DE Corey Smith and the Thunder will now have to share first place with the Frankfurt Galaxy
Unless the Rhein Fire makes a late-May charge, Week 10 on the NFL Europe League schedule could feature an unintentional preview of World Bowl XII.
Six NFLEL teams are currently battling through a 10-week regular season to earn the two spots in the league's championship game, the World Bowl. Through six weeks, the Berlin Thunder and Frankfurt Galaxy are tied atop the standings with identical 5-1 records, with Rhein in third at 3-3. If Rhein or one of the three teams in the bottom half of the standings can't close the gap, Berlin and Frankfurt would meet for the NFL Europe title on June 12.
That would be just six days after the Thunder and Galaxy square off in Berlin in Week 10, on June 6. Those two teams will also meet, for the first time, in Week Eight, at Frankfurt on May 22. Each of those games would feature three Tampa Bay Buccaneer players, or half of the group allocated by the Bucs to the NFLEL this spring.
Defensive end Corey Smith and center Ben Claxton helped Berlin race out to a 5-0 start before a last-second, 28-27 loss to Cologne on Saturday spoiled the Thunder's perfect season. That opened the door for Frankfurt, which had lost to Amsterdam on a similar last-second play in Week Four, to regain a share of first place. Bucs cornerback Lynaris Elpheage and his Galaxy teammates took advantage on Sunday with a tight, 15-13 win at Scotland.
Berlin's loss was a heartbreaker. Leading 27-21 with 1:01 to play, the Thunder allowed Cologne quarterback Ryan van Dyke, a New York Giants-allocated player, to drive his team 64 yards for the winning score. A pass interference penalty with five seconds left put the Centurions on the Thunder's one-yard line, and van Dyke capitalized with a one-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Carl Morris of the Miami Dolphins as time expired.
Smith, who is tied for second in the league with six sacks, was kept away from the quarterback for just the second time this year and held to a single tackle. Claxton and the Thunder's offensive line had another effective outing, blocking for a 122-yard rushing day and not allowing a sack for the second straight week. Still, Berlin was outgained in total yardage, 475-265.
Elpheage's Galaxy defense held Scotland to 144 yards of total offense in Frankfurt's two-point win, as the Claymores managed just two short field goal drive and a kickoff return for a touchdown by the Kansas City Chiefs' Herb Haygood. Elpheage finished the game with four solo tackles and a pass defensed, and he continues to lead the NFL Europe League in passes broken up, with 13.
The Bucs had a defender on the other side of that contest, as well, as defensive tackle Damian Gregory racked up eight tackles and half a sack despite coming into the game as a substitute. Gregory has been one of the league's more productive linemen, with 24 tackles and 2.5 sacks through six games.
The third game of the weekend resulted in a victory for two more Bucs-allocated players. Kevin Breedlove and Chris Ziemann, two Tampa Bay offensive lineman starting for the Fire, helped Rhein sink the Amsterdam Admirals, 20-13. Breedlove switched from right guard to left guard and Ziemann stayed in his usual spot at right tackle, and the two helped Rhein pile up 391 yards of total offense.
Here is a summary of how the Bucs' half-dozen NFLEL allocates fared in this past weekend of play, and a look at each player's season so far:
- G Kevin Breedlove, Rhein…Switched from right to left guard but made his sixth start in as many weeks, helping the Fire record 391 yards of total offense; Season: Has started all six games for the Fire, five at right guard and one at left guard. * C Ben Claxton, Berlin…Started at center for Berlin and helped Thunder's offensive line allow no sacks for the second straight weeks…Also blocked for running game that produced 122 yards and 5.3 yards per carry; Season: Has started all six games at center for first-place Thunder, helping Berlin score a league-high 157 points. * CB Lynaris Elpheage, Frankfurt…Started at right cornerback and recorded four solo tackles and a pass defensed…Made one tackle for loss and broke up a third-down pass in the second quarter, forcing a field goal; Season: Has started all six games at right cornerback and contributed 25 tackles, two interceptions and 15 passes defensed…Leads NFL Europe in passes defensed…Leads Frankfurt and is tied for second in NFLEL in interceptions. * DT Damian Gregory, Scotland…Subbed at defensive tackle and contributed eight tackles and half a sack; Season: Has played in six games and started two…Ranks second amond Claymore defensive linemen with 24 tackles and has added 2.5 sacks. * DE Corey Smith, Berlin…Started at right defensive end and pitched in with one tackle; Season: Has started five games and played in all six for first-place Thunder…Tied for second in NFLEL with six sacks…Named NFLEL Defensive Player of the Week in Week Four…Also has 12 tackles, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a stop on special teams. * T Chris Ziemann, Rhein…Started at right tackle and helped Rhein rush for 121 yards and 4.0 yards per carry; Season: Has started five of six games at right tackle.