November 18, 2020

Jon Ralph’s Mid Season Review

COMPLETE and utter domination can be fun too.

No one complained when Tiger Woods re-wrote most of golf’s record books or Roger Federer stormed to his first half-dozen Grand Slams. But Tiger’s Masters triumph last year was such compulsive viewing because of the struggle that had preceded it.

And Federer’s 20 slams take on a heightened legacy because of all those epic five-setters against his brilliant long-time opponent Rafael Nadal.

When Patrick Mahomes walked off Hard Rock Stadium this year as the Super Bowl MVP after leading his Kansas City Chiefs to a comeback victory over San Francisco, it was impossible to believe he was anything other than untouchable.

The new Tom Brady, destined for his own dynasty.

It still might happen – the Chiefs are 8-1 at this week’s bye and head coach Andy Reid this week inked a contract extension after Mahomes own half-a-billion dollar deal over summer. Yet 10 weeks into the NFL season it is apparent back-to-back Super Bowl victories will be anything other than a cakewalk.

Just this weekend the challengers massed their forces, and if you didn’t leap off your couch in euphoria as you witnessed it, you are doing something wrong. Since their four consecutive Super Bowl losses Buffalo has often been a below-500 laughing stock and yet on Monday morning they put their case forward.

Finally with an elite offence to match their marauding defence, they put those weapons on display in the final minute.

Quarterback Josh Allen marched Buffalo down the field against the Arizona Cardinals and showed why he is far more than a rusher with a cannon of an arm but no accuracy to match. He found Buffalo’s big off-season signing Stefon Diggs on a crossing route with a precise pass for the go-ahead touchdown.

With 34 seconds remaining, Buffalo were up 30-26, surely about to go 8-2, and had emerged as a worthy challenger to Kansas.

Not so fast.

Arizona’s Kyler Murray might not be Mahomes, but earlier in the contest he had become the first quarterback in the modern era to rush for five touchdowns in as many games. Now he used an arm built as a baseball prodigy to hit Andy Isabella, DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald as the seconds ticked down to at least get into Hail Mary territory.

Then came the impossible, as he hurtled the pigskin into the end zone and let Hopkins go to work.

The Cardinals’ own off-season signing reprised Calvin “Megatron” Johnson’s heroics by beating three opponents, rising above the pack as time expired to snare the winning touchdown.

Can Arizona win it? They are only 6-3 in a packed NFL West with the same record as the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks, but with Hopkins having a point to prove after his trade from Houston and Murray’s dancing feet, anything is possible.

What about Pittsburgh, you say?

They only beat up on the Cincinnati Bengals, who for all of No.1 overall pick Joe Burrow’s impressive play in his debut season are still 2-6-1. It was their 11th consecutive win over the Bengals and yet Pittsburgh remains the only unbeaten team in the NFL and just the 21st team in the Super Bowl era to hit 9-0.

As has become the case in the NFL, it’s not if you get COVID or have to quarantine, it’s when.

Ben Roethlisberger spent the week on the COVID reserve list after close contact, didn’t practice and yet after being cleared to play threw four more touchdown passes. He has 22 touchdowns and only four picks for the year, with wide receiver JuJu Smith Schuster warming to the party along with emerging star Chase Claypool.

The defence is elite _ as usual _ and while Big Ben stays vertical after his own injury issues, everything is possible.

Many NFL players have an inverse relationship with my terrible fantasy team Stafford’s Sidearm. I picked up Claypool off waivers when he was a deep target, sat him on my bench and then dropped him the week before his extraordinary four-touchdown breakout game.

So it goes with Tampa Bay and their legendary tight end Rob Gronkowski.

After 12 fantasy points in five weeks with his new team after crossing from New England I dropped him.

Understandable, really.

It goes without saying that Gronkowski has now peeled off touchdowns in four of his last five games, the latest in a 46-23 bounce-back victory over Carolina.

Tampa Bay – and Tom Brady – were wiped 38-3 last week by a New Orleans team that finally had star wide out Michael Thomas back after injury and behaviour issues. This week Tampa Bay rolled back into contention on the same day New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees broke as many as five ribs, set to be sidelined for weeks to come.

So it’s that kind of season, one where any time you get ahead of yourself you get crushed.

Two weeks ago the Seahawks were surely headed to the playoffs and Russell Wilson was an MVP candidate. Now after consecutive losses to the LA Rams and the Bills quarterback Wilson is in a rut and the Seahawks are battling with the 6-3 Rams and Arizona in the playoffs race.

So what does it all mean?

We should be blessed we have got so much football in, aware Mahomes’ gifts have him right where he wants to be on his march to world domination.

But Tiger Woods said that just before his back went – and his reputation with it – so if Mahomes is to lift the trophy again this year let’s hope it takes a victory of epic proportions to get him across the line.