Tag Archives: New England Patriots

WTF:Bad Play Call Dooms Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX

2 Feb

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

New England's Vince Butler makes the game-saving interception for the Patriots in their 28-24 win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.

New England’s Malcolm Butler makes the game-saving interception for the Patriots in their 28-24 win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.

I have been an observer of pro football since I was six-year-old kid growing up in Baltimore back in 1968 and I like to say that I’ve seen it all.

But the minute you start thinking that something else happens to boggle your mind and make you say, “Huh?”

With under 30 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks had the football at the New England Patriots one-yard line on second down after a four-yard run by Marshawn Lynch. Two plays earlier, an improbable juggling catch by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse put the Seahawks at the Patriots five-yard line.

With the score 28-24, most of America is expecting another run by Lynch to put the game away for Seattle.

Instead the unthinkable, the unfathomable happens.  Russell Wilson passes the ball on a slant to Ricardo Lockette, but Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped the route and made the game-ending interception. Game over, the Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl in an unforgettable football game.

“The last play we had a formation where we could throw it on them,” Wilson said after the game. “Lockette was coming underneath and the guy made a great play. That’s what it really comes down to—the guy just made a great play.”

The Patriots are the Super Bowl Champions and looking forward to their parade in Boston while Seattle fans at home and at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. were no doubt uttering the phrase, “What the f…..?!”

Let me get this straight, you have one of the league’s most powerful running backs, you’re one yard from pay dirt with one timeout left and you call a risky pass in that situation?

It was a dumb call.

“There’s really nobody to blame, but me and I told them that clearly,” said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll.  “A very, very hard lesson. I hate to learn the hard way, but there’s no other way to look at it right now.”

Granted, it wasn’t the only thing that beat the Seahawks. You have to take your hat off to Brady and the Patriots for overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit against the league’s best defense. The Seahawks offense didn’t take advantage of chances to increase their lead and let the Pats hang around.

All that said, you don’t pass at the one-yard line with one time out when you have Lynch, who gained 102 yards on 24 carries and was averaging 4.1 yards running through the Patriots defense. Carroll tried to rationalize the call when he spoke with reporters after the game.

“It’s just because of the matchups,” Carroll said. “At this time, it seems like overthinking, but they have goal line guys on. We have three wide receivers, a tight end and one back in that situation; they’ve got extra guys at the line of scrimmage. So we don’t want to waste a running play at that.

“Yeah, I just told them ‘Make sure, let’s throw it here.’ We’ll run on third or fourth down.’ “

Third down, along with their second straight Super Bowl victory never came for the Seahawks, who will be second-guessed ad infinitum all winter until minicamp and organized team activities in the spring. In the lore of NFL history, the fans will talk about this game for a long time.

But when you get beyond what was an extraordinary moment in an exciting, well-played Super Bowl, there were some other moments that determined the outcome of this game.

As much as folks may not like Brady, he made the big plays when it counted. He rallied the Patriots from a 10-point deficit with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns passes. For the game, he was 37-of-50 for 328 yards and four touchdowns.  It was not surprising that he was named the game’s most valuable player.

“(Brady) is so calm and collected. He’s the best,” said Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola. “He gets everybody to play at a higher level. He’s our leader emotionally. … He’s the best quarterback we all love playing for him.”

After taking a 10-point lead in the third quarter, the Seahawks offense failed to extend their advantage. On their third possession of the third quarter, the Seahawks had a third and two at the New England 47.  Wilson found Kearse streaking down the sideline.

Kearse had the ball in his hands but dropped it deep in New England territory. Seattle was forced to punt.  The Seahawks went three and out on their next two possessions before that fateful final drive.

“They busted their tales and did everything they needed to do to put us in position to win and unfortunately, it didn’t work out,” Carroll said. “(Seahawks) were on the precipice of winning another championship and unfortunately the play goes the other way.”

 

 

Carrying the Ball and Their Own Baggage: Marshawn Lynch and LeGarrette Blount

29 Jan

Super Bowl XLIX Will Be A Matchup of Two Complex Running Backs  Who Have Issues with Authority 
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When Marshawn Lynch has the ball, he can do a lot of damage. He hopes to do that against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Photo by Webster Ridddick.

When Marshawn Lynch has the ball, he can do a lot of damage. He hopes to do that against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Photo by Webster Ridddick.

If you’ve had enough of the hot air surrounding the “Deflate-Gate scandal, but still have a taste for the quirky and bizarre of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale,look no further than Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and his fellow ball carrier LeGarrette Blount of the New England Patriots.

While Lynch and Blount will be key components in the game plans of their respective teams on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, a lot of focus has been placed not on their ability to carry the ball, but on the baggage—Lynch’s refusal to talk to the media and Blount’s unceremonious kick to the curb from the Pittsburgh Steelers– they drag with them as they do it.

Not since Dallas Cowboys running Duane Thomas’ gave his famous “What time is it” line to reporters in the buildup to Super Bowl VI in 1972 has a running back’s words made the kind of headlines that Lynch’s “I’m here so I won’t get fined” did.

During the Seahawks Media Day session on Tuesday, Lynch kept repeating that line over and over again during a strange, yet amusing three and a half-minute confab with more than 200 reporters.

According to the NFL Network, Lynch chanted the sentence 29 times. Lynch’s aversion to press availabilities and how it manifests itself has become the stuff of legend.

From the one-liners he delivered during the regular season that cost him $50,000 in fines to the complaints filed by the Pro Football Writers Association for his refusal to talk to reporters during last year’s Super Bowl Media Day, Lynch has figuratively grabbed his crotch when it comes to the League’s mandated press conferences.

And speaking of crotch grabs, the NFL has warned the Seahawks that if Lynch decides to do that after scoring a touchdown, the former Cal star’s antics would cost them 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct each time. It’s already cost Lynch a grand total of $31,050 ($20,000 for doing it during the NFC title game and $11,050 for a regular season game in December.)

Lynch’s Seahawks teammates say that Lynch should be able to handle his media duties his own way, but several prominent members of the media have chided Lynch for not following the league rules and not promoting the game that pays him. That’s a good point.

Oddly enough, Lynch’s Media Day Theatre of the Absurd might have done more to promote the game, something that the NFL probably doesn’t want to admit. No one wants to admit that anti-heroes and knuckleheads make the game as intriguing as the game’s superstars, especially in a year where the League has endured a lot of bad press.

For all his public misbehavior, Lynch’s teammates and coaches benefit from the damage he does on the field when he’s in “Beast Mode.”

During the regular season, he gained 1,306 yards with 13 touchdowns. He also gained 157 yards on 25 carries in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers and scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the four quarter. He’s also a leader in the locker room.

“Obviously, he’s a little different with us than he is out in public, but he’s a great guy,” said Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. “He works hard in the meeting room in the meeting room with those guys (running backs) to help prepare them.” ​​

LeGarrette Blount came up huge for the Patriots in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.  He scored three touchdowns.

LeGarrette Blount came up huge for the Patriots in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. He scored three touchdowns.

But while Lynch’s shenanigans tend to anger Seahawks beat writers, Blount’s angered Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Blount expected to be a bigger part of the Steelers offense, but with the emergence of Le’Veon Bell, his playing time was reduced. Blount had just 266 yards rushing in 11 games.

A few minutes before the end of the Steelers win over the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 17, Blount decided he had enough of being Bell’s backup and walked off the field before the game was over. By the time the rest of the team got to the locker room, Blount was headed for the team bus.

Twelve hours later, the Steelers gave Blount his walking papers.
Head coach Bill Belichick, remembering how well Blount played for the team in 2013, took him back immediately after he cleared waivers.

While most coaches might have shied away from him because of how his time in Pittsburgh ended, it didn’t matter to him, he said.

“Yeah, I don’t know anything about Pittsburgh, you’d have to ask Pittsburgh about Pittsburgh,” Belichick said. “I think he’s been a good addition to our team, very popular guy in the locker room. He’s good for our team and he’s a good player, so it worked out well.”

Blount has paid dividends. In five games for the Pats in 2014, he gained 281 yards. In the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, Blount gained 148 yards on 30 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Blount’s return to the Patriots energized his teammates.

“I felt like it was almost like he never left once we got going,” said Patriot running back Shane Vereen.

And in the end, leaving the Steelers was a good thing for him, Blount said.

“Things didn’t work out as planned, so we had to part ways and I ended up here,” he said. “And now I’m about to play in the Super Bowl.”

Belichick has a knack for finding talented players with baggage and Blount is no exception. He was suspended much of his senior year at Oregon for punching a Boise State player after his Ducks lost their 2009 season-opener. In his first training camp with the Steelers, he and, ironically enough, Bell, were arrested on possession of marijuana charges. Blount will be in a Pittsburgh courtroom on Feb. 4, hoping to have those charges dismissed.

Lynch and Blount may have their share of personal issues with authority, but they help their teams win. During Media Day, Blount said Lynch shouldn’t change a thing about himself.

“Whatever he’s doing, I recommend him to keep doing it because he’s been successful in this league at it,” Blount said.

Wilson Overcomes Early Struggles With Fantastic Finish!

19 Jan

“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too. … If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and which is more, You’ll be a man, my son.“-Rudyard Kipling.

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Russell Wilson launching his game-winning overtime touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse to send the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Photo courtesy of the StarTribune.com

Russell Wilson launching his game-winning overtime touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse to send the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Photo courtesy of the StarTribune.com

As the confetti flew all over Seattle’s Century Link Stadium, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had tears of joy streaming down his eyes as his teammates gathered around him. His touchdown pass in overtime had just put his team in the Super Bowl.

Thanks to his game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass to teammate Jermaine Kearse, Wilson pulled off the improbable mother of all comebacks in the NFC Championship with a 28-22 overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers.

“(Wilson) did a remarkable job with the finish of this game,” said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. “It took so long for the good stuff to happen. It was a long, hard day for him. We were throwing for nothing. I think 10 yards at halftime. It was a crazy game. But with the game on the line, this is what (Wilson) has totally believed would happen and he never thought that it wouldn’t.”

Seattle will head to Super Bowl XLIX take on the New England Patriots at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Pats punched their ticket to the Super Bowl with an easy 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.

Wilson’s happy tears were perilously close to being somber and sad ones. He had been sacked five times, threw four interceptions including what looked to be a game-clinching pick for the Packers with 5:13 left. But out of the ashes of what was a terrible game for him, Wilson found a way to win.

“It was just staying the course, trusting the protection, trusting the routes, trusting the timing, trusting the preparation, trusting the film study…That’s where I went to, going back to the fundamentals of the game,” Wilson said. “The ball didn’t bounce our way the whole game but it bounced our way at the right time.”

Wilson fought through his mistakes and was great he needed to be, especially in the last 3:52 of regulation and in overtime. What was most impressive was the fearlessness Wilson displayed down the stretch. He wasn’t afraid to make a mistake after four picks and he kept firing until he got it right.

“If we’re going to down, I’m going to go down swinging, that’s for sure,” Wilson said.

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin said Wilson’s performance reflected the heart and resilience of the team.

“Indicative of this team,” Baldwin said. “He never counted himself out. We never counted him out. We always believe in the guy in the next to us no matter what the situation is, no matter what he’s going through. He had a rough first half, we all did.

“But when you make a throw like that in the fourth quarter and when Jermaine (Kearse) comes through, I think he had two drops in the first half and I told him don’t worry about that, you’re going to have your opportunity and he comes and makes that crucial touchdown catch. That’s what this team is made of.”

Not only did Wilson believe in himself, he still had faith in his teammates, especially Kearse. Two of Wilson’s interceptions came off catchable balls that caromed off Kearse’s hands. Wilson never wavered in his belief that Kearse would come through with a big catch.

“Because I’ve seen him make so many plays before,” Wilson said. “That’s the first thing I told Kearse after that last interception. We’re going to win this game and I’m going to keep coming back to you, we’re going to find a way to win the game. …When I found a chance to hit Jermaine one-on-one on that deep post, we went for it and we hit it.”

During those times that Wilson and the offense struggled, it was the defense that kept the Packers from turning the game into a rout in the first half. Green Bay had the ball inside the red zone four times in the first quarter and came away with just one touchdown and three field goals to take a 16-0 lead.

The special teams came up with a pair of huge big plays for the Seahawks and put them in position to win the game. Seattle got their first score of the game in the third quarter on a fake field goal. Punter Jon Ryan threw a 19-yard to pass to tight end turned offensive tackle Garry Gilliam.

After a Wilson touchdown one-yard brought the Seahawks to within 19-14, reserve wide receiver Chris Matthews recovered Steve Hauschka’s onside kick that led to a spectacular 24-yard run by Marshawn Lynch that gave Seattle its first lead of the game.

Speaking of “Beast Mode,” Lynch gained 157 yards on 25 carries and that spectacular run for his touchdown.

After Lynch’s score, Wilson made another improbable play on the two-point conversion when he sprinted to his right and floated a ball up for grabs to his left that was miraculously caught by tight end Luke Willson to give Seattle a 22-19 lead.

That play was important because Green Bay would tie the game and send it into overtime on a 48-yard field by Mason Crosby.

Once the Seahawks won the coin toss, Wilson knew he had the Packers right where he wanted them.

“I told (offensive coordinator) Darrell Bevell on the sideline after that coin toss, I’m going to hit Kearse with a touchdown on a check,” Wilson said.

Eagles Defense Needs to Improve the Pass Rush

17 Aug

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By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Eagles defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, something they haven't done so far this preseason.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Eagles defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, something they haven’t done so far this preseason. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Eagles third preseason game this Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the horizon, there are some things from last Friday’s exhibition game they need to fix coming into what will be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Of course, the big worry for the Eagles has to be their defense, which did not play well in the 42-35 loss to the New England Patriots in Foxboro. The Birds starters and backups collectively gave up 476 yards of offense.

The only bright spot from the defense in that game was Cary Williams 77-yard interception return for a touchdown on the Patriots first series of possession. Williams wound up pulling his hamstring on the play and did not play the rest of the game. Even with the pick-six, the Patriots had driven through 50 yards through the Eagles defense without much resistance.

“We need to generate a better pass rush,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “I think our defensive line has to do a better job in terms of what their rush contains are. We had that one play with (Ryan) Mallet where Marcus (Smith) does a nice job of making him flush up in the pocket, but we got nobody on that side containing the quarterback and we let the quarterback scramble in for a touchdown.”

The Eagles first-team defense, which ranked 32nd in pass defense in 2013, didn’t get any pressure on Tom Brady. He completed 8-of-10 passes for 81 yards with one touchdown and an interception. After Brady’s early pick-six, New England got touchdown passes on their next three possessions— one from Brady and two from backup Jimmy Garoppollo.

Backup cornerback Curtis Marsh got torched for three of the Patriots four touchdown passes. The defense got just two sacks from their backups—linebacker Brandon Graham and rookie defensive end Alejandro Villanueva.

“We use a lot of different combinations and we try to get some guys in with the ones to see them work around,” Kelly said. “We had a lot of different rotations going on just to see if we can get some guys evaluated on film. We do need to generate a pass rush, especially if you’re going to play somebody the caliber of Tom (Brady).”

For all the talk of the improvement of the Eagles defense, they took a step backwards last Friday. Granted, it’s only the second game of the preseason and defensive coordinator Bill Davis might have been trying different personnel groups.

The good news for the Birds is they will have at least the first half and a third quarter of Thursday’s game against the Steelers to fix the deficiencies on defense. They better do it quick.

On offense, Nick Foles found his rhythm and showed flashes of 2013 with his performance in the first half. He was of 8-of-10 for 81 yards with one touchdown, one fumble and no interceptions after throwing two last week against Chicago.

In fact, all three Eagles quarterbacks performed well during their stints against the Patriots. Mark Sanchez is showing that he will be a capable backup if Foles gets hurt. Against New England, Sanchez is 11-of-12 for 117 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Third-string quarterback Matt Barkley also played well, completing 9-of-12 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown pass and one interception.

With both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper sitting on the sideline with injuries, the Eagles got a good look at six-foot-seven Ifeanyi Momah and rookie Jordan Matthews , who struggled last week a pair of drops.

Suffice it to say, Momah had a tough night in New England. He had two fumbles and three drops. Oddly enough, one of Momah’s drops inadvertently led to an Eagles touchdown late in the first half when the ball caromed off his hands and into the clutches of Arrelious Benn. He had three catches for 28 yards.

Meanwhile, Matthews made a strong case for him to be included with the first stringers with his performance Friday. He caught nine passes for 104 yards. After the game, the former Vanderbilt star said he still has a lot of work to get better.

“I want to always keep that mindset and just go out there and make plays,” Matthews said. “I just continue to slow the game down in my head and make it feel more like practice. I feel like I did some good things, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

AFC Championship: Win or Lose, Peyton Manning Still Among the Best to Play the Game

19 Jan

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning greet each other after the Patriots 34-31 win on Nov. 24.  Photo by the DenverPost.com.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning greet each other after the Patriots 34-31 win on Nov. 24. Photo by the DenverPost.com.

There are some who are touting Sunday’s AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Denver as some sort of legacy game for both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

It’s like Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III in boxing or Achilles versus Hector in Greek mythology. We are looking for another epic struggle for the ages that will be etched indelibly on the minds of football fans everywhere.

I guess what folks are really trying to say that this will be a contest of how history will view what Brady and Manning done during their careers.  What people really want to know is who is the greatest between Brady and Manning?

To be honest, I think that both quarterbacks will be voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. After all, Brady has led the Patriots to three Super Bowls. Manning, who has one Super Bowl ring, he has re-written the NFL record book and considered to be among the all-time greats to play the game.

For all the things that Manning has done as a quarterback, it will not resonate for a lot of fans in this day and age because he doesn’t have as many Super Bowl rings as Brady. Hell, he doesn’t have as many as his brother Eli, who has two with the New York Giants.  Let’s face it, Eli is not as good as his elder brother.

Even if the Broncos can’t get past the Patriots, please don’t go around saying that Manning’s greatness as a quarterback is diminished because he doesn’t have as many rings as Brady or anybody else.

One of the things that bothers me about our current media landscape of 24-hour sports networks, talk radio and social media is that we are so caught up in the bling of championship rings that we tend to forget one immutable fact that’s important to success in sports like football—It’s a “team game.”

In an era where the No. 1 talking point in sports that we all get off on is Michael Jordan winning six rings as a member of the Chicago Bulls, we determine the greatness of players by how many championships they won while playing for a particular team.

The problem that I have with that notion is that Jordan didn’t win those titles by himself and neither did Brady. They were part of some great teams. Their names are not on those trophies by themselves. They played with players that complimented their skills.

I find that reminding fans that teams win championships, whether it’s a column in the newspaper or on social media, is like your mother telling you when you were a kid that you should eat your vegetables because they’re good for you.  You would rather have chocolate cake and other assorted sweets because it tastes better even though it has too much sugar.

We like to believe that our heroes act alone like they do in all the super hero comic books or in the movies. Such things as having outstanding offensive lineman, a great defense and special teams become secondary to making our favorite players larger than life.

In football, success in the postseason, contrary to popular belief, is dependent upon your teammates-offense, defense and special teams.  A bad day in one of those areas and you won’t win.

In Manning’s case, he is 10-11 in playoff games and has just one Super Bowl ring. If you look back through the playoff games he lost, I would venture to say that when you cut it down the middle that some of those losses weren’t his fault and some were very much his fault.

For example, in a crazy 21-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005, a missed chip-shot field goal near the end of that game ended his season.

In some of those games, the defense couldn’t stop the other team’s offense. Last season’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoff round was a classic example of that. You know the story.

The Broncos were up seven with under a minute to play and seemed on their way to the AFC Championship until a mistake by the defense allowed Jacoby Jones to score on a 70-yard touchdown pass that tied the game and sent it into overtime.

Of course, Manning’s last pass of the game in overtime was intercepted by Baltimore’s Corey Graham. It doesn’t come to that if Denver safety Raheem Moore is in better position to defend Jones in regulation.

Sometimes, the players on the other team are just better than your team that day. The Patriots beat Manning’s Indianapolis Colts teams twice in the playoffs because the Patriots defense outplayed his offense while the Colts defense couldn’t stop Brady and the Patriots.

There are plenty of great quarterbacks in this game who never won one Super Bowl. I think of the Dan Marinos, the Warren Moons, Jim Kellys and the Dan Fouts who were great quarterbacks, but never won a championship because some aspect of their team’s dynamic was flawed in some way.

I still remember flashes of Fouts watching helplessly on the sideline as the Oakland Raiders offense ran out the last seven minutes of the 1980 AFC Championship after the Chargers had scored the touchdown to come within seven.

The glare of those rings blinds us from the reality that winning a championship in team sports is hard. You need the right mix of players and good coaching along with a little bit of luck to win. You can have the greatest player in the world, but if you don’t have a solid team around him playing together, you’re not going to win jack.

Whether or not he beats New England on Sunday or the NFC squad two weeks later in the Super Bowl, Manning is still among the great quarterbacks in the history of the game.  Losing Sunday or two weeks from now will not dim the glory of his outstanding career.

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