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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, October 12, 2008
Baltimore Snaps Cherries’ Streak, 20-17, on Reed FG
Defense Bedeviled by S. Jackson, Moss, Sellers
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Harrisburg Pay and Rot Ooze, October 12, 2008
McNair Rallies Hershey Bars Past Connecticut, 21-13
Throws 2nd and 3rd Scoring Passes in 2nd Half
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Albany Sliced Onion, October 12, 2008
Racers Collapse Late, Lose 30-24 to New York
4th Quarter TDs by Parker, Stallworth Key Empires
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Philadelphia Ink Crier, October 12, 2008
Lakers Shackle McNabb, Coast 24-10 Over Richmond
Jacobs, Bowe, Stingy “D” Send Rebels to 7th Loss in a Row
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Charleston Daily Smell, October 12, 2008
Syracuse Swamps Cannons, 38-24, Behind Huard
Early Lead Vanishes as Crush QB Passes for 378 Yards, 4 TDs
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Providence Kernel, October 13, 2008
Steam Roller Upset Washington, 20-6, With 2nd Half Surge
Stifling Pass Defense is Key in Overcoming 4 Turnovers
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, October 12, 2008

Rip Snorter

Late-Arriving Defense Sabotaged Cherries

In most of the games during the Cherries’ 8-game winning streak, which was ended last night by Baltimore, 20‑17, Delaware played just well enough to win. Against the Bolts the Cherries played just poorly enough to lose.

Like many of the fans, the Cherries’ defense arrived at the game late. For the fans the issue was a traffic jam on I‑95 caused by a nasty accident adjacent to the turnpike rest area. That prevented many from seeing the opening kickoff, which Dante Hall ran back 84 yards to the Baltimore 1.

The defense’s late arrival was, of course, figurative. They got pushed all over the field on the Bolts’ first three possessions. Steven Jackson had 105 yards on 8 carries during those possessions — he would finish with 156 yards on the ground — while Randy Moss uncustomarily played the role of possession receiver — and played it well I might add.

By the end of the third possession, Baltimore had accumulated 17 points, easily wiping out the 7-point lead the Cherries had earned in the first two minutes thanks to Hall’s heroics. If not for a fumbled snap on the third possession by Ben Roethlisberger on 3rd and 7 at the Cherries 12, recovered by Jackson, Baltimore would likely have had 21 points.

Although the Cherries’ defense played better after that, keeping the Bolts off of the scoreboard until Jeff Reed’s game-winning field goal, they were not at any point able to force a three-and-out.

For its part the Cherries’ offense had little success sustaining drives. Jon Brams admitted after the game he had game-planned to exploit an anticipated vacuum in the middle of the Baltimore defense caused by the absence of injured middle linebacker Nick Barnett.

Things didn’t work out as Brams planned:

Still, this was a game that was there for the taking for Delaware. The Bolts made enough mistakes — the Cherries just failed to take advantage as well as they needed to. As for Baltimore’s mistakes, in addition to the coverage lapse on the opening kickoff, Roethlisberger threw interceptions to Lito Sheppard and Corey Webster. He later lost a fumble to LaMarr Woodley on another bobbled snap, just after Yamon Figurs had muffed a punt, gift-wrapping a scoring opportunity for the Bolts at the Cherries 33.

Roethlisberger’s lost fumble came with the score tied at 17 and 10:28 left on the clock. The Cherries got 3 yards on each of the next three plays — a pass from Rivers to Heath Miller, a run up the middle by Tomlinson and a run around the left corner by Tomlinson — leaving them with 4th and 1 at their own 27. Brams went with the percentage play — a Ben Graham punt — after what appeared to be a bit of hesitation.

I asked Brams if he considered going for a first down at that point, given his more aggressive approach to fourth downs this season, one that had yielded 14 conversions in 18 attempts thus far, including a 4-yard run by Tomlinson on 4th and 1 at the Baltimore 12 in the second quarter with the Cherries down 17‑7, leading to a touchdown by Michael Turner.

“I sure did [consider going for it], Rip,” replied Brams. “But being it was a tie game and our field position was such that failing would have put [Baltimore] in immediate field goal range, I decided we better play it safe. I figured we would get the ball back with enough time left to put a scoring drive together. And remember we had just dodged a bullet after Yamon’s fumble. I didn’t want to tempt fate.”

Graham’s punt gave the Bolts the bullet they needed — and they turned it into Reed’s game-winner. While Brams was right: The Cherries did get the ball back with ample time remaining — 4:34 — and in good field position to boot at their 40, thanks to another good kickoff return by Hall — they were unable to do anything with it.

“I kind of wish we had gone for it,” Brams said wistfully.

Now with the Central Division race suddenly tightened, due to wins by the Emps, Hershey Bars, and Lakers, Brams and the Cherries face a nationally televised Sunday morning home date with a Connecticut team which, despite a mediocre 5‑5 record, has the inside track toward the Northern Division title and a playoff berth. Brams will need to have his defense primed to lock down the Comets from the get-go, a goal made that much more elusive by the expected absences of not only Terrell Suggs, who missed the Baltimore game, but also Julius Peppers, who went down late in the first half last night. Tom Brady and his favorite target Jerricho Cotchery will no doubt be licking their chops.