Monday, December 25, 2017

Florida's Best NFL Team

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

Who is the best NFL team in Florida?

If you guessed the Miami Dolphins or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then you're absolutely incorrect!

The Dolphins haven't won a Super Bowl since former Owner Joe Robbie and Hall of Fame Coach Don Shula were running the show in the 1970's.

There was some success in the 1980's and 1990's when Shula and QB Dan Marino were making the playoffs but couldn't attain championship status.

All Marino did with Shula was pad his passing statistics with the likes of wide receivers Mark Duper, Mark Clayton and Mark Ingram Sr.

After Shula retired, Jimmy Johnson, who had two Super Bowl Championships on his resume with the Dallas Cowboys, couldn't convince Marino to accept having a balanced running and passing attack.

As a result, their careers ended abruptly as the Jacksonville Jaguars mauled the Miami Dolphins 62-7 in the 1999 Divisional Playoffs in Northern Florida.

The Miami Dolphins haven't sniffed much success since Shula and Johnson departed.

They've only won two AFC East Championships since 2000.

Excluding current Head Coach Adam Gase, the last full-time winning coach for Miami was Dave Wannstedt in 2004. His career mark with the Dolphins was 42-31.

The Dolphins have been a dysfunctional organization and of the 12 head coaches in their history, they've employed eight since 2004 which includes interim coaches and now Gase.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban was in this group as he coached the Dolphins from 2005-2006 and was 15-17.

On Monday, December 11, 2017, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers honored former Coach Jon Gruden by inducting him into their Ring of Honor.

The Buccaneers won a Super Bowl 15 years ago and since Gruden stopped coaching the team, they have gone through four coaches.

Only Gruden and Tony Dungy have ever left their jobs in Tampa Bay with winning records.

Current Coach Dirk Koetter was given one more season to develop franchise QB Jameis Winston, who you see in the photo in a game versus the Detroit Lions on December 10, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium.

The only team remaining is the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This is a team which finished the 2016 season with a 3-13 record and their transformation in the past year has been tremendous.

The team fired Gus Bradley on December 18, 2016 and hired Doug Marrone as interim coach on December 19, 2016 for the final two games.

Marrone finished the season with a 1-1 mark.

Prior to coming to Jacksonville, Marrone had some success coaching the Buffalo Bills.

As the team's head coach in 2013-2014, the Bills were 15-17.

In his first season, Buffalo was 6-10 and in his final campaign, the Bills improved to 9-7.

After the 2014 season, Marrone had a three day out clause in the event of an ownership change and he quit on December 31, 2014.

What a difference two years makes since departing Buffalo and Marrone took over the interim job.

Back in January, former Jacksonville Coach Tom Coughlin was hired as the Executive VP of Football Operations.

He wasted no time hiring Marrone full-time on January 9 as Doug become the fifth head coach in franchise history, thus the culture change was underway.

The 71-year old Coughlin made his impact on the team in the NFL Draft by selecting LSU standout running back Leornard Fournette in the first round, fourth overall.

Coughlin and Marrone's impact was known as they suspended Fournette for one game because of disciplinary problems.

When we went to Jacksonville on November 12, 2017, the Jaguars faced Melvin Gordon and the LA Chargers. Their defense limited Gordon to just 27 yards and as a result defeated the Chargers 20-17 in OT.

This was Jacksonville's third straight win and doubled it's total to six by improving to 6-3, while the Chargers dropped to 3-6.

It was a hard fought contest, but the Chargers would go on a four-game winning streak before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday, December 9, 2017, 30-13.

The Jaguars only loss since we attended the Chargers game was on the road to the Arizona Cardinals, as they lost 27-24 snapping a four-game winning streak. Cardinals kicker Phil Dawson kicked a career long 57-yard field goal.

Jacksonville would go on and start a new winning streak that had reached three.

Before the Chargers game, there were rumors that the team was considering bringing in Eli Manning to rejoin Coughlin in 2018.

That talk has definitely subsided with the recent offensive explosion and continued development of QB Blake Bortles.

In addition to Marrone, Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and QB Coach Scott Milanovich have been a major part of Bortles development.

The Jaguars have won three straight home games starting with the Indianapolis Colts 30-13, Seattle Seahawks 30-24 and when we were there Sunday, December 17, 2017, they thrashed the Houston Texans 45-7.

This game was over by halftime as Jacksonville led 31-0. The Texans self destructed by committing 14 penalties for 127 yards.

In the two games Jacksonville won against the Texans, in week one and fifteen, they outscored Houston 74-14.

In the home win, the Jaguars inserted former Michigan QB Chad Henne into the line-up for mop-up duty at the 12:33 mark in the fourth quarter with a 38-7 lead.

Going into their week sixteen contest on the road against the San Francisco 49'ers, patience has paid off for the Jaguars coaching staff as this recent three game winning streak has seen Bortles throw seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

Bortles has performed to a career high 89.7 QB rating to date.

Against the Texans, Bortles threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns and had a QB rating of 143.8. Once again, there was no talk about Eli Manning in the press box, just the maturity of this fourth year pro from the University of Central Florida.

Texans Coach Bill O'Brien noticed improvement from Bortles since the beginning of the season.

"He played a good game, he's had a good year," O'Brien said. "Give him a lot of credit. You know he's had a good year for them, and they've got him playing real well."

Fournette missed the game due to a quad injury but as indicated by the lopsided score, the Jags didn't need him and the rookie running back had a week of rest.

Keelan Cole had a career day by catching seven passes for 186 yards and one touchdown.

Jaydon Mickens, who was recently on the practice squad and was sleeping in his car at Ever Bank Field, made sure with his performance he won't have to do this again. He amassed four receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns.

This has been a very touching story especially hearing about this during the holidays.

During the Jags three game home stretch, they had two sellouts and have now clinched their first playoff spot since 2007.

The parking lots are getting filled with tailgaters and this town is on the verge of erupting.

When there was a shot of Coughlin in his private suite shown to the crowd, the stadium erupted. These fans know he's behind the resurrection of this incredible turnaround.

But at what point during the season did people start taking this team seriously?

When you walk into Pittsburgh on October, 9, 2017 and whip the Steelers 30-9, it's time to start paying attention.

Fournette had 28 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns and set a franchise record with a 90-yard touchdown run.

Jacksonville's defense hammered Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on this day. He was 35-55, 312 yards and threw five interceptions.

This win enabled Jacksonville to improve to 3-2 as it matched its win total of 2016.

A week later, the Jaguars lost to the LA Rams 27-17, but Fournette still amassed 130 yards including a 75-yard touchdown run.

Despite missing three games, Fournette has been a force on offense as he's rushed for 971 yards and has 235 receiving yards leading to 1,206 all purpose yards producing 10 touchdowns.

There is no doubt he'll be a strong candidate to win Rookie Of The Year Honors.

In the Jaguars win against Seattle, this was the first time they defeated an opponent that was entering the game at least four games over .500 since week 15 of the 2007 season (Pittsburgh).

The 2017 season can be summarized in different ways as there have been many firsts in what's been viewed as a remarkable turnaround.

After the thrashing of the Texans, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan was the happiest man in the stadium after his team clinched a playoff berth.

"It's unbelievable. To win it and win it the way we did today, mind-blowing and I'm really grateful, obviously and proud of the players," Khan said. "The football leadership and the fans, especially the last two games, have given us the energy, put it over the top. It's been awesome."

Khan knew that the fans would return to the stadium when the team started to make it worthwhile.

"It's been awesome. It's been awesome," Khan said. "We've had standing room tickets today, which certainly hasn't happened in the almost six years I've been here, so it's wonderful. The energy in this stadium, you can't replace that, and that's why we need the fans."

Khan was asked if he thought success would come this soon after bringing Coughlin back.

"I'm always an optimistic guy, " Khan said. "And certainly, whatever I was hoping for, it's that and more."

Khan had a ton of praise for his signal caller Bortles.

"I think it's been incredible," Khan said. "I think the stats show that. He's been kind of different, more confident person, and he's providing the leadership we all want out of him."

The entire theme after the game was about the fans coming back especially since this was Jacksonville's final home game of the regular season.

Marrone was asked if this team feeds off the crowd?

"No doubt. No doubt. No doubt," he said. "When you play late in the year and you need to win football games and you have a great crowd that is ready to go, that helps," Marrone said. "I've been saying that for weeks. I think that through this time that all the work that this team has put in, I've said before, we're trying to earn the, I don't know what the right word is, of our fans. I guess we want to be able to go out there and be able to perform and have them be proud of our performance."

During the course of the week, it's been interesting to see the National Media's reaction to Jacksonville's turnaround.

While I'm not in the immediate local media, thanks to my Great Friend and Jaguars Senior VP, Communications, Dan Edwards, he's been great by credentialing Myself and Ebling when we come up to the area.

It would be hard to find a nicer and classier person than Edwards!!

Thankfully, he always seems to find space for us.

But during the last two seasons, we've covered four games, two per season, and it's very easy to gain a pulse on the progression of this franchise as I see myself as somewhat of an insider and look forward to continuing to working with the Jaguars in the future health permitting.

Marrone was asked if the Us Against The World is a good description of this team.

"I've said before people on the outside might feel that way," Marrone said. "I don't use 'us against the world' per se. I talk about putting in the work, gaining the respect and the only way to do it. You know, good football teams win in December. We're just trying to keep pushing the players to be better and not really riding any theme  like 'us against the world,' because it's not. We have our fans. We have the other side of the building in the business section of it. We have our media. We have a lot of people that are with us. So maybe it's all of us against the world."

Bortles will be making his first playoff appearance and he's using the rest of the regular season to improve his game, he's definitely looking forward to playing post-season football.

"It feels good. Obviously, I think everyone knows the history of the organization to be able to say that we are part of the group that kind of changed the culture and changed the narrative about the Jaguars is special," Bortles said. "I think it's a never ending battle. You do it one week or you do it for a couple weeks or for one season. It's something we have to find a way to make consistent on a weekly basis and on a yearly basis."

Bortles added that he's pleased the crowds are coming back.

"It all comes with winning," he said. "I think that is the main thing, that is the main key, the main ingredient. People want to come watch a team win. They want to be part of a winning organization. Now that we are able do do that and give them that and put a good product out on the field that they can come watch, I think it only makes it more exciting for them. To be able to do it in front of them and have them be as loud and cheer like they did in the playoff change at the end. It's pretty cool and surreal."

Against the Texans, Jacksonville's defense once again made life difficult as Houston amassed only 186 yards in total offense.

Overall, the Jaguars lead the NFL with 879 tackles and 52 sacks. This defense will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

Texans QB T.J Yates was running for his life all afternoon and was sacked four times.

Yates only touchdown was to standout wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for 25 yards shown in the photo, Hopkins would finish the afternoon with four receptions for 80 yards and a touchdowns. This kid is a stud and will be a superstar for many years to come.

During the season, the Jaguars have been hit with numerous injuries, losing wide receivers Allen Robinson, Dede Westbrook and Allen Hurns but they continue to play through these using the next man up.

Jacksonville added defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to bolster their defense.

There is a saying that defense wins championships and I'll be curious to see how Jacksonville's will fare against the elite QB's and offenses come playoff time. It will also be interesting to see the continued progression of Bortles.

But as I look at the tale of two seasons between Houston and Jacksonville, it can be summarized in this respect.

Houston lost defensive standout J.J. Watt earlier in the season and then their QB of the future DeShaun Watson succumbed to a season ending ACL Injury.

Prior to Watson's injury, he threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also rushed for 289 yards and added two more touchdowns.

With a 4-11 record to date, it would be unfortunate to see Texans Coach Bill O' Brien to lose his job come "Black Monday, January 1, 2018."

As for Jacksonville, it's hard to believe that a year ago, this squad finished with a 3-13 mark and was a laughingstock.

Khan found this term rather enlightening and said, "Well, I've been through life when I was a laughingstock in whatever business I was in, auto parts or what have you. You have to stay in it and success comes. It's a story of perseverance."

Truly, I think the Jaguars are on house money because nobody expected them to be where they are now so anything they accomplish is a building block.

In my 39 years of covering sports, I've covered numerous championship teams and it's always a building process to reach elite status and maintain it.

It will be interesting to monitor the Jacksonville Jaguars over the coming weeks.

The Jaguars and their fans have had a tough task as they faced the San Francisco 49'ers , who are playing much better with the acquisition  of Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots.

Against the Jaguars, Garoppolo threw for 242 yards and a touchdown to lead San Francisco to its fourth consecutive win.

As for Bortles, he threw for 382 yards, two touchdowns and one interception as his squad dropped to 10-5.

The 49'ers defeated the Jaguars 44-33. But the big news of the day was the LA Rams defeating the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. For the first time  since 1999, The Jaguars have clinched the the AFC South Division.

As a result, the 10-5 Jaguars will host a playoff game for the first time since 1999. It's been announced that they received permission from the NFL and their sponsors to remove the tarps in the upper level of EverBank Field and sell those tickets for their home playoff game next week.

The NFL prohibits changes in seating capacity during the regular season, and tarp sponsorship's
are sold on a season-long basis.

The additional 3,501 seats went up for sale Friday Morning at 10 A.M. ET and took just six minutes
to sell out according to the team.

The Jaguars are Florida's Best NFL Team and I don't see the Miami Dolphins or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers catching up anytime soon!

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of The Detroit Sports Media.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What's Ahead For Lions?

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

If you're looking to keep your head coach employed, Lions QB Matthew Stafford knows the formula.

Keep winning.

After throwing for 381 yards and a touchdown on December 10, 2017 on the road to defeat the Tampa Bay Bucs 24-21, Stafford had some interesting things to say about Coach Jim Caldwell's future.

"Listen man, we go out and play and he goes and coaches," Stafford said. "He understands part of the business, we understand, who knows. I'm not on social media so I don't give a crap but we just go play, man. We go play, he goes and coaches, our job is to win football games. That's what we're trying to do."

Against the Chicago Bears Saturday, December 16, 2017, Stafford's 237 yards and two touchdowns performance led Detroit to its second consecutive victory 20-10.

Detroit's record improved to 8-6 and the Lions continue to remain in the playoff hunt.

Lions Coach Jim Caldwell is guaranteed of the team at least finishing with a .500 record. 

After the Buccaneers game, the head coach addressed his job security and you can rest assure that anybody who addressed it Saturday would get the same answer we received in Tampa pertaining to his contract expiring at the end of 2018.

"We never, never ever, ever been in the practice of talking about contracts and anything of that nature, and we're certainly not going to start today," Caldwell said. "There's no (security) it's coaching. That's the way it is."

As for what's ahead for the Lions, on Monday Night, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-21 to improve to 9-5.

Detroit remains one game behind Atlanta but the Falcons need some holiday cheer to get into the playoffs.

On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017, Atlanta travels to New Orleans to take on the high powering Saints (10-4).

We all know how dangerous QB Drew Brees is, but the two headed running back monster combination consisting of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are good enough to shred any defense.

Ingram has rushed for 1,045 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's tallied 375 receiving yards.

Meanwhile, Kamara, has 652 yards carrying the rock with seven touchdowns. He's been an explosive receiver out of the backfield adding another 684 yards and five touchdowns.

Detroit needs this dynamic duo to have a big day.

On December 31, 2017, Atlanta faces Carolina QB Cam Newton, who is playing some of his best football leading the Panthers to a 10-4 mark, in Georgia.

In the Panthers 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers, Newton threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns. He had one of his favorite targets back as Tight End Greg Olson caught nine receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown.

The Lions lost to Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, therefore the head-to-head tiebreaker works against them.

Detroit's playoff hopes rest firstly on them taking care of business.

First, the Lions have to win out against the Cincinnati Bengals, who just got crushed Sunday by the Minnesota Vikings 34-7 on the road. Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati (5-9) could be looking for a new head coach when "Black Monday" takes place on January 1, 2018.

Second, they also need to beat the Green Bay Packers.  With the Packers (7-7)  now out of the playoffs, despite 290 yards and three touchdowns from Aaron Rodgers, the future Hall of Fame QB took a pounding against the Panthers which led to three interceptions.

Rodgers missed eight weeks because of a broken collarbone. He woke up very sore on Monday and appears to have aggravated the injury returning too soon.

Rodgers was put on season-ending injured reserve and Brett Hundley will be under center when the Lions play the Packers December 31, 2017 at Ford Field.

Also, will the game be changed to a later time than it's current 1 pm slot and be on National TV?

In the past few years, when there have been playoff implications, the game time has been switched.

But once again, Sunday's action will give us more answers.

If Detroit loses at Cincinnati, then none of what we're discussing means anything.

So the question remains, will Santa Claus deliver the Lions two victories and the Falcons two losses?

As for Caldwell, I'll continue to say this as I have all year.

If you fire him, who are you going to replace him with?

Are you going to bring in New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, who worked with General Manager Bob Quinn in Massachusetts?  Even if this happens, there are no guarantees that this move would work.

McDaniels could be heavily coveted as 5-10 teams could be looking for head coaches on Black Monday, January 1, 2018.

The only other candidate who might make sense is Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith.

Smith Coached the Atlanta Falcons from 2008-2014 and was 66-46 with a .589 winning percentage. He led the Falcons to five playoff appearances and was 1-4 in the post-season.

Unfortunately for Smith, he was 10-22 during his final two campaigns which led to his dismissal.

Aside from that, as I've written about before and I'll say it again, the Lions best move pertaining to Caldwell is to keep him.

Since he was hired in 2014, Caldwell is 35-27 with a .564 winning percentage and two playoff appearances.

Detroit's issues go deeper than the coaching search.

The Lions need to start by bolstering their running back position, because the only stats which are missing are lack of 100 yard games, in addition to 1,000 yard seasons.

Against the Bears, The Lions amassed 91 yards on the ground as a group led by Theo Riddick's 49 and Tion Green's 35.

Unlike many teams in the NFL, the Lions are fortunate they don't need to look for a franchise QB.

They have a young gunslinger and stud in Stafford, 29, who is the ultimate competitor and plays through injuries.

Going into the Cincinnati contest, Stafford has 2,966 career completions and 34,223 yards. He has 212 touchdowns and 117 interceptions. He could hit the 3,000 milestone for completions against the Bengals.

Otherwise, he'll attain that milestone against the Packers.

Against Green Bay on December 31, 2017, Stafford will have played in all 16 games since 2011.

Who would have ever have thought that back on December 19, 2010 that Detroit snapped a 26-game road losing streak at Tampa Bay.

How times have changed as Detroit enters its road game with Cincinnati with a 5-2 road record and is 3-4 at home. It's safe to say that road win number six, will be huge!

This is What's Ahead For The Lions.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of Detroit Sports Media.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Unemployment Bowl?

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

There are no shortage of memories when I cover a Lions vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers road game.

Whether the venue is the demolished Tampa Stadium or Raymond James Stadium, there have been some nice story lines.

On Sunday, October 12, 1997, I remember wishing Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders luck at the team hotel in the morning where we were staying. Barry in his polite way, said thanks and shook my hand with a smile.

That day, he wasn't shaking any Tampa Bay Bucs players hands, just having their defenders shake their heads as he became the first player in NFL History to record two 80-yard TD runs in the same game. He broke off an 80-yard scoring play late in the first quarter and added an 82-yard touchdown romp in the third quarter, finishing the day with 215 yards.

The Lions won the game 27-9 in Tampa Stadium and even though there is no cheering allowed in the press box, it was hard to confiscate media credentials during such an incredible and memorable performance when we all cheered.

At the time, My longtime friend Chip Namias was the Director of Media Relations of the Buccaneers, and I told him after the game that it was neat to be a part of this type of history.

Chip smiled and agreed that it was an unbelievable day.

I have made other appearances in Raymond James Stadium including covering a Super Bowl featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers vs the Arizona Cardinals.

But one regular season game that stood out occurred on December 19, 2010 as Detroit ended a 26-game road losing streak when they claimed a 23-20 overtime win at Tampa Bay.

The Lions would proceed to win another road game in Florida as they defeated the Miami Dolphins on December 26, 2010, 34-27.

Detroit was 2-0 in The Sunshine State in 2010.

Here on December 10, 2017, the Detroit Lions had another important contest as they attempted to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Coming off a pair of losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens the past couple weeks, there were no shortage of story lines.

There is always speculation of Coach Jim Caldwell's job status, and this week, QB Matthew Stafford has been battling a hand injury.

Detroit entered the game with a 6-6 mark while Tampa Bay was 4-8.

The Lions came away with a 24-21 win as Matt Prater booted a 46-yard field goal with 20 seconds left to play as Detroit improved to 7-6.

The Lions got an early Christmas gift as Tampa Bay committed five turnovers. Detroit also benefited from two successful replay challenges.

Stafford was 36-44 for 381 yards and a touchdown.

He knew that Detroit better not look past the Buccaneers or any chances of getting into the playoffs wouldn't occur.

"Yeah, you throw the tape on these guys and they're talented, they're extremely talented," Stafford said. "They got a lot of guys at every level on the defense, 93 (Gerald McCoy), 54 (Lavonte David), 24 (Brent Grimes)--they got guys that can wreck the game, and really make big plays, and they did some today.

"And then our defense having to defend that offense, I mean, Jameis (Winston) is as talented as anybody in the league and they've got some big-time receivers and tight-ends, have a good running game. This is the NFL; we know every time we show up on a Sunday it is going to be a big one."

When asked about the Lions being able to make plays in the last minutes of games, Stafford added, "I just think we have a lot of confidence. I think guys that have been around here have understood that's kind of sometimes the way the game boils down and we go out there and make plays and when you have success, it breeds confidence.

"Frankly, there's been times this year where we haven't been successful in those situations, some close calls in some other games. It feels good to get back out there and have a two-minute drive, go out there and win the game."

Caldwell deflected any talk about his job security as he has so many times during his tenure with the Lions especially when a report surfaced that his contract was guaranteed through the end of the 2018 season.

"We never, never ever, ever been in the practice of talking about contracts and anything of that nature, and we're certainly not going to start today," Caldwell said. "There's no (security) it's coaching. That's the way it is."

Caldwell praised Stafford and was relieved to get an important win.

"Yeah, tough guy. Tough guy who heals real quickly," Caldwell said. "Really, it's always been that way. He's a great leader and did a tremendous job out there for us under some tough circumstances, I should say.

"You know, it was a key win for us. It was key for us to play a team that is very hard to beat in this stadium with Jameis back there playing. They've got weapons. They've got people that can run. Overall, it's a talented team. If you can get one on the road in this league, it's a good thing."

There has been no shortage of close games in Caldwell's coaching stint in Detroit and this was no exception.

"It's been a hallmark of ours," he said. "We've been able to battle at the end. Our guys show great resiliance, and they don't get nervous in tough situations at the end of games. They find a way to win it. It might not always be pretty---we'd always been like that---but we lost a few this year just the opposite the side of that.

"Atlanta, Carolina, and a couple others that were close right there at the end. We weren't able to finish them, so we have been uncharacteristic in the middle portion of the season. So hopefully we can see if we can continue to do that and be a little better this next week."

The one thing which has always been consistent when I attend a Lions game in this area is there is no shortage of Detroit colors on display. Sunday was no exception. There are a lot of transplants from Michigan that live in the Tampa Bay Area and the Tigers train 45 minutes away in Lakeland.

One puzzling inactive was Detroit running back Ameer Abdullah.

Once again, Caldwell wouldn't get into too elaborate of an answer when it came to why he sat him and what the future holds into using him as a feature back.

"We don't go into details about everything, but obviously he's still nursing an injury," Caldwell said. "He's coming a long. I think he'll be ready to go here shortly. We don't talk about number ones, number twos. That's you guys business. We have a three man rotation. With the three guys that we have up, all three guys play."

With Abdullah inactive, the Lions rushing attack mustered up only 53 yards, led by Theo Riddick, who amassed 29 yards and two touchdowns.

There is no doubt there will be continued talk about Caldwell's employment status and he is focusing on the Lions next opponent, Chicago.

Stafford was having no part of this conversation after the contest.

"Listen man, we go out and play and he goes and coaches," Stafford said. "He understands part of the business, we understand, who knows. I'm not on social media so I don't give a crap but we just go play, man. We go play, he goes and coaches, our job is to win football games. That's what we're trying to do."

There is no shortage of drama in the Tampa Bay locker room as a report surfaced that Winston's relationship with Coach Dirk Koetter is deteriorating.

The Bucs 4-9 record is going to do nothing to quiet that talk regardless of what Winston said.

The loss to Detroit eliminated Tampa Bay from the playoffs.

My sources say that Koetter will be terminated at the end of the season.

On Monday, December 18, former Coach Jon Gruden will be inducted into the teams Ring of Honor as he coached the team from 2002-2008, compiled a 57-55 record and led the franchise to it's only Super Bowl Title.

One person who should be in The Bucs Ring of Honor is Tony Dungy.

He led Tampa to a 54-42 mark and his squads made the playoffs in four of his six seasons at the helm. Dungy is Tampa's all-time winning coach with a .556 percentage.

You can rest assure, there will be a lot of talk about bringing Gruden back to roam the sidelines at Raymond James Stadium. I've always thought highly of Gruden as a head coach, but in reality, he won it with the talent Dungy molded together.

If Tampa Bay was smart, they should try to get Dungy to leave his cozy seat at NBC and return to coaching.

Tampa Bay QB Winston threw for 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But on this day, Winston refused to speculate on Koetter's job status.

"I don't control that. That's not my place. I play quarterback for this organization, that's all I play," Winston said. "When you lose, everything gets blamed on one guy: the head coach and quarterback and I'm ok with that. I'm pretty sure Coach Koetter is ok with that. We don't care about that stuff. All we care about is each other, our family and trying to win.

"I've been with Coach Koetter since I've got in this league and he has not wronged me since I stepped foot in those doors. We have a great relationship first and foremost.

"I believe in what we have in what we have as an organization. We've got talent. Some unfortunate things happened. That's life. That's football. Some people can blame it on this, some people can blame it on that. But at the end of the day, we've got to win. As long as we are winning, no one is sitting here asking me questions about me and my head coach. No one."

Koetter also addressed the reports about him and his quarterback and said, "It's obviously news to me. I think Jameis and I have had an extremely consistent relationship for the last three years. I don't think anything is different about it, but it's just my opinion.

"What concerns me is that we aren't winning enough games. That's my biggest concern. I mean, I know about our relationship, but my biggest concern is our football team."

On January 1, 2018, the Michigan Wolverines face the University of South Carolina Gamecocks in the Outback Bowl in this very stadium.

The question remains which one of these coaches will be employed by either of these organizations.

But to Caldwell's credit, he's been facing job uncertainty for quite some time and always finds a way to keep winning to quiet that talk.

He follows like Morris The Cat and has Nine Lives.

At least Stafford always has his back and this gunslinger will continue to battle through what he calls "Crap" as this duo works towards its goal of reaching the postseason.

To be frankly honest with you, I'm sick and tired of writing about Caldwell losing his job because as I've mentioned before, he's one of the best coaches Detroit has had in years.

If Detroit does terminate him, unless General Manager Bob Quinn were to hire Josh McDaniels away from his former club the New England Patriots, and that's no sure bet it would work out, who would the Lions bring in to get better?

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.

But all the Lions have to do is simply win games and there next three opponents are the Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers.

The Bears and Packers are at home but unfortunately for Detroit, Aaron Rodgers could
very well be back in the lineup. But as the old adage says, it's important to take these games one at a time.

But as I take a moment to reflect on this game, the Lions did get another three point win that nearly went to overtime and it was an exciting finish.

For myself, it was great seeing my old Tampa Tribune colleagues Roy Cummings and Joey Johnston again.

We worked together from 1984-86, but it seems like yesterday that we were all covering High School Sports.

As a University of South Florida graduate, it was nice to be back in my old stomping grounds doing what I enjoy doing and that's covering Pro Football.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Scrambling To Salvage Seasons

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

Last week in my column, I mentioned that Florida State University (FSU) had to reschedule an early regular season game with the University of Louisiana Monroe (UL-Monroe) that was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma to December 2, 2017 in a desperate attempt to become Bowl Eligible.

Since there are 40 Bowl Games, which begin from December 16, 2017-January 8, 2018, it's hard to not take note of certain games this weekend of teams scrambling to get into a Bowl Game.

I've always enjoyed watching and occasionally covering Bowl Games because it's another opportunity for NFL Scouts to see prospects to compliment the regular season, plus the few All-Star Games that are also scheduled.

There is no question that there is a saturation of Bowl Games and a lot of Empty Stadiums.

Yet these games do give universities, especially the smaller ones, much needed exposure to help bolster recruiting.

The Bowl Season does give student athletes a chance to extend their careers by a game.

You'll see unique match-ups that wouldn't be possible because of how difficult it is for Athletic Directors and Head Coaches to fit in when building future schedules.

In many instances, these are first time match-ups.

It's neat to see these students play in the Bahamas and Hawaii as well as other cities, plus also have the opportunity to possibly take their families.

I doubt I'd hear a complaint of a student getting to play in a warm California, Texas, Arizona or Florida city and spend some time at a popular tourist attraction as part of the business trip.

Let's not forget that in addition to the exposure and recruiting benefits, universities do get a payout to fund their athletic departments plus promote academics.

Here is a look at some of today's interesting match-ups as we examine how things play out in the coming weeks leading up to the Bowl Selection process.

1. Louisiana-Monroe (4-5) has a tough task as it faces No.6 Auburn (8-2) in Auburn, AL. Win or lose, UL-Monroe figures to get a big payday while still trying to earn additional cash in a potential Bowl Game as well as valuable exposure.

Meanwhile, Auburn must play well in an effort to keep its National Championship hopes alive. They can't have a let down today.

2. Florida State faces the Delaware State Hornets in Tallahassee, FL. Delaware State is the same university which forfeited a conference game to earn a sizable payday as it faced the Michigan Wolverines in The Big House in Ann Arbor a few years ago.

Delaware State is 2-8 while FSU is 3-6.

Who would have thought that two schools so far a way in tradition would have records like this? Yet, Delaware State figures to get a huge payday and a moral victory would be keeping this game close. FSU is clinging to dear life just to get into a Bowl Game as evidenced earlier by rescheduling Louisiana-Monroe.

3. The Florida Gators (3-6) host the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) Blazers (7-3) in Gainesville. There are indeed other teams in Alabama besides Auburn and the University of Alabama, traditional powerhouse programs.

A few years ago, UAB dropped its football program only to bring it back. If the Blazers defeat the Gators, U-F will most likely be eliminated from Bowl Consideration. The only way Florida gets in with five victories is there aren't enough Bowl Eligible teams. If Florida defeats UAB, it still has a contest against state rival Florida State on November 25.

Like the Seminoles, Hurricane Irma didn't do the Gators any favors as its September 9, 2017 game against Northern Colorado was cancelled and as of yet hasn't been rescheduled.

The question remains, in a rough season, would the Gators even want to play in a Bowl Game which saw Head Coach Jim McElwain get terminated?

I would highly doubt it unless the Gators hire a new coach very quickly that endorses the idea to scout his new players. But the Gators have a lot of work to do in the meantime.

Finally, the Texas Longhorns (5-5) travel to West Virginia to face the Mountaineers (7-3) in Morgantown.

Mediocrity got former Longhorns Coach Charlie Strong fired a year ago in Texas, but he's rebounded very well at My Alma-Mater the University of South Florida with a 9-1 record.

Texas (5-5) lured Tom Herman away from the Houston Cougars with a five-year contract worth $5 Million per-year.

The Longhorns have two opportunities to reach a Bowl Game. A win over West Virginia and they'll get invited someplace. Otherwise, next week, they'll host Texas Tech (5-5) at home in Austin.

But the question remains, how long will the fans, boosters and alumni be patient with Herman if this national powerhouse doesn't regain elite status, thus having to settle for a lower tiered bowl game for a coach that figures to earn $25 Million for the length of his contract.

But as I analyze this weeks schedule, it's hard to believe that I'm writing a column on Florida, Florida State and Texas scrambling and hammering their way to get into a Bowl Game.

How times have changed and I'm doing just that.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of The Detroit Sports Media.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Nice Turnaround In Northern Florida

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

The last time we saw the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 24, 2016, they hammered former head coach Mike Mularkey and his Tennessee Titans 38-17 at EverBank Field.

In the game, the Jaguars improved to 3-12, and Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota left the game due to a fractured fibula.

The Titan's game was Marrone's first game as Jacksonville's interim head coach.

He replaced current LA Chargers Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley compiled a 14-48 mark with a .226 percentage.

Jacksonville would finish the regular season with a 3-13 mark.

The Jaguars finished 1-1 under interim head coach Doug Marrone.

Things have drastically changed since we were in Northern Florida 11 months ago.

The Jaguars hired former Coach Tom Coughlin to run the football operations and he wasted no time naming Marrone as the permanent head coach.

Coughlin's presence has been felt by two organizations.

His former team The New York Giants are 1-8 and Sunday lost to the previous winless San Francisco 49'ers, who are now 1-9.

The distance between Jacksonville's EverBank Field to the Giants MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ is 932 miles north on I-95.

With moderate traffic, it's 15 hours and 37 minutes and without traffic, you're looking at 13 hours and 34 minutes.

What's also changed since December is Jacksonville drafted running back Leonard Fournette from LSU and he's improved the running game.

Going into this weekend's action, Fournette has 147 carries for 629 yards and six touchdowns. He's also caught 17 passes for 149 yards and another touchdown.

Fournette learned quickly that when he recently had disciplinary problems, Coughlin and Marrone suspended him for one game sending a clear message to the team that this regime won't tolerate any problems and distractions.

EverBank Field also looked different behind the south end zone as it's more closed in and is louder because of a new amphitheater called Daily's Place (capacity 5000) which holds small concerts and events.

It shares space with a Jaguars indoor facility called Flex Field.

If you're looking for a hard hitting game then this was it.

The Jaguars had nine penalties for 106 yards while the Los Angeles Chargers were flagged seven times for 77 yards. I have to admit that it was tough not saying the San Diego Chargers.

This was a contest that on the surface had two great young running backs on display.

The Chargers Melvin Gordon and Fournette went into the game looking to put on a running show. Instead, they had games they'd like to forget.

Gordon had eight attempts for 16 yards, plus three receptions for nine yards. Fournette had nine carries for 21 yards.

Part of Gordon's struggles were attributed to the Jaguars recent acquisition of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (99), who played for the Buffalo Bills a couple weeks ago.

The 6-3, 331 pound run stopper gave Gordon very little room to move in the backfield. He amassed four tackles as you'll see in the photo.

After the game, I spoke to Dareus and I told him his former team Buffalo got hammered 47-6 to the New Orleans Saints.

I also told him there is no state income tax in Florida and he wasn't shy about being pleased to be playing in the Sunshine State getting a fresh start.

He said he likes what he's seen so far with the team and says if this team get into the playoffs it would be like comparing it to a piece of popcorn and seeing the colonel pop.

"Today's game showed me a lot. These guys fight for each other," Dareus said. "It's all about my man next to me. You can see the passion. I'm doing everything I can for the man next to me. These guys showed me a lot today."

When I asked Dareus if he felt the defense is the strength of the team, he said, "The left hand washes the right hand. We look out for each other. It's not about us (defense) feeling like we have to carry the team. It's not about us looking like we have to carry the team. We do the best with each other so we can help each other get better.

"The offense made big plays for us today, we made some big plays for them and special teams came up big. We made big plays all over the place."

The Jaguars had 398 net total yards and Los Angeles 322. Jacksonville won the contest 20-17 in overtime.

Cornerback A.J. Bouye came up with a crucial interception in overtime that led to the game winning field goal by Josh Lambo. Lambo, formerly of the Chargers, haunted his old team by converting a 30-yard field goal 3:12 left in overtime for the victory.

Bouye posted four tackles and the interception against the Chargers.

As a result, he was named AFC Defensive Player Of The Week and is the third Jaguar to earn that honor this season.

The win improved Jacksonville to 6-3 and doubled it's victory total in 2016.

Throughout the day, I spoke with a lot of the media and asked them about speculation concerning the future of QB Blake Bortles.

There has also been speculation of Giants QB Eli Manning, 36, rejoining Coughlin, but because Jacksonville continues to win, the situation wouldn't be addressed until the offseason.

Bortles was 28-51 for 273 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed five times for 34 yards.

With all due respect to Bortles, he lost his top wide receiver Allen Robinson to injury during week one.

Jacksonville drafted Dede Westbrook in the fourth round and the 6-0, 178 pound speedy receiver from Oklahoma, underwent core muscle surgery and has been on injured reserve. He is expected to be activated this weekend.

When I asked Bortles how difficult the season has been without two weapons, he said, "It's been a challenge. Those two guys you said, anytime you're playing with those two guys, we have both seen what Allen Robinson is capable of doing. We have talked about it before.

"He goes down and that's a lot of production that's lost and Westbrook with his ability and not being out there. I think it's a tribute to Nathaniel Hackett and what he's been able to do and the offensive staff, schematically and scheming things up to get guys open. Then that room has taken it on themselves and the running backs and tight ends have helped us out as well. It's been a group effort with those two guys not being out there to be able to kind of keep the pass game rolling."

A crowd of 60,835 were loud and Bortles said that "It's awesome to have a real home field advantage. It's something that hasn't always been that way in the past and something we wanted to try and bring back. Coach Coughlin came up here and talked to us at the beginning of the season and talked about back when he was here, the support and how the city was when they were rolling.

"That's something that we talked about last week a little bit. We want to make sure that this is an advantage when we come play in Jacksonville in front of our fans. They've been incredible all day like you said."

When the game was over, Marrone was asked if he enjoys these close games?

I'm exhausted right now. I'm shot," Marrone said. "I'm living and dying on every single play with every call that we have, but every play and call I have, you know what I mean.' So after the game is over, I'm shot."

Marrone added that the main thing is "Obviously we came away with a win which is obviously the objective. You know it's difficult in this league when you've been in the league for a while, these types of games where you're just trying to grind them and just find a way to get an opportunity to win the game."

What did Marrone think was the reason the Chargers (3-6) did to slow down the running game?

"They did a good job. They got after us up front. We lost some battles up front. They did a very good job. They're a good football team. They really are."

If Marrone was exhausted over this win, he'll have a week of stress that Detroit Lions Coach Jim Caldwell dealt with.

The Jaguars coach has to face the 0-9 Cleveland Browns and doesn't want to be the team which allows them to notch their first win.

For those individuals that think Jacksonville has QB issues, since 1999, the Cleveland Browns have used 28 signal callers.

For the Jaguars to leave "The Super Bowl Non Participation Club" that has the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and the lowly Browns, it would be wise to not overlook and underestimate this team.

The Lions would sure like company in the 0-16 club and the Browns are the only winless squad left in the NFL.

To say the Cleveland Browns contest for Jacksonville is one of the biggest games of the year for the Jaguars is mildly under stating this.

But it is because they're expected to win this game.

Jacksonville leads the all-time regular season series 11-5 over the Browns, have won two straight and three of the past four meetings.

Marrone knows it and after the Chargers game, he's very appreciative of the fan base which has been starving for a winner for years. A loss to the Browns would only be detrimental to getting fans to return.

"I think first of all, I want to credit the people that are here that do give us the advantage because they do a heck of a job," Marrone said. "I still go back to the same course that I took early on when I would get asked that question if we're building a home field advantage.

"I think we have to go out and continue to play well and earn that right. I really believe that. If someone was to say, 'Well, I don't want to see those guys, I just hope that they give this time an opportunity to come out and watch this team.

"I think if they do, I think they'll be happy with the type of effort we have. I think the people that are here are great. We would love to have more, we really would, but we have to understand that it's on us to bring them here."

It will definitely be interesting to see which organization makes greater strides to get into the playoffs.

There are men with the Lions and Jaguars who have been to Super Bowls.

Lions General Manager Bob Quinn (New England Patriots) and Coach Caldwell (Indianapolis Colts) have both won Super Bowls.

Tom Coughlin has a pair of Super Bowl wins with Manning as his QB.

Coughlin was the first coach of the expansion Jaguars in 1995, and has led this franchise to two AFC Championship Games in 1996 and 1999.

Meanwhile, the Lions lone NFC Championship game occurred in 1991 under Coach Wayne Fontes and featured Hall of Fame Running Back Barry Sanders.

A tale of two organizations looking to finally reach a Super Bowl with starving fans.

Will it take a Hall of Fame QB to win a Super Bowl and do either of these franchises have one?

There are no playoff wins between Matthew Stafford and Bortles.

But I'll say this, names like Jim McMahon (Chicago Bears), Doug Williams (Washington Redskins), Jeff Hostetler (New York Giants), Mark Rypien (Washington Redskins), Trent Dilfer (Baltimore Ravens) and Brad Johnson (Tampa Bay Bucs) proved a QB doesn't have to be a Hall of Famer to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out in the coming weeks.

As I mentioned before, the Jaguars hope to avoid a letdown in Cleveland while the Lions (5-4) face the Chicago Bears in Illinois.

Jacksonville enters the Cleveland contest in first place thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers 40-17 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans Thursday Night. The loss dropped the Titans to 6-4.

Tennessee and Jacksonville could play for the AFC South Title in Nashville on December 31, 2017.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a Member of The Detroit Sports Media.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Interesting Football Insights

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTO (LIONS) BY CANDICE EBLING

One of my favorite films growing up was a Walt Disney Productions 1976 Movie titled "Gus" which was about a mule placekicker that made long field goals.

For Gus, making 50-plus yard field goals was the norm.

The Detroit Lions have a field goal kicker that kicks field goals a long way and for him 50-yard field goals come often.

Like QB Matt Stafford, Matt Prater is shattering Lions records at a brisk pace.

On October 25, 2017, Detroit signed Prater to a 3-year extension worth as much as $12.15 Million that includes potential incentives.

Prater has hit from 50 yards 20 times since joining the Lions. He has three 55-yarders this year which is an NFL single season record.

Of the seven longest field goals in Lions history, Prater owns five of them while Jason Hanson has a pair.

Prater owns the Lions four longest field goals at 59, 58, 58, 57 and 56. Hanson also has two 56-yard field goals.

Prater joined the Lions in 2014 and against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night, October 29, 2017, his leg amounted to the only points scored as Detroit lost 20-15.

He could have had six field goals, but Detroit elected to go for a touchdown and failed to convert deep in the red zone on fourth down.

As a result, Pittsburgh drove on the next possession and scored for what proved to be the game winning touchdown.

Now the Lions have Prater until 2020 and I'll be curious to see how many more game winning field goals he amasses before his career is concluded whether they're long or short.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that on December 8, 2013, Prater set an NFL Record with a 64-yard field goal as he led the Denver Broncos to a 51-28 home win over the Tennessee Titans at Mile High Stadium which has an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level.

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The Michigan Wolverines are on their third QB this season, but that signal caller isn't named Shane Morris.

Morris, 23, a 6-3, 225 pound native from Warren, MI, is making a name for himself at Central Michigan University (CMU).

He threw three TD's in CMU's 42-30 win over Eastern Michigan Wednesday Night in Mount Pleasant as his squad improved to 6-4. Central Michigan became bowl eligible for the 10th time in 12 years.

Morris has played in 10 games and has thrown for 2,364 yards, 21 TD's and 11 interceptions.

If the senior QB keeps winning games, there is always a good chance that he'll have an opportunity to play on Sundays if he impresses scouts in preparation for the 2018 NFL Draft and attempts to become a hidden gem.

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The Florida State Seminoles rescheduled a football game that I thought would never happen, but when a team is desperate to play in a bowl, then you play it.

Early this fall, Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of many football games in Florida.

On September 9, 2017, Florida State was supposed to host The University of Louisiana-Monroe. At that time, no make-up game was scheduled.

Now the game is scheduled for December 2, 2017, in Tallahassee, FL.

FSU is currently 3-5 and is off to its worst start since 1976 and may need this game to be bowl eligible.

The Seminoles have not missed a bowl game since 1981.

Louisiana-Monroe is also 3-5 but win or lose, at least they'll get a guaranteed payday.

These guarantee games which enable smaller schools to finance their athletic departments, start out as low as $500,000 and exceed millions of dollars depending on the opponent, plus factoring in travel expenses.

In many instances, these games are mismatches for the smaller programs, but are helpful to the larger schools as they prepare for their demanding conference schedules.

But, who would have imagined Florida State being in this predicament especially since the Seminoles defeated the Michigan Wolverines in The Orange Bowl 33-32 on December 30, 2016 at Joe Robbie Stadium.

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Finally, during the Thursday Night Football Game between The Seattle Seahawks vs Arizona Cardinals, NBC Color Analyst Cris Collinsworth, photo on right, made a very interesting observation as we head into Veterans Day Weekend.

Collinsworth, a former Florida Gators wide receiver, said that former Arizona Cardinals Safety Pat Tillman belongs in The Pro Football Hall Of Fame.

I strongly agree with Collinsworth!

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Tillman's 15 game salary was $512,000.

In May of 2002, eight months after the September 11 attacks, Tillman, who played three years with the Cardinals from 1998-2001, turned down a contract offer of $3.6 Million over three years from the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army which pays approximately $25,000 annually.

Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004 and was 27-years old.

After his death, Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwell honored Tillman in many ways.

The Cardinals retired his No. 40.

Tillman is in The Cardinals Ring of Honor.

Tillman has a locker at the Cardinals Practice Facility.

The Cardinals named the plaza surrounding their University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ, The Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza.

Tillman has a bronze statue.

Up to this point, I've been very quiet about my views on the National Anthem Protests.

I'll keep my comments short and sweet.

Having had close family and friends serve in the military, I strongly believe that Standing For The National Anthem is The Right Thing To Do!

There are other ways to protest, but kneeling for the National Anthem isn't one of them.

Throughout my years of covering the NFL, I've been fortunate and feel privileged to have written about contests that are played on Veterans Day, December 7 (Pearl Harbor) and September 11.

There is nothing more uplifting than being in the Press Box seeing the Flag covering the field.

This weekend, we'll be in Jacksonville as the upstart Jaguars host the Los Angeles Chargers.

You can rest assure that my I-Phone will be taking photos of the Flag at EverBank Field.

I will never boycott the NFL because as a professional in Sports Media, it's my responsibility to inform and provide objective commentary to all of my followers.

This philosophy applies to all the sports that I cover.

I've been covering sports for 38 years and I know there are many people that would love to trade places with me thus, I don't take anything for granted.

The only way that you last in this industry for along time is to be ethical, accurate with your information, be fair and demonstrate integrity with how you go about delivering your message.

But getting back to Collinsworth and Tillman.

Tillman does belong in The Pro Football Hall of Fame and Collinsworth hit a bulls eye with these comments!

Tillman's numbers on the field due to his short playing career should be an after thought, and doing the right thing is paramount.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of Detroit Sports Media.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Inspired By NBC's Ed Olczyk

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

There are certain individuals that I get inspired by in different ways and NBC Hockey Broadcaster Ed Olczyk definitely struck a chord with me due to his recent battles with Colon Cancer.

Olczyk was diagnosed with Colon Cancer on August 8, 2017.

He turned 51 on August 16, 2017.

Not the type of news you want to hear before your birthday.

But the Chicago native whose nickname is "Edzo" has been through a lot of adversity, but I admire the courage he's demonstrated in handling his Cancer diagnosis.

Olczyk had to recover from a 5 1/2 hour surgery to remove a tumor and a section of his colon before he could begin his chemotherapy.

Olczyk has undergone three chemotherapy treatments and has nine to go.

Five weeks after starting a 24-week chemotherapy regimen for Colon Cancer, Olczyk returned for an NBC Broadcast of a Wednesday Night Rivalry Game between the Chicago Blackhawks vs St. Louis Blues in Missouri. He was paired with his Hall of Fame Partner Mike "Doc" Emrick.

I was inspired by his words on the broadcast and that I wanted to use his courage in a positive way.

This year has caused me to deal with numerous health challenges.

I've had to deal with a Misdiagnosis of Parkinson's Disease, thus causing me to take medication which I shouldn't have been taking.

All of this was caused by tremors, mini seizures, and I'm still dealing with this right now.

In February, I was hospitalized a week due to Staph Infection, and as a Newlywed, it wasn't fun spending My first Valentine's Day in a hospital. I can think of more romantic places than that.

My Diabetes was getting worse as My A1C rating climbed, but thankfully, I've regained control of the situation by dropping a lot of weight due to an extensive exercise adjustment and a major overhaul of my diet.

As the year progressed, My Doctor decreased that medication.

I am feeling much better than I have in a long time. I'm still continuing to lose weight and admit that it's fun being thin again!

My goal is to get below 200 pounds and I'm confident I can attain that pretty soon. I've reached the low 200's. Since February, I've lost over 60 pounds.

But the challenges continued as I had to deal with Prostate Surgery in June.

From there, I would be told that I'd have to have a Pacemaker in My Body to correct some Major Internal Problems. This would turn out to be a two-part procedure, and of all the years that I've been operated on, this undoubtedly turned out to be one of the most demanding surgeries!

There was a small issue before I could be cleared for the Pacemaker to be installed.

During Pre-Operation Clearance, there was a Blockage In My Heart and I had to see a Cardiologist at the University of Miami days before this operation would be performed.

Ironically, I was cleared before the Prostate Surgery, but there were blockages and abnormalities that took place in just a 90-day span.

The doctor did clear me for The Pacemaker, but he did tell me to have my regular physician look into this when I have my yearly physical which is going to take place in a few weeks.

Throughout the year, I've drawn from the gracious moral support from my wife, family and friends as they've been tremendous in their encouragement.

I was very moved by My Friends on Facebook who also offered their prayers, get well wishes and support.

My Pacemaker Surgery took place on October 24, 2017 at the University of Miami Hospital.

There was one minor issue as My Health Insurance was in Pending Status, thus it delayed the operation by a five hours.

What's even crazier was the fact that my wife and I had to wait in the admissions waiting room for five hours, and this place was like a freezer.

But we stuck it out and did what we had to do.

Time will tell about the impact of this operation.

I do know that I won't be able to have any more MRI's, and going through Security Checks at Airports as well as Sporting Events will be much different.

My recovery time figures to take several months, however, I'm not going to worry about this because Cancer and Heart Patients don't have it easy.

I do face the probability that My body does Reject The Pacemaker and is prone to Infections, but I understood that going into the surgery and accepted that risk.

Former Detroit Red Wings Announcer Dave Strader died recently because of Cancer and Olczyk, a person that I would like to meet one day, are individuals that continue to inspire me.


As I said, I'm blessed with the support system I have.

What I do know is that I was under Excellent Medical Care as the University of Miami is one of the Best Hospitals in the country, thus I had Zero Anxiety.

Four days after my surgery, the Detroit Red Wings visited the Florida Panthers on Saturday, October 28 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL.

In my mind, this was a game I wanted to cover, but the only way I could do this was to take it slowly for three days leading to the contest as well as afterwards.

The day of the contest, I rested all day before we took off for the game. I got a ride home from my photographer afterwards.

The Red Wings only play the Panthers twice a year down in South Florida, unless they were to meet in the playoffs, which hasn't occurred yet.

I'm thankful that I have a lot of great friends that I get to see when they come to South Florida.

Detroit Sports Media President Trevor Thompson, Red Wings Radio Play-By-Play Announcer Ken Kal and his Color Analyst Paul Woods are extremely genuine colleagues.

Dana Wakiji, Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News, Helene St. James and Mike Lewis of the Panthers PR Department, are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

Thompson kept telling me to get my work done by the second period and leave early to get some rest. But I have a policy that I don't leave sporting events early.

As it turns out, the Red Wings defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 in a shootout and snapped a six game losing streak. These two teams always play great games in this venue.

The Red Wings took their Florida momentum back to Detroit and defeated the Arizona Coyotes 5-3 Tuesday Night and now have won two contests in a row.

When I got home, I sent Thompson a text message and told him that I look forward to seeing him at the Detroit Sports Media Christmas Party on December 8, 2017.

He told me when I go to Little Caesars Arena that I better expect to do a lot of walking. I told him when I started working out to lose weight, I walked 73 miles in one week, and put together multiple weeks of 30-40 miles in this Florida Humidity.

As I've told my longtime colleague George Eichorn, it's a whole lot easier to walk when you can go to the beach and listen to the sounds of the ocean. Deerfield Beach is great with it's boardwalk.

But I respect Thompson as a friend and colleague but have to admit that I lost count of how many times he told me to get some rest. But I knew he cared about me and this came from his heart.

I told him and Kal, that I use the Timex Watch Theory when it takes a Licking and keeps on Ticking, however, I've modified it to a point where I take a Licking and keep on Talking.

But as I summarize all of this, Olczyk's passion for Hockey is the same as I have for Sports, and until the time comes when I'm dead, if I pace myself properly and listen to those individuals close to me, I'll be fine.

In the meantime, Olczyk Inspired me and I look forward to the day that our paths cross.

Right now, My next challenge is covering some NFL Games the rest of the Fall and you can rest assure the travel time will be much greater than the 20 minute trek I took from the BB&T Center to My House in Deerfield Beach, FL via The Sawgrass Expressway.

And of course I look forward to seeing Thompson and Company back home in Detroit during early December. It's been years since I've been to a Christmas Party and I'm pleased that the timing works out this time.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a Member of Detroit Sports Media.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Lions Monday Night Secret

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

I have to hand it to the Detroit Lions, they certainly knew how to stay quiet about Coach Jim Caldwell's contract extension.

In Detroit's 24-10 win over the New York Giants on Monday, September 18, ESPN Announcer's Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden could have acted as agents to get Caldwell a contract extension. They were emphasizing to management how necessary it was to keep him.

Going into the contest, Caldwell had a 29-21 record.

What McDonough and Gruden didn't know is that prior to Caldwell, only four Lions coaches since 1951 had winning records.

Buddy Parker had a record of 47-23-2 .667 mark from 1951-56.

George Wilson led Detroit to a 53-45-6 .538 record from 1957-64.

Joe Schmidt had a successful tenure from 1967-72 leading Detroit to a 43-34-7 .554 mark.

In an interim role in 2000, former Michigan Wolverines Coach Gary Moeller led Detroit to a 4-3 .571 record only not to be retained by new CEO and GM Matt Millen the following season.

One Coach who nearly compiled a .500 record but holds the most wins in franchise history which dates back to 1930 when the team was the Portsmouth Spartans, is Wayne Fontes.

Fontes was 66-67 with a .496 winning percentage and his team, led by Hall of Fame Running Back Barry Sanders produced the squad's last playoff triumph over the Dallas Cowboys in 1991. Fontes piloted the team from 1988-96.

But Millen's tenure turned out to be a disaster in many ways.

Under his leadership from 2001-07, Detroit compiled a 31-81 record and a .277 winning percentage. The Lions compiled nine losses in each season and he hired Rod Marinelli, who would be the only coach in NFL History to record an 0-16 season.

Moreover, in 2003, the NFL fined the Lions $200,000 for failure to Interview African American candidates for the team's vacant head coaching job. The Lions immediately hired former San Francisco 49'ers Head Coach Steve Mariucci.

This would ultimately lead to the formation of the Rooney Rule.

But who would have thought that the only African-American Lions Coach in franchise history would have a 29-22 .569 mark going into Sunday's road game against the Minnesota Vikings?

Caldwell's body of work is equivalent to his classy demeanor as he never made a big deal about his contract and never wanted to be a distraction.

The guy has guided Detroit to a pair of playoff appearances, and has led the team into the post-season overcoming the retirement of future Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson.

His QB Matt Stafford earned tremendous praise from McDonough and Gruden in the Giants game because of his scrambling ability along with his ability to extend plays with his feet, let alone a quick release.

Is Stafford worth the $135 Million contract that he recently inked which amounts to $27 Million Per-Season, which is the highest at the moment?

Judging by the sound of McDonough and Gruden's compliments, the answer is yes.

More importantly, there are a lot of teams that are having issues with their signal callers, but the Lions aren't one of them.

Former Florida Gators QB Tim Tebow is 1-1 in the playoffs and there are many signal callers that have been to the tournament many times that don't have a playoff victory.

A lot of Caldwell's wins are coming from the foot of kicker Matt Prater, who drills game winners and 50-yarders with tremendous frequency.

Against the New York Giants, Prater nailed a 56-yarder that dribbled over the goal post. I expect him to have a solid game in Minnesota, playing in a dome.

After the Lions win over the Giants, things would not get better for a team that actually plays in New Jersey.

New York Coach Ben McAdoo blamed Eli Manning for his sloppy play and also took responsibility for the Detroit loss.

Pro Bowl Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made an idiot out of himself by celebrating active status with team handshakes.

He also tried to draw attention to himself by wearing gold cleats for the MNF Warmup.

McAdoo looked bad by ripping Manning. Eli was 22-32 for 239 yards, but was sacked five times by Detroit.

You don't throw the franchise QB under the bus, especially one that has won two Super Bowls.

As for Beckham, while he didn't get hurt, he did deliver a hit on Lions rookie first round linebacker Jarrad Davis, formerly of the Florida Gators. Davis would go on Concussion Protocol and missed the Lions 30-26 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field.

Detroit dropped to 2-1 but came a yard short of yet another comeback win for Stafford.

Against Detroit, Beckham caught four passes for 36 yards.

How did Manning and Beckham do in week three against the Philadelphia Eagles?

Manning was 35-47, 366 with three touchdown passes and two interceptions. His numbers were better because he wasn't sacked.

Mr. Hotdog Beckham caught nine passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns, but once
again created drama for all the wrong reasons.

He took an unsportsmanlike 15-yard penalty and was fined $12,154.00 for pretending to urinate like a dog on the field.

Philadelphia won the game 27-24, thanks to a 61-yard field goal by rookie Jake Elliott, who is filling in for veteran Caleb Sturgis as the Giants dropped to 0-3. I wouldn't be surprised to see Elliott in another uniform once Sturgis returns.

One other thing that stood out in the Lions vs Giants game was when McDonough made a mistake as he said Lions Offensive Lineman Taylor Decker was from Michigan and Not from Ohio State.

I understand that Decker's very passionate about the rivalry, but everybody makes mistakes so get over it Taylor and focus on helping your team return to the playoffs and getting a tournament win, something that hasn't occurred since the 1991 Season when the Lions played at the soon to be demolished Pontiac Silverdome.

Since the Lions rarely appear on Monday Night Football, I rarely watch McDonough, 55 and Gruden, 54, but I have to admit these guys do a nice job together.

I'm looking forward to seeing them again on Monday, November 6, 2017 when the Lions visit their Wisconsin nemesis, The Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

This is a contest that I'm looking forward to writing about and I've seen these clubs meet numerous times both in Wisconsin and in Michigan.

I learn a lot from Gruden because he's a guy who won Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego as his Tampa Bay Buccaneers pounded the Oakland Raiders 48-21 with an average QB named Brad Johnson.

There will be no shortage of Honolulu Blue and Silver appearances as Detroit has five nationally televised contests this year including their annual Thanksgiving Game, so the Lions will be spread around all the networks.

This will save my pocketbook in the Sports Bars and I'll actually be able to hear what these commentators are actually saying.

One story line that could come up is whether Detroit will win a playoff game and perhaps more, under 92-year old Owner Martha Firestone Ford, who hired Caldwell and therefore, both have a 29-22 record.

One thing is for certain, there will be No Secret about Caldwell's contract the rest of the year when the Lions appear on another Nationally Televised Game, since his contract was just recently extended.

But Caldwell's success on the field will be decided by his Gunslinger Matthew Stafford and as I mentioned earlier, the leg of kicker Matt Prater.

While Prater will be kicking against the Vikings, ironically the Detroit Tigers will conclude their season in Minneapolis at Target Field against the playoff bound Minnesota Twins.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of The Detroit Sports Media.

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