Friday, September 30, 2011

Terry Francona Takes the Blame In the End of His Regime

He was an hour earlier than expected for his meeting with the Red Sox, which was absolutely acceptable by the franchise.

When Terry Francona drove his 2005 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL65 AMG to Fenway Park for a lengthy meeting with general manager Theo Epstein and team executives, he probably felt the tension, given the September orgy of 20 losses as the Red Sox floundered with a nine-game hold on a playoff spot.

The reality is that Boston blew its chance and became the first ever team in baseball history to enter September with a nine-game lead for the AL wild card and miss the postseason. The truth of the matter is Boston's season was squandered, with complacency, arrogance and the lack of chemistry.

The recent allegations surfaced through the night, revealing that the Red Sox players were, with the disrespect shown toward Francona, drinking alcohol in the clubhouse during games they weren't on the mound as a starter. There is much suspicion in Beantown, as clubhouse chemistry and the shortage of discipline evoked the greatest collapse in baseball history, that an unbridled relationship is broken between Francona and the Red Sox.

Shortly before Friday afternoon, he left the meeting and his job status remained still in limbo, even when he reportedly told the Boston staff members Thursday that he'll not return. There's a sense he was burned out with his role and had become detached, not committed or driven to be the voice in the Red Sox clubhouse, a few days removed from a historic collapse.

It's not hard to assume that Francona was frustrated with the chemistry issues and the poor leadership, worn down by a divided clubhouse and ballclub in tremendous turmoil since the abysmal meltdown at the worst possible time. The pitching staff may seem relatively blameworthy -- for a starting rotation that finished 28th in the majors in consistent starts, but something else was wrong with this team and unfortunately it is the end of the Francona regime.

In the end, he is the fallen and most scrutinized guy in the Red Sox drastic collapse. He was the man blamed intensely on Yawkey Way, and he decided what was best for him by stepping down as manager. The well-accomplished manager in modern Red Sox history will be relieved of after eight seasons of success with eight wins, five playoff berths and two World Series titles.

These days, as we all know, Tito is blameworthy for the heartbreaker at the end of the season, missing the postseason after a horrifying collapse scripted a horror movie in Beantown. Bearing a dire transition, one that seems surreal in a town that admired Tito, he was an ideal suitor for the Red Sox managerial role with his capabilities to protect his players from criticism.

Before his team was blew the wild-card chase was eliminated from contention, Francona supposedly had a bond with his players. The culpability has not disappeared, and much talk has been fixated on the latest debacle that sort of tarnished the Red Sox, a club taunted for its epic failure. This was the team that needed a change in its fragile culture when it spent an estimate $200 million last offseason to revamp the lineup and contend with the Yankees for the AL East.

But it wasn't enough. It was embarrassing and painful to watch the Red Sox in September. Sadly and clearly, the Red Sox couldn't even manage an 8.5-game lead in less than a month and finished a staggering 7-20. And remember, this came after Boston was considered to be the greatest baseball club for the ages. But what did the Red Sox do with the chance to win the pennant? Blew it. They simply blew it and were badly ridiculed.

He might not deserve it, but 90 percent of the time the manager is hit with the blame -- and Francona happened to be the manager of an unbalanced and perplexed franchise. It was built with talent and arguably had the deepest depth in the majors, until the last game of the season when Jonathan Papelbon delivered the ill-advised pitch to Robert Andino.

It's easy to blame the closer for blowing a one-lead save with one strike left, but many are to blame for Boston's failures. There are, though, many who could take a burden of the blame or slightly some of the responsibility for the saddest ending during one of the captivating nights in baseball, all while the Red Sox mastered history in a negative fashion, no doubt. This time, a lot of people will blame Epstein for the horrible brand of baseball played in the last month.

By now, he feels plenty of the blame for signing incompetent free agents to his $161 million roster and destroying chemistry as the players never blended in together as an effective ballclub. The strategy of the blame game was in full force when designated hitter David Ortiz acted like he was the team's pitching coach and suggested that Alfredo Aceves should have been in the rotation, frustrated with the struggles of rookie starter Kyle Weiland and even Francona.

Since he likes to play the blame game, then why don't we compete with Ortiz, who hasn't played like Big Papi, but Big Slumpi? He tried to race into second base and knew damn well he couldn't run fast enough to beat it, and as a result, he was thrown out. There is definitely something terribly wrong with this team, and Epstein should be held accountable to some degree as well, not only Francona, who ended the franchise's 86-year drought in 2004.

Though he is to blame for stabilizing a clubhouse of a disoriented culture with the lack of consistency and decorum, Epstein -- in his ninth season as Boston GM -- has foolishly invested in futile players and failed to masterfully develop a sturdy pitching rotation. In all, he overspent for John Lackey, who is worth shopping around but no team is interested in accepting his $45.75 million he is owed over the next three seasons.

There are two problems here. The first, which the unworthy outfielder Carl Crawford is set to earn $19.5 million next season, is wastefully spending too much on unproven names. The second is letting the pitchers drink beer at the workplace during games they didn't pitch, one way players can lose respect for their manager and feel they could get away with almost anything. So in every sense, Francona had to leave.

It calls for a change of scenery in Boston and there comes a point typically when a franchise makes changes, which would serve for a brighter purpose in the future. It's simply understood that Francona never earned the fair share of credit he truly deserved. But under his tenure, the organization lived through adversity and stumbled by the instability of his players and ineffectiveness.

It was simply the smartest thing he could have done -- and he stepped down to his own ability reluctant in bearing the circumstances of the scrutiny and unnecessary stress. The bad relationship between Francona and Epstein had been in shambles for a long time, a disconnect nobody ever imagined.

It's too bad he hired Francona, but the only way to restore pride was to part ways with his manager. It's a business, after all.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Epic Collapse Will Haunt Red Sox Eternally

It is well established that the Boston Red Sox, in the year the ballclub was supposed to win the pennant, had the greatest collapse in baseball history. When you think about it, maybe it’s the return of the Curse of the Bambino that doomed the Red Sox.

A person who is superstition can’t help but to think a curse has effectively brought torture to the third-highest market in baseball, a ballclub that ended its season in a nightmare, gagging on a night of steep ramifications. It’s incredible -- a painfully feeling to leave Red Sox fans in the dark, and a sense of optimism diminished on a night that watching the Red Sox turned into a horror movie.

It ended all so miserably, and it felt like demons and ghost were back to haunt Boston, a town suddenly punished by the underachievers, wearing a Red Sox uniform clearly disappointing an organization that trusted in each player. Because since the Red Sox had a nine-game lead in the wild-card chase on Sept. 3, and now eliminated from contention, they are judged as the biggest disgrace in baseball.

This team also now qualifies as the most persistently overhyped franchise in sports, gushing over the massive amount of money spent on the $142 million Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. The owner of Boston is John Henry, which means he’s probably irate for overly spending on underperformers -- writing paychecks for his players, even after they all failed and disappointed him.

The thought is now that this will go down as one of the craziest, biggest collapses in baseball history, and it was downright ridiculous for a team that was apparently supposed to be good. It’s an agonizing case of epic failure, and because of it, the Red Sox will miss the postseason. This was a collapse, a heartbreaking collapse – something that can make a person shed tears. Not me, mind you.

The vast majority should be laughing at the Red Sox for allowing themselves to break down in the last game of the season, after blowing an 8.5-game lead in less than a month, finishing a mere 7-20 September. You're kidding, right?? This is how terrible the Red Sox were in the last month of a 162-game season, and back in spring training Boston was projected to be one for the ages, perhaps the greatest ballclub of this era.

The reality is that the Red Sox couldn't control the leverage in the AL East, after evidently spending an estimate $200 million last offseason to upgrade the lineup and contend with the archrival Yankees. The aftermath of the latest collapse -- in retrospect -- is a feeling of pain and sadness for a franchise that wastefully spent to assemble the deepest club in baseball until last night -- a horror night that had Red Sox Nation a nervous wreck and petrified.

There is, though, much chatter about last night's spectacle that was a series of debacles, especially fans raving about the greatest collapse in sports history and talking about the worst Red Sox team of the ages. There's been lots of captivating and spectacular baseball, especially by Tampa Bay and St. Louis, two teams who pulled off the comeback to clinch wild-card berths and advance into the postseason as the Red Sox and Braves collapsed.

The worst feeling is that the Red Sox are eliminated, staring at much familiarity from the past. The aftermath of two World Series championships has faded into the darkness of the ghastly meltdown in which the Red Sox will miss the postseason for the second straight season. The worst feeling of the breakdown is that the Red Sox has fallen in love with the blame game -- now pointing fingers. In short, Boston is terrible as a whole.

The collapse in Boston's performance could be the sign of the curse, and the worst feeling is hearing about the traces of evil spirits again, an apparent trend that brought the Red Sox misery for 86 years. This wasn't an illusion of failure, which prompted tabloids and local radio talk shows to make the Red Sox the priority on their lists early Thursday morning. This was Boston blowing it when it counted the most, when they could've kept postseason hopes alive.

When Boston lost, the mood shifted into reverse, and because of it Red Sox Nation is angry, sad, depressed and embarrassed. The spending, as a result, proved risky for the Red Sox, once the favorites to win the World Series back in the offseason when Boston damn near signed every big-name free agent of the Hot Stove sweepstakes.

What drove us to believe the Red Sox would win the World Series?? It was only fitting that the Red Sox, for having evidently the greatest team in franchise history that stumbled, would reach history but just in a negative fashion by becoming the first team to ever enter September with a nine-game hold on a postseason spot. In short, they failed to advance to the playoffs. They blew it. The dream is over for the Red Sox.

The general public was stupid to believe in Boston, and we shamed ourselves for foolishly predicting the Red Sox as the favorites to win the pennant this fall. Shame on you -- shame on me -- for honestly arguing that the Red Sox were going to win the AL East. Wrong. This is way it's usually a mistake to sign every big-name free agent on the market, and offer every player the richest deal.

The truth is, as we know it, sports teams with the most productive and top-notch players normally tends to fall short of a championship, simply because teams draw national spotlight while under heavy pressure to perform at an all-time high. As far as we can tell, the Red Sox are a team of shame, brutally floundering at the worst possible time. There are, though, plenty of people within the Red Sox organization to blame for the failures, burying themselves and staging a funeral, one strike away from keeping their season alive.

This until Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon couldn't even close it out and blew the save, his second in September both against the Orioles. The pitching staff, more importantly, is to blame for the disappearance with a staggering 5.84 earned run average, and the starters alone had a 7.08 ERA. It amazes me that we praised this team more than our troops fighting for our confused nation.

For once, it is fair to blame manager Terry Francona for developing a club that lacks chemistry, which might have been a factor in Boston's collapse. It also falls on the ineffectiveness of John Lackey, who pitched like a clown on the mound -- just missing the red nose, the goofy shoes and the colorful wig. And lastly, general manager Theo Epstein is highly responsible and shares the blame for obtaining inconsistent players for the $161 million roster.

The medical staff was unaware and took forever to diagnose the stress fracture that Clay Buchholz had suffered. From there, he was inactive for the rest of the season. For right now, everyone is blameworthy for the way the season ended. But in reality, the Red Sox need to address some flaws during the offseason, and in the meantime, mending woes are difficult. There is no promise or ambition, after all.

Nobody really knows how the Red Sox will react next season or whether there'll be upgrades for the current roster. It's too bad that Boston lacks depth in its farm system as the team is only getting older, tied down by long-term deals the front office unwisely bestowed.

It's too bad that Lackey is owed $45.75 million over the next three years, and it's even more unfortunate when Crawford is set to earn $19.5 million next year. Money isn't everything. And for the Red Sox, I personally believe it means zilch.

For whatever reason, the Red Sox flunked the wild-card test.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It’s Only Fair for Vick to Blame Himself

There's something disturbingly troubling about Michael Vick. The more he is paid, the more he suffers a siege of injuries, which undermines the "Dream Team" and the Philadelphia Eagles in flourishing among the most unpredictable NFC East contender.

In the aftermath of Vick's diagnosis, he sustained a bruised right hand and not nearly worth the $100 million that Jeffery Lurie lavished to his superstar with flaws in releasing the ball as quickly as possible to avoid the monstrous blow.

It's a game where hard contact is deadly, where pass throwers bear the abuse from brawny defenders who have no sympathy for the man committed to a team sport of physicality, brutality and extreme force.

The problem here is Vick has become the superstar to blame for suffering the hand injury by holding onto the ball too long and trying his hardest to defy the unthinkable. It's the price he pays for trying to be the star and dust by defenders, and though he has the quickness and agility, he is prone to injuries.

When it comes to Vick, he is normally believed to be invincible and untouchable, a godlike hero of many attributes. But it was all never true, even though he seemed like the fastest man on earth, even though he ran and dashed his way into the end zone on a series of plays no other player could replicate, proving that he is just as much as human as every other player in the league.

Without Vick, the Eagles are a vulnerable football team. With him, Philly can likely win a Super Bowl, but as long as he is absent and debilitated by injuries to sideline him, the Eagles won't prevail. The flurry of hits Vick takes is from over scrambling and dancing in the pocket too long, a superstar who takes the beating more than other quarterbacks.

This week, just as of last week when he suffered a concussion and had to leave the game on a Sunday night in the loss against Atlanta, he is the blame for the apparent late-hits. Now, in consecutive losses, Vick is irate and whining about the no-calls, grumbling of not getting late-hit calls from referees in the Eagles' 29-16 loss to the Giants.

What he honestly feels, though, is that Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady receives fair treatment from the refs, a perception he is insisting on refusing to admit and his simplicity of holding on to the ball too long before delivering a pass into the arms of his wide receivers. When he started talking nonsense, absolute drivel, at the podium after the loss, Vick cried about the lack of protection and fairness from the referees.

This was Sunday, and in a stunning defeat against the Giants, he shamefully blamed the refs without even discussing his mistakes or where he could improve. He's not motivated but he's inconsistent, bullied and harassed each week in what he thinks is unfair since he has not gotten the calls he wanted after suffering injuries.

It's not beyond Vick's capacity to popularize football, a star everybody watches closely, a television star more than a franchise quarterback for a promising team on quest to reach the Super Bowl. But he seems like a spoiled brat not fully having a good state of mind to master the game of football, not fully healthy to be deemed as one of the greatest quarterbacks this season.

It seems like the Eagles pampered Vick, and now he is asking for the refs to give him preferential treatment, all because the name on the back of his jersey, all because he's the million dollar man who really has not proven to be a franchise star.

It's even possible he expects refs to blow the whistle on every call, just somebody -- any player -- that maybe mitigates contact. But what he must realize is football is a contact sport, and as long as he is explosive or even stands as centralized threat to any team, he'll be taking some beatings.

There is something weird here, and it happens to be Vick -- not blaming himself. It's only fair for Vick to blame himself.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lions Are Roaring to Scare Rest of the League

The afternoon was a wave of satisfaction, building upon an identity on the road as the Detroit Lions played perfectly and validated a renaissance in the Motor City, and finally fans grasp a sense of aspiration.

The wonderful thing is, the Lions are no longer helpless, no longer the biggest disgrace or the worst franchise, stealing money from the hometown supporters willing to witness the Lions be ridiculed and lampooned. The unbeaten franchise of the league for the first time in 31 years is 3-0 and, for once, the Lions are not burlesque but are alarming and considered among the NFL's elite, flourishing more than the worthy franchises.

It might be the feel-good story, an amazing tale written by the Lions, who finished winless to become the second team in the modern-age of the NFL to lose every regular season game and the first completing a 0-16 season in NFL history. Yet, nothing is more gratifying than a turnaround for the worst-ever franchise, reaching a peak in a torpid, dampened town that had quickly misplaced loyalty and became disengaged with the mediocrity the Lions produced in the forsaken past. The future of the Lions is radiant and now fans back home in Detroit can widened the smiles and invest an enormous amount of money to support the new-look Lions.

Each week, it seems, the Lions are gradually growing and improving as a unit, a bottomless core of consistent winners and honestly Detroit is not bullied or shoved around, standing its ground against each opponent on Sundays. This was never, however, imagined even after the Lions were deemed as the NFL darlings, entering this season with logic of Detroit rising into a preeminent NFL team.

The welfare of the winningest team in the meantime is uplifting for nationally a dysfunctional, unemployment sports city unfairly hit with indignities no other community experienced. But these days, the Lions are a remedy and have soothed a doleful population to rid the misery and promote sanity for dispirited citizens afflicted by the downtrodden burdens, hovering over a city that suddenly feels a wave of humanity.

It's pretty much a surprise to see the Lions rank higher than the projected NFL teams, quickly transforming into a dynamic competitor in the NFC North, scarier than ever and maybe stronger than the Bears or the Packers. Who ever thought the Lions would be the talk of the week??

Who ever imagined the Lions potentially beating the Bears or the Packers?? We'll soon find out whether it is possible or impossible, but at this rate, it is possible to witness the Lions beat every opponent within their path. And, for the moment, no team can beat the red-hot Lions. It wasn't pretty, because the Lions needed a comeback in the 26-23 overtime thriller, because they needed a game-winning field goal from Jason Hanson and because they needed Matthew Stafford to connect with his go-to receiver Calvin Johnson for the 40-yard completion to set up Hanson's game-winner.

It was a throw and catch, all while Stafford was under pressure on second-and-10 at the Lions' 46 in a critical situation when the Lions rallied and were resilient in the end. It turns out that the Lions really aren't a fluke, but are truly sufficient and one of the deepest teams to finally make noise in the NFC, reducing the futility and turning into the toughest powerhouse in the NFL.

Though he was sacked five times and had no protection from his lineman -- hit seven times on the afternoon -- Stafford is the more impressive pass thrower on the planet, assuming he handles the pro-style offense remarkably, the defining portrait he has painted in the Lions' drastic turnaround. He is the Lions quarterback, and never stood petrified, playing with lots of emotion and physical toughness to prove unflappable and not weakened.

As it happened, he came through in the biggest moment and never rushed a pass, never was careless with the ball and never had a costly mistake, but wonderfully kept his composure and led the Lions after trailing 20-0 in the first half. Before it all ended, the Lions rallied from a large deficit and dominated the second half and won on the only possession in overtime.

When it began early, the Lions were terrible until late in the second half, and Stafford looked for other options if the coverage was tight on Johnson, his targeted receiver with acrobatic tricks on the field. With many options, he shared the ball with tight end Brandon Pettigrew for 11 completions and found rookie Titus Young on four passes. From the start of the first half, he was 10 for 16 for 64 yards. But then in the second half, he was a mere 22 for 30 for 314 yards and had two touchdown passes, finding Johnson for each touchdown.

This is really the moment, though, for Detroit to adjust its flaws and realize the problems they have at tackles on the offensive line, and even in the ground game, deficiencies that need to be retooled before the next game in Dallas. The thing is, it doesn't matter now that the Lions are a perfect 3-0 for the first time since 1980, celebrating Sunday after Hanson nailed a 32-yard field goal.

This team is different, far different, potent and sturdy, and some of it is because of coach Jim Schwartz, who was so elated he removed his head phones and celebrated wildly with an animated fist pump. The best of all is that the Lions are relieved and pleased after snapping a 13-game losing streak on the road against the Vikings, and Schwartz is absolutely successful turning around a deflowered team.

There's a plan, and it's working in which the Lions are currently riding a seven-game winning streak. That is because Detroit won the last four games of last season, and hasn’t played horrendously but nicely. What you can see, of course, if the Lions continue to dominate, is the defense making plays and Stafford delivering to Johnson to slaughter the Vikings in the second half. The story here, no doubt, was the Lions slowly cutting into the lead before tying it 20-20 on Hanson's field goal.

Yes, the running game was a non-factor, but there was the Lions' franchise quarterback to keep the offense afloat, and that someone was Stafford, who has evolved into one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. With a handful of stars, one of his targets is Johnson, who had 7 catches for 108 yards.

And more importantly, though the Lions had to crawl back into the game, Stafford led Detroit to another win. The truth is that the Lions are roaring and this should scare the rest of the league.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mandate for Red Sox: Win for Survival... Or Else

The swarms of Red Sox critics are downgrading the franchise located in Boston, a town that prides itself on baseball and crowds one of the oldest ballparks in the majors, Fenway Park. The front office rarely gets much sleep, reacting to the tension that hovers aggressively over the Red Sox, a franchise still in a pennant race for the wild card.

It defines common reasoning to believe in the Red Sox not to discount them from reaching the postseason, peaking through the Green Monster in autumn, and it's almost implausible to neglect Boston, flirting and staying in the race to expectedly clinch a postseason berth. If so, as we all know, the Red Sox will have to qualify for the fall classic only by winning the wild card, but if not then Boston is unworthy.

The uncertainty of baseball lies in the American League, with a tight, tense, crazy and unpredictable wild-card race that has the people in New England nervous, panicking over Boston's horrible pitching and injuries. This is about a team that has faltered and debilitated at the worst possible time, and where it stands now with the sudden meltdown, the Red Sox are doomed against the Yankees if they lose in a three-game series this weekend.

The way things are happening for the Red Sox, a World Series favorite have plummeted in prior weeks and have no longer been relevant or intimidating. As if owning the third-highest payroll in baseball is not enough, the Red Sox are 5-16 in September, unraveling and falling apart before our very eyes. As the archrival Yankees clinched a playoff berth and won the divisional title, the Red Sox are barely in survival with less than a week left to play, and as of now, Boston is inevitably marred in much trouble in September.

The more the Red Sox struggles pitching and aiming toward clinching the wild-card, the more Boston declines in chase for a postseason spot that could renew the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry if the franchise can succeed and rid the travails for one of the enticing clashes in sports.

This team was supposed to win 100 games as one player said he was highly optimistic at the start of training camp, but as it turns out the Red Sox weren't ever worthy of masterfully reaching triple-digit victories in the win column, not as much as Boston has been hit with injuries or withered, not as much as Terry Francona has cascaded as the voice of the Red Sox in the managerial role.

One of the problems here is Carl Crawford, a high-profile outfielder who merely has 18 stolen bases and has been a disappointment when people begin to wonder whether he's worthy or overpaid. Based on that, since he's not flawless or productive, he's partly the blame for the Red Sox failures this season, a bust for earning $20 million a year.

For weeks now John Lackey has been the buffeted starter in the pitching rotation, a component in arguably the deepest starting lineup in the history of the franchise, but more astonishingly he has played worse than a little leaguer. In fact, a little league pitcher at the moment could toss better than him and probably could win more games. That's just how bad Lackey is pitching of late.

With the struggles -- and as the bullpen has been heavily used lately -- it's about survival and keeping composure. It's about performing efficiently with all potential and balance in one of the deepest pitching rotations, not underperforming and financially wasting profit from its payroll. So meanwhile, the Red Sox can't take comfort in that they'll win the wild-card race and clinch a playoff berth, putting all kinds of burdens and scares on themselves, only leading by a game.

The losses to Lackey’s career aren’t so friendly, but more than ever, it is horrifying for a big-game pitcher winning in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series to roughly disappoint. He's allowing runs to score, he's getting bullied on the mound, he's yielding hits, and he's becoming an unwitting scapegoat of all the team's fiascoes. Through it all, he has not earned a win in five straight starts since Aug. 23, finishing 0-3 in that stretch.

The reality -- if you've had not noticed by now -- is the foolishness of Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who has been described as a masterminded architect. The concept of spending immeasurable millions for one player was unwise, since the Red Sox are losing games, which is the reason he is blamed for the underachievement of Crawford and for even bringing aboard an injury-prone Erik Bedard.

The point is, Bedard has won one game since joining the Red Sox late in July from a trade, and again he's injured in September in which he's a non-factor in chase for the pennant. This isn't about Bedard, because it takes a total team effort to win in baseball. It's about the Red Sox as a whole, but what is unacceptable is the amount of losses, especially in September.

There's nothing spectacular about Adrian Gonzalez either, the first baseman who has swung poorly against the Yankees and Rays and owns a hideous batting average. It's a sign of weakness Gonzalez has shown ever since his arrival in Beantown and nowadays fans are deprived of greatness, whether the Red Sox faithful overlooks the field from the Green Monster view or sit in cozy seats behind home plate with a sellout crowd on hand.

This isn't really worth it, if your hometown team is underperforming or not exceeding all standards in what was supposed to be the best ballclub in baseball when it turns out to be irrational. Maybe it's because the Red Sox are considered a high-market franchise in which Boston was projected to win the World Series?

Those are the facts, and one can argue that this is maybe why the Red Sox are over hyped in a sense? Given the notion that Boston was in first place on Sept. 1, it was probable and believable, but not three weeks later. There's only a full week remaining and they were dispatched from the top spot in the division by the Yankees, a team the Red Sox truly disdain and has antipathy towards being that pinstripes and Sox just don't blend in together.

At the very least, it is now imperative for the Red Sox to survive a terrifying collapse and dismiss the dismal meltdowns in recent weeks. It almost means that Jonathan Papelbon can't afford to blow another save as he did Tuesday night against the Orioles, a night that turned into a dreadful nightmare. It's good to hope he doesn't have to take full responsibility for another loss this season.

For almost a decade, if not an entire decade, Josh Beckett has been known as a big-game pitcher, but not now on decline and slightly accountable for the Red Sox enlarged 6.77 ERA in September of their starters. The 23 errors in the past 21 games will come back to haunt Boston, all of which is daunting for a city that culturally think highly of baseball, and comes together inside Fenway Park and sings "Sweet Caroline."

But even Neil Diamond knows it's not so sweet in Beantown, just as much as Red Sox fans grasp similar vibes. As it stands right now, Dustin Pedroia is distraught and incensed and David Ortiz is Old Papi, not Big Papi and has witnessed his first real collapse with the Red Sox. He also has a confused state of mind, and so does team captain Jason Varitek. Now would be a good time to erase the outrage. As of quickly, the Red Sox are submerging into quicksand, unless they turn it around. Again, it's call survival.

Bye-bye, Boston. Unless the Red Sox avoids further misery, then they'll not have to wave farewell. It's all about winning for survival.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Irony Is, Eagles Suffers Without Concussed Vick

When he took the field in the Georgia Dome on Sunday night, hearing the mixed reactions from the emotional crowd, Michael Vick was greeted with cheers and jeers as some were bitter while others were forgiven.

A glamorous, promising night in a date against his ex-team turned into a tragedy, and with the receptions, he was ridiculed and mocked by the barbaric boos that overwhelmed the Eagles’ star. It’s too bad, really, as one can discern that he sustained a concussion and couldn’t return to take on his former team, that Vick was helpless in a prime time showdown.

He was not welcomed back, although a few fans were wearing Vick’s old jersey and had Southern hospitality, cheering lustily in his return to Atlanta to face his old team for the first time as a visitor.

It’s too bad we couldn’t see Vick beat his ex-team to undoubtedly regain his respectability and prove that he has become a changed man, showing remorse after bankrolling a dogfighting ring from the horrific scandal in which he is perceived as an animal killer rather than a gracious and regretful football star.

It wasn’t an astounding end, but it was a sad ending — not something Vick had in mind, entering with energy and a tough-driven mindset to beat the Falcons. If he’d not sustained a severe blow to the head and had possibly led the Eagles to another victory, he’d have been the talk all week.

But on the drive of a series of plays, in a quarterback duel that Vick was trying to turn into a statement or newfound redemption, he suffered a concussion when Falcons safety William Moore accidentally knocked him into teammate Todd Herremans. Next comes the knockout hit and it ends all so painfully.

It could have been Vick was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We now know exactly that Vick’s head hit Herremans’ shoulder to cause the 10-year veteran quarterback a game-ending injury. And then suddenly, he went down, spitting up blood after biting his tongue during the hit.

He was so woozy that he was helped off the field by medical staff as the Eagles led by 10 points when Vick left the game. As he walked to the locker room heckled by jeers and boos from fans, he brazenly pointed at the scoreboard and smirked arrogantly, annoyed by boos that rained down on him and he reacted to the nonsense.

He does, and he did, let those fans under his skin, when his night ended due to an injury in a decisive showdown that meant much to Vick, returning back to a hostile environment where he was once beloved profoundly before he damaged his image because of his reprehensible scandal.

For some, he’s a malefactor but for others he’s a humbled player reinstalling life in Philly, a franchise suddenly labeled Super Bowl contenders for assembling a “Dream Team” during the offseason with many of the Eagles free-agent signings.

It wasn’t until he was missing in action that the Falcons mustered an incredible comeback to stun the Eagles, a team already shocked by losing the integral piece on a probable quest to the Super Bowl. Before we knew it, the Falcons rallied from down 31-21 to defeat the Eagles 35-21 in the craziest game that featured plenty of drama and thrills.

It really stinks, because Philly lost its money-making quarterback, its face of the franchise, its sublime star with versatility, quickness and physical capacities to keep poise in the pocket and be explosive in the rush attack.

It turned into a one-sided duel, no longer a quarterback battle between a pair of prodigal performers and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was the better player individually, and took the abuse and hard hits — passing for 195 yards and tossing a pair of interceptions.

But he wasn’t great. He was solid enough to lead the Falcons on the night he threw a career-high four touchdown passes. The effect of this dubious injury remains unknown, and nobody knows what Vick’s status beholds. This is not what the Eagles had in mind, now marred in trouble without the star on the field, the wealthy athlete who is the necessity if Philly is destined to win a Super Bowl championship.

If you’re seeking to stop Vick, then the Falcons’ blueprint is the method to employ ideally. It’s clear the Falcons blitzed Vick successively, basically harassing, bullying and smothering the Pro Bowler. And for the sake of children, he serves as an inspiration to society, no longer a menace to society and he has resuscitated as a humbled individual and player.

As in, he’s an inspiration for many and the poster child when he was allowed a second chance in a forgiving country. Come to find out, Vick’s weaknesses are with blitzes in which he struggles to perform consistently. By the time it was over, he finished 19 of 28 for 242 yards and two touchdowns, while running the ball six times for 25 yards.

It was shortly after that the Eagles lost momentum and confidence without Vick shifting the complexion of the game, and Philly had all of the sudden diminished. The highlighted play of the game happened on the game-winning drive from a 61-yard run by Michael Turner, which set up the 3-yard run for the winning score that Turner finished.

It turns out his replacement was Mike Kafka, but the Falcons were too much for the Eagles to handle, although Philly drove to the Atlanta 28 in the final minutes. Unfortunately, Jeremy Maclin dropped a must-needed pass on fourth down and the Eagles were done.

Without Vick, though, the Eagles won’t last too much longer and it’s really hard to envision Philly winning anytime soon with his status called into question for next week’s game against the Giants. It just feels like he was the star of the “Dream Team,” but without Vick, there’s no dreaming. There are nightmares and petrified thoughts of fiascoes.

Missing Vick is going to hurt.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reality Is, NFL Becomes Pass-Happy League with Rule Changes

Once upon a time — to be precise — NFL legends, undoubtedly the greatest passers of all time changed the culture of football in the past decades, dating back to the ’70s when players committed to a much different style of play. The portraits alone are sufficient evidence of why football has blossomed into ultimately America’s game.

There was Bart Starr, a real role model for many children and arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks all time ever to walk onto Lambeau Field, who symbolized the Green Bay Packers and embodied a legacy as a big-time performer. As a country man from Alabama who morphed into the most clutch and roughly a phenomenal assassin in the ’60s era, he went down as the most prolific and all-time great ever to quarterback a franchise loaded with attributes.

There was Joe Montana, as good as gold, given the history of the Gold Rush in Northern California, wittily framing the medieval science of modern-age football, harassing defenses with his intellectual psyche and rifled-arm passing that brutalized defenses. He had the charm and mind of a quarterback and won four Super Bowl titles, an unprecedented three Super Bowl MVP awards and mounted as the unequivocal ruler of pro quarterbacks.

It’s befitting to pinpoint the moment he conducted one of the finest drives in NFL history, a heart-stopping 92-yard drive in Super Bowl XXIII and mastered an awe-inspiring 127.8 passer rating in four appearances of the much-publicized American sport. There was Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest passers in his era, and one can argue that he was a stud — especially in his first NFL campaign.

And nothing was more radiant than Unitas stringing together one of the greatest passing seasons in his era. We’ll never forget him as one of the coolest performers, a truly remarkable legend of pro football — a name acknowledged of the glamorous football lore. There was even Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys and Dan Fouts, who each combined for 14 300-yard passing games in one weekend.

There were even Terry Bradshaw and Brett Favre, reaching plateaus and shattering pass records and now lies as a pair of gridiron greats. At last count, Favre holds every single passing category in NFL history, from completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns and even interceptions.

It’s been years now since we’ve witnessed the rebirth of the passing game — and now we’re finally getting a glance at the modern aerial displays by elite quarterbacks to remind us that the pass attack has never receded but disappeared in a generation where franchises executed an efficient rush attack. It almost feels like Otto Graham has returned to the Browns and restored relevance.

It almost feels like a cliché. It almost feels like Sammy Baugh, who was said to be the most accomplished two-way athlete in the game’s history, has returned as the best athlete in the NFL. But even there are proficient quarterbacks these days, which is why the NFL has become noteworthy and publicly has drawn heavy appreciation. And there’s nothing more fascinating about Tom Brady and Cam Newton in this new development in the reemergence of the old times of passing formations rather than running schemes.

Brady is intelligent enough to realize, in the later stages of his accomplished career, that even well-executed passes could have a profound effect largely on the New England Patriots. In contrast, if Cam Newton had not thrown for a bevy of yards to prove NFL worthy in a town that took a gamble and selected him No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft last April, then he would’ve been getting an earful of criticism.

This was for those who’ve doubted and belittled Newton, stepping onto the NFL turf for officially the first time and playing as if he had years worth experience. Whereas his superlative performance elicited a sense of belief — the moment in his early career as a rookie that Newton has earned respect and secured a good reputation, throwing for a staggering 422 passing yards and two touchdowns.

The population in Carolina is delighted with new coach Ron Rivera, a popular face in the town simply for having faith in his rookie quarterback and letting Newton have an opportunity to dazzle and be a versatile player in franchise history. With his style and throwing motion, he didn’t only set a rookie record for a pro debut, but he uplifted the mood in an atmosphere that trust in Newton after bringing much fire and athleticism to Carolina’s offense.

The perfect debut of his lifetime happened last Sunday, and, hard as it is to believe, he played brilliantly, he played impressively and he silence many of his doubters. At a moment where the NFL would be a league built and orchestrated around the greatest quarterbacks, including a rookie who’ve astounded the populace, Brady and Newton could be the elites in this generation, though it might be too early to tell whether Newton will be the prosperous star at a future time.

The game has evolved so drastically and regularly with the generation of strong-armed quarterbacks. We live in an age of relentless pocket passers. The great ones are successful in today’s game, running spread offenses and tossing quick passes, thrown by accurate quarterbacks all while crafty running games are instituted to psychologically flirt with the mind of confounded defenses.

With the exception of the late Bill Walsh, a legendary coach with the mind of Albert Einstein, the West Coast Offense is a workable scheme that players take pride in and teams employ in their playbooks. We’re long past the ’60s and ’70s era as football generates a much different feel, particularly if the differences in style pertain to quarterbacks. That means so much that quarterbacks are, to some degree, duplicates of the old-timers and maybe it’s the explanation for football rising as the most popular sport in America.

The folks convince themselves that football is more than an annual event but an enjoyable event, a point in time when we disappear from our spouses for hours, glued in front of the television to embrace countless, action-packed hours of football. We love the quarterbacks as well, thank you.

There’s much to love. For one, Newton’s sudden growth and ripple-effect for a revamped franchise. For another, Aaron Rodgers is Lambeau leaping into the stands in his home stadium and has bloomed as a star for the well-respected franchise in Green Bay, which stands as the symbol of football for its glamour and legends.

The reinvention for Drew Brees is nice in the Big Easy, and then the Patriots are led by Brady, who passed for 517 yards and four touchdowns in the season-opener Monday night in a 38-24 rout over Miami. There are plenty to choose from. You be the judge. This is a reminder to all of us, and especially to the rest of the league that the passing game never rested in peace.

The evolution of a pass-happy onslaught has changed the game’s style as record-setting plateaus are higher than usual in points and passing touchdowns. While the numbers continue to elevate gradually, we are witnessing the growth of quarterbacks season after season, year after year and are compelled to devote ample time in being a spectator of the NFL, comfortable sitting in the bars all day Sundays or resting rear-ends on a cozy couch in the living room.

It’s been only a week, and last weekend marked the ninth-highest scoring weekend in NFL history. The postponement of the ugliest lockout in years never doomed offenses, and no teams were rusty in the season-opener. The bottom line is the NFL has become a pass-happy league. It’s a reality. By the way, the NFL knows its fans are seeking for drama and high-scoring contests, and the timing couldn’t be better, now finally removed from the malicious lockout.

Get used to it. The game has new rules and it caters more to the dynamic passing attack, which means we can anticipate passes more frequently. This wasn’t the scenario over the past decade when the NFL had developed into a running game, ruled mightily by skilled running backs. It wasn’t long after that the competition committee established two rule changes with a significant monopoly on the game and it opened opportunities for the passing game.

Defenders weren’t allowed to cover a receiver 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, and secondly offensive lineman were enabled to extend their arms and hands other than just blocking with grasped fists and brawny chests. What it did was protect the quarterback from getting slammed into the turf and even limited costly turnovers as quarterbacks weren’t under a tremendous amount of pressure.

This resulted in NFL teams scoring 21 points higher than the previous season, and teams had 15 300-yard passing games in which the passing game transcended instantly. The rules tend to benefit offenses rather than defenses. With all the rule changes, quarterbacks are awarded plenty of protection and time to be creative and fruitful in the pocket. A greater advantage is having helmet headsets that allows quarterbacks to communicate with coaches in the middle of huddles and plays as a way to adjust on a series of plays.

It turns out the rule changes, rather than the quarterbacks themselves, is the reason for the more masterful passing schemes. The NFL has changed for the better, certainly not the worse.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tony Romo Is Still the Same Guy We Once Knew

The other night, while it was supposed to end as one of the remarkable classics for Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, wasn’t a breakthrough night but a nightmare in hell. And who can ever forget that he’s known for making poor decisions, known for his stupidity and dumbfounded mind with possession of the football?

There’s a new season, but the same results for arguably the most careless and clumsy quarterback to ever start for the Cowboys. That said, he never had the potential to become one of the game’s finest quarterbacks and he continues to engage in mental lapses and those silly damn mistakes he pulls each season.

We’ve no longer have sympathy after giving Romo the benefit of the doubt, honestly judging that he could adjust and bypass the blunders by his mobility, mental ingenuity and physical abilities. But he can’t. He doesn’t have the intangibles and has no potential to be the Cowboys star quarterback, unless he can lead Dallas to a victory without a collapse but he stumbles too much in huge moments of huge ramifications.

That’s just Romo. It should come as no surprise that he found ways to make a boo-boo and relapse in the final quarter when he almost reached a point in his shaky career in capping his biggest fulfillment. His Sunday night turned into Horror night, of course, as if he was cursed on the turf or either faltered in the final moment of the most crucial point of the game when a star-studded performance mattered and determined the outcome.

So here we thought his ex-girlfriend Jessica Simpson, a famous starlet with too much baggage, was a distraction and had affected Romo causing the Cowboys to lose practically every game. The fact he even dated her, upon hearing that she created unnecessary drama, was a disaster waiting to happen but he kissed and stayed in a relationship with a diva focused more on his Mexico vacations, a romantic Valentine’s dinner and a birthday party that publicly featured on the front page of tabloids.

We can’t blame Simpson.

This is not what we envisioned right now after the egomaniacal owner Jerry Jones parted ways with his controversial receiver Terrell Owens to end a destroyed marriage. It might have slightly been a problem, a factor of lacking chemistry and harmony in the Cowboys’ locker room when Owens was unsatisfied and cried that he wasn’t getting enough touches.

But we can’t blame Terrible Owens.

He was also shrinking and weakening under the Wade Phillips regime. The simplest measure was to chastise Phillips, a low-keyed, nitwitted head coach who definitely coached poorly and never motivated his players. There was no shortage of knowledge to describe Phillips as being soft and passive.

But we can’t blame Phillips, either.

It would be absurd to not directly point fingers at Romo, a major figure in America when he is precisely a celebrity bust and verified as an unpredictable and overhyped quarterback, leading a much-scrutinized franchise in Dallas. There is, of course, much gossip surrounding the quarterback as if he’s in the latest version of a motion picture after Sunday night at MetLife Stadium turned into a movie.

He blows huge games regularly and duplicates a poor performance again and again. The pressure often never bothered Romo and the Cowboys, but eventually he stumbled, he blew it and smeared a promising season-opener. This time, he was sharper and passed for 342 yards with two touchdowns, finishing the night with a 101.9 passer rating, but he was anything but flawless in the end and turned into a travesty, a comedic celebrity with no sense of awareness or no experience at the hardest position in the team sport.

We could be senseless and laugh and ridicule Romo. It’s classy of Romo to blame himself and accept the liability for the loss, but he is the scapegoat every time the Cowboys fail to gallop to the finish and be victorious. Sadly enough, he has the talent but he’s overshadowed by the immense expectations and national attention given all to one franchise and blinded for making silly mistakes with the ball.

We’ve seen this before, over and over again, season after season and we are still flabbergasted. Why? When he makes his mistakes, he normally trots near the sideline in despair, wearing frustrated and depressing facial expressions in a game that he had blown by his poor decisions and awful passes that quickly shifted the complexion of the game.

Because of his late interception that dropped into Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis’ arms, New York won 27-24 as the game was lost by Romo. Had he not fumbled with Dallas leading 24-17 midway in the fourth, he wouldn’t be catching heat in the aftermath of his foolish errors. Late in the game, the Cowboys had the ball at their own 41 with 59 seconds left, enough time to drive into field goal range for potentially the game-winner, but as usual he muffed and forced a pass to Dez Bryant that Revis picked off.

He’s not learning from his mistakes but he seems to be getting worse, becoming the weakest link in the Cowboys offense and never was a consistent or dependable quarterback and instead a wannabe celebrity seen on TMZ with his ex-starlet. Even though he’s been selected to multiple Pro Bowls, even though he’s in his fifth season as the Cowboys starter, it doesn’t mean he’s superior or adequate – just 1-7 in his past eight games as a starter and has only accounted for one playoff win.

Romo is at fault. Nobody else. He threw the ball. He made the decision. He poorly executed an awful play and, after all, he’s still not a sound quarterback. He does what he does best. Make mistakes and act like he’s a celebrity.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Michigan's Miracle Describes the Wildest Night at Big House

It wasn't enough, obviously, for Notre Dame to survive in a signature event under the lights at Michigan Stadium, where the yellow pom-poms fluttered in the stands as a delirious crowd erupted on a night that Michigan rallied at the Big House. What we desire, no doubt, are breathtaking comebacks by two storied programs aiming to restore proverbial football identities.

We ask for a pair of rival programs to clash in a national scene and like witnessing history in college football. The core responsibility new Michigan coach Brady Hoke has -- stepping into a demanding job in collegiate sports and accepting the challenge to revitalize a deprived program -- could actually be a heavy burden and much tension but also cater to his resume in healing Michigan of its anguish.

Hoke has taken on a role with expectations larger than the average athletic department and has become the successor of the lousy head coach before him, after the university finally constituted a clean-house mandate, purging traces of Rich Rodriguez and an era of post-scandals along with mediocrity.

So now we look to star quarterback Denard Robinson and Hoke as an antidote for Michigan during a moment of rebuilding a decayed football program. Could this have been the turning point?? How good are the Wolverines?? It took Michigan a long time to recapture relevance nationally and it may take a long time for the school to expunge the deficiencies and downfalls in recent memory.

By a glaring gauge -- the one university expected to be ranked among one of the best football programs in the nation -- the magnitude of Michigan athletics has returned to precedence in the Big Ten conference with the exception of Robinson filling in nicely at the hardest position in a team sport. When he connected with his wideout Roy Roundtree for the game-winner, the unthinkable happened.

He had tossed the ball like he was playing catch in his backyard and Roundtree leaped for a 16-yard touchdown pass, and stormed to the end zone with two seconds left to lift Michigan to a meaningful victory. It capped one of the most thrilling, amazing finishes of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry, so incredible that we'll be talking about this instant classic for ages.

There was unseemly no passiveness in the end. There was a hard-nose fight. Robinson simply led a comeback on the wild, feverish night and Michigan scored 28 points in the fourth quarter alone, including two touchdowns in the final 72 seconds, to stun the Irish 35-31 Saturday night. It all ended from Robinson's heroics, it all ended from his explosiveness and vibrancy, faster than mostly every quarterback in his conference.

More amazingly, the Wolverines won the contest with a total of 80 yards in three plays and two touchdowns in the final 72 seconds. The boys in blue piled four touchdowns in the fourth quarter. It was never pretty or Michigan's greatest game, but as we all know the Wolverines survived and came alive when it mattered after trailing for much of the night.

The hero, a week after Michigan was doubted coming into this rivalry, was Robinson and his reliable wide receivers he depended on greatly. It's just a matter of time before Michigan is dominant again, but as we all know it probably won't be this season. It doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to define the Wolverines as one of the best teams in the nation this season.

Not to take anything away from the breathtaking comeback of the coolest night in the Big House as fans erupted a heart-pounding, pom-pom swinging night, but Michigan wasn't so great and couldn't score points on the scoreboard.

In the inaugural night game of school history, Robinson showcased his speed and mobility to lead the Wolverines in the final minutes. Even though Michigan has never lost a home game at night, and even though Robinson seemed rather impressive, he and his teammates still are a working progress. There's no telling whether or not Michigan is a fluke or legit. It should surprise no one, then, that Michigan isn't as scary as last decade when the program qualified for bowl games.

And, right about now, the Wolverines are descent but not stacked to win a national championship, after entering the last minute of the third quarter with seven points and not a single offensive series longer than four plays. Fortunately, realistically, the Irish had a chance to win and blow it in an unforeseen fourth quarter collapse.

The last 2:16 showed how much Michigan embodies Robinson the way Desmond Howard once stood as a factor within an illustrious program. Because he is solely responsible for the renewal of a newborn football culture in Ann Arbor, he partly accounted for Michigan amassing 138 yards and two touchdowns on merely eight plays. What's even harder to realize is that the Wolverines trailed 24-21 late and took over at its 42 before forging a miracle five plays later.

And it was Robinson finding Vincent Smith dashing through Notre Dame defenders for a 21-yard touchdown with only 1:12 left. It never took long for the Irish to answer by rapidly driving to Michigan's 29, and then shortly after Tommy Rees delivered to an uncovered Theo Riddick for a 29-yard touchdown with 30 seconds remaining.

The Wolverines had finally finished a grueling, miraculous turn around once Robinson threw a nifty rainbow pass to Jeremy Gallon and he indeed reeled in and then darted across the field to dust by Irish defenders. He'd then have no place to run and step out of bounds at the Irish's 16-yard line.

That left Michigan with eight seconds to pull off the miracle and the team certainly prevailed to stun Notre Dame. That's when Robinson dropped back and released it into the end zone to Roundtree, even after he was getting abused by the Irish's Gary Gray. But he'd somehow broken away from Gray and pulled in the game-winning touchdown with two seconds left on a well-executed pass Robinson lofted for one of the sweetest wins in school history.

It was another huge victory for Hoke and Michigan, now 2-0 and victorious in a night game at home, excelling beyond all expectations -- seeking a BCS bowl appearance. It could be a confident booster and Hoke has even proven he is one of the sterling defensive minds in the nation, already uplifting the culture in Michigan and bringing a different feel. But, as we know it, the game could have benefited and went in the favor of Notre Dame.

This was anyone's game -- until Robinson's athleticism outshined the Irish near the end, finishing with 446 yards on total offense against Notre Dame after obtaining more than 500 against the same team a year ago. It's probably fair to say Robinson is truly a Michigan Man in the Big House, and make no mistake he's the face of the Wolverines if he chooses to stay in school, just as much as Hoke is the voice of reason and inspiration for a rejuvenated program.

The three interceptions he had thrown were eclipsed by his incredible turnaround, and no matter how many early miscues he accounted for, he still managed to keep his composure and urge in the closing minutes.

Every time late in the game, he made wise decisions, he defied greatness and he was too fast and potent but had trouble with his accuracy. Whenever he counts on a miracle, then he writes a miraculous chapter of Michigan's historic convention.

And so the lights were on in the Big House. And this time, by now, every Michigan fan is uttering "GO BLUE!!!"

Let's just wait and see.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Super Bowl Hangover In Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood

It is a conceit of our generation that he's supposed to be the symbolic savior in a town where football is deeply worshipped and he has delivered, arousing the Lambeau faithful to provoke a celebration in the stands. Aaron Rodgers is an American figure to the Cheeseheads, if not in the entire state of Wisconsin -- in the land of country fairs and cheese factories.

It's another tale to be told, a ritual each season, an inspirational onset in a prestigious venue that spiritually was transformed into Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood in Green Bay. One still can recall the celebration of revival in Titletown, a rebirth for one of the grandest eras in Packers history, much of it centering Rodgers' poise, maturity and leadership -- which all led to the Packers first Super Bowl victory and the wildest celebration outside of Lambeau Field in 13 seasons.

It ignited more than just a tailgate party, and drew the sweetest block party in the streets of Green Bay, giving the country folks something worthwhile. He's not homespun as a person, as a sports figure or as a town idol, but Rodgers is an artistic and skilled athlete who dilated his stardom.

His early success is noticed by a lone Super Bowl victory, exhortations of aspiration for arguably the NFL's most revered franchise, lionized dearly for becoming the identity of the small-town in Wisconsin, for becoming the symbol of the community and for possessing marquee players. He looks like the kind of humbled athlete you can predict on every series of plays.

His focus is kind of alarming and, more than ever, his passing and mobility is effective in the red zone, normally pushing the ball into the end zone with his stellar abilities in passing or even his nimble footwork that allows Rodgers to sprint into the end zone untouched.

The storyline of the Packers, the romantic tale of a priceless gunslinger and the season-opener 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints, ultimately, is that Rodgers guided the defending champs as there is nonetheless hopefulness of the Packers potentially winning back-to-back titles, a rarity Green Bay could consummate with all the talent surrounding Rodgers, whose transcendent emergence last season proved to be serviceable.

But he's not only a beneficiary, he's also the face of the Packers, and he's a factor on a quest to potentially repeat greatness in an age that winning back-to-back titles seem implausible and unrealistic. Not long before kickoff, Bart Starr, a Packers legend stood on the field and carried the team flag as fans in the stands were thrilled and erupted when he emerged from the tunnel onto the Lambeau turf.

With all due respect, the Cheesehead supporters were thankful to embrace the all-time great, but are even more graceful for the heroics and inspiring play by Rodgers. The ancient ritual in the league is known as the Packers and, as we all know, Rodgers is playing in the shadows of many legends and the organization demands high standards from its star quarterback.

The night for Rodgers, after a 27-for-35, 312-yard, three touchdown performance, was sensational and unbelievably one of his best performances of his prosperous career for which he could be defined as simply the most exceptional passer in the game. It is the latest rite, a heartfelt moment in Packers history, so astounding it won't ever be denied and will always be indelible eternally, particularly in a town where football signifies sanity and sentiment.

It was quite another moment, the season-opener no doubt -- as there seems to be no Super Bowl hangovers after Green Bay captured its first win -- and it was Rodgers once again having an impact on the outcome of the Packers showdown against the Saints in prime time. It's now the Packers entering another season in pursuit of defending a title -- and with Rodgers' strong delivery -- Rodgers is confident and emotionally stronger.

It's a reality to honestly believe in the Packers' monstrous defense, sturdy and physically built to relieve much pressure off Rodgers, along with the creativity and brilliance from defensive coordinator Dom Capers designing his crafty schemes defensively. By definition, Rodgers is the ultimate NFL magnet, featuring a delivery in his arsenal and much precision which is incomparable and appeal to Packers fans, accustomed to applauding legends and visualizing celebrations in Titletown U.S.A.

It was the first game after an ugly off-season labor dispute, and as we waited patiently for months to witness football again, Rodgers gave the enthusiastic audience an aerial performance. It was a Thursday night showdown that minimized the anger and grudges toward the NFL, a once greedy and pompous enterprise for mostly fighting over money and the new labor deal.

In Green Bay, locating a sense of humility is an annual practice, a normal behavior in a widespread culture. It is a place of NFL roots, an atmosphere where fans tailgate outside of Lambeau Field in the frigid climate, and where a venue is truly honored after the team's first ever coaching legend. If there is a street named after Vince Lombardi, then we can only think that it's possible for Rodgers to someday be given a street named after him.

Rodgers Avenue is quite fitting.

In a time when Rodgers is sitting on the crest of two Super Bowl championships in a row, as the Packers are clearly suitable and fundamentally sound to win back-to-back titles, it's not commonplace to witness a franchise repeat triumph in consecutive seasons. The Patriots won back-to-back. The 49ers came before the Brady Bunch, though, dating back to the '80s era when Joe Montana dominated and when Jerry Rice secured a measure of success that fabricated one of the best dynasties in sports.

This time, it was the Packers and Rodgers, a dramatic shootout of a game, infatuating the country that we embrace and that delights us. There's no denying it, but the beauty of sports is football, a country hypnotized by the drama of America's popular gem. And once again, for what it is, Rodgers was intriguing and very fun to watch as he walked off the field victorious.

This was specifically about Rodgers and his blistering offense, lifting the Packers to a signature win by the advantages of the dangerous rush attack of running back Ryan Grant. In this particular game, buoyed by Rodgers after the first quarter when he completed 14 of 15 passes, the Packers were untouchable and unbeaten. It was too much for the Saints to handle. The only incomplete pass came on an intentional throw-away with an ideal passer rating of 158.3, and by the end of the night, he had thrown the ball to 10 Packers, nearly matching Drew Brees in a breathtaking quarterback duel.

By the time the game ended, he was even more brilliant, finishing 32 for 49 passing with 419 yards and three touchdowns. Yet Brees was flawless, the Saints also had a reliable special teams with the addition of Darren Sproles, who runs fast and had 204 total yards and a touchdown on only eight touches. The story of the night was Packers rookie Randall Cobb, a receiver from Kentucky selected in the second round, scoring on a 32-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, and then returning a kickoff in the third quarter for an NFL record-tying 108-yard touchdown.

The final moments of a potential comeback had fallen short with the game ending when rookie running back Mark Ingram tried to push the ball into the end zone, but was just a foot short from potentially sending the thriller into overtime when he was denied by safety Morgan Burnett and Clay Matthews.

It was fun to watch the dimensional offense that seems poised and impressive for another postseason run as the deepest team in the league surrounded by Grant, who had nine carries for 40 yards -- or even tight Jermichael Finley, a pair of components who can victimize any opponent the Packers encounter.

It proves, perhaps more than ever, that the Packers are invulnerable and dangerous on defense, without even suffering from a hangover, not affected by a Super Bowl hangover but ready to pursue glory again. If the Packers don't frighten the league, then the league is naive or just too insecure to admit the truth. This is practically because of Rodgers after finding receivers brilliantly, after throwing perfectly and timely and after mastering a craft of throwing passes.

There might be the Packers celebrating good times in Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood again, along with a belt celebration, too.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Manning Doesn't Have Good Health Benefits

Words aren't necessary. The horror alone Monday is reasonably glaring perceptions in which Peyton Manning shouldn't be permitted to start in the season-opener. The first instinct is to figure he won't be playing anytime soon and it is very likely his iron-man streak is coming to an end.

It is true, however, all good things must come to an end, but it is certain that he never expected for it to end because of an injury to limit his capabilities on Sundays. He is a frustrated maestro caught in a whirlwind from an everlasting media circus who is the face of the Indianapolis Colts, in which he is the endearing icon within a community where the population heavily embraces the godlike hero.

There is the god of football, when he's not really the god of football, after all -- but the epicenter of sports in America. He is the pass thrower everyone believes in, an athlete we can revere and endorse as our favorite hero, which is the explanation for 24/7 news coverage as the nation wonders about his health status for Sundays season opener. Without him, if he's not ready physically or mentally to play come Sunday, the Colts truly will reveal a football identity never discovered during the Manning regime.

A loyal city can suffer in despair with the absence of Manning, deprived of an iconic figure whose heroics played a huge role for the Colts in previous seasons. As in one of the smallest towns in Indiana, the die-hards are inhaling and holding their collective breaths, worried greatly about Manning's health. In many respected ways, he brought much exhilaration to the city, rapidly emerging as one of the greatest players to ever stand on turf at the toughest and most dignified position in sports.

He is admired so that we tend to forget he is nothing more than human like the rest of us, although he's ultimately a fantasy owner's best friend or even the most accomplished athlete we all recognize so well. But this year, he's doubtful for the season-opener in Sunday's game against Houston and the team announced today that Colts top player began feeling soreness in his back last weekend.

His rehabilitation from off-season neck surgery has been slower than imagined and, for once in his career, he is in jeopardy of missing his first game in his 14th season, having started 208 regular-season games straight -- including 19 more in the playoffs. He has attained historic plateaus no other quarterback in the NFL has ever accomplished, reaching two Super Bowls, winning a lone title, earning individual achievements and elevating his Hall of Fame status.

Without Manning, the Colts are limited, harmless and could be doomed in an erratic division where the Houston Texans are likely favorites to prevail in the AFC South, now that Manning is ailing and inactive listed doubtful when he has not fully recovered from neck surgery.

Because he has started since he was a rookie in 1998, it seems very strange he could actually miss his first game since high school, a streak no player in the league has came close to matching as he has always been essential to the Colts' success. Before he can smile or work harder than ever in preparations, he can only look weary, disgusted and frustrated, not fully healthy and could potentially have a setback if he's brought back too early without monitoring or evaluating the injured veteran.

He is, evidently aging and debilitating by his ailing body -- incapable in performing at his very best -- even if Manning has the body of work, given his incredible plateaus he set as one of the finest quarterbacks to reach such a peak in a team sport.

With him calling audibles in command as the leader of the offensive team, accountable for directing all the plays offensively, when he was clearly handed the playbook, the Colts have appeared in the playoffs 12 times of Manning's 14-year tenure, all with the lone franchise, including the last nine.

For all Colts' players, the season is uncertain if Manning doesn't return as quickly as possible, wondering precisely whether or not the team can prevail without him, wondering what would Indianapolis be without him. With less than a week to rehab, which isn't logical from what it seems, he won't be healthy in time for the season-opener, he'll be painfully glancing from the sideline inactive.

For the first time in his spectacular career, he'll spend time with the clipboard and earpiece, recovering from a neck injury when he honestly thought and had in mind that he'd be back in time for the beginning of the season. This season Manning, who is still recuperating from a disk in his neck and has been feeble and inefficient after he was cleared to practice for just one week, is entering with much uncertainty listed doubtful.

Now he has been ineffective in practice and has a diminutive measure of improvement in his rehabilitation that has slowed, no longer the Peyton Manning we were once familiar in seeing on the field every Sunday, an intimidating thrower with plenty of weapons around him.

He was returning to normalcy to potentially be robust to start the regular season as a supreme quarterback and main ingredient in the Colts' potent offense, but doctors were consulted and suggested that Manning's inactiveness could extend further into the season.

By Sunday, he just wishes he can have a speedy recovery and produce multiple wins for the Colts, to carry the classy franchise to the postseason and, even greater -- if imaginable, the Super Bowl in which Manning can have a chance in winning his second Super Bowl championship. As we are aware already -- in the history of quarterbacks -- Manning is fittingly deserving of standing in the company of nifty quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL.

We all realize he's a very good, crafty, well-rounded player, so of course he'll be missed, but it's not worth risking a career-threatening injury or worse a life-threatening disaster for one of the all-time greats. It is his health that really matters, not winning football games for the Colts. Make no mistake, he's a much-needed element in the Colts' offense, but more than ever, his health is more vital than steering Indianapolis to the Super Bowl.

What good is Manning if he suffers a career-threatening injury, what good is he if he has a setback and miss the remainder of this season?? There is just too much being made about Manning's absence, for what has literally turned into a media circus, hijacking headlines in the local newspapers in Indianapolis and even nationally he's chronicled on television and online.

By the way, much of this is from fans when Manning is clearly the symbol of the league, if not one of the world's most interesting men after fans boosted his ego and popularity. Let's face it, he comes from an indigenous culture of his football-oriented family, the son of the legendary Archie Manning, who introduced his boys, Peyton and Eli, to football during their youth.

If Manning can't play, then the un-retired Kerry Collins takes his place as the starter, also capable of bringing leadership based on his experience and poise. The all-pro quarterback, an NFL four-time most valuable player, is bothered by a neurological recovery.

For once, the Colts -- who usually are vague about releasing the specifics on injured players -- issued a statement and said that Manning's rehabilitation is "slowed." As for his coach, Jim Caldwell, he described Manning's steak as "an incredible feat."

"He's been an ironman; there's no other way to put it," Caldwell said Monday. "It's doubtful that he plays this week, but it takes a very unusual individual to have that streak."

At age 35, Manning is having it hard with these unexpected speculations, a frustrating development that he hasn't handled too well, battling with the most severe injury of his remarkable career. The question is now: Will he ever be able to perform efficiently and productively without his body giving out on him?

In the meantime, he's amusingly missed only one game because of an injury in his career, leaving a game against Miami in 2001 when he suffered a broken jaw but returned shortly after. That brings us to the moment he had surgery in mid-July to remove an infected bursa sac in his knee and missed much of training camp and all of preseason.

But this injury here is totally a different story, not so minor like his prior injuries. He's frustrated and irritable, but more than ever, helpless if he doesn't play and owner Jim Irsay truly believes in Manning, which explains why he addressed a new contract to lock the franchise megastar into a long-term deal, signing him to a five-year, $90 million deal. It's not a waste, and so far it's a disappointment, not only to the Colts faithful or the front office but Manning, too. And from what has been heard, it's not good apparently that he's slowed in his recovery.

"If he has specific weakness in a muscle group, that means whatever intervention that he's had done was probably not completely adequate to address the problem that he has," said Dr. Ty Thaiyananthan, neurosurgeon and co-medical director of the Chapman Neurosurgical and Spine Institute in Orange.

It's understandable, dating back to the summer, that Manning was upset and frustrated when he wasn't allowed to meet with trainers during the lockout, so he took his rehabilitation slowly while working with unusual faces.

There was no need to even think about the backup quarterback position if Manning was healthy, but now Collins is the last resort, learning the Colts' playbook less than two weeks. And maybe now the Colts' rush attack, a team that once consisted of an innocuous ground game and ranked 28th in rushing attempts and 29th in yards, could come to their aid with Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. For years, the Colts depended on Manning and he has produced, but now he doesn't have good health benefits. It would be interesting to see whether the Colts survive or wilt without Manning if he's not available.

I often wonder.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

LSU Merits Appreciation Not Disregards

Clearly in the huddle, in midfield of Cowboys Stadium, Jarrett Lee stood in place of suspended quarterback Jordan Jefferson. For now, the responsibility lies at the feet of Lee, whose a stellar passer if not an aristocrat of quarterbacks for a unit with national championship ambitions -- and maybe even the accountability lies in the hands of LSU head coach Les Miles.

The vast majority who disliked Lee, though, tried hard to influence him to transfer discontent with his performance on the field. He could have easily descended because of the booing, jeering and utmost disrespect, but he earned his respect. He could have fled the university and gave up on himself, but he chose to endure the challenge and has risen as a fine thrower with a gifted hand.

It's an obligation the Tigers should consider taking on now, and the folks of Southern hospitality in Baton Rouge should be rooting for the fifth-year senior. Miles is probably now angling to name Lee his everyday starter -- and for one reason only -- LSU can actually win.

Before he does evaluates and switches the toughest position on the field, giving it to the hottest passer or the man worthy of handling the pressure as the starter, he might want to look in a mirror and ask himself does Jefferson merits the role or does Lee. It's not too difficult to name Lee the starter -- rightfully so -- after he clearly gave it his divine effort.

The off-the-field troubles of an egregious bar fight and, more incredibly, losing one of the finest playmakers to NCAA violations wouldn't matter. The latest chapter in the midst of tumult is that LSU still can win without a splendid player ineligible for a bar fight and his actions off the field. There's nothing that stopped the Eye of the Tigers.

There was a little bit of a message sent to everybody nationally for doubting LSU and its depleted roster. The Tigers had been preparing for hours and now they proved to the nation that they are ready to contend for a national title. The mood quickly shifted and LSU prevailed in an eventful showdown -- pulverizing No. 3 Oregon by a score of 40-27 for an opening-night win, a rout to awaken the nation, to presumably favor LSU of landing atop the rankings in the next few weeks if teams somehow disappoint and drop in the rankings.

It was so lopsided, that the Tigers' perennial power was an overmatch for Oregon -- thought to be administered on opening night as cupcake games usually are seen in the early weeks of the season, but it definitely was unexpected for this particular showdown that turned into an annihilation. For another night in Death Valley it seems -- it's time to turn all eyes towards LSU and, yes, after one game the Tigers are proven to be elite and noteworthy.

What defied all confidence was the Tigers defense, only a year after losing three defensive players chosen in the 2011 NFL Draft. All things considered, the most unbelievable surprise of the night came from LSU as a whole. The players at the center of trouble, however, are Jefferson and Russell Shepard suspended by the NCAA, each ineligible for the violation of NCAA rules.

An ugly stormed stemmed from Jefferson and Russell, but it seems certain that the Tigers aren't affected by the ghastly messes and instead commits to teamwork, executes a convenient game plan and plays diligently. In the wake of the downfall, it has brought the team and athletic program closer together unified as a whole and energized to silent the nation by being one of the dark horses in college football.

Meanwhile, Shepard -- a junior who was believed to be a starter and an explosive wideout if not a target offensively -- has been ruled ineligible by the NCAA and missed the season opener, and could miss more than one game for consulting with a teammate regarding an NCAA investigation. Even after catching 33 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown last season, he wasn't missed. Even after rushing 32 times for 226 yards and two more touchdowns, his versatility wasn't required to demoralize the Ducks and the Quack Attack in one of the largest, spacious palaces in sports.

It took the suspension of Jefferson to mend LSU, and while there's a chance the Tigers may be the best program in the nation if they continue to shine, this team needs to win to cure the anguish and purge the badness. The Tigers are now in conversations to climb into the No. 3 spot in the nation, following a beautiful date with the Ducks on Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, a ranking that respectively declares LSU's relevancy viewed a national power in college football.

There are other, more delightful things to discuss about LSU, such as its defense and how it precisely has withstood the drama and disturbance, not only Jefferson's alleged involvement in a bar fight or Shepard's loudmouth. If anything, the Tigers have grown from the havoc, hungrier and fiercer to win.

It was a ferocious blowout, the kind of blow where large fangs and sharp claws were used to physically overpower the third-ranked Ducks. It's a shame Jefferson would violate curfew, wind up in a bar fight and be arrested on a felony battery charge, and as a result, get suspended indefinitely by Miles when Baton Rouge police determined there was enough evidence to issue the warrants.

The common denominator right now, for each team that is, happens to be defense. By the time the game was over, however, LSU was still faster, stronger and more physical as the Ducks couldn't handle or slow down the Tigers. It was too much for Oregon to handle. It was too much pressure. It was too much athleticism to endure. And it hurt.

Having Oregon head coach Chip Kelly around isn't enough, even if the Ducks earned relevance and praise by winning a multitude of games with speed and talent, from quick plays to speedy players. At one point, Oregon came with a package of aggressiveness and toughness. It used to be the Ducks wearing down a defense, and then crazily taking off with the game in the second half. Not this time.

It was LSU doing what Oregon used to do to other teams in the past. What's hard to believe is that people honestly believe that the SEC is an overhyped conference, such as was the case when Oregon came all so close before losing in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game against Auburn in January and had hearts broken, leaving the desert without the crystal ball trophy.

And now Oregon drops one of the most critical games to LSU, unsuccessful in employing the rush attack against SEC teams and has not ran longer than 14 yards in two games. There was LaMichael James, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, but he was ineffective and useless against the Tigers, rushing for a total of 54 yards and looking too damn hesitant on a series of plays.

It was bound to happen for a team with no passing game to counterbalance for a prolific ground attack, but Darron Thomas isn't directed to throw it more frequently to balance the offense. Much credit belongs to LSU cornerback Tharold Simon and the Tigers defense. Those defenders were too agile and explosive in an onslaught to outrun and outplay the Ducks, a team that never had a completion longer than 18 yards, unable to break away or run pass LSU's almighty defenders.

It's not a myth, but defense truly win games and LSU studies show that LSU's defenders forced four turnovers and three of those miscues led literally to Tigers' touchdowns. Even with the answer so glaringly conspicuous, Miles prepared his players for the challenge and had his players run grueling drills in nearly every practice, since the spring. It paid off as well, running two separate offensive teams at the defense on consecutive plays.

This is one way of getting away from troubles -- winning games -- and when there's really no need to wonder if Jefferson will return for the next game after allegedly kicking a man in the face during a brawl outside Shady's, a well-known bar in Baton Rouge, there's reason to believe in the Tigers. It was as if the season was a total lost for LSU and as if a damaged blow was enough to hinder the Tigers from bidding for a BCS bowl game.

It turns out, after all, that Lee, Jefferson's replacement, isn't as bad as people make it seem. He has the experience and has played in plenty of football games for the Tigers during his five-year span, despite a horrid track record of 17 career touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. Whether his numbers were awful, he can still be given the starting nod, finishing 10-of-22 for 98 yards. He had one throw for a highlighted play when he hurled a beautiful touchdown pass to Rueben Randle, competent of handling LSU's offense.

But mainly, LSU forced fumbles to set up opportunities to score and it was successful when Oregon punt returner Kenjon Barner fumbled to give the Tigers six points. Before he turned it over, he retrieved a punt inside the Ducks' 10-yard line, and then he turned to the onrushing LSU defender. Running after Barner was cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, a fast runner, stripping the ball loose, recovering it and returning it for his first collegiate touchdown.

This time, as opposed to the previous season, LSU is still in good position to prevail, even though the program is faced with heartaches and distress, the kind of distractions no team needs at the beginning of a brand-new season. The Tigers, for what it's worth, depended on their defense, survived by their defense and dominated by their defense.

Friday, September 2, 2011

OU Sooners Can Alter Football Greatness With Landry Jones

It wasn't so long ago that Landry Jones became engaged to Sooners women's basketball player Whitney Hand in an environment of athletic stars and a legacy of football greatness. It's just common to think of Jones as a popular star on campus and not a typical college student, but an Oklahoma personality quietly inheriting a celebrity status.

It's not a problem because he perpetuates tradition and Sooner Pride, the notions that gives a strong description for one of the storied programs in collegiate football, for winning seven national, 43 conference titles, amassing 44 bowl appearances and 152 All-Americans. There isn't another program as admirable as OU, given its mystique and greatness in previous history. And there isn't another Jones at Oklahoma, either -- the standout quarterback of this generation in program history.

He is the cornerstone for a demanding program, a school where the expectations are largely ballooned and meaningful, verified as the nation's top gunslinger and predicted to polish in the colors of a crimson and cream uniform. But while he's battled through adversity and hardships no one ever imagined, Jones has stepped into the spotlight and is now an asset for the Sooners.

He is as an advocate for the avid fans who love their Sooners, madly imbued by Oklahoma in a state where college sports is glorified heavily as a lone pro franchise hails in Oklahoma City. Jones, though, has practiced his faith and football almost simultaneously and balanced each trait, humbled even more so after his teammate Austin Box, a 22-year-old linebacker, was found dead from an accident caused by a toxic mix of prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety drug.

He felt the pain, though he knew his role for the Sooners as a leader and quarterback, which he is respected highly. The face of universally an outstanding school is Jones, the devout Christian and NFL-ready quarterback to some. It's also another reason to like the Sooners as Jones is a Heisman contender fortunate to have a reliable wide receiver, Ryan Broyles.

It is a privilege to play alongside a receiver with the platoons of a skilled wideout, ever so polished and could become the NCAA career leader in receiving yards. Much of which Jones will connect with Broyles on Saturdays, and use the speedy wideout to his advantage. The truly nice thing about the Sooners is that OU evidently has the best defense in a high-powered offensive conference.

It would be right to acknowledge that Bob Stoops is one of the coaching greats in college football in the company of Joe Paterno and Mack Brown among active coaches at their schools for more than 10 years with a national championship. But in another season of unpredictability, nothing would be more right than to believe that the Sooners will once again falter under Stoops, who'd failed to win the big games that either had bowl game implications or a national title at stake.

There is much to like about the Sooners and it truly can be the year OU shimmers and revels in triumph if the school qualifies for a noteworthy bowl game and, more importantly, win it all to erase the dreadful memories of collapsing in the meaningful games of one's lifetime. Jones is in conversations for the Heisman and precisely the best quarterback in the Big 12, laded with a repertoire of weapons.

Of course, when he arrived at Oklahoma with the idea of prospering as a prospect from high school to suit up for the most coveted program in the Big 12, if not in Oklahoma, he took the No. 12 jersey in which it was the jersey he'd normally worn. The buzz as of recently, which would end the debate whether or not freshman Blake Bell would be named the starter, faded quickly when Stoops alluded to last season and said it was the first time Jones really was the starter, although he merely started 10 games while Sam Bradford was sidelined with a shoulder injury two years ago. He's not proven, all right, or more likely he's not an elite quarterback.

For those who've doubted Landry, he doesn't feel any trepidation or anxiety. It would be hard to replace someone better suited to heave passes and lead the Sooners into battle each weekend, the humbled, good-natured and fun-loving quarterback apt for the challenge. And now here he comes again, in position to have another wonderful season as the gunslinger when he led the nation in pass completions and ranked second nationally in passing yards and touchdown passes.

Almost everything has been right for Jones. The Sooners, who aren't atop the rankings for the first time in quite some time when it comes to prestige or respectively relevance, watched Jones tie the school record with 468 yards in a win over cross-town rivals Oklahoma State. And by beating the foes in the same state alone is perceived as a success.

The stage is certainly set for Jones. Here's to believe he'll be stronger and smarter than last season, capping off one of the greatest seasons by an OU quarterback with a MVP performance in a 48-20 demolition over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl to end the Sooners' bowl losing streak.

He does, however, struggle a bit on the road and dislike the taste of room service food with a 4-5 record as a starter in road games. He has the ability to attain success away from Norman and he's capable of making players around him efficient and useful, a couple of difference-makers in the Sooners' offense. It's a perspective that radically shows his maturity and physicality.

By now, he knows the program, he is familiar with the playbook and he is surrounded by a deeper supporting cast. He is ready for this moment and the spotlight as his emotions are running high, excited to stand as the tallest one of the core. There is James Hanna, too, the OU tight end capping a lifetime memory by hauling in game-winning, 76-yard touchdown pass at Oklahoma State to silence everybody glancing onto the field from the stands last season in Stillwater.

This could be the season Jones has a breakout game and disclose to America that he is the best quarterback after all.

As early favorites to win the trophy at the end of the season, it's fair to believe Jones can hold the Heisman, too. Just how Jones is engaged to be married, the folks within the Sooners' community are engaged by his athleticism.