A similar circumstance happened last year in the NFL with the Giants team that everybody left up for dead in the middle of the season. They just decided among themselves to make a run, play more consistent and play for each other. We've made a similar commitment and it's shown on the field. We've got a very tight locker room, those guys play hard for each other. —Ron James
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Blaze coach Ron James was unusually late out of the locker room following the sixth-consecutive, 83-63, win against Cleveland at EnergySolutions Arena on Friday.
No, champagne wasn't popping. He wasn't giving any prolonged post-game speeches, either.
"Sorry," James apologized as he addressed the media. "I had to catch the end of the Arizona-San Antonio game."
No one is blaming him.
With Arizona's loss Friday, the Blaze (12-5) now lead the West Division, needing a win at Philadelphia (14-3) in the final game of the 2012 season to secure its first-ever division title — earning the privilege of hosting a first-round playoff game.
"Right now we're in the lead in the division, pending what we do next week — we've got a good shot of getting it," James said. "We're optimistic going into the playoff run, we know that we're in, we just need to make sure we clean up our home field advantage to have that for at least a game."
On the NFL Network game, in front of the largest crowd since the 2008 season, Utah foolishly ran away from its sixth consecutive foe. The success has all happened after Utah was seemingly carving its own tombstone in the midst of a three-game losing slide.
"It's a mentality," James explained when asked what changed. "A similar circumstance happened last year in the NFL with the Giants team that everybody left up for dead in the middle of the season. They just decided among themselves to make a run, play more consistent and play for each other. We've made a similar commitment and it's shown on the field. We've got a very tight locker room, those guys play hard for each other."
During the six-game stretch, the Blaze have recorded five wins by double figures, outscoring their opponents 387-278 and fans are taking notice.
"We're getting some notice around town and the fans are coming back to the sport that they love and the team that they love," James said. "It was great to see. The buzz around town has been palpable and our players feed off that. If we can get a home playoff game out of this I think we're really going to pack the house."
Tommy Grady, not surprisingly, was spectacular once again. In a year for the record books, he extended his AFL record for total touchdowns in one year to 137, along with setting AFL records for yards in one season (5,579) and passing completions (483). Then, going 25-for-34 through the air for 291 yards and 12 touchdowns Friday, Grady tied the AFL mark for most touchdowns in a single game.
"It was nice to see him tie the record for touchdowns in a game because he already has the record for touchdowns in a season," James said. "It's a silver lining for him to have those records but it really speaks more that our offense is firing pretty much at all cylinders at this point in the season."
All cylinders might even be an understatement.
In a game that wasn't close from the beginning, Utah's lead ballooned to more than 20 points in the second quarter alone. Tysson Poots hauled in a team-high 11 receptions for 110 yards and five scores along with his running mate, Aaron Lesue, who tallied three scores off seven catches for 109 yards.