WHAT WE LEARNED: NFL Week 15 — LA Rams rocking and Aaron Rodgers’ record run comes to an end

After a touchdown-less performance against the Chicago Bears, Jared Goff and his Rams offensive line were restricted to just two touchdown scores against the erratic Eagles. (USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 19 December 2018
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WHAT WE LEARNED: NFL Week 15 — LA Rams rocking and Aaron Rodgers’ record run comes to an end

The playoffs are on the horizon, and teams are jostling for position in the post-season push. Arab News examines who is hitting form at the right time and who is blowing it at just the wrong moment.

LA RAMS BEING FOUND OUT?

It looks like the Rams are coming a cropper at the worst time possible. After a touchdown-less performance against the Chicago Bears, Jared Goff and his offensive line were restricted to just two touchdown scores against the erratic Eagles in Week 15. Defensive coordinators in the NFL appear to have cracked the code of this previously blistering, unstoppable offense.
Granted, the Eagles defense pulled out one of their best showings of the season in Los Angeles. And they utilized a four-man backline perfectly, something that Goff has struggled with this year.
But it was the lack of fight in the Rams attack that will worry their fans as the playoffs are fast approaching. It would be inconceivable if they did not make the post-season, but home-field advantage is key and they will want to start it in four weeks’ time rather than three.
Speaking of the playoffs, the Eagles’ victory over the Rams means they are (somehow) still in the hunt in the NFC East after Dallas blew the chance to clinch the division by being shutout by Indianapolis. It is going to go down to the wire.


BEWARE WOUNDED PATRIOTS
Excuse the pun, but Pittsburgh’s steely resolve in their victory over the Patriots has thrown the AFC playoff picture wide open. The Steelers managed to stop the rot and snap their five-game losing streak off the back of Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning drive with less than three minutes on the clock. Despite their bad run, the victory keeps them on top of the pile in the AFC North division and No. 4 seed for the conference. The defeat, their second running, pushed New England into No. 3 seed, unheard of in the last decade — the last time Tom Brady and Co. finished outside the top two seeds was 2009. But with home games against Buffalo and the Jets remaining, expect them to come out firing on all cylinders and potentially maintain their staggering record come Week 17.


INTERCEPTION FOR THE SCRAPBOOK
While his Green Bay Packers will now officially not be playing in January, Aaron Rodgers still manages to astound us. After Wisconsin’s finest lost again — to the Bears this time — at the weekend, he will have his first losing record on a season since 2008. Not great news. And that bad news was compounded by the fact that he threw for an interception late in the fourth quarter while trying to drag the Packers back into the game. But that it was his first interception in 402 passing attempts is staggering. Tom Brady originally had the record, set in 2010-2011 with 358 passes. Rodgers broke Brady’s record last week in a 34-20 win against the Atlanta Falcons. That Rodgers also holds the record for most pass attempts without being picked at home games (583) is a measure of just how good the 35-year-old has been at looking after the football throughout his career.


NOTHING MIRACULOUS ABOUT MIAMI THIS WEEK
After their mind-blowing win against the Patriots in Week 14 — dubbed the “Miami Miracle” — there was no such drama in Minnesota this weekend. The Dolphins bombed badly, as they lost Frank Gore to injury early on and quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked an eye-watering nine times. That is far too often to get any sort of offense going. Meanwhile, this writer’s dark horses for the Super Bowl managed to sneak themselves in for the NFC’s sixth playoff seed. But the picture is far from clear if Kirk Cousins and his “purple army” will be good enough to cement that place, let alone go all the way to the Big Game in February.


Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

Though upbeat, Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini admitted that it will be a “difficult match.” (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

  • Skipper also happy the match is being played in Jeddah, and sees it as a ‘step forward’ for Saudi Arabia
  • AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso sidesteps questions about Gonzalo Higuain’s rumored move to English Premier League

JEDDAH: Juventus have been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they have lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European cup finals. It’s a trend, however, that captain Giorgio Chiellini believes can be halted on January 16 when his side takes on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“We want to change that trend that has seen us lose the last two Supercoppa finals, and this is the ideal opportunity,” said the defender. “We have changed a great deal in two years, but we’ve got to prove ourselves with actions rather than words because we let a few too many of these trophies slip through our fingers and it’s a shame.
“It’s going to be a difficult match but the objective is to start 2019 lifting a trophy above our heads.”
Chiellini also defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.
“I am happy this game is being played here and can be seen as a further reason for progress in this country, and I see it as a step forward and not a problem,” he said. “We (soccer players) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.
“We have been given a warm welcome and I hope tomorrow can be remembered by the Saudi people as a wonderful celebration. We have to provide a spectacle of Italian football and know that all fans will be happy with our performances.”
As the rival teams faced the media on the eve of the match, both were confident about their chances of lifting the first silverware of the Italian soccer season. This year marks the 31st Supercoppa, a match contested by the previous season’s Serie A domestic league champions and the winners of the Coppa Italia. When a single team wins both honors, as was the case last season, they take on the Coppa Italia runners-up.
This year’s game, the tickets for which reportedly sold out in two days, might also mark a farewell to Italian football for striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan to AC Milan from Juventus but is widely rumored to be on the verge of a move to Chelsea in the English Premier League. If the Argentine international is indeed on his way out, he will be hoping to end his stay with the Rossoneri with some silverware while also, perhaps, sticking it to his parent club.

Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso (center) said Higuain has never told him he wants to leave the club. (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)

Asked about the status of any transfer talks, AC Milan head coach Gennaro Gattuso was careful to avoid feeding the rumor mill.
“At this moment, I have to repeat the same words: there are many rumors but Higuain is training well and working with everyone just fine and is at our disposal,” he said. “I base my decisions on how players train during the week and how they work with the staff and their teammates. We’ll see tomorrow whether he plays or not.
“I want to reiterate that Higuain has never told me he wants to leave. I am waiting for that. He has to decide what to do, how to resolve this issue, but right now he is training with great professionalism. We’ll see.”
Gattuso then nipped this line of questioning in the bud by adding: “I want to be honest; I don’t even want to talk about Higuain as we’re here for the Supercoppa.”
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri, meanwhile, is well aware that while they are undefeated in Serie A this season after 19 games, with 17 wins and two draws, league form counts for little in a cup final, as evidenced by their recent results in such games. As such, he is keen to avoid any complacency among his players.
“One of the great strengths of this team is our respect for the opposition, otherwise you don’t win as many games as we have,” he said. “There are 22 points separating our teams in Serie A but those don’t matter here. If we do not have great humility and respect for Milan tomorrow, then it’s unlikely we will win the game.”
The prematch press conference inevitably included questions about Cristiano Ronaldo. Since his 112 million euro ($128 million) move to Juventus from Real Madrid last summer, the Portuguese star has netted 15 goals in 25 appearances. On Wednesday, the five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or — an award presented each year by France Football magazine to the player judged to be the best in the world — will aim to lift his maiden trophy with his new club, after having bagged 15 titles during his nine years with the Spanish giants.
While Ronaldo did not appear at the press conference, Allegri was asked whether the striker had arrived in Italy with a stronger and hungrier desire to win.
“He would have to win something first to prove that,” the coach said. “Cristiano is accustomed to winning; he has won four of the past five Champions Leagues and many more titles. Ronaldo is the best player in the world and clearly an added bonus for us. Our situation has certainly improved with his presence.”
Wednesday night’s match is sure to be hotly contested, as Juventus and AC Milan currently share the record for Supercoppa titles, with seven each. While Juventus are making their seventh successive Supercoppa appearance, it is perhaps AC Milan who can lay claim to bragging rights, given that the last time these two teams met in the Supercoppa, in 2016, the Rossoneri ended up on top following a penalty shoot-out after the game ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time. With all the talking officially done, all that remains is a historic night of top quality soccer at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.