Snapping Defeat from the Jaws of Victory… Again
Listen very closely… That thud you just heard was the heart of the Austin Wranglers dropping once again in the last minute of a game.
In what can only be described as a comedy at this point, the Austin Wranglers came up on the wrong end of the most important play that ultimately decided a game.
Once again, for 59 minutes, the Wranglers proved that they could play with anyone in the Arena Football League, matching Tony Graziani and the Philadelphia Soul shot for shot. They had the ball down 69-66 at the Soul 2 with just 40 seconds to play, when FB Dane Krager fumbled not once, but twice on the same play. Graz hooked up with former Preds WR Jerrian James on a 45-yard TD strike, and Austin QB Lang Campbell threw his second INT of the day on the last play of the game to make the final margin 76-66.
Last week I mentioned all sorts of 2nd half problems for the Wranglers this season. Today was no exception. Six 2nd half drives, three touchdowns. That just doesn’t cut it in the Arena Football League. Perhaps an even worse omen for Austin was that everything went right for them in the game. They got two kick returns for touchdowns by Sedrick Robinson, and also got away with three balls that Campbell threw off the nets all falling as incomplete passes. Soul DB Eddie Moten had his worst game of the season, conceding the mass majority of Derrick Lewis’ 13 catches for 226 yards and four touchdowns.
“We’re just not making plays.” I’ve heard that seeming 100 times this year from various people in the Wrangler organization. One day it was Adrian McPherson throwing a costly interception, the next perhaps Lang Campbell missing an open receiver, or a scramble for a loose ball ending up in the opposition’s hands… today it was Krager’s blunder.
It is difficult kicking a team while they’re down, and my heart really does go out to the folks out in Austin right now. For the second straight week, the Wranglers have been just as good as their competition on the field. Both teams are playoff teams, and both very well could end up hosting first round games. Something’s just not right. It’s in the water. Even Mark Lewis told Soul radio play-by-play announcer, Ari Wolfe that the Wranglers were out to play the role of “spoilers,” even though they were three yards away from being just a game out of the final playoff spot in the National Conference. Wolfe made the perfect analysis for that comment. “You’re not playing spoiler until you’re mathematically eliminated.”
If the Wranglers are really looking forward to next season, it’s time to end the Lang Campbell experiment. The team is 0-3 with him under center, and have collapsed in the 2nd half of all three games that he’s played. Yes, Campbell threw for 319 yards against a strong Philadelphia defense, but he put the Wranglers behind the 8-ball early by throwing an interception on their first drive, and sealed their fate with an interception on the final drive that ultimately had little consequence.
Austin has now been outscored 87-58 in the 2nd half of games under Campbell, and received the ball first in two of the three second halves. The offense has still yet to break two scores in a 2nd half with Campbell under center.
So what’s next for the 3-9 Wranglers? One would think maybe it is better once they hit the road, but a quick glance at the standings show the Wranglers as the only team in the AFL without a road win on the season. With four games in conference remaining, including games with bottom playoff contenders New York, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans in a conference where six wins may get someone a postseason bid (and seven almost assuredly will put someone in the 2nd season), the playoffs are still a possibility. However, a more realistic look at it says it’s time to go back to the drawing board and see what is possible for the 2007 season.
This means that it’s probably time to take a “chance” and start former University of Texas signal caller, Chance Mock. Having spent enough time in Austin the past couple years, I know that the town is absolutely UT-crazy, and if nothing else, starting Mock could be a great PR move. What little Mock has been able to show on the field as a backup QB for the Wranglers has been promising, but a shoulder injury in the offseason landed him on IR for the better part of the campaign.
For the Philadelphia Soul, they are the biggest winners of the weekend in the National Conference, as they gained a game on Orlando, Columbus, Tampa Bay, and the loser of the New Orleans/New York game on Monday night. They are currently tied for the 4th seed with Columbus going into their Week 14 showdown with the rival, Dallas Desperados.