Sam Bradford looked like the best version of himself as he let it rip in Week 1

Jay Asser 12/09/2017
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Purple patch: Sam Bradford was on fire against the Saints. Picture: Getty Images.

Talent has never been a question for Sam Bradford.

The same abilities that made the quarterback the number one overall pick in the 2010 draft were on full display in the Minnesota Vikings’ 29-19 win over New Orleans, in which he carved up the Saints in arguably the greatest performance of his career.

It may have been the zenith of what Bradford’s capable of, but it was also the latest in a long line of tantalising efforts that have teased, yet never fully satisfied his potential.

Maddeningly, these types of games by Bradford have been wildly inconsistent during his eight-year career, but not necessarily because of what he’s able to do, but rather what he chooses to do – throw safe, short passes.

Even in his first season with Minnesota last year when he set an NFL record by completing 71.6 per cent of his passes, Bradford averaged just 7.02 yards per attempt and an even worse 6.2 air yards per pass.

The quarterback who picked apart New Orleans on Monday was a far cry from ‘captain checkdown’, averaging 10.81 yards per attempt en route to totalling 346 yards and three touchdowns for a career-high passer rating of 143.0.

After being constantly hit and sacked 37 times last year (tied for fourth-most in the league), Bradford’s offensive line kept him relatively clean against the Saints and he leveraged the time to complete 9-of-10 intermediate and downfield passes for 234 yards and two scores, according to Pro Football Focus.

“They gave me plenty of time to really sit back there and evaluate things and find the open receiver,” he said of his offensive line.

While Bradford was impressive, he was facing a pass defence that ranked dead last in the NFL last year in yards allowed per game (274.0) and fourth-worst in passer rating allowed (98.1).

But with Bradford still only 29 years old and in an offensive system he had an entire offseason to get familiar with (after being traded to the Vikings days before the start of the 2016 season), it’s not inconceivable that this time, he may finally be becoming the quarterback that fulfils the loftiest of expectations.

“We were very confident in the progress we were making, from OTAs to training camp,” Bradford said. “I saw it in our guys, every day. I think [Monday] was really the first time it translated onto the field. I think we have the capability of doing that on a regular basis.”

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New York Giants' offensive problems are largely independent of Odell Beckham Jr

Jay Asser 11/09/2017
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In a rush: Eli Manning faces pressure from the Dallas pass rush. Picture: Getty Images.

The absence of Odell Beckham Jr gave the New York Giants enough of an excuse in their sluggish season opener, but the reality is their offensive woes have extended to when their star receiver has been on the field as well.

Facing their NFC East rivals on the road to open their campaign, the Giants looked stuck in preseason mode as they were dominated 19-3 by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night in a contest that exposed their offensive deficiencies of late.

It was the seventh straight game, dating back to 2016 (including playoffs), in which New York failed to score at least 20 points – the longest such streak since 2003.

While Beckham’s presence would have helped in Week 1, he played in six of the seven aforementioned games, proving the Giants’ issues on that side of the ball are far too multi-faceted for the playmaker to cover up on his own.

11 09 NFL

“Obviously he’s a tremendous player, but we have players and we have to play better than that,” quarterback Eli Manning said.

“We have to do a better job finding completions on third [down] and converting those third downs. We just have to do a better job.”

It starts at the offensive line, where New York are relying on shaky tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart to give Manning enough time.

On Sunday, the Cowboys recorded three sacks and even when Manning did throw against limited pressure, he and his receivers often couldn’t get on the same page.

“I hung in the pocket, moved around. I wasn’t looking at the rush,” Manning said. “My eyes were downfield. I did an okay job moving around and trying to extend a couple of plays.”

The timing was particularly off between Manning and newcomer Brandon Marshall, who came over from the New York Jets in the offseason as a free agent.

Marshall grabbed just one of the four passes thrown his way as the veteran receiver, who was brought in to complement Beckham, was a non-factor in his debut.

For too long, Ben McAdoo’s play calling has leaned on Beckham’s ability to turn simple slant routes into monster gains, and the Giants have struggled to diversify as the rest of the league has caught up.

As a result, New York’s defence has been forced to carry a bigger burden and stay on the field longer, as they did on Sunday against the Cowboys when they faced 71 snaps.

The unit, which allowed the second-fewest points in 2016, was a major reason for the Giants’ 11-5 record last season, but if New York hope to reach the playoffs again, the offence will have to start doing their fair share.

“The thing I thought about after the game was we’ve just got to start faster. We’ve got to be more efficient,” Marshall said. “If we do that, who knows how the game goes, right? (Maybe then) there are opportunities for other guys.”

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NFL star JJ Watt has helped raise $17m and counting for hurricane relief efforts

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JJ Watt

The NFL season hasn’t started but there’s already a standout contender for MVP. JJ Watt is undoubtedly one of the most popular players in the game.

The Houston Texans star is a man of the people, a reassuringly down to earth throwback in a sport polluted by bad boys, bling and cash rich nonsense.

He’s been at the franchise his entire career, memorably powering them into the playoffs in his first campaign. Injury restricted the defensive end to just three appearances last season though his personality and positivity remained ingrained in Houston.

And his popularity – and the levels of respect shown – have skyrocketed in the last few days following a brilliantly, wholehearted effort to help the people of his home state deal with the catastrophic hurricane which has destroyed thousands of lives with more pain to follow.

What started with a Twitter plea for $200,000 (Dh735,000) to assist those affected by Tropical Storm Harvey has snowballed into a multi-million dollar relief effort which continues to grow.

At the time of writing, Watt’s fundraising effort had surpassed the $17 million mark (Dh62.4m). The targets are changing all the time but now he wants to eclipse $20m (Dh73.4m).

Opting against using a national charity and instead bringing money in via Youcaring.com, a feefree crowdfunding site, just added to the honesty of his heartwarming efforts.

“The initial night, we broke the site, we couldn’t figure out how to get it back up and we somehow found the CEO’s phone number and called him at his house and got him out of bed,” Watt said. “He helped us fix the site and it got rolling.”

Yet this isn’t just the tale of another sports star putting his name to a relief effort. Watt has been hands on.

He may have a season opener to think about but that hasn’t stopped him helping arrange deliveries of desperately needed supplies to areas of Houston and beyond where over 100,000 homes have been affected by the worst storm ever to smash the United States. He’s helped organise and galvanise.

The category 4 storm delivered 50 inches of rain – that’s what the most flood-prone area in the country normally receives per year.

It will take weeks for the flood waters to disperse and experts predict it will be many months – years perhaps – before a city of over two million people is able to return to any semblance of normality.

President Donald Trump made an appearance at the weekend, assuring shattered, heartbroken residents everything will be fine.

Hollow words which cannot be compared to Watt’s gargantuan efforts, though Trump has dipped into his own pocket by donating $1m (Dh3.6m) while the federal costs to help restore the damage are predicted to creep close to an astonishing $8 billion (Dh29.4bn).

“We have about nine semi-trucks that are going to come to town. And we have those all filled with stocks, supplies, water, food, clothing, everything, ” said Watt of his plans.

“We want to make sure we get these people exactly what they need, so we can help rebuild as quickly as we can.”

JJ Watt 1

It’s an unbelievable effort though the 28 year-old has terrifically admirable previous. When a penniless university student tweeted about being unable to buy new running shoes, Watt sent him a new pair.

Impromptu visits to sick children from the big guy with the even bigger heart have not gone unnoticed either. In this polluted modern world of social media backlashes and cynicism, many stars in the spotlight attempt to use bad news stories to enhance their own brand.

That, however, isn’t JJ Watt. “I just want to be that guy that parents can point to and say, ‘He does it the right way’,” he said. Watt , however, wasn’t alone in attempting to help ease the pain of this catastrophic natural disaster.

The Dallas Cowboys raised more than $2m (Dh7.3m) during a local 90-minute telethon which added to the sizeable donation made by franchise supremo Jerry Jones (left) to the Salvation Army.

The owners of teams such as the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots and New York Jets all weighed in along with Miami Heat owner Micky Arison. NBA superstars Steph Curry and James Harden have also contributed.

America – and its sporting community – have, for once, excelled themselves. Good on them. And good on JJ Watt.

SOCCER

Bruce Arena

Bruce Arena

How Jurgen Klinsmann must have smiled on Friday night. It was an awful 4-0 thumping at the hands of Costa Rica last November which saw the German axed by US Soccer.

Yet the impressive Ticos were at it again in an impressive 2-0 win to leave Bruce Arena sweating on reaching next summer’s World Cup.

That made it two home defeats in the push for Russia – the first time that’s happened in World Cup qualifying since 1958. And, furthermore, it’s added extra pressure on Klinsmann’s successor, Bruce Arena.

Group leaders Mexico have sealed their ticket so that means tomorrow’s match with Honduras, who moved level with the US after beating Trinidad and Tobago, is crucial with only three automatic spots up for grabs.

The US should still make it but Arena, in his second coming as national boss, seemed an uninspired choice at the time and as the dust settles on this latest setback, those feelings refuse to dissipate.

TENNIS

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova

It appears large sections of the US media have washed over Maria Sharapova’s drug shame.

Host broadcasters ESPN have certainly adopted a ‘nothing to see here‘ policy with the Russian, who was banned for 15 months for using a prohibited substance yet remains the darling of their coverage.

With the likes of Serena Williams, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic all missing the final slam of the season, Sharapova’s return from the darkness has been their story so far.

She has been bigged up all week by the TV network, joining the US Tennis Association in the ranks of the sycophants after shamefully giving her a wildcard into the main draw when she should have been qualifying with everyone else.

The five-time major winner may remain a superstar, but ESPN’s fawning in particular has made for uneasy viewing.

“Maria is quicker around the court now than before she took 15 months off, “ said analyst Chris Evert. She wasn’t taking a very long holiday. Pass the sick bag please.

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