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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Phil Dawson wins SI's Special Teams Player of the Week





December 30, 2013

THE AWARDS SECTION

Special Teams Player of the Week

Phil Dawson, placekicker, San Francisco. For his 56-yard game-winner at Arizona, inside of two minutes, to go up by three and apparently win the game, and then, after the Cards tied it up with 29 seconds left, for his 40-yarder right down the middle as time expired for a 23-20 Niners win.

Phil Dawson wins NFC special teams player of the week





By Darin Gantt

December 31, 2013

For the second time since Week Four, Phil Dawson missed a kick last week.

But the 49ers kicker also hit at the right time, with a game-winning 40-yarder pushing his team to the playoffs.

So for the second time this month, Dawson was named NFC special teams player of the week, after also winning the award in Week 14.


Dawson has hit 32-of-36 field goal attempts and all 42 of his extra points for the 49ers this year.

That gives them much more confidence going into the postseason than a year ago, when they were bringing in competition for David Akers because of his struggles.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sports Illustrated: Ted Ginn Jr. "one of the more underrated additions any team made"





By Chris Burke
December 26, 2013

NFL Power Rankings Week 16
A season like this one should make folks appreciate just how remarkable those couple 16-0 -- or even 15-1 or 14-2 -- runs are.

No team will finish this year better than 13-3, with only Denver and Seattle in striking distance of that mark. There may not have been top-to-bottom parity in the sense that all 32 teams stayed in the playoff race for 17 weeks, but this has been as unpredictable a year on a game-to-game basis as any in recent memory.

The playoffs should be a blast, eh? Of course, we've got one week left before we get there. So here's the latest Power Rankings:

NFL Power Rankings


1. Last Week: 3 Denver Broncos (12-3)
That the Broncos are No. 1 here speaks to the general uncertainty surrounding the NFL as the playoffs approach. Yes, Denver is 12-3 and likely headed for home-field throughout the AFC playoffs, but this is a flawed team -- even more so with Von Miller done and Wes Welker still out.


2. Last Week: 5 Carolina Panthers (11-4)
A brief moment of appreciation here for the Panthers' offseason pickup of Ted Ginn Jr., which has proven to be one of the more underrated additions any team made. Ginn helped put Carolina in position to beat New Orleans with a critical catch-and-run in the game's final minute.


3. Last Week: 1 Seattle Seahawks (12-3)
There was a play early in Sunday's loss to Arizona where Russell Wilson escaped trouble in the pocket but then threw a horribly ill-advised jump ball into traffic. It was a very un-Wilson-like decision ... and an omen for what was a very un-Wilson-like performance.


4. Last Week: 2 San Francisco 49ers (11-4)
The 49ers needed some defensive heroics to slide past a four-win Atlanta team on Monday night, so feel free to debate this spot. Here's the thing, though: San Francisco has lost just twice since Sept. 23, and that was a top-three defense putting the icing on the cake versus the Falcons.


5. Last Week: 14 Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
The last time that the Colts defense held back-to-back teams under 300 yards before doing so in Weeks 15 and 16 was way back in Weeks 3-4. The Colts are 4-0 in those contests.


6. Last Week: 6 New England Patriots (11-4)
Rarely has Tom Brady been as ... well ... nonessential as he was in the Patriots' 41-7 rout of Baltimore on Sunday. Brady was solid -- 172 yards passing, one touchdown -- but it was the run game and opportunistic defense that really shouldered the load. Heck, Brady couldn't even get anyone to high-five him after a late touchdown.


7. Last Week: 12 Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
Too bad for the Cardinals that the NFL playoff participants are not chosen by committee, like March Madness or the new college football final four. Arizona would be an absolute lock for an at-large bid.


8. Last Week: 16 Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)
It had been three years since Matt Cassel had a performance like the one he delivered against Philadelphia in Week 15, so maybe we just chalk that whole game up as an anomaly. That's the only time since September the Eagles have allowed more than 21 points.


9. Last Week: 15 Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)
Am I crazy or do the Bengals look like a legitimate threat to win the Super Bowl all of a sudden? They stunk up the joint at Pittsburgh in Week 15, but they're 4-1 in their last five, and Andy Dalton has 10 touchdowns to one INT in December.


10. Last Week: 9 San Diego Chargers (8-7)
Between them, Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead now have combined for 2,263 yards from scrimmage. That's akin to what Mathews and Mike Tolbert used to churn out together. Or what LaDainian Tomlinson did by himself back in his heyday.


11. Last Week: 4 New Orleans Saints (10-5)
At what point should the Saints be concerned about Drew Brees and the offense? Brees was totally out of whack -- again -- for most of Sunday's loss, and the offense has scored 17 or less in four of its last five (with a 31-point showing in the lone home game during that stretch).


12. Last Week: 7 Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
Three straight losses at home for the Chiefs, who now will open the playoffs on the road. And maybe that's not the worst thing in the world, given that they're 7-0 outside the friendly Kansas City confines.


13. Last Week: 8 Miami Dolphins (8-7)
The Dolphins have allowed a staggering 58 sacks, which matches the league-high number allowed by Arizona last season (and Miami has a game left). That is also the most given up since Oakland coughed up 72 in 2008. It's shocking Ryan Tannehill was not hurt before Sunday.


14. Last Week: 17 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
This franchise did not really bat an eye when Mike Wallace left town, and Antonio Brown is the reason why. With one week left in the regular season, Brown is No. 3 in the league in both receptions (101) and yards receiving (1,412).


15. Last Week: 18 St. Louis Rams (7-8)
The thought of this team having the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the draft (plus another first-rounder) should scare the rest of the league. St. Louis is not far off from being a true playoff contender.


16. Last Week: 11 Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
The Ravens might not mind Justin Tucker's made-FG streak coming to an end in the midst of a blowout loss, as it did Sunday. At least that will keep them from feeling like Tucker's due to shank one should he come up with the playoffs on the line.


17. Last Week: 10 Chicago Bears (8-7)
Here's the list of teams that have allowed more points than the Bears this season: Minnesota and Washington. That's it. Those teams have a combined seven victories, so Chicago's 8-7 record is a borderline Christmas miracle.


18. Last Week: 13 Green Bay Packers (7-7-1)
The Packers obviously would have loved to have Aaron Rodgers in the lineup the past few weeks. But playing him for half a season, then resting him until the division's on the line might keep him around as the starting QB for about three decades.


19. Last Week: 21 Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
Overlooked amid all the Cowboy-related talking points is that this team is 5-0 within the division -- one of just two teams that can boast such a thing. (Indianapolis, in the brutal AFC South, is the other.)


20. Last Week: 27 Buffalo Bills (6-9)
The Bills will not be satisfied -- nor should they be -- with their 6-9 record so far. That said, the teams they've beaten hints at the ability here: Carolina, a sweep of the Dolphins, the Jets, Jaguars and Ravens. All but Jacksonville have a shot to get into the postseason.


21. Last Week: 29 New York Giants (6-9)
New York hung two touchdowns on the board en route to a 23-20 overtime win in Detroit. One by cornerback Will Hill, who had never scored in the NFL (nor at college at Florida); the other by WR Jerrel Jernigan, who entered Sunday with more fumbles in his NFL career (two) than TDs (zero).


22. Last Week: 22 New York Jets (7-8)
Rex Ryan reportedly told his players last week that he was going to be fired at the end of the year, and they responded with a win in a must-have game. This week, Rex will threaten to take their Christmas presents away if they don't get another victory.


23. Last Week: 26 Tennessee Titans (6-9)
Remember when the Titans were 3-1 and looked like they would challenge the Colts in the AFC South? No? Me neither.


24. Last Week: 23 Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
Pretty fitting loss for the Falcons on Monday night, given that they have the talent to compete and simply have not been able to put it all together often in 2013. There's little doubt that 2014 will be better.


25. Last Week: 19 Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)
Turns out a team can only take the whole "play for pride" thing so far. The Vikings hit their breaking point in Week 16, with a humiliating loss to a Cincinnati team in the hunt for the playoffs.


26. Last Week: 20 Detroit Lions (7-8)
Jim Schwartz turning to shout at the home fans Sunday will get a lot of play as Schwartz's tenure likely ends. The more telling issue within that moment is that Schwartz apparently did not have enough confidence in Matthew Stafford to let the high-priced QB turn it loose with the division -- and Schwartz's job -- on the line.


27. Last Week: 24 Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11)
More or less copy and paste the Vikings' write-up here. The Jaguars deserve credit for rebounding from that 0-8 start to win four of their next five. Back-to-back home losses to the Bills and Titans, however, will take a little shine off.


28. Last Week: 28 Cleveland Browns (4-11)
The offense has been under the microscope for much of the season, but the Browns have been let down by a few disappointing performances on defense. Neither the linebackers nor the defensive backs have been good enough to help stop the bleeding.


29. Last Week: 25 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)
The needle has drifted back to "Probably" from "Maybe not" on the Greg Schiano Dismissal Scale. There hasn't been much to get excited about in Tampa Bay over the past couple of weeks.


30. Last Week: 30 Oakland Raiders (4-11)
Not sure I understand the seemingly growing urge to can Dennis Allen. The Raiders did not try to hide the fact that 2013 would be a season focused on getting their cap and roster in order so that things would be better in '14 and beyond.


31. Last Week: 32 Washington Redskins (3-12)
Who exactly is the No. 2 option in the passing game behind Pierre Garcon? The injured Jordan Reed had a case, as does 34-year-old Santana Moss. But Washington might want to spend a little energy finding some help there.


32. Last Week: 31 Houston Texans (2-13)
The Astros finished the season on a 15-game losing streak, so at least the Texans can't match that. Are they printing Teddy Bridgewater jerseys down there yet?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Trent Baalke discusses Anquan Boldin, Phil Dawson contracts situations





By David Fucillo

December 21,2013

The San Francisco 49ers head into the offseason having to deal with several contract situations. Aside from considering Colin Kaepernick's new contract, they have several key veterans coming up for new contracts. Two of those include wide receiver Anquan Boldin and kicker Phil Dawson. Friday evening, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said on his weekly radio segment that the team had already had some brief discussions with the two free agents. He said they'd start really working on it after the season, and hopefully get something done.

Boldin and Dawson have both been critical additions this offseason. Boldin currently has 70 receptions for 958 yards, and has been a critical weapon in Colin Kaepernick's arsenal. Before Michael Crabtree returned to the field, Boldin was Kap's safety blanket. Vernon Davis was the deep threat, but Boldin was the guy Kap looked to for some critical gains. Since Crabtree's return, Boldin has continued to play an important role, and Crabtree has opened him up further at times.

Dawson is having one of the best seasons of his career. He has converted 27 of 30 field goal attempts, and set the 49ers franchise record for consecutive field goals converted. After spending a season wondering if David Akers would actually connect on any field goals, Dawson has been a breath of fresh air.

As we head into the office, I'm not really sure what to expect with contracts for either player. Boldin wanted a new deal in Baltimore, but was traded because they couldn't agree to terms. The 49ers need wide receiver options, with Michael Crabtree and Quinton Patton the only receivers of note signed beyond this year. They also have Chuck Jacobs on the practice squad. Boldin would be very helpful in building the wide receiver corps for next year, but do they have room to work with him on a deal?

The 49ers signed Dawson to a one-year deal. Dawson is 38, but some of the best kickers seem to be able to last longer in the NFL. I'm not overly concerned about age in this regard. But again, do they try and find a kicker in the draft or undrafted free agency? Dawson has shown how valuable a solid kicker is, so that will have to be considered.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Harbaugh wants Phil Dawson back with 49ers next year





By Curtis Crabtree

December 18, 2013

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t taking the consistency of kicker Phil Dawson for granted.

After suffering the struggles of David Akers a season ago, Harbaugh is thrilled with the job Dawson has done for the team this season.

However, Dawson was only signed to a one-year deal this season. It led Harbaugh to make a public plea for Dawson to stick with the team beyond this season.

“Phil, stay beyond this season, please,” he said Monday, via Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’ve been remiss asking him to do that. Let me officially ask him to stay beyond this season.”


While the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl last season, the kicking situation was a problem that could have kept them from winning the NFC. Akers made just 29 of his 42 field goals for the 49ers in the regular season last year and the team brought in Bily Cundiff to compete for the job.

Akers did convert all three attempts in the Super Bowl and was 4 for 5 in the playoffs, but the 49ers signed Dawson this season with the hope it would fix the issues of a season ago.

Dawson has been a model of consistency for San Francisco this year. He’s converted 27 of 30 field goals on the year and is a perfect 38 for 38 on point after attempts.

“Twenty-four straight field goals — he has been a top-notch guy on the team from the day he got here, a real football player in every sense of the word. That doesn’t always get affixed to kickers and punters, but Phil is that kind of teammate. . . . A-plus-plus. Very happy with Phil,” Harbaugh said.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jim Harbaugh talks Bruce Miller, Frank Gore, Phil Dawson and more





By David Fucillo

December 16, 2013

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh met with the media, and had plenty to talk about following the 49ers 33-14 win over the Bucs. We have a transcript for your viewing pleasure.

Have you asked K Phil Dawson to stay beyond this season, yet?

"No, let me do that right now. Phil, stay beyond this season, please. No, I've been remiss asking him to do that. Let me officially ask him to stay beyond this season."


That is a legitimate question.

"Absolutely. I'm glad you brought it up. 24 straight field goals and he has just been a top-notch guy too on the team from the day he got here. Just a real guy's guy. Real football player in every sense of the word, which that always doesn't get affixed to kickers and punters, but Phil is that kind of a teammate. It's about the team. It's about accomplishing the mission and the goal of the team and him doing his job within that. That's the way I truly believe the way he looks at it. So, it's been A-plus-plus. Very happy with Phil. Nothing not to be happy with him about. Just so good on the field, off the field, in the locker, in the community, etc."

Bowman was saying the other day that he sees Phil Dawson here when he doesn't have to be here. Have you observed some of those moments where he's here--?

"He's got a perfect attendance in the offseason. I've not seen a lot of kickers and punters have perfect attendance before. But yeah, he's committed. He's made a great sacrifice too. His family's not here and they come and visit. He talks about them all the time. He's a great role model too for all of us, just how much he loves his wife, how much he loves his kids, how much he talks about them. Just the way he does so many things right. It's great for everybody to see that."

How much does he influence your decision making? He's become so reliable and so automatic on these field goals, as you drive guys drive downfield, I'm sure it shapes play-calling and your decisions. How has it affected your job during games?

"It does. It's shaped it in a positive way. You feel you know you have the option and the high probability that he's going to make the kicks."

So, a long-term deal coming up?

"Pay the man."

Harbaugh is all for bringing back Phil Dawson in 2014





December 16, 2013

By Ron Kroichick

Jim Harbaugh had some unusually lively and good-natured exchanges with reporters during his news conference today, especially when placekicker Phil Dawson’s name came up.

Dawson, of course, has become Mr. Automatic for the 49ers — he stretched his ongoing franchise record to 24 consecutive field goals with four more Sunday against Tampa Bay. He also made four in last week’s win over the Seahawks, and Dawson now is 27-of-30 on the season (including one free-kick miss from 71 yards).

So when Harbaugh was asked if he had “asked Dawson to stay beyond this season yet,” he couldn’t resist complying — right there on the spot and with a touch of sarcasm, naturally.

“No, let me do that right now,” Harbaugh said. “Phil, stay beyond this season, please. I’ve been remiss asking him to do that. Let me officially ask him to stay beyond this season.”

Reminded that it was a legitimate question — Dawson, 38, signed a one-year contract as a free agent in March — Harbaugh said, “Absolutely. I’m glad you brought it up. Twenty-four straight field goals — he has been a top-notch guy on the team from the day he got here, a real football player in every sense of the word. That doesn’t always get affixed to kickers and punters, but Phil is that kind of teammate. … A-plus-plus. Very happy with Phil.”

Once Harbaugh was done raving about Dawson, and it took a while, the same reporter then asked if a “long-term deal was coming.

“Pay the man,” Harbaugh said, smiling.



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Zastudil's punting prowess deserves praise





December 10, 2013

By Josh Weinfuss | ESPN.com

TEMPE, Ariz. – Dave Zastudil may not have the best leg or the longest kicks in the NFL, but when it comes to helping his team flip the field, there are few punters as good.

In the Arizona Cardinals' game Sunday against St. Louis, Zastudil landed three of his four punts inside the 20-yard line, including one that was downed at the 1. The fourth punt was initially thought to be downed at the 1 as well, but it was ruled a touchback.

Thanks to Zastudil, Arizona’s opponents have started a league-high 33 drives inside the 20 after punts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And that’s not good news for opponents. The Cards have the best defense in the league against drives that started inside the 20 off punts, allowing .55 points on those drives, fourth-best in the NFL.

On average, Zastudil's punts inside the 20 have pinned opponents at their own 10-yard line and Arizona has not allowed a first down or touchdown on 51.5 percent of those drives. Thanks to Zastudil, Arizona’s defense is working with a large field and has been able to quash offenses quickly, with opponents having to punt 60.6 percent of the time.

The defense should be showering Zastudil with gifts the way quarterbacks do with their offensive linemen.

But this isn’t an anomaly.

Last season, Zastudil set the NFL record for punts inside the 20 with 46. After Sunday, he’s tied for the league lead in that category with 31,
alongside Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt. Yet, in the NFL’s annual popularity contest, Zastudil’s achievements seem to be forgotten.

In the most recent update on fan voting for the Pro Bowl, Zastudil wasn’t in the top 10 despite being among the 10 best in net punting average. However, he’s not completely being ignored: ESPN Stats & Info named him an honorable-mention punter this week for his performance against the Rams.

Cardinals spread holiday cheer with Phoenix Children's Hospital visit




Punter Dave Zastudil was one of several Cardinals players to visit Phoenix Children's Hospital Tuesday.

December 11, 2013

By Bob McClay

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Cardinals took a timeout from preparing for Sunday's game against Tennessee Titans to spend time with kids at Phoenix Children's Hospital Tuesday.

They gave away teddy bears during their "Teddy Bear Express" event.

Back-up quarterback Drew Stanton was glad to help out.

"I think especially now, being a father, and having a child, and trying to empathize with those parents in that situation, to be able to see a change in mood or a smile on a child's face when they're going through a tough time can really turn things around for that day and hopefully turn things in the right direction," said Stanton.

Kicker Jay Feely, quarterback Ryan Lindley and center Lyle Sendlein were also among the Cardinals players who were there to help out.

Cardinals cheerleaders were there as well, along with a 180-pound dog named Barney, who climbed on to beds with kids and let them pet him.

Punter Dave Zastudil said the visit was rewarding for him.

"It means a lot, especially around the holidays," Zastudil said. "These kids have been through a lot, have suffered, and most of them will continue to suffer for a little while. If we can come in here and put a smile on their face and make them forget the pain that they're going through, it makes you feel real good."

This is the third straight year that Zastudil has made a holiday season trip to PCH.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Phil Dawson named NFC special teams player of week





By Darin Gantt

December 11, 2013

The 49ers were worried they were a kicker away from a championship team last year, and made a move to upgrade by signing Phil Dawson this offseason.

The move has paid off, as he’s been nearly perfect.

Dawson was named NFC special teams player of the week for his four-field goal performance in a win over the Seahawks. The last one was the decider, a 22-yarder with 26 seconds left.

But he’s hit 20 straight field goals, setting a 49ers franchise record.
With that kind of accuracy, they’re probably not going to need to bring kickers in for insurance in the postseason, like last year when David Akers was shaky.

Monday, December 09, 2013

For Montee Ball, determination and perseverance paying off




Broncos running back Montee Ball enjoyed his finest game as a rookie last Sunday, when he gained 117 yards on 13 carries for a 9.0-yard average in a 35-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

By Joan Niesen
December 8, 2013

His father is a graphics designer. His mother works in customer service. The kid's no genetic freak, hardly bred for football greatness. He's just another kid with a dream, as improbable as the next.

Eight-year-old Montee Ball doesn't know it's improbable, though. He doesn't know that Wentzville, Mo., is hardly prime football recruiting territory, or to play a sport at its highest level requires as much talent as it does determination. He doesn't know that a decade and a half later, he'll be paired with arguably the greatest quarterback of a generation, a man who might as well have been raised on another planet, or that their unlikely partnership might help him climb out of the struggles of a tough rookie year.

He just knows he's going to play in the NFL.

When Ball was in second grade, his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer came fast and sure: Football player. The NFL.

"She was like, 'That's good, but think of something else you want to do, because the percentage is extremely low,' " Ball said. "But ... my dad always told me, if you have a backup plan, you've already failed."

Ball hasn't needed that backup plan. It didn't matter that he couldn't play running back until he was 12 and he was finally under the weight limit required to touch the ball. It didn't matter that when he showed up to Timberland High School the summer before his freshman year, he was just a big back with potential, and that it took his coach, Craig Collins, another two years to realize Ball was a major college talent.

It didn't matter that when he went to Wisconsin for college, he was third on the Badgers' depth chart, then still a backup as a sophomore. It didn't matter, because Ball was going to play in the NFL.

By his junior year, Ball was a human highlight reel. He set NCAA record after NCAA record, most notably scoring 39 touchdowns as a junior to tie Barry Sanders for the most ever in a single season. Ball was the littlest big man on a campus known for producing cornfed lineman, eventually going in the second round to the Broncos — his favorite team as a child — in the 2013 NFL draft.

But the fairy tale ends there, or perhaps it breaks for intermission. Ball's rookie season — until last Sunday — has been marred by fumbles and time on the bench. But, after rushing for 117 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ball the Broncos staked their second-round pick on seems to be surfacing.

"Montee has been thrown into the fire as a rookie," Manning said. "He's certainly made some mistakes, like all rookies do, all players do. I'm still waiting for somebody to break my NFL record for interceptions as a rookie. Got to be a 16-game starter to do it, though."

On paper, it's an unlikely pairing, Manning and Ball, but in reality, these are two of the most single-minded, goal-oriented players on the Broncos.

Since the start of training camp, Manning has pulled Ball aside at practices to offer suggestions. He's helped slowed down the game for him, Ball said, although the rookie still struggles to stay on the wavelength of a four-time MVP.

"I'm trying to catch up to how he sees the game, but as a running back," Ball said. "Obviously it's different as a quarterback. All I can say is he's really helped me take every play for what it is."

Even now, Manning and the Broncos are still learning exactly what kind of player Ball can be. At Wisconsin, he rarely caught passes, but turns out, he's a better receiver than the Broncos imagined. He rarely had to block in college, but when asked to do it, he's exceeded expectations too. Most important, he's putting his mistakes behind him.

"I think it's just kind of unwrapping the whole gift of what he can do," running backs coach Eric Studesville said.

For a player whose name dots the NCAA record books, the past has somehow become irrelevant. This is a new world, light years from that far-out St. Louis suburb and the comfort of Madison. Ball isn't dwelling on it, though.

After all, he didn't tell that teacher he wanted to be a college star. He told her NFL, and here he is, that improbable goal unfolding in front of him.

Dawson now has S.F.'s longest field-goal streak





Phil Dawson kicks a 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining to put the 49ers ahead 19-17. Photo: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

By Eric Branch
December 8, 2013

After spending the first 14 seasons of his career in Cleveland, 49ers placekicker Phil Dawson had to adjust to some new surroundings this season.

"I've just been trying each and every day to continue to get better," Dawson said, "and settle in a little more."

That appears to be going quite well.

Dawson had the best game of what's been a brilliant debut season in Sunday's 19-17 win over Seattle, setting a franchise record and drilling four field goals, including a 22-yard game-winner with 26 seconds left.

With his third field goal - a 52-yarder in the second quarter - he broke Joe Nedney's franchise record for consecutive successful field-goal attempts (18). During his streak of 20 straight made kicks, Dawson has field goals of 53, 55 and 52 yards.
He's made 23 of 26 attempts this season with misses from 48, 53 and 71 yards.

"I try not to think about" the streak, Dawson said. "I try to treat every kick the same. You have to have a bad memory. Unfortunately, I have a really good memory, so I can remember my last miss."

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Broncos Nominated for Weekly Honors




Quarterback Peyton Manning and running back Montee Ball are up for weekly honors after their performances in the Broncos' 35-28 win over the Chiefs on Sunday.

December 3, 2013

By Mike Morris

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos not only nabbed sole possession of first place in the AFC West in their 35-28 win over the Chiefs on Sunday – they also picked up several nominations for player of the week honors.

Quarterback Peyton Manning and running back Montee Ball were announced as nominees for the FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Week on Tuesday for their respective performances against the Chiefs.

And for Ball, who posted the best performance of his young NFL career with 117 yards on 13 carries, the showing also meant a nomination for the Pepsi NEXT Rookie of the Week award.

It’s the second time that Ball has been nominated as Pepsi NEXT Rookie of the Week – he also earned a nomination for his two rushing touchdown performance in the Broncos’ 27-17 win over the Chiefs in Week 11 – but the nomination for FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week marked a first in Ball’s career.

In setting a career high for rushing yards and posted an average of 9.0 yards per carry, Ball broke off a key 45-yard run late in the third quarter with the Broncos pinned at their own 5-yard line, helping set up Denver’s final touchdown of the game.

“Montee was a real pro all week last week,” Manning said after the game. “He was disappointed in the fumble he had last week, but he had a good week at practice. He came in ready to play and had a good game today against the Chiefs. That’s part of being a pro, putting last week’s game behind you and learning from it, it’s not easy to do and I thought his run on the 5-yard line was a critical play to get us out of that hole.”


Meanwhile, Manning is no stranger to FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week honors. This is the sixth time this season that the quarterback has been nominated for the award, and he was named FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week for his performances in the Broncos’ wins over the Ravens and Raiders in Week 1 and Week 3.

On Sunday against the Chiefs, he was once again instrumental in leading the Broncos to victory, completing 22 of 35 passes for 403 yards and throwing five touchdown passes – helping wide receiver Eric Decker set a Broncos franchise record with four touchdown receptions.

After the game, Decker credited Manning with making the performance possible.

“It was easier, I guess, just because of the balls (Manning) throws,” Decker said.

Manning underlined the importance of the win for the Broncos.

“It was a big win because it was a division game,” Manning said. “We played them two weeks ago in a close game, a tough game. We knew coming here it would be tough as well. They’re coming off a disappointing loss last week, and we knew we’d get their best shot.”

To cast your votes for Manning and Ball for the FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Week, click here (http://www.nfl.com/voting/players-air-and-ground/2013/reg/13) – and remember that you can also support Ball by clicking here (http://www.nfl.com/voting/rookies/2013/REG/13) to vote for him as Pepsi NEXT Rookie of the Week.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nate Ebner's muffed-punt-fumble-recovery well-deserved if not heroic




Nate Ebner didn't play high school football, but is in his second season with the Patriots.

By Austin Murphy
November 26, 2013

If you hadn't been one of the heroes, what moments would you most remember from Brady-Manning XIV, I asked New England's Nate Ebner late Monday night. If he hadn't made the play on which the game hinged, if the second-year special teams commando hadn't fallen on the muffed punt that allowed New England to complete the biggest comeback in franchise history, what would've stuck with you?

Ebner disagreed with the premise that he'd done anything special. I could almost see him wincing when I used the h-word. "I just did what my job entailed," said the 24-year-old ex-Ohio State Buckeye. "A ton of guys made plays. That was the real takeaway -- the fight we showed, the way our team never quit."


Wow, a self-effacing, willfully bland, praise-deflecting team-first guy on Bill Belichick's roster -- what were the chances?

Here's the other element Ebner says he'll always remember from last Sunday night in Foxboro: the elements. "That was one of the coldest games I've ever been in."

The wind chill was six degrees, although it felt colder to a special teamer like Ebner, who had to stand there and shiver in his cape because the Pats barely punted in the first half. They kept fumbling instead.

No offense to Ebner, but when he notes that Sunday night was one of the coldest games he's been in, he's not saying that much. We're not talking about a huge sample size here. This is a guy who didn't play college ball until his third year at Ohio State, as a walk-on.

Was he one of those preferred walk-ons that the coaches have their eyes on, ahead of time? No. Ebner told me he made the team in a tryout with a hundred other wannabes. And why were the Buckeye coaches unfamiliar with him? Because he didn't play high school football. Yet I would venture to say that Ebner had more tackles during his time at Hilliard Davidson High, in suburban Columbus, than any other schoolboy in the Buckeye State. It's just that no one was counting them.

Ebner was an international-class rugby player, one of the top young Americans in the game. As a 16-year-old he was selected to play for the USA Rugby Boys U-19 squad that played in the world championships in Dubai. By the time he graduated high school, Ebner had played all over the world.

Once he was an undergrad at Ohio State, however, the international travel wasn't feasible anymore. The collegiate and club-level rugby he was playing was a comedown for him. Looking for a greater challenge, he walked on to the football team. He knew how to put on shoulder pads. After all, he'd played as recently as junior high. "I was all right at tackling, from rugby, but I had no clue about was happening on defense," he says. "Schemes, reading keys -- I was so far behind. One thing I knew I could do, though, was run under kickoffs."

He was so fast -- at six feet, 205 pounds, he ran a 4.48 40 -- and so instinctive at finding the football that the Buckeye coaches had to get him on the field. Ebner became a special teams standout. Going against the grain, as usual, the Patriots left draftniks scratching their heads when they took him in the sixth round two years ago.

But Buckeyes assistant and ex-Patriot Mike Vrabel had given Belichick and his staff the down-low on Ebner, a tough, hard-working, relentless quick study with a big upside. Ebner had a strong camp, and made the club outright. His 17 special teams tackles were second-most on the team last season. He wasn't credited for a tackle against the Broncos, which is strange, because there he is on New England's first punt in overtime, streaking up the middle of the field, beating his blocker, Mike Adams, then taking Wes Welker out at the shins with a swipe of his left arm.

In a game that had "tie" written all over it, the Patriots punted a second time -- Denver also punted twice -- with just over three minutes to play in OT. New England appeared to have the gusting wind at its back, but the left-footed Ryan Allen's punt seemed to stall at its apex. On the replay, the ball hangs in the air, confounding Welker, who at the last instant tried to wave off his teammates, calling out "Peter! Peter!" A lot of teams use the warning "Poison" in that circumstance. The meaning is the same: Head for the hills, here comes the ball, and if it touches you, it's live.

It touched poor Tony Carter, caroming off the turf, glancing off his right hip on the short hop. "I was hoping it wasn't the ball," said Carter afterward, somewhat endearingly -- because, really, what else could it have been? A brown, pebble-grained handbag flung from the stands? Carter must now wear that "muff" around his neck like an albatross, but it was Welker who screwed up, waiting until far too late to make the "Peter" call.

Ebner plays on every special team. On punts, he's Allen's personal protector. After making sure no one leaked past the line of scrimmage to threaten a block, he was free to "cover down" -- his expression for hauling ass up the middle of the field.

Marquice Cole arrived a step ahead of him, pushing Carter backward, and into the path of the bouncing ball, upon which Ebner gratefully pounced, on the 13-yard-line. New England ran two plays, then sent kicker Stephen Gostkowski out to win the game.

"I was in the right place at the right time," concluded the chronically modest Ebner. And he's right: there wasn't anything that special about the recovery. See ball, fall on ball, curl into fetal position around ball. Of much greater interest is the journey that led him to that right place.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Denver Broncos RB Montee Ball Nominated for Rookie of the Week Award




He's only getting started.

By Jon Heath

November 20, 2013

The Denver Broncos have been slowly easing rookie running back Montee Ball into their offense this season. Knowshon Moreno, the team's most experienced runner and best blocker, has been the starter, but Ball has begun to chip away at goal line carries as Moreno's regular relief back.

It makes sense for the team to give Ball goal line carries—the 5'10", 215-pound running back set NCAA records while at Wisconsin, rushing for 77 touchdowns as a Badger.
Over the past three weeks, Ball has received 25 carries, scoring three touchdowns.

On Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, Ball rushed eight times for 25 yards and two scores, adding three receptions for 16 more yards.
If he continues to steal carries—especially in the redzone—from Moreno, his fantasy football status will continue to rise.

For now, considering Ball a risky flex option with the potential to mold into a No. 2 fantasy running back.

Ball's performance in Week 11 got him nominated for the Pepsi Rookie of the Week award on NFL.com. Voting is open until Friday.

Up against three quarterbacks and defensive end David Bass in the voting, Ball has a slim chance of taking home the ROW award this time around. But if he continues to take advantage of the opportunities Denver's coaching staff has given him, we expect to see Ball's stock rise considerably in the second half of the season.

Vote for Montee here: http://www.nfl.com/voting/rookies/2013/REG/11


Ted Ginn Jr. rejuvenating NFL career in Carolina





November 20, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ted Ginn Jr. is rejuvenating his career with the Carolina Panthers.

Ginn, who was an afterthought the last three seasons on offense with the San Francisco 49ers, has emerged as a valuable receiving threat -- as well as a returner -- for the surging Panthers (7-3), who have won six straight games.

Ginn has 24 receptions for 411 yards and three touchdowns, including the winning 25-yard TD catch from Cam Newton with 59 seconds left in Carolina's 24-20 win over the New England Patriots on Monday night.

The seven-year NFL veteran has nearly as many receptions this year as he did in his three combined seasons in San Francisco (31). And his three TD receptions this season already stand as a career best.


Ginn said coming to Carolina has been a "blessing" and there's little doubt he has fit in well as Carolina's No. 3 receiver behind starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. Newton has been spreading the ball around and six Carolina receivers have at least 15 receptions.

"It's good when everyone is eating," Ginn said with a laugh.

He didn't eat much last year.

Ginn caught two passes for 1 yard in 2012 for the 49ers, used primarily as a returner by coach Jim Harbaugh.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said Ginn arrived in Charlotte ready to prove he could do more than just field punts and kickoffs.

"He was kind of that stigma special teams All-American," Newton said. He comes here very hungry trying to learn from Steve Smith and those guys and they're all feeding off each other."

Coach Ron Rivera has raved about Ginn's speed, saying he's a player who can "blow the top off the defense."

Ginn's other two TD receptions this season went for 40 and 47 yards after he got behind the defenders.


Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said he was shocked when Ginn told him before the season how little he'd been used in the passing game in San Francisco.

"Man, I couldn't believe it," said Munnerlyn, who faces Ginn daily in practice. "I feel like he's the complete package. He can run by you. He can run great routes. And he can catch the ball. It's scary to go against a guy like that who is so fast."

On Sunday Ginn will make his return to Miami to face the Dolphins, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2007 and traded him away three years later.
It's his second homecoming game in three weeks.

He avoided questions about his return to San Francisco, where there were differing opinions on how he should be used on offense. As for the Dolphins, Ginn said there are "no hard feelings."

"It was for the betterment of both situations," Ginn said of his departure from South Florida. "I had my time there and enjoyed it and it started me off."

Now he's trying to start over.

Ginn signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Panthers, so he's playing for a future contract.

He'd like to remain in Carolina where he's found a role on offense he didn't have in San Francisco and the quarterback stability he lacked in Miami.

"Oh yeah, it is a big difference," Ginn said of playing with Newton. "Any time you know what you're dealing with at quarterback. (In Miami) you might have a guy come in off the street and be the starter for the week. But they have moved past it and it's over with and done. Hey, I'm with the Carolina Panthers and having a good time."

And playing well.

"He's been in the league seven years, but it seems like his career is just starting to take off," Munnerlyn said.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Katie Smith joins Liberty as assistant



November 19, 2013

By Mechelle Voepel


Katie Smith retired from playing in September, but she knows her mind could pull a few tricks on her next spring as she watches the New York Liberty prepare for the 2014 season.

"I don't have the itch to play now, but I might think, 'Maybe I can still do it,'" Smith said, chuckling. "In terms of just working out, staying in shape, my routine is still kind of the same. But the truth is, it's exciting to move on and now be able to jump in with both feet to something else."

Her new occupation is being an assistant coach for Bill Laimbeer with the Liberty. Smith will join the staff as another former WNBA standout, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, moves on to other pursuits.

Smith finished a 15-year stay in the WNBA with career averages of 13.4 points and 2.9 rebounds, and she was also one of the league's best and most versatile defenders. Smith has long been like a coach on the floor, having played until age 39. And she has worked in an administrative grad-assistant capacity for her alma mater, Ohio State.

"But I can't say I've really coached; this is definitely my first real go at that," said Smith, who averaged 6.1 points and 1.9 rebounds this past season. "There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes. Of course, I've watched it and been aware of it. But to be the ones to hash it out, why we're doing stuff -- that will be a different dynamic for me.

"Film-watching, doing the scout and then presenting it in a way that people can understand it. And now I'll see the management side of the game, too: how to put the pieces together in running an organization."

Smith, who finished an All-American college career with the Buckeyes in 1996, started as a pro in the short-lived ABL in Columbus, Ohio. She won two titles there playing for coach Brian Agler.

In the WNBA, Smith spent six-plus years in Minnesota before a famously lopsided trade during the 2005 season, pulled off by Laimbeer, brought her to Detroit. There she won two WNBA championships. The Shock relocated to Tulsa, but Smith didn't. She ended her WNBA career playing for Washington, Seattle and New York. She also won three Olympic gold medals with the United States.


"Over the years as a player, in your own mind, you think, 'How would I do things?'" Smith said of coaching. "I'd think, 'This is what I would pull from what I've seen Bill do, and this is what I would pull from Brian.' Things like that. But I'm looking forward to getting a crash course in actually doing it all."

The Liberty finished 11-23 and missed the playoffs in Laimbeer's first season back in the WNBA after coaching in the NBA. So New York will get a lottery pick in April's draft.


Katie Smith looks forward to a crash course in coaching with her former team.

The date of the lottery has not yet been announced. The league and the players' union are still negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, for which the players' primary goal is expanding rosters to 12. The players also want to see a workable injured-reserve system that can protect players who are hurt, but that doesn't severely limit teams from managing rosters to compete more effectively.

Meanwhile, WNBA fans are waiting to hear who will take over as head coach in Atlanta and Tulsa. The other opening created after this season -- at Phoenix -- was filled last week as the Mercury hired Sandy Brondello.

Brondello, 45, is a former WNBA player from Australia who got into the league in 1998 and, like Smith, competed in multiple Olympics. Brondello is a little older but part of the same generation of players as Smith.

Smith thinks those players who essentially founded the WNBA are still going to be important to the league for the next several years.

"I think we need to stay visible and involved, and that could be in a variety of ways," she said. "It could be at the high school or university level, talking about our experiences and what the game has done for us.

"We have to continue to give publicity to women's sports and say how that's impacted our lives. We need to still stay vigilant about making sure people have these opportunities."

Smith is finishing her master's degree at Ohio State and will be a registered dietician. She'll also do some scouting of the college game in preparation for the draft. She's eager to see the Liberty take steps forward next season, when the team will be back in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

The Liberty have played the last three seasons at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., as the Garden underwent extensive renovation during the summer months. Smith competed in the Garden as an opposing player, and she knows how loud the place can get when the fans are engaged.

"If we do our part on the floor next year, it's going to be a great atmosphere," Smith said. "I thought the fans did well going to Newark, with how they supported us. But the energy of coming into the city, it's just different. I'm looking forward to it."

She's also eager to work with Laimbeer, whom she credited with giving her playing career a needed jump-start in 2005 when she came to Detroit.

"Ultimately, he's the one who's calling the shots," Smith said. "But from my playing experience, what's good is you can have a clear, comfortable dialogue with him. Whether you agree or disagree, you can tell him, and he'll make the decision.

"I watched how he managed people and situations. It will be a good learning experience now working with him."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Zastudil shares punter of the week honors





November, 12, 2013

By Josh Weinfuss | ESPN.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s hard to compete with 50,000 career yards, but Arizona Cardinals punter Dave Zastudil gave it his best shot Sunday against the Houston Texans.

While Texans punter Shane Lechler was across the field booming kicks, averaging almost 59 yards per punt and soaring past the 50,000-yard mark for his career, Zastudil was punting with the precision of a heart surgeon. He had two punts downed at the 1-yard-line.

And for that, Zastudil and Lechler were named co-punters of the week by ESPN Stats & Information.


Lechler, in his 14th season, is the all-time leader in punting average with 47.6 yards per kick but has been even better this year, averaging 48.7 yards per kick. Even Zastudil had to salute Lechler for his seven-punt day.

But as much respect as Lechler received this week for surpassing 50,000 yards, Zastudil was equally praised.

Downing one punt at the 1-yard-line is hard enough. But doing it twice? On Monday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians compared it to hitting a hole-in-one. A punter has downed the ball at the 1 just three times in the past five seasons. Zastudil is responsible for two of them.

When ESPN Stats & Information debated between Lechler and Zastudil this week, the input fromNew York Giants punter Steve Weatherford swayed the decision to split the honor. Weatherford, via Twitter, threw his support behind Zastudil because two punts inside the 1 “will impact the game greater.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Greatness Of Yanda's Grit





Marshal Yanda played through a partially torn labrum during last year's playoff run.

November 10, 2013

By Patrick Gleason Assistant Director Of Public Relations


On a May afternoon following the 2007 NFL Draft, several Baltimore scouts were meeting in the office of Joe Douglas, who at the time, was in charge of cross-checking all offensive line prospects the Ravens deemed draftable.

Without notice, then-director of college scouting Eric DeCosta walked into the room and made a silent, yet attention-striking statement.

Picking up a Dry Erase marker, DeCosta quickly scribbled something on Douglas’ whiteboard. Never uttering a single word, he then turned around and exited the office – leaving behind a message that had his scouts beaming.

YANDA = TOUGH-A**

DeCosta’s declaration came fresh off his return from the Ravens’ first offseason rookie minicamp. In practice that day, a young Marshal Yanda had made an immediate impression – one that began validating the Ravens’ decision to utilize a third-round pick on the promising Iowa Hawkeye.

Receiving high grades from every Ravens scout who evaluated him for months, Yanda exhibited outstanding intelligence, an exceptional work ethic, a desire to excel, and most importantly, a level of toughness that went beyond extremes.

Recalling Baltimore’s initial evaluation of Yanda, Douglas states: “We knew we could win with this guy on our offensive line.”


---------------------

Backtrack to Yanda’s childhood – a time when he actually quit playing football. The reason behind it? Well, he was actually too tough.

Growing up on an Iowa farm in the rural town of Anamosa, Yanda had long desired to play football. “It’s just what I always wanted to do,” he says.

Forced to join a flag football team due to the long wait list of a nearby Pop Warner tackle league, Yanda first stepped on the gridiron as an anxious and aggressive sixth grader. Unfortunately for him – yet luckily for his peers – things didn’t work out so well.

“I played my first two games of flag football, and then I quit,” Yanda affirms. “All they would let you do was rip the flags off, but I wanted to hit somebody. I didn’t want that flag football crap; I wanted to tackle. From a very young age, I just loved being physical and knocking guys down.”

Though he had to wait an entire year before joining the seventh grade tackle league, Yanda finally received the opportunity to assert himself on the football field. Immediately, he began doing so in a manner that mirrored his family’s grind-it-out farming lifestyle.

“With me growing up on a farm, we always had to work for something, and we never had it easy,” shares Yanda, who says his family milked cows twice a day – first at 4 a.m., then at 4 p.m. – and never took any type of vacation.

“Work always came first. That was all we knew, and we just thought that’s how life was. But, seeing how hard my parents worked and what they instilled in me – that’s where I developed this mentality. With football, I realized that you can be a great player when you have ability, but you can go really far if you get every inch out of your body and work hard daily. That’s the mentality I have every day.”

It was that intrinsic attitude that developed Yanda’s unique work ethic and forged his rare toughness. Additionally, it was that approach that fueled his appetite for success and eventually propelled him to NFL heights.

--------------------------------------

Fast-forward to the summer of 2012. Coming off a season in which he earned his first Pro Bowl honor, Yanda was quickly becoming a household name. A key ingredient in the Ravens’ recipe for success, he was someone Baltimore fans adored, and opposing defenses dreaded.

In the midst of a great training camp, Yanda continuously displayed a style of leadership defined by strength, tenacity and dedication. Without question, his influence blended perfectly into a veteran-laden squad with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. In fact, during a speech he gave to the team following a grueling practice, Yanda implored his teammates to “Embrace the Grind.” Naturally, his rousing instruction yielded what eventually became a 2012 Baltimore battle cry.

As the season progressed – and the Ravens experienced many emotional highs and lows – Yanda’s grit would be tested mightily.

During one particular game, Yanda suffered a painful shoulder injury. After fighting through the discomfort for several weeks – never missing a practice or a game – Yanda eventually learned that he had sustained a partially torn labrum. Soon after, he was forced to make a difficult choice.

“I had played with it for a while and reached a point where I had two options,” he recalls. “I could either take it day-by-day and continue to gut it out, or I could get surgery and be out for the remainder of the season.

“I had already done it for a while, so I figured I’d just keep on fighting. The NFL is an everyday struggle and a constant fight. I just decided to see how long I could keep going.”

Incredibly, Yanda continued to battle for the Ravens, gritting through not only the shoulder pain, but also a nasty ankle sprain that hampered him.

“It was tough last year,” he remembers. “The off days were miserable, and I really didn’t want to do much. But even in high school, I remember hearing: ‘There are ouchies, and there are injuries.’ At the NFL level, sometimes you just have to fight through it.”

Though he’d miss Week 15’s contest against Denver while resting his ankle, Yanda was determined to return the following Sunday versus the New York Giants. With playoff hopes and an AFC North title on the line, the Ravens faced a must-win situation.

“I couldn’t miss that one,” Yanda reveals, noting that he made a decision to play, but only because he felt it’d be at a high level. “I wasn’t just going to power through and not play well. I would never want to hurt the team. Only a selfish person would do that. If I ever got to the point where I was hurting the team, well heck no, I was going to let somebody else get in there and play well.”

Aided by a valiant performance from Yanda, Baltimore beat New York to secure the division title and a postseason berth. Though he understood just how battered his body was, Yanda took solace in knowing that he could miss the no-implication, regular season finale at Cincinnati. Certainly, a little rest would significantly help him prepare for the playoffs.

“After the Giants game, I was in bad shape. But we were going to be in the playoffs. So considering we had made it that far, why couldn’t I just keep grinding it out?”
What happened next is well documented. Producing one of the most incredible postseasons in NFL history, the Ravens went on an astounding four-game winning streak – capping it off with their Super Bowl XLVII title.

Amazingly, Yanda didn’t miss a single play during Baltimore’s championship charge, playing in all 282 snaps. And not only did he persevere through the pain, but as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell would later note: “Marshal also played at an exceptionally high level.”

“In the end, oh my gosh, it was all worth it – 150 percent,” Yanda affirms. “If I would have missed out on last year, that would have killed me. That was part of the journey. I’m just happy we experienced everything we did and that I was able to grit through it all.”

So what kept Yanda mentally strong in the face of last season’s physical pain? What was it that fueled his Herculean ability to keep pushing forward?

“A Super Bowl is a great goal, but it can’t be why you play this game. It has to be for your love of the game and for the guy lined up next to you. In the end, it’s about the competitiveness, the work you put in, and because you love it.”

As if further proof was needed, it’s clear that DeCosta’s initial assessment in 2007 was spot on. Because certainly…

YANDA = TOUGH-A**

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka keeps same approach on game-ending kicks



Seattle kicker credits mindset, core training for torrid start to season.



Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka leaves the field victorious after the winning field goal in overtime to beat Tampa Bay on Sunday.

By Bob Condotta
November 6, 2013

RENTON – Reporters who approached Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka after his 27-yard overtime field goal to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday were greeted with a sympathetic smile.

Sorry, he had no great story to tell. For Hauschka, it was just another kick.

“It really is,’’ he said. “It’s not that exciting. It’s a big one because it won the game. But for me it was just the same thing (as any other kick). It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to go through, right?’’

Indeed, that is an essential mindset of the position, that the kick in overtime to win a game that might ultimately decide whether the Seahawks get home-field advantage through the playoffs is the same as the one in practice Wednesday.

And, no doubt, a 27-yarder is about as automatic as it gets in the NFL — kickers have made 122 of 123 attempts in the 20- to 29-yard range this season.

Still, Hauschka remembers his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings in 2008, when treating a game-winner the same as a practice attempt wasn’t possible.

“Ryan Longwell told me that all the kicks count the same,’’ Hauschka recalled of the former veteran who kicked in the NFL from 1997 to 2012. “I didn’t really understand it because most people think that that kick at the end of the game is way more important than the kick at the beginning of the game.

“But as a kicker you can’t think like that. They are all the same. They all count the same. And you’ve got to treat each kick like it’s another kick. It’s just been a mental thing realizing that. But it clicks with me now, and it’s been really helpful.’’

That realization came as Hauschka learned some hard truths about the business early in his career. He was cut by the Ravens late in the 2009 season after going 9 of 13, with two of the misses playing decisive roles in the outcome of games.

He also had a brief stint with Denver in 2010 before landing in Seattle in 2011.

But everything has come together for the 28-year-old Hauschka with the Seahawks. In his third season as Seattle’s kicker, he’s off to one of the best starts in the NFL.

He has made 18 field goals, tied for fourth in the NFL, including another overtime winner, at Houston.
He has missed only one, a kick that was blocked at Indianapolis. And his percentage of 94.7 is third-best among kickers who rank in the top 20 in made field goals.

“He’s having a great season,’’ Carroll said. “And we’ve recognized the whole mechanism from (snapper) Clint Gresham to (holder) Jon Ryan to Steven. They’re doing a great job for us and they’re just really consistent and performing at a tremendous level. Steven has hit everything, but the one that they knocked down, so he’s had a great first half of this season.’’


Hauschka credits not only a maturing mindset but also some changes in his offseason routine for his current success.

If there was a knock on Hauschka his first two years as Seattle’s kicker, it was his lack of success on longer attempts. He was 3 of 8 from 50-and-beyond the last two seasons while going 46 of 49 inside 50 yards.

To address that, and improve his overall consistency, Hauschka altered his conditioning routine to strengthen the core of his body.

“I just strengthened some muscles in particular that kept shutting down on me and were weak last year,’’ he said. “I get a lot of power from my core. Just like a baseball player, there is a lot of rotation in my swing, so the stronger I can be through there, the more powerful I can be throughout the game and throughout the entire season.’’

It appears to have worked. Hauschka made his only 50-plus attempt this year at Arizona, a 51-yarder, but also hit three from beyond 50 in an exhibition game against Denver and just missed a 61-yarder at San Diego that glanced off the crossbar.

He also said he started his offseason kicking program in March, a little earlier than past years, to further refine his kicking stroke.

“I started with a good, solid, natural stroke back in March and just kind of continued that all the way through,’’ he said. “In years past, I’ve felt maybe I had to change some part of my motion in camp, but this year it was smooth sailing all the way through.’’

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

JOHN FRANK STILL RULES!





By Bill Livingston, The Plain Dealer

November 3, 2013


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The missing man not only showed up Saturday, but Jeff Heuerman also jumped over one tackler, rocked another when he landed, and made you wonder how, exactly, Purdue lost track of a 6-6, 252-pound guy with a trackman’s instincts and a bronco-buster’s appetite for contact.

Heuerman caught five passes for more yards (116) than any Ohio State tight end in more than a generation. The last previous time an Ohio State tight end had a 100-yard game was in 1996, when Rickey Dudley, a former Brown, caught 104 yards worth of passes in the Citrus Bowl against Tennessee.

Thirty years ago, tight end John Frank recorded 130 yards against Michigan.


Heuerman’s game was enough to compete as a spectacle with the fall foliage outside Ross-Ade Stadium and to shame both the beleaguered Purdue defense and the Ohio State coaches who had mislaid such a weapon.

It could be argued, however, that the missing man could have been anyone wearing a black helmet for Purdue on defense. If the helmets were supposed to make the Boilermakers look sinister, with the connotation of black-hatted villains and all that, they failed as dismally as everything else the Boilermakers tried. Ohio State beat Purdue like the home team's band beat the world's biggest drum, 56-0.

Tight end is a position that has been neglected for years at OSU. The drought encompassed such players as Ben Hartsock, who, after Michael Jenkins caught the 37-yard "Holy Buckeye" touchdown pass from Craig Krenzel to Michael Jenkins on fourth-and-1 against Purdue during the national championship season of 2002, blurted out: "You mean that was fourth down?"

And it included Ryan Hamby, who bobbled not once, but twice, the short pass in the end zone, which, until Hamby finally dropped it, might have beaten national champion Texas in 2005.

And it included five years of broken game-plan promises to Jake Stoneburner.

There was the occasional flash, such as when Jake Ballard went up among a Nike bad-taste catalogue of bizarrely clad Oregon Ducks and hauled down Terrelle Pryor's third-and-13, "here's-hoping" lob for a 24-yard gain in one of the biggest plays in the 2010 Rose Bowl victory. But Ballard's catch left you wondering what might have been at Ohio State with more involvement of the big, rangy target a tight end presents.

Perhaps that was because Ohio State under Jim Tressel used slot receivers like St. Ignatius' Anthony Gonzalez and Toledo's Dane Sanzenbacher to beat linebackers over the middle.

Perhaps it was because Pryor's floater to Ballard was an anomaly. Customarily, he threw infield practice at the ankles of big receivers on shallow crosses.

"They play too high and forget about the tight end," assessed quarterback Braxton Miller, who burned Purdue for the first of his four touchdown passes with a 40-yard throw to Heuerman, who was as open as Purdue's defense was confused.

One of Heuerman's catches was for no gain. Otherwise, the next-shortest one he caught, for 18 yards on third-and-eight in the second quarter, caused the most commotion. The leaping Heuerman's knee registered a knockdown of cornerback Antoine Lewis as he closed for the tackle.

"I'm going to tell him to cut that out. He's too big," said Miller.

"Coach Mick (strength coach Mickey Marotti) told me I looked athletic," said Heuerman, smiling. "I knew we had to get that third down. I wasn't quite aware of where we were at."

Actually, he had left the first-down sticks in the rear-view mirror long before he went all Peyton Hillis – up, up and away.

"A lot of guys have been coming after my legs so I just gave it a little jump, trying to get a few extra yards," Heuerman said.

Coach Urban Meyer said the game was due to Heuerman's improvement, while being pushed for playing time by backup Nick Vannett, who also caught a Miller touchdown pass.

"When you play with extended receivers, more than one, more than two, the defense dictates where the ball goes," said Meyer. "Push the fast rewind button one year ago against the same team (a 29-22 comeback victory by OSU in overtime). Who are you going to throw the ball to? Now you got five, six targets you actually want to see with the ball in their hands, and they've earned that right."

Heuerman gave due consideration to this upbeat assessment of personal improvement, then declined to go there.

"I don't think its me as much as the other guys. You see Devin Smith running around and me in the flat," he said, mentioning one of the Buckeyes fastest flyers outside freshman Dontre Wilson. "Who are you going to cover?"

Hint: Cover the tight end, too.You'll regret it if you don't.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Ron Rivera says Ted Ginn ‘has been very special’ for Panthers





BY MIKE DYCE

October 30, 2013

While with the San Francisco 49ers, wide receiver Ted Ginn found his receiving duties slip away as he became primarily a returner. As a free agent this offseason, he signed with the Carolina Panthers and has become one of quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite targets. Ginn has caught 20 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns.

The touchdown mark ties a career high and his 17.9 yards per reception would be a career high. It is also 4.6 yards more than his career average. Needless to say, Ginn has been a great player for the Panthers.

“We had no idea Ted Ginn was going to be the type of player he has been,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said, via the Charlotte Observer. “We knew he had potential and we knew he had ability. But he’s been very special for us.”

Ginn has helped the Panthers stretch defenses and score quickly.


“We want to get it into the end zone as fast as we can,” Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “But we’ll take it any which way we can.”

Friday, October 25, 2013

Former Defensive Standout Karl Klug is Honorary Captain




Karl Klug scored his first NFL touchdown earlier this season with a recovered fumble.

October 24, 2013

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Former University of Iowa defensive lineman Karl Klug will serve as honorary captain when the Hawkeyes hosts Northwestern Saturday in Kinnick Stadium (11:01 a.m., BTN). Klug currently plays for the NFL's Tennessee Titans, who have an open date on their schedule this weekend.

Klug is a native of Caledonia, Minn., who was a three-year letterman as a defensive tackle from 2008-10. He started all 26 games over his final two seasons while helping the Hawkeyes post a three-year record of 28-11. During his career, Iowa concluded the 2008 season with a 31-10 win over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, defeated ninth-ranked Georgia Tech 24-14 in the Orange Bowl following the 2009 season and beat 12th-ranked Missouri 27-24 in the 2010 Insight Bowl.

He was a permanent team captain as a senior and was Iowa's defensive Most Valuable Player. He earned second team all-Big Ten honors from league coaches and media. Klug was selected to compete in the East-West Shrine game following his senior season. He was a fifth round NFL Draft selection of the Tennessee Titans, one of six Hawkeyes selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Now in his third season with the Titans, Klug has played in all seven games this season, with one start, and has played in all 39 games in his NFL career. He forced and recovered a fumble earlier this season in a win over the New York Jets, scoring his first career touchdown with the recovery. Klug recorded 10.5 QB sacks in his first two seasons, most among Titan defenders in those two seasons.

At Iowa, Klug totaled 57 tackles as a senior, leading the Hawkeyes in both tackles for loss (13-67) and QB sacks (5.5-47). He earned the Iron Hawk Award and the Hayden Fry "Extra Heartbeat" Award as a senior. He amassed 140 career tackles, including 31 tackles for loss (126 yards) and 9.5 QB sacks (76 yards).

Klug will accompany the Iowa captains to the center of the field for Saturday's pregame coin toss. He will also be with the Hawkeyes in the locker room before and after the game, and on the sidelines during the contest.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ted Ginn Jr. is a nice surprise for the Carolina Panthers





By Randy Inman
October 21, 2013

Ted Ginn Jr. has been the best free agent pickup by the Carolina Panthers this season. When I heard Ginn had signed with the Panthers my first thought was the kick return game just got better. Ted Ginn Jr. had other ideas such as becoming a solid wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers.

Ted Ginn Jr. was a very good college football player at Ohio State with 135 receptions and 27 all purpose touchdowns in three seasons. The Miami Dolphins picked Ginn with the 9th pick of the 2007 NFL draft.

Ted Ginn Jr. didn't ever quite get it done in Miami mostly due to poor quarterback play in my opinion. In three seasons with the Dolphins Ted Ginn caught 128 passes and had five receiving touchdowns. He did make a reputation for himself as a top notch kick and punt returner.

After joining the San Francisco 49ers Ginn slipped even farther off the radar as a wide receiver. The 49ers never seemed to use Ginn as much more than a returner and his reputation was as a wide receiver bust for such a high draft pick by the Dolphins.

But the Carolina Panthers needed a returner and also have been looking for wide receiver help ever since Mushin Muhammad retired. During training camp the Wolford Warrior Armanti Edwards got all the press while Ginn bided his time.

Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell really needed a third guy to help them out and Ted Ginn Jr has done that very well. Coming into the Rams game Ginn had 13 receptions, two touchdown catches and was averaging over 18 yards per catch. Ginn has also thrown some crushing blocks to help spring lose other players who had the ball.

Ted Ginn Jr signed a one year contract with the Carolina Panthers to prove he can play wide receiver and get a bigger contract with a team next year. I am sure Ginn would like to stay in Carolina if they are willing to pay him. Cam Newton is the best quarterback that Ginn has played with and that makes a difference.

I am a fan of Brandon LaFell but I think he would be a good number three wide receiver. I would like to see Ted Ginn Jr. starting opposite of Steve Smith or at least get more playing time for the Carolina Panthers. So far Ginn is without a doubt the best free agent pickup made by Dave Gettleman.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Punter Dave Zastudil and cover man Justin Bethel flip the field for Arizona Cardinals





By Kent Somers

October 9, 2013

When it comes to sexiness, punting is the flannel pajamas and pounding headache of football.

No one yells at the spouse and kids to run to the TV room because the punt team is running on the field.

But it’s an important part of the game, especially for a team with a terrible offense and a stout defense.

That’s why what punter Dave Zastudil and cover man Justin Bethel are doing is so important to the Cardinals. They have flipped field position when the offense hasn’t and are a big reason the team isn’t worse than 3-2.

“It started last year, really,” Bethel said. “Trusting — I trust he’s going to put the ball where he says he’s going to put it, and he trusts me to get down there and make the tackle. It’s a great combination.”

Zastudil has put 16 punts inside the 20-yard line, the most in the NFL this season. Of those 16, 10 have been downed inside the 10-yard line.

Last year, Zastudil set an NFL record with 46 downed inside the 20.


The Cardinals, of course, would prefer to see less of Zastudil and more of quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Zastudil’s heavy workload is a result of the Cardinals’ anemic offense. He punted 112 times in 2012, 21 more than the second-hardest-working man in the NFL punting business.

He’s punted 28 times this season, which means more than half of his kicks have been downed inside the 20 and 36 percent inside the 10.

This season, coach Bruce Arians has spent Mondays trying to explain what went wrong offensively the day before. That was true this week, too.

Until the offense can do more than “scratch some points out,” as Arians put it, the Cardinals will rely on defense and special teams.

That’s what they did last Sunday against the Panthers. A 56-yard punt by Zastudil from the Cardinals 29 contributed to Carolina starting a possession at their 21.

The defense sacked Cam Newton, and after a punt the Cardinals took over at their 46.

The offense didn’t do much but the Cardinals did get a field goal to tie the game at 3.

That’s scratching out points.

It isn’t attractive, and it probably won’t be enough to beat good teams. But it’s a big reason the Cardinals have more victories than 10 of the other 15 NFC teams.

What’s remarkable about Zastudil is that he missed half of the 2009 season and all of 2010 because of a severe knee problem. He was 32 and thinking that maybe his career was over when the Cardinals called in 2011.

Zastudil beat out Ben Graham for the job then and learned something in the process, too. Graham, who had played Australian Rules Football, was deadly at getting the ball to die deep in opponents’ territory.

He used the “Aussie kick,” which was brought to the NFL by former Chargers punter Darren Bennett. Zastudil watched how Graham did it and started to work on it.

“You drop the nose straight down and try to hit toward the bottom and middle of the ball,” Zastudil said.

The kick is even more effective when a team has a gunner with Bethel’s speed.

“Justin is one of the elite gunners in the league,” Zastudil said, “and the crazy thing is he’s getting better.”

Both Bethel and Zastudil know they aren’t going to receive much attention unless something goes wrong. Their names aren’t likely to show up in scoring summaries, but through five games, they have been the Cardinals’ most consistent offensive tool.

“I love doing what I do,” Zastudil said. “Coach Arians always says, ‘Know your role.’ I love doing my role. I’m just trying to get better. I still don’t think I’m hitting the ball exactly where I want to yet.”

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