New Rebs In Seventh Heaven In Grail Quest
Matt Bryant kicks one of his 4 FG's for the Wrecking Rebels.
ALFF history beckons the Wrecking Rebels as they took a giant step towards the League Holy Grail and saw off the 2 Minute Drillers championship threat with a Matt Bryant inspired 31-24 win over the some time title favorites. The two sides emerged from the lead-in Saturday action with very little between them after two huge individual performances from Aaron Rodgers and the aforementioned kicker respectively but after that the New Rebs were never put under pressure by a Drillers side that failed for only the second time this season to get anything out of its running game. After falling 13pts behind on Christmas Eve the Bon Accord Division champions looked to last man out K Nick Novak to save their season but the closest the FG artist got to the required total was the 7pt margin the final score-line presented. Going into his first action in two weeks coach Rickaby must have been a little dismayed to see the pundits punt the defending champions as slender 1pt favorites , especially after closing the RS with a 30-21 decision over the very same New Rebs, but a single change at kicker , Nick Novak preferred to Kai Forbath, suggested the BOD based outfit had confidence they would not suffer a dip in production. Coming of two straight play-off wins since losing to their Division opponents in the RS finale the Mac’s² had the luxury of a Thursday free selection sheet , recalling QB Jared Goff and WR Doug Baldwin in place of Tony Romo and Sammie Coates. The pre-match analysis had the Wrecking Rebels kicking game v the Drillers running attack as the crucial battle with general agreement that the second listed had to get at least one score on the board for the Commish to have a realistic chance of victory. Both ball-clubs had four players going in the first Xmas Eve stanza with the Wrecking Rebels condensed into Matt Bryant and their Atlanta D in Carolina and Bills duo RB LeSean McCoy and WR Robert Woods hoping for points in Buffalo. The Drillerdome outfit had WR Taylor Gabriel hoping to get in the Charlotte mix but looked to Aaron Rodgers and their Vikings D to be major contributors at Lambeau Field, with DeMarco Murray going on the road at Everbank Stadium. WR Jamison Crowder made up the Driller early quartet in this all Bon Accord Division 3rd round clash. The opening skirmishes had a tit for tat element about them as the showdown’s introductory chapter developed into the Rodgers v Bryant show. The kicker opened the scoring with just 4 minutes on the clock courtesy of a PAT on the Falcons first possession but Aaron Rodgers had a quick riposte putting the Drillers 03-01 in front with a nice 21 yard TD strike. If the Commish thought that the League champion kicker may be limited to a healthy doze of XP’s (with maybe WR Taylor Gabriel nicking a TD), that illusion was promptly dispelled as the Falcons then came up short on their second offensive drive… Bryant booting the resulting 51 yard FG. Once again Aaron Rodgers responded to limit the damage , the passer connecting on his 2nd score of the tie, a 20 yard TD toss, to level the scores at 06-06. Over at EverBank Stadium the Commish was not too thrilled at the Jaguars finding their mojo in their first outing since firing Gus Bradley and a big early lead for the North Florida outfit did bode well for DeMarco Murray’s chances of seeing a lot of the action. Bryant and Rodgers swapped scores for a third time with the specialist again going the FG route although at 48 yards was limited to “just” the 3pts , while the signal-caller 3rd TD toss was a short 2 yard effort. There then followed a brief passage of play either side of half time when the BOD outfit looked like they might be able to pull away. It started with Taylor Gabriel being held up just short on the 1 yard line which resulted in a Bryant PAT one play later but almost simultaneously a Vikings offensive turnover at Lambeau Field set up the Packers in great field position…. which ended with a huge 6 yard TD run by Aaron Rodgers. Suddenly the Drillers were 15-10 in front with confidence building. Back in Charlotte the weird Ying and Yang effect was still in evidence as Cam Newton decided to emulate Sam Bradford and turn the ball over in his own half but this time the resulting Bryant 30 yard FG was blocked and it seemed maybe ….. just maybe… the ALFF Gods had deserted the charmed champions. As both camps took stock it became clear that it was going to be a lean night for DeMarco Murray and Jamison Crowder with not much doing for the Rosemount base sides Buffalo pairing McCoy and Woods it seemed….. but the tone changed abruptly as the previously quiet LeSean McCoy burst on the scene with a game changing 19 yard TD run. Now trailing 15-16 the Drillers camp looked in horror as the resurgent Titans saw QB Marcus Mariota go down with a broken leg , effectively ending any remaining threat from DeMarco Murray and to add insult to injury that news was swiftly followed by a Matt Ryan fumble on a 3rd down red zone play that let directly to FG No 3 for Matt Bryant, this one a 29 yarder. Aaron Rodger efficiency had the negative effect of taking the Driller Minnesota D out of the equation as a viable points source but the passer did go to the well one more time for his coach to score with a 13 yard TD pass and again it appeared as if the potential League MVP might once again have countered all the New Rebs could throw at him. Bryant of course responded with his third PAT of the contest (off the back of a 55 yard TD run) but with the Falcons now home and dry it seemed the first phase scoring would end with defending champions a slender 20-18 in front. With a little under two minutes left the Panthers (trailing by 14pts) duly ran a rather pointless and unsuccessful 4th down play on their 42 yard line which saw Cam Newton sacked on his own 35… with even Scott Hanson on red zone predicting the Falcons would now be in victory formation. Well.. neither Scott or I are currently calling plays for the Atlanta and three rumbles and clouds of dust later the Dirty Birds called on Matt Bryant to kick a HUGE 50 yard FG… his second 5 pointer of the night. Disbelief in both ALFF camps must have been as equal as it was opposite !! Now leading 25-18 , the hybrid Rosemount combo entered the late Sunday period knowing any advantage they could glean from QB Jared Goff and WR Doug Baldwin could be vital in the final scheme of things while recognizing RB Latavius Murray posed the biggest threat to them staying in front. The big Driller ball carrier got two early sniffs of the end zone in the Oakland Coliseum but was stuffed on both occasions…. including one in mid air when a score seemed more likely….. and to the Ricker’s chagrin the Raiders promptly switched to their more fleet footed scat backs and although the 2nd Murray brother was not totally sidelined, he would not get another chance to influence the scoreboard. Back at the Superdome, the Commissioners crew’s other combatant Michael Thomas was active for the Saints but coach Payton’s game-plan seemed bent on exploiting the ground game in the red zone and the wide-outs chances were limited. On the New Rebs side of things Jared Goff was picked off early and although Doug Baldwin was getting targets in Seattle , his QB was under extreme duress most of the time and was struggling for accuracy. The first half came and went without either side making any impression on the scoreboard but both came close in the 3rd quarter as first Russell Wilson flat out missed Doug Baldwin on a deep pass down the middle at CenturyLink and then Michael Thomas could not quite convert on a pair of endzone opportunities in the Dome. Finally the pendulum swung the defending champions way. A low hit on Niners RB Carlos Hyde caused the ball carrier to fumble, giving the Rams excellent field position. Four plays later Goff converted on a 2 yard TD toss and the Rosemount Place based side extended their lead to 28-18. A few minutes later up the coast in the Pacific NW the Seahawks O line finally bought enough time to allow their QB the opportunity to exploit another all-out Cardinals blitz and Doug Baldwin scored on a 42 yard grab. With Latavius Murray still playing second fiddle to the “scat-backs” and Michael Thomas continuing to draw a crowd (that seemed free to hold) the Drillers could not respond and the second Saturday phase ended with the champions in the drivers seat 31-18 to the good. The Double Mac’s still had the double insurance of Spencer Ware and Jeremy Maclin to come on Monday night , so last Driller hope K Nick Novak knew even a 14pt effort at Reliant Stadium may not be enough to save his sides bacon in the wee hours of Christmas Day. In the event the K was limited to 2 FG’s in a dour defensive battle and the game was over as contest , the Wrecking Rebels extending an unprecedented post season winning streak to an jaw-dropping 7 straight. In the tie’s final cameo the Wreckster’s Kansas City pairing kept their powder dry to give the final score-line a 31-24 look. The coaches McConnachie now move on to their New Years Day date with destiny on the back of a second straight mammoth kicking performance in the 3rd Rd, Bryant’s latest effort the 2nd best in PO history behind Blair Walsh’s record setting 23(4)pts effort in 2015. LeSean McCoy has also come through for the pure wildcard outfit just when it matters most and it would not be a stretch to suggest the form of the Buffalo runner could be the make or break element for the Wrecking Rebels repeat title ambitions. For the record the New Rebs have never beaten their ALFF Bowl 24 opponents in two previous attempts and are the first side ever to come through 2 straight knock-out competitions for back- to back Bowl games as a pure wildcard. The Drillers bounce out having low scored at 21pts all season long and it must be said in almost inevitable fashion, all four 2 Minute losses this term coming on the back of one player scoring 18pts or more. The Commish reckoned this was one of the most balanced sides he had ever put together in the modern era with Rodgers and that No 2 ranked Murray Bros running game forming a formidable partnership. His WR crew need some work after high picks such Allen Robinson and Greg Olsen didn’t pan out as planned but excellent pick ups in transactions such as Jamison Crowder and the emergence of sure to be retained rookie WR Mike Thomas saw them end the season ranked 3. Contrary to popular opinion the Drillers head honcho has only ever drafted 3 rookie Saints wide-outs. Thomas figures to be more like a Marques Colston than a Kenny Stills. The only real weakness in the 2 Minute formation was at K , where the risk of Blair Walsh recovering his confidence once inside a Dome did not pay off and when coach Rickaby went to the pick-up well on that front he found barren pickings indeed. All that said the Bon Accord champions go one and out as the No 1 seed for the third time in their history … with the final irony a week 13 WIN over the Wrecking Rebels actually cost them a place in the Bowl (as No 2 seed the Drillers would have seen off the Scunthorpe Steelers). The ball-clubs 7th ALFF Point Title and 10th Division pennant were both new League record marks and will act as some form of consolation for coach Rickaby after the pain of a barren 2015. The Ricker will draft No 10 in September. The Doubles Mac’s victory in the first post season clash between the ball-club’s gives them a 3-2 lead in the ATS.
ALFF Bowl 24
Laurel Lions v Wrecking Rebels
Lions Claw Their Way To Final Showdown
WR Antonio Brown just gets the ball in the EZ on this 4 yard score for the Lions.
Coach Hamilton got something of a late Christmas present and a large slice of revenge cake as his Laurel Lions created their little bit of ALFF history as the 2nd year side held on with something to spare to see off the sad Scunthorpe Steelers to book their place in ALFF Bowl 24 with a comfortable 23-13 win over the under-performing title dark horses. Not only did the Lions get the last laugh on an opponent who ended their 100% regular season winning record with a 19-30 defeat in Wk 7 but they also avenged a bitter 2015 season exit in the 2nd Rd of last term’s post season competition. This time round the Pittodrie Division champions got out of the blocks early in the contest and simply built steadily until their opponents were left looking for answers they could not provide. On paper K Dan Bailey could have turned the outcome on it’s head with a huge 16pt effort on Monday night at Jerryworld but the specialist was limited to a bevy of XP’s and never came close to mounting a concrete comeback. Earlier the Lions head honcho struggled with the hands off element required with the two week lay-off but immediately regretted his Thursday morning decision to omit RB Darren Sproles and his Eagles defence and had to be wondering if those missed 12pts would come back to haunt him. Occasional starter Mike Gillislee and his Seattle defence were on the team-sheet instead come Christmas Eve. Adamski has big concerns about the availability of solid Rd 1 & 2 contributor RB Lamar Miller and after some consideration elected to go with veteran Frank Gore at RB2 while WR Chris Hogan got the nod ahead of the recently quiet Terrelle Pryor. The Scunthorpe camp have not commented on whether Isaiah Crowell was under consideration as Jeremy Hill’s stablemate ahead of Gore. The pre-game chatter had suggested a points fest ( similar to their 2015 Rd 2 clash that finished 36-33) , in which the Lions would leap out to an early lead through a combination of Ryan, that no 1 WR corps and kicker Adam Vinatieri… but the Steelers would mount a furious late classic comeback through Hill and Bailey…. that would ultimately fall just short. The opening Sunday session was centred squarely on Bank of America Stadium where Laurel duo Matt Ryan and Jonathon Stewart went toe to toe with opposing WR Kelvin Benjamin and it was here that first blood was drawn. Matt Ryan drove the Dirty Birds down the field on their opening possession and capped it off four minutes in, with a 26 yard TD toss. The Lions were not wholly invested on events in North Carolina however. RB Mike Gillislee was also in action in Buffalo while wide-out duo Jordy Nelson and Tyrell Williams were strutting their stuff at Lambeau Field and Cleveland respectively. No sooner had Matt Ryan got the No 2 seeds off and running and WR Jordy Nelson made it 06-00 with a 21 yard counter up in Green Bay. Alarm bells had to be ringing in South London at the way both Atlanta and the Packers were moving the ball on offence but at least the running threat of Jonathon Stewart was being reduced to negligible as it swiftly became clear the Back Cats would have to air it out to be competitive. Cam Newton missed a wide open Kelvin Benjamin for what would have a duck breaking Scunthorpe score and perhaps spurred by that let-off the Pride hit back with another quick one/two. This time round Jordy Nelson led the way with a low 2 yard TD snatch and suddenly it was 12-00 when Matt Ryan scored his 2nd TD of the night, a short 1 yard toss. At this point Adamski had little to shoot back with, having only Chris Hogan in addition to the aforementioned Kelvin Benjamin but despite a 41pt Patriots avalanche at Foxboro the Scunny wide-out was rarely a factor en-route to a play-off debut goose egg. As the key action moved on to the second half at the first stanza venues, things slowed down a little for the Lions as ball control became more of a factor but just when it seemed the Pittodrie Division outfit’s points tap had been switched off, up popped WR Tyrell Williams in Cleveland to make it 15-00 on a quite spectacular one handed TD grab that rather belied the 1 yard distance tag assigned to the score. Matt Ryan looked set to pad his sides lead by adding a further three points back in Charlotte but the long necked passer fumbled the ball on the 9 yard line and finally it seemed the tide may be turning for coach Meek’s side. Next drive Kelvin Benjamin finally got the Bon Accord outfit on the board with a 26 yard TD grab and with no further scoring in the opening Sunday section the tie was poised rather intriguingly at 15-03. On the Laurel side of the equation they had hard points on the board but with 5 starters in the locker room it remained to be seen if that total was a little on the light side, while the Steelers coaching crew would not have been too discouraged at the magnitude of the task still remaining. The second Xmas Eve period was all about events in two distinct locations. The undoubted hot spot was the Oakland Coliseum where coach H’s kicking weapon Adam Vinatieri faced down the Bon Accord challengers Frank Gore and T Y Hilton but Drew Brees performance in the Superdome was clearly big for both sides hopes. The introductory play at both locations was rather indecisive and in reality stayed that way through-out. Brees was in solid form but the Saints game-plan seemed bent on exploiting the ground game in the red zone, denying the passer any fruits from his between the 20’s labor. Back at Oakland after an initial Colts TD that spawned Vinatieri’s initial PAT of the tie that changed the score to 16-03, the Raiders established a measure of control, keeping the Colts out of scoring range for long spells. An Indy possession that almost saw 3pts for the Steelers TY Hilton … would likely have counted 3 for the Lions kicker instead…. had QB Andrew Luck’s effort to find his WR not been intercepted in the EZ. Back in New Orleans Drew Brees drove the Saints inside the redzone after the first half two minute warning in the Dome.. but time constraints forced a FG outcome and another Steelers scoring opp came and went when back in the Bay Area the normally sure handed Frank Gore fumbled the ball. It took until the mid way through 3rd quarter of action for either side to have any further significant impact and it must have hurt the Meekster that it was a big 39 yard catch from WR T Y Hilton that set up a second Vinatieri PAT just 3 plays later. However, 17-03 swiftly changed to 17-06 when Drew Brees finally hooked up on an 11 yard strike inside the Dome. With the Raiders set to close the door on the Colts in Oakland a tragic leg break to Derek Carr suddenly made that NFL fixture more competitive and while coach Adam the fan was reeling from the loss of his NFL teams QB, his ALFF side set put in a furious finish to the 2nd Saturday period. A 3rd Colts TD required a 2pt attempt instead of a PAT and to the Meekster’s delight it was thrown to T Y Hilton who was now on fire. Two TD attempts by Drew Brees in the Superdome redzone came within inches of being successful and another big catch from TY Hilton set up the possibility of a late 3 pointer for the yard rich wide receiver inside 3 minutes to play. Incredibly as that drive floundered coach Pagano opted to kick a FG instead of push for a 4th down TD… so instead of a possible 17-10 , Adam Vinatieri’s 42 Yd conversion made it 20-07 to the Lions. One last deep pass down the sideline by Drew Brees came within a step of a game changing bomb TD but provided a rather fitting climax to a “might have been” period of action. Trailing by 13pts after the two “main” periods Adamski looked down but not out with Jeremy Hill and Dan Bailey to come. A repeat of the pair’s “joint” second round 20pt aggregate would see the Steelmen through to their second straight Bowl showdown with a little room to allow last opponent playing Antonio Brown the luxury of a receiving TD in the late Christmas Day fixture at Heinz Field. Jeremy Hill was first on duty at Reliant Stadium as Santa did his rounds but the late season scoring specialist never looked like extending his three game post season scoring run to four in row as the Texans D largely shut down the Bengals ball carrier. With the deficit still 13pts the possibility of Antonio Brown adding to that now had a completely new context. Last man out Dan Bailey had hit 13pts or more on three separate occasions….. but put up 16 or more just the once on opening weekend. Coach Hamilton, possibly still with his mind drifting to those missed 12pts on Thursday would not have had his nerves calmed by Brown largely being shut down by a tough Ravens secondary in Pittsburgh for long periods of the game but with the destiny of the AFC North firmly on the line, the NFL Steelers found a way to get AB more involved. Astoundingly with just 4 seconds on the clock of what was sure to the last offensive play of the game, the ALFF pass catching champion just managed to reach the ball across the plane to score a huge 4 yard TD. Facing down a 07-23 mountain, Dan Bailey had it all to do and it must be said never looked like providing anything but a six pack of XP’s as the tie ended tamely with the kicker never getting a FG opportunity. The Lions move on to their first ever Bowl game in only their 2nd season and look to be in decent shape to get their hands on the Steven Wood Memorial trophy. The majority of their key players, with perhaps the exception of Antonio Brown, appear to be expected to be involved in “meaningful” Wk 17 action with few in line for the dreaded Bowl resting. Matt Ryan’s ability to limit Matt Bryant to an exclusive PAT diet may prove to be the key to the 2016 ALFF title destination. The Steelers drop out in disappointing fashion having been many pundits favorites for the whole enchilada. One glance at the Isaiah Crowell’s unclaimed rushing TD double will be almost too much for the BA Div Kappelmeister to stomach. “In Brees and Bailey we trust” carried the Sowf London outfit to the cusp of another Bowl appearance … BUT… since Wk 11 the pair did not consistently generate the solid core output that was the foundation of an ultimately unsuccessful run to the very edge of a first ever League Title, thus exposing a middling WR unit and a 10th ranked RB corps that only really got on track as a cohesive force in the earlier rounds of the play-offs. A second straight 8-5 finish and a 3rd Rd PO appearance will ensure 2016 will go down as another decent Scunthorpe campaign but the year on year building that has gone on since entering the League in 2013 hit something of a plateau , although the passing title for Drew Brees is another first for Adamski’s franchise. No real impact players were added to a retained list that will be heavy on 3rd year starters next term with arguably only Jameis Winston now representing value for money in terms of effective draft position. Adamski’s ultimate reward for a very competent 2016 effort is the No 9 slot in the 2017 draft. Let’s hope he will be able to attend in person (or by Skype). The two coaches are tied in the ATS 2-2.
Sleeper of the Week
RB Isaiah Crowell had not featured for the Steelers since Week 9... but coach Adamski must have considered the Browns ball carrier as he pondered who to start instead of injury doubt Lamar Miller. His final decision to go with Frank Gore at RB2 instead of Crowell cost him 12pts (net -12pts) in a 3rd Rd tie he lost to the Lions by just 10pts. Painful as it is... coach Meek and RB Isaiah Crowell take a season ending SOW. Double Ouch.....
Play of the Week
I can't bring myself to go through the whole rigmarole again but Matt Bryant's second straight garbage time 50 yard FG was like a dagger to the Drillers championship hopes.