Jim Harbaugh, Alex Smith, Mark Sanchez; Chuck Goodell; David Lee, Stephen Curry; Mark Davis, Reggie McKenzie
TO SAY I was surprised by the 49ers exciting win over the New England Patriots would be a serious understatement. After the way they’d looked in the three previous games, especially the lackluster win over the Miami Dolphins that I witnessed at Candlestick, I was telling people they’d probably lose by a couple of touchdowns. That was my best prediction since I picked the Detroit Tigers to beat the Giants in the World Series. Now you know why I don’t bet on games.
Now, the Niners are virtually certain to win the NFC West. They’d have to lose both of their last two games to give the Seattle Seahawks a chance to win the division. Even if they lose to the Seahawks, they have the Arizona Cardinals at home in the last game and I can’t see them losing that game.
This Sunday night in Seattle could be tough, though. The Seahawks are playing at a very high level, scoring 108 points in their last two games, and they’re undefeated at home. Their stadium is the noisiest in the league, which makes it almost impossible for a visiting quarterback to get his signals heard.
Offensively, the Seahawks have a rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, who is not playing like a rookie. Like Colin Kaepernick, he’s a dual threat, able to run as well as pass. Former Cal great Marshawn Lynch is having a great season running the ball, looking as good as he did with the Bears.
This game is important to the Niners because, if they don’t win it, they’ll almost certainly be the third-best of the division winners, so their postseason schedule won’t be great.
Meanwhile, with Kaepernick firmly installed at quarterback, there’s a subplot with Alex Smith. I can’t see him sticking around after the way he’s been treated by coach Jim Harbaugh this season. If the 49ers can’t arrange a trade, and NFL trades are rare, I’m sure he’ll get his release by the 49ers. There are many teams looking for quarterbacks. The Cardinals are one. They have good receivers but their offensive line has problems, which is never good news for a quarterback.
This may be a strange notion, but the New York Jets might be a good fit. I think the Jets will have a big makeover after this season. I can’t see Rex Ryan coming back. Same with Mark Sanchez, who’s taken a big step backward and was never as good a quarterback as he seemed to be at USC. And, please, let’s not talk about Tim Tebow. He’s not an NFL quarterback. He’s a good athlete who should be playing running back with an occasional option pass in his repertoire, but he’s simply not accurate enough to play quarterback on a regular basis. I don’t even know why the Jets traded for him since Ryan clearly had no plans for him.
Playing in New York can be hazardous to a quarterback’s psyche with the media examining every move and often coming to strangely critical opinions. But after what Alex has been through here, he should be toughened up.
I COULDN’T have made a bigger mess of my item last week about Chuck Goodell, father of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, if I’d tried. Here’s the real story line: Chuck Goodell was appointed to fill out the remainder of Robert Kennedy’s term as a U. S. Senator from New York after RFK’s assassination in 1968. In 1972, he ran against Conservative candidate Jim Buckley and lost. Meanwhile, George McGovern lost his race for the Presidency to Richard Nixon, but he remained as a Senator from South Dakota until 1980. Goodell and McGovern were never in a race against each other.
DUH RAIDERS: I didn’t see the Raiders in person on Sunday. My choice was to either go to that game or go to The French Laundry’s Christmas party. That was a tough one. I did record the game and tried to watch it but I kept falling asleep.
But, a win is a win, even if it’s over the Kansas City Chiefs, probably the worst team in the NFL. Two of the Raiders four wins have come against the Chiefs.
At least, the win stopped – though probably only for a week – the sniping at the coaches, especially the coordinators, Greg Knapp (offense) and Julian Tarver (defense).
Much of it has been silly because the main problem is the lack of good players, which I’ve discussed at length earlier. The criticism of the zone blocking scheme was especially strange because this is the system Tom Cable used when he was the offensive line coach for the Raiders and it worked very well for him. Again, it’s players, not schemes who are most important. Injuries to starting offensive linemen Stefen Wisniewski and Khalid Barnes were especially damaging. Last Sunday was the first time the Raiders had played a full game this season with all five projected starters in the OL.
One of the things that bothers me about writers is when they virtually make up a story line. For instance: Mark Davis said directly at the news conference announcing the hiring of Reggie McKenzie as general manager that he knew nothing about the football business and McKenzie was going to be making all the decisions. When Davis said a couple of weeks ago that he was upset that the team wasn’t playing better, The Chronicle’s beat writer decided that Mark was going to be involved in the decision making. From that, the writer further decided that the coordinators were in danger of being fired.
This was all nonsense. Davis was speaking as a fan, not as an owner who wants to make football decisions. He’s also talking on a regular basis to John Madden and Ron Wolf, and I’m sure they’re telling him that McKenzie is making the right decisions. Firing the coordinators because they don’t have the best players would not be the right decision.
As I’ve written before, McKenzie was in an impossible situation when he took over because Al Davis had signed players to so many bad contracts that the team was committed to paying too much money to mediocre players – and it was facing a serious salary cap problem, which will be the case next season, too.
There is no quick fix for this situation. Raiders fans will have to be patient, but I think McKenzie’s approach will work for the long haul.
CAL COACHES: New Cal head coach Sonny Dykes has made a complete overhaul of the Bears coaching staff, which is his prerogative. The head coach has to be comfortable with all his assistants, and he needs to know they’re loyal to him as well.
The one coach I had hoped he’d retain was running backs coach Ron Gould, a class act and a good coach. But Gould landed on his feet by being named head coach at UC Davis. He’s following a tough act, Bob Briggs, who was 144-85-1 in 20 years, after Jim Socher, who was 156-41-5. Some big shoes to fill there.
The Aggies play in the Big Sky conference, a cut below the Pac-12 conference in which Cal plays, but it’s a level of play which puts football into perspective, which is certainly not true of the big-time programs. One example: Gould’s base salary will be $235,000, about a tenth of what Jeff Tedford was getting at Cal. And Tedford’s salary was no more than half of what some big time coaches are getting. That kind of excess can’t continue indefinitely. Perhaps the Big Sky conference is a better example than the Pac-12 of what college football will become.
WHEN I was writing my Chronicle column, I always thought I’d wait until football season was over to write about the Warriors, because of the relative interest in the 49ers and Warriors. When football season was over, though, the Warriors season often was, too, in effect.
Not this year. The Warriors are off to their best start in years and set a record with a six-win road trip. They hadn’t had a winning road trip since a 4-3 trip in 1970, when they were still playing in San Francisco. This time, they were 6-1. The importance of that can’t be overemphasized. NBA teams historically have played poorly on the road because of the rigors of these trips.
The Warriors have their stars – power forward David Lee was Player of the Week in the league and point guard Stephen Curry has had some outstanding games – but the Warriors are playing as a team. General manager Bob Myers has done an excellent job of putting together a roster that is deep in quality players, so Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry can come off the bench and make big contributions. And unheralded rookie Draymond Green has been a revelation.
The Warriors are actually playing defense, which was very rare in the Don Nelson days, and they play tough in crunch time. More and more, they’re looking like a playoff team. It’s especially gratifying because the Lakers, who made the big offseason signings, just look old and tired. Getting point guard Steve Nash back will help but it won’t be enough to make this team a serious contender.
Imagine, a postseason with the Warriors and without the Lakers. I may have to start paying attention.
THE A’S seem to have filled their one hole with the signing of Japanese free agent shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, announced today. Nakajima has been a consistent .300 hitter in Japan; if he hits within 50 points of that with the A’s, he’ll be a huge improvement over Cliff Pennington, who had been the A’s starter until they got Stephen Drew late in the season. Drew was too expensive for the A’s this season, signing with the Boston Red Sox for $9.5 million.
The A’s had been scouting Nakajima for years. Forget all the “Moneyball” nonsense. The A’s success has come largely because they have always had good scouts. That showed especially last season when general manager Billy Beane had to trade his top pitchers to strengthen a minor league system which had deteriorated – and still wound up with some good young pitching prospects who were turned into capable starters by pitching coach Curt Young.
It won’t be easy for the A’s this year because the Angels have added even more power with free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton added to Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. But last year at this time, it seemed the Angels and Texas Rangers would be battling for the AL West title. The A’s won it instead and the Angels didn’t even make the playoffs.
THIS COLUMN is reaching you a day early for two reasons: 1) I’m going to a lunch hosted by Giants minority owner Allan Byers tomorrow; and 2) I’m in full vacation mode. Nancy and I are going to be joined by our son and daughter-in-law for our sixth straight Christmas cruise, this one in the Caribbean, and my mind and spirit are already there. I wish you all the best in this holiday season and I’ll be back in full form with my next column on January 2.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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