Aaron Rodgers/Colin Kaepernick; Reggie McKenzie/Dennis Allen; Frank Thomas/Barry Bonds/Roger Clemens; David Shaw; Mitt Romney; Joe Lacob/Andrew Bogut
THE NFL dodged a bullet on Sunday with the 49ers playoff game at Green Bay because the weather conditions weren’t as bad as expected, so nobody got frostbite, as players did in the infamous “Ice Bowl” between the Dallas Cowboys and Packers at Green Bay on Dec. 31, 1967.
Still, the timing of the game was ridiculous. There were two games on Sunday, the other being in Cincinnati between the Bengals and San Diego Chargers. Cincinnati isn’t exactly the tropics but it was considerably warmer and should have been the second game. Why wasn’t it? Because the 49ers-Packers matchup was more attractive, so the NFL wanted that in a better time frame for Eastern viewers. It’s all about money for the NFL these days, and we’ve become accustomed to commissioner Roger Goodell doing everything he can to please the networks. We’ve also become accustomed to Goodell doing everything he can to maximize profits. That’s what the games in London are all about, to sell merchandise, and there are four planned for next year! The Thursday night games are another travesty. There is no way that players can recover from a Sunday game to play again on Thursday night but the players are of little concern to Goodell. He’s playing lip service to their health with the new rules on tackling but that’s just to help the NFL defend against the lawsuits brought by former players. One has been settled but there will be more. Bet on it.
There was one element of Sunday’s game that was interesting: The officials called the game much as they used to, allowing plenty of contact between defensive backs and receivers without throwing a flag. On television, Troy Aikman said, “They’re letting them play.” That, of course, was how the game was called when he was playing. Now, officials are instructed to call penalties on minimal contact. That means it’s almost impossible to defend against good quarterbacks and receivers so all kinds of offensive records are being set – and most of them are meaningless.
I don’t know who decided that officials should change their style of calling pass interference but I hope it continues through the postseason, no matter how much Michael Crabtree protests.
I was not impressed by the 49ers win. Green Bay may be the weakest team in the playoffs, there only because of the fierce will and accurate right arm of Aaron Rodgers. A weak defense was missing its best player, linebacker Clay Matthews,
and lost more players to injuries as the game progressed. The left tackle, responsible for protecting Rodgers blind side, was also injured, so a rookie who had never played there before had to take over.
Reading The Chronicles reports on the game, which praised Colin Kaepernick, not one mentioned that on the last drive, he threw a pass directly to a Packers’ defensive back, who dropped it. If he’d hung on to the ball, we wouldn’t be talking about the Niners’ next game.
The quality of pro football writing on The Chronicle has fallen, and that’s a direct result of what happened when the Hearst Corporation bought the paper in 2001. The editors from the old Examiner came over and basically chased out the top Chronicle writers. One who left in disgust was Ira Miller, who did a superb job on not only the 49ers but the NFL as a whole. Those trying to do what Ira did are pale imitations.
It isn’t just The Chronicle, either; that just happens to be the paper I read. The biggest problem with sportswriting is that papers and Internet sites have legitimized bloggers, who really know little. Every time I see something from The Bleacher Report I want to barf. These are guys who watch games on TV and never even go to a practice. You can’t cover football that way because there’s so much that you can’t see. What Ira and I did was to get close to coaches who would give us information, even show us videos to explain it, so we could fully understand what was happening.
MEANWHILE, THE San Jose Mercury entered into fantasy land by reporting that there might be another 49ers game at Candlestick. All it will take is for the Saints to beat the Seahawks in Seattle on Saturday and the Niners to beat the Panthers in Carolina on Sunday. And, then I’m going to win the Mega Millions lottery.
THE RAIDERS offseason promises to be more exciting than the regular season. General manager Reggie McKenzie will have money to spend on draft picks and free agents, and the team should look much different next season.
Coach Dennis Allen apparently will return to prove what he can do with legitimate NFL players. He had few of those the past two seasons as McKenzie had to get rid of so many players, even some good ones, because of the ridiculous contracts Al Davis had given them, as Davis tried desperately for one last champion before he died.
The first decision for both McKenzie and Allen will be at quarterback. Allen tellingly said after the season, ”I’m not sure the quarterback we need is in the building now.” Matt McGloin played enough to show that he would be a good backup quarterback, one who could take over and not embarrass a team if the starter was injured, but not a starter for a long period of time. Allen and McKenzie have clearly given up on Terrelle Pryor as a quarterback. I’d like to see them try him as a running back and/or receiver but they may try to trade him.
The Raiders have the No. 5 pick in the draft and could pick a quarterback there, but I doubt that they will – and I think that’s the right decision. Sometimes, there are obvious can’t miss choices out there – Andrew Luck was one – but it’s too easy to make a bad decision. I still remember the debate over whether Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf would be the No. 1 choice in 1998. The Colts made the right choice, and Manning was a star from the beginning. The Chargers took Leaf with the second pick and he was a disaster.
I’ve often said that one reason for the 49ers success was that for a long period, they never had to draft a quarterback on the first round as Joe Montana and Steve Young played out Hall of Fame careers. When they drafted a quarterback on the first round in 1997, they took Jim Druckenmiller. Whoops. (Incidentally, the report that they ignored Bill Walsh’s recommendation of Jake Plummer is a myth. Walsh had been asked to evaluate quarterbacks to be taken on the second round; he recommended Plummer as a good choice there, not as a first round pick.)
McKenzie knows all the risks of choosing a quarterback high and he also knows the Raiders need many players, so I expect that he’ll trade that first round pick to get an extra pick and look for a quarterback among the free agents. He made a mistake on Matt Flynn last year, but he’s not the only one.
HALL OF FAME: The three voted in yesterday – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were certainly good choices but the moralists (and the 19th century minds running the Hall of Fame) once again kept out the best player and best pitcher of the era, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Disgraceful.
WINTER OLYMPICS: Mitt Romney said this week that he thought it was a bad idea to have the Games in Russia this year, referencing the 1936 Olympics, which allowed Adolf Hitler to strut on the world’s stage. Romney has the credentials for his opinion, as CEO of the winter Games in Utah in 2002
The IOC members, as always, are only concerned about their own perks. They always swallow whatever the host nation says. They believed that China would stop cracking down on dissidents. We know how that worked out. They believe that Rio de Janeiro will clean up its sanitation problems. All I can say is that competitors in water events better have all their shots.
WARRIORS ARENA: Those who don’t want a Warriors arena on the Embarcadero, which is also my position, have come up with some fanciful locations. One is the Candlestick Park site, but that’s already been purchased for commercial use. Another was Treasure Island, and the person who proposed that said ferry boats could be used to take fans back and forth. I’m sure that would be a big hit with them.
There are two problems with all this: 1) Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber want a landmark building on the waterfront; and 2) The arena part of this package is a smoke screen to disguise the fact that it’s a huge development project with condomium towers and a parking garage in the building and more development across the street.
It’s a bad idea and seems to be headed toward the ballot.
MEANWHILE, THE Warriors seem to be on the march toward the playoffs, tied for the Pacific Division lead with the Clippers, who have lost Chris Paul for several weeks because of an injury and can be expected to fall back.
At this point, the Warriors and Clippers are tied for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and the Warriors have been challenging team records. If they win in Brooklyn tonight, it would be the first time in team history they’ve won eight games on a road trip and it would also tie the team’s longest winning streak, 11 games in 1971-72.
One reason for their success is that they’ve been playing defense. That’s been a foreign concept in recent years, especially when Don Nelson was coaching. Nelson always pointed out the difference between the Warriors teams he coached and the Boston Celtics team for which he played: The Warriors lacked the big man in the middle who could rebound and block shots. Chris Webber was supposed to be that player but he and Nelson couldn’t get along. Dan Finnane, the Warriors CEO and part owner at the time, tried to get Nelson to sit down with Webber and work things out but Nelson wouldn’t and Webber was traded. Webber was very difficult to deal with but Nelson wasn’t exactly the adult in the room, either.
Now, the Warriors have the big man they needed, Andrew Bogut, because Lacob made a gambling trade of Monta Ellis to get him two years ago. Bogut was injured for the rest of the year and a good part of last season, too, and Ellis was popular with the fans, but it’s turned out to be a great move. Bogut is doing a good job of plugging the middle, blocking shots, setting screens and generally setting the tone for the team.
The Warriors are still a cut below the best teams – Miami, San Antonio and Oklahoma City – and unfortunately for them, those teams are all in the Western Conference. So, a long playoff run isn’t in the cards but at least, the Warriors are in the conversation now.
THE CRITICISM about Stanford coaching decisions after their loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl was almost entirely about David Shaw’s determination to try to run against the almost impenetrable Spartan run defense. But to me, there was an even worse call late in the first half.
The Stanford defense had just put Spartan quarterback Connor Cook under such pressure that he threw a panicky, off-balance pass that was intercepted by Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson and returned for a touchdown that put the Cardinal up, 17-7, with just 2:07 left in the half.
So, what did Stanford do on the next Michigan State possession? They dropped eight back in coverage and only rushed three.
Ohmigawd. How many times have I seen that? Maybe 10,000 times. How often has it worked? Maybe three times.
The best way to stop a passing attack is by putting great pressure on the quarterback, preferably putting him on the ground. I learned that my first year on the Raiders beat, 1967, when the Raiders collected what was then a record 66 sacks for 667 yards lost. Eleven of those sacks came against the Buffalo Bills and Jack Kemp.
Conversely, the Dallas Cowboys went into one of those “drop everybody back” defenses in the last five minutes of the famous 1982 NFC Championship game, which gave Bill Walsh the opportunity to use a substantial part of his play book. The 49ers marched downfield until they scored the winning touchdown on the most famous play in team history.
And, of course, the Spartans did the same thing in the Rose Bowl, scoring a touchdown which brought them within three points of Stanford at halftime.
Will coaches ever learn that this defense doesn’t work? Apparently not.
In defense of Shaw, I think he’s done an outstanding job at Stanford. Jim Harbaugh revived the program but, if anything, Shaw has taken it to a higher level with two straight Rose Bowl appearances. Or, to put it another way, two more than Cal has made since 1959.
Harbaugh didn’t do it alone. He recognized the need for good assistant coaches, Shaw among them, and had Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator and Greg Roman as his offensive coordinator, both of whom he took with him to the 49ers. There was some mystery about who was calling plays at Stanford – Harbaugh always likes to play games with the media – but media observers close to the team thought it was Roman. There’s no doubt he’s the man with the 49ers.
Shaw has been calling the plays at Stanford, which is not a good idea. He was a defensive player and a defensive assistant under Harbaugh. He needs to turn over the play calling to somebody with a better offensive mind.
IT CONSTANTLY amazes me that media people don’t understand how odds are set for games. The latest is Brent Musberger who said, before the start of the Rose Bowl, that the points favoring Stanford had gone up during the week. “They really like Stanford in Nevada,” he added.
No, Brent. Oddsmakers try to set the line so the betting is equal on both sides, which means they win. In this case, it was easy to find people wanting to bet on Stanford and much more difficult to find those willing to bet on Michigan State because of geography. East Lansing is much further from either Reno or Nevada than the Bay Area is.
DECEMBER CRUISE: For those who asked, our Caribbean cruise was one of our best. We had very good tours at our Jamaican stop and at Georgetown, where billionaires go to visit their money, but the best stop was the last at Key West. We saw the Hemingway house, with its building at the back where he did his work. I could imagine him finishing his writing at noon and then going down the street to drink with his buddies. While I was sitting on a bench, a woman took my picture because she thought I looked like the older Hemingway. If only I could write like him! Then, we got a great tour of the Truman summer White House as the guide showed us the rooms where Harry conducted business with his White House staff and played poker at night. For a history buff like me, it was heaven.
THE LAST WORD: Janice Hough writes, “Jim Harbaugh compared Colin Kaepernick to a gazelle. Is that really the right metaphor to use when your next opponent is the Panthers?
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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