Super Bowl LV: Tale of the Tape

Patrick Mahomes (left) and Tom Brady (right) – Credits: Justin Edmonds and Mike Ehrmann (People)

Surprisingly, we made it through a full season of professional football in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Super Bowl LV may be a dream matchup for casual and hardcore football fans. The defending champions, Kansas City Chiefs, face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a star-laden matchup. This game is highlighted by two quarterbacks destined for greatness.

Icon Vs Icon: The Young Buck Against The Savvy Veteran

We are seeing a generational matchup between two football icons. Essentially, this is a matchup between the past and future.

On one side we have Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs with an already stacked resume in his young career. Winning the Season MVP award, holding the Lombardi Trophy, a Super Bowl MVP nod, and passing over 50 touchdowns in a single season are some accolades he has already achieved. Most players in the NFL dream of achieving at least one of those feats in a 15 year career – Mahomes has done all of them in 4.

On the other hand, there is Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A household name that your mom probably knows – and many other casual fans. 21 seasons in the NFL, Brady doesn’t seem to slow down at the ripe age of 43. Most NFL players would have retired around this age (hence, Phillip Rivers and possibly Drew Brees), as their bodies naturally slow down. But for Brady still dominating the league is completely unheard of – especially someone in the late stages of his career. This being his 10th trip to the Super Bowl, Brady cements himself as the winningest quarterback in the history of the National Football League.

Any comparisons you want to make between these two: Ali versus Frazier, Pacquiao versus Mayweather, The Rock versus John Cena, Lebron James versus Kobe Bryant – the list goes on. We’ve seen an icon versus icon matchup before in sports, but the stakes have never been higher. They are playing for the most prestigious prize in American sports – The Super Bowl, baby!

All I’m saying is, expect an offensive slugfest between these two juggernauts.

The Narratives: Silencing the Critics

Of course, the media will heavily focus on these two NFL superstars until the game is conceded. Not only is the chip on the line but legacy as well.

Tony Romo, former Dallas Cowboy quarterback and CBS sports analyst, puts it best: “The fact that Mahomes is somehow in this discussion as the GOAT shows you how amazing this guy is. There’s a chance for Mahomes playing this game, to climb the ladder. If Mahomes wins, he keeps that door open. If Brady wins, I don’t know how anyone can top him.”

A win here from the Chiefs will assert their dominance over the league for many years to come – as we witness one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the NFL. But not only that, this outcome will be one of those “passing of the torch” moments in sports. Brady, a living legend, hands the keys over to Mahomes as the face of the NFL. Said best by Ric Flair, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man!”

Credit: Steven Senne – AP Photo (MassLive)

If Brady wins, he proves his critics wrong about his time in New England. Scrutinized as a “system quarterback” throughout his career, people heralded Bill Belichick for creating a formidable team in the past two decades. Since 2001, Brady has achieved: 9 Super Bowl trips, a NFL Season MVP, over 74,000 yards passing, and 14 Pro Bowl nods all under Bill Belichick.

Even though Belichick may be responsible for Brady’s successes, this year has already proven otherwise for The Patriots who finished 7-9 for the season and missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

No stranger to critics, Brady has proved time and time again to shut them up. He is already the winningest quarterback in NFL history, but a win here cements him as the greatest football player of all time.

Legacy is on the line for both sides, so expect a great show on February 7th in Tampa Bay.

Jeff Dominguez is the Communications Director for The Sting

Free agency leaves Ravens with more questions than answers

Free agency in the NFL got off to a busy start when it began on March 10. As a result, the Baltimore Ravens have lost several popular players who’ve been keys to their success over the last several seasons, providing several players from last year’s draft class with an opportunity to play a bigger role in 2015.

Just before free agency began, the Ravens released receiver/kickreturner Jacoby Jones. Jones had been a game- changer with his ability to make big plays in the kick return game. He was also on the receiving end of“The Mile-High Miracle,” catching Joe Flacco’s 70-yard touchdown pass to tie the game in the 2013 AFC Divisional Round at Denver, which the Ravens won in double overtime. However, Jones struggled with catching the ball in the passing game, and as a returner muffed several kicks. Jones signed a two-year contract with San Diego.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith, a 2011 graduate from the University of Maryland, has also left the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent. He signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, where he’ll join another former Raven in Anquan Boldin. Last year with the Ravens, Smith caught 49 passes for 767 yards, and was 10th in the NFL with 11 touchdown catches. However, he’s been knocked for his perceived inability to run more complex routes. Baltimore is also down a tight end after Owen Daniels joined former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak by signing with Denver. Free safety Darian Stewart also signed with the Broncos.

DefensivetackleHalotiNgatawas scheduled to make $16 million this season, and was going to count for $8.5 million against the salary cap. On March 11, the Ravens traded Ngata to Detroit for the Lions’ fourth and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft. Ngata thanked the Ravens and their fans with a full-page ad in the March 15 edition of The Baltimore Sun. He ended the letter with the Samoan phrase “Ofa Lahi Atu,” which means “Love you.” The Ravens also released defensive tackle Terrence “Mount Cody,” who’s been charged with animal cruelty in Baltimore County. Meanwhile, linebacker Terrell Suggs did agree to restructure his contract to give the team some space under the salary cap, and cornerback Lardarius Webb took a pay cut to re-sign with the Ravens. Cornerback Anthony Levine has also re-signed with Baltimore, and defensive end Chris Canty has signed a new two-year, $4.65 million contract with the team after being released in late February.

In the backfield, running back Justin Forsett agreed to terms on a three-year, $9 million contract to stay in Baltimore. Baltimore will be looking for a new backup quarterback after Tyrod Taylor signed with the Buffalo Bills.

The Ravens are once again dealing with players who’ve had run-ins with the law. Running back Bernard Pierce was pulled over by Baltimore County Police for speeding after allegedly being clocked going 55 mph in a 30 mph zone near the Beltway on St. Patrick’s Day. He reportedly failed a field sobriety test. Pierce has been charged with DUI and exceeding maximum speed, among other charges, and has since been released by the team. He’s the second Raven to be released after being arrested for DUI this offseason, joining cornerback Victor Hampton.

Ravens looking to move past lackluster 2013 season

Will have to start without Rice

By Andrew Koch

A disappointing 2013 season that saw the Baltimore Ravens finish 8-8 with a struggling running game and offensive line was followed by an offseason dominated by news of offseason arrests. The highest-profile off-the-field incident will cost the Ravens one of their most important players for two games.

After being arrested for assaulting his now-wife inside an elevator in the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the NFL suspended running back Ray Rice for the first two games of the season. The suspension will go into effect on Aug. 30, and will continue through Sept. 12. That means Rice will miss the Ravens’ opener on Sept. 7 against Cincinnati, along with the Sept. 11 Thursday night game against Pittsburgh. The suspension that was handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has created a firestorm of controversy, raising questions about how seriously the league office takes the issue of domestic violence perpetrated by its players.

Rice wasn’t the only Ravens player to have a run-in with the law. He was one of five players who were arrested between February and July. Less than a week after Rice was arrested, receiver Deonte Thompson was arrested for marijuana possession in Gainesville, Florida. The case was later dismissed. Offensive tackle Jah Reid was arrested and charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery after a fight in a bar in Key West. Like Rice, Reid has been accepted into a pretrial diversion program. Over Memorial Day weekend, rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and being drunk in public after being accused of breaking a window in a cab. That case has been dismissed. On July 12, cornerback Jimmy Smith was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct when Baltimore County Police say he was helping an intoxicated woman inside a bar bathroom in Towson, he refused to comply with officers’ orders and after medics and officers arrived.

The Ravens offense is quickly adapting to the new system that’s being installed by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Offseason acquisitions running back Justin Forsett and tight end Owen Daniels are helping the offense learn Kubiak’s system, having played under him when they were in Houston with Kubiak as the head coach. The offensive line under coach Luis Castillo has performed well in preseason play, and the running game featuring Rice, Forsett and Bernard Pierce has also looked good.

While the Ravens’ first teams on offense and defense have looked good in the preseason, the games have come with a physical cost. Smith and Rice were both taken out of the game at Dallas with injuries. Rice suffered an injury to his shoulder on Baltimore’s second possession. On the Cowboys’ first possession of the game, Smith went up to make a play on a pass intended for wide receiver Dez Bryant and landed on his chest. He then coughed up blood on the field and in the locker room. After undergoing an MRI, Smith was diagnosed with a bruised chest. His injury is challenging the depth of the Ravens secondary. Cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Lardarius Webb haven’t been practicing because of ankle and back injuries, respectively.

The Ravens will open the season with three straight games against their division rivals (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and at Cleveland on Sept. 21). Baltimore will wrap up Sept. by facing Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers at home on Sept. 28.

Terrapins football begins new era in Big Ten

By Andrew Koch

Maryland Head Coach Randy Edsall and his staff have finalized their roster, and the Terrapins have broken camp as they get ready for their first season in the Big Ten Conference.

After announcing in 2012 that it would be leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference after helping create the conference in 1953, the University was sued by the conference for the exit fee of $52.3 million. That exit fee had been raised twice within the previous year. According to ESPN, the fee was first increased to $20 million in 2011, after Syracuse and Pittsburgh joined the conference, and then up to $52.3 million the following year, when the University of Notre Dame announced that it would join the ACC in all sports except football.

Two months later, when Maryland announced that it was going to join the Big Ten, the ACC responded by withholding Maryland’s share of the conference’s TV and bowl revenue. Maryland filed suit, calling the move “an illegal penalty.” After being sued for the exit fee, the University filed a $157 million countersuit against the conference. In the suit, the school claimed that the ACC tried to recruit a pair of Big Ten schools to join after Maryland announced it was leaving. In a settlement that was reached on Aug. 8, the ACC will be allowed to keep the $31.4 million in TV and bowl revenue, and Maryland won’t owe the conference any additional money.

With all the legal wrangling in the background now in the rear-view mirror, the Terrapins football team focused on preparing for a new season and a new conference. Maryland went 7-6 in 2013, its final season in the ACC, including a 3-5 record in conference games. In training camp, much of the competition was on the offensive side of the ball. According to Matt Bertram of the Athletic Department’s Media Relations Office, this year’s training camp saw a wide-open competition at tight end. That position will have a young group, with the most experienced of the five on this year’s roster being sophomores Andrew Isaacs, Brian McMahon and P.J. Gallo. The other two tight ends on the roster are redshirt freshmen Eric Roca of Puerto Rico and Derrick Hayward of Wicomico High School in Salisbury. At running back, four players were competing for two spots to get regular playing time. However, one of those running backs, Jacquille Veii, has been converted into a wide receiver, and will be lining up in the slot.

The defense will be anchored by senior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil (Towson High School) and Sophomore Yannick Ngakoue at linebacker. Cudjoe-Virgil had 18 total tackles, three sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception in six games as a redshirt junior last year. Ngakoue added 10 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. The pass rush will be led by defensive end Andre Monroe, who led the team with 9.5 sacks, good for a tie for sixth in the ACC. Monroe set career highs in total and solo tackles in a game (10 total, seven solo in Maryland’s loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl), sacks and tackles for loss (three sacks, and 3.5 tackles-for-loss in an overtime win at Virginia Tech).

Maryland will open the season on Aug. 30 in College Park against James Madison. The non-conference schedule will include games at South Florida, home against West Virginia, and at Syracuse. The Terps will play their first Big Ten game on Sept. 27 at Indiana. The following week, they’ll play their first Big Ten home game against fifth-ranked Ohio State in the Buckeyes’ second visit to Maryland.

Following their bye week, Maryland will host Iowa on Oct. 18, and then travel to number 14 Wisconsin. The Terrapins will play at Penn State on Nov. 1, and after another week off, will have a night game at home against Michigan State. Maryland will wrap up the season with games at Michigan on Nov. 22, followed by the regular season finale at home against fellow Big Ten newcomer Rutgers on Nov. 29 during Thanksgiving weekend.

Rice Admitted to Pretrial Diversion Program, Apologizes For Fight With Wife

Ravens running back Ray Rice will avoid a trial on aggravated assault charges, and spoke publicly to apologize for the first time since the fight with his then-fianceé (now wife) inside a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

During a press conference at the Ravens facility in Owings Mills on May 23, Rice, accompanied by his wife Janay Palmer, told reporters that he’d “failed miserably.” ESPN reports his voice cracked with emotion as he apologized to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, General Manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and the fans that look up to him. Rice says ever since the Valentine’s Day weekend fight with Palmer inside the Revel Casino, he’s been working to make himself a better person.

“One thing that I do know is that I am working every day to be a better father, a better husband, you know, and just a better role model,” Rice said. “We are better parents, we are better lovers, and we are also better friends throughout this situation. I failed miserable, but I wouldn’t call myself a failure because I’m working my way back up.”

Rice spoke for a little over six minutes and did not take any questions from reporters before turning the microphone over to Palmer, who said that she did regret the role she played in the fight. She expressed her love for her husband, and hopes that he’ll continue to show the person he really is to the greater Baltimore community.

On May 20, Rice was accepted into a pretrial diversion program. If he successfully completes the program, the aggravated assault charge handed down by an Atlantic County (New Jersey) grand jury will be dismissed. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office still hasn’t indicated whether or not the league will suspend Rice under the league’s personal conduct policy.

Ravens Notebook: Rice Likely to Avoid Jail; Gets Support From Team

By Andrew R. Koch

The worst season of Ray Rice’s career has been followed by a tumultuous off-season. However, he’ll avoid jail time, and is still getting support from his head coach and general manager.

After averaging a career-low 3.1 yards per carry, thanks largely due to poor play by the Ravens offensive line, Rice and his then-fianceé (now wife) Janay Palmer were arrested on February 15 after getting into a fight in the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. TMZ and several other media outlets picked up on the video from a surveillance camera that showed Rice dragging Palmer’s unconscious body out of an elevator. They were both charged with simple assault. On March 27, a grand jury in Atlantic City dropped the charge against Palmer, and elevated the charge against Rice to third-degree aggravated assault. A day later, the couple got married. Spousal privileges allow Palmer to refuse testifying against Rice if the case goes to court. However, the case isn’t likely to see much, if any, time inside a courtroom.

At his arraignment in Cape May on May 1, Rice entered a plea of not guilty to the aggravated assault charge. He applied for entry into a pretrial intervention program that allows some defendants, especially first-time defendants, to avoid formal prosecution. If his application is denied, prosecutors in Atlantic County say they’ve offered Rice a plea bargain that would allow him to go on probation without having to go to jail. Under the deal, he’d also have to go through anger-management counseling. It’s uncertain at this time whether or not Rice will be suspended under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. If he is, he may likely only get a short suspension because of his reputation off the field.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says while he is disappointed in Rice, he’s continues to express his support for his starting running back. Harbaugh has repeatedly pointed out Rice’s work in the greater Baltimore community, and how he’s never had an off-field incident prior to February. General Manager Ozzie Newsome says the uncertainty surrounding Rice won’t affect the Ravens’ plans for this week’s NFL Draft. However, on April 4 the Ravens signed Justin Forsett to a one-year deal to add depth at the running back position. Forsett had six carries for 31 yards in nine games last year with Jacksonville;  and he has also accumulated 347 carries for 1,692 yards and eight touchdowns in his six-year career. In 2012, he played with Houston for then-head coach Gary Kubiak, who’s now the offensive coordinator for the Ravens.

Ravens 2014 Schedule

The NFL released its 2014 schedule on April 25. The Ravens’ season will begin with games against each of the team’s three AFC North rivals. The Ravens will play Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium on September 7, followed by Pittsburgh four days later on “Thursday Night Football.” The Ravens will travel to Cleveland on September 21, and will close out September at home against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Baltimore has two other nationally televised games on the schedule, in addition to the Thursday night game in Week 2. The Ravens will be at Pittsburgh for “Sunday Night Football” on November 2, and in New Orleans for “Monday Night Football” on November 24. This season, Baltimore will play every team in the AFC South (Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee) and the NFC South (Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay). The other 13 games will all begin at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, subject to the NFL’s flex scheduling.

Roster Moves

The Ravens solidified the tight end position by agreeing with Owen Daniels on a one-year contract on April 3. Daniels was drafted by Houston out of the University of Wisconsin in 2006. Last year, Daniels played in only five games before a broken fibula ended his season. Injuries have limited him to 11 games or less in three of the last five seasons. However, Daniels played in 15 games in both 2011 and 2012. The signing reunites Daniels with Kubiak, and he’ll be instrumental in helping the Ravens offensive players learn Kubiak’s system. When healthy, Daniels has proven to be one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

The signing of Daniels helps cushion the blow at tight end that came less than a week later. Ed Dickson signed a one-year deal with Carolina. Published reports say that the Ravens had lost confidence in Dixon over the last couple of seasons, but at 26, he’s still young enough to turn his career around. Dickson is the Ravens’ fifth free agent to sign with another team, joining defensive tackle Arthur Jones (signed with the Colts), offensive tackle Michael Oher (signed with Tennessee), cornerback Corey Graham (signed with Buffalo), and strong safety James Ihedigbo (signed with Detroit).