Monday, June 18, 2012

Power fall to Mustangs...but only just.

This season has presented me with a varied pallet of ways to watch the Power lose - enough so that I can actually sit back and debate which way of watching them lose I prefer the most. I don't think that it's a surprise that I - if I have to watch them lose - most prefer them to lose when on the road, so that I'm already at home in my easy chair and comfy. If it's a home game and I have to schlep downtown, spend money at the bar beforehand (the extremely AFL-friendly Cafe Fifth Avenue) spend more at the game and then watch the slaughter up-close and personal, I actually prefer it when we get blown out. Why? Because I'm not sure how many 1-point-in-the-final-seconds losses my heart will take before exploding in dramatic fashion.

This week was a true heart breaker. Not just because we lost, and not just because we lost to a division rival. It was a heart breaker because the Power played so damn well and should have brought home the W on this one.

I'll admit, the game didn't look so promising after the Power's stalled opening drive that went 4-and-out and an almost immediate score by Milwaukee on the following possession. However, from there on out, it was competitive, exciting football all the way. This began with the Power returning the favor to the Mustangs by Berry running 34 yards to paydirt with a flip and a flourish over the goal line. As my wife pointed out at the time, Superman would have trouble in the NFL due to his joy of showboating (I mean this in a good way - it's always fun to see what he does when he scores.)

The next possession, the Power stopped Milwaukee dead on the far one-yard line, forcing them to "kick a field goal." (That's in quotes, because we can't say "punt" in the AFL.) Martinez wisely kicked it out of bounds, denying Superman a chance for a return and started us on the 20. Our next drive brought us our first lead (and first of two TDs to Turner) of the game, but also Boyer's first unsuccessful PAT attempt. Unfortunately, as his one legitimate miss of the night, this attempt sealed our fate.

I say "legitimate," because this was Boyer's one real miss that he can't blame on anyone else. Through the course of the rest of the game, he'd have two PATs blocked, but that's more of a credit to the Milwaukee defense than it is a failing on his part. However, long-time readers of this column (Hi mom!) know that one missed PAT can change everything in the AFL, and it certainly did in this game.

For the rest of the first and most of the second, things were exciting, but not overly noteworthy. Both teams did their thing and played good football. It was as the half wound down that things really got exciting. With around 5 minutes left, Berry made a TD reception that no one - including him - knows how the eff it happened.

Photo from the Power FB page.

What you can't see in this frozen moment of time is that before making this, Berry turned to look over his shoulder, tripped, fell, and the ball landed right in his hands as he slid into the end zone. The fact that Boyer's PAT on this one got blocked detracted nothing from this amazing moment.

An onside kick was attempted by the Power, and it didn't go so well as the Mustangs got the ball and scored. They answered with their own onside kick that they recovered - only to have Guidugli get stripped in the end zone for a safety (take that blocked PAT!) So, the only logical call for the Mustangs now was to try another onside kick (this was sarcasm, BTW) which "Hands" Hymes snagged and ran in, bringing the score to 34-27. Undeterred, Guidugli led his Mustangs down the field on his next possession, only to be picked by John Green.

Here is another point where I feel the Power might have lost an opportunity, but I can see why they did it. There were 14 seconds left in the half, and Milwaukee was going to start the second half with the ball - so they wanted to end with it. So, the plays were obviously designed to run time off the clock rather than just get in for the score. I get that. Unfortunately, the Mustangs had our number and didn't let us get much done, and we settled for a FG instead of a TD. At the time, it didn't seem like a big deal.

The Mustangs had calmed down a little bit after halftime and wasn't going for the crazy stuff any more - they seemed to just knuckle down for the rest of the fight. Their first drive ended efficiently in a touchdown scramble by Guidugli to get them back on the board. Our responding drive looked in jeopardy when an unsportsmanlike call against Berry (someone got lippy, so he chucked the ball in his face) left us at 3rd and 12 at midfield. No worries, as Randall completed to Joystick for the TD.

Although LeFlore intercepted Guidugli on the next drive, the Power were once again unable to get the TD, and in fact, this time they were just shut down on the drive and weren't able to capitalize. This was a running theme. Our first possession in the fourth, we also had to settle for a field goal. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm super glad that we have a kicker that can make FGs. That's worlds above some other kickers we've had this year.

Things went right down to the wire in this one. When it was down to it late in the game, Randall ran one in to bring it to 60-55. Then -and I don't know why more people aren't talking about this (including the AFL itself) - fans in the arena were treated to something special. For the PAT, the ball was snapped straight to Boyer. It looked for a moment that he was trying to find someone open to go for two. After all, that's the only thing he can do, right?


See, there's a very, very rarely used rule in professional football where you can dropkick an extra point. Doug Flutie pulled one off in 2006, 'cause the Pats were going to lose, the game meant nothing and he wanted to end his career on something special (They say Belichick's heart grew three sizes that day.) In the AFL, you're allowed to drop kick a PAT for 2, or a field goal for 4. Boyer was known in other leagues for pulling this off, and it was part of the reason Siegfried picked him up. Now, some sources say that it hasn't been done successfully since 1997, but that's untrue as Taylor Rowan pulled it off last season, but the fact is, it is very, very rare, and this brought us to 62-55.

This is where the heart breaks. In the final seconds of the game, Milwaukee scored and then followed with a successful two point conversion the traditional way. So many times this season, that's how they were beaten, and I'm sure it felt good to be on the other side of it. There was some anger on the following kickoff with 0:03 on the clock, because the refs said Berry touched the ball. From what I saw on the field and on the video, he in no way did, but that probably didn't change anything. They'd have had time for one play, and the odds were against them. Doesn't change the fact that it hurt a lot to lose by so little.

What do we take out of this game? Well, this is the Power team that I wish we'd had all season. They played hard for a full 4 quarters, tried some unconventional plays, played solid defense. Hell, Randall even went pick-free this week. Our defense held the Mustangs to 3rd down 8 times, and kept them from converting four of them. Of the 4th downs, we officially stopped one and forced them to kick on another. They also picked Guidugli twice and put him on his back several times. Our offense was on target and back to focusing on a few choice receivers, none of whom turned the ball over. Boyer only missed one kick and was clutch everywhere else (except the two blocks.)

There were only two main areas of concern, really (and when we're out of playoff contention, is it really a concern anymore?) One was the O-line. Randall got sacked, hurried and pressured way too much in this game. We have never been able to protect the QB, and I'd kinda hoped having a defensive guy as coach, this might get worked on more. The other main problem was capitalizing on turnovers. Twice in this game, we settled for a FG or less after a pick. Had either of those been a TD, we would have won this one.

All-in-all, it was a great effort for the Power, it was finally fun to watch again, and in the end, they just fell slightly short.

Next week, a special report from inside enemy territory as we take on the Soul.

Elsewhere in the league
  • The NFL game of the week aired on delay this week. Hopefully now that the powers that be and the union reached terms, the NFL Network will give us another chance. With them having rights to playoff games, I don't want to see them delayed. The main thing to take away from this game is that Tampa Bay officially can't win on the road as they fell to the Predators in the War on I-4. I also need to point out that the Preds will be missing the playoffs for the first time after 19 years straight. To put that in perspective, their fans have been used to the Preds being awesome as long as we've been used to the Pirates sucking.
  • Philly decisively (62-27) won over the Sharks, clinching the division and a playoff berth. From here on out, they're in "eh, whatever" mode as they try to stay healthy and just play for home field advantage. With 11 wins at this point, it would take some really bad luck for them to not get it.
  • Looks like Cleveland got bit by the strike curse, as the Voodoo beat them at home Saturday, 54-42.
  • My confidence in Garcia and crew was well-placed as they got the W over Iowa and tied themselves up with the Rattlers. The race is on for home field in that conference also.
  • As expected, the Rush beat Georgia, and they were able to exorcise some demons while they did it. Final score was almost as lopsided as their loss to the Blaze, 62-27.
  • Utah almost dropped a should-win against Spokane, but pulled it off in the last minutes of the game Saturday. 58-55, final.
  • The one shocker this week - and Keller was all, "Oh, I was going to pick that as an upset special this week" - was that the KC Command actually beat the Sabercats, and by a good margin, too. Final score was 57-41.
If the Playoffs Were Today
That time again, already, where we look ahead to playoff season. The picture is pretty clear right now, with only a few questions of who will make it and where they'll rank.

Right now, in the American Conference, as stated earlier, Philly is in the driver's seat with New Orleans as their first match-up, while the Force and Sharks face off in the other half. Philly's going to stay right where they are, and probably take top seed, if hubris doesn't get them. The rest is going to be a run-off. Georgia sits at 7-7, but NOLA, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Cleveland all sit at 6-7, with Milwaukee only one game behind that. I'm not feeling confident in Cleveland but Milwaukee has a slightly harder schedule in their last five games. If either of them makes a stand for the playoffs, then their head-to-head in a few weeks will be key, and Cleveland already has one win.

I'm all but calling TB out of this, as they have two road games down the stretch, and have to play Philly and San Antonio at home, plus a division match-up with the Voodoo. NOLA has two division games here at the end, which are going to be huge, and the hardest other game will be the Sabercats. I think that the Voodoo has a good chance to take at least 2nd place in the division. The Sharks have a very easy end of the season, as they play all three teams that struck this year, and only have games against the Voodoo and Milwaukee to worry about. It's between them and Jax for second place, and they have the easier road. Finally, Georgia only has four games left with a critical late-season bye, plus games against the Preds and Power at home. The division is (surprisingly, given the early season) theirs if they don't screw up.

In the National Conference, things are still very exciting. The Rattlers hold the top spot, but are tied with the Talons at 10-3. They have a tough road for the end of the season, and will really have to work to keep it. They might close their season against the Command, but before that, they have the Talons, the Blaze, the Shock and the Mustangs - all teams trying for the playoffs (and the Mustangs are up first, so they'll play when they still have hope) and three of them are in direct competition with the Ratts. It's going to be ugly, ugly, ugly down the stretch for them, and they're going to be looking to win out.

The Talons, for their part, really are just going to be worrying about the Rush and the Rattlers. Iowa, KC and TB aren't going to really be scary for them, and this might actually get them the 1 seed if they run the board. I honestly didn't see that coming. The Cats are somewhat in the middle with 4 games left against the Shock, Rush, Voodoo and Barnstormers. I still think that they can go all the way to the Arena Bowl if they make it to the playoffs, but competition is steep, and they've dropped some games recently that they really shouldn't have. It's crazy that a 9-5 record isn't guaranteeing them a post-season spot yet.

The Blaze only have one division game left, and that's against the Ratts. I think their schedule isn't easy, but it's not hard either with games against the Force, Soul and Gladiators to round it out. The Rush is right behind them at 8-5, but they have three out of five games on the road to close out (where they've struggled this season) and have to play the Cats and Talons at home. I hate to say it, but I don't think that my Rush are going to see the post season this year.

So, that's the picture as it stands right now. Obviously, this is going to change week-to-week the rest of the way. Just because the Power don't have a chance doesn't mean that there's not a lot of other exciting things going on. PLAYOFFS!!!

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