Saturday, April 23, 2016

NFL '15 Dread News - Week 20

When the Denver Broncos wrapped up Week 2 of the playoffs with their 23-16 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, it meant not only that the team I predicted to win the AFC was eliminated, but also that we were left with the Broncos facing the New England Patriots for the conference championship. That, of course, is a very good thing if you're a fan of the Patriots and/or Broncos. But if you're like me? Well, you probably were asking yourself the same question I was asking myself: Is there any way they both can lose?

The Patriots had a 2-game lead over the Broncos for the #1 AFC playoff seed with 2 games to play but then inexplicably lost to both the Jets and Dolphins in Weeks 16 and 17. And that would come back to haunt them. You see, allowing the Broncos to get the top seed meant that in order for the Patriots to repeat as champions, they likely at some point were going to have to beat the Broncos in Denver. And, as any Patriots fan can tell you, Patriots' trips to Denver over the years have almost always resulted in defeat.
Since the AFL merged into the NFL back in 1970, the Patriots have compiled a 3-16 record vs. the Broncos in games played in Denver, including 0-3 in the playoffs and also including a 30-24 defeat in Week 12 this season. And now you can make that record 0-4 in the playoffs and 3-17 overall, as they fell to the Broncos once again, 20-18, in the AFC title game on Jan. 24 despite taking the field as a 3-point favorite. In the end it was Danny Trevathan savoring the Lamar Hunt Trophy alongside fellow LBs Von Miller and Brandon Marshall (photo above) as the Broncos won their 2nd AFC championship in the last 3 years.

Up until this season I always cheered for the Patriots whenever they faced the Broncos. But I'll tell you, when I heard that he had destroyed his cell phone in the middle of that Deflategate investigation during the 2015 offseason, I lost a lot of respect for Tom Brady. And when his 4-game suspension was overturned (for now) just before the season started - angering me even more - the Patriots replaced the Broncos (for this season, at least) as the AFC team I like the least. So when the Broncos recovered the Patriots' onside kickoff with 11 seconds to play, ending New England's hopes, it was one of the very few times you'll see me with a smile on my face after a Broncos' victory.

In addition to making me unhappy every time they won, the Patriots and Broncos have another thing in common: the player with the best dreads for each team is named Bolden, although they are not related. Broncos S Omar Bolden, injured a week earlier, was not in uniform. But RB Brandon Bolden was on the field for 16 of New England's 77 plays on offense as well as his usual full load of duty on special teams; and he nearly scored the Patriots' 1st TD of the game. Late in the 1st quarter on the first play after a Denver turnover Brandon caught a pass in the right flat and turned upfield with nothing but green in front of him. But behind him Miller was able to barely get a hand on him and trip him up at the 15-yard line. Brandon tried like crazy to keep his balance and ending up lunging forward for the goal line (photo above) but landed 2 yards short, settling for a 20-yard gain.

The Patriots got the TD on the next play, and it was scored by our old friend Steven Jackson, who signed with the Patriots just before Christmas and unfortunately without the dreads he had for all those seasons with the Rams and then the Falcons. Mercy, you can barely recognize him now that you can see the name on his jersey. The 1-yard TD run (photo on right) was the 1st playoff TD of his career for Jackson, who in just one month with the Patriots has played in as many playoff games (two) as he did during the first 11 years of his career. The TD should have tied the game, but the Patriots missed the extra point, leaving them behind 7-6 instead. It was a miss that would haunt them for the rest of the game.

You probably noticed that in the dreads focus section of my Week 18 report I did not include the name of Patriots LB Jamie Collins. That's because I forgot to try to confirm if he had started growing dreads, which I first started suspecting after getting glimpses of him during the Patriots' playoff game against the Chiefs. It turns out he does now have dreads and he's had them since since just after Christmas. It's always great to be able to welcome someone new to the house, and especially if he's a really good player, as Collins is. But Collins wasn't a good enough player against the Broncos. Although the stats sheet shows that he had a fine game with a team-leading 8 tackles (6-2), 3 TFL, and 2 sacks, it doesn't show that he also got beat in coverage on both of the Broncos' touchdowns.

On the Broncos' first possession of the game Collins jumped what he thought was going to be a short route run by TE Owen Daniels on 2nd and 11 and was nowhere to be found when Daniels made a double move upfield and made the catch all alone for an easy 21-yard TD. Then early in the 2nd quarter Collins had better coverage but still gave up a TD (photo on left) because QB Peyton Manning made his best throw of the game. That 12-yard TD cashed in a turnover and made the score 14-6.

The Broncos still led by 8 after kicking a FG that made the score 20-12 with 10:02 remaining in the game. Now even those of you who may be mathematically challenged can figure out that when you're down 8, you're going to have to score at least 9 points to win the game. And you also know that in football 3 field goals = 9 points. Well, as it turned out the Patriots had three possessions in those final 10 minutes and drove into FG range on all three of them. And yet not one of them ended with a FG attempt. The final plays of the first two of those drives - a reception for a loss of 1 on 4th and 1 with 6:03 remaining and an incomplete pass in the end zone on 4th and 6 with 2:18 to play - were done in by good plays by the Broncos' two Pro Bowl cornerbacks, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib (although Talib did get away with a penalty on that 4th an 6). A FG on either one of those drives would have cut to Broncos' lead to 5, and FGs on both would have cut the lead to 2. Instead when the Patriots got the ball back at the 50-yard line with 1:52 on the clock, they still trailed by 8.

Thanks to the greatness of TE Rob Gronkowski the Patriots finally scored a TD - on his 4-yard reception against double coverage on 4th and goal with 12 seconds to play. But, thanks to that missed extra point back in the 1st quarter, they were going to need a 2-point conversion to tie the game. And they couldn't get one, as a pass into the end zone was deflected by Talib and intercepted by CB Bradley Roby. Roby, who up to that point had been having a quiet afternoon (0 tackles, 0 PBU), then began to return the ball out of the end zone (photo on right); and I was thinking, "Go down, you idiot, before you fumble the ball!" Sure enough when he got to the Denver 15-yard line he did fumble. But even though the Patriots recovered it, they were unable to return it, so the score remained 20-18.

After wondering for a moment why in the world Roby was trying to return his INT, it finally occurred to me why: there were still 12 seconds left - enough time for the Patriots to recover an onside kickoff and get into FG range. So Roby was absolutely right to run it back - because if he had taken it all the way to the house, the Broncos would have led by 4 instead of 2, and the Patriots would have needed a TD instead of a FG. It turned out not to matter though because the Broncos recovered the onside kick to clinch the victory. I don't know; maybe you feel otherwise. But if I was I Patriots fans, I'd have been really disappointed that they didn't try a FG at least one of those two chances they had. The Patriots pride themselves on being a smart team. It just seems to me they would have won with some smarter decisions by their coaching staff.

Three other Patriots with dreads besides Collins made tackles in the game. LBs Jabaal Sheard and Dont'a Hightower had identical totals of 6 tackles (5-1) and 1 TFL, with Hightower (photo below, pressuring Manning on a pass attempt on the opening drive) also recording 1 PBU. Rookie DE Malcom Brown finished with 1 tackle (1-0). For the Broncos Trevathan finished with 5 tackles (4-1) and 1 PBU and had his hands full trying to cover Gronkowski. Of the game's 580 total yards (336-244 in favor of New England), the only ones by anybody with dreads were the 41 by Bolden.

While the Patriots and Broncos have combined to take 16 of the last 40 AFC championships (8 each), over in the NFC the winner of the title game between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers would be making only their 2nd trip to the Super Bowl. Much to my dismay the Cardinals, the team I picked to win the Super Bowl, laid an egg and were embarrassed by the Panthers 49-15 after taking the field as just a 3-point underdog. Although the first downs were even 21-21, the total yards most definitely were not. Thanks to several big plays Carolina racked up a 476-287 advantage in yards. But the biggest number on the stats sheet was the mind-boggling 7 turnovers by the Cardinals, with QB Carson Palmer responsible for 6 of them. Ain't no way you can win with 7 turnovers.

I actually got a bad vibe right away when I saw that Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald was in uniform with his dreads reduced. Why, Larry? Coming off the great game he had a week earlier, you'd think he wouldn't want to mess with success. But there he was on the field with no more than half as many locks as he should have. No doubt Panthers fans will claim it was the Panthers' defense more than the reduced dreads that caused Fitzgerald to have that what-the-hell's-going-on look on his face (photo on left). But whatever the reason, he did not hurt the Panthers at all in this game. Larry caught 4 passes, dropped two, and finished with more than 140 fewer yards than he had in the Cardinals' 2nd round win over the Packers. His biggest gain all night was only 13 yards.

With the Panthers' penchant this season to build big leads in games and then lose them, I kept hoping the Cardinals would just weather the storm early. Just don't fall too far behind. But by the time the 1st quarter was over they were already further behind than the Seahawks were after one quarter on the same field one week earlier. Every time the Cardinals had a chance to weather the storm, either they couldn't make a play or couldn't keep the Panthers from making one.

Playing his 2nd career game with dreads, WR Ted Ginn was a big reason the Panthers jumped out to a 10-0 lead. He contributed a 13-yard reception on 2nd and 9 that moved the ball into FG range on the Panthers' opening drive. Then after returning a punt 32 yards to give the Panthers great field position for their next drive, he finished the 5-play, 49-yard drive with a 22-yard, sideline-to-sideline TD run on a reverse, with QB Cam Newton alongside as an escort as he cruised into the end zone (photo on right).

Then came the first of four key moments in the game where the Cardinals had a chance to get some momentum and get back in the game, only to have the Panthers slam the door right in their face. After no plays had begun inside the Carolina 34-yard line for the first 13:12 of the game, the Cardinals finally had the Panthers pinned deep in their own territory with a punt to the 12-yard line. With a chance to hold the Panthers to a three-and-out, the Cardinals rushed 5 defenders on 3rd and 8. Well, they might as well have rushed no one because none of the five got anywhere near Newton, giving him all day to throw.
Newton fired the ball 30 yards downfield, where S Rashad Johnson was losing his one-on-one matchup with speedy WR Corey Brown. Or maybe I should say mismatchup. In fact, Brown had gotten so much separation on his crossing route that when he cut upfield after making the catch, Johnson couldn't even lay a hand on him (photo on left). With no other defenders in the same area code after he got past Johnson, Brown cruised the last 45 yards of his 86-yard TD. And so instead of getting the ball in good field position still down 10, the Cardinals found themselves 7 points further behind.

The second key play came with 4:45 to go until halftime, after the Cardinals had closed to within 17-7. This time their defense did get the three-and-out, and the Panthers elected to punt. But CB Patrick Peterson, an outstanding punt returner, muffed the punt while trying to catch it on the run, with the Panthers recovering at the Arizona 46. So instead of getting the ball in good field position, 5 plays and 46 yards later the Cardinals were down 24-7.

Shortly thereafter came the third killer play for the Cardinals. After the Cardinals turned the ball over for the 3rd time in the 2nd quarter on a fumble by Palmer at their own 31-yard line, it looked like the Panthers were going to add to their lead. But two plays later Peterson, trying to make up for his error, intercepted a pass and returned it 72 yards to the Carolina 22 with :56 on the clock, giving Arizona a great chance to close within at least 14 points and maybe even 10 by halftime. Uh, no. On the very next play they turned the ball over for the 4th time in the 2nd quarter, as Palmer threw a pass into double coverage that was easily intercepted (by S Kurt Coleman, photo on right) in the end zone, just an awful decision. I mean, it was 1st down. There was no need to throw a pass to a receiver so tightly covered. I don't know if it was the Panthers' pass rush or if it was his injured finger or if he just choked, but Palmer was horrible in this game. Too many passes off target and too many bad decisions.

Not wanting a repeat of what happened a week earlier, the Panthers came out smoking in the 2nd half, going FG-TD on their first two drives, the same as in the 1st half; and it might have been TD-TD if not for a sack by DE Ed Stinson for an 11-yard loss on 2nd and goal after the Panthers had reached the 6-yard line - one of the few good plays by the Cardinals' D. After the FG made it 27-7 and the Cardinals went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, a 39-yard reception by Ginn accounted for half the yards on the 79-yard drive that made the score 34-7.

An 80-yard drive by the Cardinals made it 34-15, and they got the ball back after a three-and-out by Carolina. When you're down 19 with 12:58 to play, obviously you're in deep trouble. But you're not dead yet. There's still enough time to get three more possessions. But any slim hopes the Cardinals had for a miracle finish disappeared after the last of the four key, momentum-changing plays. After picking up a couple of 1st downs, they were at the Carolina 44. But once again - and on 1st down again - Palmer lofted a deep pass into double coverage that had almost no chance of being caught by intended WR John Brown and instead was easily intercepted by Coleman again. The Panthers then went 84 yards in 9 plays to make it 42-15 and officially started making plans for their trip to the west coast for the Super Bowl.

But the pain wasn't quite over yet for Cardinals fans. Palmer threw two more interceptions on the next two possessions, giving him a comical three picks in a span of 4 passes. WTF? The second of those three made it 49-14, as LB Luke Kuechly scored on a pick six for the second week in a row. And the last one was a nice diving INT by sick S Tre Boston (being congratulated by Coleman after the play in photo on left) for the icing on the cake with 4:30 remaining.

Boston, who also had a FR in the 1st half, and DE Ryan Delaire both finished with 1 tackle (1-0). LB Shaq Thompson had 5 tackles (3-2), most of which came in garbage time. Ginn came very close to making the dread stars list, with all of his 112 all-purpose yards (22 rushing, 52 receiving, 38 on punt returns) on 5 touches contributing to scoring drives.
For the Cardinals Stinson had 3 tackles (1-2), and LB Markus Golden had 7 tackles (2-5), including 1 TFL; but I'm including this photo (on right) of neither them (Stinson is #91, Golden #44) or any of their teammates getting anywhere near Newton on this play because that's the way it was almost all game. Newton was sacked only once (and that was more of  coverage sack) and hardly ever pressured whenever he dropped back to pass. LB Sean Weatherspoon had 1 tackle (1-0) in his last game in a Cardinals uniform. On offense Fitzgerald was no factor, and neither was RB Andre Ellington, who was on the field for only two snaps, both early in the 2nd quarter. He was held to no gain on 1st and 10 on the first one and then was wide open in the right flat on 2nd and 10, standing only about 6 yards away from Palmer, only to have the pass be so far off target that he had no chance to catch it. Andre might have made a 1st down on the play and maybe more; but we'll never know, we'll we? Palmer was sacked and fumbled on the next play, and the Cardinals went on to turn the ball over 6 more times on their final 10 possessions.


     Best player with dreads: DeAndre Hopkins
     Player with best dreads: Derek Newton


There was no clear choice for the player with the best dreads in the AFC South. I picked Derek Newton, who started all 16 games on the O-line, because his dreads certainly are long enough and he had them reduced less often than the other contenders ..... There was no doubt about the best player with dreads in the division. In three seasons in the league DeAndre Hopkins has become one of the best WRs in the league, finishing this season 3rd in the NFL with 1,521 yards receiving on 111 catches. Unfortunately Hopkins (celebrating the 3rd of his 11 TD catches with Newton in Week 3 in top photo on right), as I've mentioned several times before, has decided to go with fewer locks, keeping his dreads reduced all the time. But he's still one of my favorite players. And his dreads aren't reduced permanently yet, so there's still a chance he'll return them to normal in the future ..... After having his rookie season ruined by a knee injury, Jadeveon Clowney (bottom photo on right) - the 1st pick overall in the draft in 2014 - showed some flashes of becoming a good player. He had 4.5 sacks and 6 PBU in 13 games. Maybe next season those flashes will start happening more frequently and more consistently. Texans didn't pick him #1 to be mediocre ..... After his rookie season was ruined by injury, Lonnie Ballentine had his 2nd season ruined by injury also, going on IR after suffering torn ligaments in his knee (photo below) in Week 6 at Jacksonville ..... 3rd year player Justin Tuggle continues to play mostly on special teams, finishing with 13 tackles and 1 FR in 11 games ..... In his his 4th season with Texans, but his first with dreads, Jonathan Grimes had his best season so far, finishing with 282 yards rushing (5.0) and 173 yards receiving in a reserve role ..... The arrival of WR Cecil Shorts made Keshawn Martin expendable, and Martin was traded to New England after Week 1 ..... OT Edawn Coughman has great dreads, but it looks like he's just not quite a good enough player to make it in the NFL. He was released from the practice squad in mid-October ..... RB Daryl Richardson on practice squad a couple of times during first half of season until being let go for good after Week 8 ..... DE Steven Means on practice squad from mid-October until signing with Eagles in early December .....
LB Jason Ankrah, DE Jasper Coleman, and sick S Terrance Parks all released near or at end of training camp.

S Lonnie Ballentine (IR)
RB Jonathan Grimes
LB Justin Tuggle



It seemed like when he was in college and had his hair in braids that T.Y.Hilton's hair just wasn't getting any longer. So when he switched over to dreads upon being drafted in 2012, I was skeptical about if he was serious about letting them grow long. I think we can put those worries away now, as his dreads have been coming along slowly but surely and should be easily visible outside his helmet by next season. T.Y. (celebrating one of his 2 TD catches in Week 7 in photo on right) had 1,124 yards and 5 TD receiving this season - about 200 yards and 2 fewer TD than in 2014 - as he was slowed a bit by injury and didn't have his starting QB for some games too ..... Colts have three starters with dreads on defense. Dwight Lowery had a solid season in his first year with team after being with three other teams in his first 7 seasons, finishing with 76 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INT, and 4 PBU ..... Greg Toler (left photo below), with the really long dreads but not enough locks, might have had a nice season had he not missed 6 games due to injury. He had 10 PBU but 0 INT.

Like Toler, Erik Walden (right photo above) also in the running for the best dreads in the division. He had 42 tackles, 8 TFL, and 3 sacks in 15 games in his 8th NFL season ..... Like Toler and Walden, Lance Louis (photo on right) also in the running for the best dreads in the division. But he keeps them reduced too often. A starting job was up for grabs on Colts' O-line, but unfortunately Louis didn't take it. He ended up starting 3 times in the 11 games he played ..... Nate Irving (#55 in right photo above) had very long dreads when he left college 5 years ago and should have had super long dreads by now but evidently isn't interested in letting them get really long. He had 13 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 PBU in 8 games before going on IR in early December ..... Clayton Geathers (#42 in photo below with Walden) had 28 tackles, 1 PBU, and 1 FR in 15 games mostly as a reserve in his rookie season ..... Rookie RB Josh Robinson rushed for 39 yards (2.3) in 5 games in his first season with dreads before being released and ending up on practice squad ..... After being released by Falcons after playing in 3 games for them, Dezmen Southward and his awesome dreads signed to practice squad after Week 9 but never made it to active roster. CB Brandon Dixon signed to practice squad after Week 1 then released 4 days later ..... DT Montori Hughes cut at end of training camp.

S Clayton Geathers
LB Nate Irving (IR)
G Lance Louis
RB Josh Robinson (PS)
S Dezmen Southward (PS)



It hurts to have to mention that there were only 3 teams that allowed more yards passing than the Jaguars because there were 4 DBs with dreads giving up a lot of those yards. After starting only 14 times in 40 games in the first 4 years of his career with Packers, Davon House got the opportunity - and the money - he wanted in Jacksonville. Usually covering the opponent's best WR, House had mixed results but clearly was team's best CB, finishing with a team record 23 passes defensed, including 19 PBU and 4 INT (the 3rd of the 4 vs. Titans in Week 13 in photo on right) .....

With Johnathan Cyprien and Sergio Brown on the roster, Jaguars could have had the sickest pair of safeties in the league. But Brown (right photo above) started only 4 games, and both he and Cyprien had their dreads reduced too often. Cyprien (left photo above) had 1 INT and finished with 107 tackles, while Brown had 36 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and 2 PBU ..... Demetrius McCray had 21 tackles, 1 PBU, and 1 FR in 14 games, including 3 starts, in his 3rd season and is still looking for his 1st career INT ..... Jared Odrick (#75 in background in left photo above), in his 2nd season with dreads and his first with Jaguars, had 3 PBU, 1 FF, and led team with 5.5 sacks while starting all 16 games .....
If Sen'Derrick Marks (upper photo on right) was looking to do something with his dreads as unique as his first name, he succeeded; but if he was going for a look that I like? Well, not so much. I wonder how he got his dreads in all those little sections like that. It was a lost season for Marks, who missed the first 5 games while still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 17 in 2014 and played in only 4 games - finishing with 2 TFL and 3 PBU - before going on IR for the final 7 weeks with a torn triceps ..... You could say Denard Robinson was either smart or he was a scaredy-cat. Either way I say he was disappointing this season. Apparently afraid that somebody was going to tackle his dreads, he had them reduced whenever he knew he was going to be starting (which was in 3 games) and only had them flowing fully - as he did in Week 17 (lower photo on right) - when he figured he wasn't going to play much. Jaguars drafted a real RB this season, so Robinson touched the ball only 88 times on offense, recording 430 total yards, 18 first downs, 3 fumbles, and only 1 TD ..... Rookie A.J. Cann (photo below) wasn't in the starting lineup on opening day; but after replacing the injured Brandon Linder in Week 4, he remained a starter for the rest of the season - and hopefully next 10 seasons (and wouldn't it be something if he still had dreads then!) ..... Nic Jacobs, one of the few tight ends with dreads in the league, caught 1 pass in 11 games, with most of his action coming on special teams ..... After being released by Vikings, rookie OT Tyrus Thompson signed to practice squad and spent 6 weeks there before being let go (and landing in Detroit) ..... WR Greg Jenkins, S Matt Daniels, and OT Brennan Williams - all with sick dreads - all unfortunately were injured during training camp and released ..... Rookie DE Nordly "Cap" Capi also released at end of training camp.

S Sergio Brown 
TE Nic Jacobs
CB Demetrius McCray
RB Denard Robinson



Only two starters with dreads were safeties Da'Norris Searcy, whose 2nd edition of dreads aren't long enough yet to be seen with his helmet on, and Michael Griffin, who after 9 seasons in the league should have dreads as long as anybody but who instead has been doing a good job of making sure they don't get too long. Griffin (top photo on right) finished with 99 tackles and 1 INT, while Searcy (bottom photo on right) had 55 tackles, 3 PBU, and 1 INT in his first season in Nashville (after 4 in Buffalo) ..... Two more DBs with dreads on the roster - Daimion Stafford and B.W. Webb. Stafford played in all 16 games and started twice, finishing with 5 PBU and 1 FR;
while Webb and his seriously reduced dreads also started twice in 9 games and had 1 INT .....Best dreads on the team are on the head of Dexter McCluster (photo below), who had 1,009 all-purpose yards - including 545 on kickoff and punt returns - but scored only 2 TD before going on IR with a knee injury after Week 14 ..... Actually WR Rico Richardson had the best dreads on the team - when he was on the team. He was released two days before Christmas after playing in 5 games between Weeks 7 and 11 and finishing with 0 receptions (on 5 targets) ..... After being released by Texans, Jason Ankrah signed to practice squad and spent whole season on it ..... Shaquille Richardson spent final 7 weeks of season on practice squad ..... After being released by Bears, LB David Bass signed with team but cut off his dreads after Week 3.

LB Jason Ankrah (PS)
RB Dexter McCluster
CB Shaquille Richardson (PS)
S Daimion Stafford
CB B.W. Webb




     Best player with dreads: C.J. Mosley
     Player with best dreads: Reggie Nelson


When they were flowing at full blast, Kendrick Lewis' dreads were spectacular. But the same as with many other players there were too many games that he had them reduced. After playing his 4 seasons with Chiefs and then with Texans last season, Lewis (top photo on right) started 15 games in his first year with Ravens and didn't do all that great, finishing with 60 tackles, 5 PBU, and 0 INT ..... Even though he got snubbed for the Pro Bowl I still picked C.J. Mosley as the AFC North's best player with dreads. In his 2nd NFL season - and his first with dreads - Mosley had more tackles by any
player with dreads in the division - 116 - and also recorded 4 sacks, 7 PBU, 1 FF, and 2 FR, one of which he returned to the house ..... The one other starter with dreads on the Ravens' D, Courtney Upshaw, had 51 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FF, and 2 FR. Upshaw is #91 in middle photo on right of all Alabama alums after the Week 6 game at San Francisco. Mosley is #57 and between them are DeAndrew White (#18), Quinton Dial (#92), and Ravens practice squad player Nick Perry ..... Pernell McPhee left as a free agent, but 4th round rookie Za'Darius Smith replaced him nicely, finishing with

5.5 sacks in 15 games
..... Anybody who saw Kaelin Clay returns kicks in college (Utah) wouldn't at all be surprised that his 1st NFL TD came on a punt return (at Cleveland in Week 12). After being drafted and released by Buccaneers and then spending time on Lions' practice squad, Clay (bottom photo on right) signed with Ravens and averaged 24.5 and 10.6 on kickoff and punt returns in 7 games ..... Rookie Terrence Magee, who spent season going back and forth between practice squad and active roster, ending up playing in only 3 games, finishing with 2 carries for 5 yards and 1 kickoff return for 28 yards ..... Marlon Brown's dreads were spectacular on opening day at Denver (photo below); but that was only a tease, as he kept them reduced for most of the other games he played. After a good rookie season in 2013, Brown is going in the wrong direction, combining for just 38 receptions and 0 TD in the last two seasons. Marlon went on IR with a back injury for the final week of the season, joining .....  Breshad Perriman, the other WR with sick dreads on the team. Drafted in the 1st round to provide the deep threat needed after Torrey Smith left as a free agent, Perriman instead missed the whole season after suffering a knee injury in training camp that just refused to heal. Details of Breshad's ordeal in this article from the Ravens' website in November, after they put him on IR:
..... Rookie Leon Brown, another Alabama alum, cut at end of training camp and not signed to practice squad until Week 17 ..... Nordly Capi and Chuck Jacobs also signed to practice squad earlier in December ..... DE Steven Means cut at end of training camp.

G Leon Brown (PS)
WR Marlon Brown (IR)
LB Nordly Capi (PS)
WR Kaelin Clay
WR Chuck Jacobs (PS)
RB Terrence Magee
WR Breshad Perriman (IR)
LB Za'Darius Smith



If you wanted to see the team with the most players with dreads on the field at the same time this season, you needed to be wherever the Bengals were playing - or more specifically, the Bengals' defense. 5 players with dreads started for what was one of the league's best defenses, and four others were key reserves. And if it wasn't your lucky day, maybe you got to see all of them with their dreads reduced ..... When you do a Google image search for "Reggie Nelson dreads" (or dreadlocks), the first picture that comes up is the Getty Images photo of him I posted when I did my longest dreads in the NFL countdown 3 years ago (Week 21 report). I got reminded of this when the stats counter that keeps track of whenever somebody views one of my posts went crazy when the Bengals played Denver on Monday night in Week 16 and even crazier when Nelson got his dreads yanked on during the playoff game against Pittsburgh in Week 18. You see, despite all of their success (during the regular season, that is) the Bengals aren't that well know nationally; so a lot of people haven't seen Nelson before. And I'm sure many of them are
awestruck when they see his dreads hanging all the way down to his waist. So they go to Google to find out more. Reggie's dreads are impressive enough even when they're reduced. In fact, it's hard to tell that they're reduced until you see them when they're going at full blast (top two photos on right) and you say, "Holy Smokes!" It's those games that he has them flowing freely that are really fun to watch. Several players in the league have been around long enough that they could have their dreads as long as Reggie's - if they would just not stifle them. But most of those players for some reason don't want their dreads to be that long. If they're worried about their
dreads affecting their play, Reggie is proving you can have super long dreads and still be a good player. In fact, he seems to be getting better with age, contending for best player with dreads in the division in addition to the best dreads. Nelson earned his 1st Pro Bowl selection this season after tying for the NFL lead with 8 interceptions. Unfortunately his fine season wasn't enough to convince Bengals to keep him .....Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict (third photo from top on right, celebrating after a play at San Francisco in Week 15) were not released and will be back next season. Bengals are more forgiving than other teams and weren't just going to let go two
of their better players. Even at age 32, Jones is still their best CB. Drafted two years before Nelson, he would have had dreads just as long as Nelson if he hadn't cut them off after getting himself into trouble and finding himself in courtrooms back in 2007. He's been growing his 2nd edition of dreads since joining Bengals in 2010. Adam had 3 INT (the last of which in Week 15 in fourth photo from top on right) and 9 PBU this season and averaged 11.2 on punt returns ..... Despite their meltdown directly responsible for the playoff loss to the Steelers and the many cries of angry fans calling for the team to get rid of them,
It's a shame Burfict can't be the great player he is without all the dirty stuff. Well, actually he better learn to be. He's got to learn that you're not out there to injure and/or maim your opponent. The NFL doesn't let you play like that anymore. I have a feeling he's going to start quitting that nonsense because at some point he's going to get tired of donating his paychecks to the league.Brandon Meriweather got tired and made the adjustment. Let's see if Burfict can. I probably would have picked Vontaze the division's best player with dreads had he not begun the year on PUP and missed 6 games while recovering from knee surgery. In 10 games he had 74 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 PBU, and 2 INT ..... Rey Maualuga started out as just another player of Samoan heritage with long hair. But then a couple of years ago he decided to convert all that hair into dreads. Maualuga (second photo from bottom on right) had 75 tackles, 3 PBU, and 1 INT in 15 games in his 7th NFL season ..... Dre Kirkpatrick (bottom photo on right) is one of my favorite players. But I just wish he would turn his dreads loose instead of having them reduced so often. After a rough first couple of seasons, Kirkpatrick has been doing better the last two. He moved into the starting lineup for the first time in 2015 and had 16 PBU (but 0 INT) ..... Emmanuel Lamur quietly had a good season, finishing with 32 tackles and 3 PBU in 16 games before going on IR and missing the playoffs after injuring his knee (photo below) in Week 17 ..... 4th round rookie Josh Shaw (#26 in background in top photo of Nelson) had 15 tackles and 1 PBU in 15 games as a reserve ..... Will Clarke, drafted in 2014 to rush the passer, has a total of 5 tackles and a half sack in his first two seasons ..... After detouring out to Oakland for a couple of seasons, Pat Sims came back home to Bengals, recording 16 tackles in 8 games ..... Now, if they could just do something about that offense. This was the 2nd year in a row nobody with dreads in a Bengals uniform touched the ball on offense ..... WRs Tevin Reese and Denarius Moore cut at end of training camp ..... Cut at end of training camp because he was injured and after failing to earn a steady job elsewhere, Jayson DiManche signed back to practice squad when Lamur went on IR ..... Sadly rookie S Floyd Raven and his super long dreads cut at end of training camp ..... Despite too many reduced dreads, it's too hard for me not to give Bengals an 'A'.

DE Will Clarke
LB Jayson DiManche (PS)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (IR)
CB Josh Shaw
DT Pat Sims



Browns are just the opposite of Bengals - almost all of their dreads are on offense. It's great to see Travis Benjamin (top photo on right) with his dreads flowing at full blast for every game; but he must only have them like that on Sundays. The fact that his locks always seem to be curly indicates he likely has them braided together (a.k.a. reduced) at least for part of the time when it's not gameday. You'll also notice that while his dreads are very long, they don't seem to be getting any longer. That's because he doesn't want them too. Pretty much from the first day of his freshman year in college (the U) he has admitted he's worried about somebody tackling them.
 I can't remember that ever happening, and apparently he's not trying to make it any easier than it already is for defenders to get a hold of them. Benjamin finally became a factor on offense this season and in addition to doing his usual outstanding job on special teams. After combining for a total of 41 receptions in 38 games in his first three seasons, he caught 68 passes this season for 966 yards (14.2), 39 first downs, and 5 TD, and took one punt return to the house too. It was a performance that earned him a nice new contract, just not with the Browns though ..... Like Benjamin, Isaiah Crowell (middle photo on right) also is at risk of having his dreads pulled every

time he touches the ball. Crowell got about half of the team's carries as he became the starting RB and did OK but not that great, finishing with 706 yards rushing (3.8) and 182 yards receiving. But for the most part Browns struggled to run the ball. Hopefully the new coaching staff will be able to make things better. Isaiah gives his opinion of the season (kind of) in this article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
..... Well, well, well. I could hardly believe it. After having his hair in braids for all 8 of his seasons in Kansas City, Dwayne Bowe finally converted to dreads after signing with Browns as a free agent. Unfortunately his first season with dreads was a total disaster on the field. He was injured early and then couldn't get on the field after he got healthy - because he simply wasn't playing well enough to. He ended up with a microscopic total of 5 catches all year (on 13 targets) for 53 yards, meaning he got paid $900,000 for each catch. Another season like that and his career will be coming to an end sooner rather than later ..... Browns' offense featured TE Gary Barnidge this season, so there wasn't much playing time for the other tight ends. But at least undrafted rookie E.J. Bibbs (#88 in bottom photo on right, consoling Bowe after the Week 9 loss at Cincinnati) made the team and played in 7 games, finishing with 1 catch for 7 yards ..... Only dreads on defense belong to Tramon Williams (photo below), who came over as a free agent after playing 8 seasons in Green Bay. From what I saw Williams had a rough time of it (What did he expect? The Browns stink.), finishing with 8 PBU and only 1 INT ..... LB Jayson DiManche bounced back and forth between the active roster and practice squad, appearing in only 1 game before being released on New Year's Eve (and ending up back with Bengals) ..... Daryl Richardson added to practice squad at end of December ..... RB Timothy Flanders, TE Manasseh Garner, and DT Jacobbi McDaniel all cut at or near end of training camp.

TE E.J. Bibbs
WR Dwayne Bowe
RB Daryl Richardson (PS)



In the category of best dreads in the AFC North other than Reggie Nelson, one of the top nominees would be Jarvis Jones (right photo below). But unfortunately so far his play on the field hasn't come close to the quality of his dreads. Jones has recorded 1, 2, and 2 sacks in his first 3 NFL seasons - not exactly what Steelers had in mind when they picked him in the 1st round of the draft in 2013 ..... Heck, Bud Dupree (left photo below) almost has that many sacks in just one season. Dupree, this season's #1 pick, played all 16 games with 5 starts and finished with 26 tackles, including 4 sacks, in his rookie season and appears to be on his way to an outstanding career.

Sean Spence and run-stuffing D-lineman Steve McLendon (#90, second photo from top on right), both of whom had 1 sack, apparently didn't play well enough, as Steelers have let both of them leave as free agents for next season ..... DeAngelo Williams was one of the house of dread's most pleasant surprises of 2015. With Le'Veon Bell, one of the best RBs in the league, on the team, Williams didn't figure to play much. But when Bell was injured in Week 8, DeAngelo showed that although he's nowhere near as good as Bell, he can still get the job done at age 32. He went from 0 TD last season in his 9th year with Panthers to 11 TD this season, finishing with 907 yards rushing (4.5), 367 yards receiving, and 66 first downs. The touches of pink in his dreads (#34, third photo from top on right) are to raise awareness of breast cancer - something he takes seriously, as his mother died of breast cancer in the 2014 offseason .....

Antonio Brown is one of the best WRs in the NFL, but Steelers also have a couple of WRs with dreads who are dangerous threats too in Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. Wheaton, with dreads now easily visible (#11 in second photo from bottom on right) has improved in each of his first 3 seasons, averaging 17.0 yards on his 44 catches in 2015, 32 of which went for 1st downs and 5 for TD ..... Despite being drafted in the 4th round (in 2014), Bryant is talented enough to be a superstar. But it won't matter if he can't get his drug problem under control. Martavis went with blond dread tips during the preseason; but after serving a 4-game suspension to begin the regular season, he settled for just
keeping his dreads reduced all the time (#10, bottom photo on right) and went on to rack up 765 yards on 50 catches (15.3) over the team's final 11 games.
Sadly though I won't get the chance to complain about his dreads being reduced next season. With his career starting to blast off, Bryant instead will be grounded for the entire season, suspended after again failing a drug test .....
Sammie Coates (#14,photo below), drafted in the 3rd round, didn't give Steelers much in his rookie season. It's just a fact of NFL life that some players develop faster than others; and whatever the reason Coates was unable to get on the field much. But as we all saw in the playoff loss to Denver, the talent certainly is there for him to be the same big-time playmaker he was in college (Auburn). Hopefully it won't take until Week 19 next season before he starts making some plays. With Bryant gone, Steelers will be counting on him much more ..... S Shamarko Thomas cut off his dreads a couple of days before the season opener, and then RB Dri Archer cut off his a week later ..... Rajion Neal signed to practice squad at beginning of December ..... Rookie WR Kenzel Doe, rookie LB Niko Davis, and CB B.W. Webb all released at end of training camp.

WR Martavis Bryant
WR Sammie Coates
LB Bud Dupree
RB Rajion Neal (PS)
LB Sean Spence



1. CB Bradley Roby (#29) and LB Shane Ray (#56) join their teammates in greeting QB Peyton Manning as he is introduced before the start of the AFC championship game between the Broncos and Patriots on Jan. 24 at Denver. Ray, who would be on the field for 25 snaps on defense, and Roby both would finish the game with 0 tackles.


2. The 4 key players with dreads on the Patriots' defense stand on either side of LB Jonathan Freeny as the national anthem is played before the game - DE Malcom Brown (#90) and LB Jamie Collins (#91) to his left and LB Dont'a Hightower (#54) and DE Jabaal Sheard (#93) on the right. This shot from the Patriots' website was the only photo I could find that gives you a look at Collins' beginner dreads. Collins would lead the team with 8 tackles (6-2), including 2 sacks, but also was beaten in coverage on both of the Broncos' TD passes in the game.


3. DE Malcom Brown goes up but not high enough to prevent Manning's pass from getting to and being caught by WR Jordan Norwood for a 13-yard gain on 2nd and 11 on the 5th play of Broncos' opening drive. Brown finished the game with only 1 tackle (1-0).


4. Malcom Brown and LB Dont'a Hightower look on as RB Ronnie Hillman, after getting past them, is tackled by DE Jabaal Sheard at the Patriots' 35-yard line after picking up 7 yards on a run off left tackle on 1st and 10 on the 9th play of Broncos' opening drive. 3 plays later Broncos' opening drive ended with a TD for a 7-0 lead midway through 1st quarter.


5. After punting on their first 3 possessions and gaining a total of just 31 yards on those possessions, Patriots begin their 4th drive at the Denver 22-yard line after a turnover. And on the first play of the drive, after beating LB Von Miler on a quick out to the right sideline, RB Brandon Bolden makes the catch at the 18 with nothing but open field in front of him. But before he can get up to full speed Miller dives and is barely able to trip him up at the 15 .....


6. ..... For a brief instant Bolden was able to keep his balance but then began stumbling when he got to the 10-yard line and then puts his hand down to try to stay on his feet when he gets to the 5 .....


7. ..... After lunging forward and going down at the 2-yard line Bolden was then speared by S T.J. Ward (no surprise there, Ward is one of the dirtiest players in the league), causing him to end up nearly doing a headstand. Brandon got credit for a 20-yard reception; and after the penalty on Ward moved the ball to the 1, Patriots scored the TD on the next play to tie the game ..... 


8. ..... Wait a minute. No, they did not tie the game. Bradley Roby has what no doubt are some kind words for K Stephen Gostkowski (#3) after he missed the extra point wide right following the TD. It was the first time Gostkowski had missed an extra point in 9 years. So instead of a tie game, Broncos remained in front 7-6.


9. It used to be that players would view hard copies of photos while studying formations on the sideline; but that method was oh, so slow. Nowadays, players get the photos in real time on tablets, with DE Chandler Jones viewing some while sitting next to DE Jabaal Sheard during 1st half. Of course, those hard copies weren't subject to technical difficulties the way tablets are. And those difficulties struck the Patriots for a while during 1st half, as they had to go without photos for a while when their tablets (but not the Broncos') malfunctioned.
Btw, Sheard, who apparently doesn't need to see no stinkin' photos, finished with 6 tackles (5-1), including 1 TFL.


10. On the first play after a Denver punt G Shaq Mason (#69) and TE Michael Williams make a small hole, and Brandon Bolden runs through it for a 4-yard gain to the New England 45-yard line with 5:15 remaining in 2nd quarter. It was Bolden's biggest gain of the game on a rushing attempt.


11. Brandon Bolden gets the ball again on the next play but goes nowhere this time, with T.J. Ward and LB Danny Trevathan tackling him after a gain of only 1 yard. The drive ended on the next play with QB Tom Brady throwing an interception.
Of the Patriots' 77 snaps on offense, 17 of them were running plays, with Bolden carrying 5 times for 12 yards. He also had 2 receptions for 29 yards.


12. On the first play of Broncos' ensuing possession on 1st and 15 (after a false start penalty) LB Dont'a Hightower doesn't get the sack, but he causes the sack as Peyton Manning is tackled by DT Alan Branch for a 6-yard loss. Hightower penetrated into the backfield on a blitz, forcing Manning to hold the ball longer than he wanted to and allowing Branch to get the sack at the Denver 33-yard line with 4:05 to play until halftime. Broncos punted three plays later.


13. WR Keshawn Martin didn't get any touches on offense but helps out here with his blocking on Patriots' 2nd snap on offense in 2nd half, executing a legal crackback block on Danny Trevathan at the Denver 49-yard line that allows TE Rob Gronkowski to gain 13 more yards after the catch before being tackled at the 36-yard line. In all the play gained 31 yards, and Patriots kicked a FG 6 plays later to close to within 17-12.
Martin was on the field for 59 snaps and had only one pass thrown to him (incomplete) all day. He also had 1 kickoff return for 19 yards.


14. Danny Trevathan makes it hard for you to see his dreads when he's on the field, but you can see them a bit here on the 3rd play of the Patriots' second to last drive of the game. After getting beat by Ron Gronkowski on a route down the middle on 1st and 10, Trevathan looks on from behind as Gronkowski tries to hurdle S Shiloh Keo at the Denver 33-yard line with 3:50 remaining in 4th quarter. Gronkowski couldn't stay on his feet and went down at the 28 after gaining 28 yards. 6 plays later the drive ended with an incomplete pass on 4th and 6, keeping Broncos ahead 20-12.
Trevathan finished the afternoon with 5 tackles (4-1) and 1 PBU.


15. On the 2-point conversion after Patriots scored a TD with 12 seconds to play Bradley Roby gets the interception after the pass intended for WR Julian Edelman is deflected by CB Aqib Talib (#21). Assigned to cover WR Keshawn Martin (#82, on right in photo on right) in the back of the end zone, Roby breaks on the ball after the deflection and catches it in stride 2 yards deep in the end zone, and .....


16. ..... instead of taking a knee to end the play he decides he's going to take it 100 yards and comes charging out of the end zone with his tongue sticking out .....


17. ..... Uh-oh. After getting only as far as the Denver 15-yard line Roby fumbles the ball as WR Danny Amendola strips it from him. Wouldn't it have been something if the Patriots had scooped up the fumble and gotten the 2 points by returning it to the end zone? Thankfully for Roby that didn't happen. The Patriots did recover the fumble but were unable to return it, so the score remained 20-18. Broncos recovered Patriots' onside kickoff on the next play to clinch their victory.


18. Dont'a Hightower congratulates Peyton Manning during the confetti storm after the game. Manning went 17 for 32 for 176 yards and 2 TD and even had an important rushing 1st down, scrambling for 12 yards on 3rd and 10 during 3rd quarter. Most importantly he had only 1 turnover, as Broncos finished +1 in turnover margin for the game.
Hightower finished with 6 tackles (5-1), 1 TFL, and 1 PBU.


19. Unable to play after being injured a week earlier, CB Omar Bolden strategically positions himself in front of star LB Von Miller and Broncos GM John Elway as he takes a selfie during the post-game celebration after the 20-18 win. It's the Broncos' 8th AFC championship all time and their 2nd in the past 3 seasons.


20. With the longest dreads on the Panthers roster, S Tre Boston warms up; and on the left in the background with the longest dreads on the Panthers' practice squad, so does S Marcus Ball at practice on Jan. 21, three days before Panthers host Cardinals in the NFC championship game.


21. On 2nd and 9 late in 1st quarter Cardinals try a trick play, but WR Larry Fitzgerald - going with his dreads reduced in this one - almost gets sacked by LB Thomas Davis while looking trying to throw a pass after getting the ball on a reverse. It would have been an 11-yard loss but Fitzgerald is able to break away from Davis and throw the ball away for an incomplete pass. 2 plays later Cardinals punted for the 3rd time in 1st quarter, having gained 42 total yards on their first 15 offensive plays.


22. On the 3rd play of the Panthers' ensuing possession a bad start for the Cardinals gets even worse. S D.J. Swearinger (#36) and his teammates look on in horror from the sideline as S Rashad Johnson fails to make a diving stop of WR Corey Brown at the Carolina 47-yard line as Brown runs after the catch on 3rd and 8. With Johnson being the last man back on that side of the field, Brown has clear sailing to the end zone and scores an 86-yard TD. After scoring a FG and TD on their first two drives, Panthers go 88 yards in 3 plays on their 3rd drive to up their lead to 17-0 with 49 seconds remaining in 1st quarter. In contrast Panthers gained 171 total yards in the quarter on their first 15 offensive plays.
Swearinger, btw, was on the field for 11 plays - mostly on special teams - and did not record any stats.


23. On the first play of Cardinals' next drive Thomas Davis doesn't miss the tackle this time as he and S Kurt Coleman team up to hold Larry Fitzgerald to a 2-yard gain at the Arizona 22-yard after the catch on a screen pass. 6 plays later Cardinals committed their first of what would be many turnovers in the game.


24. On 2nd and 9 with 4:35 remaining in 2nd quarter RB Jonathan Stewart, after taking the handoff on a read option play, breaks a tackle by LB Markus Golden at the line of scrimmage, while OT Michael Oher (#73) gets away with a blatant hold on LB Kevin Minter, resulting in the play gaining 17 yards to the Arizona 24. The drive ended with a TD 4 plays later as Panthers cashed in Cardinals' 2nd turnover of the game, going 46 yards in 6 plays to up their lead to 24-7.
Golden finished the night with 7 tackles (2-5), one of which was a TFL.


25. After Cardinals' 4th turnover of the 2nd quarter on an INT by Kurt Coleman in the end zone, his teammates - including LB Shaq Thompson (#54) and Tre Boston (#33) - join in on the celebration with 49 seconds to play until halftime. It was a key play in the game, as Cardinals had taken possession of the ball at the Carolina 22-yard line one play earlier after Panthers' only turnover of the game. Coleman's pick gave the momentum right back to Panthers and kept their lead at 24-7 going into the locker room for halftime.


26. On Cardinals' first offensive snap of 3rd quarter - after Panthers used up half of the time in the quarter on their 2nd half opening drive and kicked a FG to make it 27-7 - Shaq Thompson makes his 1st tackle of the game, stopping RB David Johnson for a 2-yard gain after Johnson tried to cut back on a run off right tackle. Thompson finished with 5 tackles (3-2), with the other 4 coming late in 4th quarter after the outcome had already been decided.


27. Two plays later Cardinals' first possession of 3rd quarter comes to and end as Larry Fitzgerald - wide open on 3rd and 2 - drops a short pass that would have gained at least 5 yards. Fitzgerald was distracted when the pass was slightly tipped by DT Star Lotulelei, but the ball still came right to him and was very catchable. Cardinals punted on next play rather going for it on 4th and 2.


28. On Panthers ensuing drive - after they had driven from their own 21-yard line to the Arizona 12 in 7 plays - DT Ed Stinson penetrates into the backfield on 1st and 10 and has a chance to tackle QB Cam Newton for a 6-yard loss on a sweep right play, but Newton swats him away with a stiff-arm .....


29. ..... After missing the tackle, all Stinson can do is watch helplessly as Newton finishes the play with a giant dive into the end zone for a TD, upping Panthers' lead to 34-7 with 2:08 remaining in 3rd quarter. Stinson finished the evening with 3 tackles (1-2), including a sack earlier in 3rd quarter.


30. On the 3rd play of Cardinals' next drive Larry Fitzgerald - after dropping a pass on 2nd and 2 - converts the 3rd and 2 but gets clobbered by LB Luke Kuechly after making the catch and trying to break a tackle by CB Cortland Finnegan (#26). The 7-yard reception to the Arizona 35-yard line kept the drive going, and it ended with a TD 7 plays later, making the score 34-15 early in 4th quarter.


31. On the 1st play of Cardinals' next drive Tre Boston goes one-on-one with David Johnson after the catch in the right flat at the Arizona 37-yard line. Thanks to a little help from Kuechly, Boston was able to hold Johnson to a 5-yard gain. It was Tre's only tackle (0-1) of the game.


32. Three plays later a pass intended for Larry Fitzgerald 25 yards downfield and toward the left sideline is overthrown on 2nd and 10 and almost intercepted, but CB Robert McClain drops it  near the Carolina 25-yard line. However the drive ended 2 plays later when an interception wasn't dropped, and Panthers took possession at their 16-yard line with 11:38 to play.


33. On the 6th play of Panthers' next drive Cam Newton gets past LBs Markus Golden and Sean Weatherspoon (dreads too short to be seen) and picks up a key 3rd down conversion, running for a 14-yard gain on a QB draw play on 3rd and 10. Weatherspoon got credit for his only tackle of the game (1-0) at the 9-yard line; but Panthers, instead of having to settle for a FG that would have made it 37-15 (still a 3-score game), scored a TD 3 plays later to make it 42-15 and put the game out of reach with 5:26 remaining.


34. After making it 49-15 on a pick 6 by Kuechly, Panthers get an INT on three possessions in a row as Tre Boston breaks on a pass down the middle intended for WR Michael Floyd, makes the catch, and hangs on as he falls forward and hits the ground, getting credit for a 5-yard return to the Arizona 40-yard line with 4:30 on the clock.
Here is the video of the play:
It was the 4th INT and 7th takeaway for the Panthers' D, as Panthers finished the night +6 in turnover margin. And it was like deja vu for Boston, who also had a 4th quarter pick in Panthers' playoff victory over Cardinals last season. In addition to his 1 tackle and 1 INT Boston also got credit for a FR back in 2nd quarter.


35. The celebration is already on on Panthers' sideline at the 2-minute warning. In the center of the photo that's Tre Boston and injured CB Charles Tillman hugging. And to the right it's Marcus Ball and his long dreads getting a hug from star CB Josh Norman (who might possibly be thinking about bringing back the dreads he once had way back when he was in college). Thanks to the 4 interceptions Panthers held Cardinals QB Carson Palmer to a season worst 43.2 passer rating in the game.


36. 6 of the 9 players with dreads on the Panthers' roster are on hand as everybody gathers around Cam Newton (#1) for a group dab on the sideline during the 2-minute warning. #79 is G Chris Scott and just below him are the reduced dreads of injured WR Kelvin Benjamin. At the top toward the right, struggling to get himself into the picture, is DE Ryan Delaire. On the lower right, doing the dab, are the very long dreads of Tre Boston and Marcus Ball. And in front of Newton, you can't see the beginner dreads of WR Ted Ginn (#19) because he's wearing a cap. Well, let's make that 7 players, because if you look close enough at the very top right you can see the forehead of Charles Tillman too as he dabs behind Kurt Coleman (#20). If you save the photo, it's very large and you can get a close look at everyone.


37. The party rages on after the game, and Chris Scott takes a selfie of the festivities. Scott was on the field for 10 snaps on special teams in the game - most likely for the Panthers' 5 extra points, 2 field goals, and 3 kickoff returns.


38. Larry Fitzgerald and Cam Newton meet after the game. In a game full of disappointment for me, right near the top of the list of disappointment was that Fitzgerald had his dreads reduced for the game. After catching 8 passes for 176 yards and scoring the winning TD one week earlier with his dreads flowing fully, Larry was held to a harmless 4 catches (on 7 targets) for 30 yards by the Panthers.
For the 2nd straight year Cardinals' season ends with a playoff loss in Charlotte; while it's on to the Super Bowl for the Panthers, after winning their 2nd NFC championship ever with the 49-15 demolition of the Cardinals.


I'm going to try to find some time to a do preview of the 2016 NFL draft, which is coming up next week. But even if I do, it'll be more of a mini-preview than anything.

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