Sunday, October 30, 2011

Steelers Offer The Latest Blueprint To Stopping New England's Offense: Don't Let Them Have The Ball

Scores in NFL games can be very misleading and look no further than Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game from Sunday afternoon to illustrate that gambler's truth.

Pittsburgh (6-2, 4-0 at home) won 25-17 at Heinz Field over New England (5-2, 2-2 on road) so at first glance, you think well it was a one-score game so it must have been close. Theoretically this was true since the Pats got the ball back down six points late in the fourth quarter.

Truthfully, without any timeouts and under the two-minute warning plus pinned way back in their territory, the Patriots had no chance. Mercifully, it ended soon after as the Steelers forced a fumble that went out the back of the end zone for a safety. This came after Bill Belichick chose to try an onside kick rather than pin the Steelers deep following the score which trimmed Pittsburgh's lead to 23-17.

Despite having insane results every week (see today: the winless Rams beating the Saints), every NFL expert loves to make conclusions after each game (as stupid as that tends to be) since ESPN's family of networks has a lot of programming slots to fill. Today's lesson: keep the ball away from Tom Brady (24 for 35, 198 yards, 2 TDs, O INTs) and New England's offense.

Even without a great running game (98 yards), the Steelers were able to own time of possession: 39:22 to 20:38. Rashard Mendenhall paced Pittsburgh with 70 yards on 13 carries while Kevin Faulk led New England with 32 yards on six carries (plus 5 catches, 20 yards) in his first game back in 13 months.

Ben Roethlisberger (36 for 50, 365 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) did his best Brady impression by spreading it around to nine different receivers. Heath Miller (7 catches, 85 yards), Mike Wallace (7 catches, 70 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders proved to be better than Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 94 yards), Wes Welker (6 catches, 39 yards) and Deion Branch (4 catches, 36 yards) If Pittsburgh was a little better in the red zone (2 for 5), this one wouldn't have been so misleadingly close.

When passing around the blame pie for the Patriots, it's hard to say who's more responsible: the defense that couldn't get off the field or the offense that started each half with 3-and-outs? It's the boring answer but I'd say they're equally culpable. New England's defense actually did some nice things (5 sacks, 10 tackles for losses) but as usual, their secondary looked awful and the entire team tackled about as well as your local Pop Warner B team.

For whatever reason, the Pats abandoned the running game (43 total yards) pretty much right away and instead relied Gronk who was the only receiver who constantly got open and fought for extra yards after the catch. Pittsburgh shut down Welker and Branch save for 2-yard score from Branch.

The Steelers' first drive of the game foreshadowed the rest of the contest as they went 11 plays, 69 yards in 5:52. Roethlisberger hit Mewelde Moore for a 5-yard touchdown which was way too easy, 7-0 Steelers.

New England had the first of their aforementioned 3-and-outs before Pittsburgh closed out the first quarter with another lengthy drive. Vince Wilfork sacked Big Ben on 3rd-and-Goal from the 9 to limit the Steelers to a 33-yard kick by Shaun Suisham.

The Pats' next drive at least got into Pittsburgh territory but Lamar Woodley (2 sacks) ended it with a 14-yard sack on 3rd-and-15. Roethlisberger made one of his typical bonehead mistakes (residual effects from that motorcycle crash?) as he threw an easy interception to Gary Guyton three plays later.

Guyton returned it 17 yards to Pittsburgh's 8-yard line. After two plays, Brady hit Branch for a 2-yard TD and the Patriots were seemingly right back in it trailing 10-7.

Impressively, the Steelers weren't fazed and they went on another long drive: 10 plays, 76 yards, 5:39. Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown (9 catches, 67 yards) for a 7-yard touchdown. New England got some points on its abbreviated last drive of the half with a 46-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Pittsburgh led 17-10 going into halftime.

By failing to score let alone pick up a few first downs to begin the second half, New England started to let this game get away from them. The Steelers had another decent drive (14 plays, 55 yards, 7:06) but they had to settle for a 21-yard field goal and a 20-10 lead.

The Patriots were moving the ball and seemingly getting into a rhythm but it stalled as they tried to pass on every down. Even worse, Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal went off the goalpost. Not making excuses because Gostkowski is one of the NFL's better kickers but Heinz Field has always famously been a hard place to kick.

Believe it or not, the Steelers had another long drive (11 plays, 69 yards, 5:54) but yet again, they had to take a 23-yard field rather than a touchdown that likely would have ended it early in the fourth quarter.

The teams traded punts before Brady and his receivers channeled their two minute drill against the Cowboys from two weeks ago. Aaron Hernandez caught a 1-yard TD to cut it to 23-17. A 3-and-out by the Pats' defense would have given the offense the ball back but they were gassed and they couldn't stop Isaac Redman on the 3rd-and-1 run that iced it.

New England had burned all of its timeouts and it was under two minutes when Big Ben curiously decided to drop back for passes on two straight plays. The Pats got the ball back but it was too late to do anything productive, game over.

The Buffalo Bills (5-2) shutout the Washington Redskins in Toronto earlier today meaning they lead the AFC East (by tiebreaker) even though they have the same record as New England. The New York Jets (4-3) were idle and the Suck for Luck Dolphins (0-7) continued to do what they do.

Next Sunday, the New York Giants (5-2) visit Gillette Stadium for a rematch of Super Bowl 42. The G-Men are always one of the tougher teams to predict since in some weeks Eli Manning looks good and their defensive line is one of if not the best in the league. Then other times, they almost lose to Miami (today) and appear to be their own worst enemy.

Marco Scutaro Will Return To Boston In 2012

It will take years to get over the fallout from the 2010 season for the Boston Red Sox. However, at some point we all have to begin to move on.

Today was a start as the team made its first roster decision regarding one of its more notable free agents: shortstop Marco Scutaro will be back in 2012 as the Red Sox picked up his $6 million dollar team option.

There's a very short list of players that were completely unscathed by the 7-20 September. Alfredo Aceves, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon and Scutaro were from my point of view, the only players that seemed to consistently care about the results and/or put up strong individual performances admist all the Popeye's and beer stained drama.

Scutaro hit a career-best .299 for the 2011 season with seven homers and 54 RBIs. He also put up a .358 OBP with .423 slugging percentage, both career-highs. If that's not enough, he hit .387 in September which was third best in the American League.

Although Scutaro turned 36 on Sunday (shameless plug, my birthday too), he should be dependable next season (3rd in Boston, 11th in MLB) as well. Fingers crossed that Boston finally pulls the plug on the Jed Lowrie experiment (too injury prone, inconsistent, terrible defensively) while they wait for 21-year-old Jose Iglesias to learn how to become a better hitter in Pawtucket. His defense is MLB-ready, he just has no prayer at the plate right now.

The Red Sox have to decide before Monday night about a $3 million dollar team option on reliever Dan Wheeler (I think they'll let him go).

Eight other players: Erik Bedard (ha), J.D. Drew (haha), Conor Jackson (yeah right), Trever Miller (nope), David Ortiz (probably), Papelbon (most likely), Jason Varitek (please no) and Tim Wakefield (see Varitek) became free agents today and Boston has until Thursday at 12:01 a.m. to exclusively negotiate with them.

In other Red Sox news, they'll start interviewing manger candidates this week. First up, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and Brewers hitting coach (and former Red Sox third base coach) Dale Sveum. Granted, Terry Francona wasn't a big name when he got the job in 2004 but at least he had MLB managerial experience in Philadelphia before he took over in this pressure cooker. Please tell me they can do better than these bums.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Patriots Release Leigh Bodden Two Days Before Facing Pittsburgh

Leigh Bodden was no longer a starting cornerback for the New England Patriots. He had fallen to third on the depth chart in the 2011 season and he didn't appear to be making the proper adjustments when it came to covering slot receivers.

Still, I have to say that I was surprised when I saw on ESPN's Bottom Line this afternoon that the Pats had released him. I guess that means he won't be making his weekly appearance on the Sports Hub's Felger and Mazz anymore.

Bodden spent three seasons in New England and they were strange ones. He came in as a free agent in 2009 and performed very well with five interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a touchdown. That earned him a four-year, $22 million dollar deal (with approximately $10 million guaranteed).

A torn rotator cuff in a preseason game in 2010 made him miss the entire season and it was clear so far this season, that he wasn't the same player anymore (13 tackles, four assists, four passes defensed) in six games.

In Bodden's place, Antwaun Molden figures to move up a spot behind starters Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. This is a scary proposition since Molden was picked up off the scrap heap from Houston during the preseason. I can't say I know much about him but he obviously doesn't have much of a resume.

As far as the injury report goes for Sunday's game at Pittsburgh, Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher is out and cornerback Ras-I Dowling is doubtful. Linebacker Jerod Mayo, safety Josh Barrett, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer are all questionable for New England.

For the Steelers, linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds, offensive linemen Chris Hoke and Doug Legursky are all out. Linebacker James Farrior and wide receiver Hines Ward are questionable.

UPDATE 10/29: The Patriots activated veteran running back Kevin Faulk from the PUP list along with defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick and placed Dowling on IR. So if you're a cornerback that can play, report to Foxborough immediately.

UPDATE 10/30: Ward and Farrior have been declared out for today's game. Mayo and Vollmer both return today. Healthy scratches for the Pats include defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (what has happened to him?), running back Shane Vereen, offensive lineman Donald Thomas (who I've never heard of) and wide receiver Julian Edelman.

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On May 2, 2002, Buchanan County experienced heavy showers and thunderstorms throughout the day. In the town of Hurley, Virginia, 4.5 inches of rain fell during the course of a few hours, causing local streams and rivers to swell. Between 2:00pm and 3:30pm, Knox Creek, which ran through the town of Hurley, had overflowed its banks and submerged the town in up to twelve feet of water. Roads were washed out, and emergency personnel were not able to reach the town until 7:00pm that night. Two people were killed, and 98 families (the majority of the town's residents) were left without homes. In addition, 19 county bridges and 102 private bridges were destroyed, blocking access to 235 homes in the area.
The recovery funds, which the county was given permission to award without competitive bidding, were awarded to local contractors and vendors who were later discovered to have paid approximately $545,000 worth of bribes in order to obtain these contracts. Some of the bribes accepted by county officials included all-terrain vehicles, NASCAR tickets, $40,000 worth of coon dogs, and $350,000 in cash.
In June 2004, federal investigators arrested sixteen men on charges of bribery, fraud, and money laundering. The criminal trial began in June 2005 with Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Bondurant, Jr. as lead prosecutor. In July 2005, all sixteen men were convicted: six local government officials, nine businessmen, six companies, and one federal FEMA agent. All but one pleaded guilty.

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The following businessmen and contractors were convicted of paying bribing public officials to receive contracts and rigging contract bids:

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After the corruption was discovered, federal and state government agencies refused to reimburse the county for the misused funds, resulting in a loss of $2.7 million for the county. In 2005, Buchanan County filed a civil suit to recover these funds.
In March 2006, U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee provided the county with $1,050,544 that had been forfeited by the defendants named in the suit. The civil trial continued, and in June 2008, a federal jury awarded the county another $500,000 from two corporations named in the suit, Vansant Lumber Co. and KJ Stephens and Associates. However, this verdict was overturned by U.S. District Judge James P. Jones in October 2008.

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The song has received positive reviews from music critics, who praised the interpolation of Lavigne's "I'm with You" and also commented that it would be a successful club song due to its lyrical content. "Cheers (Drink to That)" peaked inside the top ten in New Zealand and Australia, and charted at numbers 5 and 6, respectively. The song also peaked at number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the singers nineteenth top ten song on the chart. The music video for the song, directed by Evan Rogers and Ciara Pardo, shows footage of Rihanna on tour and different activities during her homecoming trip to Barbados. "Cheers (Drink to That)" was included on the set list of the Loud Tour (2011). The song was also performed at V Festival in the United Kingdom on August 20 and 21, 2011.
Lyrically, "Cheers (Drink to That)" is a party-drinking song, which is exemplified by the verse "Life's too short to be sittin' around miserable/ People are gonna talk whether you're doin' bad or good/ Don't let the bastards get you down/ Turn it around with another round". According to Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork, the lyrics sum up the general sentiment of Loud and there's no tabloid back story, as it was in most cases on her previous release Rated R (2009). In an interview with MTV News in late 2010, Rihanna spoke of how "Cheers (Drink to That)" was one of her favorite songs on the album, saying "I love that song ['Cheers']. That is one of my favorite songs on the album. It makes you feel like celebrating ... It gives you a great feeling inside, like you want to go out and have a drink ... People can't wait for the weekend." Also in an interview with MTV News in late 2010, Lavigne spoke about being included on the song, saying, "It was really exciting because 'I'm With You' is one of my favorite songs that I've done, I always love performing it."
Upon its release as a single, "Cheers (Drink to That)" received generally positive reviews from music critics. Mark Savage of BBC Music described the song as "a funky, loping guitar groove for to a night out on the town," which Rihanna dedicated to "all the semi-alcoholics in the world". Robert Copsey of Digital Spy praised the use of the interpolation of Lavigne's song, calling it "unbelievably catchy", as well as commenting that it will be a success in bars and clubs, due to the references of alcohol and going out of a weekend in the lyrics. Jon Pareles of The New York Times commented that "Cheers (Drink to That)" is written for "barroom singalongs," with Bill Lamb of About.com concurring that the song is a "rocking bar singalong 'Cheers (Drink To That)' intriguingly blends Rihanna's occasional robotic style with the voices of the crowd in addictive repetition." According to Leah Greenblatt from Entertainment Weekly, "the Jameson-swilling, TGIF-toasting 'Cheers (Drink to That)', folds a left-field Avril Lavigne sample into a crunked party anthem". Amy Sciarretto of PopCrush also commended "Cheers (Drink to That)" and its musical style, saying "The song is infused with the tropical, island groove that she has explored on 'Loud' and which harks back to her upbringing in Barbados." Sciarretto also noted that "Cheers (Drink to That)" would be very popular in bars and clubs because of the lyrical content. Andy Gill of The Independent called the song an anthem with which the weekend can start. Thomas Conner of the Chicago Sun-Times said that "Cheers (Drink to That)" is the best song on the album, saying "[the song is] a wise, world-weary paean from a gal at the bar who's seen some stuff, has moved on and wants to buy everybody a round of fruity shots". However, Chris Richards of The Washington Post stated that "Cheers (Drink to That)" did not meet his expectations and commented that the song is a lowlight in Rihanna's career, stating "'Turn it around with another round', Rihanna bellows over the mid slog, as if setting ad copy to music".

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In the issue dated August 3, 2011, "Cheers (Drink to That)" debuted on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 91, and leaped to a new peak of 50 on August 10, 2011. The following week, the song rose to number 25 and by its fourth week, "Cheers (Drink to That)" rose again to number 17, giving Rihanna her twenty-second top-twenty single on the chart. In its fifth week, the song rose to number 11, where it remained in its sixth week. On its seven week, the song charted at number 10, its current peak. "Cheers" (Drink To That) also debuted on the US Pop Songs chart at number 35 in the issue dated August 3, 2011. The following week, the song climbed ten positions to a new peak of 25, and became that week's "Greatest Gainer" on the chart and Rihanna's twenty-sixth song to reach the top 40. In its third week, the song reached a new peak of 16, and rose to number 11 the following week, where it remained for another week. The song has peaked at number 7, making "Cheers (Drink to That)" the singers fourth top ten Hot 100 hit from Loud and nineteenth overall top ten song in the U.S. In Canada, the song debuted at number 89 on August 17, 2011, and advanced to 37 the following week, ultimately peaking at number 6 in its third week on the charts.

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In Australia, the song debuted at number forty-six on the Australian Single Charts on August 14, 2011, and peaked at number eighteen the following week. In its seventh week on the chart, the song reached a new peak of number 6. The song has been certified Gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association, denoting shipments of over 35,000 units. In New Zealand, the song debuted at number fourteen on the New Zealand Singles Chart on August 8, 2011 and reached a peak of number 5 the following week, however it fell to number 8 in its third week. The song also debuted inside the top 40 of the UK R&B Chart at number 38 on August 27, 2011, after having charted at number 47 the week before. The following week, the song rose to number twenty-one, sitting one position lower than Rihanna's previous single, "California King Bed". In its sixth week, the song climbed to number 4. The song has so far peaked at number fifteen on the UK Singles Chart. In Ireland, the song debuted at number 30 on the Irish Singles Chart on September 8, 2011, and has peaked at number sixteen. In France, the song debuted at number eighty-eight on September 3, 2011, rose to eighty-two the following week and peaked at 67 in its subsequent week.
During the Loud Tour concert in Kensington Oval, Barbados, on August 5, 2011, Rihanna announced that a taping of "Cheers (Drink to That)" had been recorded during the show for the song's music video. It was later announced that the video would be expected to feature footage of her homecoming, as well as clips of her performing during the North American leg of the tour. Via Rihanna's official Twitter account, she replied to a fan's tweet, announcing that the video would premiere on August 24, 2011, on iTunes. However, it was later announced that the video would premiere the following day on August 25, 2011. The video premiered officially via iTunes and VEVO on August 26, 2011. A 15 second teaser video was released the day before it officially premiered, and featured Rihanna applying make make-up before taking to the stage, as well as fans screaming her name while fireworks were launched into the night sky. The video was directed and edited by New York based director Evan Rogers and Ciara Pardo.

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The video begins with Rihanna's fans screaming and cheering her name before a concert is about to start, while Rihanna is shown walking to her dressing room, preparing to perform by doing her make-up and changing outfits. As a firework explodes in the sky, scenes of Rihanna driving through her hometown and having a drink at the bar are intercut. As the song starts to play, Rihanna is seen in a variety of different outfits from various parts of the concert, whilst also showing clips of the audience dancing and singing. Rihanna is also seen holding a handheld camera, which she uses to film herself and other people, as well as goings-on backstage. Lavigne, who makes a cameo appearance in the video, is seen raising her glass to the camera before being pushed fully clothed into a swimming pool while on a skateboard. Jay-Z, Kanye West and Cee Lo Green are also featured in the various clips of the video, as the former two were special guests at Rihanna's tour on certain dates, while the latter was an opening act on selected dates during the North American leg of the tour. Shots of Rihanna flying on a private jet, avoiding paparazzi and participating in the Barbados Kadooment Day are also intercut throughout the video. Other scenes include her taking pictures together with her mother and grandmother, swimming, relaxing, partying with her brother, and spending time with her friends and family. The video ends with Rihanna on a boat shouting "Rihanna Navy!", referring to her fan group. Upon its release, the video received general acclaim from critics. Iona Kirby of Daily Mail praised the documentary-style video, which gives fans an opportunity to see the life of Rihanna and insight into what she likes to do. A reviewer from Rap-Up praised the video, commenting that it is a "real blast in a glass!". According to PopDash's Giovanna Falcone, the video shows "Rihanna goofing around with friends and family, on stage and loving life, you can't help but smile throughout". Amy Sciarretto of PopCrush stated that the video is completely different from her previous single's controversial video for "Man Down", as well as commenting that this is her most "candid and loose" video, saying "we've seen Rihanna as she goes bar hopping and slices open a coconut". Robbie Daw of Idolator commented that the music video looks "like one big, drunken night out". A reviewer from Rolling Stone magazine also commented that the video "finds Rihanna in an appropriately celebratory mood ... it's mostly a lot of shots of her partying backstage with friends and celebrities". Sarah Maloy of Billboard magazine commented "there are no special effects, storylines – and no chance of lawsuits," referring to one of Rihanna's previous music videos, "S&M", which was faced with two lawsuits. Maloy also noted that the video presents Rihanna's ordinary life just as it is. A reviewer of OK! Magazine commented that "Rihanna gets buddy Avril Lavigne on board in the video for the track ' which will be our anthem for the Bank Holiday weekend.'" Brad Wete of Entertainment Weekly simply commented that "It's party time, folks! And that's exactly what the video makes apparent". With regard to the cameo appearance of several celebrities and Rihanna's colleagues, Leah Collins of The Vancouver Sun stated "Rihanna shows that she has more celebrity friends than hairstyles (which is saying something considering she manages to change her weave approximately every 5 seconds in the clip)". According to William Goodman from Spin magazine "Barbadian pop queen Rihanna leads a charmed life. But at heart, she's just a hometown party girl, and her new video for 'Cheers (Drink to That)' proves it". In reference to raising glasses in the video, Rebeca Ford from The Hollywood Reporter commented "the singer can also be seen raising a [glass] to her audience, probably thanking them for their support with her own personal 'cheers.'"

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The King Protea is the National Flower of South Africa. It also is the flagship of the The Protea Atlas Project, run by the South African National Botanical Institute.
Protea cynaroides is adapted to survive the fires by its thick underground stem, which contains many dormant buds; these will produce the new growth after the fire.
P. cynaroides is a species of protea in the huge family Proteaceae. The family comprises about 80 genera with about 1600 species. It has Gondwanan distribution, which means that it is mainly spread across the Southern Hemisphere, from Southern Africa, across to Australia, to South America, although certain species are also found in equatorial Africa, India, southern Asia and Oceania as well.

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P. cynaroides is further placed within the subfamily Proteoideae, which is found mainly in Southern Africa. This subfamily is defined as those species having cluster roots, solitary ovules and indehiscent fruits. Proteoideae is further divided into four tribes: Conospermeae, Petrophileae, Proteae and Leucadendreae. The genus Protea, and hence P. cynaroides, is placed under the tribe Proteae.

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The name of the plant family Proteaceae as well as the genus Protea, both to which P. cynaroides belongs to, derive from the name of the Greek god Proteus, a deity that was able to change between many forms. This is an appropriate image, seeing as both the family and the genus are known for their astonishing variety and diversity of flowers and leaves.
The specific epithet cynaroides refers to the artichoke-like appearance of the flower-heads: the artichoke belongs to the genus Cynara.

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P. cynaroides is a woody shrub with thick stems and large dark green, glossy leaves. Most plants are one metre in height when mature, but may vary according to locality and habitat from 0.35 m to 2 metres in height. The "flowers" of Protea cynaroides are actually composite flower heads (termed an inflorescence) with a collection of flowers in the centre, surrounded by large colourful bracts. The flowerheads vary in size, from about 120 mm to 300 mm in diameter. Large, vigorous plants produce six to ten flower heads in one season, although some exceptional plants can produce up to forty flower heads on one plant. The colour of the bracts varies from a creamy white to a deep crimson, but the soft pale pink bracts with a silvery sheen are the most prized. P. cynaroides grows in a harsh environment with dry, hot summers and wet, cold winters. Several adaptions include tough, leathery leaves, which helps to prevent excessive loss of moisture, and a large taproot which penetrates deep into the soil to reach underground moisture. Like most other Proteaceae, P. cynaroides has proteoid roots, roots with dense clusters of short lateral rootlets that form a mat in the soil just below the leaf litter. These enhance solubilisation of nutrients, thus allowing nutrient uptake in the low-nutrient, phosphorus-deficient soils of its native fynbos habitat.The flowers are fed at by a range of nectarivorous birds, mainly sunbirds and sugarbirds, including the Orange-breasted Sunbird (Anthobaphes violacea), Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus), Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa), and the Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer). In order to reach the nectar, the bird must push its bill into the inflorescence. As it does so, its bill and face gets brushed with pollen, thereby allowing for possible pollination.

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