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.


Unrivaled: India now 7-0 in World Cup games against Pakistan

Updated 17 June 2019
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Unrivaled: India now 7-0 in World Cup games against Pakistan

  • Conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm of a predominantly pro-India crowd 

MANCHESTER, UK: For such an intense rivalry, it is still a lopsided contest when India and Pakistan meet at the Cricket World Cup.

India extended their record to 7-0 against Pakistan at the World Cup with an 89-run victory in a rain-interrupted encounter Sunday that likely will remain the most-watched game of the six-week tournament.

India started ominously with Rohit Sharma scoring 140 from 113 deliveries and skipper Virat Kohli contributing 77 in a total of 336-5, a record for a One-Day International at Old Trafford.

Pakistan were always behind the run-rate required.

Fakhar Zaman (62) and Babar Azam (48) put on 104 for the second wicket but when both were dismissed by left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav within nine balls, Pakistan’s hopes faded with them.

When Hardik Pandya took wickets with consecutive deliveries in the 27th over, Pakistan were 129-5. And with a result in play because both teams had batted more than 20 overs, there was no chance of sharing points if rain prevented any more play. A delay after the 35th with Pakistan at 166-6 just prolonged the inevitable.

Pakistan were  set a revised target of 302 from 40 overs and the last five overs were a non-event with Pakistan finishing 212-6. India remained unbeaten in four games to start the tournament.

The conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm of a predominantly pro-India crowd that filled the 162-year-old venue to its 23,500 capacity. Seats were in excessively high demand, after all, with the International Cricket Council reporting more than 800,000 ticket applications for the game.

There is always extra significance when the nuclear-armed neighboring countries meet at ICC tournaments because India and Pakistan play cricket so infrequently in bilateral series.

This was no different, with a 1 billion-plus TV audience and an almost football-like atmosphere at the ground.

Kohli’s single to get off the mark was met by “Kohli-Kohli-Kohli” chants from the predominantly pro-India crowd.

Sharma set the tone with his second century of the tournament, sharing partnerships of 136 with KL Rahul (57) for the first wicket and 98 with Kohli for the second.

He seemed ready to really unleash when he needlessly paddled a ball from Hasan Ali to Wahab Riaz at short fine leg in the 38th over.

Kohli continued, becoming the third Indian batter to pass 11,000 ODI runs. In doing so in his 222nd innings, he became the fastest to reach the milestone.

Kohli was on 71 and India was 305-4 when rain stopped play for the first time in the 47th over. The India captain was caught behind off Mohammad Amir’s bowling not long after he returned from the 55-minute rain break and, surprisingly, walked off before umpire Marais Erasmus had a chance to signal him out.

There was some speculation Kohli did not edge the ball but it was inconsequential in the end, as India passed Sri Lanka’s 318-7 against England in 2006 to set the highest ODI total in Manchester.

After a batting onslaught at the top, Pakistan pegged back the run-rate slightly as Amir (3-47) dismissed Pandya (26) and then had MS Dhoni (1) and Kohli caught behind — both the ex-captain and captain walking.

Things started going haywire for Pakistan after skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed won the toss and fielded, going against the advice sent via social media by Prime Minister and 1992 World Cup-winning captain Imran Khan.

Overcast and cool overhead conditions that usually would favor swing and seam bowling didn’t greatly assist the Pakistan attack, with India racing to 52-0 in its most productive opening power play of the tournament.

The Pakistan pacemen had trouble with the umpires, with Amir and Wahab each cautioned twice for running on the protected area in the middle of the pitch. One further warning would have resulted in a suspension.

It also didn’t help that opener Imam-ul-Haq got out in rare circumstances to Vijay Shankar’s very first delivery at a World Cup — it coming on the fifth ball of Pakistan’s fifth over after Shankar was asked to finish it off for injured teammate Bhuveshwar Kumar.

Pakistan’s next game is at Lord’s against South Africa, which also has three points and only remote prospects of reaching the semifinals.