6 of the 8 teams in action last weekend have at least one running back with dreads. The only two that don't met at Denver, where the Broncos held off the San Diego Chargers 24-17. There were plenty of chances for the Chargers to win this game, but they didn't take advantage of enough of them to pull off the upset. For example, after the Chargers punted on their opening drive, they had a chance to stop the Broncos' first drive. But on 1st down from the San Diego 29-yard line, CB Shareece Wright dropped what should have been an easy interception, keeping the drive alive. 6 plays later Denver led 7-0. The Chargers' D did get the turnover on the Broncos' second drive, recovering a fumble after S Jahleel Addae stripped the ball from TE Julius Thomas just before he hit the ground (photo below) at the SD 45-yard line. But again the Chargers failed to take advantage, missing a FG attempt on their ensuing possession.
Trailing 17-0 in the 4th quarter and having punted on all four of their possessions other than the one where they missed the FG, the Chargers finally got going, scoring on three consecutive drives, the last of which ended with a FG that cut the Broncos' lead to 24-17 with 3:53 remaining. And opportunity was knocking again for the Chargers when Denver faced a 3rd and 17 on the first series of their next possession. But again they failed to answer, as a blown coverage at the worst possible time allowed Thomas to run his route totally uncovered near the sideline, and he made the catch for a 21-yard gain. I'll bet there was a bunch of angry yelling at a bunch of television screens in San Diego County after that play. For all the time spent practicing and watching film in preparation for a game, how on Earth can you fail to cover one of the other team's top receivers on the most important play of the season?
Anyway, after that there was still enough time for the Chargers to get the ball back, but the Broncos made another 1st down, as Thomas beat Addae for a 9-yard reception to convert a 3rd and 6 with 2:02 to go. At that point the Broncos could have just did three kneel downs and killed most of the 2:02. But after that debacle by their defense in the closing seconds against the Ravens last year, they didn't want the Chargers to get the ball back at all, no matter how little time was remaining. And they succeeded, converting and 3rd and 1 with 1:05 to go, allowing them to keep the ball and run out the clock.
Unlike last year, when we were fortunate enough to have the Ravens reach the Super Bowl, this year's Super Bowl will not have any team with a lot of players with dreads. That was assured when the Indianapolis Colts were eliminated by the New England Patriots 43-22 in the other AFC semifinal. Yes, they got away with it last week, but apparently the Colts still haven't gotten the memo that falling way behind early and turning the ball over 4 times is no way to win a football game - because they tried the same thing this week.
Patriots fans probably did a double take when they saw the final stats sheet. Of New England's 419 total yards, only 185 came via the pass. And I wonder when was the last time the Patriots scored 6 TD in a game without a single one of them being a TD pass. The 6 rushing TD in a single game set a new franchise record. Last week Hilton took the lead for the postseason head dread award; but he's got some competition now, as Blount finished with 166 yards rushing on 24 carries. Hilton's two big gains game him enough yards to make the dread stars list - 105 on 4 catches. There were several tackles by Colts players with sick dreads. LB Erik Walden finished with 8 tackles (4-4) and 2 TFL, including 1 sack. LB Kelvin Sheppard (#52 in photo above, failing to keep RB Stevan Ridley out of the end zone on a 2-point conversion attempt) had 7 tackles (1-6), CB Josh Gordy had 4 tackles (3-1), and DT Ricardo Mathews had 3 tackles (0-3). DT Ricky Jean Francois (#99 in photo above), with shorter dreads, had 3 tackles (2-1), including 1 TFL. LB Dont'a Hightower led New England with 8 tackles (3-5) and had an INT.
The Seattle Seahawks, seeded #1 in the NFC after going 13-3 during the regular season, in control for most of the game, had a couple of anxious moments late before advancing with a 23-15 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Star RB Marshawn Lynch put in his first bid for postseason head dread honors, rushing for 140 yards and both of the Seahawks' touchdowns. After taking a 6-0 lead on a pair of 1st quarter field goals, the Seahawks quickly cashed in a turnover by the Saints earlier in the 2nd, with Lynch capping a 2-play, 24-yard drive with a 15-yard TD run. Trailing 16-0 late in the 3rd and seemingly on their way to being shutout, the Saints' offense finally started clicking, with RB Khiry Robinson's 1-yard TD run early in the 4th capping a 74-yard drive. A successful 2-point conversion made the score 16-8 with 13:11 remaining.
Sherman, who finished with 5 tackles (2-3), had a quiet game, as the Saints didn't throw the ball in his direction much (if at all, prior to the TD). The Saints then recovered an onside kickoff, and it looked like they were going to have one shot at a pass into the end zone. But after Colston made a catch near the sideline at the Seattle 38-yard line with about 7 seconds remaining, instead of going out of bounds (which he very easily could have done), he tried to catch the Seahawks' defense asleep, throwing what was supposed to be a backwards pass all the way across the field (photo below). But it turned out to be a (illegal) forward pass; and since the Saints were out of timeouts, the penalty included a 10-second runoff, causing time to expire. It still would have taken a miracle finish, but Saints fans sure would like to have seen what would have happened had Colston gone out of bounds on that play.
Unlike the game at Seattle, in the other NFC semifinal neither of the teams' RB with dreads handled the ball much as the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-10 at Charlotte. That wasn't surprising as far as 49ers reserve RB Anthony Dixon is concerned. He hardly ever carries the ball (28 rushing attempts all season) and is mostly a special teams player. But for Panthers starting RB DeAngelo Williams, it was surprising - and greatly disappointing - that he got only 5 carries - a season low - in the game.
Williams (photo below), in his 8th season with the Panthers, has proven to be a home run hitter throughout his career. You don't stop giving him the ball after a few unsuccessful carries because you know he's going to break one for a big gain sooner or later. In fact, he broke one for a 27-yard TD (the only TD of the game) when the Panthers won at San Francisco 10-9 in Week 10. He finished that game with 46 yards on 8 carries. But this time he carried just 5 times for only 13 yards. And after the 49ers scored a TD on their first possession of the 2nd half to up their lead to 20-10, DeAngelo never touched the ball again for the rest of the game. Now I'm not saying the Panthers would have won if he had gotten more carries. But it sure would have been nice to see what he would have done with more carries.
The player with the best dreads on either team played more than expected, but that wasn't a good thing for the Panthers. You couldn't miss rookie S Robert Lester, not with those very long dreads of his. After starter Quintin Mikell was injured just before halftime, Lester moved into the lineup for the 2nd half. Unfortunately he didn't do anything to help his team win. I don't know for a fact that he blew a coverage on the 49ers' first drive of the half; but it sure seemed that way when CB Captain Munnerlyn, after tackling WR Anquan Boldin at the 2-yard line for a 45-yard reception, immediately sought out Lester (photo below), presumably to let him know he messed up. The 49ers scored a TD a couple of plays later to make the score 20-10. Then early in the 4th quarter Robert looked bad missing a tackle on 3rd and 1, turning what should have been a short gain into a 39-yard run by RB Frank Gore. That drive ended with a FG.
So, it will be the 49ers making the trip to Seattle for the NFC championship. The two NFC West rivals split their two meetings this season, with each team winning their home game.
Not a whole lot has changed since last year in the East and South divisions of the NFC. The Giants and Eagles continue to operate with practically nobody with dreads. And the Falcons still have the best dreads in the South.
Best player with dreads: Dwayne Harris (DAL)
Player with the best dreads: Brandon Meriweather (WASH)
Cowboys lost free agent CB Mike Jenkins but still increased number of dreads in their secondary after drafting former FCS stars B.W. Webb and J.J. Wilcox. Webb (nearly sacking Vikings QB Christian Ponder in Week 9 in left photo below) made it a two-race with Dwayne Harris for best dreads on the team, although Webb's dreads aren't all his own hair. Harris (right photo) was on his way to a Pro Bowl selection as punt returner until being slowed by a hamstring injury in 2nd half of season. Former Colts DT Drake Nevis was on team for most of season until being cut after Week 15. Secondary might have even more dreads next season if the hair CB Brandon Carr is growing turns into dreads (which it looked like it was starting to by the end of the season). Rookies Anthony Amos and Taylor Reed cut at end of training camp.
WR Dwayne Harris None
S Danny McCray
CB B.W. Webb
S J.J. Wilcox
GRADE: B- ..... (LY: C+)
NEW YORK GIANTS
Plenty of sick dreads on the roster, but still not any on the field. Only active player is former Eagles draft pick (1st round in 2005) Mike Patterson, who signed as a free agent in the offseason. He had 23 tackles (18-5) and 3 TFL in his first season with Giants and his first season with dreads. Since I couldn't find a better photo, you can clink on the link below for a better look at his dreads in an interview from midseason on the Giants website. Laron Scott and Kris Adams on injured reserve all season. Sick dreads of Marcus Harris and Junior Mertile on practice squad most of season. S David Caldwell and G Michael Jasper cut near end of training camp.
DT Mike Patterson WR Kris Adams (IR)
WR Marcus Harris (PS)
CB Junior Mertile (PS)
CB Laron Scott (IR)
GRADE: D- ..... (LY: F)
Eagles replace Giants as only team in league to get an "F" grade. Nary a single dreadlock on the entire roster when the season ended. G Brandon Washington, drafted in 2012, made his debut in 2013 - in a St. Louis Rams uniform. S David Sims and DT Antonio Dixon were cut at the end of training camp. After signing with team early in season, CB Roc Carmichael must have gotten confused when he saw nobody else with dreads in the locker room and thought Eagles had a no-dreads policy, because he cut off the short dreads he had been growing after joining team.
GRADE: F ..... (LY: D-)
The highlight here is the awesome dreads of 7-year veteran Brandon Meriweather. A headhunter throughout his career, Meriweather (failing -illegally, of course - to prevent a TD by Lions WR Calvin Johnson in Week 3 in bottom photo) not pleased that NFL's crackdown on hits to the head is messing up the way he likes to play. After being suspended for one game (Week 8), he vowed he would start targeting ball carriers' knees instead of their heads. Whatever. Biggest disapointment was that sick dreads of rookie Philip Thomas spent entire season on IR. O-lineman Adam Gettis appeared in 13 games after not playing at all as a rookie in 2012 and actually recorded a stat: 1 kickoff return for 5 yards against Giants in Week 13. S DeJon Gomes cut at end of training camp. Did not bring back free agents Brandon Banks and Cedric Griffin, but made up for it by signing free agents Darryl Tapp (greeting ex-dread CB and fellow former Virginia Tech Hokie Roc Carmichael after Week 11 loss to Eagles in top photo) and E.J. Biggers. OT Xavier Nixon cut from practice squad early in season.
CB/S E.J. Biggers
G Adam Gettis
S Brandon Meriweather
LB Darryl Tapp
S Phillip Thomas (IR)
GRADE: C ..... (LY: B-)
Best player with dreads: DeAngelo Williams (CAR)
Player with the best dreads: Davin Joseph (TB)
Finishing at 4-12, Falcons were among the most disappointing teams in the league in 2013, but their dreads are better than ever, even without bringing back CB Dunta Robinson (free agent) and LB Mike Peterson (retired). I was delighted when team dumped RB Michael Turner and signed veteran Steven Jackson to replace him. Unfortunately he suffered a thigh injury in Week 2 (that's him headed to locker room in left photo) and missed 4 games. Also enduring injury-plagued season was Roddy White. For first time in a long time (maybe ever) Roddy had his dreads flowing for every game he played (no reduced dreads!); but his refusal to sit out a few games after suffering a high ankle sprain in preseason ruined his season. Instead of letting his ankle heal, he played at less than 100% for 3 months and was ineffective before finally getting healthy and finishing strong in December. Jacquizz Rodgers didn't have a good season; but it's hard to know if it was his fault because the blocking by the O-line was so terrible. 1st round draft pick Desmond Trufant looks like a future star. It'll be fun watching his dreads get longer in the seasons ahead. Like Jackson and White, veteran Asante Samuel dealt with injuries, tying his career low with 11 games played. Youngsters Kevin Cone and Kemal Ishmael in competition for longest dreads on the team. Peria Jerry (celebrating with Trufant after Week 13 win over Bills in right photo) and Jonathan Babineaux were major contributors on the D-line.
DT Jonathan Babineaux WR Dominique Croom (PS)
WR Kevin Cone WR James Rodgers (PS)
S Kemal Ishmael
RB Steven Jackson
DT Peria Jerry
DE Cliff Matthews
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
CB Asante Samuel
CB Desmond Trufant
WR Roddy White
GRADE: A ..... (LY: A-)
Two seasons ago DeAngelo Williams complained out loud because he was getting tired of tacklers grabbing his dreads too frequently. But obviously Williams likes his dreads too much to do anything other than complain, because here we are two years later and his dreads are longer and easier to grab than ever. Yes, he has resorted to reducing his dreads for a few games; but you get the feeling he doesn't like doing that either. With Steven Jackson and Roddy White having subpar seasons, I named DeAngelo as the NFC South's best player with dreads for 2013. After the sick dreads of Charles Godfrey went on IR after Week 2, Panthers signed the even better dreads of rookie Robert Lester off the practice squad. Free agent DE Antwan Applewhite not re-signed, and WR Joe Adams cut at end of training camp. Signed free agent Chris Scott, and he was pleasant surprise. Scott (celebrating with Williams after his 1st TD of the season in Week 8 in left photo and with QB Cam Newton after a TD pass in Week 6 in right photo) played 10 games (starting 8) on the O-line. New dreads of Kealoha Pilares spent entire season on IR.
G Travis Bond S Charles Godfrey (IR)
DT Colin Cole G Michael Jasper (PS)
S Robert Lester WR Kealoha Pilares (IR)
G Chris Scott
RB DeAngelo Williams
GRADE: B ..... (LY: C-)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Saints traded awesome dreads of Chris Ivory and replaced him with the usually reduced dreads of rookie Khiry Robinson - that alone automatically lowers their grade from last year, even though Robinson looks like a better player than Ivory and may become the team's feature RB next season. Khiry did not have his dreads reduced when he scored his 1st NFL TD at New England in Week 6 (left photo); but for most games he looked like he did last weekend (walking off field after season-ending loss at Seattle in right photo), with the dreads reduced to the point that they don't extend outside his helmet. Rookie John Jenkins a big contributor on the D-line, and Travaris Cadet a contributor mostly on special teams. S Jerico Nelson, CB Korey Lindsey, G Jeremiah Warren, LB Ray Shipman, and DB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah all cut at end of training camp. WR Saalim Hakim on practice squad until he signed with N.Y. Jets in December.
RB Travaris Cadet None
DT John Jenkins
RB Khiry Robinson
GRADE: D ..... (LY: C-)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
You can't sugarcoat it - Adrian Clayborn's dreads were the biggest disappointment in the league in 2013, by far. He's among the players with the longest dreads in the league, but every game this year he ruined them by keeping them reduced. Not partially reduced like Reggie Nelson (which I can almost tolerate), but seriously reduced into about only a half dozen locks - horrible! I kept waiting for him to return them to normal for at least one game, but no go. At least Davin Joseph (left photo) still keeps his awesome dreads flowing freely, as he has throughout his career. I can't remember him ever reducing his dreads. Bucs signed Pro Bowl S Dashon Goldson as a free agent, but he wasn't as effective as expected now that he can't use his helmet to hit you any more. Mark Barron (getting beat for a TD by Eagles WR Desean Jackson in Week 6 in right photo) was 3rd on team with 88 tackles and had 2 INT this season. After spending all of 2012 on Vikings practice squad, Bobby Felder's awesome dreads spent most of 2013 on Bucs practice squad. CB Myron Lewis cut early in training camp, and sick rookie WR Chris Denton cut late in training camp. Rookie OT Randy Richards cut from practice squad in October. TE Danny Noble on practice squad until signing with Jaguars in November.
S Mark Barron CB Bobby Felder (PS)
DE Adrian Clayborn
S Dashon Goldson
G Davin Joseph
DE Steven Means
GRADE: B- ..... (LY: B)
11.Chargers rookie S Jahleel Addae prances off the field after causing a turnover on Broncos' 2nd drive of the afternoon early in 2nd quarter at Denver. Broncos thought they would convert on 3rd and 2, but Addae stripped the ball from TE Julius Thomas at Chargers' 45-yard line after a 5-yard reception, and Chargers recovered it. Here is a video of the play from the Chargers' website: http://www.chargers.com/multimedia/videos/Richard_Marshall_fumble_recovery/c554e588-cc16-4ca4-9f0b-64732730ef66 ..... But ......
So, who do you have? I've got the Seahawks and Broncos advancing to the Super Bowl. On a neutral field I'd pick the Patriots and 49ers; but Patriots don't ever play well at Denver, and 49ers have struggled lately at Seattle. I'd kind of like to see LeGarrette Blount in the Super Bowl; but I don't want to be wrong, and before the season I did pick the Broncos to win it all.
We'll review the conference title games and look at the dreads in the AFC South.