FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Cleveland Browns have the last laugh, Philip Rivers deserves a ring and Seattle Seahawks show spirit

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The Browns are finally looking like a competitive team. (AFP)
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Updated 27 November 2018

FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Cleveland Browns have the last laugh, Philip Rivers deserves a ring and Seattle Seahawks show spirit

  • Hue Jackson endures sorry loss against his former Cleveland Browns.
  • Philip Rivers once again proves he is worthy of a Super Bowl ring.

LONDON: As we grind closer to the playoffs who is dancing in the end zone and who is is in need of a hail Mary pass?

ALL HAIL RIVERS


I have waxed lyrical about LA Chargers’ Philip Rivers before, but as each week passes he gets better and better. He completed 25 consecutive passes — the first time that has happened in a single game in NFL history — on the way to driving the Chargers to a win over Arizona Cardinals. He led the team to 45 unanswered points in the last three quarters in response to going 10-0 down in the first. If that was not enough, his 96.6 percent completion rate — having connected on 28 of his 29 throws — is a new record as well. Rivers has commendably stuck with the Chargers through thick and thin, even during their move from San Diego up the road to Los Angeles. But it will be one of gridiron’s great travesties if he ends his career without a Super Bowl ring. Any other player, with so much talent, at one of the NFL’s stand out franchises would have a different one to wear every day of the week, but it has never worked out for Rivers. For neutrals without a team to support in the playoffs this year, they could do a lot worse than Rivers and his Chargers.


BROWNS GET THE LAST LAUGH

The story of Hue Jackson’s switch from the Cleveland Browns to their Ohio neighbors in Cincinnati has been the great soap opera of this season. The final nail in the coffin of Jackson's ill-fated stint as head coach at the Browns was his inability to manage and get the best out of the raw talent of quarterback Curtis Mayfield. And, as if to rub salt in the wound, the traveling Browns fans could not hide their glee as their former coach paraded up and down the Bengals touchline, now a Bengals assistant coach, trying to stop a rampant Mayfield. And failing as miserably as he had when trying to utilize him. Mayfield was superb in a very comfortable 35-20 Browns win, finishing with 258 yards and four scores for an offense that secured touchdowns on their first four drives. Mayfield's performances have brought smiles to the long-suffering Browns fans this year, and while a 4-5 record is hardly going to threaten the big guns, a competitive team has been a long time coming for that city.

SEAHAWKS SPIRIT

You have to hand it to Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson. Even when they are not firing on all cylinders, this Seattle Seahawks side find ways to win. Week 12 was the second week running that they managed to steal victory from the jaws of impending defeat. We cannot ignore the fact that the Panthers were extremely wasteful and should have won this game long before they lost it 30-27. But Wilson was fantastic, escaping from seemingly certain sacks to hit big throws at vital moments. With time ticking away in the last quarter and on a three-yard fourth down, Wilson threw a perfect pass into the hands of David Moore for the game-tying touchdown. A day when he sparked flashbacks to his remarkable 2013 season.

NFL DOING THE RIGHT THING


With the furore surrounding players “taking a knee” during the US anthem that has surrounded the NFL in the past 14 months, and a supposed lack of support for players from franchises and league authorities, it should be celebrated when the league makes a good decision. San Francisco 49ers’ Reuben Foster was hit with another domestic violence charge this week after an incident in Tampa Bay, having had similar charges dropped earlier in the year. General Manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan instantly made the decision to release Foster. Kudos.

 


Man United beats Chelsea 2-0, throws open race for Champions League spots

Updated 18 February 2020

Man United beats Chelsea 2-0, throws open race for Champions League spots

  • Headers by Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire ensured the win

LONDON: Manchester United threw open the race for the final Champions League qualification spots in the Premier League by beating fourth-place Chelsea 2-0 thanks to headers by Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire on Monday.
With 12 games remaining, seven points separate Chelsea and 11th-place Burnley, with the team finishing fifth also set to earn a place in next season’s Champions League following UEFA’s decision to punish Man City for serious breaches of financial regulations by handing the English champions a two-year European ban.
Martial glanced in a header off a right-wing cross by Aaron Wan-Bissaka to give United the lead in the 45th minute at Stamford Bridge, before Maguire planted home a corner from January signing Bruno Fernandes in the 66th.
Maguire, United’s captain, was perhaps fortunate to still be on the field, with the match officials opting not to punish the England defender for appearing to kick out at Michy Batshuayi after tumbling off the playing surface in front of the dugouts.
“I know I caught him but I felt like he was going to fall on me and the natural reaction was to straighten my leg so that if he was to fall on me, to hold him up,” Maguire said. “It probably looks worse than it was.
“I did catch him ... but I knew at the time I had no intent to hurt him or kick him.”
Chelsea was on the wrong end of two other decisions by VAR, firstly disallowing a volleyed goal by Kurt Zouma in the 56th because of a push by Cesar Azpilicueta on United left back Brandon Williams. Azpilicueta seemed to have been pushed a split-second earlier by Fred.
Then, with 13 minutes to go, substitute Olivier Giroud had a goal ruled out by VAR for a tight offside, leaving Chelsea manager Frank Lampard looking thoroughly glum as he sat in his technical area.
Chelsea has long been in fourth place, but has only won three of its last 11 games in the league to give a slew of rivals clubs hope of catching up.
One of them is United, which climbed to seventh place with this win — three points behind Chelsea and two adrift of fifth-place Tottenham.
“This season, we have been far too inconsistent,” Maguire said. “We have won at Manchester City, beat Chelsea at home, got a point against Liverpool, but we have let ourselves down against the teams where the pressure is on to break them down.”
Injury problems are starting to bite at Chelsea, too. Top scorer Tammy Abraham and winger Callum Hudson-Odoi missed the game because of injury, while central midfielder N’Golo Kante lasted 11 minutes before hobbling off. Center back Andreas Christensen didn’t come out for the second half after sustaining a knock to the head late in the first period, just before Martial beat the Denmark defender to a header for the first goal.
Lampard’s main gripe, though, was his team’s failure to finish off chances once again. Batshuayi was the biggest culprit, spurning two great chances in the first half in his first start in the league this season.
“We are fourth because of some of the good stuff we’ve done and because of the nature of the league, everyone taking points off each other,” Lampard said. “But there’s a lot of work to do because you can see the problem — that’s putting the ball in the back of the net.
“I feel like a broken record. We have to put things to bed by scoring goals.”
Chelsea hosts Tottenham on Saturday and would finally get overtaken with another loss.
“The season starts here,” Lampard said.
Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo, who signed for United on deadline day in the January transfer window, came on in second-half stoppage time for his debut and had a late chance saved by Willy Caballero, who again started in goal ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Two players struck the post from free kicks in the second half, Fernandes for United and Mason Mount for Chelsea.