My football team were bounced from the NFL playoffs last night. Playing in the semis against a rested team, in their opponent’s stadium, and the league’s best defense, it was always going to be a challenge.
I watched the first three quarters of the match online, but in the end I had to try and sleep. When I went to bed my team led 13-12. I wasn’t expecting miracles.
I wake up today and they’re done. 23-16 defeat.
And how do I feel?
Because you can tell they tried their best. Or at least I can see that.
Without boring anyone here, the injury bug hit the team way back in August. Losing two players in the pre-season, one of them All-Pro started a trend that gained momentum as the weeks progressed.
The injuries were horrendous. And at times, they seemed to come every single week.
The All-Pro halfback was lost for the season (MCL) in November. His backup took up the slack until New Year’s Eve when his ankle was rolled on. His backup was a fourth-string player who had never even played a game until January 9th. Now he was starting in the playoffs. No pressure.
The offensive line suffered too. Their captain broke his leg in august (the All-Pro), and the Left Tackle tore his knee up (ACL) in November too. His replacement was a practice squad player, and an ex-Army Ranger who hadn’t played in the NFL at all, at any position. Now he was designated LT, charged with protecting the back of the $100 million QB. And there’s no one behind him, to spell him should he get hurt. He’s it. No pressure.
The Quarterback missed 5 games with a knee injury (that could’ve been a helluva lot worse!!) and his backups were abysmal.
The kicker tore his knee in August (ACL) and his backup tore a hamstring. His backup was an unmitigated disaster, so the team scoured the streets for another (fourth) kicker, who only came in, only missed 2 FGs all year and came second in the league in scoring. J
The All-Pro Receiver suffered through all these changes to the players chucking him the rock, still came second in the league in yardages, led the league in catches and provided highlight film moments, week in and week out. On January 9th he endures a sickening blow to the head, resulting in a horrific concussion and was unable to play last night. The team missed his steady presence then, too.
And then, there was the defense.
I nicknamed them ‘The Scrappy-Do Defense’, after Scooby’s annoying nephew. So called because they believed they could knock the teeth out of anyone they line up against. Young, everyone four years or younger, with two exceptions. A front-seven (line and linebackers) that notched 48 sacks, the most since 2010, and forced more fumbles and INTS than the last three years combined. But, unfortunately a secondary that was held together with spit and bailing wire.
No one got injured in that back-four, it’s just the talent wasn’t… very… good.
The best cornerback was more of a slot corner, but had to play outside because of a dearth of talent. The other corner was eaten alive all season long by opposing passing attacks. The third and fourth corners were rejects claimed off other team’s waiver wires. No one very formidable. One safety was a free agent, who lived up to his reputation by pounding the tar out of people, he was the saving grace. The other safety was the leader of the special teams. Starting on the back-four because, again, the available talent wasn’t… very… good…
I.e. there was no one else!!!
Basically the team’s defensive efforts fell into one of two categories.
Either the team sacked the opposing QB and got the halfback tackled quickly. Or the opposing QB had all the time in the world and hit any pass he chose. Regardless of his own skill set.
It was that polarising.
There were games where back-up QB’s racked up 300+ yards on the team. They made free agents look All-World. It was depressing.
So, how did this team of question marks and back-ups back-up’s do in 2015/6? Against the toughest schedule in the league?
10-6. wild card team. Won a vicious playoff game against the team that took the division from them. Lost in the semis to the #1 seed.
With that schedule, and those injuries? It’s a miracle they broke even. When I first saw the schedule back in April, I wanted to cry. The season was peppered with games against the NFL A+ talent. Real heavy hitters.
I scribbled down in a journal ‘9-7 if healthy, heaven help us if we’re not.’
Result: 10-6 + a postseason win and a loss = 11-7.
The first postseason win since 2010. My favourite player made All-Pro for the first time (David DeCastro). The defense stood tall, even when it was taking a shellacking. The coaches did AN AMAZING job getting what they could out of their talent. I have never been so happy with a team since my chutzpah team of 20 years ago. And they didn’t win the championship either.
I feel so blessed. I have had the privilege of having my football team win the Superbowl three times in my lifetime. And I don’t really count the first time cos I was only 6 months old. It was also the year Margaret Thatcher came to power, so it wasn’t all good news by any means.
Some teams have never made it. Some have made it and never won.
This year the light finally went on for many of the young players on the team. This is something I know a lot about. That point in your life where you just “get it.” the world slows down, you move faster, you understand and subsequently you execute better in what you want to do.
And next year? Next year is next year. Players will leave, retire, hit free agency. But I believe the building blocks are there now, everyone’s battle-scarred and blooded. And hopefully, injuries permitting, they might go even further in 8 months’ time? But this year, what a ride, what a ride….
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Teddy Roosevelt