Missing Rings: The 1995 Detroit Lions – Curse of Bobby Layne Extended

Okay, before we get started we have to share something with you…

While it’s widely known the Dallas Cowboys were the team of the 90’s, do you know who held a 3-1 record against them during the years 1991-1995??

When we use hyperbole in sports we always talk about a team as a sum greater than its parts. You find this to be true in all championship teams and in the near champions. When you look back its amazing how teams have seasons where all their stars have career years at the same time. Yet something happens to the psyche of a team when they come up short. All the parts are still there, things look the same, however they cant rekindle the feeling nor winning ways of that lost season.   Enter the 1995 Detroit Lions

Have you ever heard of “The Curse of Bobby Layne?” He was the last quarterback to lead the Lions to the NFL championship and he did it 3 times in the Fabulous ’50s. Once he was an aging & injured player, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On his way out, the embattled future Hall of Famer quipped “The Lions won’t win for 50 years!” Well that was 1958.

Over the next 4 decades the franchise mired in mediocrity due to the fact they fell short constantly at quarterback. Only once in 1971 did the Lions have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Greg Landry since Layne’s departure. From 1957-1990 Detroit didn’t muster a single playoff win. Their teams toiled in anonymity with very few players of distinction during many of those years.

However with the ’89 NFL draft the Lions drafted Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders. The greatest running back in NFL history. With such a breathtaking runner dominating the marquee, the Lions could hand the ball off and let Sanders break ankles as he routinely rushed for 100 yard games. Great for highlights not so much for winning as Detroit began 2-9 in his rookie season. Then Sanders exploded for 28 car 145 yds and another 45 yds receiving in a 13-10 Thanksgiving Day win over Cleveland. At the time the Browns were a perennial playoff team in the middle of 3 trips to the AFC Championship Game in a 4 year period. Propelled by that performance the Lions finished 7-9 with a 5 game winning streak.

To capitalize on their remarkable runner they needed to improve on journeyman QB Bob Gagliano and improve the quality of the roster. In 1989, Rodney Peete was a rookie QB on the team yet the Lions inexplicably followed his selection by drafting another in Andre Ware the following year. Desperate to develop a quarterback they also brought in Erik Kramer in 1991. Coach Wayne Fontes never settled on a QB and played the hot hand at the time. This retarded the growth of all 3 as the Lions staggered through a 6-10 1990 and began 1991 with a 6-4 record.

Benny Blades, from The [[_]] was a defensive force

The team rallied through tragedy as they played on and dedicated the rest of the season to G Mike Utley who had been paralyzed against the Rams. Offering the same “thumbs up” as Utley gave when he was taken from the field on a gurney, the team rallied winning their last 6 to finish 12-4. Winners of the NFC Central, they hosted the Wildcard Dallas Cowboys and destroyed them 38-6.

They fell in the 1991 NFC Championship 41-10 to the eventual champion Washington Redskins. The reality was they had overachieved on emotion and were short on personnel. Aside from the incomparable Sanders, only T Lomas Brown on the offensive side of the ball, made the Pro Bowl in ’90 and ’91. The defense had 3 Pro Bowlers in SS Bennie Blades (The [[_]]), LB Chris Spielman, and NT Jerry Ball.

Over the next few years management grew increasingly frustrated with Coach Fontes inability to groom a quarterback. Especially with the emergence of Brett Favre with the division rival Packers. With the signing of DE Reggie White at the advent of Free Agency in ’92, they had become the preeminent team in the NFC Central. For good measure Favre started his playoff run as a face of the future with a ’93 wildcard win over Detroit 28-24.

Management blew up the 3 QB rotation of Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer, and Andre Ware by releasing them. They signed Scott Mitchell to a 3 year $11 million contract after he had admirably filled in for an injured Dan Marino in Miami. He was tall (6’6) could see over the line and seemingly make all the throws… matched with emerging wideout Herman Moore and a reliable #2 in Brett Perriman with Sanders in the mix?? They could be something. All were under 30 and hitting their prime. They had some growing pains that first year with Mitchell however veteran backup Dave Krieg had been brought in and 94 saw another wildcard birth.

Detroit showed flashes as they began slowly (again) mustering a 3-6 record precipitating management issuing an ultimatum to Coach Fontes. Anything less than the playoffs was unacceptable. The underlying tone was Fontes would be fired if they didn’t make the posteason. Rather than turn the game to Sanders as they had in years past, they kept honing their new 3 receiver approach… As for Sanders:

The ink was already drying where most sportswriters mentioned Scott Mitchell on the list of biggest free agent busts: Not so fast guys!! In their 0-3 start, Detroit scored a total of 47 points. The team emerged from the ownership ultimatum a focused group that roared back winning their final 7 games. In doing so, the Lions averaged 32 points per game and finished with the league’s #1 offense. Had they kept that scoring rate up for the whole season they could have challenged the NFL record for points. They still made NFL history though.

Herman Moore and Brett Perriman became the first teammates in NFL history to record over 100 receptions in the same season. Moore broke the NFL all time receptions record in a season with 123 for 1,686 yards and 14 TDs. Perriman (the [[_]]) emerged with 108 grabs for 1,488 yards and 9 touchdowns. This was the only time in league history where 2 receivers from the same team went over 1,400 yards receiving in the same season. Even 3rd receiver Johnny Morton got into the act with 44 rec. 590 yards & 8 scores.

The video already let you know Sanders ran for 1,500 yards & 11 touchdowns on just 314 carries. His 4.7 yards per carry was tops in the league. Why the remarkable turn-around?? Scott Mitchell!!

In a career year Mitchell bound all this talent together with a 4,000 yard season & a team record 32 touchdowns and should have made the Pro Bowl. The only reason he didn’t make the Pro Bowl was he was Scott Mitchell and not Troy Aikman (who did in ’95)… all about reputation:

  • Scott Mitchell 346 of 583 4,338 yds 32 TDs 12 ints (2.6 TD to int. ratio)
  • Troy Aikman 280 of 342 3,342 yds 16 TDs 7 ints (2.2 TD to int.ratio)

What argument could be made?? Well Aikman and the Cowboys were a running team. Wait a minute…didn’t Barry run for 1,500?? This team was flying into the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. Mitchell had become the quarterback the franchise had been looking for since Bobby Layne. The curse had been lifted!! They had their eyes on those Dallas Cowboys who they believed they could beat. In 94′ they handed the back to back champion their first loss of the season 20-17 where Sanders blistered the #1 defense for 194 yards in Texas Stadium.

All they had to do was get through Philadelphia on Wildcard Weekend and they would travel to Dallas for the divisional round. There they could prove they were among the league’s elite.

With their eyes fixed on the Cowboys they forgot to close their mouth about the Eagles. In this case T Lomas Brown, who guaranteed a win in the Detroit newspapers which changed the temperament and the tone of the game. Right then “The Curse of Bobby Layne” and the ghosts of Detroit Lions past arose.

A raucous crowd awaited them in Philadelphia as the Lions were booed and taunted from the moment they got off the plane. Once inside the friendly confines of Veteran’s Stadium a fired up Philly defense attacked Scott Mitchell mercilessly. He was hit twice in the first drive and sacked by Mike Mamula. The Eagles taunted him and he disintegrated under the pressure. The cool confidence shown all season vanished as he threw 4 interceptions and was benched midway through the 3rd quarter. By then the score had swelled to 51-7 as a nationwide audience watched in disbelief.

How was this happening with an Eagle team with 1995’s 25th ranked offense?? The 4th ranked Philly defense did swarm Sanders holding him to 40 yards rushing but it was the curse. How else could you explain a team winning 58-37 after it had been outscored (318 for / 330 against) all season?? Remember when they gave up on the 3 quarterbacks and let go of Rodney Peete?? Well he just so happened to be playing for the Eagles…his 3rd team in 3 years.

In ’95 he was a backup and came in after Randall Cunningham had been benched and threw for 8 TDs v 14 interceptions. This is what plagued his Lions career. Well in this game he channeled his inner Bobby Layne and played flawless football. Going 17 of 25 for 270 yards 3 TDs and no picks. In fact with :02 left in the 1st half up 31-7, he completed a Hail Mary 43 yard pass to Rob Carpenter 38-7 at the half…ball game!!

No NFC playoff game from 1970 to this day has seen that many points…58?? Scott Mitchell the free agent savior with the #1 offense fell apart with 6 total interceptions while the QB they got rid of had a career game for the opponent?? The laughter of Bobby Layne’s ghost could be heard off in the distance.

That game was the turning point in Mitchell’s career as he never recovered. A poor ’96 where he threw for 17 TDs to 17 ints led to a 5-11 season as the offense plummeted to 20th and Head Coach Wayne Fontes was fired. Sanders rushed for 1,553 yards in 96 but they couldn’t rekindle the magic of their run the season before. The ’95 season was the statistical best as Mitchell, Herman Moore, and Brett Perriman all had the best year of their careers.

One month later they watched the Dallas Cowboys win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years. In ’93 and ’94 they lost to Green Bay in the Wild Card just as they did to the Eagles in ’95. Each of those times they would have played Dallas in the playoffs and possibly altered football history. They had a 3-1 record over Dallas during those years and league wide respect beating them again in the playoffs was right there for the taking. However there is this curse lingering over this franchise…

By the way…still don’t believe in curses?? Guess what day present owner William Clay Ford’s bid was approved to buy the franchise?? Try November 22, 1963!! Folks I can’t make this stuff up!!

An aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided thrills in.

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Offensive MVP: Derek Carr

One of the reasons the NFL playoffs lacked any real sizzle was the loss of Derek Carr and the anemic way the Raiders season drew to a close. Arguably the best team in the AFC lost their chance when a Trent Cole sack rendered Carr’s leg broken in the 4th quarter of the 15th game. Did you know the Raiders were averaging 27 points per game before the injury yet could only score 20 in the last 2 games combined?? Not only could the Raiders not gain a 1st down the rest of the Colts game but the ability to convert dropped from 21.4 per game down to 13.

Carr's play was transcendent in 2016.

Carr’s play was transcendent in 2016.

In 2016 Carr channeled his inner George Blanda as he led eight come from behind wins in the 4th quarter or overtime. Eight! They were 6-1 on the road with him as he tossed game winning passes in 4 of the 1st 5 to begin 5-0 away from the Coliseum. The Raiders were in line to achieve home field advantage and had the most daring performer of the season taken from them.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr completed 63.8 % of his passes (357 of 560) for 3,937 yards 28TDs with just 6 interceptions. This was on the heels of achieving Pro Bowl status in 2015 when he had gone 350 of 573 for 3,987 yards 32 TDs yet threw 13 picks. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we have charted his growth and this is one of the future faces of the NFL. His injury not only cast a pall over the playoffs but was the only reason we heard Aaron Rodgers heroics at the end of the year. Rodgers had a 6 game winning streak of stellar play where Carr dominated all year long. Had Carr avoided that injury odds are they would have won the finale in Denver and finished 7-1 on the road. If the Patriots would have won home-field based off tie breaker scenarios, who would have been better equipped to go into New England than Carr with all his 4th quarter road wins??

The winner of the 2nd Taylor Blitz Times Offensive Player of the Year is David’s younger brother…. Derek Carr.

Honoarable Mention: Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are the NFC odds on favorite for Super Bowl LII.

How could you not have the 2 super rookies who infused Jerry World with a glimpse of their future?? While it’s true the heart of the Cowboys is The Great Wall II offensive line we first told you about back in 2014, Elliott and Prescott played within themselves and stretched what can be expected of rookies moving forward.

Where most rookie runners hit the rookie wall right before Thanksgiving,”Zeke” never did. He faced tough defenses in New York, Minnesota, Detroit, and Washington who were all playing for their playoff lives. They kept him from breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards. However his 1,631 yards allowed Elliott to become the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing since Edgerrin James in 1999.

His vision patience and timing have combined with the front wall to give the Cowboys a flashback to the Emmitt Smith and original Great Wall of 1990’s fame. His low center of gravity allow him to plow through most tacklers and fall forward. An effective tactic to keep the chains moving. He helped the Cowboys chew up the clock and keep opposing teams off the field, which protected Dallas’ defense. His future looks bright with several years in front of him.

The truth of the matter is Elliott was able to share the pressure heaped upon he and Prescott. All Dak did was complete 67% of his passes for 3,667 yards 23TDs with only 4 interceptions. Where the running game kept down and distance manageable, he was able to fire upon defenses selling out to stop the run. However he came of age in the 34-31 playoff loss at home to the Packers. He brought the Cowboys back twice in that game when Green Bay was geared to stop the pass. Down 21-3 he calmly fired 2 shots to get them back in the game 21-10… the last pass a 40 yard scoring play to Dez Bryant.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

Amid the pressure of being down to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers he brought them back from a 28-13 deficit… scoring 3 times to tie it 31-31. The came Rodgers miracle throw. However when the pressure was on Prescott to perform without the comfort of having the lead and leaning on his running game, he showed the NFL playoffs weren’t too big for him. Pundits and Cowboy haters waited for the cool veneer to wear off and waited for rookie mistakes to emerge. When they didn’t in the playoff loss to Green Bay, Cowboy haters better brace themselves for Elliott & Prescott are poised for a 5-7 year run in Dallas. They truly helped shape the season.

So there you have it… the first recipient of our Offensive MVP was Cam Newton in 2015 followed by Derek Carr in 2016. Along with the 2 headed monster in Dallas…these are the future faces of the NFL.

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Wildcard Weekend: New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers

It wouldn’t be the NFL playoffs without a playoff game on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. Tonight we’re going to dip a couple degrees below zero wind chill. With both of these teams allergic to running the football this game is tricky to pick.

eli-frozenHowever the Packers have committed to running the football in recent weeks with #88 Ty Montgomery in the backfield. How will he hold onto the football with playoff intensity hitting?? He led the team in rushing this year with 457 yards but McCarthy may use #22 Aaron Ripkowski more. He’s more 3 yards and a cloud of dust but he is conditioned to the hitting from close proximity more. Fumbles are critical in cold weather playoff games.

Over the last 6 years of his career, this has been the hardest season to watch him. He just hasn’t looked comfortable all season. His play has been sporadic even though he threw for 4,027 yards 26 TDs and 16 interceptions. Much of this has to do with Odell Beckham’s ability to break big plays for him. He has to keep from turning the ball over on his side of the 50.

Which Eli Manning is going to show up?

Aaron Rodgers has had another great season and many think he should receive MVP consideration. He finished the season with 4,427 yards 40 TDs with just 7 interceptions. He led the Packers to a 5 game winning streak to finish the season as he predicted they would run the table. However none of this happened in below zero weather. For the last 5 years our CEO has questioned if this is the best approach to winning in Lambeau in January. It hasn’t panned out.

Ripkowski could be the unknown factor.

Ripkowski could be the unknown factor.

The penchant for Mike McCarthy to pass, pass, pass could play in the Giants hands as their defense is leading their charge. He has to fight that urge and stay on the ground. Although the Packers have scored over 30 in their last 4 games, the Giants have held 3 of their last 4 opponents to 10 points or less.

New York comes into this game with the NFL’s 10th best defense giving up 339 yards per game. However a closer look and the Giants have only given up 288.5 yards per game in the last 4. That would have the Giants ranked #1 and this is how they are coming into Lambeau Field. Early in the season Green Bay receivers were having a hard time getting open. Now they face CBs Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who have jelled into the best secondary in football. At least from the corner position. They will smother the slow Packers receivers.

Jenkins and the CBs for New York are the key to New York winning this game.

Jenkins and the CBs for New York are the key to New York winning this game.

On the strength of this defensive matchup and the cold, the defense will keep Eli and the offense in it. They will need 1 or 2 explosive plays from Odell Beckham and the Giants will win a close game 23-16. Eli Manning has always risen to the occasion when he needs to make that one play.

 

Wildcard Weekend: Seattle Seahawks vs. Detroit Lions

Up in the Pacific Northwest the playoffs will be underway when the Lions enter Qwest Field as an underdog. After a 5 game winning streak against non playoff teams, Detroit fell to 3 straight teams who are in the postseason. In fact they went 0-4 against teams that made the playoffs so it begs the question… how will they win in Seattle??

Stafford's injured hand in a glove.

Stafford’s injured hand in a glove.

Interestingly Seattle isn’t exactly streaking into this match-up either. Not only did they finish 3-3 over the last 6 games but the vaunted defense gave up more than 30 points in the last two losses. Some may point to the loss of FS Earl Thomas who was lost for the season. Yet reality is setting in how plucked and depleted their defense has become over the last few years due to free agency.

Seattle comes in with the NFL’s 5th ranked defense however LB Bruce Irvin and Super Bowl MVP LB Malcolm Smith are playing in Oakland. CB Brandon Browner is out of football, DE Clemons is in Jacksonville just to name a few are missing from the XLVIII championship unit. Now Thomas injury adds to this mix although several holdovers remain.

Surprisingly 15 of the 37 sacks Detroit has allowed have come on the road. This tells us Matt Stafford will work the short passing game and keep the Seahawk pass rush at bay. The Lions haven’t won a game since Stafford injured the middle finger on his throwing hand and their last game outdoors?? They only scored 6 points in New York. They have to  possess the ball and own time of possession.

russellwilsonRussell Wilson and the Seattle offense has struggled to establish an identity all season. Without his scrambling to aid the offense in getting 1st downs they have run by committee and have yet to be inconsistent. Ever since CJ Prosise injured his shoulder the team has shuttled in a series of backs. In fact the Seahawks leading rusher is Christine Michael (469 yds) who has been cut and plays for the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks are vulnerable but Wilson should make a few plays to bail his team out today. He has a penchant to start scrambling before realizing his injured ankle hampers him and taking big sacks. He can’t do that today. One fumble on his side of the field can give the Lions life.

Seattle should squeak by in this game 23-12. Having lost 3 of their last 6 along with 3 road games where they couldn’t score 10 points, they are vulnerable. They may have a 1 week reprieve with a win this week.

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Responding to Terry Bradshaw’s Criticism of Steeler Coach Mike Tomlin

If there is one thing I have come to know and understand over the last few years covering the NFL is its a brotherhood. Sure some former players have issues with others who had been with rival teams but normally there is a public face masking any contempt. That has been blurred in recent years when former colleagues have become a part of the media covering the league.

tomlinNow come on Terry…keep it above board. In all honesty we should have seen this coming from Bradshaw. He was critiqued very harshly as a QB in a time where you didn’t have the 24 hour scrutiny we have now. Not tabloid garbage mind you. People forget he was called dumb by the media. “‘Lil Abner in cleats”…etc… etc Millions upon millions of people reading you’re dumb for years. He’s never recovered from it.

How do we know this?

Consider the fact Terry Bradshaw left the Steeler organization following the 1983 season yet didn’t return to Pittsburgh until 2002 for an onfield tribute. He didn’t attend the funeral of former Coach Chuck Noll in 2014 and had a strained relationship with the organization and the fans of Pittsburgh for decades. Not only has time not healed all wounds but the preferential treatment afforded many high profile quarterbacks such as John Elway and Peyton Manning have drawn the Hall of Famers ire.

bradshawDo you remember following Peyton Manning’s loss in Super Bowl XLVIII to Seattle he scoffed “If you like winning good during the season and losing Super Bowls, that’s your guy?”

Do you remember right before Super Bowl XXIV when Bradshaw was quoted “John’s problem is he’s been babied. You know, babied by the city until this year and babied by the coach (Dan Reeves) a little bit. It’s just too easy. And you know what I went through in Pittsburgh a little bit. There’s nothing worse than just getting hammered. You fight that stuff. I think John’s got to get tougher.”  National pundits, who treated Elway as a media darling, shot back their criticism of Bradshaw’s comments and were silenced by his next bombshell.

The weekend of Super Bowl XXIV, Bradshaw as a part of CBS coverage, sat in a round table discussion on the game. When it came time to give their predictions Terry offered “I don’t see how Denver can win this game. This sucker could get as bad as 55-3.” Not backing from his criticisms of Elway.  What was the final score? Try 55-10! How off was he??

Let’s face it Terry Bradshaw is the opinionated uncle you pre-warn guests coming to your family’s Thanksgiving Dinner about. Yet his Hall of Fame status and career achievement winning 4 Super Bowl titles lend him that license. What he had to endure at the hands of the press and even NFL Films before their triumph in Super Bowl X, has left him scarred. If he had to overcome harsh criticism why can’t others?? Therefore he subjects others to it even though he still rails against his treatment in Pittsburgh.

Even filming Chuck Noll- A Football Life Bradshaw said on camera he wished Noll had dealt him away and didn’t like playing for him. So now he says Mike Tomlin is a cheerleader as a coach which begs to question which is it? Should the coach be driving and demanding like Chuck Noll as he had instead?? The same coach he didn’t attend his funeral and still speaks ill of their professional time together?? Does he feel as though Tomlin isn’t authoritative enough as a disciplinarian in his tenure in Pittsburgh? What fuels the criticism??

When Tomlin fired back “But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas fan. Particularly a ‘Hollywood’ Henderson fan.” A complete dig at Bradshaw in a tongue in cheek way. You’ll remember right before Super Bowl XIII Henderson was quoted “Bradshaw is so dumb he couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the “c” and the “a”… prompting a funny response from Henderson: hollywood

The entire episode really illustrates what is before Coach Tomlin. I agree with Bradshaw in the fact that he is not a great head coach at this point. However 1 more Super Bowl appearance and he’ll become the 13th coach to have his team play for it all 3 times dating back to 1950. A 2nd Super Bowl win and he’ll become the 11th coach in the last 50 years to do so. Seven of which are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Bill Belichick will be the instant he is eligible. Not to mention the first black coach to do so.

Much like Bradshaw in his day he needs that 2nd championship to make the sporting press and critics cite him as great. His teams have evolved from the run first, defensive stalwart he inherited from Bill Cowher to a team that relies on its flamboyant passing attack with dynamic receivers and timely defense.

Hmmmm… isn’t that what happened with Bradshaw’s first two championship teams which leaned on Franco Harris & Rocky Bleier and one of the greatest defenses ever?? Bradshaw matured & had 300 yard passing games as the Steelers won Super Bowls XIII & XIV?? He ironically was the NFL’s MVP in ’78 and MVP of both those Super Bowls. Yet he emerged from being the Trent Dilfer of his day when he stood in and threw the 64 yard clinching score to Lynn Swann cementing his 2nd championship back in Super Bowl X.

The more you study the situation there is more to parallel their marches than meets the eye. Is a Super Bowl between Pittsburgh and Dallas looming in a little over a month?? Coach Mike Tomlin, the playoffs start in 2 weeks…. your mission should you choose to accept it…

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack

As the end of the NFL season draws near its time to talk about the awards for the 2016 campaign. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we’re about defense and it’s the most prestigious award The Chancellor doles out. Its been a banner year as we have recognized two defensive giants who made 2 different Hall of Fames. Our words were read to introduce Robert Brazile into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in June, then our invite to Kevin Greene’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. So this 6th time offering the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year will be a special one. Especially now that alumnus from here have made their way to football immortality.

Before we get started on this year’s Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year, lets take a look back at past winners:

  1. D'Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    D’Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    2011 -D’Qwell Jackson: Cleveland Browns – Recorded 158 total tackles (115 solo) 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble with 2 recoveries and garnered 1 interception as the only light on a 4-12 team. The Browns were in the top ten defensively all year and finished 10th.

  2. 2012 –Navorro Bowman: San Francisco 49ers – Garnered 148 total tackles (98 solo) 2 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 1 interception with a fumble forced. Was an All Pro force who outperformed his more celebrated All Pro teammate Patrick Willis. Starred on the NFL’s #3 defense and made the play of the year knocking down a 4th down pass to Roddy White on the last play of the NFC Championship Game. Sent the Niners to the Super Bowl.
  3. 2013 – Richard Sherman: Seattle Seahawks – He led the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and a week 4 TD against Houston that turned their season around. He also had 48 tackles, defensed 17 passes, recovered 2 fumbles and tipped Colin Kaepernick’s desperation throw into the game clinching interception in the NFC Championship Game.
  4. watt2014 – J.J. Watt: Houston Texans – One of the greatest defensive performances ever with 78 tackles, led the league with 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 recoveries returning 1 for a touchdown. Then had 1 interception returned 80 yards for his 2nd defensive touchdown. He drug a rebuilding Texan team to within a game of making the  playoffs with a 9-7 record in Bill O’Brien’s rookie season. May have been the greatest season by a defender in NFL history.
  5. 2015 – Thomas Davis: Carolina Panthers – The 6th best defense in 2015 & made it to Super Bowl L where Davis played with a plate in his broken arm just 2 weeks after the original injury. Toughness aside he garnered 105 total tackles (75 solo) 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Although his teammate Luke Kuechly garnered national media attention, the 4 additional sacks and 2 more forced fumble won Davis the last Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Award.

When gauging a defender’s impact the first thing you have to remember is at what point of the game does the defender make plays. When it comes to Khalil Mack he just had an 8 game streak snapped where he garnered at least 1 sack. The longest streak in the NFL in the last 7 years.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

However a closer look and you’ll see his forcing a fumble in overtime to short-circuit a Tampa drive in a 30-24 win in week 8. Another flash came late in the 4th quarter in week 13 when a gassed Raider defense was hanging on by a thread as Buffalo drove to the Oakland 17. A touchdown seemed imminent as momentum was teetering in the Bills direction. Well until this generation’s Derrick Thomas dipped his shoulder, came around the corner sacking Tyrod Taylor forcing and recovering the fumble preserving a 38-24 win.

Not bad until you realize the week before saw the Raiders clinging to a 35-32 lead with 1:00 to go and the NFL’s reigning MVP Cam Newton had the Panthers in Oakland territory at the 44. One more completion and Carolina, clinging to fading playoff hopes, could attempt a game winning field goal. On cue Mack burst into the backfield steamrolling Newton for a sack forcing a fumble and recovering it preserving another victory. These points are the difference between an 11-3 Raider team in line for homefield advantage, and Tampa 1 game out of the NFC wildcard, Carolina & Buffalo 1 loss from playoff elimination.

Mack forcing the game winning fumble. All but eliminating the defending NFC Champions from postseason play in 2016.

Mack’s season has been transcendent as he has collected 55 tackles (46 solo) 11 sacks with 5 forced fumbles. He’s recovered 3, returning 1 for a touchdown before we remind you he has 1 pick for another touchdown that also came in the win over Carolina. These are huge impact plays that decide contests not innocuous stats in the middle of a game without meaning or context. In the last 2 seasons he has 14 sacks that have come in the 3rd & 4th quarter of games. What happens if he carries that type of presence into the postseason??

Sure there are 2 games left in the season but no defender has meant more or produced more during the 2016 campaign.  Khalil Mack is the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year.

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