Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ebner’s blocked punt helped turn the tide

Eric Rueb
FOXBORO — It’s one of the most exciting plays in football and the New England Patriots have had a record amount of them this season.
But Sunday’s blocked punt that helped ignite the Patriots attempted comeback in their 23-17 loss wasn’t something special teams ace Matthew Slater was ready to celebrate.
“You can’t get too excited about it unfortunately,” Slater said. “Because we didn’t get the result we wanted.”
Results aside, what Slater and the rest of the special teams crew is doing this season is something special. Down 23-7 with no offense in sight, the special teams ignited the comeback when Nate Ebner blocked Dustin Colquitt’s punt, giving the Patriots the ball at the KC 19 yard line. Two plays later, Brandon Bolden scored on a 10-yard run.
“We take pride in every aspect of special teams, whether it be a rush situation or hold up situation,” Ebner said. “Whenever we get an opportunity to go out and execute something we worked on all week, we try and take advantage of it.”
It was the fourth blocked punt of the season for the Patriots, which broke the team record of three set in 1986. The NFL record is six set by the 1990 Kansas City Chiefs and the last team with four blocked punts in a season was the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s our goal is to make big plays every week,” Slater said. “You have guys on this team that are here strictly because of special teams, myself included. We feel we have a responsibility to leave a mark on the game.”
Ebner is the fourth different player to block a punt. JC Jackson had the first one against Buffalo that Slater scored on; against the New York Giants it was Chase Winovich scoring on a block by Bolden and against Dallas, Slater blocked one that set up the Patriots first TD of the game.
Sunday, Ebner came through the line to get a clean block on Colquitt as the ball squirted out toward the Patriots sideline at the 19. The play didn’t happen by chance.
“Coaches had a good scheme this week and everybody put a lot of pressure on them, got a little gap and came free,” Ebner said. “It could have been any one of us.”
“Certainly as that play was developing, I felt Nate was going to have a great chance,” Slater said. “The blocking scheme, the way we talked about it during the week, played out a certain way and I felt like Nate would have a chance to make a great play.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has stressed the importance of all three phases and as good as the defense has been this fall, the special teams can make a claim it’s been the best of the three and the blocked points are only a part of it.
“Obviously you’ve got to have some good fortunate. I think things go your way when you block punts, but we really work hard at what we do. We take a lot of pride in our craft,” Slater said. “Nate, Justin [Bethel] and myself, we spend a lot of time with our coaches trying to look at film and see if we can find looks we can take advantage of and we did that tonight.”
But even with their success, the goal Slater and the rest of his unit wanted to achieve Sunday didn’t happen.
“As one of the leaders of the group I’m proud of the way we played,” Slater said, “but you want to win the football game so that’s all that matters.”

Ferentz made the grade against Chiefs in first career start at center

New England Patriots offensive linemen James Ferentz (66) and Ted Karras (75) provides block protection for quarterback Jarrett Stidham, left rear, as Carolina Panthers defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (91) rushes the line in the second half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

PUBLISHED: December 9, 2019 at 5:22 pm | UPDATED: December 9, 2019 at 5:54 pm

James Ferentz made a “competitive” showing in his first NFL start at center in Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick made that observation during his Monday morning conference call at Gillette Stadium.

Ferentz was flanked by veteran guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason and lined up opposite Chiefs’ tackles Chris Jones and Derrick Nnadi, both of whom produced marginal numbers. Jones had three tackles with a sack while Nnadi netted two tackles.

“James has done a good job for us,” said Belichick. “Glad we have James, he stepped in there and gave us a game and a half of very competitive play.”
Ferentz, a 6-2, 300-pound, journeyman began training camp as a practice squad interior lineman behind incumbent center David Andrews and back-up Ted Karras.

Andrews was put on injured reserved in the preseason with blood clots in his lungs. Karras started 12 straight games before going down with a knee injury early in the third quarter in Patriots 28-22 loss to the Houston Texans on Dec. 1. Ferentz replaced Karras and finished the game.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Former Giants DL Markus Kuhn broadcasting NFL games to Germany

Markus Kuhn of the Giants warms up before playing against the Jets at MetLife Stadium on Saturday, August 18, 2012. Credit: Jim McIsaac

By Tom  @TomRock_NewsdayUpdated December 7, 2019 4:59 PM
Seid ihr bereit für etwas football?
If you can understand that question (translation: Are you ready for some football?) and answer in the affirmative, then Markus Kuhn is your guy.
The former Giants defensive lineman who once even scored a touchdown in a regular-season game has become one of the main voices of the NFL. In Germany and neighboring countries such as Austria and Switzerland, anyway.

Giants defensive tackle Markus Kuhn looks on from the field during the second day of minicamp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center on Wednesday, June 17, 2015.  Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Kuhn and fellow German-born NFL player Sebastian Vollmer broadcast some of the biggest games from the U.S. back to Europe for the streaming service DAZN, covering and in some instances introducing the sport to about 20 millions fans there each week.
They’ve covered Super Bowls. They’re covering this weekend’s Patriots-Chiefs game. They cover every Monday Night Football game. And on Monday, they’ll be covering the Giants and the Eagles.
“We’re obviously not learned broadcasters or commentators,” Kuhn said. “We’re just able to give a new fan base a completely different perspective to the game. The way we do our broadcast is obviously very different than the American ones.”
Right down to the fact that, usually, they aren’t even at the games. While they do travel for on-site broadcasts of playoff games and will be in Foxborough for the Patriots-Chiefs tilt, their Monday night show comes from a small studio in Miami. There, Kuhn and Vollmer sit in front of a bank of television screens and talk football in their native language.
More importantly, they talk in a style that a German sports audience can relate.
“We know certain background stories of the players that are more interesting to our fans than maybe saying if they were playing cover-2 or what exactly was the run scheme behind the play or the name of the blitz,” Kuhn said. “That’s maybe for fans at the next level. We’re just explaining the players’ background stories and from our experience we can explain the feelings of how it is to actually be an American football player. I think that’s what comes across in our broadcasts really nicely.”
The NFL loves it, and Kuhn and Vollmer are a big part of the league’s recent efforts to push into the German-speaking market.

Former Giants player Markus Kuhn, right, and former Patriots player Sebastian Vollmer, left, are now broadcasting NFL games back to Germany, one of the NFL's priority countries in terms of growing the sport internationally. They will call the Giants-Eagles game on Monday Night (Dec. 9, 2019). Credit: Markus Kuhn

“Having those guys definitely helps,” said Henry Hodgson, NFL vice president of international marketing and fan development. “It helps fans and potential fans see that it isn’t just a foreign sport and that some of their own, people they can identify with perhaps more easily like Markus and Sebastian, are involved in it. It adds a level of expertise to the broadcast teams for our partners there.”
American football always has had firm footing in Germany. Many believe it stems from the large U.S. military presence there (Hall of Famer Michael Strahan spent time on an army base in Germany during his childhood). The GFL, or German Football League, is one of the top semi-pro organizations outside North America in terms of both organization and talent (it’s where Kuhn got his start with the sport). When NFL Europe folded about a decade ago, five of the last six remaining teams were based in Germany.
But it wasn’t until recently that the league put renewed efforts into growing the sport there.
“We knew we had a latent fan base, we just hadn’t done much to serve it until two or three years ago, when we really got back into the market and tried to reignite things both with our TV partners and then with some of the other initiatives we’ve done,” Hodgson said. “Germany has been a great story for us.”
Kuhn is one of the storytellers.
It’s not something the 33-year-old ever envisioned for himself. He came to the United States to play football at North Carolina State, was drafted by the Giants, for whom he played for four seasons, spent some time with the Patriots, then was out of the league. In 2017 he announced his retirement. From playing, anyway.
“For me, being in the NFL and making it that far was very unrealistic with my background and how I was introduced to it,” he said. “But this is the sport I fell in love with and New York is what I consider my home. My wife works and lives here as well. So it made sense for me after I was done playing to move back to New York.”
He enrolled at Columbia University (he received a master’s degree in sports management this spring), but found he was being asked to appear in a lot of German-speaking broadcasts. Usually he was just brought in as an “expert” for a few words or some analysis, but that grew into more regular platforms. Soon he and Vollmer, the former Patriots offensive lineman, were broadcasting Patriots preseason games back to Germany. With a hunger for such programming, that blossomed into them covering all of the Monday night games. They’ve been doing that since last season.
So he flies to Miami from New York every Monday, covers the games with Vollmer, records a German-language podcast with Vollmer on Tuesday, then flies back home.
As for covering the Giants, Kuhn makes no apologies for any allegiances that come out in his coverage.
“Being a former Giant I was probably a little bit biased and not completely independent,” he said of his take on the Giants-Cowboys game on a Monday night last month. “You hear the fans saying ‘Markus is very biased!’ But then the same thing when we broadcast a Patriots game, Sebastian is a little bit more biased. We are not independent commentators, we are former players, we are also fans of the game, so especially when the Giants play I am obviously rooting for them to win the game and that comes across in the broadcast. But it’s also part of us being unique in our jobs that we have teams that we like and we have teams that we don’t like. Maybe some viewers or listeners don’t really like that, but I think overall it comes across as funny.”
The two players routinely jab at each other. Vollmer will tout his two Super Bowl rings he won with the Patriots. Kuhn will brag about being the first – and still only – German player to score an NFL touchdown. They tangle about offense versus defense. Kuhn handles more of the play-by-play, but essentially their booth consists of two color commentators rather than the traditional pairings that American audiences are used to.
“The way that sports are presented in Germany is a little different than in the U.S.,” Hodgson said. “It’s a little bit more lighthearted so I know they have a lot of fun doing it and having spent time with the two of them together they have a great relationship. That camaraderie and fun the two guys have comes out in their broadcast partnership when they are in the booth together.”
So what makes Kuhn the unlikely yet ideal person for this job?
“I’ve been an outsider to the sport, so my perspective to the sport is completely different,” Kuhn said. “That’s why I can explain it to a new fan base in a completely different way. I know what interests them a little more compared to someone who grew up with the sport. I know that the things I first thought about football were very unique and different.
“Who can really tell about the sport better than somebody from Germany who has lived the American football life?”

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Opinion: In winning when Lamar Jackson wasn't at his best, Ravens show they have something special


BALTIMORE — John Harbaugh didn’t hesitate for a second. 
The down and distance markers, the ball placement and time remaining all represented the dire situation in which the coach and his players found themselves: fourth-and-1 from their own 44-yard line. Four minutes, 39 seconds left. Tie score and a seven-game winning streak on the line.
The Baltimore Ravens coach needed no debate about the right call.
“We knew we were going to go for it on fourth-and-1 at that point, if we got to that situation,” Harbaugh said. "That was already decided.”
Of course, Lamar Jackson got the call.
And of course, the player dubbed by teammates and opponents alike as the most electrifying player in the league delivered.
He took the snap, ducked in behind right guard Marshal Yanda and picked up the yard needed for the first down, plus two more. In so doing, he preserved the Ravens’ chances for a game-winning drive.
Nine plays later, Justin Tucker nailed a 49-yard field goal, and delivered Baltimore to a 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
“We have a good offensive line,” Harbaugh said. “We have a quarterback that can handle it, and the offensive line again, as much as anything.”
The Ravens picked up their franchise-record eighth consecutive victory and improved to 10-2 on the season. And so continues the campaign that could build toward a championship-level climax. 
Jackson delivered late-game heroics, but for once, Baltimore needed more than his world class athleticism throughout the game. The second-year pro needed his teammates to help compensate for his mid-game struggles. And they obliged. 
On a cold December day when the 49ers' vaunted defense and torrential downpours hampered Jackson’s efforts, the Ravens showed why they see themselves as special.  Meanwhile, the 49ers join a growing list of playoff squads that have fallen prey to the Baltimore, joining the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams. Next?
“Gosh, this is special,” Yanda told USA TODAY Sports with the home locker room emptying out but still abuzz. “Every game is different and you take it one game at a time. … It’s tough to win back-to-back-to-back, and we’ve won eight in a row now and that’s just special. You’re grateful, and everybody works hard and you want to do your best, and we’re playing winning football on Sunday. I’m just having a blast being a part of it.”
This is Year 13 for Yanda, a seven-time Pro Bowl lineman and two-time All-Pro selection. He's played on seven playoff teams, including the Super Bowl XLVII-winning squad in 2012.
But he also has experienced some lean years, like the 5-11 campaigns in 2007 and 2015. And he endured that five-season stretch from 2013-17, where Baltimore reached the postseason just once.
So he said he knows “special” when he sees it. And this Ravens team has that quality, he insists. 
He points to the way players have pulled together with a shared vision. He notes the complementary football the Ravens have played. The offense picks up the slack for the defense, and then the defense returns the favor by erasing rare transgressions. Then, the special teams units top it off.
“In all three phases, you’ve got to have everybody’s back,” Yanda said. “You’ve got to have stops on defense, and we need to stay on the field.”
Sunday represented the kind of all-hands-on-deck performance of which Yanda spoke. 
An offense that entered the game leading the NFL in scoring struggled against a San Francisco defense that ranked second only to New England in points allowed. 
Until Sunday, when the Ravens had to punt on their first possession of the game, Baltimore had enjoyed 21 straight Jackson-led possessions (four games) without a punt. In another rarity, Jackson was stripped of the ball at the end of a 14-yard third-quarter run, for his first lost fumble of the season. 
Jackson also struggled throwing the water-logged ball. Passes sailed high at times, and behind receivers other times. 
“Horrible,” Jackson said after the game. “Oh, man. I was throwing passes behind receivers. … It was ticking me off. A lot of passes were getting away from me. A lot of those, we would’ve had a lot more success if I was converting completions. It messed with me a lot.”
But the fumble angered Jackson even more.
“I was mad since the fumble. I was mad the whole time,” said Jackson, who finished with 206 total yards (105 passing, 101 rushing). “I put our defense back out there and that was a great offense. I didn’t want to give Jimmy (Garoppolo) the ball. They were going to score, and I was hot.”
Baltimore’s defense did hold the 49ers to a field goal after that turnover. But the unit also had its struggles, especially in surrendering 146 yards and a touchdown to running back Raheem Mostert on 19 carries.
The defense did, however, further redeem itself with a defining stand when defensive end Chris Wormley batted down a Garoppolo pass on fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 35-yard line with 6:33 left. 
Two minutes later, the Ravens faced their own fourth-and-1 call, from only 9 yards further upfield, and everyone on offense relished Harbaugh’s call to go for it. 
“You want the game on your back,” Yanda said. “You get the call and it starts with Lamar, but we all want it. It’s a confidence thing, and we understand we have to do our jobs at a high level and give our offense a chance to stay on the field."
LIke the defense before it, Baltimore’s offense delivered and then made way for the field goal unit after running the clock down to three seconds. Then, all of the Ravens' groups emerged victorious.
“That’s a winning football team. We’re not going to blow them out the way they’ve been playing,” Yanda said of the 10-2 49ers. “We knew it was going to be a championship-level fight pretty much.”
That it was. 
Four regular season games remain before the postseason, where the Ravens hope they find themselves on the winning end of more well-rounded, championship-level fights.
“Having this success, it’s special and doesn’t happen a lot of times,” Yanda said. “I’m living it up. This opportunity … I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Detroit Lions TE T.J. Hockenson breaks record vs. Cowboys

by Don Drysdale

November 17, 2019

On Sunday, against the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions rookie TE T.J. Hockenson hauled in a 6-yard pass from quarterback Jeff Driskel in the first quarter.

With the catch, Hockenson broke a record as he became the first tight end in Lions franchise history to catch at least one pass in each of his first 10 career games.

Congrats, T.J.!!!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Women's basketball great Katie Smith speaks to Atlantic City students

 GUY GARGAN Staff Writer
 Nov 15, 2019


ATLANTIC CITY — The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball championships will be held in March at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, but the benefit to the local community has already begun.
Former WNBA seven-time All-Star and coach Katie Smith and current Monmouth University women’s basketball players spoke to students at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School Complex on Friday.
Their appearance was part of the MAAC Gives Back community outreach program, which pairs Atlantic City students with men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes and coaches from the 11 MAAC schools.
Smith, 45, a former Ohio State University star, played 15 seasons in the WNBA, retiring in 2013. She won WNBA championships with the Detroit Shock in 2006 and 2008. She retired as the all-time scoring leader in women’s professional basketball history with 7,885 points and was second in WNBA scoring with 6,452 points. She won Olympic gold medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008. She was head coach of the WNBA’s New York Liberty for two seasons.
“With the MAAC Tournament coming to town, they’re really trying to engage the community and get people involved and also give back,” Smith said.
“I was able to say a few words and be there and engage with the students, and to share about what they can be a part of if they work hard, and hopefully spark something in the kids. They can follow their dreams, working hard and having success in their lives, if they just continue to do the day-to-day. They can be like the ladies who were in the front from Monmouth, who will also be in Atlantic City in March.”
Smith said she started playing basketball in the fifth grade on an all-boys team.
“I played a lot of other sports, and ballet and tap,” Smith said. “But sports definitely stuck with me, and I fell in love with it. Whether it’s music, sports, art, academics or your school work, the reason we can do things that we love is if we do the work in school and make sure we take care of that first.”
The MAAC men’s and women’s basketball championship will be held March 10 to 14 at Boardwalk Hall. The conference’s teams include Canisius, Fairfield, Iona, Manhattan, Marist, Monmouth, Niagara, Quinnipiac, Rider, Saint Peter’s and Siena.
“We have 22 teams, 11 men’s and 11 women’s, and we’ll be here in March,” MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor said. “We think it’s going to be special to have all these athletes in one place, and for the community to come out and support it. They’re going to see some great basketball.”
Ensor was also with Smith and the Monmouth players at the MLK School.
“We’re really working to engage the Atlantic City community in staying in school,” Ensor said. “They have a program called Never Be Absent, NBA, and we’re trying to enforce that. By never being absent, they can come to the MAAC Tournament as our guest. Additionally, they’ll have the opportunity to advance in school and someday perhaps get a scholarship to play in a MAAC school.”

Sancho, Hancock, & Coon Collect Golds At ’19 Bill Farrell Memorial


NEW YORK CITY — To cap the first tournament of the 2019-20 season for US athletes, four of its best pulled through with gold — although at 60 kilograms, Ryan Mango‘s (Army/WCAP) victory was earned in the most unique fashion possible.

The final round of the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial began at 6:00pm ET and aired live in the US on FLOWrestling.

Mango was matched up against 2019 World/Army teammate Max Nowry. Given the pair is already qualified for the 2020 US Olympic Trials — and face off on a daily basis in the WCAP wrestling room — they decided to save the combat for another time. Which is why when both took the mat and squared off, they played Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Mango came out on top.
From then on out, it was business as usual.
Alex Sancho (67 kg, Army/WCAP) dug immediately against Hayanobu Shimzo (JPN), at one instance clamping over the top and causing Shimzo to jump back in pain. After they reset, the hand-fiighting resumed with Sancho working off a lead right leg scanning for positions. The first passivity/par terre chance was all his. From top, Sancho locked for a side lift and hoisted it up. Shimzo twisted and contorted to avoid danger; so, Sancho adjusted his lock and attempted to drive forward instead. Sancho was credited with two but Japan challenged. Following the review, the score was adjusted to 4-0 in Sancho’s favor.

Shimzo upped his intensity level just a bit to start the second. Sancho wrangled a two-on-one and looked to straighten before the hold disappeared. Eventually, the passivity fairy rang, this time for Japan. Shimzo locked for a gut before finding his feet for a lift, but Sancho defended. Shimzo went on the attack with time becoming a factor, and nearly collected a step-out point towards the end only to have the tables turned on him at the last possible second. In the end, it was a 5-1 decision for Sancho, who clinched his third Bill Farrell Memorial tournament win along with a spot in the 2020 Olympic Trials.
’19 Open runner-up Spenser Woods (NYAC/OTS) wanted to start hot and use his athleticism, though it was Hassan Mohamed (EGY) who made the bigger first impact. Soon after the whistle, Mohamed managed to launch Woods for five. Another exchange after the proceeding reset saw Mohamed scan for another attempt and earn a step-out. But gradually, Woods began finding his rhythm. He was more commanding and confident in the tie-ups, and looked to be the fresher athlete. A step-out put the NMU rep on the board just before the end of the first to cut his deficit to 6-1.

More jockeying for position by both cracked open the second, and Mohamed came close to another step-out point. This time, Woods was ready, and he deftly circled away from the boundary to re-engage. But the pace grinded to a halt. The more Woods started coming on, the more Mohamed was in survival mode. No further points were scored, thus providing Mohamed with a 6-1 victory.
G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg, Sunkist) had himself a willing participant in the form of Ahmed Hassan (EGY) — and he put that fact to good use. Hassan went for a throw, Hancock countered and turned it into his own four at the line, and took with him an additional point for the step-out. A similar sequence unfolded. Hassan went in on Hancock again, only to be taken down. Following one more restart, it was all over. Hancock brought Hassan into his clutches coming out of an exchange, put him to his back, and the signal for the fall arrived in quick succession. The win gives Hancock his second Bill Farrell Memorial gold (2016).

At heavyweight, ’18 World silver Adam Coon (130 kg, NYAC/Cliff Keen) didn’t need much time to dispose of Jacob Mitchell (Army/WCAP). Coon’s gutwrench, which he deployed with what seemed like an extra touch of viciousness on this evening, is a weapon that is continuing to develop and wound up becoming responsible for six of the nine points he needed to seal this one up. Just over two minutes into the first, and that was it — Coon with his first Bill Farrell Memorial victory since ’15.

Alan Vera (87 kg, NYAC) and 2009 World bronze Aleksandr Kikiniov (BLR) combined for a highly-anticipated bout that was big on positional tactics, but not points. Vera received the first passive chance of the contest and came up empty. Kikinov got a point back in the second, but was then knocked for a caution-and-two for “negative wrestling”, though it was white-paddled. Shortly thereafter, Kikiniov was banged for passive. This time, Vera took advantage of par terre and rotated one gutwrench to all-of-the-sudden surge ahead 4-1, which capped the scoring and the bout.

Stay tuned tomorrow for additional notes and insights from the Bill Farrell Memorial. 


November 15 — New York, New York


60 kg: Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP) def. Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) via RPS
67 kg: Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP) def. Hayanobu Shimzu (JPN) 5-1
77 kg: Hassan Mohamed (EGY) def. Spencer Woods (NYAC/OTS) 6-1
87 kg: Alan Vera (NYAC) def. Aleksandr Kikinov (BLR) 4-1
97 kg: G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist) def. Ahmed Hassan (EGY) via fall
130 kg: Adam Coon (NYAC/Cliff Keen) def. Jacob Mitchell (Army/WCAP) 9-0, TF


60 kg: Sammy Jones (NYAC/OTS) def. Matt Schmitt (WV) 8-0, TF
67 kg: Nolan Baker (USOPTC) def. Calvin Germinaro (Minnesota Storm) via fall
77 kg: Corey Hope (NYAC) def. Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS) 7-0
87 kg: Chandler Rogers (UA) def. Satoki Mukai (JPN) via fall
97 kg: Taichi Oka (JPN) def. Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP) 2-1
130 kg: Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP) def. Bryson McGowan (UA) 7-4

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