Blades Can't Stop Mike !
DB Sean Murphy-Bunting sparks the Drillers comeback with this 70yd pick six.
There is no truth to the rumour that Hallmark have approached the ALFF to arrange a photo session for a Christmas Card of the undisputed festive season tradition of the 2 Minute Drillers ending another coach Bothwell fantasy season … but there are grounds for an imminent contact ! Seven times in seven attempts in the dim and distant past coach Bothwell Snr endured the pain of tumbling out at the hands of his fellow founder owner … and bar the small matter of an ALFF Bowl 13 triumph , coach Bothwell the Younger carried on the custom here with a 3rd straight KO loss to the Bon Accord combo , making it a mind boggling near biblical overall 1-10 track record. Many of the elder Bothwell’s untimely departures featured contrived and seemingly incredible twists of fortune or bounce of ball that unerringly went his opponents way …. and this 2rd match-up saw much of that as somehow the 2 Minute Drillers engineered a stunning 39-37 MNF comeback triumph , Michael Thomas’ winning score in the Dome , the only time in the whole contest the Commissioner’s Crew got their collective hooters in front. Twice on Sunday coach Rickaby was on the verge of running the white flag up the Drillerdome flagpole … but twice , deep in the closing minutes of each of the Sabbath sessions a mixture of unexpected garbage time points and a dash of good fortune kept the League’s winningest side in contention , setting up their final Monday night smash and grab. Earlier, battle had commenced with the TNF match-up and there was more than a little edge about the opening Thursday night action with Blades Mark’s Brothers pairing Ingram & Andrews going un-opposed at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The latter had been picked up and discarded by the Drillers in mid season while the Ricker tinkered with other more pressing needs in his then slumping side. Stuie stepped in to pick up the TE post week 10 to bolster his lowly ranked receiving unit and has not looked back since. It was former Saint Ingram who got the show rolling with a 6 yard TD run and while Youngblood might have been a little disappointed Andrews 1 yard TD catch a little later may have deprived his prime RB of something more substantial , his successful subsequent 2pt attempt virtually made the issue moot. Ingram rounded out a superb Westburn opening address by snagging a late 10 yard TD catch , handing the PDiv champions a more than useful 14pt vanguard. At that stage Vegas could see only one winner unless QB Deshaun Watson or K Zane Gonzalez laid a king sized egg in either of their outings or the 2 Minute running game score 3 times or over. Coach Rickaby’s response in the shape of his team selection was influenced by the snow forecast for Kansas City, dropping planned starter Brandon McManus and reluctantly going with Jake Elliott at K. Michael Thomas returned after his surprise tactical ( wrongly of course) omission in Rd 1 , a natural replacement for gone for the season Calvin Ridley at wide-out. Recall of a key player was the big feature of the Blades remaining team selection as DSW came back after his shock Wk 13 omission while a resumption of a traditional 2RB set saw veteran Adrian Peterson squeeze out 4th WR D J Chark. The opening period hot spot was at Fedex Field where the Drillers Carson Wentz & Jake Elliot went mano a mano with AP. With the NZ outfit 14pts out in front with 5 Drillers players going early the pundits were agreed the BA Div ballclub , already trailing could not afford to be more than 9pts behind going into the later period where they had three key contributors to claw back any deficit added to whatever Blades K Zane Gonzalez posted in the Arizona desert. Building on his more than solid Thursday start , coach Bothwell got two quickfire TD’s (12 and 16 yards) from restored passer Deshaun Watson to settle his early Sunday nerves and although kicker Jake Elliott did get the 2 Minute combo off the mark with an equally prompt 25 Yd FG, the lack of points from anywhere at all did not look like an unhealthy position for the Pittodrie Div champions, sitting 20-03 in front. An Eagles ground score did move the scoreboard a hair when the much maligned Elliott tacked on the PAT but as we approached the closing minutes of Q3 with no alteration to the now 20-04 scoreline, it did rather look like this one would peter out as an uneventful Westburn success. Carson Wentz did finally open his account with a 15 yard TD toss (with Elliot XP) but that was almost immediately answered by fast emerging Blades rookie AJ Brown who snagged a 5 yard counter at Nissan Stadium, Music City . As time ticked down the action switchback to Fedex Field and it looked like game set and match to the higher ranked outfit when old Drillers warhorse Adrian Peterson (a Commish retained pick in 2007 !) cut back and cutely reversed field to score untouched from 10 yards out. Surely there was no way back for the BOD based outfit, now trailing 08-29 with less than quarter to go for the bulk of their starters ? Well a rapid Wentz response when he capitalized on a huge Miles Sanders run to add a 2 yard score (with PAT) gave the Drillerdome faithful a crumb of hope but it did smack of too little too late as the timepiece kept up its relentless pace. When Wentz fumbled and the Eagles lost possession on a strip/sack with just six minutes left the Ricker was already in Commish mode and starting the process of calculating Youngblood’s next opponent but the mood changed abruptly when over at Ford Field the five times champions, Tampa Bay defence in the shape of DB Sean Murphy-Bunting wiped out a night to forget by doughnutting RB Peyton Barber by taking a late pick six 70 yards to the house. Suddenly there was a sense this game had a bit of life left in it after all. Almost immediately back at Nissan Field A J Brown came within a fingernail of taking the air out the Drillers reflated sails as he just failed to haul in his 2nd score of the evening in the corner of the EZ… and the Commissioners crew took full advantage. In a remarkable closing few moments of the opening Sunday stanza a garbage time 5 yard TD from WR Curtis Samuel in Charlotte preceded a 3rd passing TD from Carson Wentz who floated in a 4 yard score with just 27 seconds left on the clock. Ellliot’s PAT made it 25-29 to complete an amazing transformation, and well within that 9pt margin the ALFF money men had set as recoverable position. The late Sunday phase was in many ways a re-run of the preceding script on a much smaller scale. Kiwi had kicker Zane Gonzalez as his main man in Glendale with WR Stefon Diggs and his Niners defence in a supporting role at LA and Levi Stadium respectively. The Ricker’s eggs were all in his Jerryworld basket with his No 1 and No 3 picks , Todd Gurley & Amari Cooper hoping to covert that late run of fortune and at a minimum, hang with their opponents to give Michael Thomas a shot at winning it all on Monday in the Dome. For a long period it was much was ado about nothing with a slow drip of XP’s from Gonzalez extending the Blades lead as far as 31-25 before Todd Gurley got in on the act for the Drillers with a 2 yard TD grab but with a long period of inaction and the clock becoming an increasing factor it seemed nothing too decisive was going on, leaving Youngblood increasingly nervous about his opponent still just hanging around. At Jerryworld the Pokes just run for fun all night long against a Rams team that simply had no answers. With the NZ side limited to 3 further Zane G XP’s but not finding a killer score to put the tie away, a bonus TD from Cooper still looked like the only escape route for the No 6 seeds but the wideout was rarely a factor so when back at Glendale the Browns finally worked out to how to stop Kenyan Drake on the goal-line and Gonzalez booted a late 21 yd FG to increase Stuie’s lead to 37-28 , to quote Big G … it appeared the game was a bogey …..and just like the opening stanza the game seemed to fading out to a straight forward Westburn victory. Then the ALFF Gods woke up and remembered this was a coach Bothwell facing the Drillers in the post season. Let’s roll the weird shaped dice. The Blades came with a yard of closing the deal when over at Levi Stadium their rather subdued Niners defence recovered a fumbled Kenyon Barner (Dirty Birds) punt return, only a slight Kyle Juszczyk stumble allowing an Atlanta tackler to bring him down on the 1 yard line but that proved to be the real water mark for the PDiv champions. With the Cowboys ahead by 37-7 at Jerryworld and with a little over 3 mins left….. it seems their prevent defence took the rest of the night off. Even in those circumstances you would not expect much in the way of a running threat… yet somehow the Rams moved the ball downfield and Gurley hit paydirt from 7 yards out to suddenly pull the Drillers to within 3pts at 37-34. Still 3 scores down and no way back for the Rams surely they would just trot out Zuerlien and kick the PAT ?? Well no …. they went for two.. and Goff duly picked out a totally in the clear Gurley….. but the former champion rusher just flat-out dropped the ball. I don’t think either coach realised the enormity of that potential missed “gift” point until a flag came sailing in and the Rams got a do over …. 5 yards closer to the goal line. This time round Gurley barrelled in for the 2pt conversion and out of nowhere the Drilllers had magiced up 8pts that dramatically brought Monday night into play trailing by just the single digit at 36-37. Almost comically the Rams somehow managed to score again in the dying seconds…. but this time the Drillers RB was not involved in the (failed ) 2pt attempt and the late Sunday action closed with a stunned coach Kiwi still hanging on to that slender 37-36 advantage. All it needed now to complete an insane turnaround was last man standing Michael Thomas to score in the Dome on Monday night… and right on cue the prolific wide-out came through with a 15 yard counter to snatch the most unlikeliest of triumph’s. The Drillers move on to a 3rd Rd showdown with a Scunthorpe Steelers side they “let off the hook” in Week 13 but the No 1 seeds have had the Commissioner’s number in recent years and will be keen to go their 3rd ALFF Bowl in 5 seasons. Either way the Bon Accord Div will have a presence in ALFF Bowl 27. Time will tell if it will be the older coach echelon who are represented or the newer wave of HC talent. The Blades third straight loss to the Commissioner’s crew in the post season (their lone triumph a 29-09 success in ALFF Bowl 13) ranks right up there with some of the more outlandish setbacks coach Bothwell Snr was on the wrong end of against the same franchise. As you would expect Stuart has taken it all in good grace and is already homing in on next season. Looking back on his whole campaign, it’s striking how up and down things were. The Blades ranked No 1 at QB, were a solid 6th at RB and after a slightly ropey start at K, recovered with pick up Gonzalez to be mid ranked. Only a Week 13 low score prevented them from finishing in the top 4 on points. It did seem when Deshaun Watson was off … the whole team was off… with 4 scores of 13pts or less underlining that point. The on form Victorinox crew were a solid unit who ultimately deserved to win their 1st PDiv pennant in 4 years and it could be that if they had managed to put away the pesky Drillers or converted one of their narrow opening two losses into a win, then maybe a double bye week would have opened their route to better things. Stuie definitely saw 2019 as a rebuilding year and has loaded up on rookie talent to add to a retained list that features Deshaun Watson in what will be his final push for success before heading for free agency in 2021. Kiwi’s draft was right up there with the best with the exception of 1st pick (4th overall) David Johnson. Insert Gurley or Cook in that slot… and his (and everyone else’s) 2019 would have a totally different feel. The remainder of his top 8 largely reads like a who’s who. Mark Ingram, Antonio Brown, Stefon Diggs, top rookie Tony Pollard, Russell Wilson ( as a back-up) and Josh Gordon , with the only mis-step 8th Rounder Kai’imi Fairbairn that arguably put too many Houston eggs in one basket fronted by a shaky O line. The almost immediate soap opera that was Antonio Brown was a major factor in the side ongoing struggles at the position but while he was high risk , I don’t think anyone could have foreseen his dramatic exit stage right at such an early juncture. With his rookie pool allowing coach Bothwell Jnr to home in early on his big needs don’t be shocked to see the Blades contend strongly from their 2020 , No 8 draft slot. Coach Rickaby’s 4th straight win in games between the two gives him a 3-1 lead in the PO series and 11-8 advantage in the ATS.
They Are All Raven About Repeat !
WR Tyreek Hill score on this 21 yard pass play.
Coach Cruickshank’s search for the ALFF Holy Grail ratcheted up another notch as the JL8 cruised to a commanding 49-22 win over play-off debutants the Broch Bobcats in an all Granite Division 2nd Round encounter. The defending champions seized this tie by the throat on Thursday night with a huge 21pt opening by QB Lamar Jackson and his NY Jets defensive team-mates and in truth the new boys on the knock-out block never threatened to loosen the grizzled veteran’s grip. In their 1st Rd encounter the Doomsters relied exclusively on their “big three” contributors…. but pleasingly for Crackshot this was more of an all-round team effort with only injury hampered Derrick Henry not joining in the point feeding frenzy that set a new post season high for a Ronnie coached outfit…. as well as a new mark for any 2nd Round contest. The final score-line was remarkably similar to the 51-17 drubbing the champions dished out in a Week 12 match-up that did so much to not only keep the Framlington sides hopes alive… but deprive the Bobcats of a better post season seeding. The clever money was all on the defending champions here with Vegas naming the lower seed as strong 4pt favorites but by that time of course, we knew the serial name changers had got off to a flier. QB Lamar Jackson was on fire in the opening Thursday action at M&T Bank Stadium, belying pre match concerns about a possible quad injury, throwing for a post season record equalling 5 TD’s (although Aaron Rodgers has scored more points), with a mixture of short ( 1 and 5 yards) and medium range (24, 33 and 10 yards) efforts under-lining his growing versatility. A 14 yards scoring scamper on a blocked punt by Jets special teamer B J Bello swelled the JL8’s opening points gauntlet to 21… and most pundits thought this one was over before the unfortunate Bobcats had even got on the field and to all intents… it was ! For the remaining action Ronnie recalled RB Carlos Hyde after Darrius Guice picked up yet another injury on his short return and there was something of a surprise inclusion for 2019 major disappointment Cooper Kupp ahead of Jarvis Landry at WR2 but the key elements from the No 5 seeds late season run were all in place , which meant a start for hamstring worry Derrick Henry. Rudi had a week to contemplate his 1st post season selection and as we have seen was already behind the 8 ball when making his team announcement. “If it ain’t broke” has been very much the Brocher’s bye word in their inaugural campaign, but perhaps sensing he needed to do something extraordinary here coach Taylor threw caution to the wind. Philip Lindsay was restored at RB 1 ahead of Kenyan Drake (please check SOW !!) and there were two changes to the League’s No1 WR corps. Randall Cobb was dropped in favour of John Brown while fit again Austin Hooper replaced Golden Tate. Greybeard Robbie Gould was preferred to the underperforming Jason Myers at kicker. While the Cat’s were under no illusions of the likely outcome come Sunday kick-off, they knew for sure they had to exit the two early Sunday hotspots at Nissan Stadium and a snowy Arrowhead without at least putting some sort of dent in their adversary’s large advantage. Music City was the most pivotal of the two locations with QB Ryan Tannehill and WR DeAndre Hopkins looking to outstrip Doomster RB duo Derrick Henry & Carlos Hyde and there was a moment for hope for the New Bellslea combo when Derrick Henry couldn’t punch in a goal-line opportunity, only for Tanney to score off a naked 1 yard bootleg on the very next play. However with Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs making a mockery of the treacherous underfoot (and in hand) conditions further west in KC and dominating the Broncos & Phillip Lindsay (who did not score), any faint aspirations were swiftly extinguished. TD grabs from the two times former WR champion, the first from 21 yards, a second from 5 yards out, negated the “positive” swing on the Tannehill rushing score but it was very much game set and match to the JL8 when back on the banks of the Cumberland River, Carlos Hyde picked up the slack for the League’s No 2 rushing attack as he ran to paydirt from 10 yard out. Two TD tosses from the persistent Bobcats signal-caller padded coach Taylor’s total to 12pts but while DeAndre Hopkins was very active in Nashville , he could not add to the Cat’s points basket , ending with a doughnut to match his Chicago defence/special teams who were something of an outlier at Lambeau. Almost un-noticed away from the main theatre’s of action in Charlotte , the champ’s D K Metcalf hauled in a 19 yard counter , so instead of exiting the first Sunday period bearing down on the Doom Squad, the Psycho Cat’s were now total adrift at 12-36. The rest of the tie was academic. Robbie Gould did justify his selection with a commendable 10pts in the late Sunday stanza at Levi Stadium but at the same venue Austin Hooper added to the BB’s goose egg collection only after being “robbed” of a last gasp 5 yard strike by booth review. Tail back Austin Ekeler, a prime driver of Rudi’s runaway early season form struggled along with this weeks “ugly” incarnation of his LA Chargers team-mates… and even gave us a glimpse of his fumbling habit in an inglorious barren finish to an otherwise breakout season. To add insult to injury , lone late JL8 squaddie Cooper Kupp was a virtual no show until somehow the Dallas Cowboys allowed the Rams to score twice inside the last 3min 17 seconds of garbage time, the last counter coming from the wide-out himself on 7 yard hook-up. Clearly there was no way back from 22-39 down for last Brocher standing John Brown in the NBC phase and he did not mess with the scorers to draw a line under an eventful first Bobcats campaign. Kicker Wil Lutz added the 10 Monday night points that took the final JL8 tally to that aforementioned record breaking/sharing 49pt mark . The defending champs march on to an all Granite Div 3rd clash against old foes and newly crowned GDiv champions the Kincorth Killers, a side that swept them in the regular season. In the second game of that combo coach Cruickshank, in a NFL schedule influenced surprise selection, dropped Lamar Jackson and replaced him with Sam Darnold. Don’t bet the house on the Merchant’s of Doom repeating that little (net -12pts) horror story. On this form the JL8 will be hard to stop but there are cracks in the Funeral Parlour façade coach C has to be a little worried about. Henry’s hamstring injury is a prime concern for their immediate Rd 3 match-up… but looming over the horizon is the highly likely scenario that Lamarkable will probably not start in the Bowl game if the Ravens tie up the No 1 seed on Sunday and the Framlington combo are still around at that point. If it goes that far… BDT or Darnold … will Ronnie make the pick or defer to Hobson? The Bobcats go the way of many a post season first timer and went one and done but there is no shame in that, in what was overall a pretty decent first ALFF campaign for coach Taylor. The League’s most northerly outfit narrowly lost out on a first Division pennant after dropping from 7-1 to 8-5 and being edged out by the ever combative Kincorth Killers. A quick analysis shows the Bobcats tail off ( see what I did there !) coincided with Matt Ryan’s traditional late season fade, which allied to Austin Ekeler’s less prominent role in the Chargers offense on the return of Melvin Gordon, rather exposed a kicking game that was not disastrous .. but lacked the game winning punch that would have helped so much down the stretch. Rudi’s WR corp were a model of consistency , ending the campaign as the No1 ranked unit, with a variety of players taking it in turns to stand up when needed, DeAndre Hopkins proving to be the best of the bunch without truly getting in amongst the individual leaders. The more critical pundits will point to the Cats having one of the League’s lighter strength’s of schedule and while that is true (especially thru Wk’s 2-8), you can only play the hand the ALFF Spectrum ZX deals you. Drafting in the 10th slot as a rookie (with previous experience in the more accepted yardage based formats) was a challenging introduction for coach Taylor and although I can’t fault the selection of a WR in Rd 1 , DeAndre Hopkins didn’t quite hit the spot as a best value pick. Phillip Lindsay in the 2nd Rd ( 15th player overall) was another stretch (but no bust) with the likes of Dalvin Cook and Mark Ingram still on the board. Third rounder Matt Ryan was a steal as the 7th passer taken and along with the emerging Austin Ekeler (4th Round) was the foundation of that giddy romp to 7-1 (that one loss coming in OT). After that the benchmark top 8 picks were a mixture of boom or bust with the rookie HC showing a willingness to roll the dice a little. Kenyan Drake (Rd5) was more on the bust side, but the Bears D and WR John Ross at 6 &7 were very good selections at least until the latter got an untimely Week 3 injury. Trey Burton in Rd 8 was arguably the poorest choice in that all important top 8 miscellany. The Cat’s have few rookies to consider come retained list time. There is every reason to suspect one years experience will see the Brocher’s make the adjustment and hone their draft accordingly next time round. Franchise 12 has developed something of a reputation for providing one season wonders in recent times…. I hope coach Taylor enjoyed a very solid inaugural campaign and will be back for more in the 7th slot in the 2020 draft. Coach Cruickshank now leads the ATS 2-1. He is also 5-3 in 2nd Rd match-ups winning his last 3 on the bounce.
Sleeper of the Week
If Stuart can take any comfort from his painful exit (his 2nd straight PO loss by 2pts or less), it’s that he eked out a maximum score from his Blades roster in his Round 2 tie, so despite the small margin of defeat he is not left to 2nd guess his demise. The other game was so lopsided there could not possibly have been a valid SOW could there ?? Well….. almost and with out this being contrived combined definitely yes !! Rudi dropped RB Kenyan Drake and WR Golden Tate …. who between them amassed a staggering 30pts … in a net 27 point loss. Had he kept both in the JL8 would have been on the wrong end of a record setting 49-52 loss (and thanks to an ex Dolphin too !). We still get a record though.. for the Kenyan Drake element of this, which is the Round 2 Sleeper of the Week. The League All time Sleeper is 24pts …. recorded twice in regular season (Leshon Johnson - Apaches 4/96 & Antowain Smith -Gryphons 4/97) and once in the PO’s (Natrone Means Rd3 /93). Add Kenyan Drake (Bobcats Rd2/19) to the list.
Play of the Week
I could have gone for the TB pick six which seemed to spark the Drillers, but in the end it has to be Todd Gurley's 7 yard TD run that became an eight pointer with the second attempt 2pointer. A HUGE play in a tight contest.
Play-Off's 3rd Rd Round
Scunthorpe Steelers v 2 Minute Drillers
Kincorth Killers v JL8