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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Jimmie Johnson has his sights set on his eighth NASCAR championship, which would break a tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most career championships. But, as the playoffs begin, Johnson is not generally considered among the favorites to win the title. Eric Fisher previews the 16-driver playoff field.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the Jordan Matthews trade, two areas of concern for the Eagles (besides cornerback) and the Union’s trail blazing idea.

Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist? Find out by taking the Philadelphia sports fans quiz.

Archive for the ‘NFL’ Category

For Brady, Patriots, it’s one for the thumb

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 3 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

Their sixth championship wasn’t a masterpiece, but the Patriots aren’t complaining.

Only one touchdown was scored during Super Bowl LIII, but that was enough for the Patriots to prevail against the Rams, 13-3, and claim their sixth Super Bowl title.

Sunday’s victory was historic for several reasons. The Patriots tied the Steelers for the most Super Bowl victories by one franchise. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady became the first player to win six Super Bowls. Bill Belichick moved into a tie with George Halas and Curley Lambeau for the most NFL championships by a head coach. Belichick, 66, also became the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl.

The game was also historic because the combined 16 points are the fewest in Super Bowl history. That was surprising because the Rams and Patriots ranked second and fourth, respectively, in points scored this season.

Although the Patriots shut down the Rams offense, they weren’t able to take advantage of their opportunities against the Rams’ excellent defense. The Patriots entered halftime clinging to a 3-0 lead. The Rams tied the score on Greg Zuerlein’s 53-yard field goal with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter.

Brady couldn’t get much going against the Rams, but, when the fourth quarter rolls around, Brady is still Brady. HE completed all four of his pass attempts for 67 yards during a five-play, 69-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter. Brady’s passes, including a 29-yarder to tight end Rob Gronkowski in double coverage moved the ball to the 2-yard line. Rookie Sony Michel scored on a 2-yard run with exactly 7 minutes remaining for the game’s only touchdown.

The Rams responded with their best drive of the game, but, one play after Jared Goff nearly connected on a 27-yard pass in the end zone to Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore intercepted a similar pass attempt to Cooks that floated in the air due to pressure on Goff.

Brady and the offense increased the Rams’ deficit by driving 72 yards, taking time off the clock and setting up Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal with 1:12 remaining.

Receiver Julian Edelman caught 10 passes for 141 yards, including eight for first downs, and was named Super Bowl MVP. But it was the defense that played the largest role in the Patriots’ victory. Goff completed 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards, but a lot of that yardage came during the fourth quarter. Goff had just 52 yards passing during the first half. The Rams managed just 62 yards rushing for the entire game.

The victory wasn’t pretty, but the Patriots weren’t concerned about style points. All they cared about was wrapping up their sixth Super Bowl title, especially after the Eagles denied them that accomplishment last season.

 

Super Bowl LIII preview: Old vs. New

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 2 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

The Rams and the Patriots, the opponents for Super Bowl LIII on Sunday (6:30 p.m.), are different in many ways. The Patriots are the established team, playing in their third straight Super Bowl. The Rams are the team on the rise, playing in their first Super Bowl in 16 seasons, when the franchise was still located in St. Louis.

The Patriots have Tom Brady, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, starting at quarterback. The Rams have third-year quarterback Jared Goff, the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, starting at quarterback.

The Patriots are coached by 66-year-old Bill Belichick, the “evil genius” who, if the Patriots win Sunday, would become the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl. The Rams are coached by 33-year-old Sean McVay, the “boy genius” who, if the Rams win Sunday, would be the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Another apparent difference is that the Rams have a powerful two-headed rushing attack consisting of Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson while the Patriots’ running game. But Sony Michel and James White run well enough to keep defenses honest so they can’t tee off on Brady.

The Rams and Patriots have followed similar postseason paths. As the second seeds in their respective conferences, the Rams and Patriots enjoyed first-round byes. After winning their first game without being pressed too badly, both teams won in overtime on the road in their conference championship games.

Here is a preview of Super Bowl LIII.

RAMS (15-3) vs. PATRIOTS (13-5)

(Sunday, 3 p.m.)

How the Rams got here: The second-seeded Rams had a first-round bye and then defeated the Cowboys, 30-22, and the top-seeded Saints in overtime, 26-23.

How the Patriots got here: The second-seeded Patriots had a first-round bye and then dispatched the Chargers, 41-28, and squeaked past the top-seeded Chiefs in overtime, 37-31.

Meetings this season: none

Story lines: Even though the Eagles are the defending champions, the Patriots, with three straight trips to the Super Bowl, are being treated as the team occupying the throne, with the Rams as the challengers. Once again, Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, is facing one of the league’s rising young quarterbacks, just as he did in the AFC Championship Game against Patrick Mahomes. Adding to the “old vs. the new” storyline, the age gap between head coaches Bill Belichick (66) and Sean McVay (33) is the largest in Super Bowl history. McVay was 12 years old when Belichick became the Patriots’ head coach.

RAMS

Running back Todd Gurley (256 carries for 1,251 yards, 17 TDs and 59 receptions for 580 yards, 4 TDs) only had five touches against the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. He has been battling a knee injury, but he looked pretty good in the Rams’ first playoff game, gaining 115 yards against the Cowboys. CJ Anderson looked even better, gaining 123 yards on the ground and notching two touchdowns. Anderson was the workhorse back against the Saints. Perhaps more credit should be given to the Rams’ offensive line, which is the only offensive line in the NFL to have the starters during all 16 regular-season games. Quarterback Jared Goff has nice numbers (64.9 completion percentage, 4,688 yards, 32 TDs, 12 interceptions, 101.1 QB rating), but he didn’t look confident down the stretch, particularly during losses to the Bears (15-6) and Eagles (30-23), two playoff teams with good defenses. Goff’s top targets are Robert Woods (86 receptions for 1,219 yards, 6 TDs) and Brandin Cooks (80 receptions for 1,204 yards, 5 TDs), who played for the Patriots last season. The middle of the Rams’ defensive line includes Aaron Donald, the likely defensive player of the year, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. The Rams are only allowing an average of 49 rushing yards during the postseason.

PATRIOTS

There were times when Tom Brady didn’t quite look like himself this season, but the Patriots hope Brady’s nagging injuries healed during the bye week. Brady completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 4,355 yards, but his mix of 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions is below his usual standard. The Patriots have found a reliable running option in rookie Sony Michel (209 carries for 931 yards, 6 TDs). Running back James White is a threat to run (94 carries for 425 yards, 5 TDs), but his greatest value is as a receiver (87 receptions for 751 yards, 7 TDs), as was evident in the playoff win against the Chargers, when he tied an NFL record with 15 receptions (for 97 yards) and didn’t run the ball once. Julian Edelman (74 receptions for 850 yards, 6 TDs) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (47 receptions for 682 yards, 3 TDs) are familiar targets, but don’t lose track of Chris Hogan (35 receptions for 532 yards). The Patriots have only allowed five sacks in their past eight games, including the playoffs. That line will have a challenge against the Rams’ defensive line, particularly Donald. The Patriots have a solid defense, but they didn’t generate a lot of pressure on the quarterback. That’s changed during the playoffs, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, in particular, pressuring the quarterback.

Prediction: The Rams should try to turn the Super Bowl into a ground war. They will try to control the game with their rushing attack, keeping the ball out of Brady’s hands as much as possible and taking the pressure off Goff. The Rams should be able to limit the Patriots’ ground game. The question is whether that will enable them to pressure Brady before his receivers can get open. If Talib and Peters can maintain coverage long enough, Brady and the Patriots could be in trouble. The formula is there for the Rams to beat the Patriots. However, we should have learned by now not to count out the Patriots. Somehow, Brady and Belichick seem to find a way to get the job done. Patriots 24, Rams 20

Harper hits 1st home run as Phillie