December 07, 2022

Jon Ralph – Count Down To Phoenix 2023

SPORT has a remarkable capacity to kick you in the plums and inspire you with its glorious gifts all in a single 24-hour time span.

On Monday morning as Cleveland paraded its new quarterback Deshaun Watson after an 11-game ban for sexual misconduct allegations it was possible to believe he was representative of everything wrong with the code.

Despite an avalanche of allegations over his conduct with more than 20 women he had hired as massage consultants there were no charges pressed and no capacity for the league to suspend him indefinitely.

So there he was, in Round 13, finally spearheading a Cleveland team that was utterly impotent in attack yet still eked out a 27-14 win over the hapless Houston Texans.

The scene was so insidious – Watson in the winner’s circle once more – that even the Texans owner’s wife Hannah McNair turned her back on Watson as he approached her husband.

Like so many other codes the NFL is grappling with its own ideas on justice and punishment and yet Watson and his $230 million contract will continue to be the code’s dirty secret.

So far, so depressing.

And yet in a season as wide open as any in recent memory if another delightfully bonkers weekend didn’t erase that stain it at least showed us why we bother.

At Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco the unheralded back-up quarterback Brock Purdy was leading the 49ers to a preposterous win over white-hot Miami that still seemed like a pyrrhic victory.

Tagged as this year’s Mr Irrelevant – the 262nd and final pick in the NFL draft – the Iowa State graduate looked rock solid when replacing starter Jimmy Garoppolo, himself a back-up to Trey Lance.

Lance is injured and done for the year, Garoppolo’s injury was quickly diagnosed as a season-ending broken foot, and while the 33-17 victory kept a five-win streak alive the 8-4 49ers cannot win the Super Bowl with him under centre.

Yet head coach Kyle Shanahan is going to have a heck of a lot of fun trying whether with Purdy or a fourth replacement for the year.

It wasn’t even close to the biggest surprise of the day.

Joe Burrow might be the NFL’s Mr Cool, a cigar-smoking, swaggering No.1 overall pick who took his Cincinnati Bengals all the way to the Super Bowl last year.

But by day’s end he held a 3-0 record over Tom Brady’s heir apparent in Patrick Mahomes after an accomplished 27-24 victory.

The Bengals didn’t flinch as they dropped to a 0-2 start to the season, didn’t worry when brilliant second-year wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase battled mid-season injuries, have seamlessly elevated backup running back Samaje Perine given starter Joe Mixon’s concussion battles.

Now with Mixon returning next week and the Bengals climbing to 8-4 in the AFC North who would dispute their claims for a deep playoff run again?

Not when Chase is back to his phenomenal best, when Tee Higgins has emerged as a lethal weapon as his wide receiving foil, when the defence was good enough to limit Mahomes to only two passes of 20 or more yards.

With six victories in the past seven weeks and AFC North challenger Baltimore dealing with a fresh injury to quarterback Lamar Jackson no one is quitting on the Bengals’ hopes.

Las Vegas can’t win it, and they probably can’t make the playoffs from 5-7.

And yet they haven’t lost since Derek Carr broke down on the podium explaining their latest perplexing defeat three weeks back.

A team stacked with offensive options after they sold the farm to bring in Green Bay’s Davante Adams is suddenly clicking as Carr and his close friend torched their latest victim on a three-match tear.

This time it was the Los Angeles Chargers, as wide receiver Adams did as he pleased with eight catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

Behind Kansas (9-3) and the Chargers (6-6) in the AFC West, at the very least the Raiders have become must-watch as one the AFC’s most dangerous floaters.

Dallas definitely won’t win the Super Bowl, because they are non-winners.

They have been since their last Super Bowl in 1995, anyway, despite all the bluff and posturing and empty promises from their owner and resident mouthpiece Jerry Jones.

They surely can’t win, yet to see them light up the admittedly hapless Indianapolis Colts – from 21-19 up early in the last quarter to an eventual 51-19 licking – was a sight to behold.

Like the Bengals they have their full offensive arsenal fit and on display – from their spectacular running back committee in Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott to a deep wide receiving corps with CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallop.

Why wouldn’t quarterback Dak Prescott be in dominant career-best form with those options on display, even as the Cowboys push to add Odell Beckham to their offensive options.

Downhill skiers?

Not at all, with the best defence in football that seemed to turn over the Colts at will in that 33-point last quarter.

So Dallas can win it with a 9-2 record beaten only by the 11-1 Eagles in the NFC East, but won’t.

Amid all that chaos an improved Buffalo side beat the Patriots on Thursday night with quarterback Josh Allen’s troublesome elbow looking improved.

Then as the heavyweights lost around them they went from the fifth seed to the first seed, crucial for potential homeground advantage through January.

To top it all off a stagnant and hesitant Tampa Bay were 16-3 down on Monday night football against a New Orleans team that made the Tom Brady’s Buccaneers their plaything in a pair of recent defeats.

At 5-6, the newly separated and newly mortal Brady looked to have extinguished that final flame on any hopes of a Super Bowl victory to end his storied career.

Tom being Tom, he marched Tampa Bay down the field for a late touchdown and with 16 seconds on the clock found Chris Godwin for the go-ahead touchdown.

It was wiped with a holding call, yet it only ratcheted up the tension.

And yet with another added layer of difficulty and three seconds on the clock Brady found Rachaad White to cap another remarkable comeback, the 44th of his career.

The throw was a leaping, pivoting effort to release White into space for only the second comeback of 13 points or more down in his spectacular career.

Brady’s 15 of 21 for 125 yards was no imposing stat line but at 6-6, the Buccaneers have a heartbeat.

And on a weekend when the GOAT gave us one more display of what we will miss next year, the path to the Super Bowl looks as confusing as ever in what promises to be one hell of a ride.

 

JON RALPH

Sports Reporter

 

 

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