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.

 


Champions League ready to resume, at long last

Robert Lewandowski, left, and Bayern Munich during their Marseille friendly ahead of the Champions League last 16 2nd leg against Chelsea. (Files/AFP)
Updated 03 August 2020

Champions League ready to resume, at long last

  • UEFA ‘confident’ no more delays despite virus cases among players at Real Madrid and Sevilla

PARIS: After an enforced hiatus of almost five months, the UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week in order to clear up the last remaining business in a troubled season.

Both competitions were frozen in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the continent, and while European football’s governing body acted swiftly to move Euro 2020 back a year, for a long time it was unclear how it would manage to complete its two landmark club competitions.
In the end the solution was to set up two mini tournaments bringing all teams together in one place from the quarterfinals onwards, with all ties being decided in one-off matches behind closed doors.
And so the Champions League will move to Lisbon for the “Final Eight” starting on Aug. 12 and ending with the final at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz on Aug. 23.
The Europa League, meanwhile, will be played to a conclusion at a series of venues in western Germany, with the last eight beginning on Aug. 10 and the final in Cologne on Aug. 21.
“I believed it from the first moment,” said the UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin recently when asked if he ever doubted it would be possible to play the tournaments to a conclusion. “You should always be optimistic, and if something like this crisis happens, you must have a plan ready. “At the present time, we will be playing matches without spectators until further notice. We will not take any risks.”
There is, though, no question of further changes being made to the formats despite concerns about an increase in Covid-19 cases in and around Lisbon, and more recent worries in Germany about a rise in cases there.
UEFA also recently insisted it was “confident” there would be no more delays despite cases of coronavirus emerging among players at Real Madrid and Sevilla. It is, in any case, now or never.
Indeed, the preliminary round of next season’s Champions League begins next Saturday, the same day Bayern Munich entertain Chelsea and Napoli visit Barcelona in their outstanding last 16 second legs.
Before that, Manchester City defend a 2-1 first-leg lead at home against Real on Friday as Pep Guardiola’s side target Champions League glory on the back of the club’s success at getting a two-year ban from the competition overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The winner of that tie will face Juventus or Lyon in the quarterfinals in Lisbon.
It is the Europa League which is first up, though, with the last 16 being completed on Wednesday and Thursday.
Two ties — Inter Milan against Getafe and Sevilla against Roma — will go ahead as one-off ties in Germany as the first legs were never played.
Six second legs will also be played with the winners heading to Germany for the last eight.
Among the ties to be completed is Manchester United’s against Austrian side LASK, which will be a formality for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team after they won 5-0 in the first leg in March.
Their form since the Premier League resumed in mid-June has been excellent and they have already sealed a place in the 2020-21 Champions League, but now they want to finish this never-ending season with a trophy.
“Now our focus is on the Europa League because this is a really good trophy and we want to win,” Bruno Fernandes told MUTV.
“I came to Manchester to win trophies. We need to play every game to win. If we go into the Europa League and win every game, we know we’ll win the trophy.”
United, Europa League winners in 2017, could yet find themselves facing Premier League rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semifinals in Cologne on Aug. 16 should both teams get there.
Wolves entertain Greek champions Olympiakos on Thursday having drawn 1-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
Their campaign started more than a year ago now, with a 2-0 win over Northern Irish side Crusaders in the second qualifying round on July 25, 2019.
Extending it by another couple of weeks would do them no harm.