Last year, the San Francisco 49ers got burned in the Super Bowl after Ravens WR Anquan Boldin toasted their secondary. So, this year, the Niners took Boldin from the Ravens, picked up CB Nnamdi Asomugha and now, traded up in the draft with the Dallas Cowboys. Taking Safety Eric Reid out of LSU with the 18th pick, the Niners are utilizing their 13 picks wisely and confidently.
“Walter Payton is one. Myself is two.”
— Randy Moss, on football players he admires.
/via Peter King
Take your hats off everyone. Except you, Aldon Smith. You, leave your hat on.
As a Ravens fan I am terrified by how much these guys enjoy being around each other. What a team environment.
Strange Week, and now, Football
Strange week, if we’re putting it mildly.
Fake girlfriends created through real lies, a celebrated cyclist comes clean (kind of) making “Did you watch Oprah last night” an acceptable water cooler conversation for sports fans in offices across the world. And, well, that’s about it really.
So it’s kind of nice to get back to the regular schedule programming of football, and no big deal, just two games for a chance at the Super Bowl.
In Atlanta, the proverbial monkey is off Matt Ryan and Mike Smith’s back, no thanks to the strangest (there’s that word again) last two minutes of a playoff football game I can remember. There’s now playoff wins on the resumes of the quarterback and coach, and yet, who exactly is picking the Falcons at home this week?
Hard to imagine the court of public opinion not backing the San Francisco 49ers after Colin Kaepernick turned the Green Bay Packers defense into a Rookie settings Madden blowout. The 49ers have been here before, before as in last year. Prior to Kyle Williams’ personal nightmare, you’d have to go all the way back to 2002, and reference names like Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens and Garrison Hearst to remember their last playoff appearance.
Back to back NFC Conference Championship appearances signifies progress, a return to better years for the storied franchise, but in a league where dominance is more or less a year to year thing, this game feels important for the 49ers too. It’s easy to look at the core on defense, the promise of Kaepernick and say that there’s still years of contending to come. It’s harder to actually realize that future potential. Instead, this is as good an opportunity at winning it all as any. When is that not true?
Over in New England, no big deal, just a sixth Super Bowl appearance for Tom Brady if the Patriots win, and a few more weeks of the Ray Lewis farewell tour if the Ravens can get revenge on what is a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. No Lee Evans or Billy Cundiff this time around — although ESPN gave them a great profile this week — just a chance for guys like Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith to elevate themselves into a different stratosphere. It’s what playing in the Super Bowl does to players.
And so, with no idea whether I’m picking with my head or heart, or caught in so many web of lies this week that the truth seems harder to see, I’m going to go with the 49ers because I know that Eugene Robinson is thinking the same, just so no one brings this up again.
And in New England. I think the Ravens find a way to get it done.
See you at the Harbaugh Bowl.
What does everybody else think?
That was special.
Colin Kaepernick breaks the record for rushing yards in a playoff game (previously held by Michael Vick) by running for 181 yards. Oh and he tacked on 263 passing. Not bad for a playoff debut.
Packers at 49ers: Bookends
These two teams met in Week 1 of the regular season, with San Francisco winning 30-22 in Lambeau Field. The game was not as close as the final score indicated. Let’s use what happened in that game to give us a sense of how these two teams have changed since.
Expectations coming into the season: Many people expected the 49ers to regress from their performance from last year, though few thought they would have much challenge from the rest of their NFC West counterparts. They were wrong on both. The 49ers retained all their starters on defense and that group came up big. A mid-season quarterback change from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick has worked for the most part, though it will be the defense and special teams that will decide how far the 49ers go in these playoffs.
As for the Packers, they were coming off a historic regular season tainted by a home playoff loss to the Giants. The Week 1 loss to San Francisco surprised some, and Green Bay would get off to a slow start before turning it around, and have rounded into a popular pick as Super Bowl contenders again.
David Akers kicks 63-yard field goal: He did in the first game, one of three in the first half, to give the 49ers a 16-7 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. The rest of the season hasn’t gone as well for Akers, and now he is competing with the Billy Cundiff for the starting kicker spot. The last thing you want is a question mark at that position in the post-season. We’ll see if that comes back to haunt the 49ers.
Randy Moss catches first touchdown pass of the season: At the start of the season, many were thinking about how the Smith-Moss combination would ignite the team’s offense. Now, it’s Kaepernick-Crabtree with a heavy dose of Gore, who’s quietly put together yet another great season. We’ll see how Kaepernick does in his playoff debut.
James Jones catches a touchdown late in the game: And went onto lead the league in touchdown catches this season. The Packers — like the Saints last year, like Warner’s Rams before that — are the sexy pick. They have Rodgers, they have their full set of wide receivers back, and a defense that bends but doesn’t break.
But the home field will make a difference, the 49ers defense — if healthy — will give them an edge — and we’ve seen this year how Rodgers can be taken out of a game when his offensive line can’t protect him (see: at Seahawks, at Giants and their first matchup against San Francisco).
And too often, we get caught up in the team that we remember most recently, the teams that played in the wild card week, and forget how the other teams actually earned their byes. There’s a bias there, this one is a close call, but I like the way this 49ers team is built, and I think when you put it all together, they’re the better overall team.
49ers win 27-21.
What does everybody think?
“I don’t think there was ever a question there. I think it’s just a lot of gobble, gobble turkey. Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers. That paints a pretty good picture of it.”
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Lock it up! Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn at the #49ers home opener. #BeatTheLions
Look at these 49ers fans.
Winners and Losers - Week 2 Sunday edition
I heard it was a beautiful day outside today. I wouldn’t know, was busy watching football all day. I always thought Week 2 was one of the easiest weeks to gamble on games, so I’m really glad I didn’t test that theory by taking Oakland and Baltimore on a parlay.
More referee controversy, and coaching controversy, and kicking controversy, and player controversy, just all kinds of controversy.
Let’s take a look at some teams who are now 2-0, and those that are in the vaunted 0-2 hole, amongst other things.
The Giants - After scouring my deep vocabulary of words, I’ve settled on calling Tom Couglin’s team: predictably unpredictable. Not sure if anyone was surprised that the Giants fell behind early against Tampa Bay this afternoon, nor was anyone surprised that they came out with a victory. This is so Eli Manning: he throws for 510 yards and 3 touchdowns (shouts to his two dynamic receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, who combined for 21 catchs, 378 yards and 2 touchdowns) but also threw 3 interceptions and ended with a QB rating of just 89.5. There’s just something about the other Manning that lacks appeal, even with two Super Bowl rings to his name. But that’s the nature of the whole Giants team. They’re so underwhelming for stretches, but always find a way to be there when it counts. At one point, it was possible that they would fall to 0-2 and be two games back of every team in their division. But here they are, tied with the Cowboys and Redskins and just a game back of the Eagles after week two. It could’ve been dire for the Giants had they lost, it’s always on the verge of being dire for these Giants, but they always find a way.
2-0 teams (Philadelphia, Arizona, Houston, San Diego, San Francisco) - It really doesn’t matter how you get your wins in this league, stop me before I quote Al Davis. The most surprising of this group are the Cardinals, but full points for their win in New England. Ryan Williams, don’t forget to send Stephen Gostkowski a Christmas card, or something. Just make sure it’s not bounty related. The ugliest of this bunch are the Eagles. Fun fact alert: they’re the first team ever to win their first two games of the season by a single point. Lots of turnovers, lots of mistakes, Desean Jackson and company threatening to lose their cool. Actually they did, punches were thrown but the refs forgot to keep the game in control. As for Houston and San Diego, the jury is still out based on the level of competition. San Francisco? Most complete team after week one, same after two weeks.
Antonio Garay - With a tribute to Junior Seau.
Reggie Bush - Do we need to reconsider the Mario Williams-Reggie Bush debate again before it’s all set and done? Remember all the talk of how Bush couldn’t be a feature back in this league? Not so sure if that’s still the case.
The refs, again - Hey, did you hear about the one about how the league had to pull a side judge from the Saints game today because he was a huge New Orleans fan? As in, there are photos of himself tailgating in Saints gear in the pre-season?
Andrew Luck - Win number one. Not as dramatic as Robert Griffin III’s in week one, but they all count just the same. Also, respect to Adam Vinatieri for still doing his thing at age 39. It’s good to have a reliable kicker in your back pocket for those late game drives. Sometimes it takes more then Luck. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
Greg Schiano - So on the last play of the game, the Buccaneers coach decided it was a good idea to have his team come after Eli Manning on a standard kneel down play, which earned a tongue lashing from Tom Coughlin in their post-game handshake. I’m all for the culture change and attitude that Schiano is bringing to Tampa Bay, but this is not the way you do things in the pros, or at any level of competition for that matter. His excuse that this is about sending a message to his team and the rest of the league that his guys will never stop trying until the game is officially over is just that: a poor excuse. You can preach and practice those values in many other ways, ones that don’t involved the possibility of unnecessary injury. Or embarrass your team in the process. Too late on that last one.
0-2 teams (New Orleans, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Kansas City, Oakland) - Most surprising of course are the Saints. Easiest thing is to say that the team misses Sean Payton. But I think it’s a simple fact that the defense has been terrible, which was masked by the record breaking offense last year, and the offense has not been sharp. Some of that has to fall on Drew Brees, who missed some time in preparing for the season due to his contract dispute. For Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Kansas City: they are who we thought they were. Although I think Cleveland can be a competitive team coming down the stretch. As for Oakland? They remain as frustrating as ever.
A lot of survivor pools - Or as CBS Sports’ Will Brinson said: “And on the second week of the season, Belichick proclaimed there would be no more survivor leagues.”
Tim Tebow - 33 yards of total offense through two games. Strangest thing is, there will be some calls for him to start next week.
Wes Welker - Became the Patriots’ all-time franchise leader in receptions, on a day that he didn’t make the starting lineup. I think that contract dispute upset a few people in New England, the wrong people. I mean the wrong person. When Bill Belichick thinks you’re putting yourself above the team, he’ll go out of his way to put you in your place. Which makes me wonder whether we’re headed for a break-up between Gronkowski and the Pats, not this year, not next, but at some point.
Chris Johnson - He’s averaging 3.1 feet per carry this year.
The Cowboys - Same as what I wrote about the Giants above, except that the Cowboys always make things more dire than they need to be. Or maybe the simple truth is this: whether it’s the quarterback, the coaching or something else, this team just does not have the makeup of an elite team, and never will.
Winners and Losers - Week 1 Sunday edition
It’s good to be back. First full day of football means doing absolutely nothing but watch games on Sunday, which is a pretty tough commitment.
Surprises, comebacks, upsets, disappointments? Just the way football should be.
Onto the winners and losers of the first Sunday. Since all judgments are made off one game, I reserve the right to deny writing any of the below in a week.
Robert Griffin III/ Dan Snyder - The list of quarterbacks that have come through Washington in the past few decades have been so mediocre that it’s been immortalized on this t-shirt. For those with shorter memories, recent years included Rex Grossman, the wonderful experience of Donavan McNabb and the likes of Mark Brunell and Jason Campbell. This year’s draft revolved around Andrew Luck — whom most believed to be the sure thing, and Robert Griffin III — a dazzling talent whose potential intrigued many teams to move up for the right to pick him. The Redskins gave away a sizable package to be that team, and no one would’ve blamed their fans to expect some growing pains for Griffin III this season before he matured and that potential became realized. But there he was on Sunday, in the hostile dome environment of New Orleans, controlling the game like a ten year veteran, demonstrating his arm strength and using his legs as a weapon. I don’t know what Dan Snyder or Mike Shanahan did to deserve this, but the sky’s the limit now for Griffin III. The growing pains will come, but fans will have a performance like this week’s to remind them of better times to come. Sooner rather than later.
Orlando Franklin - I am terrified.
Quarterback enigmas part 1, Alex Smith - All Super Bowl chatter with the San Francisco 49ers this off-season started and ended with their quarterback Alex Smith. The defense is championship caliber, the offense was retooled with enough weapons to surround Smith, but was he really someone who could put it all together? All he did on Sunday was play an efficient game in Green Bay, and come out with a victory. Not just a game manager, but a productive quarterback who looked comfortable leading drives and making the right plays in the red zone. This was the most eye opening performance to me from Sunday. The 49ers looked complete, and ready to make a run.
Quarterback enigmas part 2, Mark Sanchez - I woke up this morning and pronounced that Sanchez was starring in his own edition of “Dead Man Walking” starting at 1 pm. You know, the one touchdown in four pre-season games, the shadow of Tim Tebow lurking everywhere — on the field, in the press, probably in his dreams. That’s a weird thought, let’s move on. Of course, this being a league where we know absolutely nothing except what just happened, Sanchez went out and put up 48 points on the Buffalo Bills, and giving Bart Scott enough ammunition to declare a “media mutiny” after the game. He meant boycott by the way.
Tampa Bay and believers of karma -In this era of statistics and more statistics, I hope there’s still room for stories that aren’t about just numbers. That special moments still be quantified in their own ways. In the off-season, the Buccaneers signed former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (coached in college by current Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano) whose career was ended by a spinal cord injury. It was a symbolic gesture by the organization that along with their draft and off-season acquisitions, bodes well for the coming season. By the way, if you haven’t read about LeGrand’s story, do yourself a favor and check out this Sports Illustrated feature from last year. The Bucs did just enough to win at home against Carolina. But for a team that most expect to win five or six games, I think there could be something more there.
Randall Cobb/ Julio Jones - I’m going to go on record and say that Jones will be the best receiver in football this year. I felt that way before his performance in Kansas City today (6 catches, 108 yards, 2 touchdowns), which just reaffirms my belief in him. As for Randall Cobb, I get the feeling that Aaron Rodgers is going to be targeting him a lot this year, if only because the Fox broadcasters kept reminding me of it. Plus he’s a must watch on returns all year.
Adrian Peterson - In December, Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL. On Sunday, he came back and went for 84 yards, two touchdowns and looked as electric as he was pre-injury. A lot of fantasy regrets are in order.
Peyton Manning - Competent quarterbacking in Denver? Must be refreshing. The league’s more fun with Manning back directing traffic and running no huddles. Plus I’m sure Brandon Stokley is happier this way. This might not end up in a second Super Bowl for Manning, but it’s nice to see he still has more then a few competent games left.
Negotiating leverage of referees - All referees make bad calls. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that once the real officials come back, we’re not going to have controversial calls. But there’s a difference between human error and incompetence, and that line is not very thin. Consider how the replacement refs gave Seattle a mysterious fourth timeout at the end of their game against Arizona. That’s the perfect example of that not very thin line. There are judgment calls, and then there are calls that can only be explained by inexperience and inability to referee a game at the professional level. Let’s hope the real refs come back soon, so we can have more legitimate gripes than phantom time outs.
Browns fans - Let’s see. Where do we start with this one. Former Browns owner Art Modell passed away this week. You know, the guy who took the team and moved them to Baltimore. There were plans for a Modell tribute before their home opener against the Eagles on Sunday, which would’ve probably turned into a horrible mess, so luckily Modell’s family asked the team to cancel such plans. Of course, this did not stop 28 year old rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden from getting sacked by the American flag pre-game, and than going out there and putting up a quarterback rating that was ten times worst than Michael Vick, who only threw four interceptions himself. Still, the Browns had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, but Vick drove the Eagles the length of the field for a one point victory. On the bright side, If Weeden doesn’t pan out, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis are waiting their turn.
Carolina Panthers rushing attack -13 rush attempts, 10 yards. That includes Cam Newton.
Ike Taylor - Will see Demaryius Thomas in his dreams tonight. That’s my second reference to someone’s dreams. Let’s move on.
Saints and non-believers of karma - I thought that Friday’s arbitrator decision to reverse the Saints’ player suspensions would start the healing process in New Orleans, and remove all the bad vibes still hanging from Bounty Gate. You know, because I actually believe in these things. But there was Griffin III shredding their defense, and Drew Brees not looking in sync with this receiving corp. The offense is still one of the best in the league, and we could chalk it up to one poor performance. Check the schedule though, and consider the improvement of the NFC North, I don’t think the Saints can consider themselves favorites this season.
The Bills - Did all that optimism get crushed in literally one quarter in week one? I think we should just leave Buffalo alone and not anoint sleeper status on them. It’s less painful that way.
photo via Keith Allison