Super Bowl Andy Isabella Jersey , something that had never happened since the NFL-AFL merger nearly a half-century ago.
And three of the four toughest to gain yards against are still around, too.
Still think that all a team needs to succeed in the modern game is an elite QB? Go ahead and take a close look at Sunday’s matchups for the conference championship games.
Sure, Tom Brady (assuming his injured right hand is good to go) and the New England Patriots will be playing for the AFC title, just like they always do, but they’ll be going up against Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles will send Nick Foles out to face the Minnesota Vikings and Case Keenum, hardly a marquee matchup between quarterbacks, and one set up by injuries to other signal-callers.
What this quartet of teams does have in common is solid defense, showing once again that while everyone is paying so much attention to one side of the ball, it’s the other that might truly matter the most. The more league rules and officiating tend to favor offenses, the more figuring out ways to slow that down is imperative.
”When you have a defense that can shut that type of firepower down,” said Brian Robison, a linebacker on the Vikings defense that ranked No. 1 in yards and points allowed, ”it allows you to win ballgames.”
Minnesota gave up 15.8 points per game. Jacksonville was No. 2 at 16.8, followed by No. 4 Philadelphia’s 18.4 and No. 5 New England’s 18.5.
”There’s teams that have really good defenses that aren’t talked about,” Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. ”We’re one of them.”
It’s the first time since the 1970 merger there has been that sort of defensive dominance among the NFL’s final four. The closest was at the end of the 2010 season, when teams that ranked No. 1 (Steelers), No. 2 (Packers) http://www.cardinalscheapstore.com/zach-allen-jersey-cheap , No. 4 (Bears) and No. 6 (Jets) in points allowed reached the conference title games.
”The most heralded guys on the field are the quarterbacks. So I would say, nine times out of 10, your detail goes into your offensive planning and things like that,” said Jacksonville’s leading tackler, Telvin Smith, who returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown last week
end. ”Offense sells tickets, and defense wins championships. I’m happy I’m on the defensive side.”
He is part of a young, talented and speedy D that rose to prominence quickly via a combination of shrewd drafting (linebackers Smith and Myles Jack, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr., cornerback Jalen Ramsey) and free-agent signings that panned out (defensive lineman Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye, safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson).
Take a look at the rankings in various regular-season categories related to defense, and you can’t miss the Jaguars. That helps explain how they made it this far with Bortles, whose 84.7 rating ranked 22nd among QBs with at least 100 pass attempts and whose 13 interceptions were exceeded by only six players.
Campbell tied for second in NFL with 14.5 sacks, while Ngakoue added 12 and led the league by forcing six fumbles. Bouye tied for third with six interceptions, while Ramsey, Gipson and Church each had four. As a unit, the Jaguars were No. 2 in yards allowed at 286.1 Hakeem Butler Jersey , trailing the No. 1 Vikings (275.9), with the Eagles (306.5) at No. 4. The Jaguars were also second in sacks and total takeaways, while they topped the NFL with seven defensive TDs.
Exceptional defense can carry a team far: In nine of the last 10 seasons, the No. 1 or No. 2 team in points allowed participated in a conference championship game. The exception was 2015, when the Seahawks led the league in that category but lost in the divisional round, and the Bengals ranked second but lost in the wild-card round.
”Now it’s down to, `May the best defense win,”’ Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. ”We each get to showcase what we can do.”
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Kyle Hightower in Foxborough, Massachusetts; Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida; and Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
Nelson Cruz wasn’t available, so Kyle Seager assumed the role of big bopper for the Seattle Mariners.
And what a job he did.
Seager homered and hit a pivotal two-run single in the eighth inning to back a fine pitching performance by James Paxton and help Seattle beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 Tuesday night.
Cruz, who leads the team with 20 home runs, was a late scratch with lower back tightness. Seager took over at cleanup and accounted for all the Mariners runs.
”Couple of coaches felt going into the game that Seags was going to be our guy,” manager Scott Servais said. ”Sometimes guys have to step up. We had the right guy at the right time.”
Though Seager came through in a pinch, he knows his place in the lineup isn’t cleanup.
”No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Seager said. ”I like when Mr. Nelson is in there.”
Paxton (7-2) struck out 10 over seven innings http://www.bengalscheapstore.com/jonah-williams-jersey-cheap , allowing two runs and six hits. It was the sixth time this season he’s reached double figures in strikeouts.
The Mariners came to town with six losses in seven games, and now they’ve won two in a row to open a four-game series against the team with the worst record in the majors.
”We’re supposed to come in here and beat this team,” Paxton said. ”We’re doing a good job so far.”
Alex Colome worked the eighth and Edwin Diaz got three outs for his big league-best 29th save.
Seattle trailed 2-1 before rallying against the weary Baltimore bullpen.
Dee Gordon led off the eighth with a double and Jean Segura got his third hit of the game on a bunt down the third-base line. Orioles reliever Darren O’Day (0-2) hurt himself trying to field the ball and was replaced by Tanner Scott, who walked Mitch Haniger before Seager hit a liner to center.
O’Day’s injury was a troublesome hamstring that has been bothering him for weeks and will likely land him on the disabled list.
”Yeah, it’s frustrating,” the right-hander said. ”I was throwing well and helping the team.”
In the fourth inning, Seager hit his 14th home run to offset a second-inning solo shot by Danny Valencia.
It was still 1-1 in the sixth when Baltimore used three straight singles to load the bases for Manny Machado with no outs. The three-time All-Star bounced into a 4-6-3 double-play, breaking into a trot long before he reached first base.
”Usually, when a ball is hit that firmly it’s a pretty easy double play,” manager Buck Showalter said. ”He just took his time and Manny allowed him to take more time than he normally would. It’ll be addressed.”
Kevin Gausman gave up one run and five hits in six innings. He left with a 2-1 lead, but the bullpen gave it away, leaving Gausman winless in eight starts since May 11.
THE BARBER OF SEATTLE
Servais may soon be sporting a different look, thanks to a bet he made with Diaz earlier this season. Servais said he would get waves identical to the ones Diaz has shaved into the side of his head if the closer notched 50 saves this season. ”I’m looking forward to the day; others in my family are more concerned,” Servais said of the potential haircut.
Mariners: C Mike Zunino was back in the starting lineup after missing Monday’s game with a sore thumb.
Orioles: Showalter said after the game that OF Craig Gentry sustained a rib injury after being hit by a pitch and will be placed on the disabled list. … RHP Dylan Bundy was placed on the DL with a sprained left ankle. He’s expected to be back on July 6. … RHP Chris Tillman (back) will take his rehabilitation assignment to Triple-A Norfolk after allowing two runs in 3 1/3 innings for Class A Delmarva on Monday.
Mariners: LHP Wade LeBlanc (3-0, 3.26 ERA) starts on Wednesday night. He is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in four lifetime appearances against Baltimore.
Orioles: Alex Cobb (2-9, 6.56) has gone seven innings in each of his last two starts after yielding nine runs and 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings against Toronto on June 10.