Colin Kaepernick/Terrelle Pryor; Lew Wolff/John Fisher; Sonny Gray/Bob Melvin/Jim Leyland; Sonny Dykes/Jared Goff; Joe Lacob
THE 49ERS played a very interesting game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, winning almost despite themselves.
The defense was stellar except for one blown coverage when Larry Fitzgerald got open for a 75-yard touchdown, but that’s hardly the only time Fitzgerald in his career that he has been open for a big touchdown. A case could be easily made that he’s been the top receiver in the NFL from day one of his career.
Otherwise, though, the defense contained the Cardinals well and rookie Eric Reid showed why he was an excellent choice as their No. 1 draft pick in April. Forty-Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh had tried to recruit Reid to Stanford and failed because Reid wanted to stay home in Louisiana, but he finally got his man. Reid is already showing that he’s an upgrade from the departed Dashon Goldson, and he’ll probably get even better.
Of course, the 49ers defensive backfield was helped by the fact that Carson Palmer was throwing the ball up for grabs – not to mention that he got tackled in the end zone for a safety – which got me thinking once again about USC quarterbacks. At USC, they have a tendency to throw into a crowd because they know their receivers are better athletes than the defenders and they’ll usually come up with the ball. Not so in the pros. If you think about Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez, all high first round draft picks, they’ve all had problems in the NFL. Palmer has had more success than the others but his shortcomings have really come to the front with the Raiders and Cardinals. Leinart has been a bust and Sanchez has been so disappointing that the Jets drafted Geno Smith to replace him. Smith is raw but he seems to have the ability and willingness to learn, so he’ll probably be a better quarterback.
Palmer is an upgrade for the Cardinals, whose quarterback play has been the biggest reason for their problems, but he won’t take them very far. This is no better than a .500 club, at best.
Meanwhile, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his best game since the opener against Green Bay but that’s not saying much because he had been dreadful. Even in this game, he was like the little girl with the curl in her forehead: When he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was horrid. Early in the first quarter, the 49ers had the ball on the Arizona 5 and 10 after interceptions, but each time, they had to settle for field goals. Later on, Kaepernick fumbled twice and also threw an interception on the Arizona 1. Eventually, the Niners got that safety and scored a touchdown when they had a short field after the Arizona punt, but that can’t hide the fact that Kaepernick screwed up.
Kaepernick has been a favorite of many writers covering the 49ers and, when he struggled in earlier games, they came up with a reason: He had a foot injury which hampered his throwing. Kevin Lynch advanced this theory when we were both on “49ers Preview” on KPIX, which aired last Saturday night. I didn’t argue the point but there were some obvious flaws in that theory. Kaepernick certainly had no problems with accuracy throwing to Anquan Boldin or Davis, he hadn’t missed a snap in practice, Harbaugh didn’t take him out of the game against Houston in the fourth quarter, when it had already been decided. Last week, Harbaugh, who rarely answers a question directly, made a point of saying Kaepernick’s foot injury was minor and was not affecting his play.
Kaepernick’s erratic play won’t hurt the Niners for most of their remaining games because they’re better than most of the teams left on the schedule and in a different league from the Jacksonville Jaguars, whom they’ll face in London. The Jaguars look like an 0-16 team in the making.
But, the bar is set higher for the 49ers now, after their losing trip to the Super Bowl. To even get back there, they have to find a way to beat the Seattle Seahawks. Right now, I don’t see that happening.
MEANWHILE, Terrelle Pryor got a brutal lesson from the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. I watched a good part of that game on television in the 49ers press box and it seemed Pryor was constantly being swarmed by Chiefs defenders. That wasn’t a mirage. He was sacked 10 times and threw three interceptions.
Pryor slipped back into some of his old bad habits, trying to do too much, but he can hardly be blamed. The Raiders had no running game and an already shaky offensive line lost two starters to injuries during this game.
The Raiders defense continued to play well, and that’s the biggest reason to believe they’re on the right path. I’ve consistently written that next year will be the big turnaround because by then, general manager Reggie McKenzie will have turned the roster over almost completely. The will is already there, but they still need more good players.
Meanwhile, Pryor needs to look at what happened on Sunday and learn from it. The quarterback on the other side of the line of scrimmage, Alex Smith, endured similar beatings in the early part of his 49ers career, when the Niners had a very weak offensive line and no proven receivers. He survived and is a solid quarterback now, running coach Andy Reid’s offense well, though he’s not the spectacular passer younger writers want. Too bad for them. Wins are what count in the NFL.
THE FEDERAL JUDGE hearing the case rejected San Jose’s lawsuit against MLB last week, saying what the Supreme Court had said in two earlier rulings: that if baseball’s anti-trust exemption is to be removed, Congress will have to do it. Since this Congress can’t even keep the government open, there’s no chance of that.
The judge threw San Jose a bone, saying they can sue for damages because baseball commissioner Bud Selig never called for a vote on the matter. Selig never calls for a vote unless he knows he has the votes and he didn’t have them in this case because owners didn’t want to overrule the Giants’ rights to the area, knowing that they’d face a lawsuit from the Giants.
Will San Jose pursue a lawsuit for damages? The judge earlier said the city wasn’t damaged because the land they gave Lew Wolff an option to buy for $7.5 million is now worth four times that. So, it doesn’t seem likely the city could get any judgment sizable enough to justify suing. It’s time for San Jose mayor Chuck Reed to admit what should have been obvious long before: San Jose is not going to get the A’s.
It’s also time for Wolff and his invisible partner, John Fisher, to think seriously about building a new park in Oakland. There have been business leaders who have met in Oakland in the last couple of years to discuss financing such a park and, despite Wolff’s claims to the contrary, there are spots in Oakland which are suitable for a new park. Of course, he’d have to tear himself away from watching Dodgers games, which he was doing again last night from a front row seat. I wonder if he’s seen more Dodgers games than A’s games this year.
Meanwhile, it’s time for the media, most of them out of town, to stop calling the A’s a “small market team.” In fact, the A’s have a larger market than San Jose, whose population is larger because many years ago, the city limits were extended to Morgan Hill. Now, there are several separate communities but it’s a myth to call them a city.
Oakland itself is just a whisker over 400,000 in population but it’s part of a string of cities from Hayward to El Cerrito that are separated only once, by Highway 24 going through the tunnel. Also, Contra Costa County is growing enormously, and that is a big market for the A’s.
As a comparison, I have looked up the city population and area population for Memphis and St. Louis, two cities I have visited with some frequency, Memphis because my wife has family there, St. Louis for games, football and baseball, and also for that momentous National League meeting in the fall of 1992 when the league delayed approval of a sale of the Giants to Tampa Bay businessmen so that San Francisco investors could get their deal together.
Memphis is the larger city, approximately 655, 00 to 315, 00, but its metropolitan area is approximately 1.3 million while St. Lous is nearly 3 million.
That’s why Memphis has never had a major league baseball team and St. Louis has had two, the long-gone Browns and the Cardinals, who have been a very successful franchise forever.
And, that’s why MLB looks at more than just a city’s population – and why the national media should do the same.
ONE OF my readers voiced a complaint that I’m sure is shared by others, that Bartolo Colon should have started the fifth game of the Division Series which the A’s lost.
I don’t agree. I think Sonny Gray was the best selection, not that it made any difference because Justin Verlander didn’t allow any runs. You can’t win without runs.
When I watched Gray after his July elevation, I thought of Juan Marichal, who also got a midseason promotion in 1960 and pitched a one-hitter in his first game.
Gray is not Marichal, who remains the best pitcher I’ve ever seen in terms of controlling the game with different pitches thrown at different speeds. But, the youngster is very good, and I like forward to seeing him pitch – and win – many postseason games.
THE A’S-TIGERS series also presented an interesting contrast in managerial strategy. Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland likes the hit-and-run because he’s never gotten away from his National League roots. Because the NL still clings to the 19th century model, which forces them to pretend pitchers can hit, teams often play for one run. A’s manager Bob Melvin doesn’t believe in giving up an out, which often happens when a hitter has to swing at a bad pitch to protect the runner, and he believes in the big inning: In many games, the winning team will score more runs in one big inning than the other team scores in the game.
Some A’s fans wondered why the A’s didn’t bunt more with Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera slowed by injuries, but in situations involving good bunters, Cabrera was playing in. And, Melvin wasn’t about to take the bat out of the hands of hitters like Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick. Good for him. The A’s were successful this year, and last, because they had good pitching and hit home runs. Abandoning the philosophy that got them there didn’t make sense.
PET PEEVE: Because MLB always wants the postseason games to be on prime time TV in the East, many games are scheduled when the sun is so low in the sky that it’s right in the hitters’ eyes. Taking nothing away from the pitchers but that’s one of the reasons you’ve seen no-hitters carried into the seventh inning, and extra-inning games that wind up 1-0. These games should be a showcase for baseball but instead, they’re almost farcical at times.
IT WAS A bad weekend for Cal and Stanford, both of whom lost, while San Jose State continued to win.
Stanford, ranked fifth in the nation, was upset by Utah. This shaped up as a “trap” game all the way and, though Stanford players said they weren’t overlooking the Utes, they were. That’s human nature, and it accounts for almost all the surprising upsets in college football. Stanford will bounce back and be in a major bowl, possibly even the Rose Bowl, depending on whether they beat Oregon in the showdown between the two best teams in the Pac-12.
The claim by Washington coach Steve Sarkisian that Stanford faked injuries to slow down the Huskies offense? That was so ridiculous that it answered itself. Never forget that Sarkisian was an assistant at USC before he went to Washington. In fact, he and Lane Kiffin were assistants on the same staff. Need I say more?
Meanwhile, Cal suffered another loss on its way to a 1-10 season. Even the offense, which had been the lone bright spot, was slowed down in this game. Freshman quarter Jared Goff has been a bright spot in the otherwise dismal season but he was largely ineffective against the UCLA defense. As the season goes on, I think more defenses are going to be prepared to stop Goff, as good as he is, and the Cal defense is very weak.
I’m still not sold on the offense Sonny Dykes brought to Cal. If a team has really superior athletes, it can succeed – but a team with really superior athletes can succeed with any offense. The Bears had a decent run game against UCLA, but they haven’t been able to run consistently all season. And, Brendan Bigelow is now third string. Remember all those stories about how Bigelow wasn’t used enough last year and would have a breakout season this year?
Frankly, I think Dykes is overmatched as a Pac-12 coach. Louisiana Tech, his last school, is in the Western Athletic Conference, which has been demoted to the Bowl Subdivision (formerly, Division II). Last year, his team’s schedule was dotted with teams like Rice, Texas State, UNLV, Idaho. The competition is much steeper this season. The only redeeming note this year is that Cal no longer routinely schedules San Jose State, as it did for many years, so the Spartans won’t be able to prove on the field that they’re the second-best team in the Bay Area.
REMEMBER WHEN the rationale for a new Warriors arena in San Francisco was that the Warriors couldn’t attract top free agents unless they played in a more glamorous city? Well, they’re having no trouble with that now. Top players want to come to the Warriors. It seems that winning means more than the city.
The real reason for the arena on the waterfront has always been that Lacob wanted a monument to his ego. There are other places in San Francisco where it could be built but it wouldn’t be so dramatic if it were not on the Embarcadero.
It still has to be approved by a state commission, which I hope will turn it down. The waterfront has been opened up remarkably since the Embarcadero freeway was torn down after the 1989 earthquake and San Francisco mayors Art Agnos and Willie Brown have made the area a beautiful one, patronized by walkers, drivers, bike riders. The arena would be a blight on the area and I don’t even want to think what the traffic would be like on game nights.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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