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

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.


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.


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.”


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, 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.


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 52 min 2 sec ago

India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.