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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, November 2, 2008
Cherries Lose, 44-25, to Philadelphia But Snag Playoff Berth
Back into Post-Season As Cannons Surprise Caps
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Albany Sliced Onion, November 2, 2008
Racers Throttled by Holt, Providence, 32-20
Knocked Out of Playoff Contention by 6th Straight Loss
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Baltimore Sunk, November 2, 2008
S. Jackson’s Late TD Boosts Bolts Over Richmond, 31-28
Win, Combined With Caps’ Loss, Sets Up Division Title Showdown
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Hartford Crude Rant, November 2, 2008
They're In! Comets Upend Syracuse, 27-13, to Win Division
Brady, Cotchery, McGahee Provide Firepower
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Charleston Daily Smell, November 2, 2008
4 Picks for Cannons in 21-16 Ambush of Washington
Taylor Gets Last, With 1:30 to Go, to Seal Victory
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Harrisburg Pay and Rot Ooze, November 3, 2008
Hershey Bars Take Out Frustrations on New York, 41-17
Boller Dazzles with 358 Yards Passing and 4 Scores
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, November 2, 2008

Rip Snorter

Rodgers Lights Up Dreary Night of Scoreboard Watching

The Cherries were flat from the start. Their former teammate Brett Favre picked apart the defense, and Philip Rivers, save for one lovely bomb to Isaac Bruce, was dreadful. The final was 44‑25, Lakers, and it would have been worse if not for the Cherries recovering each of their 4 fumbles and the play of one Aaron Rodgers.

As the Lakers’ lead mounted to 34‑10 on Favre’s 4th touchdown pass, the attention of the crowd increasingly drifted away from the uninspiring action on the field and toward the scoreboard. The Bolts had their hands full with the Rebels, and the Caps were in trouble in Charleston. Many fans knew a loss by either Baltimore or Washington would put the Cherries in the playoffs, which would remove some of the smell emanating from the rotten egg the home team was laying.

When Favre added insult to injury by sneaking for a touchdown and extending the Lakers’ lead to 41‑10 with 12:42 to go, a half-hearted chant of “We want Rodgers” arose from a few sections of the stands. The chanters wanted Rivers to get the hook.

Jon Brams obliged. Rodgers, the second year backup quarterback from Cal, shook off the cobwebs accumulated during nearly a full season of riding the bench to try to solve the Philadelphia prevent defense.

He completed his first pass to Lee Evans but for a 2-yard loss. The crowd grumbled and looked back at the scoreboard. At that moment there was further reason for angst as the board showed the Caps had just cut their 11-point deficit to 5.

But then Rodgers recaptured the fans’ attention by hitting Chris Chambers, Evans, Sidney Rice, Evans, and Chambers in succession to move the Cherries to the Lakers 41. He next missed connections with Rice but made up for that by scrambling for a first down on 3rd and 3. He then caught fire again with completions to Chambers, Heath Miller, Kyle Brady, and finally on 3rd and 5 at the Philadelphia 10, to Miller for a touchdown. The 10 completions were one more than Rivers managed in more than three quarters of work. For good measure Rodgets hit Evans running a fade route for a two-point conversion.

Rodgers wasn’t done.

As Philadelphia tacked on a Lawrence Tynes field goal with 2:16 left, the Washington-Charleston score on the board flashed to “Final”. The Cannons had pulled off the upset, meaning the Cherries had backed into a playoff berth — they will either play New York, Washington, or Connecticut. That news buoyed what was left of the crowd. They cheered Rodgers’ return to the field, and their level of engagement steadily increased as Rodgers picked up right where he left off.

He completed 9 more passes, with only a single misfire, driving the Cherries 70 yards in less than 2 minutes. As Rodgers lined up behind center at the Lakers 2 with just one second remaining, the noise level was such that he needed to motion to the crowd to dial down a bit so his teammates could hear his signals. It was a downright bizarre scense. He got little cooperation from the stands but nonetheless rewarded the fans’ enthusiasm by hitting Chambers in the end zone to end the game.

During his relief stint Rodgers was an incendiary 19-for-21 for 137 yards!

Now let’s put his performance in perspective. The Lakers’ defense was striving to prevent the Cherries not from scoring but from scoring fast. On that metric Philadelphia was successful. Rodgers did not have any completions longer than 15 yards, and the two drives he led used up a total of 8 minutes of clock time. But there’s no denying Rodgers ran a clinic on how to attack a prevent defense. His timing and accuracy were extraordinary.

There’s also no denying Rodgers has been exceptionally successful each and every time he has relieved Rivers. Besides last night, back in Rodgers’ rookie season of 2007:

Although none of his appearances have come in pressure situations, one thing is clear: The guy has a boatload of talent.

Will he get a chance to start for the Cherries? Not likely.

As Rodgers said after the game, “Look, Philip [Rivers] is the guy here. Look at his record as a starter [22‑6 regular season, 0‑1 playoffs]. I’m learning a lot about how to win in this league by watching him.”

Does Rodgers think he can win as a starter at this level?

“I have a lot of confidence. I like it here but if I’m not going to get a chance to start — and I won’t unless Philip gets hurt — then I’d be open to a trade.”

Who could blame him?

His performance last night would certainly have to have increased his market value. How the Cherries exploit this, if they do at all, will be one of the more intriguing subplots of the coming off-season.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves … Rivers is always a blindside blitz away from getting sidelined, and though I wouldn’t wish that on the starter or the team, having an opportunity to see how Rodgers reacts under pressure next week or in the playoffs would be rather interesting.

Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, November 3, 2008

Hershey Bars Whip Emps to Hand Central Division to Cherries

by Rip Snorter
Of the two teams on the field in Hershey Sunday, only one was in contention for a playoff berth — New York (9‑4). But it was the host Hershey Bars who played like a playoff-worthy team.

Hershey (8‑5) had its league-leading aerial game in high gear, cruising to a 41‑17 victory. Kyle Boller threw touchdown passes to Derrick Mason and Greg Jennings less than a minute apart late in the first half to break open a 10‑7 game. By halftime Boller had thrown for 205 yards, and he stayed hot in the second half, finishing with 358 yards and 4 scores.

Meanwhile, New York’s Matt Moore, his 10 completions to league-leading receiver Tony Gonzalez not withstanding, kept putting the ball up for grabs with ill-advised throws into coverage. Five such throws were gathered in by eager, grateful Hershey defenders.

It was an impressive effort on both sides of the ball by the hosts, who were no doubt frustrated by having been eliminated from playoff contention the previous night by Baltimore’s win over Richmond.

With the win Hershey became the second recently relocated team in less than 15 hours to do the Cherries (10‑3) a big favor:

The Emps could have clinched a playoff berth by beating Hershey. Now to get into the post-season, they either have to beat or tie the Cherries or hope Washington (9‑4) beats Baltimore (9‑4) in what will be a showdown in D.C. for the Southern Division title.

The playoff permutations and combinations going into the last week of the regular season are relatively simple — not headache-inducing as they are some seasons. Only two of the six games on the week 14 schedule will have any bearing on the playoffs, and they both are between teams jockeying for position — the Cherries at New York and Baltimore at Washington. This handy-dandy table lays it all out, even the all but non-existent possibility of both games ending in ties:

WinnerCherries@New Yorktie
Baltimore (3)Connecticut at (2)Baltimore
(4)Washington at (1)Cherries
(3)Connecticut at (2)Cherries
(4)New York at (1)Baltimore
(3)Connecticut at (2)Baltimore
(4)New York at (1)Cherries
@Washington (3)Connecticut at (2)Washington
(4)New York at (1)Cherries
(3)Connecticut at (2)Washington
(4)New York at (1)Cherries
(3)Connecticut at (2)Washington
(4)New York at (1)Cherries
tie (3)Connecticut at (2)Washington
(4)Baltimore at (1)Cherries
(3)Connecticut at (2)Washington
(4)New York at (1)Cherries
(3)Connecticut at (2)Washington
(4)New York at (1)Cherries

The Cherries would clinch the #1 seed and home field throughout the playoffs with a win or tie at New York or if Washington beats or ties Baltimore. In fact, the only way Delaware can end up with a lower seed is if it loses to the Emps and Baltimore beats Washington. In that case the Bolts would be the #1 seed thanks to their 20‑17 victory over Delaware October 11, and the Cherries would slip to #2 and have a semi-final match-up with Connecticut (7‑6).

The question is whether the Cherries want the #1 seed. They are only 4‑3 at home whereas on the road they are 6‑0. If not for a miraculous late Yamon Figurs punt return for a game-winning score September 20 against Richmond, they would have a losing record at home. And let’s not forget those semi-final losses to the Caps in 2006 and the Emps in 2007, each in front of supportive home crowds.

There’s no point in speculating, though, because the Cherries can end up with no lower than the #2 seed and thus will again host a semi-final game. Their possible opponents are the Emps, Caps, Comets, and Bolts. Most scenarios would see them facing New York. Their chances of facing Baltimore are miniscule.

Should the Cherries finally clear that semi-final hurdle, I suspect they would be happy to host the championship game.

While there may be talk among fans that the Cherries might regard the Comets, with their barely above .500 record, to be an easier opponent, I’m sure the Cherries don’t view it that way. On the contrary, I believe they regard the prospect of clinching the #1 seed — with an 11‑3 record no other team could match — to be ample incentive to perform well Saturday in New York.

Oddly, a Washington victory over Baltimore would effectively render the outcome of the Cherries-Emps game irrelevant. Could it be the Cherries and Emps would simultaneously lose interest if the scoreboard were to show the Caps go way ahead? Now that would be bizarre.