Monday, November 30, 2009

Pure Thriller, No Vanilla

We have seen some crazy last-second passes this football season.  One of them was certainly Brett Favre's pass to Greg Lewis to beat the 49ers a few weeks back.  Another was Brandon Stokley's "immaculate reception" to beat the Bengals. None, however, competes with Vince Young's game winner to Kenny Britt to beat the Cardinals last night.  What separates this play is the gravity of the completion - it was the culmination of a 99-yard two-minute drill during which Young converted three fourth downs to keep the drive alive, including the touchdown pass as time expired.  The touchdown was the capstone to a 387 yard performance during which Young completed 62% of his passes, including 10 completions on the comeback drive. Young threw zero interceptions and, excluding the final play of the first half (during which he was sacked as the half finished), consistently demonstrated the poise and escapability that are absolutely vital to any quarterback's survival in the NFL.  The win is the Titans' fifth in a row after losing their first six games; all of the wins have come with Young at the helm, but this is the first in which Young took matters into his own hands rather than relying on others to make plays.  I don't know if it is too soon to say VY has arrived, but it's pretty difficult to think of any other way to describe such a performance.  These Titans are legitimate heavyweights, too - second-year running back Chris Johnson leads the league in rushing and compiled his sixth straight 130-yard game, and rookie wideout Kenny Britt demonstrated his worth by catching seven balls for 128 yards, including the victory strike.  Being a Titans fan by association, I will surely be pulling for Tennessee the rest of the way, and if the Ravens somehow fail to make the playoffs, I think it would be spectacular to see Young lead this team to the postseason again.

Lost in the gleam of Young's pyrotechnics was the first good performance regular season performance by Cardinals QB Matt Leinart in more than two years.  Leinart (21/31, 220 yards) didn't do anything highlight-worthy, but he didn't make mistakes and he was able to lead his team on a nine play, 80-yard lead-changing drive in the fourth quarter to put the Cardinals up by four.  I still believe both quarterbacks, former combatants in the 2006 BCS National Championship, can be starters in the NFL, but LP Field sure looked a lot like the Rose Bowl on Sunday.

Now to more important things: Ravens 20, Steelers 17, final in OT.  They did it! They saved the season, and they did it in much the way I suggested before the game.  Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall (95 yards rushing) was able to alleviate some of the strain placed on replacement QB Dennis Dixon, but it wasn't quite enough.  Although they were not able to sack  Dixon, they did put pressure on him all night and eventually forced his only mistake, an overtime interception, through the use of Pittsburgh's own zone blitz.  Dixon played incredibly well for someone who had previously attempted one pass in his career. His final line (12/26, 145 yards, 1 TD/1 INT) does not speak to how well he handled himself in the pocket.  He consistently was able to extend plays with his legs and, on two occasions (one of which was negated due to a penalty), scrambled for more than twenty yards in a manner which can only be compared to Michael Vick.  Kudos to him for playing a pretty damn good game in a tough atmosphere.

On offense, the Ravens did a great job of balancing distribution.  WR Mark Clayton caught seven passes for 129 yards (including a sweet 54 yard vertical completion), RB Ray Rice had 5 for 62, and wideout Derrick Mason pulled in 5 grabs for 67 yards, including a very athletic leaping grab on a fade route to the endzone for the Ravens' 2nd touchdown of the game.  Backups Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee carried a combined nine times (compared to Rice's 19) for a total of 46 yards and one touchdown (compared to Rice's 88 yards and no scores).  Billy Cundiff made the game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter and came up just 3 yards short on a 56-yard attempt at the buzzer, which he had previously admitted was not in his range.  He redeemed himself with a 29-yarder in overtime to win the game, courtesy of rookie Paul Kruger's interception, a fantastic play for someone who has only played in portions of three games this season.

As if the NFL action were not enough, Texas A&M went blow for blow with Texas until the Longhorns pulled out a late Turkey Day victory to preserve their undefeated season.  On Friday, the Iron Bowl proved an important test for SEC West leader Alabama, as it squeaked by Auburn with a late touchdown to keep their national title hopes alive.  To add to the fury, Tiger Woods got in a car accident early Friday morning which some are calling a domestic violence-related incident.  While Woods is stone cold on the course, this shakeup in his personal life has surely damaged his image as an ambassador of the game and upstanding human being.  Whatever happened, Woods appears OK and has not sustained any serious injuries. Let's hope we can say the same thing for his marriage.

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