LeBron did]. Not only did their rivalry fuel each other, but it fueled their teams, their fans and their league. It didn't need to be hyped by the media.

Syracuse and Duke will play again on Saturday, and this time it will be in Durham. ESPN will be there and all week we will hear about how great this new [so-called] "rivalry" is. Duke fans will be pumped up for that game, but best believe it won't be because they're playing Syracuse. It will be because they're looking for revenge against the #1 team in the country.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bandwagonism

The were no Thunder fans outside of Oklahoma before 2010.
(Photo Credit: Google/si.com)
A bandwagoner is someone who just roots for a team because they win. They have no historical knowledge of the team, and they have no loyalty to the TEAM. They cheer for the team because of one player, could care less about the franchise itself, and could leave for another team at any point in time. Bandwagonism exists. It has for some time. But why is there such a disparity between the level of it in the NBA and NFL? I don't see NFL fans leaving their team when things go sideways. The fakest group of fans that I have come to know in the NFL are Patriots fans [which I rarely hear from after losses]. But even they are loyal. Oakland Raiders fans have had every reason to stop supporting their team [their front office], but they're still giving them their money. The NBA? Completely different story. For example, I'm from Virginia. And as it's known there aren't any pro sports teams here [and when you'refrom a state with no pro sports teams, you've been called a bandwagoner at least once, but it's pretty easy to point out who's being real and who's not]. You tend to see all different kinds of fans around here, but never had I seen a Seattle Supersonics fan. Even when they got Kevin Durant in 2007, there weren't any [probably because that team still sucked]. When the Sonics left Seattle [a travesty] for Oklahoma City they were still a terrible team. It wasn't until 2009-10 [when they had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden all together] that they became a legitimate threat in the Western Conference. Thus started the "THUNDER UP!!" movement. It also helped that they played the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs that year [and gave all us Laker fans a scare]. They were the good guys, they were the young guys, they were the lovable underdogs going against Kobe and the mighty purple and gold. So they were embraced. Their season ended when Pau Gasol put in a game-winning tip on their home floor [and we all know what LA went on to do after that]. The next year the Thunder went to the Western Conference Finals, then the following year to the NBA Finals. They became the most popular team in the league in just three seasons [and it wasn't because of their fan base in Oklahoma]. You could ask a Thunder "fan" on Twitter in that time period who their coach was, and they wouldn't be able to tell you. They knew nothing about the history of the franchise, yet they claimed to be die-hard fans. The only Clippers fan you could find before Blake Griffin got there is Clipper Darrell. The Clippers get Chris Paul, and then "CLIPPERNATION" arrives. The same thing happened in July 2010 when LeBron James announced on
The Miami Heat bandwagon is bigger than ever nowadays.
(Photo Credit: Google/si.com)
ESPN that he was "Taking his talents to South Beach". The comments of "HEATNATION, WE IN THIS B****!!!!" trickled out. [While their fellow die-hard Cleveland Cavaliers fans searched for the nearest bridge to jump off of]. No loyalty, no shame, no knowledge of the franchise that they became "die-hard fans" of. People think the Heat became hated solely because of LeBron's decision [that's just false]. The main reason the Heat are hated is because of their bandwagoners. In addition to the non-stop media coverage they receive [ESPN], and the disrespectful LBJ-MJ comparisons. [Post-The Decision] Heat "fans" were no different from that group of self-proclaimed Laker die-hards that left in 2004 when Shaquille O'Neal was traded. ["SHAQ WAS THE LAKERS. HE'S THE REASON FOR THE 3-PEAT. KOBE WILL NEVER WIN WITHOUT SHAQ!!!! TEAMHEAT BABY!!!!"]. Miami won a championship a year later, and then went into the tank after an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Present day, the Miami bandwagon is bigger than ever. With most of their "fans" still having no knowledge of the franchise's history or previous players. They came from being a part of "CAVSNATION" to saying "F*** THE CAVS. THEY DIDN'T GIVE BRON ANY HELP." Never would you see that among a group of NFL fans. Never did I see Baltimore Ravens fans abandon their team because the defense was getting no help from the offense. Last time the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs was 1999, fan base still as loyal as ever. NFL fans tend to know the definition of loyalty and being a die-hard fan, and while there are many NBA fans that follow that same code, there are lots and lots that don't. Unfortunately, bandwagonism is a recurring theme in the NBA. Expect the same thing to happen when Andrew Wiggins [labeled the next LeBron by many pundits] is drafted in 2014. We'll see Team[insert team name here] tweets and claims of "I've been a [insert team name here] fan since forever". Just don't expect that in the NFL.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Raven Destiny

PROLOGUE

Lee Evans dropped the ball that would've
sent the Ravens to Super Bowl XLVI.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Rob Carr/Getty Images)
A little over a year ago, the Baltimore Ravens were seconds away from going to the Super Bowl. Joe Flacco played arguably the best game of his career. He outplayed Tom Brady on his own field in a game to go to the Super Bowl. However, it didn't matter. With 27 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Flacco put the game winning touchdown right on the hands of Lee Evans, and he dropped it. Billy Cundiff then missed a 32 yard chip-shot field goal that would've sent the game to overtime. And thus began months of questions and heartache. What could've been? What should've been? [If not for a soft-minded receiver and a "Goat" named Billy]. After that happened, I didn't watch ESPN, NFL Network, or any other football related program for two weeks. This was the worst thing that I had ever experienced in my life as a sports fan. [Worse than Mariano Rivera blowing a save in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Worse than the Yankees blowing a 3-0 series lead to Boston in 2004. Worse than Chelsea in 2008 Champions League Final. Worse than Chelsea getting completely screwed over by the ref against Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League Semifinal. Worse than the Ravens blowing a 21-7 lead against Pittsburgh in the 2010 Playoffs]. You name it, nothing was worse than this. This was a game where everything was on-the-line. Many people [including myself] thought that this may have been our last chance for a while. It might have been it for us, that's why it was so devastating. Ed Reed on the other hand, did not upset at all. After the game, he was singing in the locker room, celebrating, because he knew it was this team's destiny to go to New Orleans the next year. Ray Lewis addressed the team: "It ain't about one play, it ain't about nothing. This year, we did what we were supposed to do. We fought as a team. We gotta come back and go to work to make sure we finish it next time. That's all we gotta do."



CHAPTER I: THE BEGINNING

Former owner, Art Modell passed away before the season.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Larry French/Getty Images)
The 2012 season started off with more relief than excitement [it was more about getting the season started and moving past what happened in January, rather than the excitement of potentially having a great season]. The Ravens released Lee Evans in the offseason, and brought-in receiver Jacoby Jones [Who ironically got ran out of Houston for fumbling a punt return in the 2011 AFC Divisional against the Ravens]. Corey Graham, a special teams player was also brought in, as well as safety James Ihedigbo. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw, o-lineman Kelechi Osemele, and running back Bernard Pierce [a controversial pick] were all drafted by the Ravens. In typical Ravens fashion, the front office didn't make a knee-jerk decision regarding Cundiff. They decided to bring Cundiff back, but he would have competition. Undrafted rookie free agent kicker Justin Tucker was brought in to compete with him. [Surely, Cundiff couldn't get beat out by a rookie. Right?] Thankfully, Tucker won the job. Right before the season former owner Art Modell passed away. [The man that brought football back to Baltimore]. The team dedicated the season to him, as they should have. There's no Ravens without Art Modell. His name was seen  clearly all year long with a patch on the Ravens, just simply "Art". In Week 1, Baltimore destroyed Cincinnati 44-13, with Ed Reed scoring a touchdown on a pick six. The NFL was going through a lockout with its referees, so we were subjected to complete and utter ineptitude, confusion, embarrassment, and just plain ole bulls***. In Week 2 we got a taste of that when Jacoby Jones was called for offensive pass interference [when it was pretty clear that it wasn't]. Jones' touchdown was taken off the board and the Ravens ended up losing to the Eagles. Tragedy hit in Week 3. Receiver Torrey Smith's brother died in a
Torrey Smith played with a heavy heart in Week 3.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Rob Carr/Getty Images)
 motorcycle accident, hours later Smith was playing a football game. And not only did he play in the game, he caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. For Torrey to play in that game after everything he had been through, it took amazing courage and resolve [something I probably would not have been able to do]. This was the first time the Ravens played the Patriots since the AFC Championship Game, but unfortunately for New England Billy Cundiff wasn't kicking for Baltimore. Justin Tucker hit the game winning field goal. That was a big win for this team, although it could not be labeled as "revenge" because it was a regular season game in Week 3. After beating the Browns and Chiefs in consecutive weeks, the Ravens faced the Cowboys at home in Week 6. It was game where the defense gave up 227 yards [the most in franchise history]. It was the worst that defense had played in a while, but thanks to Jacoby Jones 108 yard kickoff return and a missed field goal by Cowboys kicker, Dan Bailey in the final seconds the Ravens escaped with a win. However, they did not escape injury. Injuries to very important players. Season-ending injuries, at that. Cornerback Lardarius Webb tore his ACL and linebacker Ray Lewis tore his triceps. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata also sustained a knee injury in the game. [Great, just great. A defense that already was porous just lost two of their best players]. The Ravens would put Webb and Lewis on injured reserve later that week. Lewis however, was placed on IR with the designated to return label. [But we couldn't possibly see him again this season? Nah]. The next week in Houston we witnessed a bloodbath. A game where offensive ineptitude reigned, but a game where Terrell Suggs made his first start of the season after tearing his achilles in the offseason. Sizzle was the only bright spot for the team. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's terrible playcalling had the Texans defense licking their chops. Flacco had the worst game of his career statistically [21-43, 2 picks, 0.3 QBR]. It appeared that Cameron was allergic to running the ball, and almost every short yardage situation was a throw. The game would end in a 30 point loss [and after that game, I was just thinking: "Thank God it's the bye week].


CHAPTER II: THE STRUGGLE

John Harbaugh nearly lost his team after the Houston game.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
During the next practice coach John Harbaugh announced to his team that there would be a full-padded practice. That decision nearly led to revolt against Harbaugh. The veterans weren't too happy about it, and feelings were made known in a team meeting. Many coaches would've taken the "my way or the highway" approach to a situation like that, but not John Harbaugh. He basically made it an open forum for players to get across what they wanted, what he wanted, and they ended up meeting halfway. After that meeting, Harbaugh earned the respect of his veteran leaders [some would argue that he never fully had it before this point]. That probably was the turning point for the Ravens in terms of off-the-field. After the loss against the Texans, many "experts" proclaimed the Ravens as "done". Even though this was a 5-2 team with games upcoming against the Browns, Raiders, and Chargers. After the bye week, Baltimore won three games in a row. They defeated Cleveland 25-15, destroyed Oakland 55-20, and took care of the hated Steelers 13-10. A trip out to San Diego [a place where they've struggled historically] was looming. This was a different Chargers team though, this was a baaddd Chargers team. The Ravens offense was pretty much ineffective until the 4th quarter. Down 13-3
"4th & 29" is a play that will never be forgotten.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Donald Mirlle/Getty Images
with 7:51 left Flacco lead his team downfield in a drive that ended with a Dennis Pitta touchdown. Now down 13-10, Baltimore then would get the stop it needed by their defense. On the next drive the game came down to a 4th and 29 with 1:59 left. Flacco got the snap and nobody was open downfield, so he checked down to Ray Rice. [At this point I'm thinking: "Game Over"]. Then Rice cut back across the field escaping 8 Chargers defenders, with an incredible block from Anquan Boldin to get the first down. ["DID THAT JUST HAPPEN???? OH MY GOD"]. Yep, it happened. The Ravens tied the game with a Justin Tucker field goal, sending it to overtime and won it. That was a critical game in the season, because they had five potential playoff teams left on their schedule [in other words: losing that game probably would've caused us to miss the playoffs]. A lot of credit should've went to Boldin. Rice doesn't get that first down without that spectacular block. That play embodied what this team was all about [belief, grit, desire, toughness, clutchness, any other adjective you can come up with]. It was nothing short of miraculous, even if it was against a bum team, it was a game they absolutely had to have. So came December, and with that the Ravens problems didn't go away. The Ravens lost at home to the Charlie Batch-led Steelers. [A loss that snapped a 15-game home winning streak]. In Week 14, the Ravens faced Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. They knocked RG3 out of the game [but it didn't matter, Chris Johnson was playing in the secondary]. Kirk Cousins came in the game and hit Pierre Garcon for a TD. [Chris Johnson's fault]. Then he run for a two-point conversion. Ed Reed said "We knew it was coming" [-_____-]. The Ravens lost the game in overtime, and the next morning Cam
Cam Cameron's firing made everyone breathe a little easier.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Cameron was fired ["O HAPPY DAY!!!!!"]. The firing had very little to do with what happened in that game, it was something that had been building for years. Even this season. [Remember that October meeting between Harbaugh and the players?] Cameron's name was brought up by players in that meeting. The topic of the no-huddle offense came up. Why didn't we see more of it? Why can't he free Joe Flacco? Why was Ray Rice constantly being underutilized? [Why does this dumbass think it's a good idea to always throw in short yardage situations?]. It's hard to imagine Cam being fired if we won that game, so in a way Chris Johnson playing that day probably wasn't a bad thing. Jim Caldwell was named Cameron's replacement. His first assignment was against an all too familiar guy. The Ravens played Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Week 15. Caldwell really didn't have a lot of time to implement what he wanted to do after just receiving the news on that Monday. [And it showed in the game Sunday]. The defense played pretty well considering they were missing Bernard Pollard. Joe Flacco turned the ball over twice [including throwing the worst interception I've ever seen in my life]. In the redzone with a chance to make it 10-7 game, Joe completely misread and Chris Harris returned it 98 yards the other way ["YOU IDIOT!!!"]. At that point, it's 17-0, say goodnight this game is over. However, the Ravens would clinch a playoff berth later in the day thanks to the Cowboys beating the Steelers. [Only time I ever rooted for the Cowboys. Thanks for coming through]. The next week, the Ravens faced the Giants. This game was the complete opposite. [It was everything that we expected and more].  Flacco
Bernard Pierce really flourished for the Ravens.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
had plenty of time, he was comfortable in the pocket, and more importantly he was comfortable with Caldwell. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce both had over 100 yards rushing. Pierce had a 78 yard run [and this was widely regarded as his coming out party]. Baltimore cruised to a 33-14 win, clinching the AFC North Division title for the second year in a row. The final game of the regular season was a meaningless game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens were locked into the 4 seed, so they essentially had nothing to play for. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice only played one series. Then it was the Tyrod Taylor show [15-25, 149 yds and a rushing td. Not bad for the former Hokie]. It wild regular season, but the Ravens ultimately finished with a 10-6 record, and a division title.


CHAPTER III: THE MIRACULOUS POSTSEASON RUN

Ray Lewis announced that this would be his "last ride".
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The Ravens first opponent in the playoffs was a team they'd never beaten in the postseason [the Colts]. They had rookie Andrew Luck, who had a remarkable season. But the Ravens had Ray Lewis coming back, and on that Wednesday he dropped a bombshell on the football world. "I talked to my team today" Lewis said, "Everything that starts has an end. For me, today, I told my team that this will be my last ride." Ray Lewis [my favorite athlete of all time] was retiring. Not only was Ray ready to go, but he knew that this team needed a spark. This team lacked a killer instinct too many times during the season. There's no doubt that Lewis' announcement saddened every Ravens fan [there could only be one happy ending to this story. Only one: Unless Ray Lewis was holding that Lombardi Trophy up on February 3rd in New Orleans. That was the only way this story could end well]. That Sunday against the Colts would be Ray Lewis' last game in Baltimore [and it was an emotional one]. Ray came out of the tunnel for the final time at M&T Bank Stadium, and did his signature squirrel dance. With all the emotion in that stadium, and all the fan support, there was no way the Ravens would be denied that day. Joe Flacco was phenomenal, 12-23 throwing for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns. Anquan Boldin caught one of those touchdowns and set a franchise record 145 receiving yards. The Ravens offensive line was so inconsistent all season, but because of a toe injury to guard Jah Reid, the o-line got shuffled before the game. Kelechi Osemele was moved to that guard spot [where he felt more comfortable at]. Michael Oher was moved to right tackle [which is his natural position], and Bryant McKinnie [who had been in Harbaugh's doghouse all season] was inserted into the starting lineup at left tackle. That toe injury by Reid would prove
Anquan Boldin put the game away with this touchdown.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
 to be another crucial moment for this team, as this was undoubtedly the Ravens best offensive line. Bernard Pierce ended up rushing for over 100 yards. The defense balled out as well. Paul Kruger had a sack-fumble, Cary Williams had an interception, and Ray Lewis led the team with 13 tackles. John Harbaugh sent Lewis back on the field for the final play at fullback, and he did his dance for the last time. It was an unforgettable day in the history of Baltimore sports. [It was Charm City's last time to say goodbye to their hero]. Next up, was a trip to Denver. A place that was "impossible" for them to win at. The whole week leading up to game, we had to hear all about how we had no chance [we were 9 point underdogs]. The game still had to be played on the field though. It would be one of the coldest games in the history of the league. Baltimore's special teams [which had been so great all year] had their worst game all season, allowing a punt return and a kickoff return for a touchdown, both from Trindon Holliday. The Ravens defense was solid, Corey Graham got a pick-six and a game-clinching interception later, Cary Williams was great in coverage for most of the game, and Manning never threw in Ed Reed's direction [Scared hahaha]. The offense was pretty good too,  the offensive line held off the number two ranked defense in the league [and only allowed 1 sack]. Torrey Smith burned Champ Bailey all game long, catching three passes for 98 yards and two td's [should've been four, Joe missed him for two more]. Ray Rice rushed for 131 yards
What Torrey Smith did to Champ Bailey in this game should be illegal.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
on 30 carries, and had a touchdown. The game went back and forth, and in the 4th quarter the Ravens were down by seven points with seven minutes left in the game. The offensive line committed it's first penalty of the game, a false start [and it wasn't on Michael Oher. Unbelievable]. Kelechi Osemele costed the Ravens five yards. With a little over three minutes left and facing a 3rd & 5, Flacco threw to Jacoby Jones for the first down, and he dropped it. [This was all too familiar. I was thinking "It was happening again". Flacco was doing everything right but his receivers were letting him down.] 4th & 5, perfect throw to Dennis Pitta, drops it, turnover on downs ["it happened again. His guys let him down. He outplayed Peyton Manning in a game that nobody said they even had a chance in, and his receivers folded. AGAIN."] Surely the game was over at that point, one first down from Denver was going to end our season, and Ray Lewis' career. After Denver converted a third down, the Ravens were out of timeouts. However, they got got three stops thanks to Ray Lewis and Ma'ake Kemoeatu. ["We got a second chance. We're still in it"]. Joe Flacco and the offense got the ball back with 1:09 left, and what happened on this drive would truly turn out to be legendary. Flacco's first throw to Pitta was incomplete, stopping the clock. Flacco would scramble on the next play for 7 yards ["Ok, that's the best you can do? The clock's still running!!"]. It was 3rd & 3, and there was 43 seconds on the clock from their own 30 yard line. Flacco stepped up in the pocket and launched a 50 yard bomb on a rope to Jacoby Jones. ["UNBEF******LIEVABLE!!!! IT'S A MIRACLE!!!!!!!!!!! YOU CAN'T SCRIPT THIS S***!!!!!!!!!!!!].
Jacoby Jones will forever be a legend in Baltimore for this play.
(Photo Credit: ESPN.com/Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)
Jacoby then ran 20 yards, and as he crossed the goaline he blew a kiss to the Denver fans. It was a 70 yard miracle. I was running through my house literally in excitement and shock at the same time. Unlike anything I had ever witnessed or experienced as a fan before. This team was done, [literally] and they found a way to overcome adversity again. Jacoby Jones made up for his drop earlier, he went from goat to legend in just minutes. Broncos safety, Rahim Moore let Jones [the fastest guy on the field] get behind him. It appeared that he underestimated Joe Flacco [like everybody does]. Moore didn't expected Flacco to get the ball behind him, it's pretty obvious because he was trying to intercept it. Joe had silenced his doubters once again. The Broncos got the ball back, took a knee and we went to overtime. Jim Caldwell's playcalling in the overtime period was very vanilla [too vanilla], it actually ended up putting the Ravens in terrible field position. Another great moment from Joe Flacco came though, after a delay of game penalty it was 3rd & 13 from the shadow of his own goaline. He stepped up and delivered a 24 yard ball to Dennis Pitta for a first down. You could argue that it was the play of the game. [If the Ravens don't get that first down, they're punting from their own 3 yard line and Denver's winning that game]. The field position was flipped when Sam Koch boomed a 52-yard punt to the Denver 7 yard line, and Jimmy Smith [Yes, Jimmy Smith] made a huge tackle to keep Holliday from picking up any yards. On that drive [as mentioned earlier], Corey Graham picked off Peyton Manning, and it led to Justin Tucker's game winning field goal from 47 yards in double overtime. The Ravens had just pulled off one of the most improbable victories in NFL History. Nobody gave them a shot, and after this game it was plain as day: [This was a team of destiny]. There was no doubt about it. The New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans to set up a rematch of the AFC Championship Game from last year. [Now when that happened, you couldn't help but think: "It has to be this way". The Ravens have to go back to Foxborough, they have to take this road. It's only appropriate]. In sports, rarely do you get a chance at redemption, a second chance, a chance to right a wrong, it just doesn't happen often. The same place where they endured so much heartbreak a year
The Ravens believed it was their destiny to go back to Foxborough.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
earlier? Baltimore was nine point underdogs once again [yes, even after the beat the highly regarded best team in the playoffs], but this Ravens team thrived under that role. They reveled in it. The questions were obvious: Could Joe Flacco really outplay Tom Brady on that stage again? Could the o-line contain Vince Wilfork? Could the defense come up big again? The answer to all of those questions was Yes. The Ravens handled New England, and pulled away in the second half. The defense shutout the Patriots, Bernard Pollard forced a fumble of Patriots running back Stevan Ridley. Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams capped off the game with interceptions. Behind Jim Caldwell's outstanding playcalling, Joe Flacco moved the ball downfield with relative ease, and the offensive line was stunning once again. Vince Wilfork's name was not called one time during that game, he only had one tackle. Anquan Boldin came up huge once again with two highlight touchdown catches. The Ravens finished. They did exactly what Ray Lewis said after last year's championship game. Ed Reed's belief came to fruition, he was going to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. Joe Flacco was spectacular again against Tom Brady.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It Had to Be Done

The Los Angeles Lakers fired Mike Brown after a 1-4 start to the season.
(Photo Credit: ESPN.com)
On Thursday Lakers Executive VP, Jim Buss gave Head Coach, Mike Brown a "vote of confidence". Hours later Brown was fired. [Now if that's not a sign that the "vote of confidence" is the kiss of death, I don't know what is]. But let's explore this. Was this was the right move? Yes. Was it done at the right time? Absolutely. Yes, it was only after five games, but a five game stretch that saw the Lakers fall to the worst record in the Western Conference. With or without Steve Nash, a team that has Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol shouldn't be losing by double digits to teams like Dallas, Portland, and Utah. It was pretty clear that the team was thinking too much, they weren't adjusting to this new system. Why? Maybe because it was never an ideal fit for them in the first place. Mike Brown's installment of the Princeton offense made no real sense to begin with. [An offense not tailor made for the Lakers personnel. An offense that took the ball out of one the Lakers most crucial assets. An offense that only made the Lakers look old and boring]. Instead of just deciding to run a traditional pick and roll offense where your point guard can do his thing, he wanted to make things harder than they needed to be. The Princeton offense was essentially created for teams with little talent, no athletes, and guys that can't create their own shot. [We all know that doesn't describe the Lakers]. The Lakers upgraded the reserve unit in the offseason by adding Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. Both very good players. Add them to Jordan Hill and Chris Duhon, who they also acquired in the Dwight Howard trade, this is a solid NBA bench. Now is it a great bench? [Hell no] But it's not one of the worst in the league. [However, Mike Brown sure made it look that way]. Refusing to play Jodie Meeks and playing Darius Morris instead. Playing Antawn Jamison at the three instead of the four [allowing for further defensive ineptitude]. This bench doesn't have a bunch of world beaters on it, but I refuse to believe it's that bad. [It's not last year's bench, that's for damn sure]. Mike Brown is the kind of person that you want to root for. He's extremely kind and works very hard, but in this business too much of either can lead to your demise. Known for his long practices and his overcautiousness. Brown was not dealt the easiest hand when he first took the job. [Following Phil Jackson. Going into a lockout shortened season. Not having a training camp. Getting the CP3 deal killed and losing Pau Gasol emotionally pretty much for an entire season]. In his first year Brown wanted to make it a point that he would keep Kobe Bryant's minutes down. [Did he? No]. He appeared never to have the respect of his players. The players respected his work ethic and his dedication, they just never respected his basketball intelligence. They laughed at the notion of him putting starters back on the floor in a game that was clearly never in danger
Mike Brown never really gained the respect of his players.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
of being lost. Brown had assistant coaches drawing up plays in huddles, he continued to foul around with his rotations, constantly changing his mind. But most importantly, he was a defensive guru whose defense never came through. The Lakers were middle of the pack in defense in Brown's first season, despite dedicating most of the little practice time they had to defense. This season the Lakers ranked bottom ten in the league in four crucial areas including turnovers. [Which is also a product of the team struggling offensively]. Jim Buss hired Brown because of his defensive prowess, which quite frankly never lived up to the hype. Heat Forward, LeBron James was asked about Brown's firing and said: "I don't think he got a fair shake." I found his comments quite comical considering he's basically the reason why Mike Brown was available for the Lakers to hire in the first place. He's the one that got Brown fired from his job in Cleveland before stabbing the Cavaliers organization and millions of their fans in the heart. It was pretty obvious that they let Brown go because they thought that would give them a better hope of retaining James. Mike had a lot of issues with the Cavs. [No offensive imagination, long practices, spotty defense, inability to draw up plays]. Those issues that Brown had in Cleveland were a warning sign to every Laker fan from the day that he was hired in LA. [Pretty much why the hiring of Brown was rebuked by many]. And not surprisingly, those issues pretty much came to fruition at one point or another with the Lakers. You can't look at Brown's tenure in LA as just five games. This was a season plus five games. The team's struggles in the 2012 postseason [where Mike Brown was conceivably minutes away from losing his job in Game 7 of the 1st round vs. Denver], combined with how horrific the team performed in this preseason against the likes of the Sacramento Kings. It might not have been "fair" to fire Brown after five games with new roster additions that were still getting acclimated, but would it have been "fair" to let this team continue to spiral downward when it was obvious that the plan wasn't working? [When would have been an appropriate time to make a change? When the team is 10 or 15 games under .500?]. Nah, that's not how the Lakers operate. This wasn't a panic move by the Lakers, it was just the opposite. It was a proactive move. Like Mitch Kupchak said, could Mike have turned it around? Maybe. But could you really afford to throw away multiple games to find out if that was going to happen or not? Mike Brown will get another head coaching job in the NBA, because he is a very smart guy and he does his homework. However, gone are the days of him leading a team with any real expectations. Brown is not capable of leading a team with a superstar on it. He'll never get a job for a team that has a superstar or is in championship contention. Whether it's deemed "fair" or not, his legacy will always be remembered as the guy that had two of the best players ever and couldn't win a championship with either of them. He's Del Harris [couldn't win with Kobe and Shaq]. That's just what he is. A tailor made assistant, a video coordinator, a perfect head coach for a small market team with no great talent or expectations. Now the Lakers must move on. The post Mike Brown era started off pretty well with a 101-77 win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday. Bernie Bickerstaff was named the interim head coach. The bench scored 37 points after just scoring a season high of 17 [not counting the Detroit game]. There wasn't any bit of Princeton being run on Friday night and guess what? The Lakers weren't thinking, they weren't turning the ball over, they weren't boring and they looked like they were enjoying themselves. They were just playing basketball. Now obviously that was a game that the Lakers didn't really plan for, but you get the point. At the end of the day basketball is a very simple game, and because Mike Brown over thought and tried to make things more complex, it costed him his job. Who is going to be the next coach of the Los Angeles Lakers? Ideally it
It's more than likely this man will be coaching the Lakers again.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
would be Phil Jackson. Why not come back and go out the right way? [getting swept in the second round is not the way it was meant for Phil to go out]. Multiple sources indicate that he wants this job. In fact he met with Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss on Saturday. Mike D'Antoni is another option [we'll have to call him 'Antoni tho, because "D" isn't associated with him]. This would certainly be a fun team to watch under him. You've also got a few other
 options [Nate McMillan, Mike Dunleavy, Jerry Sloan], but not likely. This job is going to come down to Jackson and D'Antoni. [Of course I want Phil, because he's Phil]. I'm not a huge fan of Mike D'Antoni because of his allergy to defense. You're not winning a championship playing that kind of basketball. Remember all those great Phoenix Suns teams? [Man were they fun to watch, but they could never get out of the West. Why? Because they couldn't get enough stops]. This current Laker team does not have the shooters that D'Antoni had in Phoenix or New York for that matter. We're familiar with Phil, we know what to expect from him, we know that he'll command respect in the locker room. There have been questions about his desire to coach. [I don't think Phil has to be talked into taking this job]. He's already said that he would love to coach Dwight Howard, and Dwight Howard has said he wants Phil for a coach. We all know how much Kobe wants him back, Pau too. It's a perfect match for everyone involved. Phil is the perfect coach for the win now situation, and the Lakers must win now. They don't have time to waste, that's why they had to let Mike Brown go. They still have to sign Dwight Howard long-term, Kobe Bryant has two years left, Steve Nash will be 39 in February. We don't have time to waste, and deal with complex and head-spinning basketball decisions. I'm going to predict that the Lakers will have a new coach in place by Tuesday and whoever that is, just expect things to come a lot more easier for this team, unlike the Mike Brown era.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ravens Must Re-establish Their Offensive Identity

Terrell Suggs was the Ravens bright spot on defense.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
5-2. That's the Baltimore Ravens record going into their bye week. Pretty good record. However, they've shown their problems. The Ravens defense has been a shell of its former self, ranking in the bottom five of the league. They have continued to show their inability to get off the field, showing their complete putridness against the run [allowing over 200 yards rushing to Kansas City and Dallas]. Losing Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb certainly didn't help, as evident in their 43-13 [bloodbath] loss to Houston. Terrell Suggs played in his first game of the season after rupturing his achilles [but you would've never known that he was coming back from an injury]. Suggs was the brightest spot on the team, he was all over the field, recorded a sack [and should've had 2 more]. But again, the Ravens inability to hold would prove to be big, despite getting three consecutive three and outs to begin the game. [And now is the part where I destroy the offense]. The Ravens are a terrible defensive football team [we know this]. What is a team supposed to do when their defense is struggling mightily and can't get out of their own way? YOU RUN THE FOOTBALL!!!! It only makes sense, because you have the best running back in the game. Ray Rice had nine carries for 42 yards, while Joe Flacco had maybe the worst performance of his career. Flacco was 21/43 throwing with two picks and a total QBR rating of 0.3. But for as bad as he was, he can't be completely blamed for this performance. The arrogant, stubborn, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is yet again our culprit. Below is a list of the Ravens first quarter possessions against the Texans. These are specific plays that I believe Ray Rice should've had the ball in his hand for:
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Ravens First Quarter Offensive Plays [Where Rice Should've Gotten The Call]

1st Possession: 
  • 2nd & 5 from HOU 33: Pass to Smith. Incomplete.
  • 3rd & 5 from HOU 33: Pass to Pitta. Incomplete. Drive ends in a field goal.
2nd Possession:
  •      2nd & 3 from BAL 32: Pass to Pitta. Incomplete. 
  •      3rd & 3 from BAL 32: Pass to Dickson. Incomplete. Drive ends in punt.
3rd Possession:
  • 2nd & 4 from BAL 9: Flacco drops back to pass. Sacked/fumbles, 4 yard loss.
  • 3rd & 6 from BAL 7: Flacco drops back to pass. Sacked in endzone. Drive ends in safety.
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Ray Rice has been doing more blocking than running lately.
(Photo Credit: Zimbio.com/Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Ray Rice should've had the ball on every one of those plays. He carried the ball for a grand total of four times in the first quarter. The interesting thing is he actually had a 17-yard run on the Ravens first possession, yet he was only given the ball one more time in the quarter. Why did we pay him all this money if we're not gonna use him? It's time for the Ravens to get back to what's given them so much success over the years [running the football]. That's their identity. I know Cameron wants to establish this no-huddle, and it's been effective at times. When it's been effective, it's been excellent, but when it hasn't [on the road], it's been disastrous. You can't continue to keep throwing, stopping the clock, getting three and outs and putting your tired defense back on the field. This is why the Ravens and Cam Cameron in particular must re-establish Ray Rice [Best running back in the game]. It's why we paid him, and it's a big reason why we're gonna be playing in late January and early February. If John Harbaugh gets in Cameron's face and lets him know the importance of the run game, this team has the ability to win it all, despite their defensive struggles. But if that doesn't happen and Cam's arrogance continues to take the ball out of Rice's hand, and hampers this team. He'll be unemployed and Harbaugh's seat will be hot. It's not panic time, but it is time to get our act together. The Ravens offense was ranked in the top five before Sunday's game, we know that they're capable of being an explosive offense. However, efficiency is more important than explosiveness. By running the ball, you're giving your defense a lot of help. [And the way this defense has been playing, they need all the help they can get].

    Friday, October 19, 2012

    Since We're Talking Hypotheticals...

    Are the Lakers really targeting LeBron James to be the heir apparent to Kobe Bryant?
    (Photo Credit: ESPN.com)
    ESPN's Brian Windhorst wrote a story on Thursday about how the Lakers may potentially be targeting LeBron James as a free agent in 2014. My first thought when I saw this was [Why is this even a topic? Can we get ready for the 2012-13 season?]. Of course the Lakers front office was thinking long-term, [that's one of the reasons why the decided to trade for Dwight Howard]. However they're also thinking about right now, [that's why they traded for Steve Nash]. But if we must think about the future, lets examine it. In the Summer of 2014 the Lakers will have every single contract off of their books with the exception of two, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard [assuming he signs long-term]. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, and the rest of LA's current roster outside of Nash and Howard will be free agents. The Lakers will have $30 million+ of salary cap space. Which would give them the ability to sign a LeBron type player. Kobe Bryant has said numerous times this preseason that he only intends to play two more years. [And I believe that he will play out his contract, then retire]. At this point the only thing Kobe cares about is winning, if he gets one more championship [preferably two], he'll be satisfied. If you've followed Kobe through his career, you'll know that he's not the kind of player that's going to play second fiddle. He's not the kind of play that's going to ride a bench, in order to rack up more championships, which is why it is totally conceivable that he'll retire when his contract ends in 2014. When that day comes [and it eventually will], the Lakers are going to need to find the next star to help lead this franchise. Put your feelings about LeBron to the side, and think about the future of the franchise. This isn't about Kobe vs. LeBron, it's about the what's best for the Los Angeles Lakers. Remember what happened in 2004 after Shaquille O'Neal was traded? The Lakers were in mediocrity, they went through a three year stretch of missing and barely making the playoffs. Without that second piece, LA was a non-factor. Kobe exits, enter LeBron with Dwight you have a solid foundation. I think this whole speculation will be a mute point. I don't believe it's going to happen. And unless Kobe retires in two years it won't even be realistic a option. [Why not? You ask.] Think about it. If LeBron came to the Lakers while Kobe were still on the team, it would be the worse thing he could ever do. The reason is because he will never be Kobe, he will always be in Kobe's shadow. [I'd equate it to Alex Rodriguez coming to the Yankees while Derek Jeter was still there]. It would be pretty much impossible for him to be a revered figure. Now he comes after Kobe retires, and the story is completely different. It would be his team along with Dwight's. And as long as he didn't choke in the postseason and brought us titles, he would go down in Laker lore as a legend. Like I said, all of this talk will probably be all for not, because I don't see it happening, but it's interesting to talk about. And the way the Busses and Mitch Kupchak work wonders, it can't be completely dismissed. [Now that we've discussed that, let's focus on the present and winning a championship this season. While we still have THE BLACK MAMBA].