FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: GOATS Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers live up to the hype and Saints shine

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Two quarterbacks who have a very good idea about what they are doing — Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. (AFP)
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Updated 06 November 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: GOATS Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers live up to the hype and Saints shine

  • Classy quarterbacks do not let their fans down.
  • Saints show why they are genuine Super Bowl contenders.

LONDON: With only half the regular season left the countdown to the playoffs is underway. The time to shine is now — here is what we learned from the latest clashes in Gridiron.

GOAT MATCH-UP LIVED UP TO THE HYPE

The way the NFL season works means a team does not play every other team each season, which also means mouthwatering match-ups such as Sunday’s Patriots led by Tom Brady against Aaron Rodgers’ Packers are a rare treat for the fans. And the two future Hall-of- Famers gave us exactly what we wanted to see — both putting on differing, but dazzling, displays of quarterback virtuosity. It was a shame that the “Battle of the 12s” was decided not by a piece of their brilliance, but rather by a game-losing fumble by Aaron Jones with Rodgers driving the Packers for the lead. The Patriots did not fumble on their game-winning drive and it was game over. If both “GOATs” are still playing, we will have to wait until 2022 to see them face off again. More’s the pity.

GAME OF THE SEASON (SO FAR)...

Given their positions at the top of the NFC, the New Orleans Saints against the unbeaten LA Rams had huge potential, and both teams did not disappoint. Points flowed as the Saints raced into a 35-14 lead, before being pegged back by the Rams, who responded with 21 straight points to level the game in the fourth quarter. It needed Saints kicker Wil Lutz, and Drew Brees to connect with Michael Thomas on a 72-yard touchdown pass to finally seal the win for New Orleans. These two are likely to face each other in a post-season game — if that one is anywhere near as good as this, we are in for a playoff classic.

PHILIP RIVERS IS HIGLY UNDERRATED

All the talk in Los Angeles this season has been about the all-conquering Rams, but after their defeat in The Big Easy, it is time to give the Chargers some love. Getting a win at Seattle with their raucous fans and challenging conditions is never easy, but in Philip Rivers the Chargers have an extremely talented and seemingly underrated quarterback — his 228 yards and two touchdowns sealed the deal and sent LA’s “other team” to 6-2 for the season. He also became the fourth QB in history to make 200 consecutive starts. It all bodes well for a second-half of the season run at the playoffs for the Chargers, and with Rivers at the helm, who knows?

STEELERS STAYING UNDER THE RADER

After a very shaky start, Pittsburgh have been creeping into playoff contention week by week very much under the radar. Now after a fourth win in a row, this weekend over the sinking-fast Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are hot on the heels of the Chiefs, Patriots and Chargers in the AFC. James Conner has been their break-out star this season, and we would love to see him tearing it up come the post-season. The good times are back at Heinz Field. 

 


Fernandinho is last line of defense as City face Watford test

Updated 20 September 2019

Fernandinho is last line of defense as City face Watford test

  • Pep Guardiola’s side are 5 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool

MANCHESTER: Fernandinho stepped seamlessly into Manchester City’s backline in midweek to ease Pep Guardiola’s defensive woes but the Premier League champions know their stretched resources will be tested by a physical Watford side on Saturday.

The clubs last met in the FA Cup final in May, with City romping to a 6-0 victory to complete the first-ever domestic treble in English football history.

But just four months later Guardiola, whose side are already five points behind Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool, is facing a serious headache at the back, with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones out for significant spells.

Frenchman Laporte, described as the best left-sided defender in Europe by Guardiola, is out until at least February after injuring knee ligaments in the recent win over Brighton.

That left Stones, whose start to the season was hampered by injury, as the only specialist center-half left to partner Nicolas Otamendi, a player who has not been an automatic first choice for some time.

England defender Stones, however, suffered a muscle injury in training and reports suggest he could be out for four to five weeks.

City appear to be paying the price for a curious strategy in the transfer market.

Over the past two years, they have shown strong interest in Virgil van Dijk and Harry Maguire, only to balk at paying what turned out to be world record transfer fees for defenders.

Van Dijk went to Liverpool for £75 million ($93m) while Maguire ended up at Manchester United for £80m.

Given the vast wealth of the City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, and the fact they have broken their own club transfer record in each of the past two summers, such caution when it comes to signing center-halves seems curious.

Guardiola also famously spent big on three fullbacks — Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy — in a matter of days in 2017 which makes his, and City’s, refusal to compete with Liverpool and United for center-halves all the more baffling.

The upshot of their approach was that they failed to replace veteran club skipper Vincent Kompany, who returned to Belgium.

City’s refusal to go toe to toe with their rivals means they face Watford, and new manager Quique Sanchez Flores, with only Otamendi as a fit, specialist central defender.

Watford are bottom of the league but come into the match buoyant after recovering from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Arsenal.

At least Guardiola has a ready-made solution, with defensive midfielder Fernandinho playing at center-back for the midweek visit to Shakhtar Donetsk, where City won 3-0.

The City manager has long spoken of moving Fernandinho back into that position as his career draws to a close although his hand has been forced by the injuries.

“That’s why he is so important for us,” said Guardiola after the victory in his side’s Champions League opener.

“We don’t have many choices. I think he is the only one I have. Other players can play in that position but Fernandinho is a clever player and so intelligent — an incredible guy.

“He did well the first game he played. Of course he has a lot of experience and personality, and what he says the people follow him in the locker room so it’s important.”

Right-back Walker is another player who could move into the center of defense in an emergency but, with Fernandinho in the veteran stage of his career now at 34, Guardiola is one injury away from a full-blown crisis.