NFL 2014 Week 10: A Tough Break Blows Through the Windy City
Just like every other year, the National Football League looks less like a sport as its season winds on and more like a war of attrition. Each year the Super Bowl champions look less like the best team of the season and more like the one with the smallest number of walking wounded. With the prospect of sudden, catastrophic injury hanging over the head of every player in the League, each hopes this is not his turn.
These semi-disasters are not the exclusive province of the bad teams. One of the biggest surprises of 2014 has been the rise to excellence of the Arizona Cardinals. One of the NFL’s oldest teams, the Cards have moved from Chicago to St. Louis before setting in the desert in the late 1980s with some playoff appearances but few championships (two, back in the early Chicago days). In fact, the team’s most noteworthy achievement was reaching a dubious plateau in 2012: the first NFL franchise to lose 700 games. Luck has rarely been this franchise’s friend.
This year looks different. The Cards have blasted off to the League’s best record halfway through the season, 8-1. On the arm of rejuvenated quarterback Carson Palmer, the team Super Bowl prospects seem especially bright. Until Sunday, that is. In the fourth quarter of a close game with the St. Louis Rams, Palmer swerved to avoid a pass rush. His left knee did not cooperate, bending at an awkward angle. While he did not break the knee, he suffered an injury that required his being carried off the field. While no one would confirm this, he looks to have torn the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. Even worse, he tore the same ligament in the same knee while playing for the Cincinnati Bengals eight years ago. At the time, a rigorous rehab program allowed him to get back to the game the next year. Can he do it again? The Cardinals, who on Friday signed him to a three-year contract extension, clearly hope so.
For now, though, the team’s success rests on the arm of backup quarterback Drew Stanton. A reject from the Detroit Lions, Stanton’s week was notable only for the fact that his wife is pregnant (her due date was during the past week) so he was prepared to leave the game for the hospital. Suddenly he was in the game and knew he would play the rest of the way this year. He ran a play Coach Bruce Arians drew up, a deep pass to wide receiver John Brown. Fifty-two yards later, Brown scored on a play identical to the one on Arians’ playbook.
After the game Arians said, “We can win the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton. There is no doubt in my mind.” Certainty in uncertain circumstances got him to the desert: a career assistant coach, Arians had to take over the head coaching duties for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 when his boss and good friend, Coach Chuck Pagano, was stricken with leukemia early in the season. He did so well that he became the first interim to win Coach of the Year honors, leading to his first head coaching opportunity in his early 60s. Bruce Arians flew so long under the radar; now he has a team leader who is a similar success story.
The situation could not be more different for the other team to play in Chicago, the Bears. Long the favorite team of Windy City residents, the Bears have established a reputation over the decades as a tough, hard-hitting squad that plays the game the right way. That rep took a serious hit with last week’s 52-23 beat down at the hands of the New England Patriots. Still, this week’s opponent should bring out the best in the erstwhile Monsters of the Midway: the team’s archrivals, the Green Bay Packers. These teams have been playing grudge matches since well before the Great Depression and there was no reason to believe Sunday’s night’s matchup would be any different.
Four quarters later, after the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers put the finishing touches on a stunning 55-14 annihilation, a city lay prostrate at the disaster that is the 2014 Bears. This game was never competitive: the Pack blasted out to a 42-0 lead at halftime. Chicagoans could be forgiven for noticing their rivals eased up in the second half; otherwise, the score would have been as one-sided as the Bears’ 1940 NFL Championship game score against Washington (73-0, still the greatest margin of victory in a playoff game). Chicago expects this kind of performance from the Cubs, not the Bears; their scorn for the team’s disastrous defensive play of late will be difficult if not impossible to overcome without a complete overhaul of the roster, coaching staff and front office. It’s hard to see anything short of a mass firing on all levels for this team after the season.
Without warning, on any given Sunday at any point, a League also-ran can surprise even a team in the NFL elite. This happened in the New Jersey Meadowlands on Sunday; the hotter-than-hot Pittsburgh Steelers showed up to play the lowly New York Jets, losers of every game but their season opener. Sixty minutes later, the Jets had won a hard-fought, tough defensive battle over the men of Steel City. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh defensive back Mike Mitchell let his emotions get the best of him at the end of the game. While executing a play known as the Victory Formation (when running out the clock on a win at game’s end, the quarterback of the team in the lead takes the snap from center and falls to one knee immediately), Mitchell committed what looked like a dirty play: he jumped the pile in a pointless attempt to hit Jets QB Michael Vick. Justifiably angered by this stunt, Jets Coach Rex Ryan shouted obscenities at Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin after the game. Even worse (from the viewpoint of the ever-PR-conscious NFL) Ryan’s outburst was filmed by TV cameras. While the words have not been committed to posterity yet, they were supposedly a lip-readers smorgasbord. For this, Ryan was fined $100,000. Mike Mitchell should be a man and help pay the fine. For now, his actions earn his a special honor. He is the NFL WOW (Weasel of the Week) for his childishness. Don’t jump over too many linemen to celebrate, Mike.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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