NFL Opening Weekend: Testing ties, ace Aaron Rodgers and brilliant Tom Brady

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The $134 million man — Aaron Rodgers showed exactly why he is worth the biggest deal in NFL history. (AFP)
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Updated 12 September 2018
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NFL Opening Weekend: Testing ties, ace Aaron Rodgers and brilliant Tom Brady

  • Aaron Rodgers showed the Packers exactly what they had missed in the second half of last season with a brilliant showing against the Bears.
  • The Browns finally had something to cheer about, but it was not a win.

LONDON: The greatest sporting show in the US kicked off this weekend. Here Arab News examines the talking points of the first week of NFL action and looks at what we learned.

EVEN AN INJURED RODGERS IS UNSTOPPABLE

The NFL is at its best when its stars are on fire. And one of its biggest, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, produced a masterclass in a pulsating game of gridiron against bitter rivals Chicago Bears. When the Bears’ defense fell on top of Rodgers in the second quarter, Wisconsinites must have feared the worst.  The Packers’ $134 million star man was taken off on a stretcher and the ghosts of last season, when Rodgers’ mid-season injury cost his side a run at the playoffs, threatened to haunt them once again. But the measure of Rodgers’ brilliance was on show in the fourth quarter with the Packers trailing 20-3. He defied the odds to return after treatment and set up a 39-yard touchdown to Geronimo Allison, before driving for a second score to drag Green Bay back into the game. When he picked out Randall Cobb for a game-winning 75-yard catch-and-score, he reminded us why he will always be remembered as one of the game’s legends. Magic stuff.



BUFFALO BILLS BACK TO EARTH WITH A BUMP

The unluckiest team in the NFL (we will never forget 1990-1993) looked like they might have turned a corner last season when they made the Playoffs for the first time in 18 seasons, eventually being hard done by in a 10-3 defeat to Jacksonville. That offered promise for 2018, but this season’s opening day 47-3 defeat to the impressive Baltimore Ravens brought Bills fans back down to Earth with a reality-checking bump. It looks like yet another season of disappointment for fans of New York’s “forgotten franchise.”



AMERICANS HATE A TIED GAME

Cleveland Browns fans are a hardy bunch. You must be to support a team that lost all 16 games in 2017, and only won its first game of the season before in the penultimate game. One win from 32 games over two seasons is tough going. Hope was high that the Browns could finally break the losing streak against the Pittsburgh Steelers on home turf. They did, but only by tying the game. It was a contest that the Browns really should have won, given the number of turnovers they forced, yet somehow they nearly lost it in overtime and had to settle for a share of the spoils. More telling, though, is the consternation from fans around the league who bemoaned the lack of further overtime periods to get an eventual winner. Sometimes, two teams cannot be separated on the day — something lost on the majority of US sport fans.



TOM BRADY COULD CARRY ON FOR YEARS

Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback ever to play the game, showed this weekend why he could probably beat half of the NFL on his own. And for years to come, too. Playing without his big-name wide receivers — Brandon Cooks, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman — the evergreen 41-year-old outclassed Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, throwing for 277 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ 27-20 win in Foxborough. Having Rob Gronkowski back into the offensive line probably helped, but Brady just seems to get better and better with age. Do not bet against him winning a sixth Super Bowl this season.

 


Mahrez and Mane duel in rematch for Africa Cup of Nations glory

Updated 18 July 2019
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Mahrez and Mane duel in rematch for Africa Cup of Nations glory

  • Algerian star Mahrez was part of the Manchester City team that edged out Mane’s Liverpool for the English title last season
CAIRO: Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane will renew their Premier League rivalry for a second time in Egypt, with Africa Cup of Nations immortality awaiting the victor of Friday’s final between Algeria and Senegal.
Algerian star Mahrez was part of the Manchester City team that edged out Mane’s Liverpool for the English title last season, grabbing a pivotal goal on the final day of the campaign.
Liverpool standout Mane, however, is attempting to fulfill his “wildest dream” as one of just a handful of Africans to win both the UEFA Champions League and Cup of Nations.
For the marquee name in a Senegalese side ranked top of the continent, and a surprising 46 places above Algeria, the ride to the final for Mane and the Teranga Lions has encountered its share of roadbumps.
Two missed Mane spot-kicks, a group stage loss to Algeria, and the loss of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to a broken finger have tested Senegal’s resolve in their quest for the Holy Grail of African football.
Coach Aliou Cisse is on a mission for personal redemption. He was the skipper of the side beaten on penalties in the 2002 final, with his missed kick handing the title to Cameroon.
“Having lost that final, I still have it on my mind,” said former Paris Saint-Germain and Birmingham City midfielder Cisse.
“What motivated me to become a coach was to be able to take Senegal to the final. My players told me they would do better than my generation.”
A maiden Cup of Nations for his country is a prize for which Mane readily admitted he would trade in last month’s Champions League title.
“I’m ready to even swap a Champions League for a Cup of Nations. Going to Dakar with the trophy would be extraordinary. It would be my wildest dream,” Mane told France Football ahead of the competition.
Standing in the way, however, is an Algerian outfit that has undergone a remarkable transformation since the arrival of Djamel Belmadi as coach a year ago.
The Desert Foxes failed miserably in World Cup qualifying, but the steely Belmadi has healed divisions in the squad to lead them to the brink of a first Cup of Nations triumph since 1990.
“To the Algerian people, I want to say I’m not a politician, not a miracle worker or a wizard, but that we will fight like we have fought to this point,” Belmadi said after the semifinal win over Nigeria.
Algeria are the leading scorers in Egypt with 12 goals, including Mahrez’s spectacular last-gasp free-kick against Nigeria, and haven’t trailed at all in the tournament.
“Algeria are so well organized, so compact, so ‘Guardiolaesque’ in the way they recover the ball,” opined experienced international coach Claude Le Roy. “Perhaps it is the influence of Mahrez.”
The Algeria captain has been in fine form for his country here, brimming with confidence after helping City to the domestic treble.
“We are very happy to be in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations because it is something very special,” said Mahrez.
“It was our goal to do it for the people and for our families. We know they are behind us all the way. It’s my dream to win the Cup of Nations.”
“It’s going to be another battle against Senegal,” he added. “We’ve been very good in this competition. The (Nigeria) match has given us more confidence for the final and we’re capable of winning it.”
Their hopes will boosted by the absence of Senegal’s defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly, whose yellow card in the semifinal victory over Tunisia cruelly ruled the Napoli star out of the final.
“It hurts to not be able to play. But I will be beside my brothers to write history,” tweeted Koulibaly, the cornerstone of a defense breached just once so far.