Mettenberger's climb raising optimism at LSU


Mettenberger's climb raising optimism at LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) It hardly mattered that LSU's normally overpowering running game amassed only half of its usual average against Mississippi State.

Suddenly sizzling LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger more than made up for it with a second straight performance approaching the 300-yard plateau in a 37-17 victory over the sinking Bulldogs on Saturday night, a result that moved the Tigers up to No. 8 and dropped Mississippi State out of the AP Top 25 Poll.

The way Mettenberger has been throwing the ball lately, the Tigers find themselves on one hand looking forward to next year while at the same time wondering what could have been this year if it hadn't taken the talented quarterback and his young receiver corps eight games to get the passing game going.

``I would have loved for our whole season to have been like the past two games but unfortunately it hasn't been. Luckily we're figuring it out. Hopefully we can keep that momentum rolling for the rest of the games,'' Mettenberger said. ``It's hard not to look ahead for next year just with the talent we've got coming back. But at the same time, we've got a game against Ole Miss next week and that's our primary concern right now.''

LSU's only two losses this season came by single digits to teams currently ranked in the top seven, No. 4 Alabama and No. 7 Florida.

Against the Gators, LSU managed only 158 yards through the air. Mettenberger was intercepted once and did not have a touchdown.

Two games ago against Alabama, LSU's passing game finally came alive in the second half, which was good enough to give the Tigers a late 17-14 lead before Alabama pulled back ahead in the final minute.

Change the result of either one of those tight games, and LSU is still realistically in the picture for both Southeastern Conference and national titles. Instead, the Tigers are longshots on both fronts. Only a three-way tie with Texas A&M and Alabama in the SEC West gets the Tigers to the league title game in Atlanta. For that to happen, struggling Auburn would have to stage a stunning Iron Bowl upset over the Crimson Tide two weekends from now.

Otherwise, LSU is playing out the string in hopes of a major bowl and otherwise building for 2013, when the Tigers will likely enter yet another season as a projected national title contender.

In any event, LSU coach Les Miles predicted his team would be playing its best football of the current campaign from now until bowl season, regardless of where the Tigers end up.

``We are just catching speed. We are just getting the pace that we need,'' Miles said. ``Our football team will take pride, effort and energy to improve.''

All season long, the Tigers insisted their passing game looked great in practice, and they were somewhat befuddled as to why that didn't translate consistently in games. All the while, the criticism of Mettenberger built, and it began to look as though he might have been overhyped.

``I can't say enough about Zach. The things that he's done and overcame these past few weeks, about all the criticism, I can't say enough about him,'' said LSU receiver Jarvis Landry, who had career highs of nine catches and 109 yards against the Bulldogs. ``His confidence level is really high right now.''

Mettenberger said the combination of a young receiving corps, constant flux along a banged-up offensive line and his own growing pains often left LSU narrowly missing big plays through the air. It was either a missed block, a missed step on a pass route, a dropped ball or a throw where the timing was just a little off, he'd say.

He repeatedly suggested that the passing game was not far off from being exceptional, and he said he did not let the criticism discourage him. He had already learned to deal with such things when his alleged groping of a woman in a bar led to legal trouble and his dismissal from Georgia as a redshirt freshman in the spring of 2010. That forced him to work his way back to the SEC through the junior college route, and now it seems he is finally on the cusp of fulfilling his promise.

``You play at a big-time program, there's a lot of expectations, not only for myself, but for everybody,'' Mettenberger said. ``I've always said I'm a guy who can take the criticism. I'd rather me get criticized than some other guys on this team. I don't want them to go through that. Just from my past and being through all that I've been through, I feel like I can handle it. Luckily we're making plays and the critics are backing off a little bit.''

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Lamar Jackson becomes first QB to rush at least 70 yards in five straight starts

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Lamar Jackson becomes first QB to rush at least 70 yards in five straight starts

With Lamar Jackson under center for the past five games, the Ravens offense’ has relied on his legs to move the ball. The rookie quarterback has struggled at times throwing the ball, but utilizing the read options, Jackson has had no such problems making an impact. 

On Sunday against the Buccaneers, Jackson had 100 yards rushing going into the fourth quarter. With that, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for at least 70 yards in five straight starts.  The streak started with a bang in the Ravens 24-21 win over the Bengals when Jackson rushed for 119 yards  It was followed by games of 71 and 75 yards against the Raiders and Falcons and a 67-yard game in Week 14’s loss against the Chiefs. 

He knows the risks running quarterbacks face,  but winning is his No. 1 priority. 

"I’m going to put it all on the line," Jackson said in an interview with ESPN. "I want to win. I hate losing. I hate that feeling. You have to deal with it the next week. So, I want to win regardless. If it happens, it’s going to happen. I’ve been good so far.”

Coming into Week 15, the Ravens were fourth in the NFL in rushing yards. The team has rushed for at least 190 yards since Jackson took over.

At feat that hasn’t been achieved since the Steelers did it in 1976. With Jackson continuing to dazzle defenders, Baltimore will continue to maintain its dominance in the ground game. 


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It was ugly and boring, but the Redskins won a wild and important game in Jacksonville

It was ugly and boring, but the Redskins won a wild and important game in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE -- The Redskins played one of the ugliest games of the NFL season on Sunday, but they got an extremely important win, and in the end, that's all that matters. 

Across the league, offenses are getting more inventive and creating new ways to move the football through the air. That didn't happen in Jacksonville.

What did happen was a gutty performance from fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson, a great pass rush, and an opportunistic defense combined to grind out a victory. 

The team overcame some mistakes and proved they will still play for head coach Jay Gruden. There's a lot to unpack, let's dive in. 

1. Not Too Bad:

Josh Johnson played well on Sunday, finishing with 151 passing yards and completing 16 of 25 passes. He connected with Jeremy Sprinkle for a late touchdown to tie the game, and never made the kind of killer mistakes that often bury a team playing backup QBs. 

2. Beast Mode: 

The Redskins defensive front played a monster game, sacking Jags QB Cody Kessler six times. Ryan Kerrigan and Jonathan Allen each logged two sacks on Kessler, and Kerrigan moved into second place all-time on the Redskins sack list. Now with 82.5 sacks, Kerrigan trails only Dexter Manley on the Washington franchise list. The defense also limited the Jags to under 200 yards of total offense. 

3. Secret Formula:

The formula for the Redskins when they got out to a 6-3 start was fairly simple; control time of possession and win the turnover battle. That worked on Sunday. The Redskins won the clock battle and forced two turnovers from Kessler. The late interception from Fabian Moreau was a huge play for the Redskins, as it kept the Jags from a field goal attempt when the game was tied at 13 with less than five minutes remaining. Then a good drive from Johnson led to the game-winning 36-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins. 

4. The Curse Continues:

Penalties have been killing the Redskins for weeks, and Sunday's game was no different. The team finished with six penalties for 48 yards, and on a number of first down plays, flags brought the gains back. Morgan Moses added to his league-leading penalty total, a title that nobody wants. The Redskins offensive line is a mess due to injuries, playing their 10th guard of the season, but still, the pace of penalties demands attention and correction. 

5. Not so Special:

 The Redskins defense didn't give up any touchdowns, but the Redskins special teams did. Late in the first half, Maurice Harris got the mistake train rolling when he tried to field a punt with the sun directly in his eyes. Rather than just letting the ball go, Harris attempted a backward over-the-shoulder catch. It didn't work. He muffed the punt and had to retreat about 10 yards to fall on the football. From there, the offense went 3-and-out and had to punt. Then that punt got returned for a touchdown, with a remarkable missed tackle from Byron Marshall. Seriously watch this.