Monthly Archives: January 2011

AFC Wild Card: Flacco is Now in Charge

Flacco Throwing Against the Chiefs

Flacco Throwing Against the Chiefs

Last January, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens were able to upset the apple cart by defeating the New England Patriots in a 2010 Wild Card matchup, but not necessarily on the strength of Joe Flacco.  At the time, Flacco was limping onto the practice field and struggling to stand straight up in the pocket.  He couldn’t even sit on the plane ride home because his leg had swelled more than three inches after a game against the Raiders in which he threw for only 102 yards.  But as everyone knows, the Ravens haven’t needed a quarterback in order to do well in the postseason.  Ray Lewis and the defense have been carrying Baltimore for the last decade, making any good quarterback an afterthought.

This year, however, with no more injuries and a healthy outlook, Mr. Flacco took the game on his shoulders on Sunday night, throwing for 265 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He proved that he isn’t meant to be a window decoration for the team.  Flacco wants to run that offense and dominate opponents with his arm.  No longer will they say that he ‘looks lost’ behind center.  No longer will they say he can’t read a blitz.  No longer will they… well, no longer will they trash talk him until next week.

For now, Flacco is in charge of the Baltimore Ravens’ offense.  He is healthy and he is winning.  There’s something to be said for a rested hip injury.  Matt Hasselbeck knows what that means!

NFC Wild Card Upset: No Bush When Lynch Runs

Marshawn Lynch Runs Through the Defense

Marshawn Lynch Runs Through the Defense

When the New Orleans Saints stepped onto the field Saturday night to face off against the impossibly awful Seattle Seahawks (7-9), they were without two key running backs in Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.  No problem, they thought.  Former Heisman winner Reggie Bush is in the house!   But when Bush walked to the locker room in the 4th Quarter after taking a helmet to his right leg (the one that he fractured early in the season), there was no one left to efficiently run the football for the Saints.  No problem, they thought.  We’ve got Drew Brees on offense and a star defense on the other side.   Not to mention, Seattle is a pitiful team.  Not so fast.

The Brace Shop noted last week that Matt Hasselbeck of the Seahawks was dealing with a hip injury and remained questionable for the game.  The hip injury didn’t go away, but he played one of the best post-season games of his life.  Maybe it had something to do with the popular opinion swirling around the NFL: Seattle is the worst team to have ever earned a spot in the playoffs.  By Sunday morning, Hasselbeck was enjoying the last laugh.

Just two days ago, the Seattle quarterback was cleared to play, but that didn’t mean he was 100% healthy.  No, no, no.  He was having liquid drained from his hip right before the game yet managed to put on quite a show, throwing for 272 yards and 4 touchdowns, a career high for the playoffs.  But with Bush down (x-rays of damage to his previously broken leg were negative), the real star of the game was Seattle’s recently signed running back, Marshawn Lynch, who broke more than half a dozen tackles en route to a remarkable highlight reel for the ages (a 67-yard touchdown run that has to be seen to be believed).

Hasselbeck ended the game saying: “We expected to win.”  Well, they did.  But Seattle still has a losing record at 8-9 going into Chicago next Sunday afternoon.

NFL Playoffs: Packing Up the Eagles

Eagles face off against the Packers on Sunday night

Eagles face off against the Packers on Sunday night

Apparently, having a home game doesn’t always make you the favorite to win a playoff game.  On Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles host the Green Bay Packers, who are nearly 3-point favorites in the Wild Card matchup.  Ouch.  For most of the season, the Eagles have enjoyed much of the media’s ballyhoo with QB Michael Vick playing some of his best football in years.  In this contest, however, the attention seems to be on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who took over for Brett Favre in 2008 and currently reigns as the NFL’s all-time leading passer.  Take that, Vick!

But as they say, on any given sunday, someone’s gonna win and someone’s gonna lose.  Problem is, Vick is battling a quad injury that he sustained in Week 16 against the lowly Minnesota Vikings.  During that game, he played through the pain and limped all over the field after being sacked a whopping six times.  By Week 17, Vick warmed the bench to rest up for their locked position as the No.3 seed in the NFC. 

Football fans will remember the Monday night game against the Washington Redskins on November 15 when commentators in the booth were declaring Vick the favorite for season MVP.  It was during that evening when he became the first quarterback in NFL history to account for six touchdowns while throwing for 300 yards, rushing for 50, passing four touchdowns and rushing for two more.  If this were baseball, someone might have asked if he were hyped up on steroids that night, but the truth is, he’s just an amazing athlete.  Until that week, he had not thrown an interception or lost a fumble all season.  Ah, but that was then.  Since Week 10, Vick has thrown six interceptions and lost far too many fumbles to be named an MVP.

If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t ‘pack’ up the Eagles on Sunday, it may well be that the Eagles reconnect with their mojo.  That and Michael Vick might just play well if he protects that quad.  More often than not, braces like the ProCare Thigh Sleeve can blend right into the uniform of a professional athlete and viewers think nothing of it.  Vick says that he’s 100%, but that remains to be seen.  We’ll all be watching.

NFL Playoffs: Baltimore’s Weak Defense

Baltimores Terrell Suggs chasing down a Bengal last Sunday

Sounds like an oxy moron, right?  The words weak and defense don’t usually mesh well together when you’re talking about the Baltimore Ravens.  This is a team that dominated the NFL during the 2000 season back when the St. Louis Rams’ offense was being called ‘the greatest show on turf’.  This is a team that made it to and won the Super Bowl in 2000 on the shoulders of what they were arguably calling the greatest defense of all time (challenging the mantra of a Pittsburgh Steeler reputation that has lasted almost four decades).  But no one argues about whether the Ravens have a tough defense any more.  This is a team that has remained in the thick of things for almost the entire last decade with the exception of only two years (2005 and 2007), again always staying competitive with one of the most consistent and toughest defenses in the league. 

Ah, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens are invincible.  Take a look at this updated laundry list of concerns primarily on defense, but also on the other side of the ball:

  • ON DEFENSE – Ed Reed – Safety (chest injury)
  • ON DEFENSE – Haloti Ngata – Defensive Lineman (thigh injury)
  • ON DEFENSE – Terrell Suggs – Linebacker (knee injury)
  • ON DEFENSE – Josh Wilson – Cornerback (head injury)
  • ON OFFENSE – Michael Oher – Left Tackle (knee injury)
  • ON OFFENSE – Derrick Mason – Wide Receiver (abdomen and ankle injury)
  • ON OFFENSE – Matt Birk – Center (knee injury)

These problems aren’t necessarily a nail in the coffin for Baltimore when they face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon in a Wild Card Matchup (most of these players will get on the field because it’s the playoffs).  Nonetheless, for those of us watching the game, we may want to pay attention when a Raven hits the ground and needs help getting up.  If that Raven is one of the men listed above, we’ll probably ask ourselves whether that individual should have played at all.

NFL Playoffs: Ryan Says No Excuses

Sanchez Throwing a Pass in Practice

Easy for him to say.  This past Tuesday, when asked whether his star quarterback would be playing in the game against Indianapolis on Saturday night, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan didn’t mince words.  “That shoulder is not an excuse for our football team.  Nothing is.”  Yeesh.  I guess that’s why they get paid the big bucks?

On the Sunday before Christmas, Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez got caught in an awkward scramble against the Pittsburgh Steelers where he injured his throwing shoulder and hasn’t had the chance to fully recover.  Add three weeks and now we’re talking about the playoffs.  Then throw in a dose of Peyton Manning on the other side of the ball and Ryan has little choice but to talk big… something the Jets are known for doing (a la ‘Broadway Joe’ Namath). 

But let’s get real for a moment.  Doctors have informed Sanchez that his shoulder will not suffer any exacerbated problems if he continues to play.  Yet we all saw him take nine snaps against the Bills last Sunday only to hand it off, never throw a pass, then sit the bench while veteran QB Mark Brunell came in as relief.  In other words, how can we be sure that Sanchez is really up for a big game like this just because he says that he is?  Just take a gander at his game against the NFC’s second-seeded Chicago Bears on December 26.  Sanchez threw for 269 yards and one touchdown, completing almost 65 percent of his passes.  Forget that he also had an interception in the same game for a moment.  The point is, this kid can still play tough football when his shoulder doesn’t feel quite right.

No doubt he’ll be wearing an inconspicuous, but entirely helpful support brace under that jersey.  Details about the extent of his shoulder injury are somewhat vague, so it’s difficult to say what exactly he might be using on Saturday night.  One thing’s for sure, though.  Mark Sanchez is planning to win.  By Sunday morning, either he or Manning will be preparing for the next opponent.  The other man and his team will be going home.

NFL Playoffs: Mum’s the Word on Hasselbeck

Hasselbeck walked off the field

With all the hype around this Saturday’s matchup between the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and an awful 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team that slid into the playoffs ahead of two 10-6 teams who sit out this year’s tournament, almost everyone wants to know if Matt Hasselbeck will be taking the snaps for Seattle.  There’s a tremendous difference between the two options at quarterback.  Charlie Whitehurst has played as a backup with San Diego, Green Bay, and now Seattle with little to show for himself except the most recent win over the favored St. Louis Rams.  Hasselbeck, however, has played in a Super Bowl and knows the competitive challenges that come with performing in a highly anticipated playoff matchup.

So why not go with the man everybody knows should play?  Well, let’s talk about his left hip injury.  In Week 3, Hasselbeck took a shot to the hip and never quite recovered.  By Week 10, he was in the midst of a play-action pass when the pain struck again.  It’s not that he can’t throw a pass or stand up straight.  The problem is that he struggles with certain quick movements to the left.  You might think of it as the kind of pain that’s hard to identify because it isn’t constant and only strikes when you’re twisting your body a particular direction.   One option for adding stability is the RCAI Hip Abduction Orthosis to reinforce hip precautions.  For now, however, we don’t know if the injury will impact coach Pete Carroll’s decision to leave him on the bench or use him to achieve one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.

Let’s talk about that one for a moment.  Even if Hasselbeck can play, it’s likely that the majority of NFL fans will be cheering the Saints, even if they hate New Orleans.  Why?  Because almost everyone is frustrated that a 7-9 team is even in the playoffs.  If they manage to come out with an unexpected win, they’ll still be under .500.  Talk about crazy.

BCS Injury Report: Getting Those Ducks in a Row

Lavasier Tuinei injured his shoulder on November 13 against California
Deja Vu, anyone? Not only is Auburn healthy and prepared for their hyped-up BCS title game, but Oregon has almost all their ‘Ducks’ in a row as well. By all Ducks, we can’t forget about Lavasier Tuinei, their 6-5, 206-pound wide receiver who ranks third on the team for receptions this year (33 catches, 321 yards, 2 touchdowns) before a shoulder injury cost him the final two regular season games.  Right now, while just about everyone else is in tip-top shape, he’s the only player on the team who remains questionable.

Tuinei was involved in a secondary collision during the game between Oregon and Cal on November 13.  The damage inflicted was a cracked shoulder blade, one of the many injuries that plague wide receivers and quarterbacks alike. 

If allowed to play, Tuinei’s impact for the Ducks is not only crucial to their success, but potentially of interest to NFL recruiters who might attempt to steal him away from his senior year of college.  More than likely, any advisor of merit will tell him to steer clear of the NFL until he can prove that he’s capable of remaining healthy for an entire year.  Professional football coaches don’t need to draft injury-prone athletes and Tuinei will need to demonstrate his strength not only at the BCS Championship game, but throughout the coming year.

Alas, the game is on the line for both teams.  Who will take home the title?  Auburn or Oregon?  You decide.

Auburn vs Oregon

Auburn vs Oregon

 Auburn Tigers vs Oregon Ducks

Tostidos BCS National Championship

January 10, 2011, 8:30 pm (Monday)

Glendale, Arizona

ESPN

BCS Injury Report: Auburn Healthy

Well, there’s a first time for everything.  Never before have the Oregon Ducks (PAC-10 Champion) or the Auburn Tigers (SEC Champion) been to the BCS National Championship game and this year, they’re both playing.  In a head-to-head matchup, one of the first things we ask is: who is injured and where are the weak spots?  For Auburn, the signs of weakness are minimal and there appear to be no injuries.  At least, no injuries that they haven’t already prepared to deal with.

Aairon Savage, a star defensive back for the Tigers at the beginning of the season, suffered a broken ankle against 8th ranked Arkansas back in October (a game that Auburn won handily).  Prior to the end of his sixth season at Auburn, Savage had 37 tackles, causing significant damage to every opponent in a year that they ultimately achieved a 13-0 record.  So, with all the time to rest since their last game on December 4, shouldn’t Savage be ready to play in the biggest game of his life?  Not so fast.

In this case, optimism wasn’t able to undo reality.  To understand his medical dillema, the first thing to know is that he was out for the 2008 season with an ACL tear.  Then he lost the 2009 season with an Achilles’ injury.   The broken ankle was simply icing on the cake for a series of battle scars that would, in the end, close out his career as a football player.  Today, his greatest action will come from the sideline where he’ll not only wear a brace, but walk with a crutch in the hopes of a gradual rebound.

Savage braced in 2009

Savage braced in 2009

Fortunately, Savage is no sore loser.  He has taken to the sideline as a semi-assistant coach.  In other words, he hasn’t been hired to coach, but he’s still part of a team fighting for the national championship and wants to play in some small part.  His teammates see him as a leader and the career-ending injury hasn’t dampened his spirits.  But it remains to be seen whether the Ducks will march into the Arizona stadium on January 10 and crush the hopes of an almost entirely healthy squad.