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Tandon Doss

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Ravens fourth-round pick Tandon Doss on endorsement from Joe Flacco: “It’s very humbling. I feel blessed to be just in this opportunity”

Posted on 02 May 2011 by Ryan Chell

Tandon Doss

If you haven’t heard already about Ravens fourth-round pick-Indiana WR Tandon Doss, you might soon hear it enough.

Not only did Drew Forrester correctly predict that the Ravens were going to draft the 6’3”, 200-pound Hoosier receiver in this past weekend’s draft, but he also may have been hand-picked for his skills based on the endorsement of one Joe Flacco, the quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens.

And he joined WNST’s own Nestor Aparicio and Glenn Clark Monday on “The Morning Reaction” to offer his thanks for  becoming a Baltimore Raven Saturday, and said that he was honored by the recommendation and selection.

“It’s very humbling,” Doss told Aparicio. “I feel blessed to just to be in this opportunity and I’m just willing to make the most of it. Wherever they need me to make plays, I’m willing to make plays.”

And during his three years at Indiana, he made numerous plays for ex-Indiana coach Bill Lynch.

“He’s an outstanding football player,” Lynch told Rex Snider of “The Afternoon Drive” later on Monday. “Tandon is a great young man, and to watch him develop over his college career-and to now move to play in the National Football League-he really became a great football player and an even better leader on our team.”

Doss finished his career as one of the best for catch passes for the Indiana football team, as he finished his career with 154 receptions(4th best in school history), and seventh best in school history in both receiving yards (1,854) and all-purpose yards (3,786).

His 2010 season equated to 63 receptions for 706 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. This was mostly due to teams trying to take him out of the ballgame after his deadly 2009 campaign in which he earned first-team All-Big Ten status with a 77 catches, 962 yards, five touchdown performance.

He also adds a dynamic element to the Ravens as a kick returner( 2010-his 1,016 kick return yards were fourth-most in Big Ten history). If healthy, he could compete with incumbent David Reed for the KR position as well as offer his skills up as a receiver as well.

But that’s where Doss’ issues lie. And why we fell farther in the draft than those who have the chance to win the college game’s Biletnikoff Award given to the country’s best wideout-

Injuries.

Despite playing in 11 of 12 games in 2010, Doss played with not one-but two sports hernias in his last season in Bloomington.

He had surgery on his groin twice in the off-season and it  that prevented him from attending the Combine, individual team workouts, and Indiana’s Pro Day, hurting his draft stock.

On top of not being the best in the business when it came to blazing speed, he saw his name drop to the fourth round, which was discouraging for Doss to say the least.

“Yea, it was a very long weekend,” Doss said. “I kinda new I wasn’t going to be in the first round, but I heard some things about maybe being in the second or third round.”

But the wait lingered.

“And I had a long night Friday afternoon and Friday evening, but you know unfortunately my name wasn’t called so I had to wait until the next morning.”

And now, he’s ready to prove that he was worth not only the endorsement by the Ravens and that he brings value to a Baltimore team selecting him with Saturday’s 123rd pick.

“I’m about to go get the route-stuff down and catch some balls getting ready to go down there,” Doss said.

But he will have to wait until the lockout ends to be able to have a look by the Ravens coaching staff and receive a playbook to get his transition to the NFL started.

Either way, he said he’ll be ready regardless whether he’s at the facility or not.

“They told me to stay in shape,” Doss said. “I need to be able to run all day as soon as I get there and just put on a couple of pounds to bulk up.”

His former coach said that Doss adjusting to the speed of the NFL is not going to be a problem, rest assured.

“I’ll say this for Tandon,” Lynch said. “He came in as a true freshman out of high school, and obviously Big Ten football is is a step-up from high school football. He caught up with the speed real quick, and we played him right away.”

So far, it seems like the coaching staff and the other Ravens players know he will fit right in with what’s going on over at 1 Winning Drive.

His head is certainly in the right place that’s for sure. Unlike a lot of other college juniors looking to go pro this year and forgo their senior seasons because of the expected rookie wage scale, Doss is doing it for another reason.

To support his family.

“That was a major part of my decision to come out early,” Doss said. “My father wasn’t really there growing up. I haven’t heard anything about where he’s at or anything.”

Doss’ mom worked numerous jobs in support of Tandon and his family, and on top of taking care of his schizophrenic brother who the two have supported, Doss said the decision to help her out by leaving school early was all too easy.

“I had to make a decision and come out early to try and support her,” Doss said. “I had to take some of the stress off her shoulders.”

“I love her to death. That’s why I’m doing it.”

With that kind of mindset, Ravens fans will be quick to welcome Doss to Baltimore.  That might not be the biggest adjustment Doss has to make.

Dropping his love for his previous loves-the Oakland Raiders and Colts WR Reggie Wayne.

“I actually grew up a Raiders fan,” Doss admitted. “I don’t know how it happened. I always grew up a Raiders fan and I enjoy watching the Colts. They’ve got a great offense.”

He explained why his love for Reggie Wayne is present in the back of his mind.

“Being from Indianapolis and watching a lot of Colts games, Reggie Wayne does it all,” Doss said. “His routes are crisp, he’s always consistent, he has great hands and catches everything so he’s able to separate.”

Clark and Aparicio made quick work of that conversation to make sure he had things on the right track now that he was a Raven.

“I, Tandon Doss, promise that I am not-in any way-a fan of the Indianapolis Colts,” Doss swore.

And with that, Doss was sworn in as a Baltimore Raven. It’s official by WNST-standards.

WNST thanks Tandon Doss for joining “The Morning Reaction”! Be sure to tune into AM 1570 WNST as we welcome your 2011 NFL Draft class to Baltimore the only way we can! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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At a crossroads ....

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At a crossroads ….

Posted on 08 February 2011 by Rex Snider

Take a few moments and slide into the “wayback machine” to February 8, 2001.  Our sports world was a distinctly different place ten years ago, huh?  From nearly every aspect imaginable, looking back just a mere decade paints a different picture for most of us.

From a local perspective:

Baltimore was still basking in the glow of a Super Bowl championship.

Brian Billick and Trent Dilfer were two of the most popular guys in town.

The Orioles were headed to Spring Training, with hopes of ending a 3-year losing skid.

Cal Ripken was entering his final season in uniform.

From a national perspective:

The Oakland A’s, St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Mariners were near or atop their divisions.

Cellar dwellers included the likes of the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Falcons, Texas Rangers, New England Patriots and Minnesota Twins.

Highlight footage was dominated by players such as Sammy Sosa, Allen Iverson, Jason Giambi, Marshall Faulk and Daunte Culpepper.

Names like Lebron James, Tom Brady, Albert Pujols, Jimmie Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson didn’t resonate with most of us.

You get the point, right?

I think it’s pretty amazing to see how much any culture, including the AMERICAN SPORTS CULTURE changes in such a relatively brief span of time.  After all, we’re only talking about ten years ….

Another striking phenomenon of our sports world, in 2001, was the popularity of NASCAR.  I think it’s pretty safe to say this highest form of stock car racing was cresting atop its wave of popularity ten years ago.

The sport was dominated by a young Californian named Jeff Gordon.  Major brand sponsors were fighting to get their logos plastered on a hood or quarter-panel.  And, the kickoff to another season was just ten days away.

What could go wrong?

Unlike any other American sport, auto racing poses the threat of death for its competitors.  It’s a reality those same competitors accept. It’s also a reality that proved very true just ten years ago.

NASCAR’s biggest star was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500 ….

The fallout from Dale Earnhardt’s death was immediate and it spurred debate among nearly everyone with an opinion on sports entertainment.  As always, some such opinions were informed and others were both ignorant and ridiculous.

Those who really understood auto racing embraced a need for increased safety technology, while still realizing auto racing is not SAFE and it never will be SAFE.  Conversely, dissenting opinions ranged from outlawing the sport or slowing it down.

However, something that was lost amid all the sensationalism of Dale Earnhardt’s death was the profound effect his absence would have on the popularity of NASCAR.  In each successive year, since 2001, the sport has lost small slices of ratings and overall exposure.

Today, NASCAR is a drastically different environment and entity than it was 10 years ago ….

A playoff system or “Chase” now exists

Cars are fabricated by ideal template of design

The points system or standings has been restructured a couple times

Yet, NASCAR still appears to be losing ground.  Do those who control it realize such losses?  Sure – and they’ve even tried to “replace” the lost character of a Dale Earnhardt.

His son has been “whored” out in every possible marketing campaign.

The participating networks orchestrate supposed feuds among young guns, like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Brad Keslowski.

Rock stars have replaced country stars.

Trust me, there has been a long list of endeavors aimed at finding NASCAR’s next “American Idol” and propelling the sport back toward popularity.  To date, it hasn’t happened …..

In a couple weeks, NASCAR will host its latest edition of the Daytona 500 – the 10th such edition, since the death of Dale Earnhardt.  This year, Daytona International Speedway features a brand new racing surface and a great event is expected.

But, the core problem still exists.  NASCAR is losing popularity.  The defending champion has won the crown five consecutive times – and he has the personality of a cardboard box.  The most talented driver hasn’t found a checkered flag in two years.  The most popular driver is shaping up to be quite average, at best.

And, they all belong to the same racing organization – Hendrick Motorsports.

Right now, NASCAR is at a crossroads.  Aside from competition and exciting finishes, they must find a CHARACTER.  They must find the next Dale Earnhardt … without replacing Dale Earnhardt.

According to TV ratings and racetrack attendance, time is running out.

If NASCAR doesn’t find an answer soon, it might be relegated to obscurity ten years from now.

Just count me as a guy who hopes that doesn’t happen.

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Ray Lewis PED story could provide fodder for labor talks

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Ray Lewis PED story could provide fodder for labor talks

Posted on 21 January 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

It’s been nearly two days since the story linking Ray Lewis to PED use surfaced, and so far it seems that nationally at least, it’s not regarded as much of a big deal. Or, the press may be too preoccupied with the teams still playing football to pay much attention to  any story about a team or player who isn’t. My guess is that this will see a lot more scrutiny before it goes away.

As all NFL roads seem to be pointed in the direction of labor negotiations, entertain this notion, or conspiracy theory if you will:

 

First, from the beginning of this season, if not before, the league began planting seeds into the minds of the public and the union, that they would be going to the table to negotiate over more than money this off-season. The earliest and loudest calls seemed to have been for the 18-game schedule, and blood testing for HGH. What they likely found out from the fans’ response was that many really cared about the possibility of more football, but as for PED testing, not so much. My theory all along has been that both were thrown out not only to garner support for the owners ahead of negotiations, but also as fodder that could ultimately be conceded at the table in lieu of having to compromise on money.

 

Having said that, is it beyond the realm of possibility that this too was a designed campaign on the part of NFL owners, a final attempt to get support for the cause of blood testing?

 

As the football world was somewhat puzzled by Al Davis’ decision to fire coach Tom Cable despite an improved team in 2010, maybe he did it for bigger reasons (I realize that the theory devolves greatly when I treat Davis as a mastermind, but perhaps he was working off of someone else’s advice). Surely Davis and the Raiders, amongst presumably others within the league knew of Jackson’s involvement with S.W.A.T.S. (and to that end maybe Lewis’ too) and that he’d have to abandon that relationship as a head coach, leading us to this point in the saga.

 

Forget the conspiracies, at the very least, if it becomes a big story, it’ll be an incredible stroke of luck for the owners as they head to the negotiating table. Given that stroke of luck, I’d fully expect the league to seize the opportunity to fan the flames as much as possible now that the story’s out.

 

If the owners could go into the negotiations with boisterous public support for more games and blood testing for PEDs, then conceding one or the other back to the union along with lightening up OTA schedules going forward, and maybe making the game day inactives a thing of the past, then the union can either walk away with a win while giving the owners back their money, or lose in the court of public opinion as the owners are now fighting on our behalf as fans yet trying to meet the players “halfway” too.

 

Simple math says that when millionaires try to match financial wherewithal against billionaires they’re going to lose anyway when the game turns to hardball. Playing hardball without hurting the brand however could be tricky…unless the owners are fighting to give us, the fans, what we want. That might actually bolster the brand. If the league has proven that they know anything, marketing is it, so manipulating the court of public opinion should be right up their alley.

 

What I want is football, on time and as expected. I couldn’t care less about 18-game schedules or blood testing. I’m betting the owners really couldn’t either, and I won’t be surprised at all if next season sees the owners walking away with all of the money they sought in the first place along with a 16-game schedule and no blood testing.

 

If you’re one of those who really wants the 18-game schedule, and you’re willing to entertain a mild conspiracy, you’d better get behind blood testing for PEDs. Absent any support for that cause, the 2 extra games will be all the owners have to concede at the table and all you’re likely to get then is an extra bye week.

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Pagano hire could be benefit to Ravens off-season plans

Posted on 18 January 2011 by Ryan Chell

It didn’t take long for the first domino to fall for the Ravens to have to make a decision on replacing one of coach John Harbaugh’s assistants.

Whether it was their doing or not, we have yet to understand.

But Tuesday afternoon it was announced that Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison would be leaving the team and is believed to be the next defensive coordinator of the Michigan Wolverines, a position he held previously in his long time coaching career in 1995-1996.

He is expected to run new Wolverines coach Brady Hoke’s defense. Hoke-a former protege of Mattison at Ann Arbor-was recently the head coach of San Diego State.

But what has been confirmed is that the team announced that secondary coach Chuck Pagano will be named Mattison’s replacement.

Pagano,50, will be introduced tomorrow at a press conference.

Pagano has been in the coaching ranks since 1984 when he was a graduate assistant at USC.

He is most known for being a Butch Davis assistant in his travels, as he was Davis’ defensive backs coach at Miami from 1995-2000(also spending time with Ravens safety Ed Reed), and he was secondary coach of the Cleveland Browns for  Davis in 2001 through 2004.

Pagano’s unit in 2001 led the league in interceptions with 33-most notably rookie CB Anthony Henry, who led the league with ten takeaways.

Ironically, most of them came off Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac.

Then, when Davis returned to the collegiate level to take the coaching gig at North Carolina, Pagano was there again-only this time deciding to be Davis’ defensive coordinator.

Pagano then came to Baltimore in 2008 to join John Harbaugh’s staff, and instantly not only had he become a player-coach, but he also is regarded as one of the smartest coaches on the staff.

Pagano very well could have been named defensive coordinator in 2009 instead of Mattison, and it was rumored that former Ravens quarterback coach-now head coach of the Oakland RaidersHue Jackson was calling for Pagano’s services.

This move could be good for two more reasons. One, it could continue to keep Ed Reed in a Baltimore uniform instead of retiring, given Reed’s connection with Pagano going back to the University of Miami.

Secondly, Pagano was the defensive backs coach for the Raiders in  2005-2006, and was a big part in the developing of maybe the best corner in the league, Nnamdi Asomugha.

Asomugha is a free agent after his contract was voided by the Raiders. Could Pagano being at the helm influence his decision?

We’ll see.

We could also maybe seeing some other coaches coming and leaving over the coming weeks.

Tune into WNST and WNST.net as we continue to follow the Ravens even in the off-season! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Torrey Smith

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Maryland WR Torrey Smith on going pro: “Playing in the NFL was never really a goal of mine”

Posted on 06 January 2011 by Ryan Chell

Torrey Smith

University of Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith announced his decision to go pro following Maryland’s 51-20 victory over East Carolina in the Military Bowl, and wihile his decision to take his skills to the NFL was kind of pushed under the rug because of the coaching change at Maryland, Smith said it doesn’t bother him and he is ready to move on to the next challenge in his football career.

Plus, Smith left behind a pretty good resume playing football not just at Maryland but in the ACC as a whole.

Smith-a three-time first or second-team All-ACC selection-joined Thyrl Nelson of “The Mobtown Sports Beat” Wednesday to discuss his path to the NFL, leaving Maryland after this his junior year.

Smith-who initally in his Terp career solely made his impact as kick returner-put together two great seasons as wideout for Ralph Friedgen’s offense. He excelled this year in Maryland’s 8-4 season at receiver, grabbing 67 passes for 1,055 yards and a school-record 12 TDs.

He increased his production from his 2009 season, when he grabbed 61 balls for 824 yards and five scores. He also had 51 returns for 1,309 yards( a record that he not only set before but then broke) and two scores, and all together his all-purpose yards were  second in the conference only to Clemson’s C.J. Spiller.

Leading the Terps in catches and receiving yards, his total all-purpose yards had him sixth-best in the nation in that category in 2009.

He developed quite a rapport with  quarterback Danny O’Brien in 2010, and that was most notable in Maryland’s 38-31 victory over N.C. State, where he had 14 catches for 224 yards receiving and a school-record four TDs.

That game could be described as the game that put Smith on the map and had the NFL scouts salavating. Some opposing coaches and scouts have said that Smith could be better than his former teammate, Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was drafed seventh-overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2009 NFL Draft.

He received enough support after the N.C. State victory and Maryland’s bowl game that his NFL Draft status was in good shape, so Smith jumped the gun and made the decision to go pro, signing with super agent Drew Rosenhaus.

“Anything could change,” Smith noted. “But if it was bad, trust me, I’d be back at College Park.”

Smith did say though that playing in the NFL was never a reasonable goal or expectation for him when he first suited up for the Terps. When he came to Maryland, he was there to get his education and football was to to be a supplement to he getting a degree.

“To be honest, playing in the NFL was never really a goal of mine,” he said to Nelson. “When I played as a young kid playing football and basketball in my front yard, you think about it, but it really wasn’t anything I was focused on.”

“And the scholarship to get my degree was the biggest thing, but it really wasn’t till this spring that Coach Friedgen said I had a great chance to play at the next level, and that gave me the confidence.”

It was at that point that his determination took over this season on the football field.

“I’m a person who likes to set goals and I like to reach them. And they told me I had a great shot if I worked hard.”

He also set records that will be hard for others to break down the road for future ACC and Maryland recruits.

He finished his Maryland career as their all-purpose yardage leader, surpassing the 4,960 yard mark set by running back LaMont Jordan. His four TDs in the NC State game were a school record, as were his 12 touchdowns this season. He is also only the second Maryland wide receiver to surpass the 1,000 yard mark in a season.

He also surpassed North Carolina wide receiver Brandon Tate as the conference’s all-time return yardage leader.

And he has had more support behind him than the current Maryland coaching staff.

Former Terps in the NFL right now-guys like Vernon Davis(49ers), Darrius Heyward-Bey(Raiders), and Shawne Merriman(Bills) have been mentoring Smith as well, and Smith said that was the great thing about the football program at College Park. It’s a community that stretches far beyond the Baltimore-Washington area.

“Everyone kind of sticks together around College Park,” Smith explained. “And it gets even better when you’re outside of it.”

So with his decision, many Maryland fans are wondering, especially with the chance that there may not be NFL football next year, when is the next time we’ll see Torrey Smith catching passes on the football field?

“Being that I’m a junior, the next time you guys will see me is at the Combine, because underclassmen can’t go to any of the all-star games,” Smith admitted. “So right now, I’m going to be down here in Miami preparing for the Combine.”

Sometimes leaving as an underclassmen to the NFL can sometimes be seen as selfish and in a negative light in some fans’ eyes, but Maryland fans should respect his decision ultimately based on the fact that he put together three good years at the varsity level for the Terps, he got his diploma, and he said he will still be around supporting Randy Edsall’s Maryland team.

“I’ve definitely been following what’s been going on with the program,” Smith replied. “Just because I’m gone, I’m still a Terp. And those boys look up to me. I love them to death, so definitely I like to know what’s going on.”

And he expects the same out of Randy Edsall as he did with his coach, Ralph Friedgen.

“Everyone’s supportive of the new coach. They all seem to like him. All I know is he inherited a good team and they should expect great things from the Terps next year.”

Tune into WNST and WNST.net as we continue to follow the Terps and all your Baltimore sports teams! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Oct 16, 2010; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Lane Kiffin gestures during the game against the California Golden Bears at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated California 48-14. Photo via Newscom

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The “Controversial Sports Personalities” of 2010 …..

Posted on 16 December 2010 by Rex Snider

As we make our way into mid-December and the final weeks of the year, excitement starts to build with many people, young and old. From the anticipation (or stresses) of the holidays, to the culmination of another NFL season, many of us look forward to this part of our annual calendar.

In my own way, I look forward to this time of year, because I’m a “list” kinda guy …..

Be it BEST OF, WORST OF, MOST INTRIGUING, MOST OVERRATED, MOST POPULAR, MOST HATED and just about any related combination, I like compiling lists of my personal rankings regarding people and events of any given year.

Of course, my lists revolve around sports, in one context or another. From the famous to the infamous, and the champions to the chokers, I’ll give you the spin on how 2010 shakes out in my conflicted mind.

Today, we’ll begin with the “TEN MOST CONTROVERSIAL SPORTS PERSONALITIES OF THE YEAR” …..
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10) Lane Kiffin – The ultimate coaching mercenary, huh? Many of us were snookered into believing Kiffin was the sympathetic figure depicted in his dysfunctional ride with Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders. Little did we know his loyalties would tend to run as deep, or shallow, as his former boss …..

Oct 16, 2010; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Lane Kiffin gestures during the game against the California Golden Bears at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated California 48-14. Photo via Newscom

Earlier this year, Lane Kiffin deserted the University of Tennessee – the institution that gave him a second chance – on a whim to return to his coaching roots, at the University of Southern California. Kiffin garnered a lot of rightful criticism for switching jobs, midstream, while so many people, in Tennessee, depended on him.
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9) Cam Newton – Well, we all know this name, huh? Yet, a year ago at this time, only the hardcore college football fans really knew anything about Newton. Only in America …. can a sports personality rise from anonymity to celebrity, in the span of a few months.

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: 2010 Heisman Trophy candidate Cam Newton of the Auburn University Tigers speaks at a press conference at The New York Marriott Marquis on December 11, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

I suppose we should really be recognizing Cam’s father, Cecil, for being the “straw that stirred this combustible cocktail.” He obviously lobbied for money in exchange for his son’s services, and regardless of what the NCAA might be saying, most of us don’t really believe young Cam is blameless.

Hmmm …. how long will it take for him to surrender that trophy?

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ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Matt Ryan  of the Atlanta Falcons converses with quarterback Joe Flacco  of the Baltimore Ravens after the Falcons 26-21 win at Georgia Dome on November 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Blog & Tackle: NFL one-liners through Week 13

Posted on 09 December 2010 by Chris Pika

The 2010 NFL season has reached the three-quarter mark, and like any good game on Sundays, it’s usually the fourth quarter that decides success or failure.

It’s a chance to take stock of each conference after 13 weeks and 12 games with one-liners on each of the teams. Below are some stats, observations and conjecture as we look ahead to the final four weeks.

First, here is a look at the AFC by divisions. Records are through Week 13:

AFC East

New England Patriots (10-2): Patriots have won last four, including huge win over the Jets to solidfy their claim as AFC’s best team behind conference-best (+110) scoring differential; road to AFC title will go through Gillette Stadium and coach Bill Belichick.

New York Jets (9-3): Despite 3-1 stretch, Jets went from potentially being in line to host AFC title game to very vulnerable after shredding of New York’s vaunted D by the Patriots.

Miami Dolphins (6-6): Dolphins continue to confound with 5-1 road mark, but 1-5 home record — that will be main reason they will not make playoffs as well as offensive woes (-23 point differential).

Buffalo Bills (2-10): Bills finally saw results after 0-8 start with two straight victories, but close loss to Steelers and blowout defeat to Vikings has slowed Buffalo’s progress.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3): Steelers have grabbed choke-hold of AFC North after winning the war in Baltimore last week behind QB Ben Roethlisberger and stout defense; now Pittsburgh could host AFC Divisional Playoff at always-tough Heinz Field.

Baltimore Ravens (8-4): Only home loss of season so far to Steelers was costly as Ravens may have three straight playoff games on the road instead of one or two home games; predicted high-production offense has gone cold at bad times.

Cleveland Browns (5-7): Cleveland continues to be a “tough out” thanks to solid running game behind RB Peyton Hillis; if they get QB (and maybe head coach) situation settled in offseason, could be 2011 team to watch in AFC.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-10): The wheels have completely come off the cart for one of the preseason favorites to win the division — nine-game losing streak may spell the end of the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5): Jaguars, after 3-1 stretch, find themselves on top in the division, despite worst point differential among all division leaders (-43) — only question is can they hold off slumping Colts?

Indianapolis Colts (6-6): Colts’ injuries have finally taken a toll; forget Peyton Manning for a moment, being in position of having to pass so much has allowed opponents to tee off in crucial situations — but Indy can still catch Jaguars for division title.

Houston Texans (5-7): Lack of strong starts have doomed Texans, 1-5 in their last six games — last chance for Houston (and maybe coach Gary Kubiak’s job) comes with Monday night visit by Ravens in Week 14.

Tennessee Titans (5-7): When you didn’t think anybody else could surpass Minnesota as NFL’s best soap opera, here comes the Titans; normally unflappable coach Jeff Fisher has had to deal with Vince Young, Randy Moss and owner Bud Adams in recent weeks.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (8-4): Chiefs seem to have control of the division after a three-game win streak and perfect 6-0 home mark; can they hold off the Raiders and Chargers over the final four weeks?

Oakland Raiders (6-6): Progress has been slowed by 3-2 mark in last five games, but 4-0 division record could be factor if they get help before Week 17 showdown at traditional rival Chiefs.

San Diego Chargers (6-6): Amazing how one loss changes things after blowout defeat by Raiders last week that stopped four-game win streak; season on the line vs. Chiefs this week.

Denver Broncos (3-9): A three-game losing streak coupled with Spygate-like scandal in London finally cost Josh McDaniels his coaching job; Eric Studesville gets his audition but the supporting cast is not there.

And now for the NFC by divisions:

NFC East

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Matt Ryan  of the Atlanta Falcons converses with quarterback Joe Flacco  of the Baltimore Ravens after the Falcons 26-21 win at Georgia Dome on November 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles (8-4): The Eagles are tied for the division lead, but arguably have the NFC East’s toughest schedule left with two games vs. Dallas and one each against the Giants and Vikings — for what was originally expected to be a transition year, a lot is still on the table.

New York Giants (8-4): Giants are playing as well as any team in NFC right now, but head coach Tom Coughlin’s team must navigate Minnesota, Philadelphia and Green Bay the next three weeks to stay in the division and Wild Card mix.

Washington Redskins (5-7): The Redskins season has become a trainwreck as head coach Mike Shanahan has had to deal with several distractions, including DT Albert Haynesworth’s suspension for conduct detrimental; the Skins defense should be suspended as well, allowing the fifth-most points in the NFC.

Dallas Cowboys (4-8): The Cowboys have gotten off the deck to become a team no one wants to face down the stretch; Dallas could play spoiler in the NFC East and help Jason Garrett remove the interim coaching tag.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (9-3): The Bears have won five straight to hold the division lead by one game thanks to resurgent play by QB Jay Cutler and LB Brian Urlacher; Chicago has murderous final four weeks capped by Week 17 visit to Packers.

Green Bay Packers (8-4): Despite injuries, Packers are firmly in the playoff mix, but key Week 12 loss at Atlanta looms large as well as final three games against New England, Giants and Chicago — win those and Green Bay will have earned its postseason ticket.

Minnesota Vikings (5-7): A change in head coach to well-respected assistant Leslie Frazier has helped the mood in Minnesota, but the final four weeks will be all about Brett Favre’s literal limp to the finish of his career (I think).

Detroit Lions (2-10): Some of the strides made early in the season by the Lions have been erased by the current five-game losing streak; coach Jim Schwartz is still looking for consistent winning formula.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (10-2): The hottest team in the NFC with six straight wins, the Falcons may do something no Atlanta NFL team ever has — host the NFC Championship Game in January; but they have to get through Week 16 Monday Night game vs. Saints.

New Orleans Saints (9-3): The defending Super Bowl champions are playing like it for first time all season with a current five-game win streak as the Saints try to go stride-for-stride with the Falcons; back-to-back road contests at Baltimore and Atlanta in Weeks 15-16 are New Orleans’ key games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5): The air has finally come out of the Buccaneers’ balloon with two straight losses, but Tampa Bay is just one game out of a Wild Card spot with favorable matchups in the next three weeks before Week 17 at Saints.

Carolina Panthers (1-11): The Panthers just want the season to be over, and the housecleaning will begin soon after starting with head coach John Fox; Panthers are a NFC-worst minus-153 in point differential.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams (6-6): The Rams have quietly put themselves in position to make the playoffs out of a weak NFC West, but don’t mistake St. Louis as a weak team — QB Sam Bradford is one of the league’s feel-good stories of 2010, and division could come down to Week 17 tilt at Seattle.

Seattle Seahawks (6-6): The Seahawks are in position to capture the NFC West, but head coach Pete Carroll’s squad still has worst point differential among NFC teams with a winning record (-49); Week 17 vs. St. Louis could be the decider.

San Francisco 49ers (4-8): San Francisco not officially dead in NFC West race, but last gasp could come this Sunday vs. Seattle; if they win, they still have games vs. St. Louis and Arizona — teams they have already beaten in 2010.

Arizona Cardinals (3-9): Cardinals have gone south for the winter as they have lost seven straight and hold NFC’s second-worst point difference (-138), but have three winnable games in final four weeks.

For up-to-date Tweets on the NFL and the Ravens, please follow me on Twitter (@BlogAndTackle). For more national NFL stories, please visit my personal site at BlogAndTackle.net.

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Duane Starks

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Duane Starks ten years after INT return in Super Bowl XXXV: “the longest 49 yards of running ever”

Posted on 20 October 2010 by Ryan Chell

On January 28, 2001, former Ravens corner back Duane Starks remembers clearly a particular play that would not only impact his life, but one of an entire city looking for a team to call “World Champions”.

That date of course was the day that the Baltimore Ravens, fresh off a 12-4 regular season and three playoff wins over the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, and the Oakland Raiders, earned the franchise’s first ever Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXV, winning of course by a score of 34-7 over the NFC Champion New York Giants.

It brought the city of Baltimore their first championship since 1983 with the Baltimore Orioles, and its first ever football title since 1970 when the Colts brought home the NFL title in Super Bowl V.

And of course, the play was Starks’ 49-yard interception return in that Super Bowl, one of four touchdowns and interceptions for the Ravens on the night.

This Sunday at halftime versus the Buffalo Bills, the Ravens will honor  30+members of the championship team, including the likes of quarterback Trent Dilfer, safety Rod Woodson, running back Jamal Lewis, and many others.

And while Duane Starks will not be in attendance Sunday, he said he will be their in spirit with his former teammates. He keeps in contact with most of his fellow champions.

“There’s a group of us that stay in touch,” Starks told Thyrl Nelson on “The Mobtown Sports Beat Wednesday.”I’m always in contact with Lional Dalton, Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper, and all these guys, even Jermaine Lewis.”

Starks was drafted by the Ravens with the tenth overall pick in the 1998 draft out of Miami, and combined with Raven draft picks in former Hurricanes teammate Ray Lewis, Chris Mcalister, Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Starks became a pivotal and key component to the best defense in NFL history when it came to points allowed in 2000.

And he not only was big in helping the team reach the Super Bowl, his interception of Giants quarterback Kerry Collins may have put the nail in the coffin for the Giants.

In his four years in Baltimore from 1998-2001, Starks grabbed 21 picks and was also a big run-stuffer from the secondary despite only measuring 5-10, 175 pounds.

In that Super Bowl, Collins would throw several interceptions to the likes of Chris Mcalister, Kim Herring, and Jamie Sharper was desperately trying to get his team back in the hunt after falling behind 10-0 with minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Collins took a three-step drop and immediately threw the ball to Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer. Starks, who had also grabbed a pick in the AFC Championship game against Oakland, stepped in front of the slant pass and took it back 49 yards for a the score, making it 17-0 in favor of Baltimore.

Duane Starks

Starks remembers the moment as clear as day.

“I intercept the ball and the first thing I was like, ‘just catch the ball’,” Starks told Thyrl.  “I caught the ball and after that as I’m running, I’m like ‘Please nobody clip. Nobody clip. No penalties. No penalties.’ It would have been sad to have a penalty there because the play happened so fast.”

“That was the longest 49 yards of running ever.”

Starks looked back as he crossed the Giants goal line to see if there were any flags on the play, but none came down.

Starks’ play not only put the Giants deeper in the hole, it also set off a series of plays that will rarely be seen again in Super Bowl history.

Following Starks’ interception return, the Ravens kicked off to the Giants, and Giants KR Ron Dixon returned it 97 yards for a touchdown.

It was a game now. For at least a few more seconds.

The Giants on the opposing kickoff kicked the ball to former Maryland Terp Jermaine Lewis, who matched Dixon’s return with an 84 yard return of his own.

It was the first time in NFL history that each team returned kickoffs in the Super Bowl, and the first time they had been done back-to-back. It also finished a period of three consecutive plays where a touchdown was scored in a span of just 30 seconds.

The Ravens nearly earned the only shutout in Super Bowl history, but they were able to bring Baltimore a world championship and came home to celebrate on the streets of Baltimore.

Starks, who will be unable to attend Sunday’s festivities due to a previous engagement, said he still calls Baltimore home and will remain in contact with the Ravens for the rest of his life.

‘I’m not going to be able to make it to Baltimore, but I’m always visiting Baltimore and going to the office. I hate that I’m going to miss this glorious occasion.”

Miss the interview with Duane? Check the BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault for our interview with the former Ravens corner back and all our other interviews with the Super Bowl team! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Ravens Football!

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Week 6 Coach Speak

Posted on 14 October 2010 by Brian Billick

My broadcast partner, Thom Brennaman, and I had another tight game on FOX as Tampa Bay beat Cincinnati in the final seconds at home. The first five weeks of the NFL season have been hard to figure out, and I tackled some of what is going on in the league during this week’s Coach Speak for FOXSports.com.

I talked to the winning coach of the Tampa Bay-Cincinnati game, the Bucs’ Raheem Morris, about Tampa Bay’s fast start, the evolution of the Tampa 2 defense and what’s ahead for the Buccaneers. I also talked to John Harbaugh about the Ravens’ victory over Denver, and how Baltimore is preparing for a big AFC matchup at New England this Sunday.

In my Billick 101 segment, there is a lesson in how to execute a play-action pass from Falcons quarterback coach Bill Musgrave, and Giants special teams coach Tom Quinn shows how to block a punt.

I take a look at how the Giants managed, even with harsh fans and lots of media in New York, to rebound after a tough start to the season. There was never a reason to panic, and I hope the fans and media have learned a lesson in how NFL fortunes can change week-to-week.

Lastly, we check out the Never Say Never Moment of the Week, including Jason Campbell coming off the bench to give the Raiders a huge win at home over the Chargers.

Here is this week’s version of Coach Speak:

Coach Speak: Week 6

This week, because of the NLCS on FOX, Thom moves over to work with Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver, so I will team with Chris Myers to call Seattle at Chicago.

If you miss any of my appearances on the station this week, please check out the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to listen to all of the great interviews on WNST & WNST.net.

Talk to you next week …

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Why is officiating so bad across the board?

Posted on 09 October 2010 by Domenic Vadala

The first round of the baseball playoffs has brought more controversy with regard to officiating. Ron Gardenhire of the Twins and Joe Maddon of the Rays became the first managers to be thrown out of playoff games on the same day in MLB history. (For the record, I think that this is partially due to the fact that most umpires recognize that the playoffs are the playoffs, and they probably don’t have as quick of a hook on guys.) We’ve all seen the plays that resulted in the ejections, so they’re not really worth re-hashing. (Although I will say that I disagreed with Joe Maddon about the check swing; I felt the guy checked it in time, however it was certainly close and worth questioning.) However this also illustrates the fact that in the past year (in my opinion) officiating has gone downhill.

There were various times this past season where I felt that the other team got the benefit of the doubt against the Orioles. There were even times when replays backed up the fact that the umpires made a bad call in the favor of other teams. I can accept that bad calls will happen; the issue I have is when a league takes a stance such as what MLB has said in the past in that instant replay isn’t an option. (I personally believe that come opening day 2011 we’ll have an instant replay system in MLB.) I like how college football reviews it’s plays with the “eye-in-the-sky” system. Every play is reviewed, and if the official in the box sees something he doesn’t like, he buzzes down to the ref and they look at it again. That’s how baseball should do it. I recognize that you can’t review balls and strikes, however anything on the base paths or in the field of play should be fair game. I have to assume that game officials have a certain amount of pride as well, and that they don’t want to blow the calls. So why not give them a tool to use so that they can get the calls right?

And I’m not just picking on umpires in baseball here; I think that officiating across the board in all sports has deteriorated. This past summer FIFA came under immense scrutiny for how their officials called World Cup matches. Team USA almost got cheated out of advancing to the second round due to a horrible call involving a goal in a game. And things seem to almost get worse in the NFL on a weekly basis. We all know that there’s holding on every play, however the fact is that some teams get called for things, and some don’t. I often wonder if reputation doesn’t play into some of that as well. The Oakland Raiders have long been thought of as one of the dirtiest teams in the NFL. So do the refs not read the newspapers and watch television over the course of the week? They know that based on history and the present; so are they looking for things more so than they would with other teams. (For the record, I’m not defending the Raiders because I hate them, but I’m just raising a question.)

With that said, I also have to question if the Ravens aren’t over-scrutinized a bit. The Ravens seem to collect their fair share of flags for late hits and roughing the passer; so now I’ve noticed that if a guy is dancing along the sidelines and someone sneezes on him they’re throwing flags on the Ravens. Consequently if a guy like Peyton Manning grounds the football and he’s near the tackle box, a ref might reason that he had to have been out of the tackle box.

Overall, I recognize that officiating is a thankless job. I go to a lot of sporting events over the course of the year, and I always boo the refs or umps when they come out. It’s kind of like a tradition to me, although I don’t condone what Cleveland fans did by throwing beer bottles on the refs years back. Whenever there’s a bad call that affects a game people always try to play it off by saying, “…hey, it’s just a game.” Yeah, it is just a game; however in these games people get cut and fired based on wins and losses. That one blown call might push a coach over the edge of losing his job, or a player in terms of getting cut. I know that there’s accountability on the part of the officials for the calls that they blow, however it’s not done publically. When a coach gets fired it’s very public. Ultimately in a tough economy, companies are expecting more out of their employees. I wish that we could ask for more out of the zebras and the blues as well.

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