Although all eyes in the Garden State were on Alumni Field at the Rutgers-Newark campus for the ECAC tournament, there were key contests on the road to South Africa taking place around the globe. The other Iberian powerhouse (sorry, not you, Andora) was playing without the sexy Ronaldo and in desperate need of a win. The geographic group stages of qualification for the 2010 World Cup are past and the teams yet to punch their tickets are involved in last gasp home-and-away playoff sets that began this weekend and conclude this coming week. The aggregate scoring system (meaning you add the goals from both games) gives added weight to away goals if the teams finish 180 minutes of action level. The above goal by Bruno Alves in Lisbon gives Portugal a narrow advantage heading into the second leg at Bosnia-Herzegovinia. Elsewhere, France edged Ireland, 1-0, on the Emerald Isle and carries that lead (made more decisive thanks to the away goal) back to France at midweek.
I couldn't find either of these games (nor the friendly match between England and Brazil) on the television so I sated my football jonze at the aforementioned ECAC tourney. On Saturday a mindless red-card drawing tackle from behind by a player from Richard Stockton awoke the previously lackadaiscal players from Drew University. The Rangers playing a man up and with a newfound sense of purpose pulled even and eventually won the game to earn a berth in the final. Under the bright lights of downtown Newark, the pride of Madison came out in fine form on Sunday night, overcoming the suspect officiating of Brian Fenlon (some in the crowd openly questioned if he had a son on the team) as well the players from Farmingdale State. All goals came in the second half as the insertion of No. 10 into the lineup for Drew brought a previously missing creativity to the pitch.
Bonus Joyfulness I talked to someone over the weekend who hadn't seen a replay of this dunk from last week. That just shouldn't be the case. Everyone should see this. Enjoy.
The dour, searching look on Belichick's face at 00:27 into this video and expression on Brady's immediately thereafter is worth the price of admission. Now, that my friends is some good Monday Morning Schadenfreude. Peyton Manning would connect with Reggie Wayne for the go-ahead score in the waning moments to give the Colts a come-from-behind win last night on NBC. But lost in the lambasting of Belichick and the lauding of Peyton is the tackle that Colts safety Melvin Bullitt laid on Kevin Faulk on this fourth down play. Great tackle. Great name.
Not only did this game embarrass the hooded one on national television - I mean, going for it on fourth down deep in your own half with the lead and just two minutes to play? really? - but it also further highlighted the opportunity the Jets squandered in the AFC East earlier in the day when they lost to Jacksonville at the gun. This game was a disaster, from the interception on the Jets' first offensive snap right through to the inept defense on the Jags last drive to take the lead and the win as time expired.
In other NFL news, the Bengals are for real, smothering Pittsburgh in the Steel City to sweep the season series between the two teams and take control of the AFC North.
1. Chris Johnson. Don't get me wrong. Please. Don't. Each Sunday I genuflect before the Purple Jesus. The existence of Him is one of the reasons I have Direct TV and the Sunday Ticket. But, CJ is the most dominant back in the NFL this season. It's indisputable. Before he was drafted, Johnson ran the fastest electronically recorded time in the history of the NFL Scouting Combine and the fastest ever for a running back. And he seems to have maintained that blazing speed as he's added Predator-like muscle mass to his frame. Against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, he rushed for 132 yards and two scores while catching 9 balls for 100 yards receiving. In the past four games, he's rushed for 128, 228, 135 and 132 yards, respectively.
2. Peyton Manning. All the talk on Sunday night and Monday morning has been about how the Patriots' coach lost the game with one call. But how about the way in which the Colts came back from a big deficit and won it on the final drive. His team was trailing, 31-14, before he got his hands on the ball in the fourth quarter yet he rallied Indy to a 35-34 win. Although first-year coach Jim Caldwell and his defense deserve a lot of credit for making some late adjustments; and safety Melvin Bullitt (playing in place of the again-injured Bob Sanders) made the game-saving tackle on that already infamous 4th and 2; there is no denying that Peyton is again doing miraculous things in Indy. He orchestrated three fourth quarter touchdown drives, including the game winner with less than two minutes to play. He threw four TDs and racked up more than 300 yards, his eighth 300-yard outing of the year. The all-time record is 10. I can't imagine he doesn't take that down. His team is undefeated. And he is the MVP as of Week 10.
3. The Cincinnati Bengals. Who dey team with season sweeps over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens under their belt? It's the 7-2 Bengals (who lost that season-opening game to Denver on that wacky Stokely tipped ball TD). A healthy Carson Palmer, a stout defense and an as-drafted No. 4 overall Cedric Benson have made this club a force. They control their destiny in the AFC North and are arguably through the hardest part of their schedule (@Oakland, Cleveland and Detroit are up next).
4. Maurice Jones-Drew. This man's bulging calves are as wide around as his swollen biceps. His quads are nearly as broad as his shoulders. He is a solid cube of awesomeness. And when he gets up to 88 mph his tracks burst into flame. Yet he can stop on a dime. Or the 1-yard line when he wants to, thus killing my Jets and my fantasy team (since I own MJD) in one deft blow. Well played, sir. In the Jags' win over Gang Green at the Meadowlands, the 5-foot-7 MJD was unstoppable. He rolled his way to every single yard on Jacksonville's first scoring drive of the day before punching the ball into the end zone. Without Kris Jenkins stuffing the middle of the field the Jags sent the diminutive runner out of UCLA between the tackles over and over. He averaged just over 5 yards per attempt and traveled 123 yards on the ground. He could have added another yard and another score at the end of the game but he took a knee at the Jets' 1 -yard line to drain the clock.
5. Manny Pacquiao. I'd avoided the 24/7 miniseries on HBO because I didn't want to get suckered into buying another fight that would suck. But then between repeated viewings of The Road Warrior and Mad Max late Friday night and early Saturday morning I found myself immersed in a marathon on HBO32 about the forthcoming Pacquiao-Cotto bout in Las Vegas. The Phililpine national hero moved like a hummingbird on meth. His energy seemed boundless as he bopped around the ring and ran off to sing on Philipino television shows and film movies, but he looked much smaller than Cotto. He didn't look like he could withstand too many flush blows. But he did. He took everything that Cotto had in the early rounds and he never stopped. He kept coming and moving and pushing and punching until his opponent was bloodied and aimless, holding on through sheer determination and without any prospect of victory. The referee ended the fight in the middle of the final round and Pac Man was awarded a championship belt in his seventh weight class. He is now one of the all-time greats and seems on track to fight Floyd Mayweather in a bout that will be 1/5 as exciting as this one.
Sixth Man. Miguel Cotto. Yeah, his face looked like a dimpled and rotting three-week old jack o' lantern wrapped in prosciutto by the start of the twelfth round but the Puerto Rican boxer more than held his own in a fight for the ages. Right up until the second time he went to the canvas late in the fourth, Cotto gave as good as he got. He landed heavy blows on Pacquiao and kept charging forward. He was hurt, though, in the fourth by the Pac Man left that put him down and he began backpedaling from that point. Still, he kept answering the bell, even after his family left because they couldn't take it any longer and after a lot of people thought that his corner should have thrown in the towel.
Benched. The Patriots' Defense. Literally. This unit was left on the bench when mastermind Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth and two at his own 28 yard line rather than trust his defense to keep Peyton Manning and the Colts' offense from going the length of the field to score.