Every game in the AFL, someone wins and someone loses. On Friday, the Tampa Bay Storm made one big play that gave them the game at the end, 54-48. What doesn’t happen every day, though, is a receiver putting up a performance like Portland Thunder WR Jamar Howard.
In honor of his performance, here’s a breakdown of his night on a drive-by-drive basis.
Drive 1: The Thunder defense got the team off to a great start as they forced a turnover on downs against the Storm to start the game. The offense promptly false started, threw an incompletion, and was forced to call a timeout with the play clock running down again, putting them deep in a hole. So they put Howard in motion on the right on an out and picked up the first down. After another incompletion, Howard was in motion again, this time running through the slot on the right, cutting across the formation, and hauling in this pass:
They decided to reprise that pass on the next play, and Howard made Storm DB Al Phillips miss an attempt at an out-of-bounds shove inside the five, finishing off the play in the end zone. Howard Drive Stats: 4 targets, 3 rec, 49 yds, TD.
Drive 2: Tampa Bay answered back with a quick TD to T.T. Toliver, so the Thunder knew they had to keep scoring. After a pass interference call and an incompletion, Rowley hit Howard deep for a 35-yard touchdown. Howard Drive Stats: 1 target, 1 rec, 35 yards, TD.
Drive 3: After Howard opened the drive on a quick screen that he took across the field for a 14-yard gain, giving him 98 yards to his teammates’ zero, other players started getting in on the action. FB John Martinez caught his first of two passes and Duane Brooks hauled in a 12-yarder before Rowley turned to Howard to end it with a 12-yard TD on a corner route, beating Phillips. Howard Drive Stats: 2 targets, 2 rec, 26 yds, TD.
Drive 4: A quick screen to Howard went nowhere, ending in a two-yard loss. V’Keon Lacey made a huge 26-yard play on third and 17 and Martinez capped the drive off with this, the play of the night:
Howard Drive Stats: 2 targets, 1 rec, -2 yds.
“Drive” 5: And lo, the Thunder were punished for giving a touchdown to someone other than Howard. After Tampa Bay scored, they recovered an onside kick (it was difficult to tell who actually recovered it, but DB Bryce Peila was holding on to the ball with a Storm player when they pulled everyone from the pile). They added another touchdown and left the Thunder with one second left in the half. Howard was out to the right and everyone played off enough that it looked like he may be able to break it, but he was forced out of bounds after a 31-yard gain. Howard Drive Stats: 1 target, 1 rec, 31 yds.
Drive 6: The Thunder get back to basics: Get the ball to Howard. An inside screen pops Howard for five yards. The next play doesn’t work so well as Howard surrenders the five yards he just gained. On third and 10, however, Howard goes in motion and Rowley hits him on the post for his fourth touchdown of the night (on his fourth drive of Howard-only yardage of the night). Howard Drive Stats: 2 targets, 2 rec, 37 yds, TD; 1 rush, -5 yds.
Drive 7: The first pass goes to Howard for three yards on a quick out to the right. Lacey seems to catch a pass up the middle for the first down, but for some reason Tampa Bay challenges a seemingly insignificant play that happened 30+ yards away from their coaching staff. The call is reversed, however, and a couple of deep attempts toward rookie WR Perez Ashford are incomplete. The Thunder turn it over on downs. Howard Drive Stats: 1 target, 1 rec, 3 yds.
Drive 8: This drive begins and ends with other guys, but Howard does all the heavy lifting again. A couple of six-yarders to Brooks and Lacey are followed up with Tampa Bay getting their only sack of the game on Rowley for a nine-yard loss. At second and 24, who do you turn to? How about the guy near 200 yards so far? Howard gets what I guess is sort of a screen – while in motion, the ball is snapped early and Rowley throws it slightly backwards to a full-speed Howard for a six-yard gain. On third and 18, Howard finds the open seam in the zone for 24 yards and a key first down. His catch on this play gets the Thunder to the 1:
Somehow it’s ruled that he didn’t get forward of the one-yard line even after a forward burst when he came down at the one-foot “line.” Lacey renders the complaint moot with a touchdown on fourth down. Howard Drive Stats: 2 targets, 2 rec, 30 yds; 1 rush, 6 yds.
Drive 9: Tampa Bay took the lead with 2:29 left; Ashford made a great play on a bar ball on the ensuing kickoff to give the Thunder the opportunity to close the game at their pace. Rowley hit Howard on a couple of quick plays before the one-minute warning to give Portland a first down at their own 17 when it hit. After a three-yard rush from Howard, Rowley attempted to go deep for Lacey and drew the pass interference call, seemingly setting up a red zone drive…but a holding call meant offsetting penalties and the Thunder were back at their own 20. Howard lined up on the right side and ran an out after 10 yards, but the ball never made it to him as the Storm’s James Harrell dove in front of Howard for the interception, ending the night for Portland. Howard Drive Stats: 3 targets, 2 rec, 12 yds; 1 rush, 3 yds.
All in all, Howard was targeted 18 times (and really, since his three rushes were passes that were caught; they were just thrown backwards, he was targeted 21 times). He caught 15 (18) of them. Two were incomplete…and yet the remaining pass is the only one he and quarterback Kyle Rowley were thinking about after the game. Such is the life of a wide receiver in the AFL.