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Was it a million dollar punt return for Ace? Would Connor Shaw be a bad charades partner? We tackle the important issues.
1. Ace Sanders might have earned an NFL contract
I'll admit it: I was lukewarm on Ace Sanders before the season started. I thought of him as a reliable reeiving option who was good for a mid-yardage snag or two per game. A likable soul who could guide some of the younger guys. But, never did I think he'd emerge as one of the true stars of this 2012 team from a special teams perspective.
Thankfully, I was stupid wrong about this. Last night, either Kirk or Brent said Ace might be the best punt returner in the country. Perhaps some knee-jerk hyperbole, but it's hard to argue that he isn't elite when you see him slicing through the punt coverage. Some of his cuts seem physically impossible. Scott Hood tweeted that NFL scouts were on-hand last night, and no doubt took notice of what the kid can do. As Devin Hester and Patrick Peterson have shown, there are few more valuable weapons that an elite returner.
2. Connor Shaw is a boring interview, and I love it
Post-game interviews after wins are always fun, because we get to see players struggle to fight back grins and bask in their success for a few minutes. Plus, you get to hear Spurrier patronize the vanquished. "They had a little bit of trouble moving the ball," he'll offer without a shred of irony whatsoever, none at all. Yep, a little face time for our heroes is fun for everyone.
Unless it's Connor Shaw. The guy is all business. His interview responses are concise and sans emotion, his square jaw barely breaking to deliver whatever crisp snippets of sports cliche he sees fit. He'd be a nightmare of a charades partner. "Uh…steely gaze? Blank expression? C'mon man, help me here! How many words!?"
But you know what? That's absolutely fine with me. I don't want a Terrell Owens at QB. I need confidence, focus, and rationality, which Shaw oozes in buckets. His demeanor offers a glimpse into the way he seems to carry himself on the field. The only time I remember seeing Connor TRULY let loose was during our final drive of the Cap One Bowl last year. He'd been clocked, and was down for a minute. But he sprung up and waved his arms at the crowd as he ran off field. True to form, he waited to celebrate until the season was, for all intents and purposes, in the books.
3. Jadeveon Clowney.
[jumps over cut-blocking runningback]
That is all.
4. We have established an arsenal
A major pre-season concern we all harbored was, "Aside from Connor and Marcus, who?"
Over six games, it's become clear that Connor has weapons, and they're the same names that keep springing up every Saturday. Bruce and Ace, the little giants. Rory Anderson, TD factory. Damiere Byrd, speed racer. Kenny Miles, ol' reliable. All of these role-players have been steadily visible throughout the season. Even DL Moore, despite a few typical hiccups, has some big catches on the year, none bigger than his big haul last night. Justice Cunningham was the only of our typical playmakers who didn't show up on the stat sheet, but I don't doubt he was making his presence felt in the blocking game.
What's most exciting about all this is that our collective numbers are spread out among so many players. Our top four receiving options have 18, 13, 12, and 10 catches respectively (Marcus' 18 are balanced by his relatively lower average YPC, the result of checkdowns.) Our 14 passing touchdowns have gone to seven different players. We aren't relying on one guy, which was what pre-season speculators said might be the case. I heard, "If Lattimore goes down again, there goes your season." While Marcus is clearly our most potent offensive weapon, I think it may be just as faulty a statement as it proved to be last season.
Late in the game, I found myself wondering why Kenny Miles was getting a bulk of the reps in our final TD drive. But the answer was simple: we put ourselves in a position where we didn't have to rely on Marcus the Workhorse. And, in a lot of ways, that's a good way to describe the first half of our season.