Howards Way Is A Blade Killer
Jordan Howard gets the Killers on their way with a short TD rumble.
Coach McGeachy Junior’s disdain for the poor success rate of No 1 seeds making it to the ALFF Bowl game was very much in evidence as the Kincorth Killers pulled out the stops to see of the despairing Westburn Blades 34-33 in a thrilling back and fore 3rd Rd encounter. Coach Kiwi’s side had raced out to an 11pt lead in the opening Saturday night portion of this much anticipated showdown of two coach “Juniors” and seemed to be on the cusp of becoming the latest in a line of 5 sides in six years to make a run to the Bowl game from a pure wildcard berth, as the Killer Pat’s combo struggled to build a substantial first stanza advantage. However, a better late than never run of points from Tom Brady & Dion Lewis saw the Granite Div champions just do enough to build a lead that the gallant Blades did everything but overhaul in a heart pumping late Sunday comeback that fell just 1pt short of denying coach Andrew his 2nd Bowl appearance in 4 years. A striking feature of this years knock-out competition (other than the form book being followed by everyone but coach Bothwell) has been the number of "first time" post season meetings and this one was no exception. The two sides had served up an entertaining Wk 11 encounter that Little Plums boys won 32-28 thanks largely to his Killer B’s but Youngblood had since switched to QB Blake Bortles and Vegas (4-0 with predictions thru Rd 2) suggested the Pittodrie Div outfit might have a little too much firepower for their higher seeded opponents and named the former Link Rd based side as tight 1pt favorites. Both sides had starters in the Saturday night double header and it was definitely advantage to the wildcard challengers as kicker Justin Tucker put up 11pts with no response from the KK’s Vikings defence. If Stuie had a complaint it was the Ravens gave up an easy (and very early ) chip shot FG opportunity to go for a 4th down which they didn’t convert but otherwise his "go to" specialist came as advertised. The significance of those “squandered” points would loom large in the final equation. Leading by eleven coach Stuie had already been visited by the overweight man with the red face and no dress sense ( no… NOT coach McDougall) by the time hostilities commenced on a grander scale, but initially he was largely in “hang in there” mode as Shady McCoy (and Marvin Jones) attempted to stay close to Geacher the Younger’s Pats combo , Jordan Howard , Mike Evans and Matt Bryant.... all 5 active in the opening Sunday portion. To be truthful the Blades had one other performer in WR Evan Engram but the Giants were a collective no-show in a shut out in the desert and doesn't really merit a mention. The early focus was clearly on Gillette Stadium and the preliminary indications were not particularly positive for the No 1 seeds. Tom Brady's recent struggles seemed to be an ongoing story as he failed to deliver on his first red zone visit and then quickly followed that with a pick six. LeSean McCoy has been an Blades inspiration in the post season and once again the sides overall No 1 pick was active in and around the goal-line , only just missing out on a poorly thrown short goal-line reception... but it was over at a snowy Cleveland that the first score came... and not surprisingly it was first (Sunday) blood to Kincorth. Jordan Howard has been the only real consistent Killers ground threat and it was his 2 yard run that broke the deadlock. Back in Foxboro' Brady stuck to the task and was rewarded with an astonishing 17 yd counter (that was more about Gronk than the QB’s accuracy) but although he was now in the contest at 09-11, coach McGeachy had to be getting uneasy about his total lack of output from kicker Matt Bryant in the Dome. Half time came and went without his foundation performer troubling the New Orleans scoreboard operators and when the 3rd quarter opened and the Dirty Birds fumbled on the goal-line, things did not look good for the Killers. WR Marvin Jones had been quiet for the Blades and was almost forgotten but the pass catcher came within a dropped end zone opportunity of edging coach Kiwi's side further ahead while almost at the same moment over in Cleveland, it looked as the Bears had thrown away a potential opening for Jordan Howard when an errant Mitch Trubisky was returned deep into Chicago territory .. but that was negated by defensive penalty. Four four plays later Howard scampered in from the 11 yard line to put the Granite Div champions ahead for the first time and the pendulum ... a little slowly at first, finally started swinging toward the Killers. Down in the Dome, Bryant finally opened his account with a 37 Yard FG and although the Patriots were still being bested by the Bills, the cracks were beginning to show... with McCoy now on his way to a goose egg. Two further moments deep in the 3rd quarter suggested the Blades luck might hold , the first a dramatic 4 down goal-line stand by the Saints in The Dome that denied Matt Bryant a score of any sort and the second a Patriots TD... that was all Mike Gillislee with no reward for the Special K. However the dam broke in the 4th quarter with an unlikely Brady to Lewis 12 yard scoring toss (on a 3rd and 11) making it 24-11...and also signaling a late Killers points rush. Matt Bryant finally got that 2nd FG (a 48 yarder) but while the pundits pondered if a 27-11 lead would be good enough to hold off the assembled late going Blades, Dion Lewis squeezed through for a late 4 yard TD run. One last gasp PAT from Bryant closed out the scoring on a memorable passage of play ... who knew how vital that 1pt garbage time effort would prove to be as the sides headed to the second Sunday period with the Killers 34-11 to the good. Having survived the tension of coming back from the brink, the nerves in the Kincorth camp switched to effectively sitting on the sidelines helpless (unless you count Dez Bryant) as the energized Blades suddenly found they had a sizeable comeback to mount with all the action focused on San Francisco & Jerryworld. Stuie's Jags pairing of Bortles and Fournette were certainly his best bet at Levi Stadium but although Jimmy Graham has been in a slump of late , his Seattle D have a reputation for coming through at this time of year.. and they looked to have some upside in Dallas. Things did not get off to best of starts for the PDiv challengers on the West Coast as the Jags fell swiftly behind , in part down to a tipped Bortles pick six but things started to come together mid way through the 2nd quarter as Leonard Fournette celebrated his recall at RB2 with a 1 yard TD blast. One series later Bortles had his side back inside the red zone and in range. A goal-line toss to Leonard Fournette was tipped by the big back... but caught by an alert Jags receiver (Jaelen Strong) in the back of the end zone. Six points would clearly have been better than three.... but at that stage Stuie was just pleased to be closer to his overall goal at 20-34. Unknowingly another seemingly not too significant moment ....that would prove massive come the final gun... had passed. The Blades Seattle D then got in the act .. if only indirectly at this stage, as they forced a Dallas turnover... actually stripping direct opponent Dez Bryant in his own half.. and the Hawks, who struggled mightily all night on offence used the short field to get Jimmy Graham his one and only catch of the night..... a 3 yard TD. Now within 11pts and into the 3rd quarter the clock was a significant factor for the No 6 seeds. Bortles turnovers continued to hurt their chances in San Francisco but when CB Justin Coleman stepped in front of a floated Dak Prescott duck at Jerryworld to romp 30 yards to the house on the pick six, suddenly the Blades were with a rushing TD of getting past the Killers total and the tension on both side ratcheted up several notches. Just when coach Kiwi need him most RB Leonard Fournette was no-where to be seen for chunks of the 4th quarter (was he being rested ?) and when the Jaguars did get down on the goal-line ... they went with T J Yeldon (remember him !) instead of their premier back. Fournette was on the field for the successful 2pt attempt... but Bortles went through the air to back-up TE for the completion. With a little over two minutes left Youngblood needed something spectacular to overturn the now 30-34 deficit and with the Jags dramatically recovering an onside kick it appeared he may have a chance. Bortles promptly drove his side downfield to score on a 11 yard toss ... but trailing by just 4pts Doug Marrone (quite rightly) opted to kick an XP rather than go for 2... and the Blades had fallen just 1pt short. Coach McGeachy Jnr had no cause to hold the champagne until last man insurance Alshon Jeffery had gone through his paces at Lincoln Financial Field on Christmas Day but it's just as well the celebrating Killers weren't depending on their top wide-out as he came up empty on this big occasion. The Killers go on to their 2nd Bowl appearance in 4 years, their 3rd overall in an 11 season franchise history , with coach McGeachy getting his hands on the Steven Wood trophy on both previous occasions. The good news for the Special K’s, Special One, is most of his key players will be in active NFL win mode come Week 17.... while his opponents might not. This victory gives Andrew an overall 8-5 record in the post season, with a massively impressive 3-1 record in the mighty tough 3rd Rd. A win next week would set Andrew apart as only the 2nd ALFF coach to win 3 "solo" Bowls ( Big Mac's 3rd with the Rosemount Rebels was shared with Mini Mac). Coach Kiwi must still be smarting after seeing victory slide out of his grasp … with this his 3rd straight loss at the penultimate stage perhaps the hardest to take. That inexplicable “wasted” FG opportunity for kicker Justin Tucker, the missed hook-up to Fournette and other key moments served to prove it just wasn't the Blades day. Throw in the fact the Blades score was their 2nd highest in post season competition and the Killers needed every one of their points, in what was their 2nd highest output of a steady campaign and it doesn't get any easier on the Pittodrie Div combo. Overall 2017 has to go down as a successful one for the League’s southernmost head honcho…. although I know the pseudo All Black felt his squad should have won the Pittodrie Div pennant and he will be disappointed he could not end a 12 season Bowl drought. In many ways his "what if" exit was a microcosm for his whole 2017 season. Retained QB Derek Carr was way below his predicted level but when rookie DeSean Watson stepped up it looked like coach Bothwell the Younger had won the lottery. Unfortunately Watson went down after two short (points rich) games at the helm and the pressure was then always on a very good running attack and K Justin Tucker to get it done on a weekly basis. The good news for Stuie is he must already be listed as a pre-season 2018 favorite with Watson & Fournette sure to make his retained list. He will draft in the No 9 slot come next September. After this their first PO clash Andrew owns the ATS 9-2.
ALFF Bowl 24
Kincorth Killers v 2 Minute Drillers
Posse Get Butker Kicking From RamPant Drillers
RB Todd Gurley is on his way to the EZ on a record breaking 12pt , 80 yard hook-up from Jared Goff.
With one founder owner assured of playing in the Silver Jubilee ALFF Bowl it seemed after Week 15's events maybe the ALFF Gods were finally smiling on coach Marty and his Caledonia Express but a conclusive Round 3 clash saw normal service restored as the Commissioner's Krewe stomped all over the Pittodrie Division champions to coast to an unprecedented 10th Bowl on the back of a lopsided 41-18 shellacking. On paper the contest, and the Pittodrie Division's last finger hold on the 2017 campaign, extended into Christmas Day itself with last CalX man standing rookie Juju Smith-Schuster tasked with the little task of overhauling a whopping 15-41 deficit, and although the promising WR did come thru with a late 18 yard TD as the turkey was digested, there was simply no real prospect of the Posse pass catcher getting in the way of a 2 Minute Driller squad already planning for the season finale, in a tie that all over in the opening Sunday period. Strangely, in a post season competition that bar the Westburn Blades has stuck strictly to seeding , the pre-game analysis gave hints of a coach Marty upset here. Perhaps over influenced by the Pittodrie Div Champions having found their play-off feet in Rd 2 after a 24 year famine..... or the fact the Drillers were reeling from losing WR Davante Adams and perhaps more crucially K Greg Zeurlein to a Thursday training injury, the ALFF money men installed the Cove based outfit as 3 pt favorites. Coach Garioch the Younger made two changes to the side that finally returned post-season pride to the founder owner ball-club, and although the inclusion of Robert Woods at WR3 was very much expected, the shock addition of little used K Brandon McManus ahead of incumbent Graham Gano certainly gave the chattering classes cause for debate. The Commish had a late Friday training injury scare to WR Micheal Thomas to further squeeze his now rather limited pool of players and although the wideout was back in his starting slot in the final 2 Minute team-sheet , the Drillerdome coaching committee deemed under the circumstances Jared Goff was a better option at QB (than Drew Brees), thus spreading the "Thomas" risk. Back-up Harrison Butker stepped for the injured Zuerlein at a kicking spot that quietly set a new ALFF season points aggregate record in Wk 13... their 149pts surpassing the previous 145pt mark set, ironically set by the 2011 Caledonia Express. Having been part of a very useful 2016 RB unit the Drillers camp had some serious concerns about the upside of the Express' Latavius Murray and his ability to put his side in a solid lead on Saturday night ... so the ball carrier's opening nul point at Lambeau Field helped settled the Drillerdome nerves well before Donner, Blitzen and Kyle Rudolph were shackled to Santa's sleigh. With only one player remaining from each side NOT strutting his stuff in the opening Christmas Eve stanza.... the tie was always going to be hugely influenced over that opening 3 hour period but sadly for coach Garioch and the watching ALFF faithful ... the scoring came largely from one side. Ideally the drama would have switched between the four hot spots where the two sides almost exclusively squared off but as events unfolded they very much followed the pattern of the Drillers 32-18 convincing Week 7 success over their long time rivals, only this time round, while the Posse again struggled to muster a cohesive attack behind Cam Newton , a Drillers 3 player heavy hitter pattern of high scoring QB, RB and Kicker wreaked havoc on their opponents. Only this time the BA Champions had gone through a personnel change at QB ( Goff in place of Brees) and K (Butker for Zeurlein) with Todd Gurley the constant as the rock carrier. Cam Newton sort of set the tone for the Posse by squandering his red zone opportunity (ominously resulting in a FG for the dropped Graham Gano) and soon after Harrison Butker opened the Drillers account with a 31 Yd FG. And that was a close as the Posse got. They briefly made a fight of it when Brandon McManus responded with his own 31 Yd FG but by that time 2 Minute QB Jared Goff had already synched up with Todd Gurley for their first (short) scoring hook-up of the evening in Nashville. Then the floodgates opened. After two swift Butker XP's, Goff hit Gurley in stride for a huge 12pt, 80 yard TD reception and although the RB would not add his overall 9pt total , his signal-caller went on to add two further short passing TD's. Frustratingly for the Cove based CEO neither of those were to his spoiler Robert Woods but the wide-out was not alone in making it a long night for the Cove based CEO. Tyreek Hill caught a couple of long passes at Arrowhead but only succeeded in feeding opposing K Butker's haul to the tune of 4 further FG's (for a 17pt total) and although mainstay Mark Ingram was clearly in the mood in the Superdome , a red zone fumble saw a golden opportunity slip away. By the time the All ALFF select shoe in did scamper to paydirt on A 26 yard run , it was very much a case of too little too late. The Pittodrie Div champs Saints D had an outstanding evening (including the Butt INT) but could not convert their dominance into meaningful points while Brandon McManus' early FG proved to be his only contribution of the evening in Washington. With Cam Newton still looking out of sorts , I have to report the Commish was more than a little delighted his favorite passer was on course for two big goose eggs in outings v the Drillers this term. In the end it took a dumb Buc's offside penalty on 4th down and the luckiest fumble bounces (yes there were two !!) you will ever see, before the non passing QB got his customary goal -line counter. The 41-15 score-line allowed the Ricker to gloss over a goose-egg full house from his WR corp but this one was over... with the final 41-18 score-tag very similar to two previous Drillers v CalX post season encounters (38-15 in Rd3/01 and 30-16 in Rd2/03). The Drillers head now into their 10th Bowl game on the scent of a record extending 6th ALFF Title with the confidence of playing a side that has beaten them only twice in 10 meetings. On the downside the Ricker is likely to be missing League MVP contender Todd Gurley and his other engine room Ram components.. but with 2 x Bowl MVP Drew Brees in reserve the BOD outfit are not (as they have been in a couple of Bowls past) without weapons. That said the RB Title curse has not gone unnoticed by the pundits.. and although Gurley will not play next week, Marshall Faulk ( interestingly enough a Ram) remains the only RB champion to EVER play on an ALFF Title side. For Marty it proved to be a bridge to far in terms of getting to his first Bowl… but 2017 has to go down as arguably the 2nd best year in franchise history , second only to their stellar 1993 campaign. A 6th Div pennant, his first since 2006 , a first Post season win in 24 years and a first WR title since the days of Jerry Rice were among a string of 2017 highlights for the Express head honcho. Tyreek Hill , QB Marcus Mariota and new rookie Juju Smith-Schuster are likely to be back for another season in 2018... giving the draft host a solid foundation to build another solid roster on. Marty drafted as only Marty can... so I will say no more than mine host will pick in a lofty No 10 slot next time at his place. The Commish leads the ATS between the two coaches 20-8.
Sleeper of the Week
Happily (if that's the right word) coach Kiwi could not have squeezed another drop out of his roster in his gut wrenching 34-33 loss to the Killers.... and with the Drillers v Posse game a lopsided one we don't have a Bowl denying sleeper this year. In the end we sign off with coach Marty's gamble on K Brandon McManus, ahead of incumbent Graham Gano. Had coach Garioch stuck with the Panther he would have netted 7 additional points and put a better gloss on his exit.
Play of the Week
Not much doubt about the winner of the POW category. Prior to this week's games there had only been a total of 5 "pure" 12pt plays in ALFF post season history.... a pure 12 pointer being when all 12pts go to the same ALFF team. 2 Minute Drillers QB Jared Goff's 80 yard hook-up with NFL & ALFF team-mate RB Todd Gurley , not only took it's pace as the 6th ever.... but jumped to the top of the list in terms of being the longest of its type in the category. It also set the Drillers on the road to the Bowl.