Monday, September 29, 2008

Sox beat Tigers 8-2 to force one-game playoff with Twins

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Game played Sept. 29, 2008

Alexei Ramirez’s sixth-inning grand slam paced the Chicago White Sox to an 8-2 win over the Tigers in a make-up of an earlier rained-out contest, forcing a one-game playoff for the American League Central Division title Tuesday night against Minnesota.

Down 2-1 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, the White Sox batted around and scored five runs against four pitchers in the inning to take a commanding lead. Dewayne Wise drew a free pass to lead off the inning against Tigers starter Freddy Garcia, bringing on Armando Galarraga from the Detroit bullpen.

Wise stole second and took third base on a wild pitch before scoring on a ball-four wild pitch, which allowed Jermaine Dye to reach first and brought on Bobby Seay from the relief corps. Dye took second on another wild pitch, Paul Konerko was walked intentionally and Ken Griffey Jr. worked a walk to load the bases, ending Seay’s night in favor of Gary Glover.

Ramirez then jacked Glover’s first offering to deep left field for his fourth grand slam of the season, a major league rookie record, for a 6-2 lead. The shot also tied Ramirez for the most grand slams in one season in White Sox history.

After a three-hour-long rain delay to begin a game that was a makeup of Sept. 13’s rainout, the White Sox jumped on the board first. Orlando Cabrera led off with a walk and scored on Dye’s single to center to lead 1-0.

Detroit drew even in the fifth frame. Ryan Raburn led off with a single to left-center against Chicago starter Gavin Floyd and scored on a Brandon Inge double to the left-center field wall to knot the score at one.

The Tigers then took the lead in the top of the sixth. Miguel Cabrera doubled to center with one down and scored on a Floyd throwing error on Raburn’s grounder for a 2-1 advantage.

After the dust settled on the bottom of the sixth, Chicago tacked on two more in the eighth frame just for good measure. Ramirez reached on a two-out infield single and scored on A.J. Pierzynski’s double down the left-field line. Pierzynski then took third when Detroit reliever Aquilino Lopez uncorked yet another wild pitch, then scored when Raburn misplayed Juan Uribe’s grounder to set the final margin at 8-2.

For the White Sox, who had lost five of six coming in but have taken seven of nine from Detroit, Ramirez and Pierzynski each went 2-for-4, with Ramirez collecting four RBI.

Floyd (17-8), pitching on three days’ rest, allowed five hits and two runs over six innings, with two walks and eight strikeouts. Matt Thornton, Octavio Dotel, Scott Linebrink and D.J. Carrasco pitched out of the bullpen for Chicago, which took the season series with Detroit, 12-6.

Detroit was led offensively by Raburn, who went 2-for-4.

Former White Sox playoff hero Garcia made his third start of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery and tossed five innings of two-run, two hit ball with three walks and three strikeouts. Galarraga (13-7) took the loss, retiring no batters while walking one and allowing one run.

The Tigers’ season draws to a close with a disappointing 74-88 mark after many were predicting a World Series in spring training.

However, the White Sox, now 88-74, will play at least one more game, with a showdown Tuesday night at home against Minnesota. John Danks is slated to work against the Twins’ Nick Blackburn in the teams’ first meeting since Minnesota swept a three-game set in Minneapolis Sept. 23-25.

Video credit – ESPN2

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sabathia, Braun end Milwaukee playoff drought, 3-1

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Game played Sept. 28, 2008

C.C. Sabathia threw a complete-game four-hitter and Ryan Braun hit his second crucial late home run in three days as the Milwaukee Brewers’ 3-1 win over the Cubs, coupled with the Mets’ 4-2 loss to Florida Sunday afternoon, gave Milwaukee the National League wild-card berth and its first playoff appearance in 26 seasons.

With the game tied at one and Bob Howry on the mound for Chicago, Mike Cameron singled to left field with one out and Braun lifted a two-out jack to deep left for a 3-1 Brewers advantage.

Sabathia, who led off the bottom of the eighth inning, then came on in the ninth and pitched around a Ryan Theriot single, inducing a game-ending double play off the bat of Derrek Lee for his 10th complete game of the season.

The Cubs, who had already clinched the NL Central title, drew first blood. Aramis Ramirez led off with a single to left field, took third base on Prince Fielder’s fielding error on Micah Hoffpauir’s grounder and scored when Ronny Cedeno beat out Ray Durham’s throw on a potential inning-ending double play.

Milwaukee drew even in the seventh inning. Durham led off with a double to the wall in right-center. Then, with the bases loaded and two out, Craig Counsell drew a walk from reliever Michael Wuertz to force in Durham and tie the game at one.

Braun also hit a 10th-inning walk-off grand slam Thursday to beat Pittsburgh 5-1 and keep the Brewers tied in the NL wild-card race.

For the Brewers, who have won six of seven and took the three-game series, Cameron garnered two of the team’s four hits and Braun picked up two RBI.

Sabathia (11-2) started for the third straight time on three days’ rest and was dominant, striking out seven and walking one.

Fielder’s 17-game hitting streak, tied for his career long, came to an end with a 0-for-3 day with three strikeouts.

For the Cubs, who won the season series between the clubs nine games to seven, Ramirez and Theriot each got two base hits.

Angel Guzman started the game in place of Carlos Zambrano, who pinch-hit in the third inning, and went two innings, retiring six straight in his 14th career start and first since May 2007. Chad Gaudin, Neal Cotts, Kevin Hart, Sean Marshall, Wuertz and Howry (7-5) all saw time on the mound for the Cubs.

The 90-72 Brewers now prepare for a best-of-five series with Philadelphia, with Game 1 slated for Wednesday and the starter yet to be named. The Cubs, who end the regular season at 97-64, will host the Los Angeles Dodgers beginning Wednesday, with Ryan Dempster the announced starter for Game 1.

Video credit – WGN

Saturday, September 27, 2008

No. 8 Crimson Tide batters third-ranked Georgia, 41-30

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Game played Sept. 27, 2008

The eighth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide delivered the punch to No. 3 Georgia on the Bulldogs’ blackout night, pounding out a 41-30 victory that was not as close as the final score might indicate as the Tide scored the first 31 points of the night. The win was Alabama’s sixth straight, dating back to the end of last season, its longest such streak since 2005.

Alabama wasted no time taking the lead, scoring on its first possession with a little help from the Bulldogs defense. Glen Coffee rushed for four yards and a first down on third-and-one, and Julio Jones caught 13- and 12- yard passes from John Parker Wilson on consecutive plays. A pass interference penalty on Georgia’s Prince Miller gave the Tide a free first down. Then, on third-and-12, Georgia made a big play when Coffee caught a screen pass and ran for a first down, but fumbled as the Bulldogs recovered. However, the turnover was negated due to a roughing-the-passer penalty on Georgia’s Akeem Dent, and two plays later, Mark Ingram ran for a seven-yard touchdown. Leigh Tiffin’s extra point gave Alabama a quick 7-0 lead.

After a Georgia punt, the Crimson Tide scored again. Wilson scrambled for seven yards and a first down before a holding penalty on the Bulldogs’ Miller gave Alabama another free first down. Nikita Stover caught a pass for 15, with another Georgia roughing-the-passer penalty, this one on Jarius Wynn, tacked onto the end of the play. Tiffin ended the drive with a 23-yard field goal.

The Bulldogs’ Brian Mimbs’ next punt traveled only 18 yards, giving the Tide possession at the Georgia 47-yard line early in the second period. Coffee rushed for nine yards, then two to pick up a first down. Jones made a 31-yard reception before Coffee’s three-yard scoring run, with Tiffin’s boot giving Alabama a 17-0 edge.

Georgia was in a third-and-two situation on its ensuing drive when Alabama made a big play defensively. A.J. Green caught Matthew Stafford’s pass for nine yards, but was stripped by the Tide’s Justin Woodall, and Dont’a Hightower picked the ball out of the air for Alabama.

Alabama then proceeded to continue to pour it on. Mike McCoy caught a pass for 13 yards, then made a reception for nine on third-and-six. Roy Upchurch ran up the middle virtually untouched for a four-yard touchdown on a third-and-goal draw, and Tiffin’s kick made it 24-0, Crimson Tide.

The Tide defense forced another Georgia punt before Alabama punched in another score on its final possession of the half. Coffee rushed for 15 yards and Nick Walker caught a pass for 12 before Jones capped off the drive with a 22-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone, and Tiffin’s point-after gave the Crimson Tide a stunning 31-0 halftime lead.

Georgia finally dented the scoreboard on the first possession of the third quarter. Kris Durham caught two 22-yard passes on consecutive plays to set up a 43-yard Blair Walsh field goal.

The Bulldogs scored their first touchdown of the night after a big play on special teams. Georgia’s Zach Renner got a hand on P.J. Fitzgerald’s punt, which ended up 13 yards from the line of scrimmage at the Georgia 42-yard line. Mohamed Massaquoi caught a pass for eight yards on third-and-three, and Michael Moore made a nine-yard reception on fourth-and-four. Green caught a 25-yard throw before Knowshon Moreno scored a two-yard touchdown. Walsh’s kick made it 31-10.

The Georgia defense forced another Alabama three-and-out before catching some lightning in a bottle on the first play of the fourth quarter. Miller returned Fitzgerald’s punt 92 yards up the sideline for a touchdown, and Walsh’s point-after cut the Bulldog deficit to 31-17.

The Crimson Tide scored their first points of the second half on the next possession. Jones made a 15-yard reception and Upchurch gained 22 yards on a screen before Tiffin hooked a 32-yard field goal just inside the left upright to extend the lead to 34-17.

Georgia turned the ball over on downs on its next possession after being unable to convert a fourth-and-28 situation, and Alabama punched in another score. Upchurch had a 29-yard reception on another screen. Coffee then rushed for a 12-yard score, which stood up under review before a Tiffin extra point made the score 41-17.

The Bulldogs were able to save some face by scoring the final 13 points of the night. Richard Samuel returned a kickoff 41 yards before Kenneth Harris caught a pass for 11 yards on fourth-and-five. Moore made a 24-yard touchdown catch in the middle of three Alabama defenders. Stafford’s two-point-conversion throw for Harris was incomplete, leaving the score 41-23.

C.J. Byrd recovered the ensuing onside kick for Georgia. Stafford rushed for 11 yards, and Harris caught a pass for 17 on third-and-11. Green then made a 21-yard touchdown catch, and Walsh’s kick ended the scoring at 41-30, after another onside kick attempt was unsuccessful and the Crimson Tide ran out the clock.

Wilson completed 13 of 16 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown to lead the Alabama offense. Coffee rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Jones caught five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown, while Upchurch chipped in 51 yards receiving on two catches.

For Georgia, whose 11-game winning streak came to an end, Stafford hit 24 of 42 throws for 274 yards, two scores and an interception, his first in 121 attempts on his final pass of the first half, to Woodall. Green caught six passes for 88 yards, while Moore caught five for 65 yards and Durham made two receptions for 44 yards. Moreno, considered a leading Heisman candidate coming into the game, only carried nine times for 34 yards and a touchdown while missing much of the second half with an apparent right wrist injury.

Alabama, which at 5-0 and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play is tied with LSU atop the SEC West, hosts Kentucky Saturday afternoon, while the Bulldogs, now 4-1 and 1-1 in the league, are tied with Florida in second in the East behind first-place Vanderbilt and have a bye week before facing Tennessee at home Oct. 11.

Video credit – ESPN

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rolfe, Fire brighten playoff outlook, knock off L.A., 3-1

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Game played Sept. 25, 2008

Based on the strength of Chris Rolfe’s two-goal night, the Chicago Fire drew closer to solidifying a playoff berth with a 3-1 win over the Galaxy, dealing a serious blow to Los Angeles’ own postseason aspirations.

Rolfe and the Fire drew first blood early, just managing to send in a goal past Los Angeles goaltender Josh Wicks off an assist from John Thorrington in the 13th minute.

The Galaxy scored the equalizer in the 35th minute. Eddie Lewis scored his first goal of the season off assists from Chris Klein and Landon Donovan, tying the contest 1-1.

The Fire took the game by scoring two goals in three minutes early in the second half. Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored his first goal in 17 matches, his fifth of the season, on a longer 57th-minute strike to take a 2-1 advantage.

Then, in the 59th minute of play, a Rolfe shot found the net for his second goal of the contest and sixth of the year after seemingly being initially stopped by Wicks. Brian McBride and Gonzalo Segares were credited with assists on the play, closing the scoring at 3-1.

The match was the 12th out of the last 14 in which the Galaxy allowed two or more goals.

The Fire, who had lost three of four coming in, now stand at 12-9-5, with 41 points, temporarily good for the third and final Eastern Conference guaranteed playoff spot. They still look up at Columbus, which has clinched the only playoff berth so far, and New England, which has 42 points.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles dropped to 7-11-8, with 29 points, and remain sixth in the Western Conference standings, two points behind Colorado and Real Salt Lake, who each have 31 points in third place.

Chicago is back in action at Kansas City Sunday, while the Galaxy travel to Columbus Saturday.

Video credit – ESPN2

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pettitte, Yankees close Stadium with 7-3 win, sweep over O’s

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Game played Sept. 21, 2008

The New York Yankees fittingly closed their home stadium with a 7-3 win and a three-game sweep over the Baltimore Orioles.

Andy Pettitte was the winning pitcher, running his all-time record at Yankee Stadium to 115-56, in the final Major League Baseball contest at the fabled park, which opened in 1923.

New York took the lead for good in its fourth time at the plate. With the score tied at three, Jose Molina knocked a one-out shot to left field, scoring Robinson Cano, who had led off with a walk, for a 5-3 Yankees lead. The homer would stand up as the last jack at Yankee Stadium.

Baltimore drew first blood in the second inning when Adam Jones lined a one-out triple off the top of the right-field wall and scored on a Jay Payton fielder’s choice. In the third, Brian Roberts reached on a Pettitte fielding error, stole second base and scored on Melvin Mora’s single to right for a 2-0 lead.

The Yankees took their first lead in the bottom of the third frame. Hideki Matsui led off with a single to right and Molina singled to right-center in front of Johnny Damon, whose home run to right field gave New York a 3-2 advantage.

The Orioles evened the score in the fourth. Kevin Millar doubled to left with one out and scored on a Roberts single to right to tie the count at three apiece.

New York played tack-on in the seventh inning. Bobby Abreu led off with a single to center, stole second and scored on Jason Giambi’s bloop single to the left side away from the shift. Cano then lifted a sac fly to left, scoring pinch runner Brett Gardner, who went first-to-third on an error on Baltimore’s Brandon Fahey, to close the scorebook on Yankee Stadium at 7-3.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi brought on starting pitcher Joba Chamberlain in relief to finish the seventh inning and work the eighth before calling on storied closer Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation to work a final perfect inning at Yankee Stadium, which ended on Roberts’ groundout to defensive replacement and first baseman Cody Ransom.

For the Yankees, Pettitte (14-14) worked five innings, being lifted one batter into the sixth frame and taking a curtain call from the partisan crowd. He allowed seven hits and three runs, with one walk and three strikeouts. Jose Veras and Phil Coke also saw time on the hill before Chamberlain and Rivera shut it down.

For Pettitte, the win ended a five-game losing streak, the longest of his career, and boosted his all-time record against Baltimore to 25-6. He also recorded the 2,000th strikeout of his career, punching out Ramon Hernandez swinging in the second inning.

Molina led the way offensively for New York with a 3-for-4 night. Abreu also contributed two hits to the cause, with Damon knocking in three runs.

Chris Waters (3-4) was the pitcher of record for the Orioles, tossing 5 2-3 innings and yielding five runs on six hits in his 10th major league start. He walked two and struck out four. Lance Cormier, Jamie Walker and Rocky Cherry also worked for Baltimore on the mound.

Jones paced the O’s offense with a 2-for-4 night at the plate.

New York captain Derek Jeter, who was in the lineup a day after taking a pitch off his left hand, was also pulled to a standing ovation with one out to go in the game.

With the win, the Yankees remained mathematically alive in the playoff chase, though Tampa Bay has already clinched a postseason berth and Boston needs only a win or a New York loss to do the same and officially eliminate the Yankees, who cannot win the division title and sit 6.5 games behind the Red Sox in the wild-card standings after Boston’s 3-0 win at Toronto earlier Sunday.

New York, now at 85-71 and having won eight of nine, is off Monday before traveling to Toronto for a three-game set, with Mike Mussina taking the ball Tuesday night. The 67-87 Orioles, who have dropped five straight and eight of 11, host the Rays for four games over three days, with Brian Bass slated to work Monday night’s opener.

Video credit – ESPN

Saturday, September 20, 2008

No. 6 LSU wins rare road barnburner over Auburn, 26-21

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Game played Sept. 20, 2008

The sixth-ranked LSU Tigers used a touchdown pass from Jarrett Lee, who came on in relief of starter Andrew Hatch, to Brandon LaFell with 1:03 to go to knock off No. 10 Auburn, 26-21. The win at Jordan-Hare Stadium was LSU’s first since 1998.

LSU’s game-winning drive began at its own 46-yard line after a short Auburn punt. Lee hit Jared Mitchell for seven yards and Charles Scott picked up three and a first down. After Quinn Johnson rushed for two yards and a first down, Lee hit LaFell for an 18-yard score. Lee threw incomplete in the back of the end zone trying for the two-point conversion, but LSU had all the points it would need, with a 26-21 lead.

Auburn’s last-ditch drive got off the ground when LSU’s Rahim Alem committed a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty. However, he then sacked Auburn’s Chris Todd for a loss of 15 yards. On fourth-and-25, Todd completed a pass to Rodgeriqus Smith, who was tackled about two yards shy of the first down, ceding possession to LSU to end the game.

LSU drew first blood in the first period, setting the tone in field position on its first drive when LaFell downed a Josh Jasper punt inside the Auburn one-yard line. Three possessions later, Hatch scrambled for 14 yards before Colt David drilled a 46-yard field goal for a 3-0 advantage.

Auburn seemed to take control, outscoring LSU 14-0 in second-quarter play. Their first possession of the period began when Todd completed a pass to Tim Hawthorne for 29 yards. Ben Tate then rushed for 14, and an interference penalty on LSU’s Patrick Peterson gave Auburn possession on the LSU three-yard line. Tate then punched in a one-yard touchdown run, and Wes Byrum’s point-after made it 7-3, Auburn.

David missed a 50-yard field goal attempt well short, but Todd threw an interception to LSU’s Chris Hawkins on the ensuing possession. After an Auburn punt, Lee made a critical mistake, throwing an interception on a screen play to Auburn’s Gabe McKenzie, who returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. Byrum’s kick gave Auburn’s Tigers a 14-2 lead, which held up through halftime.

Auburn was driving toward blowing the game open on the first possession of the third quarter, but was forced to punt from the LSU 35-yard line. Ryan Shoemaker shanked his kick, which only traveled seven yards, giving LSU reasonable field position.

From there, the Bayou Bengals were able to get back into the game. Hatch picked up 12 on a rush but was forced to leave due to a head injury. Lee came on and hit Richard Dickson for a 16-yard gain on third-and-four on his first play. Lee then completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Chris Mitchell on third-and-10. David’s extra point cut the deficit to 14-10.

LSU kept the pressure on with an onside kick, which Jai Eugene recovered, though it was forced to punt. However, Todd was intercepted again by Hawkins on fourth-and-one.

LSU then took the lead with an four-play, 89-yard drive to end the quarter. Scott rushed for a gain of 11, and Lee completed successive passes to LaFell for 33- and 24-yard plays. Keiland Williams then threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Byrd on a halfback pass, and David’s boot on the final play of the period gave LSU a 17-14 lead.

LSU played tack-on on its first possession of the fourth quarter after beginning the drive at its own nine-yard line. Scott rushed for 12 yards. LaFell caught a pass for 18, then Scott picked up 31 more. David’s 32-yard field goal extended LSU’s lead to 20-14.

Auburn did not take long to answer. Hawthorne made a 57-yard reception before Dunn caught a 15-yard touchdown pass, and Bynum’s kick gave Auburn a 21-20 lead, setting the stage for what has become typical LSU late-game heroics.

For LSU, Lee, a junior-college transfer making his first road start in Division I FBS play, completed 11 of 22 tosses for 182 yards, two scores and one interception. Hatch, also starting for the first time on the road after transferring from Harvard, completed two of six throws for 16 yards, but picked up 40 yards rushing on 10 carries. Scott rushed 21 times for 132 yards. LaFell caught four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, while Chris Mitchell caught one ball for 39 yards and a score and Byrd made three receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown.

Todd led the Auburn attack by completing 17 of 32 passes for 250 yards, with one touchdown and two picks. Hawthorne caught two passes for 87 yards, while Smith hauled in five throws for 73 yards. Dunn contributed 60 yards and a touchdown catch on four receptions. Tate picked up 45 yards rushing on 19 carries.

Twelve of the last 19 games in the series, including the last five, have been decided by a touchdown or less. The game ended a streak of eight straight wins by the home team in the series.

LSU, which is 3-0 and 1-0 in SEC play, next faces Mississippi State Sept. 27, while Auburn, now 3-1 and 1-1 in conference action, hosts Tennessee on the same date.

Video credit – ESPN

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lester shuts down Toronto, Red Sox take series, 4-3

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Game played Sept. 14, 2008

Jon Lester allowed one run over eight innings as the Boston Red Sox defeated Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays 4-3, taking the four-game set in the process. Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon held off the Toronto charge in the ninth inning to nail down his 38th save of the year, a career high.

The team traded runs in the first inning. Toronto drew first blood with a Jose Bautista one-out homer to left. Boston responded when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the frame with a single to center field, stole second base, took third on a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice and scored the equalizer on David Ortiz’s groundout.

The Red Sox took the lead for good in the second frame. Jason Bay led off with a single to center and scored on a two-out Coco Crisp single to right.

Boston scored again in the seventh inning. Mike Lowell led off with a single to left and scored on another Crisp two-out single, this one to left field, for a 3-1 lead.

The Red Sox added an insurance run that would prove vital in the eighth. Ortiz lined a one-out triple, his first of the season, past Blue Jays right fielder Alex Rios and scored on Kevin Youkilis’ sac fly to the center-field wall to take a 4-1 advantage.

Toronto made things interesting against Papelbon in the ninth inning. Vernon Wells led off with a double down the left-field line and scored on pinch hitter Adam Lind’s single to left. Lyle Overbay then lined a shot high off the left-field wall, advancing Lind to third, but was himself called out at second base by umpire Doug Eddings, though replay showed Overbay appeared to beat Pedroia’s tag of Bay’s throw from the outfield.

Scott Rolen then scored Lind on a groundout to third base, cutting the Jays deficit to one. However, Papelbon caused Gregg Zaun to ground out for the third out to end the threat.

Lester (15-5) scattered four hits over eight innings, allowing one run with two walks and six strikeouts. Papelbon allowed two runs and three hits over his one inning of work to get the tough save. Crisp was 2-for-3 with two runs batted in to lead the Sox offense.

Halladay (18-11) was the tough-luck loser, allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings of work, with zero walks and five strikeouts. B.J. Ryan yielded one run on one hit in his one inning on the mound. Overbay posted a 2-for-4 afternoon for Toronto.

The win was Lester’s third straight; he also has won six straight home starts and 10 straight decisions at Fenway Park.

The 88-61 Red Sox begin a three-game series at Tampa Bay next, with Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound Monday night. 80-70 Toronto is off Monday before kicking off a home series with Baltimore Tuesday night, with Shaun Marcum slated to toe the rubber.

With the win, Boston draws within one game of the Rays in second place in the AL East, while third-place Toronto is 9.5 back. The Red Sox lead the AL wild-card race by six games over Minnesota, while the Blue Jays are in third, 8.5 games out.

Video credit – TBS

Sanchez, No. 1 Trojans paste fifth-ranked Ohio State, 35-3

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Game played Sept. 13, 2008

The top-ranked Southern California Trojans made a national statement with a sound 35-3 defeat of No. 5 Ohio State. USC’s Mark Sanchez threw four touchdown passes as the most-anticipated game of the regular season never developed into the contest it was expected to be.

The key turning point of the game came when Ohio State, already trailing 14-3, saw a Brian Robiskie touchdown reception called back due to a holding penalty on Ben Person. Ryan Pretorius then missed a 46-yard field goal attempt badly wide right.

The Trojans assumed a commanding lead for good one possession later. Buckeyes quarterback Todd Boeckman’s throw was intercepted by USC’s Rey Maualuga, who returned it 48 yards down the sideline for his first career touchdown. David Buehler booted the extra point for a 21-3 lead, which they held at halftime.

The Buckeyes took the first lead of the game after a long, sustained drive. Boeckman hit Robiskie for seven yards on third-and-three, and Brian Hartline caught a pass for five yards and a first down. Dane Sanzenbacher caught a pass for 15 yards before an offsides penalty on USC’s Kaluka Maiava resulted in another first down. Boeckman carried the ball for a first down on third-and-one and then hit Daniel Herron for 12 yards on third-and-eight. Pretorius kicked a 29-yard field goal to cap the 16-play drive for what would turn out to be Ohio State’s only lead of the game, 3-0.

The Trojans took the lead for good on their next possession. Joe McKnight rushed for nine yards to pick up a first down, then ran for 12 more after taking the direct snap from center. After an offsides penalty on third-and-four resulted in a first down, Sanchez hit Stanley Havili up the sideline for a 35-yard scoring strike. Buehler’s point-after made it 7-3.

USC struck again in the second period. Patrick Turner caught a pass for nine yards on third-and-six, then McKnight picked up 29 yards and Havili made a 12-yard reception, with a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Buckeyes’ Lawrence Wilson tacked onto the end of the play. Blake Ayles caught a one-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, and Buehler’s boot gave the Trojans their 14-3 lead.

The Trojans continued the onslaught after taking control of the field-position game in the third quarter. Havili picked up four yards on third-and-two, and Sanchez completed the short, 41-yard drive with a 24-yard scoring toss. A Buehler kick extended the lead to 28-3.

USC mercifully closed out the scoring with one more third-period drive. C.J. Gable ran for a gain of 13 yards before Sanchez hit Allen Bradford for 17 yards, with another roughing-the-passer penalty, this one on Marcus Freeman, added to the gain. Sanchez then found Williams for another touchdown, this one from 17 yards out, and the extra point closed the scorebook at 35-3.

Sanchez completed 17 of 28 attempts for 172 yards, with four scores and an interception. McKnight picked up 105 yards rushing on 12 attempts. Havili caught five passes for 49 yards, while Williams made three receptions for 49 yards. Turner caught four balls for 44 more yards.

For the Buckeyes, Boeckman completed 14 of 21 attempts for 85 yards and two picks, while Terrelle Pryor completed six of eight throws for 44 yards. Herron rushed 11 times for 52 yards, and Pryor carried the ball 10 times for 45 yards.

Heisman Trophy candidate Chris Wells was not in uniform for the Buckeyes for the second straight game with a right foot and toe injury he sustained in the season opener Aug. 30 against Youngstown State.

With the win, USC has now won its last eight meetings against Big Ten competition.

The 2-0 Trojans are back in action Thursday night at Oregon State, while 2-1 Ohio State faces Troy Saturday afternoon.

Video credit – ESPN on ABC

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rodgers pilots Packers to 24-19 win over Vikings in opener

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Game played Sept. 8, 2008

The Green Bay Packers began the Aaron Rodgers era with a 24-19 win over bitter rival Minnesota in the season opener for each team. With the win, the Packers extended their winning streak in the series to five games.

The Packers scored the last points they would need with a quick fourth-quarter drive. Leading 17-12, Rodgers hit Ruvell Martin for a gain of 13. Ryan Grant then rushed for a gain of 57 before Rodgers’ one-yard touchdown rush on the drive’s fourth play. Mason Crosby’s extra point gave Green Bay a 24-12 lead.

Minnesota then scored a touchdown to keep the contest close with under three minutes to go. The Vikings were in a third-and-five situation when Green Bay’s Tramon Williams committed pass interference, resulting in a 20-yard penalty and a first down. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson ran for a gain of 17 yards, then picked up three on fourth-and-one. Garrett Mills caught a pass for 17 yards, and Adrian Peterson ran for a three-yard score. Ryan Longwell booted the point-after to cut the deficit to 24-19.

The Vikings made a defensive stop and retook possession after the two-minute warning, looking for a last-second win. However, Jackson’s off-target pass was intercepted by Atari Bigby to end the game.

Minnesota drew first blood with a second-quarter field goal. Peterson ran for gains of 11 and 34 yards to set up a 37-yard Longwell field goal.

Green Bay took the lead for good in the second. Greg Jennings caught a pass for 56 yards, and Korey Hall made a one-yard touchdown reception. Crosby’s boot gave the Packers a 7-3 lead.

The Packers added to their lead before first-half time ran out, beginning a drive on their own 13-yard line. Grant ran for a gain of 19 yards, and Rodgers picked up eight for a first down. Donald Driver had a catch of 25 yards before a 42-yard Crosby field goal closed out first-half scoring.

The Vikings drew closer in the third period. After beginning the drive on his own 14-yard line, Jackson ran for 19 on third-and-seven. Bernard Berrian caught a 24-yard pass, and Mills made a 23-yard reception to set up a Longwell 27-yard field goal.

The Packers got a big play from their special teams for the next score. Will Blackmon returned a Chris Kluwe punt 76 yards for a touchdown, and Crosby’s point-after gave the hosts a 17-6 advantage.

Minnesota scored the first fourth-quarter touchdown on a 15-play drive. Sidney Rice caught a pass for eight yards on third-and-three, and the Packers’ Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was offside on third-and-four, resulting in another first down. Jackson scrambled for seven on third-and-six, and Peterson picked up six on third-and-six. Jackson hit Rice for a 23-yard score on fourth-and-one. The Vikings elected to go for the two-point conversion, but Jackson’s pass for Rice in the back of the end zone fell incomplete, leaving the Minnesota deficit at 17-12.

Rodgers completed 18 of 22 throws for 178 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL start. Jennings made five catches for 91 yards, while Grant picked up 92 yards on 12 carries.

Jackson was 16-for-35 with 178 yards, a touchdown and an interception to lead Minnesota. Peterson picked up 103 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, while Jackson picked up 65 yards on nine carries. Mills had 49 yards receiving on three catches.

The game was the Packers’ first without current Jets quarterback Brett Favre starting under center since Sept. 27, 1992.

Green Bay, which has won 18 of 21 games, is now tied atop the NFC North at 1-0 with Chicago, while Minnesota, now 0-1, is tied with Detroit in the division basement after one week.

The Packers are back in action on the road against the Lions Sunday afternoon, while the Vikings host Indianapolis Sunday afternoon.

Video credit – ESPN

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Santana, Delgado, Mets win doubleheader nightcap, 6-3

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Game played Sept. 7, 2008

The New York Mets avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of division rival Philadelphia with a 6-3 victory in the second game of a doubleheader. Johan Santana pitched 7 1-3 innings of two-run ball to outduel the Phillies’ Cole Hamels in an aces’ showdown and get the win, while Carlos Delgado was 3-for-4 with four RBI and two home runs.

The Phillies, carrying the momentum of their 6-2 win in the first game of the doubleheader, drew first blood against Santana in the first inning. With one out, Chase Utley singled to left and scored on Ryan Howard’s RBI single to left-center to take a 1-0 lead.

New York then wasted no time, taking the lead in its first at-bat. Ryan Church singled with one out to left off Hamels. David Wright then reached on a catcher’s interference call on Phillies receiver Chris Coste, and Carlos Beltran singled to left to score Church. Wright reached third on the play, though replays suggested he should have been called out on the tag by Pedro Feliz.

Delgado followed with a single to right, scoring Wright and Beltran for a 3-1 advantage.

Philadelphia tacked another run on the board when Howard hit his 40th home run of the season, a two-out solo homer to right.

However, the Mets got that run right back when Delgado hit a monster leadoff shot off the scoreboard in left field, stretching the lead back to two runs at 4-2.

Delgado kept his hot streak going in the fifth inning, jacking another shot off Hamels past the second deck in right.

The teams traded runs in their final at-bats. Damion Easley led off the Mets eighth with a triple over Shane Victorino’s outstretched glove to the wall and scored on Brian Schneider’s sac fly to right.

Then, in the ninth, Victorino led off with an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error on Schneider. Victorino later scored on pinch hitter Andy Tracy’s sacrifice fly to left, making it a 6-3 deficit. However, Jimmy Rollins, who finished 0-for-5 in the game, struck out to end the game.

Ryan Church and Easley also chipped in two hits apiece for the Mets. Santana (13-7), who has not lost a game since a June 28 defeat at the hands of the Yankees, struck out six and walked three, yielding five hits. Pedro Feliciano and Brian Stokes each worked a third of an inning before Luis Ayala pitched the final frame, allowing one run on two hits with a punchout.

For the Phillies, Howard posted two hits to lead the offense. Hamels (12-9) lasted five innings, allowing five runs on nine hits, with one walk and six strikeouts. Clay Condrey and Rudy Seanez pitched the final three frames out of the Philadelphia bullpen.

With the win, the Mets take the season series, 11-7, from the Phillies in their last meeting of the regular season.

The 80-63 Mets retained first place in the NFL East with the win, while Philadelphia, now 78-65, remains two games out in the division race and four games behind Milwaukee in the NL wild-card chase.

New York is off Monday before returning to action with a two-game home series against Washington, with Oliver Perez slated to work Tuesday night’s opener. The Phillies next host Florida in a three-game set, with Joe Blanton pitching Monday night.

Video credit – ESPN

Thursday, September 4, 2008

2008-09 NFL SPECIAL COVERAGE – NFC EAST AND PLAYOFFS PREVIEWS

With the National Football League regular season set to get underway tonight, ZSN brings you the final installment of its preseason NFL preview series, with a breakdown of the NFC East and a look ahead to the playoffs.

After a stunning Super Bowl upset last February, where do Eli Manning and the Giants go from here? Can Tony Romo lead the Cowboys back to postseason glory after stumbling badly in the playoffs in recent years? Will Donovan McNabb and the Eagles make a run at the playoffs? With new coach Jim Zorn, where will the Redskins come in this year?

Dallas Cowboys (last season – 13-4, lost in divisional round)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 7 – at Cleveland (L)
Sept. 15 – Philadelphia (W)
Sept. 21 – at Green Bay (W)
Sept. 28 – Washington (W)
Oct. 5 – Cincinnati (W)
Oct. 12 – at Arizona (W)
Oct. 19 – at St. Louis (W)
Oct. 26 – Tampa Bay (W)
Nov. 2 – at N.Y. Giants (W)
Nov. 16 – at Washington (L)
Nov. 23 – San Francisco (W)
Nov. 27 – Seattle (W)
Dec. 7 – at Pittsburgh (W)
Dec. 14 – N.Y. Giants (L)
Dec. 20 – Baltimore (W)
Dec. 28 – at Philadelphia (W)

It’s been an interesting offseason for the Cowboys. Typically, a team that finishes with a 13-3 record and wins its division has to be fairly satisfied with its season. However, that cannot be considered the case for Dallas, which again fell short in the playoffs with a disappointing home loss to the eventual champion Giants. Quarterback Tony Romo, who is now saddled with a stigma, for better or worse, after personal playoff struggles, leads an offense featuring Terrell Owens and backs Marion Barber and rookie Felix Jones that is capable of hanging with the best offensive units in the game. Adam Jones has been reinstated after numerous and infamous legal troubles and could contribute to a defense that also picked up veteran linebacker Zach Thomas in free agency. This team is too talented to extend its winless streak in postseason play to 13 seasons; in fact, if they can put it all together, they are more than capable of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Tampa, Fla. after the season. With 20 starters returning from last year’s unit, look for Dallas to make a strong run at the Super Bowl and solidify coach Wade Phillips’ tenuous job standing.

New York Giants (last season – 14-6, won Super Bowl XLII)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 4 – Washington (W)
Sept. 14 – at St. Louis (W)
Sept. 21 – Cincinnati (W)
Oct. 5 – Seattle (L)
Oct. 13 – at Cleveland (W)
Oct. 19 – San Francisco (W)
Oct. 26 – at Pittsburgh (L)
Nov. 2 – Dallas (L)
Nov. 9 – at Philadelphia (L)
Nov. 16 – Baltimore (L)
Nov. 23 – at Arizona (L)
Nov. 30 – at Washington (W)
Dec. 7 – Philadelphia (W)
Dec. 14 – at Dallas (W)
Dec. 21 – Carolina (L)
Dec. 28 – at Minnesota (L)

The Giants enter 2008 with coach Tom Coughlin finally off the hot seat after one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history last season. Quarterback Eli Manning is finally no longer known as the quarterback who folds in pressure situations, and the Giants are no longer the “other “ team in their division. And yet, with all the hype surrounding their division-mate Cowboys and the hoopla surrounding Brett Favre and the cross-town Jets, the Giants are still the other team. The biggest storyline this offseason has been the departure of tight end Jeremy Shockey, a Pro Bowl-caliber player who was injured for last year’s playoff run and is largely considered to have undermined team chemistry when he was healthy and on the field, to New Orleans. Michael Strahan is also gone to retirement, though he flirted with returning after Osi Umenyiora went down for the year in a preseason game. Justin Tuck should be capable of replacing Strahan on the defensive line, though Strahan’s locker-room presence and leadership will not be immediately and easily replaced. Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer lead a deep receiving corps, and the secondary is better than last year’s occasionally-victimized unit. The Giants present an interesting conundrum. They proved last year they are perfectly capable of going on a roll, but it was generally accepted that they were the underdog in each of their four playoff wins, and they still are not among the most talented teams in the conference. They will be in the discussion to win another playoff berth, but with a tough schedule and what is possibly the most difficult division in football, they could go ether way as far as whether or not they will make the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles (last season – 8-8)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 7 – St. Louis (W)
Sept. 15 – at Dallas (L)
Sept. 21 – Pittsburgh (L)
Sept. 28 – at Chicago (L)
Oct. 5 – Washington (W)
Oct. 12 – at San Francisco (L)
Oct. 26 – Atlanta (W)
Nov. 2 – at Seattle (W)
Nov. 9 – N.Y. Giants (W)
Nov. 16 – at Cincinnati (W)
Nov. 23 – at Baltimore (W)
Nov. 27 – Arizona (W)
Dec. 7 – at N.Y. Giants (L)
Dec. 15 – Cleveland (W)
Dec. 21 – at Washington (W)
Dec. 28 – Dallas (L)

Last season’s Eagles are perhaps among the best 8-8 teams in history, with a talented unit and several close losses. Donovan McNabb and coach Andy Reid are still around in Philadelphia. McNabb appears to finally be healthy after two major knee surgeries, the latter of which clearly affected him at the beginning of last season. Asante Samuel came over in free agency to bolster a secondary, which also features Brian Dawkins, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. The offensive line, anchored by Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas, is aging but still a strong unit. Tight end L.J. Smith and running back Brian Westbrook are the Eagles’ top playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, with rookie DeSean Jackson also expected to contribute. Philadelphia has some holes but is talented and experienced enough to make a legitimate run at the playoffs.

Washington Redskins (last season – 9-8, lost in wild card round)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 4 – at N.Y. Giants (L)
Sept. 14 – New Orleans (L)
Sept. 21 – Arizona (W)
Sept. 28 – at Dallas (L)
Oct. 5 – at Philadelphia (L)
Oct. 12 – St. Louis (L)
Oct. 19 – Cleveland (L)
Oct. 26 – at Detroit (L)
Nov. 3 – Pittsburgh (L)
Nov. 16 – Dallas (W)
Nov. 23 – at Seattle (L)
Nov. 30 – N.Y. Giants (L)
Dec. 7 – at Baltimore (L)
Dec. 14 – at Cincinnati (L)
Dec. 21 – Philadelphia (L)
Dec. 28 – at San Francisco (L)

New coach Jim Zorn will take over in 2008 for re-retired legend Joe Gibbs, who directed the Redskins to a wild-card berth in 2007. Quarterback Jason Campbell is back and will be asked to run a West Coast offense that should only help an offensive unit that struggled combining the Gibbs power attack with offensive coordinator Al Saunders’ passing philosophy. Zorn is expected to call the new plays himself after serving as a quarterbacks coach tutoring Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle. Defensive end Jason Taylor came over during the offseason in a blockbuster deal from Miami. Washington, which won its final four games last season to just barely clinch the final playoff berth, has Clinton Portis, Antwaan Randle El and Santana Moss to make plays, with tight end Chris Colley also returning from a Pro Bowl season. Backup quarterback Todd Collins piloted the end of that playoff run after Campbell went down due to injury last year and will be ready if needed. The early-season slate is brutal, with three road division games and a matchup with New Orleans, which could set the tone for the season. Washington is a good football team, but someone has to come in last place in the loaded East, and the Redskins look like that tough-luck team.

Playoff predictions

Jan. 3-4 – Wild card playoffs
AFC Wild Card – Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh – Steelers get revenge from last season’s home playoff loss to the Jaguars.
AFC Wild Card – Buffalo @ New England – Patriots, as usual, take care of business in the early rounds of the playoffs.
NFC Wild Card – Carolina @ Green Bay – Panthers get a tough win in a cold, hostile environment.
NFC Wild Card – New Orleans @ Tampa Bay – Buccaneers advance with a hard-fought victory.

Jan. 10-11 – Divisional playoffs
AFC Divisional – New England @ Indianapolis – Patriots exorcise some demons from playoffs past with a win in the Colts’ new facility.
AFC Divisional – Pittsburgh @ San Diego – Steelers begin to bring back memories of Super Bowl XL run; Chargers disappoint in playoffs again.
NFC Divisional – Tampa Bay @ Seattle – Seahawks get a close win in their own friendly confines.
NFC Divisional – Carolina @ Dallas – Cowboys finally win a home playoff game.

Jan. 18 – Conference championships
AFC Championship – Pittsburgh @ New England – Steelers pull off shocking win; Patriots fall short of lofty expectations.
NFC Championship – Seattle @ Dallas – Cowboys advance to their first Super Bowl since 1995.

Feb. 1 – Super Bowl XLIII, Tampa, Fla. – Pittsburgh vs. Dallas – Cowboys return to glory with a win in one of the best Super Bowls ever played.

The Redskins will face the Giants to kick off the regular season tonight at 7 p.m.

Some information from ESPN.com and NFL.com was used in this report.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

2008-09 NFL SPECIAL COVERAGE – AFC EAST PREVIEW

One season after finishing one win shy of a perfect season, can Tom Brady and the Patriots repeat as conference champions? Will Brett Favre help the Jets over the hump and back into the postseason? Can Trent Edwards pilot the Bills into the playoffs? How will the Dolphins finish in their first season in the Bill Parcells regime?

Buffalo Bills (last season – 7-9)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 7 – Seattle (W)
Sept. 14 – at Jacksonville (L)
Sept. 21 – Oakland (W)
Sept. 28 – at St. Louis (W)
Oct. 5 – at Arizona (W)
Oct. 19 – San Diego (W)
Oct. 26 – at Miami (W)
Nov. 2 – N.Y. Jets (W)
Nov. 9 – at New England (L)
Nov. 17 – Cleveland (L)
Nov. 23 – at Kansas City (L)
Nov. 30 – San Francisco (W)
Dec. 7 – Miami (Toronto) (W)
Dec. 14 – at N.Y. Jets (L)
Dec. 21 – at Denver (L)
Dec. 28 – New England (W)

The Bills enter 2008 as easily the least-talked-about team in the division due to the Patriots’ mostly-stellar 2007 season, the Jets’ signing of Brett Favre and the Dolphins’ hiring of Bill Parcells. However, this is a team that finished second in the East and was in the playoff race until late in the year. Quarterback Trent Edwards is back after a solid, if unspectacular, 2007 season and has a number of weapons at his disposal. Receiver James Hardy adds height to a receiving corps, led by Lee Evans, that badly needed it last season, and running back Marshawn Lynch returns after a 1,100-plus-yard rushing season last year. Second-year linebacker Paul Posluszny returns after breaking his forearm early in his rookie campaign. Linebacker Kawika Mitchell also should help the defense after coming over from the Giants during the offseason. Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish add speed to the return game. Look for Buffalo to surprise the country and make a bid at returning to the playoffs.

Miami Dolphins (last season – 1-15)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 7 – N.Y. Jets (L)
Sept. 14 – at Arizona (L)
Sept. 21 – at New England (L)
Oct. 5 – San Diego (L)
Oct. 12 – at Houston (L)
Oct. 19 – Baltimore (L)
Oct. 26 – Buffalo (L)
Nov. 2 – at Denver (L)
Nov. 9 – Seattle (L)
Nov. 16 – Oakland (L)
Nov. 23 – New England (L)
Nov. 30 – at St. Louis (L)
Dec. 7 – at Buffalo (Toronto) (L)
Dec. 14 – San Francisco (W)
Dec. 21 – at Kansas City (L)
Dec. 28 – at N.Y. Jets (W)

The Dolphins are working on replacing the stigma of last season, when they posted the worst year in franchise history and one of the worst in NFL lore, only winning one game. Coach Cam Cameron is gone, replaced by Tony Sparano, with Bill Parcells hired in the front office. Chad Pennington has taken over the quarterback job after being released by the Jets, with running back Ricky Williams back after lasting less than one game last year before succumbing to injury. Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas are gone, with an astounding 44 new players and 22 rookies brought in. Joey Porter is a key addition to the defense, which will again be very young. No. 1 overall pick Jake Long will anchor the offensive line. 2007 first-round pick Ted Ginn should be given a larger role after being underutilized last season. The Dolphins under Parcells look to be on the right track, but they are a long way from competing for a playoff berth.

New England Patriots (last season – 18-1, lost Super Bowl XLII)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 7 – Kansas City (W)
Sept. 14 – at N.Y. Jets (W)
Sept. 21 – Miami (W)
Oct. 5 – at San Francisco (W)
Oct. 12 – at San Diego (L)
Oct. 20 – Denver (W)
Oct. 26 – St. Louis (W)
Nov. 2 – at Indianapolis (L)
Nov. 9 – Buffalo (W)
Nov. 13 – N.Y. Jets (W)
Nov. 23 – at Miami (W)
Nov. 30 – Pittsburgh (W)
Dec. 7 – at Seattle (L)
Dec. 14 – at Oakland (W)
Dec. 21 – Arizona (W)
Dec. 28 – at Buffalo (L)

The Patriots enter 2008 looking to erase the disappointing taste left in their mouths after the Super Bowl upset loss to the Giants after an 18-0 start to the season. One of the only significant holes in the Pats’ roster is the secondary, which was victimized at times last season and lost Asante Samuel and Randall Gay over the offseason. Fernando Bryant leads a crop of free agents and draftees brought in to shore up the defensive backs. Quarterback Tom Brady still leads one of the league’s best offenses, with Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney leading the receiving corps and Laurence Maroney heading up the running game. Coach Bill Belichick and New England still have a chip on their shoulders after the supposed de-legitimization of their accomplishments in the scandals of last season and will be looking to continue to send a message to the rest of the league, the media and the country by dominating the league for the second-straight year.

New York Jets (last season – 4-12)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 7 – at Miami (W)
Sept. 14 – New England (L)
Sept. 22 – at San Diego (L)
Sept. 28 – Arizona (L)
Oct. 12 – Cincinnati (L)
Oct. 19 – at Oakland (L)
Oct. 26 – Kansas City (L)
Nov. 2 – at Buffalo (L)
Nov. 9 – St. Louis (L)
Nov. 13 – at New England (L)
Nov. 23 – at Tennessee (L)
Nov. 30 – Denver (W)
Dec. 7 – at San Francisco (W)
Dec. 14 – Buffalo (W)
Dec. 21 – at Seattle (L)
Dec. 28 – Miami (L)

The Jets’ offseason can be summed up in two words: Brett Favre. The quarterback, who went through a messy divorce from Green Bay after retiring this spring, then changing his mind and attempting to return to the Packers’ roster, where Favre and Packers management could not agree on a working arrangement, instantly lends credibility to a position that was in turmoil with Chad Pennington, who ha since been released and now plays for division rival Miami, and Kellen Clemens. The offensive line, one of the glaring weaknesses on the team last year, should be better with Alan Faneca and Damien Woody added to the mix. Thomas Jones has run for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons but only ran for one score last year, a total that must increase. Kris Jenkins came over in a trade from Carolina and should help shore up a weak defensive line. Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, free agent acquisition Bubba Franks and Chris Baker provide Favre with good targets. Despite the Favre acquisition, this team still has too many holes, particularly on defense, to reach the postseason.

Up next – 2008 NFC East preview

Some information from ESPN.com and NFL.com was used in this report.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

2008-09 NFL SPECIAL COVERAGE – NFC NORTH PREVIEW

Is Aaron Rodgers capable of leading the Brett Favre-less Packers back to the playoffs, or can Adrian Peterson and Minnesota get back into postseason play after coming up just short last season? Can Kyle Orton lead the Bears back to January football? Will the Lions shock observers by making a playoff run?

Chicago Bears (last season – 7-9)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 7 – at Indianapolis (L)
Sept. 14 – at Carolina (L)
Sept. 21 – Tampa Bay (L)
Sept. 28 – Philadelphia (W)
Oct. 5 – at Detroit (W)
Oct. 12 – at Atlanta (W)
Oct. 19 – Minnesota (L)
Nov. 2 – Detroit (L)
Nov. 9 – Tennessee (W)
Nov. 16 – at Green Bay (L)
Nov. 23 – at St. Louis (W)
Nov. 30 – at Minnesota (W)
Dec. 7 – Jacksonville (L)
Dec. 11 – New Orleans (W)
Dec. 22 – Green Bay (W)
Dec. 28 – at Houston (W)

The Bears begin the 2008 season with a new starting quarterback, after coach Lovie Smith finally broke down and named Kyle Orton the man to take the snaps, relegating the much-maligned Rex Grossman, who was the quarterback when the Bears reached the Super Bowl after the 2006 season but has been largely underwhelming prior to, during and since that season. Orton will certainly be helped by the stellar Chicago defensive and special teams units, rendering him essentially a caretaker, if he does the job right. Grossman, by contrast, has thrown 27 interceptions in his last 24 outings and is generally considered, fairly or not, to be the main reason for the Bears’ poor record last year. Kick return man Devin Hester will be asked to make the transition to full-time receiver and serve as a main offensive threat; his holdout and hamstring injury during training camp slowed this process down. Linebacker Brian Urlacher leads one of the NFL’s best defenses, which also features ‘backer Lance Briggs, lineman Tommie Harris and defensive backs Mike Brown, Charles Tillman and Nate Vasher. Running back Cedric Benson has been released, leaving rookie Matt Forte and veteran Adrian Peterson as the top candidates to carry the ball. With a stellar defense that will get little to no help from one of the weaker offenses in the league, the Bears are a team nobody will want to play but are also a very beatable squad. Look for Chicago to make a run at the playoffs, if it can get out of its own way.

Detroit Lions (last season – 7-9)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 7 – at Atlanta (L)
Sept. 14 – Green Bay (L)
Sept. 21 – at San Francisco (L)
Oct. 5 – Chicago (L)
Oct. 12 – at Minnesota (L)
Oct. 19 – at Houston (L)
Oct. 26 – Washington (W)
Nov. 2 – at Chicago (W)
Nov. 9 – Jacksonville (L)
Nov. 16 – at Carolina (L)
Nov. 23 – Tampa Bay (L)
Nov. 27 – Tennessee (L)
Dec. 7 – Minnesota (L)
Dec. 14 – at Indianapolis (L)
Dec. 21 – New Orleans (L)
Dec. 28 – at Green Bay (L)

Detroit enters 2008 with a new focus on toughness and consistency, a focus that would seem foreign to a club that has not seriously contended for a playoff berth in this decade. Coach Rod Marinelli has promised that the Lions, who under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz ran a pass-happy offense, will be more balanced offensive and run the ball. However, the offensive line is not acclimated to the new zone-blocking scheme it is expected to run, and quarterback Jon Kitna is aging, with Drew Stanton and Dan Orlovsky the possible new men under center. Receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson will help out Kitna when Detroit does throw the ball. Defensive backs Dwight Smith and Brian Kelly are also slowing down but provide invaluable experience and leadership to the defense. With a defense that has never been great and an offensive unit that has the personnel for an all-out passing game but is expected to run the ball, look for a slow season from the Lions.

Green Bay Packers (last season – 14-4, lost in conference championship)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 8 – Minnesota (W)
Sept. 14 – at Detroit (W)
Sept. 21 – Dallas (L)
Sept. 28 – at Tampa Bay (L)
Oct. 5 – Atlanta (W)
Oct. 12 – at Seattle (L)
Oct. 19 – Indianapolis (L)
Nov. 2 – at Tennessee (W)
Nov. 9 – at Minnesota (L)
Nov. 16 – Chicago (W)
Nov. 24 – at New Orleans (L)
Nov. 30 – Carolina (W)
Dec. 7 – Houston (W)
Dec. 14 – at Jacksonville (W)
Dec. 22 – at Chicago (L)
Dec. 28 – Detroit (W)

The big story for the Packers is the departure of Brett Favre and the institution of Aaron Rodgers as the new man to take snaps. Rodgers, who only has thrown 59 passes in three seasons, will pilot a team that is among the youngest in the league but should again be among the most talented after a surprise run to the NFC title game last year. Running back Ryan Grant also returns after a holdout this summer and will be expected to carry a sizeable chunk of the load offensively. Green Bay’s offense threw the sixth-most passes in the league last year; expect that number to plummet toward the middle of the pack, if not lower. Cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson anchor a strong pass defense, with linebackers A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett also back to help lead the unit. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila played with knee trouble last year, having participated in 123 of the Packers’ last 125 contests, and managed 9.5 sacks last year; time will tell if his knee will lower his productivity this season. The Packers will likely not reach the heights they did last season, but expect them to take home another division title.

Minnesota Vikings (last season – 8-8)
Schedule (Predicted Outcome)
Sept. 8 – at Green Bay (L)
Sept. 14 – Indianapolis (L)
Sept. 21 – Carolina (L)
Sept. 28 – at Tennessee (L)
Oct. 6 – at New Orleans (L)
Oct. 12 – Detroit (W)
Oct. 19 – at Chicago (W)
Nov. 2 – Houston (L)
Nov. 9 – Green Bay (W)
Nov. 16 – at Tampa Bay (L)
Nov. 23 – at Jacksonville (L)
Nov. 30 – Chicago (L)
Dec. 7 – at Detroit (W)
Dec. 14 – at Arizona (L)
Dec. 21 – Atlanta (W)
Dec. 28 – N.Y. Giants (W)

Things are more settled in Vikings camp than they have been in several years. Tarvaris Jackson is definitely Minnesota’s quarterback, after some controversy last summer. Running back Adrian Peterson is back a season after setting the NFL single-game record for rushing yards and is expected to be utilized early and often. Jared Allen and Madieu Williams were brought over in an attempt to improve an awful pass defense. The team won five straight last year before finishing 8-8, barely missing the playoffs for the third straight season. Bernard Berrian, who came over from Chicago, should also contribute to the passing game. Chester Taylor rushed for over 800 yards last season in a backup role and will supplement Peterson in the backfield. Look for the Vikings to take a step back this year.

Up next – 2008 AFC East preview

Some information from ESPN.com and NFL.com was used in this report.