Braves B's End Lions Reign
Le'Veon Bell breaks the Lions backs on this 11 yd TD run.
The Argyll Apaches held their nerve and showed some real title potential as they overcame a battling Laurel Lions 35-23 to end the Danestone outfit's tenure as ALFF League champions. Deep into the late Sunday period it looked as if Geronimo and his Braves would hardly need to get their moccasins dirty in this first ever post season match-up of the two ball-clubs as their opponents looked to be done and dusted with just 11pts on the board but a quite frenetic last few minutes saw the desperately clawing Pride carve out two massive 6pt scores to suddenly make a game of it. Had the Geacher's two headed Steelers attack been held to single digits by a stuffy Ravens D in the NBC phase at Heinz Field it could have put too much pressure on his Pats flavored Monday night insurance package ... but in the event Roethlisberger & Bell came through with flying colors to put a relaxed Cooks & Gostkowski on showboat street. Earlier the honor of opening our 25th knock-out competition fell to Argyll WR Julio Jones as he went out in Atlanta in the Thursday fixture but despite 5 catches for 98 yards the big receiver did not get any numbers where it matters most. Moving past the Thursday prologue the respective coaches turned their thoughts to their wider team selections. Big G stuck with the 4WR set that served him so well in his RS finale although a one week experiment with rookie WR Corey Davis was ditched in favor of the more post season hardened TY Hilton in an otherwise unchanged starting line-up. Coming off a low scoring Wk 13 loss that saw him stumble into the knock-out phase James had more to consider but after naming the slightly questionable (fitness wise) Chris Hogan ahead of Jordy Nelson, similarly featured just one alteration from last week’s starting eight. However unlike his more confident opponent, the Laurel head honcho in his own words was "Relying on Lamar Miller to get some scores at home to the 49ers and double digit points from a poor kicking game would be a rare bonus. It’s a lot to hope for but it is the season of miracles ". !! Vegas suggested the Lions need double digits from the Titan duo in the Arizona desert to get the job done but the 3pt favorite Braves would come back steadily to win comfortably over the NBC & MNF phases. The opening Sunday action was very much centered on Charlotte where Lions duo Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs went head to head against opponent Adam Thielen , with the Braves TY Hilton ( in Buffalo) and the defending champs Lamar Miller at Levi Stadium also hoping to chime in. From the outset a blizzard at Rich Stadium rendered Hilton a virtual spectator in a game of few passes and fewer completions thus boosting the Lions cause ... but although the weather was better in the Bay Area, Miller's response for his side was limited. Over at Bank Of America Stadium it was clearly going to be a night of attrition for the Vikes on either side of the score-sheet. Case Keenum, playing in his 1st ALFF play-off match-up, was picked off on the opening drive of the night looking for a hook-up with opponent Adam Thielen and although he quickly recovered to put the Lions 03-00 in front with an 18 yard TD toss the turnover kind of set the tone for an overall sloppy performance. The Vikes in general found it hard to move the ball with consistency but right on the stroke of half-time it did appear the passer had struck again... but the fact he picked out Adam Thielen made the fact the "score" was overturned on review moot. The second half saw regression rather than improvement with Keenum fumbling in his own red zone... before coughing the ball up again, this time on a second INT...that was more to do with lack of aggression by team-mate Stefon Diggs as it was with the passers throw but when a second score did come... it was a big 52 yarder. Unfortunately for coach Hamilton .. and to the delight of Geronimo.. it was Adam Thielen who got on the other end of that scoring pass to effectively render the missile harmless. The signal-caller did get a little edge by adding his half of the resulting 2pt attempt (without recourse to either Diggs or Thielen) ... but it was the Apaches coaching crew who emerged from Charlotte beaming, trailing by just 06-10. Back in Houston the Pittodrie Div outfits hopes for some major points out of Lamar Miller proved to be wide of the mark and although the blizzard in Buffalo slowing down to just flurries those early goose egg fears for TY Hilton proved accurate. Into the second Sunday period it was now a case of now or never for the Pittodrie Div outfit. With WR Chris Hogan the only man in reserve (on Monday night),... and not really capable of doing anything but defend a lead going up against Braves rearguard Cooks & Gostkowski ... the 4 late starting Lions simply had to build a lead. The spotlight was now on event in Glendale where Titans pairing Demarco Murray and Ryan Succop effectively held the champions hopes in their hands .. and things could not have gone much worse for coach H. Succop was held to just a single PAT... on the back of rushing score by Derrick Henry (rather than Murray) ..... and that was pretty much it. The kicker did have a huge 58 yard FG attempt that just scuffed the crossbar as it fell short... but a late Q3 INT by Marcus Mariota with the Titans in decent field position signaled the end of a dismal 1pt return from Laurel's gruesome twosome. With the Geacher's Denver D having another quiet evening the scoreboard operators had been all but redundant with the change to 06-11 barely perceptible... and it seemed coach H was heading for an inglorious exit as the cock ticked down in the final few minutes. Then suddenly out of the blue, a Sacksonville D that had totally shut down the Seahawks unaccountably switched off. Laurel WR Paul Richardson cashed in big time with a big 61 yard TD catch to breathe live back into the fading Pride cause... but they still looked short of making the Braves work for their success. Time expired in North Florida without any further scoring and with the Titans pairing already in the bath that left only coach Eagles' Philly defence as a possible scorer. Incredibly with the last play of the game Philly's NFL opponents the LA Rams were in desperation lateral mode as they tried to conjor up a miracle score... but only succeeded in hanging the Eagles D a stunning 18 yard fumble return score. From seemingly dead and buried at 11-06 (and lots of Braves to come) , in a wink of an eye coach H's charges were swiftly 23-06 in front. Maybe, just maybe the ALFF Gods were smiling on Danestone. Vegas had worried that that Geronimo's Steelers duo might struggle to break double digits against a miserly Ravens but the Cheese and Le'Veon Bell had other ideas. Right off the bat Big Ben hit his ALFF & NFL stablemate for a 2 0 yard counter that in effect wiped out that crazy life-line defensive TD , and when Bell the scored on a 1 yard TD run early in the 2nd quarter at Heinz Field the Apaches were back in complete control although still 18-23 behind. A further short TD pass from the grizzled QB edged the Braves to within 2pts of their rivals before Le'Veon Bell, putting on his best ever PO performance, administered the coup de grace with a late 14 yard TD scamper. Ahead 27-23 the Geacher's side were almost bomb proof heading into Monday night. Facing down last Lion Hogan with Brandin Cooks and K Stephen Gostkowski , outside of another miracle bomb (with no PAT) , the Kintyre crew looked to be in a winning position ... and so it proved. Cooks, a major disappointment to this stage had another quiet night, but so did his WR opponent, leaving Goat Jowls to layer up the Apaches victory cake with 8pts of kicked icing made up of an equal share of XP's (2) and FG's (2). Remarkably, Geronimo's success was his first in the post season since an ALFF Bowl 20 triumph over the Deevale Desperados in 2012, having gone one and done in his 3 post season appearances since. He now moves on to face a Caledonia Express side that has struggled to find a way to win in the post season... with that huge Week 15 Patriots @ Pittsburgh match-up looming large in his destiny. The Geacher has ridden the Cheeseburger to Bowl glory twice in the past and on current form Big Ben may be in the mood to make it three. The Lions first appearance as early as the 1st Rd ended, almost predictably, on the back of a combination of RB and kicking woes. The pundits had suggested the outgoing champions needed double digits from their Titans duo... and they got just one solitary point. An anemic running game and patch kicking unit were very much the story for a Lions title defence that never caught fire but in truth heir problems were wider than that with a passing game that ranked 9th and a WR unit that started fast but fell of the face of the earth after Week 6, managing just 2 lonely TD's in the course of the final 7 weeks of the regular season. With no real bell cow to call on, the Pittodrie Div combo not surprisingly posted no fewer than 7 sub 20pt scores with a subsequent 5-8 record the inevitable outcome. James had to contend with drafting as "low" as 12th for the first time ... and had the seeds of his 2017 demise in the bag with his first three picks. Jordy Nelson was arguably the best WR still on the board but unless you a getting the 2007 Randy Moss the jury is still out on picking receivers that high. In 2nd and 3rd picks DeMarco Murray and Lamar Miller , Mufasa looked to have a very strong running attack. .... but the former in particular proved to be a very frustrating player to coach. The post season stats will show the runner started no fewer than 8 games for the Lions this term and failed to score on each occasion..... while on the four times he was benched he amassed an 35pt total that left him 10th of the list of NFL scorers thru our 13 week RS period. Lamar Miller showed some signs of life late on but in the event the Lions ranked a rock bottom 12th in the League on the ground.. Martavus Bryant was an out an out bust as a 4th rounder with not much production from next selections Abdullah, Eli Manning and DeSean Jackson. Perhaps coach Hamilton's gamble on picking Andrew Luck at the top of the 8th Rd sums up his season best of all. That said the Lions title defence was far from the worst on record and James will make his assault on the 2018 title race from the 5th Draft slot.
Sleeper of the Week
Coach Hamilton had a bigger sleeper in back-up RB Buck Allen... but his missing 12pts would only have forced an OT period the Lions would ultimately have lost. So.... we get to the Blades V Dans match-up. Truth be told (the sleeper) would have gone coach Kiwi's way if the Dans had come through as winners... as both coaches agonized about their respective running attacks. After MUCH humming and heying the Dan in Chief finally settled on a combination of Giovanni Bernard and Kenyan Drake... after slating Derrick Henry ahead of the Bungle in his 2nd iteration of 3. Had he stuck with Henry (the very man who had sparked the RONaissance™ (TM coach Bothwell Jnr) with his walk off 72 yard TD rumble in Wk 6.... ) coach C would have netted 6 precious extra points .. beaten the Blades 27-24..... and be heading on to Rd 2 match-up against coach Compost. Instead he signs off with the Rd 1 Sleeper of the Week.
Play-Off's 2nd Rd Round
Arnhall Dolphins v Westburn Blades
Caledonia Express v Argyll Apaches
It's Nip & Tuck As Blades Ice Dans
Shady McCoy ploughs his way into the EZ for a crucial 21 yard TD run for the Blades.
On paper the No 6 v No 7 seed tie was the tightest match-up on the Round 1 fixture card and it certainly lived up to it's billing as the Westburn Blades just held on to win a thrilling back and fore clash with the Deevale Desperados 24-21 into Tuesday morning. Having come back from 16-21 down themselves in the NBC phase thanks to Kicker Justin Tucker , coach Kiwi's boys girded their loins to hold off last Dan out RB Kenyan Drake to record a nerve tingling triumph in this , the second of two " all new" post season showdowns. To be fair Kenyan Drake really made a game of it, rushing 25 times for 114 yards AND catching 5 passes for 79 yards... twice ending big plays inside the Patriots 5 yard line , but the score would just not come for the Desperados, handing coach Kiwi his PO win since beating the CalX 34-09 in 2013.... and remarkably only his 2nd since winning ALFF Bowl 13 in 2005. This first ever PO meeting of two of the longer serving members of the ALFF coaching fraternity did not begin in earnest until Sunday. Youngblood had been the more decisive of the two with his only team alteration swapping WR Evan Engram in for recently acquired Robby Anderson, although back-up RB Jamaal Williams was given some strong consideration. Finality was in short supply over at Deevale HQ. After several verses of the hokey cokey , the Deevale coaching cabale unveiled a new look RB attack that featured both Kenyan Drake and Giovanni Bernard, while a surfeit of Bengals required the reintroduction of Mason Crosby at K in place of the lesser striped Randy Bullock. Coach Cruickshank dalliance with RB Derrick Henry is revisited in the SOW column. Hostilities commenced on Sunday with both sides featuring no fewer than 9 starters between them , the Desperate Ones five just tipping the scales in a busy looking opening period. However, despite the abundance of players , the action was pretty thin on the ground. On the Dans side of the ball Bengals duo Bernard and A J Green were kept scoreless by an improving Bears defence (although Bernard had a big day yardage wise) , while Crackshot's own Detroit defensive unit forced no fewer than 5 turnovers... but none that ended with the ball in the endzone. Kicker Mason Crosby was limited to three PAT's only... with the last two of those coming very late in proceedings in Cleveland, leaving stand-out WR DeAndre Hopkins to blow away his WR individual title disappointment with an excellent TD double ( 7 & 29 yards) at NRG Stadium. If Deevale's 9pts looked limited, it was not much different for the League's southernmost squad. Detroit wide-out Marvin Jones fared no better than his defensive colleagues and was joined in the Doughnut Shack by wideout stablemate Evan Engram. QB Derek Carr was almost totally bottled up by a KC D fired up for a tough divisional rivalry and with Shady McCoy seemingly wandering aimlessly between Dufftown & Rhynie on a bad day, it looked at one stage if the PDiv combo may fail to score at all in this tense opening stanza. With time running out Carr finally hit paydirt with a 29 yard garbage time counter with his contribution on the successful 2pt attempt tacked on and he was joined on the scoresheet by Shady McCoy who emerged from the blizzard to find he was not on the A941 after all .. but on his way to a walk-off 21 yard TD very late in OT at Orchard Park NY. That left the tie very evenly poised with Youngblood's combo just Shadying it 10-09 as we headed into the vital second Sunday time window. Vegas had named the Pittodrie Div side as slender 2pt favorites but predicted lean pickings for all three of their starters going en-masse at Everbank Stadium... with the Dans best bet, a bounce back game from QB Carson Wentz in his post season debut.. but the pundits were in no doubt that this was where the rubber hit the road. If the Deevale passer had any post season nerves, they were definitely not in evidence as he led a full on attack on his opponents. For a moment it looked as if he scampered in for a swift short rushing TD .. but although that was negated on a holding call he responded immediately with a 6 yard TD pass. With both NFL sides fighting out a defensive battle in Jacksonville there were few chances for the Blades trio of Seattle D, Graham and Leonard Fournette , leaving Wentz to hold centre stage. Back to back passing TD's (to unsigned Trey Burton), the first from 20 yards the 2nd from 11 padded the QB's total to 9pts and the Desperate Ones lead to 18-10 and all of a sudden it started to look as if Coach C was on to something. Larry Fitzgerald meanwhile, was also strutting his stuff for the Desperate One but saw his opportunities limited somewhat in the Arizona desert. Moving into the 3rd quarter and again Wentz threatened with his legs... but was stopped short on the 2 yard line before missing out on 3rd down with an incompletion but with Deevale close to getting out of sight, Leonard Fournette started picking up the baton for coach Bothwell. After showing break-out potential on a 20 yard run (that ultimately proved fruitless), the Jags special teams took a PR right down to the Seahawks 1. Stuie's RB blasted in through Stuie's defence and the nerves that were building on the NZ sideline soothed dramatically. Moments Larry Fitzgerald's moment came and went as his QB failed to spot him wide open in the EZ as the veteran headed for a goose egg.. but the optics were swiftly back on Wentz in LA. With the 3rd quarter running out the 2nd year player again looked to have scored on a short TD scramble despite taking a hit in the process ... but was again denied by a holding penalty. Four plays later he scored his 4th passing TD of the tie.. ( a 2 yarder) to re-inflate the Dans lead to 21-16 ... but the Dan in Chief's joy was cut short as his signal-caller left the field for good as a result of that hit on the scramble. With Deevale basically done for the day (and with only Kenyan Drake left in reserve) the Blades could have effectively finished the tie off, over the 4th quarter at Everbank but Leonard Fournette could not add to his earlier score while Jimmy Graham was totally shutdown.. 0 catches .. indeed zero targets !! With the tie poised intriguingly at 21-16 the outcome was now in the hands of each sides last man standing. First up was the Blades Justin Tucker , who strutted his stuff at kicker's graveyard Heinz Field. The initial indications were not good for coach Kiwi as the Steelers ran out to an early lead that threatened to take FGs out of the equation but patient Ravens offence, that threw up two Tucker PAT's, got the kicker back in it by half time. Tucker's 3rd quarter 47 yard FG tied the scores at 21-21 , leaving his 3 subsequent XP's to put the Blades into a potential winning position , ahead by just 3pts. As we have seen last Dan, RB Kenyan Drake did everything but overturn the result in a scintillating Monday night finale in Miami , but coach Bothwell the Younger's side held on for a famous victory, their first ever success in the opening round of any play-off competition. The overdue win handed Stuie a Rd 2 match-up against the strong looking Arnhall Dolphins ... but coach Sutherland is possibly at his most vulnerable as he goes one more week without RB Zeke Elliott. The Blades still have their issues at QB , where Derek Carr looks a shadow of his 2016 self but the return of that 1- 2 punch at RB could not be more timely for the NZ based outfit. To advance to the 3rd Rd , Westburn will have to do something they haven't done since 2005.... and that's win back to back post season ties. Coach C will no doubt be hurting that his only Fin could not get the job done despite a magnificent individual effort... especially with potential game winner Derrick Henry sitting on the bench. That said it's difficult to imagine the Kincorth based outfit would have gone much further with Brett Hundley as their only alternative at QB. In many ways, just getting to the post season was the Dans "ALFF Bowl" after a dreadful 0-4 start that promised first round draft pick rather than post season action... but the fact they bounced back from the loss of top pick Aaron Rodgers is a testimony to how much effort the Vale coaching crew put into turning a sinking ship around. With a total of 26 players used Ronnie easily led the field League in that category. The Deevale head honcho had a very solid draft with good returns from No 2 pick A J Green and stand-out Rd 3 selection DeAndre Hopkins , with maybe a question mark about going for another WR ( Larry Fitzgerald) with his next selection given he had the likes of Sammy Watkins and OBJ on his retained list. Speaking of retained list it was the lack of output from those two ( picks 5 & 6) that sort of hamstrung Crackshot's remaining top half draft although another retained player Carson Wentz allowed the Dans to absorb what to to most other teams would have been the crippling loss of their starting QB. Overall the Granite Div side never quite got things sorted out at RB, where Derrick Henry was still hampered by splitting time in the Titans backfield and Jay Ajayi struggled as a Dolphin and allied to a kicking unit that never climbed above the bottom three in the League, the pressure was always on the rest of the squad. With many of his retained list returning to the player pool next term Ronnie will have a much cleaner slate to start from in 6th spot overall in the 2018 picking jamboree.
Play of the Week
But for the final 12pt margin of the Apaches v Lions game the big 12pt hook-up from Keenum to Thielen might have featured here... but in the end the honor goes to the Westburn Blades Shady McCoy. Not only was time running out on the Blades in the early action but they were inside the 2 minute warning in OT at Orchard Park when the runner defied the tricky underfoot conditions to record a memorable 21 yard rumble. Without it the Bladed would have lost... and the 2nd Rd picture would have a different look with a wounded Deevale in the mix.