What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next three and a half months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
I’ll tell you what I see. I see the purest of friendships, an unbreakable bond, forged by hundreds of millions of after-practice route-running sessions and a joint chiponmyshoulderness born of lives defined by slights. It just isn’t right, what happened. If we can’t believe in Tom and Wes, what’s left to believe in?
The fallout between Welker and Belichick (who clearly hates love in all its forms), along with Brady’s unhappiness and the whole situation’s ugly turn, deserved the attention it received. But underplayed in all this, somehow, was not only that Welker was leaving — he was running straight into the arms of Brady’s greatest rival. It could’ve been anyone. But no, it had to be Peyton Manning.
In this loyal-free era of sports, we see defections like this all the time, but with Welker, I want to believe it was about more than business. I want to believe that what happened with New England was a personal affront, that he chose Denver to stick it to Belichick, and that all this talk about feeling like a rookie again is an effort to make Brady jealous. Until I hear otherwise, that’s what I’m going with. And I can’t wait for Wes Welker to be the Adam Banks of the NFL.
By the way, the Broncos visit Foxboro in Week 12, when I can only assume those teams are going to be a combined 17-3 and battling it out for home-field advantage. I've got to assume that all this comes up that week. Just a hunch, though.
The thought had lingered all weekend — for the past couple weekends, actually — but it took Matt Schaub’s trip to Foxborough for it to take hold. Houston had just completed another seven-yard pass on a third-and-8, and as it became clear that the Texans’ tailspin would end with nothing more than a death rattle, I wondered whether this was it for Matt Schaub.
This doesn’t mean I think Schaub’s time in Houston is over. Matt Schaub will be the Texans’ starting quarterback next season, and he probably should be. In every season in which Matt Schaub started 16 games, he’s thrown for 4,000 yards. He’s been to the Pro Bowl twice, the most recent trip being just last season. In the world, there are probably 15 men better than Matt Schaub at what Matt Schaub does. The problem for the Texans, and the problem for a handful of teams around the league, is that Matt Schaub’s competence may actually be their undoing.
Ray Lewis has described many things as “awesome.” He dieted and exercised before this season and showed up to camp at his lightest weight in some 15 years: “It’s awesome,” he said, “I feel great.” Earlier this season he described Joe Flacco and the Ravens' much-improved offense as “awesome.” Last week, as he took a victory lap around the Ravens’ stadium one last time, he described it as “the most awesome thing you could ever ask for in any professional career.” After Baltimore’s twist-filled victory over Denver on Saturday, Lewis began doing that postgame proselytizing thing that’s common in such contexts. Maybe it’s the awareness that Lewis is nearing the end or maybe it was the delirium of the game, but there was something wildly moving and strange about his incantations. He said some cold-blooded shit about “weapons,” just as the tool that had been forged for his demise, Peyton Manning, walked up to hug him. Then his eyes got gone and serene as he admired his team’s mile-high handiwork: “Man … it’s just awesome,” he said, all blissful and blessed, clouds of mist surrounding his face, as though the Creator had taken a highlighter to him. There’ve been few players over the past decade as intense and absorbing as Lewis. For those of us who remember when “Ray Lewis weapons” turned up a different kind of search-engine result, there hasn’t been another athlete whose path to righteousness has felt so visceral and extreme.
In case you were busy trying to concoct a homemade flu vaccine out of common household spices, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The San Francisco 49ers, led by second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick beat the Green Bay Packers, 45-31, in San Francisco to advance to the NFC Championship game. Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore combined for 300 yards rushing against an overwhelmed Packers defense. When told this stat after the game, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, "That's what it was! Run defense! I knew I was forgetting something. It was on my to-do list. I swear." McCarthy then pulled out a Palm Pilot, poked at it with a stylus for a couple of minutes, and then showed it to the gathered reporters. "Look, right here: 'Go over run defense.' It's always one thing you forget to do, am I right?"
The Seattle Seahawks rallied from 20 points down in the fourth quarter to dramatically cover the spread against the Atlanta Falcons, 28-30. Russell Wilson threw for 385 yards and ran for 60 more, accounting for three touchdowns in the cover. After the game, when asked about his team's success, Wilson fought back tears, saying, "We fought so hard; we left it all there. I'm just so proud of my whole team. It's hard to put into words what happened tonight. But I still aim to come out even stronger next time we play." The Seahawks will again go for the cover next September against an opponent yet to be determined.
This Saturday night, I plan on sitting in front of my television set for three-plus hours and praying that the Packers' pass protection is better than the 49ers' pass rush. Of all the variables that might possibly affect the outcome of the Packers-49ers playoff game, this by far seems the most important. And I’m sure that the pregame coverage, as well as the play-by-play announcers, will spend a lot of time analyzing it. But I also expect to hear about another story line that’s become standard for Packers games. It stars Aaron Rodgers, and it co-stars The Chip On Aaron Rodgers’s Shoulder.
If you watch the Packers every week like I do, you’ve come to regard The Chip On Aaron Rodgers’s Shoulder as an overly familiar chestnut of wisdom utilized by analysts to supposedly reveal deep truths about the reigning NFL MVP’s psyche. It is now officially the no. 1 talking point among football pundits for deconstructing Aaron Rodgers’s play and persona. What “he looks like a kid out there!” was to Brett Favre, “he sure takes things to heart!” is to Rodgers. If Favre was “the gunslinger,” Rodgers is the grudge-slinger.
In part 1 of 2, Cousin Sal and Chad Millman join Bill to review the Week 17 action and look forward to the matchups on wild-card weekend. In part 2, Mike Lombardi offers his analysis of the NFL playoff matchups, and Joe House celebrates the Redskins' big win over the Cowboys.
To listen to this podcast, you can download it on iTunes here or go to the ESPN.com PodCenter for part 1 and part 2.
The fantasy football season isn't quite over, but as of this week, the Fantasy Island competition is. After 16 weeks and a very tight race, we're pleased to announce that Matt Borcas has won a spot as our fantasy football writer. This week is Matt's soft open of sorts, and when it comes time for rankings and previews next summer, everyone will get a full introduction as we start ramping up to the season. Thanks again to everyone who participated in this year's competition, and to those who've read.
One hundred years after the sinking of the Titanic, another overblown, too-big-to-fail enterprise — the Philadelphia Eagles — is crashing and burning, and Andy Reid insists on bringing fantasy owners down with him. Case in point: On Wednesday, Reid announced that despite LeSean McCoy’s return to the starting lineup, he would employ the dreaded three-way split between McCoy, Bryce Brown, and Dion Lewis.
It didn’t have to end this way for the Eagles. Their skill position players were meant to carry fantasy teams to championships, not to the first overall pick in next year’s draft. But as Reid spends his final days in Philadelphia brooding like Captain Edward John Smith, owners of McCoy and Brown are left to fend for themselves.
It was a year that provided plenty of personalities, story lines, and moments, but the question is, which of those moments got their due and which did not? Could LeBron James actually be underrated? Could the Olympics? They just might be.
Underrated: LeBron James's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Indiana
Everyone remembers the 45-point evisceration of Boston on the road in an elimination game, and the ultra-efficient inside-out torching of the Thunder in the Finals. But Game 4 against the Pacers has sort of gotten lost in the shuffle, which can happen, I guess, when a game kicks off one of the greatest 15-game stretches in the entire history of a sport. Miami felt like it was on the verge of a franchise-altering crisis going into Game 4, down 2-1 to a feisty Indiana team and missing Chris Bosh. Dwyane Wade had shot 2-of-13 and snapped at Erik Spoelstra during a Game 3 blowout loss. It wasn't an elimination game, but in that moment it was hard to imagine Miami coming back from a 3-1 deficit against a Pacers club that clearly didn't fear them.
And when Miami fell behind by 10 points in the first half of Game 4, looking a bit listless, it was tempting to start thinking about the consequences of a conference semifinals loss. Would they make a panic trade of one of the stars? Would they conclude James and Wade just couldn't coexist well enough to win a title? Would they fire Spoelstra before his extension — which was signed before the season — even kicked in?
Then LeBron and Wade went absolutely bananas, scoring 38 straight points for Miami in a second-half stretch for the ages. It wasn't just the production; it was the way it looked. Both were cutting actively off the ball and feeding each other for the sorts of semi-improv scores we all envisioned when they teamed up. Spoelstra began leaning on sets in which Miami cleared one side of the floor for LeBron and letting James go to work. He was dominant in those sets, which were rarely a major part of Miami's offense before, and they morphed into post-ups as the playoffs wore on — the post-ups for which Oklahoma City had no answer. It all just came together, at a startling speed. James finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds, and nine assists, numbers that no other player has ever put up in a postseason game since the mid-1980s. He hit post-up shots, jumpers, graceful floaters over Roy Hibbert in the lane — shots he just didn't quite have down even two or three seasons before. It was masterful, and the Heat needed every bit of it. — Zach Lowe
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
When I Paint My Masterpiece
This is a video of Adrian Peterson highlights, with play-by-play by Gus Johnson, because of course Gus Johnson was calling this game.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
A last-minute drive came up short when no. 3 Georgia opted not to spike the football inside the 10 and instead mistakenly completed a pass to the 5-yard line, allowing the clock to run out and giving no. 2 Alabama a 32-28 win in the SEC championship game and a spot in the BCS title game opposite Notre Dame. Georgia coach Mark Richt insisted that he kept trying to yell at his team to spike the ball, but that his vocal cords felt painfully constricted, while video footage of the Alabama sideline shows Nick Saban reaching across the field with one hand at that exact moment.
No one is safe from the BQBL Summer Jam Screen. Atop the BQBL leader board this week are Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Matt Stafford. While these “elite” quarterbacks (whatever that means) had surprisingly atrocious performances, there was nothing surprising about Ryan Lindley’s debut as an NFL quarterback. He was all kinds of entertaining in that “Wow, this is what it would look like if you pulled a dude from the stands and put him under center” type of way. Oh yeah, one more thing: He almost beat the Falcons. Let’s review the carnage from Atlanta’s TAINTiest and FARTiest of football contests (I swear that will be the only FART joke. I swear).