FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

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You may well have to wait a very long time until you see a match as exciting and thrilling as the 54-51 nail-biter between the Rams and Chiefs. (AFP)
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Updated 20 November 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

  • Saints once again show why they are serious Super Bowl contenders.
  • Unlucky Alex Smith suffers a horror injury.

LONDON: This is the time of year that can either make or break a team’s regular season. Are they headed for the playoffs or are they set to be on holiday in January? Here is what we learned after week 11 of the NFL.

RAMS AND CHIEFS SERVE UP A CLASSIC

Where to start analyzing Monday night’s epic in Los Angeles? It was certainly one of the best games of gridiron I have ever seen. From the first kick-off to the final seconds, both sides threw caution to the wind, with the Rams winning by three points in a 54-51 nail-biter — on the way to producing a classic clash that will still be talked about for years to come. 
American Football is often criticized for being too “stop-start,” but watching these two Super Bowl favorites go hammer and tongs for four quarters would have been enough to convert any detractor.
To put into context just how explosive both teams were, it was the first time two teams have scored more than 50 points in a match in the history of the NFL.
While many are praising the defensive qualities of a playoffs-bound Chicago, we are just glad the defensive units did not bother showing up for this one and we had the privilege of watching two blistering offenses in full flow. If either of these teams goes on to win the Super Bowl, they can pinpoint this match as one of the key moments of their season.

It was raining touchdowns in the all-time classic between the Chiefs and the Rams.



SAINTS CHANNELLING THE SPIRIT OF 2009

When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, the Saints-Eagles match-up was singled out as a test of the two team’s NFC championship credentials. Unlike the Rams and Chiefs extravaganza, though, this ended up being a damp squib of a game. 
Philadelphia just did not turn up, while the Saints — the hottest team in the league at the moment — were imperiously led by Drew Brees to a blowout 48-7 win, which now sits in the record books as worst defeat in the Eagles’ history. 
Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, meaning that the 9-1 Saints have now scored 40-plus points in three matches in a row and have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to post at least 40 points six times in the first 10 games of the season. It will take a very good team to stop this Saints side from claiming glory in Atlanta next February.

Drew Brees was once again in imperious form for the ever-improving and dangerous Saints. 



PURE ATHLETICISM TRUMPS TACTICAL PLAY-CALLS

Gridiron is an extremely technical and tactical sport, with coaches and players spending weeks perfecting certain plays. But sometimes a moment of sheer athletic prowess wins out and blows all the spreadsheets and playbook analysis out the window. Week 11 saw its fair share of brilliant moments — from Kenny Golladay’s sublime touchdown catch for the Lions against Carolina, to Juju Smith-Schuster’s unbelievable grab for the Steelers on a late, game-winning drive, not forgetting Odell Beckham’s strength to hold on in the end-zone for a Giants score against Tampa Bay. And those moments are exactly why millions of people tune in to the NFL every week.

Kenny Golladay with his moment of magic during Detriot's 20-19 win over Carolina. 



THOUGHTS WITH ALEX SMITH

Much progress has been made in preventing concussion and serious head injuries in the NFL in recent years. Rule changes and safety measures have been implemented, and we are beginning to see a reduction in the number of head and neck traumas. But in sport, horror injuries can happen — and there is little the league can do to prevent the kind of leg breaks Washington’s Alex Smith suffered during their game against the Texans. Everyone watching immediately knew the severity of the break, and it is clear Smith faces a lengthy recovery. Such injuries can end careers. Here’s hoping he makes it back.

Alex Smith being stretchered off after his horror injury suffered against the Texans. 


‘Kid was depressed’: Osaka in first clay quarter-final after ‘rough months’

Updated 25 April 2019
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‘Kid was depressed’: Osaka in first clay quarter-final after ‘rough months’

  • The Japanese star arrived in Stuttgart, where she last played as a qualifier in 2017, after suffering early exits in her last three tournaments
  • Osaka has admitted the difficulty of dealing with the trappings of fame and becoming the world’s top player in recent months

STUTTGART, Germany: World number one Naomi Osaka defeated Hsieh Su-wei 6-4, 6-3 in Stuttgart on Thursday to reach her first career clay court quarter-final and admitted she had been left “depressed” after a “rough few months.”
US and Australian Open champion Osaka, who lost to Taiwanese veteran Hsieh in Miami last month, secured a place in the quarter-finals against Croatia’s Donna Vekic as she launched her preparations for Roland Garros.
The Japanese star arrived in Stuttgart, where she last played as a qualifier in 2017, after suffering early exits in her last three tournaments.
Osaka has admitted the difficulty of dealing with the trappings of fame and becoming the world’s top player in recent months, a period which saw her split with coach Sascha Bajin after the Australian Open.
“I am really grateful for everyone that has been really positive toward me. It was really rough the last couple of months. The kid was depressed out there.”
“If there is one positive thing that I can say about myself, it is that I learn quickly,” said Osaka, who reached the last eight of a tournament for the first time since her coaching split.
“Definitely I’ve put a lot on pressure on myself and found it hard to deal with in the first few tournaments.
“Now I start trying to have fun out there, which is what I did before I was number one.”
Osaka, 21, broke Hsieh three times in total to beat Hsieh for the second time in three attempts this year, having also defeated her on the way to lifting the title in Melbourne.
“I did feel like I am in control, but I also felt she is taking more risks than me,” said Osaka.
“She’s a really tricky opponent. You never really know what she’s going to do.”
Osaka needed 84 minutes to dispatch the unconventional Hsieh, ensuring she will hold on to top spot in the rankings for at least another week.
She is less than 200 points ahead of Simona Halep in the WTA rankings, although the Romanian pulled out of this week’s tournament with a hip injury.
Top seed Osaka fought off the only two break points she faced, in a lengthy service hold for 2-all in the opening set, before breaking Hsieh in the following game.
That was sufficient to wrap up the first set, and a Hsieh double-fault handed Osaka a break to start the second before she closed out victory with another service break in a performance that featured 22 winners and just 16 unforced errors.
Osaka will meet Vekic, a 6-1, 7-5 winner over Daria Kasatkina, for a spot in the last four, while Latvian seventh seed Anastasija Sevastova defeated 2017 champion Laura Siegemund 6-4, 6-3.
Sevastova will meet third-ranked Petra Kvitova next.
Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit eased past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-2, while Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens took down Belinda Bencic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
German number one Angelique Kerber, who won here in 2015 and 2016, takes on compatriot Andrea Petkovic later.