Doug Williams

Foles follows Hostetler’s path from backup to Super Bowl

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Soon after Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury and Philadelphia’s Super Bowl hopes were placed on backup Nick Foles‘ right arm, Jeff Hostetler’s phone lit up.

Out of all the quarterbacks who have gone from holding clipboards to begin the season to Super Bowl starter to end it, Hostetler’s path might have been most similar to Foles’ journey. It provides some hope to the Eagles heading into Sunday’s title game against five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

“When it happened, all of a sudden my phone starts ringing off the hook,” Hostetler said. “When you really start to look at it, this is probably out of all the times it’s happened since I played, this may be the most similar when you get to all the nuts and bolts about it.”

Hostetler had started just two games in almost seven full seasons for the Giants when Phil Simms injured his foot in Week 14. After starting that season with 10 straight wins, the Giants lost three out of four and were mostly written off as a contender when Simms got hurt.

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There was a similar mood in Philadelphia when MVP contender Wentz got hurt in Los Angeles in a win that improved the Eagles to 11-2, but left them with a backup quarterback running the show.

“Everyone had jumped off the bandwagon,” Hostetler recalled. “We were completely shot as a team. That was the outside looking in. Inside where we were at, we just rallied the wagons. It was us versus the world. We just rallied around each other and it showed. I had a team similar to Philly. They’ve rallied around each other and nobody gives them a chance. When nobody gives you a chance and you’re a close-knit team that has been through adversity, look out, you can be dangerous.”

Hostetler said he had gained confidence by being thrown in late in a win against Dallas early in the season, and then leading a comeback against the Cardinals after Simms got injured in Game 6.

But by the time he stepped in for Simms in December, Hostetler had thrown 93 passes since entering the NFL in 1984. Hostetler managed to lead the Giants to two wins to end the regular season, a lopsided playoff opener over Chicago, then upsets over two-time defending champion San Francisco in the NFC title game (15-13 on five field goals) and Buffalo (20-19)in the Super Bowl.

“There were lots of things that were said, lots of negative things,” Hostetler said. “That fed me because none of those guys had seen me play. I never had the opportunity. It wasn’t like I had gone out there and failed and that’s why I was a backup. I was a backup because we didn’t have free agency and I was behind a guy who was playing really well who hadn’t gotten hurt.”

Foles is the 14th quarterback to start the Super Bowl after not holding that role for the season opener, including Brady (2016) and Ben Roethlisberger (2010), who were suspended to start those seasons. The others fall into a few categories.

There were those who seized the job early in the season such as Jake Delhomme did for Carolina when he replaced Rodney Peete at halftime of the 2003 season opener; Brady when he stepped in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 3 in 2001; and Joe Kapp, who replaced Gary Cuozzo for Minnesota in the second game in 1969.

Then there were teams looking for a midseason jolt that turned into Super Bowl wins. Roger Staubach shared time with Craig Morton in 1971 before taking over for good midway through the year to launch a Hall of Fame career with his first Super Bowl win. Three years later, Terry Bradshaw began the season on the bench behind Joe Gilliam before taking over as starter in Week 7, then winning the first of four Super Bowl titles. Trent Dilfer then stepped in for Tony Banks midway through the 2000 season for Baltimore, lost his first start and then won 11 in a row behind a dominant defense.

There were three other cases of injuries leading to changes before the stretch run, with Vince Ferragamo replacing Pat Haden for the Rams in 1979; Jim Plunkett stepping in for Dan Pastorini the following year in Oakland; and Colin Kaepernick doing the same in San Francisco after Alex Smith had a concussion in 2012.

But of all those quarterbacks, only Hostetler, Foles and Washington’s Doug Williams made it to the Super Bowl with as few as two regular-season starts that season. Williams made his starts early in the year before stepping in for Jay Schroeder in the season finale and sparking a comeback victory over Minnesota, leading to coach Joe Gibbs’ decision to make a change for the playoffs.

“I never was a backup, so the mentality was a lot different,” said Williams, who started 67 games for Tampa Bay before heading to the USFL. “Even coming to Washington as the backup, I had a backup position with a starter’s mentality. That’s how I always looked at it.”

Williams played that way in the postseason. He helped overcome a 14-point deficit in wind chill of minus-20 degrees in Chicago against the mighty Bears defense in the division round before throwing two TDs to beat the Vikings again at home in the NFC title game.

Williams then put together an historic performance in the Super Bowl, leading five TD drives in 18 plays in the second quarter of a 42-10 win over Denver in San Diego. Williams threw for 340 yards and four TD passes on a gimpy knee to win MVP honors.

“The biggest thing was going to Chicago and being able to come back in that weather to beat the Bears,” Williams said. “That was bigger than coming back from 10 points in 80 degree weather.”

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NBC’s Al Michaels prepares for 10th Super Bowl broadcast

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Al Michaels has a similar level of anticipation heading into his 10th Super Bowl broadcast as he had the first time he worked the biggest stage on television 30 years ago.

Michaels is set to join Pat Summerall as the only play-by-play announcers to call at least 10 Super Bowls when he works next weekend’s game in Minneapolis between New England and Philadelphia.

“It’s every bit as exciting and even more so in a way,” Michaels said in a phone interview. “As you get older and you get the opportunities to do these events, you probably savor it more.

“When I look at guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, as they get older, I think they begin to appreciate and savor the opportunities more because you’re closer to the end than you are to the beginning and you never know how many more you have left.”

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The 73-year-old Michaels is in no hurry to give up the microphone on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcast, which is on target to be television’s highest-rated show for a record seventh straight year, passing the mark set by “American Idol.”

With a comfort level with his broadcast team led by executive producer Fred Gaudelli, director Drew Esocoff and analyst Cris Collinsworth, Michaels is having as much fun as he ever had since becoming the lead announcer for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in 1986.

Michaels points to advice from former Buffalo coach Marv Levy about never considering retirement. He could be in position to stay long enough to match Summerall’s record of 11 Super Bowl play-by-play broadcasts.

“If you think about retiring, you’ve already retired,” Michaels said. “That rings in my ears. I have a great amount of passion for what I do. I love what I do. I work with the greatest people I’ve ever worked with in this business top to bottom. I still get excited going to the games. I love walking into a stadium. I love sports.”

It’s been a remarkable career for Michaels, who has called eight World Series, including the Earthquake Series in 1989; nine Olympics, including the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980; and now is preparing for his 10th Super Bowl.

He still remains at the top of his game in his sixth decade of work.

“Working with Al has been a professional highlight and all-out blast,” said Gaudelli, who will work his sixth Super Bowl with Michaels next week.

“I’ve been watching sports all my life and in my opinion no one can capture the moment quite like Al can. It’s never rehearsed or predetermined – he sees it, calls it and somehow the words are perfect. He never ceases to amaze me.”

Michaels’ first Super Bowl came in 1987 when Doug Williams led Washington to a 42-10 victory. Several of his others have included some of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history, from Scott Norwood’s missed field goal for Buffalo in 1991, to Mike Jones’ tackle of Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line on the final play to preserve St. Louis’ title in 2000, to Eli Manning‘s second comeback drive to beat Tom Brady six years ago.

But two stand out the most. The first was in 2009, when Pittsburgh’s James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a score on the final play of the first half, and then Santonio Holmes caught the winning TD for the Steelers in the final minute of a comeback win over Arizona.

Then in the most-watched television event in U.S. history three years ago, the Patriots won their fourth title when Malcolm Butler intercepted a pass from Russell Wilson at the goal line when it looked as if the Seahawks were poised to score the go-ahead TD in the closing seconds.

Those are the moments no broadcaster can ever prepare for, and only the most accomplished can handle as adroitly as Michaels has over the years.

“John Madden once had a great line. We prepare like crazy. We prepare for any eventuality. But you get to the booth, and as John would say, all of a sudden a game breaks out,” Michaels said.

“The game has to come to you. You can’t go to the game. We have a million things we can talk about, but if you start talking about them and they’re not germane to the game, the listener will find that cacophonous. You have to blend what you know with what’s going on in the game.”

One aspect Michaels didn’t have to deal with for most of his career but has risen up this season has been social justice protests during the national anthem. He realizes it’s a delicate balance for an announcer because many fans will be offended by networks showing or talking about the protests, while others will be equally as upset if they are ignored.

While no Eagles or Patriots are currently protesting, Michaels is prepared for any scenario.

“We’re there to report what happens,” he said. “If there is something that does take place, you have to cover it. You don’t have to editorialize about it. You report here is what happened and you don’t lecture people on this is bad or this is good. People tune in to watch the game and we’ll bring them the game.”

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Freeman runs for 126 yards, Falcons hold off Bucs 24-21

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Devonta Freeman rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown to help the Atlanta Falcons stay close in the tight NFC South race with a 24-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.

Freeman scored on a 32-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, restoring a 10-point lead for the Falcons (9-5), who then barely hung on to win for the fifth time in six games and remain one game behind New Orleans and Carolina in the division standings.

Freeman also caught five passes for a team-high 68 yards and had a first-half fumble recovered in the end zone by teammate Levine Toilolo for a touchdown. Matt Ryan threw an early TD pass to Justin Hardy and finished 17 of 31 passing for 212 yards and no interceptions.

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Jameis Winston threw for 299 yards and three TDs for the Bucs (4-10), including a 16-yarder to Adam Humphries that trimmed Atlanta’s lead to 24-21 with 3:51 remaining.

Winston, who also threw TD passes of 30 yards to O.J. Howard and 42 yards to Mike Evans, got the ball back with a minute left and nearly sent the game into overtime.

The third-year pro completed three straight passes to move the ball from his 29 to the Atlanta 36. Patrick Murray came on to try a 54-yard field goal to tie it, but the kick sailed wide right as time expired.

The Falcons play at New Orleans next Sunday, then close the regular season at home against Carolina – the two teams they’re chasing in the division race.

The Bucs have lost nine of 11 following a 2-1 start, taking a step back after finishing 9-7 a year ago in their first season under coach Dirk Koetter.

RING OF HONOR

Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who’s spent the past nine seasons as ESPN’s game analyst on Monday Night Football, was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium during a halftime ceremony.

Gruden was acquired from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for two first-round draft picks, two second-round draft pick and $8 million before leading the 2002 Bucs to the club’s only Super Bowl championship in his first season in Tampa Bay.

Gruden was fired after the 2008 season and moved into the broadcast booth the following season. The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and don’t have a postseason win since their Super Bowl run 15 years ago.

The coach’s sons – Deuce, Mike and Jayson – led the Bucs out of the tunnel before the game as the team’s honorary flag runners.

Gruden is the 11th member of the Ring of Honor, joining Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, as well as Doug Williams, John Lynch, John McKay, Mike Alstott, Jimmie Giles, Paul Gruber and Malcom Glazer.

INJURIES

Falcons: RB Tevin Coleman (concussion) and G Andy Levire (triceps) did not play.

Buccaneers: Played without their top two players, DT Gerald McCoy (biceps) and LB Lavonte David (hamstring), who were inactive. … Howard (ankle) limped off the field after being hit near the goal line on his TD and did not return. … G J.R. Sweezy suffered what was described as a lower body injury in the second quarter and did not return. The second half took a heavy toll, too, with LB Adarius Glanton being carted off with a leg injury, S T.J. Ward evaluated for a concussion, and S Justin Evans and WR DeSean Jackson lost to ankle injuries.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Travel to New Orleans to face division-leading Saints on Sunday.

Buccaneers: Play final road game of season at Carolina.

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