Week 2 »

New York Slimes, August 9, 2008
Opening Night Fireworks: Empires Whip Baltimore, 54-24
Delhomme Felled Early; Pennington Shines in Relief
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Richmond Timed Distant, August 10, 2008
Stover Boosts Rebels Over Albany in Last Second, 13-12
McNabb Engineers 57-Yard Drive to Set Up Game Winner
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, August 10, 2008
Manning, Charleston Ruin Cherries’ Opener, 37-31
271 Yards and 4 Touchdowns for Cannons QB
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Syracuse Posed Standee, August 10, 2008
He’s Back: Portis Has 2 TDs—Crush Loses, 34-32, to Hershey
Westbrook Falls Short on Late 2-Point Try for Tie
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Philadelphia Ink Crier, August 10, 2008
Lakers Strike Fast, Frustrate Providence, 16-14
Elam Has 2 Interceptions to Lead Defense
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Hartford Crude Rant, August 11, 2008
Blackmon Breaks Open Comets’ 27-13 Win Over Washington
90-Yard Runback Puts Caps in 17-3 Hole; Wilson Gets 4 Sacks
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, August 10, 2008

Rip Snorter

Defensive Lapses Key in Cherries’ Loss

I thought I could hear the strains of “Happy Days are Here Again” wafting from the stands below me as Fakhir Brown reached the Charleston end zone after intercepting Eli Manning’s first pass. Who could blame the fans for singing. Less than a minute into the new season the Cherries had a 7‑0 lead; it looked like they were picking up right where they left off during the 2007 regular season.

Any such singing was premature, however, for the rebranded Cannons would match each Delaware offensive thrust — and there were many — to take command in the third quarter and outlast their hosts, 37‑31. During the 30-minute span beginning with about five minutes left in the first half, Charleston outscored the Cherries 27‑7 and ultimately left them riffling through their playbook looking for the “Desperation” section.

After his errant first heave to Brown, Manning settled down and displayed an accurate touch and poise under pressure. This wasn’t the Manning of 2006, his rookie season, when he completed only 44 percent of his passes. Nor was it the Manning of last season, the one with the 54.5 percent completion rate and as many interceptions as touchdowns. No, this was a different quarterback, a guy in command of his offense. He completed 23 of 37 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns, and in doing so, he kept the Cherries’ defense off balance and guessing.

Too many times they guessed wrong.

Case in point: After the Cherries had put together a methodical drive, with LaDainian Tomlinson getting help from Michael Turner and newcomer Priest Holmes, to cut a 27‑17 Cannons lead to three with 10:42 to go, Manning repeatedly converted third downs to keep the Delaware offense off the field:

Two plays later Kevin Curtis got a jump on Lito Sheppard, Manning hit him in stride for six, and with 5:15 to go the Cherries were right back in a 10-point hole. At that point many fans took their leave.

All told Manning and the Cannons converted eight of their 13 third down situations.

The Cherries’ pass rush was missing in action. They failed to sack Manning and only got close to him on a few occasions. He had plenty of time to go through his progressions.

When the Delaware defense wasn’t being toasted by Manning, they were pretty effective at keeping the Cannons from doing much damage on the ground. Unfortunately for the Cherries, the damage Charleston did do was bunched in the same drive late in the second quarter. Marshawn Lynch ran for 23 yards, DeShaun Foster for 17, and then Foster and Lynch each for 9 more, setting up the Cannons on the Delaware 4. The Cherries double-teamed King, but Manning was able to thread the ball to him anyway for a touchdown. That pulled Charleston even at 17 going into the break and gave their confidence a big boost.

This one might have ended differently had a holding penalty on Jordan Gross not nullified a 63-yard touchdown strike from Philip Rivers to Lee Evans on the first play of the second half. Had the play stood it would have given the Cherries a 24‑17 lead. As it was they sleepwalked through the rest of the third quarter with Rivers fumbling away a snap and then trying to force a ball in the left flat to Heath Miller and having it picked off by Chad Greenway. The Cannons turned those takeaways into 10 points.

Are there positives the Cherries can take away from this disappointing loss? Sure. The offense piled up 434 yards, 41 more than the Cannons. Tomlinson picked up right where he left off last year. He went over 100 yards rushing more than 10 minutes before halftime, finishing with 158 yards on 20 carries. Michael Turner added 51. Rivers was 20-for-30 for 219 yards and was not sacked. He had completions to a whopping 10 different receivers, including first-year Cherries Chris Chambers, Sidney Rice, Jason Avant, and, for a touchdown, Kyle Brady.

The Cherries will need to accentuate the positives and address the negatives in time for next Sunday morning in Philadelphia for they find themselves in an unaccustomed spot — last place. All of their Central Division competitors won their openers. After the Emps thrashed the Bolts Friday night, last night the Hershey Bars went into Syracuse and shocked the defending champs, and the Lakers knocked off Providence. Should the Cherries not rebound with a win they would fall into an early two-game hole. While there would be ample time to dig themselves out, they would prefer not to fritter away their margin for error so quickly into the new season.