Aaron Rodgers lobs Four Touchdown Passes as Green Bay Packers Oust New York Giants From post-season
GREEN BAY, Wisc. — It’s time to rename the Hail Mary. At least when Aaron Rodgers throws it.
Because when the Green Bay Packers quarterback heaves it high and deep at the end of a half, it’s not a prayer. If only everybody’s prayers had such a success rate.
A year ago last month, Rodgers completed a 61-yarder to Richard Rodgers at game’s end to beat Detroit.
A year ago this coming weekend he completed a 41-yarder to Jeff Janis at the end of regulation at Arizona, to force overtime in an NFC divisional playoff game. Moments earlier, Rodgers had kept the desperation drive alive with a 61-yard completion to Janis on 4th-and-20 from Green Bay’s four-yard line with 53 seconds left.
On Sunday, as the first half closed in Green Bay’s 38-13 carving of the New York Giants in the weekend’s second NFC wild-card playoff game, Rodgers did it again.
From the New York 42, with 0:06 on the clock and Green Bay up 7-6, Rodgers dropped back from the right hash, planted and lofted a ball that looked overthrown from the press box.
Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb — who afterward said he wasn’t even sure he’d get to play for the first time in three weeks on a still-injured ankle — squeezed to the back of the pack of the usual mixed throng of players preparing to jump and jostle. There, inches in front of the back line of the end zone, a few yards left of the goalposts, Cobb easily caught the pass for the half-ending score that put Green Bay up, 14-6.
“First, you’ve got to have the protection,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “To throw that ball with the arc, that’s really the key to it. It gives your receivers a chance to catch that ball. And Randall Cobb just made an excellent, instinctive play. Big play.”
It was Rodgers’ second TD pass of the quarter (the first was to Davante Adams). Rodgers added two TD throws in a dominant second half for the Packers, both to Cobb — who tied an NFL playoff record with three TD catches.
“It’s a blessing just to be back on the field,” Cobb said. “I still today didn’t know for sure if they were going to activate me or not. I was hoping so.”
Said McCarthy of Cobb: “I tell you what, he’s something. I was probably the last one in the building convinced that he was ready to go. He made a huge jump from Wednesday’s practice to Thursday … He was huge today.”
The victory propels the Packers into a showdown next Sunday against the top-seeded NFC team, the Cowboys, in Dallas — in the last of four NFL conference divisional playoff games (4:40 p.m. EST, CTV/FOX).
A long-heave football throw at the end of a half, when not thrown by Rodgers, has been deemed so unlikely to be completed that even a hundred years ago people called it a “prayer.” By the 1970s, the accepted term became “Hail Mary,” building on the prayer analogy, as in the “Hail Mary, full of grace” recitation that devout Catholics utter in urgent moments.
As his post-game news conference, I asked Rodgers how often the Packers practise the Hail Mary, and whether they’re as successful in practice with it as they are in games over the past 13 months.
“No, we’re definitely more effective in games,” he deadpanned, to laughter.
“I haven’t thrown a Hail Mary in practice probably since Week 4 or 5.”
He was serious.
Not all otherworldly quarterback trends continued here this Sunday.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning could not work his Lambeau Field magic a third time, to the delight of most of the 77,549 in attendance on a cold (but not brutally so) night.
After piloting the Giants to unlikely road playoff victories here after the 2007 and 2011 seasons, in which he out-quarterbacked first Brett Favre then Rodgers — Manning was pedestrian this time.
And unlike last time he didn’t complete any Hail Mary throws himself, to Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half, in the same end zone as Rodgers-to-Cobb.
The youngest Manning brother completed 23-of-44 for 299 yards on the night, but much of it after Green Bay had pulled far ahead in the second half. Manning threw one TD pass and one interception, and fumbled once.
A Giants team that had averaged only 19 points per game in the regular season was worse than that, although the game did start promisingly for New York — it led 6-0 with 7:42 before halftime, on two Robbie Gould field goals.
That’s when Rodgers and the lethargic, frustrated Packers offence shook off their miserable start. A long laser-guided throw down the right sideline from Rodgers to Adams, for 31 yards to the New York 7, was the catalyst.
“That got me going,” Rodgers said.
Two plays later he took about 7-8 seconds in the pocket, juking around in the makeshift human cage that Giants pass rushers hoped to contain him in, then he finally found Adams zipping across to the far left corner. Rodgers hit him in the palms for the game’s first TD.
From that point on, fans chanted “MVP! MVP!” louder and more frequently.
Rodgers completed 25-of-40 for 362 yards against probably the NFL’s best secondary, and most of that production came after his top receiver, Jordy Nelson, left the game midway through the second quarter with a ribs injury, after taking a crushing hit to the mid-section on a sideline catch.
“I haven’t even been in the training room so I can’t give you an update there,” McCarthy said of Nelson’s injury.
Rodgers became the first Packers quarterback to twice throw four touchdowns without an interception in a playoff game. Favre did it only once.
Rodgers, 33, now has thrown 19 touchdown passes without an interception since Green Bay had a 4-6 record in late November, when the ninth-year starter made his now famous “we can run the table” statement to the press.
Cobb and McCarthy both said the Packers practise Hail Marys once a week in practice, but for defensive purposes — suggesting Rodgers doesn’t throw them.
Who could argue he needs the reps?
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
“Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”