Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nevermind, Fall Just Brings New Pain

A few days ago I was reeling in the amazingness that was the Maryland comeback win, even though it was incredibly hard to watch, and rattling on about how all the fall sports happening somehow manage to make me forget or at least ease the pain of being an Orioles fan in September. I must have been setting myself up for heartbreak. And last night it happened. The Ravens lost 23-20 in overtime to the Steelers after dominating the first half of the game. Thus, the dull constant heartache caused by the end of the Orioles season was replaced by the stabbing heartache of losing a totally winnable game in OT.

So I started to think about some of the different types of losses and which is really harder? Watching a blowout is terrible, but at the same time, you usually see them coming. Or at least had an idea that the team was out of your league. It's like getting rejected by the young Brad Pitt look alike. It stings, but you saw it coming. And it's not that hard to get over. A blow out you didn't see coming is harder to accept. Just ask those any Georgia fan after getting routed by Alabama this weekend. Yeah, they came back in the second half to make it not completely embarrassing but still, they were predicted number one in the preseason, and were down 31-0 at halftime, at home, during a blackout. That stings. But at the same time, you know whats happening pretty quickly. Well before the end of the game you've sunk into despair and can start stages of grief.

But overtime losses have to be the most cruel. The Ravens weren't supposed to win this game. They have a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback, at his first road start, on a Monday night. They had only beaten the Bengals and the Browns, two of the worst teams in football, and were playing against a Steelers team that may have lost to the Eagles but are still ranked pretty high and were expected to run away with the AFC North this season. Which is why when Flacco looked poised, even after multiple sacks; when the defense forced Pittsburgh to kick two field goals instead of touchdowns; when Roethlisberger and the offense were being booed by the Pittsburgh fans; and when our offense managed to score a touchdown; I believed we could win. The hope started to grow. I thought we had a chance before the game, I was pretty sure it would be close, but after the first half I really thought we could win.

Then there were those 15 seconds in the third quarter where the Steelers scored two touchdowns. And my hope was dashed. But all of a sudden the score was tied again. And the teams were headed into overtime. Now, NFL overtime rules are possibly the worst in any sport. So much of it depends on the coin toss. Which is why when the Ravens won the toss I was excited. To be fair I was also excited that they won by calling tails because I always call tails. Hope was once again blooming. All we had to do was get into field goal range and we could win. And Matt Stover is one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. I started to believe it could happen. We were going to upset the Steelers on Monday night with a rookie.

But then the Ravens screwed up the kickoff return and just kind of stalled. They couldn't stop the Steelers and as I was hoping for a wide right, I saw number one in our divison slip away.

That roller coaster of emotions is why overtime losses are so hard. You have hope, its gone, wait no, there's still a chance, nevermind, oh yes, maybe, maybe, it could happen.....NNNNOOOO!!!!! Overtime losses are like that on again off again relationship. Its good and you think it could work, but then somethings wrong and you part ways, only to realize it was good and maybe you too should try again. In the end you go back and forth a lot but end up there's just a lot of heartbreak. You tell people you learned something from the relationship, and maybe you did, but that doesn't make the heartache any less.

So in true heartbreak fashion, here's what I learned from the overtime loss. Flacco has a lot of potential and really could be our starter of the future. But he is still a rookie and I can't just go fall in love with him because he was nice on the first few dates. The Ravens are more for real than they looked in the preseason, but I can't start planning the wedding a.k.a the playoff run this early in the season, theres still tough times ahead, like the entire NFC East and 15 straight games. Mostly I'm hoping that this overtime loss isn't the first in a series of heartbreaks this season. Because I still haven't learned not to get overly emotionally invested in these games and in this season.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fall Eases Pain

Fall might be the best sports season of the year. The air is crisp. Well actually its a little humid in Philly this weekend. There's excitement abounding for all the different sports that are starting and getting into the meat of their schedules. Summer is fading away and the its time to replace swimsuits with sweaters, beach weekends with tailgates and baseball with a myriad of other sports.

Baseball is winding down. And even though the playoffs will go into October, my Orioles won't be heading there. I can't say that I'm that upset. I'm actually pretty excited, they have already won 18 more games than I thought they would and since they play their last game today, it might be 19. And they kept me interested in baseball all the way until August, which is longer than most years. But still watching them fall apart in August is always hard. Its a pain that even though its completely expected, never really hurts less because you know its coming. And I'm ready to go from cautious to overly optimistic about my other sports teams and forget the pain the Orioles have inflicted on me once again. And now I'll have some time to forget about it so I can be excited for the heartbreak that will be next season. Though...if the O's could just get some healthy starting pitchers maybe we could be good, maybe even winning season good. See I'm already managing to forget this September.

Another thing about fall is that there's just some gut instinct that this is a time when things are supposed to happen. Yesterday was a prime example. It was just full of upsets in college football. It seemed like all the top 25 teams lost or when they played each other, the lower ranked team won. Even Maryland beat Clemson in an upset. It was completely unexpected and awesome. Maryland didn't really show up in the first half and it seemed like a lost cause. I'm pretty sure my head was in my hands every time Clemson had the ball, I really didn't want to watch them run all over my Terps. I mean, our best play of the first half came when a ball bounced of the shoulder of a Maryland player and being somehow caught by another Maryland receiver. It wasn't even a designed play that got us the most yardage. That's hard to watch. But in the second half something changed. The defense stepped up and suddenly Clemson was facing third downs (which they hadn't really had to deal with in the first half) and Clemson was punting. PUNTING!!! I don't think that happened in the whole first half. But I'm not entirely sure about that, like I said, I spent a lot of time staring at my hands. If you had told me after barely beating Delaware that Maryland would be 4-1 and have beaten two ranked teams at this time of year I would have looked at you quizzically and made some comment about you being overly optimistic. But hell, we could win the ACC, no one else seems to be rising to the challenge. Its a wide open race at this point. Now its completely possible that this team will also bring me pain. I mean just watching the first half against Clemson was excruciating, but we won in the end so its just a minor ache in hindsight.

Also helping me to forget the pain of baseball is the NFL. The Ravens are 2-0 and the defense is looking nasty. Pittsburgh's offensive line allowed Big Ben to get sacked 8 times last week. I'm thinking that he better get ready, because Baltimore loves nothing more than throwing the quarterback around. After two solid starts against terrible teams, the Ravens will finally have a chance to show they can be a contender against a solid Pittsburgh team. Tomorrow will truly be the time for Joe Flacco to step up. Despite the poor offensive line, the Steelers are still a team to be reckoned with, and playing them at Pittsburgh will be a tough challenge for Flaccos first away game. I'm hoping the Ravens bring their A-game and take control of the AFC North.

And as an added bonus hockey season has started. Well, its just preseason, but still. Now a few years ago, I couldn't have cared less about hockey. Then I moved to Philadelphia where people love their hockey. I have to give it to Philly, they love their sports teams, even if they do boo them mercilessly. But that wasn't enough to really sell me on the sport. I watched a couple games, learned a few terms and found out that Ovechkin is awesome, but didn't really pay that much attention. I mean that Caps were still pretty terrible and I can't really cheer for a Philly team and thereby be considered a Philadelphia fan. But then I met a guy who loved hockey. Wanting to be able to talk to him about the Caps and as a result impress him I started paying attention. Needless to say, things didn't really work out with the guy, but that's ok, because I developed a longer lasting and stronger relationship with hockey. It helped that the Caps turned the team around and made the playoffs. Now the season is starting up again and the Caps are 3-0. Hockey season is really long, but its always nice to start out winning. It'll probably be hard for me to watch a lot of Caps games up here in Philly but since hockey plays pretty much every night of the week, I'm sure I'll get a few games in eventually.

I'm even mildly interested in the NBA this year. Not that I'll ever go out of my way to watch a game. But Juan Dixon of the Maryland National Championship team was signed by the Wizards. And that is a move that makes me slightly interested and willing to pay at least a little attention to them.

Overall, I'm excited about the way things have been shaping up so far. And regardless of how all these seasons finish up, I'm happy to enjoy them now. It helps to ease the pain of the looming cold weather and the terrible September for the Orioles.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Crazy/Talented Player

With Tom Brady's injury and Matt Cassel only throwing to Randy Moss a few times two weeks ago for only 22 yards. And last week Moss had only 25 yards. I think that Cassel is going to have to throw to Moss more next week to avoid a burst of crazy from this very talented receiver. Moss has gone off the deep end before, he admitted to taking plays off, and has caused much media distraction. And it looks like the wheels are going to fall off soon. They did lose to the Dolphins this week. However a happy Moss, is a productive, incredibly talented Moss. He's in his 30s and still runs faster than pretty much anyone on the field and doesn't even look like he's near top speed. And he's got great hands, if you throw a ball anywhere around him he seems to come down with it, even in double or triple coverage. He seems like the kind of player you should try to keep happy. But what do I know? We'll see what going to happen soon.

But contemplating a Moss breakdown got me thinking about other talented but unstable players. When is a player too much of distraction, or too crazy to be worth putting up with? And how much talent does a player need to have in order for his on/off the field stunts to be forgiven? Yes there are crazies in other sports, notably Gilbert Arenas and Manny being Manny, but I'm focusing on the NFL, because it seems to be a breeding ground for craziness. And its football season now so it seems appropriate.

For instance, Chad Johnson has been a brat, he demanded a trade that he didn't get, talked a bunch of shit, and then changed his name to Chad Ocho Cinco. And so far this season he has failed to preform up to his own hype. The Bengals seem to be willing to deal with a lot more crazy than more most teams. They resigned Chris Henry after 500 hundred or so arrests and Marvin Lewis saying they would not take him back. But the owner wanted him back so he's there in Cincinnati, causing distractions and problems.

Dallas also seems to be a home of trouble/crazy/incredibly talented players. First, there's Adam "Pacman" Jones. He's been suspended a bunch of times for incidents at strip clubs and involving shootings. Dallas decided to give him a "second chance." But my favorite crazy of all is also on Dallas, T.O. Terrell Owens is nuts, but he is so entertaining. Yes, he passed over my Ravens, but we have enough trouble makers, not so many crazies, just straight up criminals. But his antics have ranged from incredibly entertaining, the Sharpie and the Usain Bolt antics, to just downright insanity, lifting weights in his driveway while ranting in front of media cameras.

But the question was when does the crazy become too much? It happens when a team can't keep the crazy happy anymore. When it becomes too self destructive to the team is when most teams let go. Well, other than the Bengals. The need to win can overshadow. But teams can't let clubhouse cancer take over.

Buffalo tried to rid itself of any bad guys and it seems to be paying off, they started out 3-0 for the first time since forever, well it seems that way anyway. They sent Willis McGahee to the Ravens and haven't looked back. The Ravens have not had many problems with McGahee. I think maybe with so many strong personalities there is too much pride and no one wants to be the one who messes up. But a few injuries caused them to implode last year. So who knows.

Overall, a winning season and good team chemistry can probably overcome most problem players. But coaches and teams walk a dangerous tightrope when they sign that crazy talented star. But when they are the play maker that can be the difference between a making the playoff and winning the Super Bowl maybe its worth it. Maybe even the difference between making the playoffs and not is worth that player. But if something goes wrong, say a season ending injury, and then maybe this player will cost the team the viability for that season. So when does the crazy start to outweigh the talented?

I'm not sure what the answer to this question is. But I think we'll probably find out soon when Randy Moss implodes. Or when T.O. loses in a playoff game again, maybe sooner. And the tipping point is always entertaining. So stay tuned.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bye Week

As a result of hurricane Ike, the Ravens have a bye week this week. The game was originally supposed to be played in Houston but the stadium was damaged during the storm and would not be ready for play on the first rescheduled time on Monday. The NFL also did not want to rush the people of Houston back to their city to watch the game or force the Texans to play for a home crowd full of people who had just lost their homes. While I admire the NFL for trying to do the right thing, why do they have to do it when it screws my team? A bye the second week of the season. That means the Ravens will now play 15 straight weeks. That sucks for them. There will be no time for their future injured players to really recover.

I am not trying to be heartless here. I used to live in New Orleans several years before Katrina. After Katrina and Rita I volunteered with the Red Cross for three weeks and was placed in Baton Rouge and visited New Orleans and saw the damage for myself. It was heartbreaking. But I believe the Saints played their first couple games in Baton Rouge. Also a few years ago there were wild fires I think in San Diego, again not exactly sure and too lazy to look it up. But the Monday Night game was moved to the University of Arizona in Tempe. I remember this because if you went to the Arizona you got to go to the game for free and I was jealous. So is the NFL trying to tell me that there is not a big college football stadium somewhere in the vicinity of Houston where the Texans could play for a week. I mean a week 2 bye also screws the Texans. They really would rather have a long season with no real bye than play in a different site with a still Texas bias crowd? Really? Really? I know neither team is supposed to be good this year, but still, are we trying to stack the deck against us?

On the plus side, the Ravens go one more week undefeated. Which is nice for people like me to contemplate. Even if its because of a hurricane. And since the Ravens play the Browns next week at Baltimore, we could be undefeated for the first three weeks of the season. The Browns have not been playing up to their hype this year. I have Derek Anderson on my fantasy team so I actually have paid a tiny bit of attention to them. That and it was impossible to miss how they got creamed at Dallas last week. This week isn't look much better for the Dog Pound. As I write this they are losing to Pittsburgh. Yes, its the end of the third quarter and the score is 10-3 Pittsburgh, so the Browns could come back. But Anderson has thrown 2 interceptions and no touchdowns so I'm not holding my breath.

Since the Ravens didn't play today, I spent some time watching other random games. Pretty much whatever was on. And also got several reals of highlights. So I'll throw out a couple random observations about the season.

Adrian Peterson is awesome and the Vikings are wusses. They/he ran all over the Colts and still lost because they only scored touchdowns. I'm sorry, but if you have someone run for 160 yards, your team should score a touchdown. Instead, they let Manning show that even injured he has learned to play in the clutch situations. And he came back and let Adam Viniteri kick a field goal to win the game.

Jay Cutler is awesome. Its possible that the Chargers are just bad this year. But Cutler cut them to shreds by passing for 350 yards with 4 touchdowns and a 2 point conversion. I mean he had an end zone interception but if you put up numbers like this every week your team is probably going to win. Even though Denver's defense almost gave up the game and let San Diego come back and take the lead near the end of the fourth quarter, Cutler carved up the Chargers D and scored. And then Shanahan did what everyone else called the risky move and went for the two point conversion for the win. I think this was the obvious right move. Everything that day had gone Denver's way. There were two botched calls that should have led to turnovers, one as a result of replay/review malfunction and one where Cutler fumbled but the ref blew the ball dead so it was not actually a fumble. Furthermore, Denver wasn't able to stop San Diego most of the second half, so if they lost the coin flip, I think they would have lost the game. And finally, Cutler's receiver seemed to have magnets or glue or something, they just kept coming up with the ball. I admire the "risky" play of Shanahan. I think he made the right choice and I'm glad it worked out for him.

The Pats managed to win without Brady. This is not really that shocking. The Jets barely beat the Dolphins last week. And the Pats have a great supporting cast and a great defense. As long as Cassel could manage to not mess up, the Pats were probably going to win. But, I'll have to say that next week Cassel is going to have to look more towards Randy Moss. Moss was happy with Brady because he got lots of passes and lots of touchdowns. Today Moss had 22 receiving yards for 2 receptions. He stepped up to the media this week and sounded more mature. But if he doesn't get his spotlight its just a matter of time before he implodes and takes whoever happens to be around him down with him. So throw him the ball Cassel, he's a super talented receiver, he'll probably come up with it and make you look better. It'll work out best for everyone this way.

My last observation of this week. Kansas City has won the title of the worst team in the NFL. Now I know some of you are thinking Cincinnati, but I'm pretty sure its KC. They lost to Oakland today. The Raiders were/are a contender for worst team in the league, but Darren McFadden had a great game and the Chiefs just got embarrassed. Next week Cincy could try and take the crown for worst team. But right not the Chiefs have won it.

Also, I have to briefly mention that somehow Maryland won. They beat 23 ranked Cal. Well, not ranked anymore, but they were at the time. I'm not sure exactly how this happened after their first two terrible showings, a loss to Middle Tennessee and a pathetic win against Delaware, but the Fridge came through. I didn't actually watch the game, I didn't want the pain. But now I'm tempted to watch the Terps play next week, which will undoubtedly bring if not pain then unneeded amounts of stress to my life. The Terps seem to play at the level of their competition. Which scares the hell out of me. It means a lot of close games and no telling if they are going to be the good team or the god awful team from week to week. But hopefully they'll manage to squeak out enough wins to get to a bowl game. Or maybe this Cal game was a sign that they have their shit together and will actually play well the rest of the season. That seems like too much to hope for right now. Anyway GO TERPS!!!!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wacko for Flacco!

The Ravens' first game of the season has come and gone. And compared to last years season opener this game was a 180 degree turn around. Instead of a hyped up season full of unmet expectations, we had the our expectations exceeded. A rookie quarterback flung into the starting role who didn't make any mistakes. Compare that to a year ago with a veteran quarterback who had 6 turnovers in the first half. Last year was a season of injuries and underachieving, of aging quarterbacks and asking too much from the team. This year is different. This year has a new feel. This is a year where everyone seems to be fighting for a starting job. The preseason has come and gone but the starting line up is still very malleable.

First, there's the quarterback situation. Flacco earned himself another start next week by playing with poise on the field. He did throw an interception. He did not give up a fumble. And he managed to avoid getting sacked. This had a lot to do with the offensive line which didn't seem to be missing future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden all that much. The offensive line is young and inexperienced, but they played like veterans, protecting Flacco in the pocket and allowing him to barely be rushed. It was an inspiring performance, even if it was against the Bungles...I mean Bengals.

The defense led by Ray Lewis was stellar. Carson Palmer got knocked around like a rag doll. And they really only let up one field goal, partially because of a questionable pass interference call on Chris McAlister. (The first one, not the second one) The only touchdown the Bengals score was off a fumble by rookie running back Ray Rice. But he played a solid game otherwise, tearing up the Bengals defense, so the mistake is easily forgiven by the fans.

The Ravens looked all around surprisingly good. A lot of credit for that has to go to the Bengals being terrible, but they were terrible last year and creamed us in the season opener, so I'm going to focus on the positive. John Harbaugh's philosophy of working hard in the preseason must have paid off. Because these Ravens came out looking to dominate and to work together. This was a team that respected and wanted to protect the quarterback. And he returned the favor by throwing a hard block on Mark Clayton's double reverse touchdown play. The team really seemed to be looking out for each other.

And as an added bonus, many of the defenders who's starts seemed questionable were able to play and avoid any further injury. Ed Reed and Chris McAlister both played well, even with the penalties on McAlister. And the defense didn't have to score points for the team to win. The offense actually scored the points. Making this season seem promising all of a sudden. (Last year no one scored points and two seasons ago the defense scored most of the points.)

Now, we still have a tough schedule and things that worked Sunday can't be expected every week. A double reverse is almost never heard of, and while cool, I doubt its going to be a regular play. Also, Flacco's rush for a touchdown was longer than any rush in college, so I'm not ready to believe he's about to become a running quarterback. But the way the team played and the way Flacco managed to stay cool under pressure and improvise when needed wins my vote of confidence. I'm ready to watch next weeks Houston game and believe from the beginning that we can win.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ravens Preview

The Ravens' season starts today so I thought I'd spout out a some general observations and a final record prediction. I think one of the main reasons people write sports blogs besides sports obsessions and wasting time from their real lives of being lawyers is to have proof that they predicted something, in the off chance they are actually right. I don't think I'm likely to get many predictions right so if I do I want to be able to cite when it happened so I'm not accused of changing my story. And screw it, if I'm wrong, maybe I'll just come back and edit this post. It's not like many people read this anyway.

This Raven's season is not looking to promising. Yes, we do have some promising young players that might play a huge part eventually, but they are being thrust into starting positions right away. Let's start with the obvious, Joe Flacco. He is a rookie quarterback out of Delaware, not the biggest football powerhouse. And while he has consistently improved during the preseason, he still doesn't seem quite ready for the big time yet. But with Troy Smith still recovering from possibly the worst case of tonsilitis ever, he got the starting nod. The other promising rookie with a lot of promise is Ray Rice, a running back from Rutgers. Rutgers has been improving its football name recently and he had a lot of yards during college. If Willis McGahee isn't ready to play then Rice will be in there. He's a little guy at only 5'8 so I'm rooting for him to do well. Short people have to support each other.

Other than our "exciting" young prospects, the team has been plagued with injury, and its not even the regular season yet. This does not bode well. Ed Reed, apparently was able to practice without his red jersey, which means he has been cleared for hitting in practice and says he would like to play in the season opener. We'll find out in a few hours. Overall, I'd like Reed healthy in the long run, even if does mean missing the first game of the season. And Chris McAlister had a full practice this week, which means he will also be able to start. So things are looking up a bit for our defense.

John Harbaugh has managed to earn the respect and inspire confidence from the team as the coach. Hopefully this will translate into a better attitude that brings about more wins. We'll soon see if he can face up to the hard schedule this year. Ravens play the AFC South, which sent three teams to the playoffs last year, and the NFC East, which also sent three teams to the playoffs. And of course we play our division twice, and even though the AFC North is not a powerhouse this year, division games are always a little more intense. But maybe we can manage to beat Miami this year.

This preview is pretty short because I don't want to dwell on the negative and there really is not too much positive. I do want to give a quick shout out to Matt Stover, the most reliable person on the Ravens offense. He is entering his 18th season as the starting kicker for this franchise. (He is the only holdover from the Browns) He has been outstanding in his time with the team, and here's hoping he has another great season.

I'm hoping that the new coach John Harbaugh does well in his first season, that Flacco shines and that Smith recovers quickly just in case. I'm hoping that this team will overcome injury and find its form from two years ago. I'm hoping that we win more games than we did last year.

All that being said, I think we'll wind up with the same record as last year, 5-11. I'm hoping I'm wrong.

Monday, September 1, 2008

It's Going to Be a Long Fall Season

Saturday marked the start of college football for me. Maryland managed to win their first game against Delaware 14-7. Despite getting the most rushing yards since a 2003 game, Da'Rel Scott ran for 197 of them, they barely squeak past the Fighting Blue Hens. While its true that the Terps' normally solid and consistent kicker, Egekeze, missed three field goals, two that he should have made, this score is still a little too close for comfort. To be honest, I didn't watch most of the game. I watch snippets of it at the bar but didn't give it my full attention. From the recaps, all I can figure is that if we can barely beat Delaware, its going to be a long season. So much for being the dark horse of the ACC. We don't even have a definite starter. Sounds like the Ravens. Oh well, we can only hope it'll get better as first game nerves start to settle down.

As for the Ravens, the season just looks more and more ominous. We still don't have a starting quarterback. And the battle seems to be far from over. I think it should be Smith, if he recovers from his viral illness in time. Even though he hasn't practiced in over a week, I still think he is the best choice. He has shown poise when being thrown into a game suddenly and has some experience in the pocket. While Flacco has progressed a lot since the first pre-season game, I don't think he's ready to get thrown in there yet. Let him have the 4th quarter, if the game isn't too close. And for that we'll have to wait and see how healthy the defense is. If they can come up big like they did two seasons ago then we may just have a shot at a winning record this year.

Two seasons ago, they led the league in turnover differential. That was the part of what helped them go 13-3. If they can come back to their old form, then this season might not be so bad. But with Ed Reed missing the first game and maybe more, one of our biggest threats for an interception is out of the game. Let's hope someone else steps up. We're going to need it.

Overall I'm hoping for some pleasant surprises this fall. But I'm not going to base my expectations on that hope. Realistically, the Ravens have one of the hardest schedules in football, playing in the AFC North and playing the AFC South and NFC East this season. Both of those division sent three teams to the playoffs last year. And they don't look like they will be getting much worse this season. It might be a long season.