Archive for the Pro Bowl Category

What We Learned From Ravens’ Loss to the Vikings


Maybe it is not so much what we learned, but more what we’ve confirmed about the Baltimore Ravens and their chance to be an elite team this season.

Here are a few of my personal confirmations:

Joe Flacco is a Pro Bowl quarterback —In three straight weeks, the Ravens have lost three straight games that have come down to the wire. And the only reason the Ravens were even close enough to the wire to come up short in a photo finish is because of Joe Flacco.

Greg Mattison is certainly not Rex Ryan I alluded to this in a post last week about how the Ravens’ “exotic” blitzes of the past were more out of necessity than flair. Chris Carr is terrible. Frank Walker is terrible. Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington are serviceable. It seems that when the Ravens are able to blitz, things go better for them than when they don’t. But trust me, nothing will get better for this team throughout the season if opponents can continue to air it out down field confidently.

Ray Rice is what Reggie Bush Should Be —I’m sure a lot of people were wondering why Ray Rice has maintained his starting position, while Willis McGahee has received more of the meaningful carries with scoring opportunities. Yesterday showed us why. Rice is the new Marshall Faulk, able to make plays out of the back field and on passing patterns. Show me a linebacker that can matchup with him, and I’ll show you somebody Rice practices against everyday in training camp.

As I said last week, it’s certainly not panic mode in Charm City. The Ravens have lost three straight games to three playoff caliber teams—and two of the three have the potential to reach the Super Bowl. Still, there’s a lot that the Ravens have to get right over the course of the season, or the projected 11-12 wins we thought they could take this year could easily turn into eight or nine.

Technorati Tags: Baltimore Ravens , Joe Flacco , Ray Rice

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Brett Favre Unretires Again, Joins Minnesota Vikings for 2009 NFL Season


Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress was more than happy to drive quarterback Brett Favre right into the Vikings starting lineup

Well we knew it was probably coming and on Aug. 19, the “immortal” Brett Favre descended from the Mountain Top High to “unretire” once again.

Favre officially joined the Minnesota Vikings signing a one-year, $12 million deal with a second year option, flip-flopping once again. 

Favre was immediately given his No. 4 jersey (backup John David Booty had to settle for his new No. 9) went to practice and was even named the starter for the Viking second pre-season game on Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs before even hitting the practice field.

The signing of Favre ends the third (or is it the fourth) off-season where he decided at the last second to join an NFL team right before the start of the season. 

I don’t begrudge Favre the opportunity to continue his playing career, but why did he wait so long and even more important how could the Vikings braintrust (namely head coach Brad Childress) make it so easy for him to waltz right back in the NFL like nothing had ever happened? 

The on-the-hot-seat head coach said of Favre’s quick entry into Vikings’ Purple, “This is a fluid business, and we were moving ahead, but you always go back and reassess.”

My how quickly things have turned for the graybeard quarterback who refuses to shave or walk away from the NFL after almost 20 years.  Looking back on July 28, the man who holds every major NFL career passing record said via Childress that he was done. 

But I guess a couple more weeks of throwing to high schoolers instead of being in training camp made the future Hall of Famer change his mind. 

I guess Favre’s arm is feeling better after renowned sports injury surgeon Dr. James Andrews put his surgically repaired right arm back together.  Andrews not only fixed Favre’s torn bicep injury, but he also worked on a torn rotator cuff that has plagued No. 4 for years. 

Thank Goodness I didn’t write Favre’s final stats of most career NFL touchdown passes (464), most career NFL passing yards (65,127), most career pass completions (5,720), most career passing attempts (9,280), most career NFL interceptions thrown (310), his “iron man” most consecutive starts quarterback streak (269 and you can make it 291 if you include the playoffs), and most career victories as a starting quarterback (169) in ink.

 Favre will now be counted on to lead a team that he barely knows other than competing against them in the past.  And there is the lingering question how will the Vikings existing two “also-ran” quarterbacks, Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, handle being pushed aside without little or no explanation. 

I know the Vikings think with their stellar defense, Pro Bowl RB Adrian Peterson, a strong O-line led by Pro Bowl offensive guard Steve Hutchinson, and a receiving corps featuring emerging Bernard Berrian and first round potential breakout rookie Percy Harvin that Favre is the last piece.

But this 10-6 NFC North Champion team from 2008 better be careful what they are wishing for as the 39—will turn 40 on Oct. 10—Favre did not look stellar down the stretch as the New York Jets limped home to a 1-4 finish including losing a playoff berth at home to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.

Favre may have every passing record in the book and he had a magical ride in 2007 for Green Bay, but last season his body started to betray him, as he led the NFL with 22 INTs. 

The hardest part for the Vikings’ lockerroom will be adjusting to the venerable passer and testing the mettle and leadership of a group of players that have already bonded together after sweating it out at training camp in Mankato. 

Of course Favre was giddy of his return as he proclaimed, “I think it’s great for football, I can’t see how you think it wouldn’t be.” 

I guess Favre didn’t talk to Rosenfels and Jackson, but I am sure Packers’ fans will let him know how exactly they feel about his flip-flop act when he visits on Nov. 1 with his new team.

At least for now we can put Favre-watch to rest for 2009, but I am sure come next offseason his whole retirement/un-retirement act will be revisited.


Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Posted in Brad Childress, Brett Favre, Favre Unretires, Favre Unretires Again, Minnesota Vkings Tagged: Brad Childress, Brett Favre, Favre Unretires, Favre Unretires Again, Football, Minnesota Vkings, NFL, Sports


Best Of The Best | College Football’s 10 Greatest Freshmen

There was a time, not that long ago actually, when college football was dominated by men who looked like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and never, ever needed a fake I.D. to get into a bar. It was the redshirt era—a time when fifth-year seniors ruled the gridiron and freshmen spent the majority of their game time waving towels over their heads on the sidelines.

But with the onslaught of early entries into the NFL Draft and the rise of the super-underclassman in recent years (see Tebow, Peterson, Crabtree, et al … ), more freshmen are arriving on campuses each fall looking to make an impact from Day One. So with the college football season nearly upon us, we thought we’d take a look back today on the game’s greatest freshmen. And yes, a few of them even managed to make their mark during the Hacksaw Duggan era:

No. 1—Emmitt Smith, Florida, RB, 1987. True impact freshmen were still a rarity during the 1970s and ’80s, but the one position that seemed to produce more than any other was running back. And the running back who made the biggest splash of them all was Emmitt Smith. A decorated prep running back out of Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia, the undersized Smith still had his share of doubters when he was signed by the University of Florida. But in his first full game as the Gators’ featured back, Smith broke the school’s 40-year-old single-game rushing record, galloping for 224 yards and a pair of TDs in a victory over Alabama. Smith finished his rookie campaign with 1,341 yards and earned Freshman of the Year honors from both the Southeastern Conference and the Associated Press. Smith bolted Gainesville after his junior year with 58 school rushing records, and went on to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

No. 2—Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, RB, 1991. Another frosh running back with a supersized high school resume and an undersized frame would make an enormous impact on the game just a few seasons later. In his second college start, Marshall Faulk shattered a pair of NCAA rushing records by rushing for 386 yards and seven touchdowns in a rout of Pacific. Faulk went on to compile one of the gaudiest freshman lines in NCAA history – 1,429 rushing yards and 23 TDs. Three years later, he exited as the second overall pick in the NFL Draft and went on to become one of the league’s most prolific backs and a fantasy player’s wet dream (he’s still the only RB in NFL history to compile 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards over his career).

No. 3—Jamelle Holieway, Oklahoma, QB, 1985. If you’re a college football fan who grew up in the Atari and Frankie Goes to Hollywood era, chances are you remember this lightning-fast quarterback well. If you’re a fan from the Xbox and Jay-Z era … well, maybe not so much. Which is a shame, because you missed seeing one of the most scintillating QBs in the game’s history. With feet as quick as a hiccup and the ability to cut on a dime, Holieway was a natural to run Barry Switzer’s option offense when he took over for an injured Troy Aikman four games into the 1985 season. He went on to lead the Sooners to an 11-1 season, capping it with a victory over Penn State in the Orange Bowl and a national championship. Holieway remains the only true freshman QB to lead his team to a national title. Unfortunately, Holieway’s remarkable freshman year would be the apex of his career, as off-field issues and knee injuries derailed his success.

No. 4—Bernie Kosar, Miami, QB, 1983. While Holieway may be the only true freshman to lead his team to a national crown, one strong-armed QB managed to pull off the feat as a redshirt frosh two years earlier. And it’s easy to overlook the accomplishment, as Bernie Kosar played like a fifth-year senior from the moment he stepped on campus in Coral Gables. Kosar completed 61.5 percent of his passes (remember kids, this was before the bubble screen era) for 2,328 yards and 15 TDs, leading the Hurricanes to an 11–1 regular-season mark and a spot in the Orange Bowl against top-ranked Nebraska. Kosar passed for 300 yards and two TDs, helping the Hurricanes halt the Huskers’ 22-game winning streak and collect the school’s first national title.

No. 5—Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech, WR, 2007. The San Francisco 49ers, who selected Tech’s superstar receiver with the 10th pick in this spring’s NFL Draft, can only hope that Crabtree will have the same impact in the Bay Area this fall that he had on the Texas plains in the fall of 2007. A standout QB for perennial high school power Dallas Carter, Crabtree redshirted his first year in Lubbock while acclimating himself to the wideout position. He proved to be a quick study. In the fall of ‘07, Crabtree put together one of the most prolific campaigns in the history of the position, piling up 1,861 receiving yards and 21 TD catches under coach Mike Leach’s high-flying system. Crabtree garnered a slew of awards, including the Biletnikoff Trophy (given to the nation’s top receiver) and a unanimous All-America selection.

No. 6—Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma, 2004. Peterson is better known these days as an All-Pro back for the Minnesota Vikings. But in 2004, “A.D.” he was the B.M.O.C. for OU. Peterson exploded out of the gate for the Sooners during his freshman season, running for 1,925 yards en route to earning first-team AP All-America honors. The workhorse back (he led the nation in carries as a freshman with 339) finished second to USC quarterback Matt Leinart in voting for the Heisman Trophy—the highest finish ever for a freshman.

No. 7—Tim Brown, Notre Dame, WR, 1984. No player on this list had as rocky a start to his college career as this future Heisman Trophy winner did. The Dallas native arrived in South Bend as a ballyhooed recruit under Gerry Faust, and even earned a spot as the team’s starting kickoff returner for the season-opener against Purdue. On the opening kickoff, Brown fumbled, Purdue recovered, and the Irish went on to lose. Brown persevered, however, and went on to set the school’s freshman record for receptions. He went on to a stellar career that culminated with winning the 1987 Heisman. Brown was also a nine-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.

No. 8—Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State, 2002. Like Holieway, Maurice Clarett’s star burned brightest his freshman year. The talented but troubled running back was a one-year wonder for the Buckeyes, rushing for 1,237 yards and 18 TDs to help lead Ohio State to a national title. Amid a bevy of academic and off-field problems, however, Clarett was dismissed from the school a year later. He later challenged (unsuccessfully) the NFL’s rule that a player must have been out of high school for three years to be eligible for the entry draft, and was waived by the Denver Broncos a year later without ever playing a regular-season down.

No. 9—Herschel Walker, Georgia, RB, 1980. Perhaps the most physically gifted player on the list, Herschel Walker became a national sensation for the Bulldogs almost from the get-go. With a stunning combination of size, speed and quickness, Walker helped Georgia to an undefeated regular season and a Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame that gave the Bulldogs the national title. He finished third in Heisman Trophy balloting after rushing for 1,616 total yards and 15 TDs. Walker would win the award two years later.

No. 10 – Jared Lorenzen, QB, Kentucky, 2000. It seems only fitting that a quarterback nicknamed the “Hefty Lefty” would make a big splash right from the start, and that’s exactly what Jared Lorenzen did for the Wildcats. The 275-pounder shattered six NCAA single-season marks for freshmen, including total yards, passing yards, pass attempts and completions. His greatest performance came between the hedges in Athens, Ga., as the beefy southpaw gorged himself for 528 passing yards (still an SEC record) and a pair of TDs in a 34-30 victory over Georgia.



Preseason Picks for NFL All-Pro: NFC, Pt. 2 (Defense and Special Teams)

This a follow-up to “Preseason Picks for NFL All-Pro: NFC, Pt. 1”, which focused on my predictions for the best offensive players in the NFC for 2009. If you have not read my offensive picks yet, here is the link: With that being said, it should not be a surprise that this slide will honor the top defensive and special teams players in the National Football Conference. It will be of a similar format to its predecessor, one player for every position on a standard defense.


State of the DTs: Cracks in Vikings’ Williams Wall, or Just Minor Issues?

[This article is one of eight in B/R contributor Jack Harver’s “State of the DTs” series, introduced here.]

Albert Haynesworth’s biggest competition for NFC Pro Bowl honors will come from Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams.

During their past three seasons manning the middle of the Vikings’ defensive line, the Williams duo has been the engine room for the NFL’s stingiest rush defense. Minnesota’s opponents have averaged less than 71 yards per game on the ground during that span, and Kevin and Pat have been fixtures on the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster since .

Kevin, who has 42.5 career sacks in his six pro seasons, is considered the better pass rusher of the two. Pat, who has played at 320 pounds for the Vikings since arriving at 335 pounds from Buffalo in 2005, uses his massive frame to occupy blockers, freeing the Vikings’ linebackers and other down linemen to make plays. He’s deceptively quick, taking on double teams with his fast movements and sheer bulk.

Minnesota had a few scares involving these two cornerstones of their defense toward the end of last year—situations worth watching going into the 2009 season.

After taking the NFC North lead with a Week 13 win against Chicago, both Willams were suspended for testing positive for a banned weight-loss diuretic. Both Kevin and Pat hunkered down against commissioner Roger Goodell in court just like they’d done against opposing running backs, filing an injunction that stalled the suspension and allowed them to play out the season.

Opinions differ on whether the Williamses will win their protracted legal battle with the NFL as they continue to fight tooth and nail to clear their names and play.

The stakes are particularly high for their reputations: if they are eventually suspended, criticism from pundits and sports fans—already disillusioned by the seeming prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball—would likely be severe.

Point-blank; if Kevin and Pat Williams come out of court with anything short of a complete victory, they’ll likely be tainted in the public eye. Fair or unfair, they’d have long odds to be voted into the Pro Bowl.

On the football field, Kevin shows no signs of slowing down. A Pro Bowler in four of his six NFL seasons, he has missed only two games in his career—a knee sprain sidelined him for Weeks 13 and 14 in 2005—and is coming off his highest one-season sack total (8.5) since exploding onto the big-league scene with 10.5 and 11.5 in his first two seasons.

Pat, on the other hand, seems to have a few chinks in his formidable armor. He missed the Vikings’ last three games this past season after breaking a bone in his shoulder, but the real points of concern are his offseason surgeries. He had work done on his elbow in 2008, and recently underwent a minor procedure on his knee.

Turning 37 this October, the heftier of Minnesota’s two top-caliber tackles is no spring chicken. Joint injuries tend to nag and recur; while Pat’s level of play may not drop, medical problems might keep him out of enough games to miss out on a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.