Monday, January 23, 2012

I don't (completely) put the loss on Kyle Williams

First, let me say that the 49ers' second year receiver Kyle Williams had a horrible day as a punt returner. Early in the game he took a huge risk when he dove to receive a punt; then he had a "muff" when he was indecisive and should have just gotten the hell out of the way instead of letting the ball graze his knee; and finally, he fumbled the ball on a punt return in over time that put the Giants in position to kick the game winning field goal.

With that being said, you can't put the loss on just one player. As much as everyone wants a scapegoat, it's always going to be a team game, and although Williams' plays might have had bigger impacts than others, there are countless other plays that could have determined the outcome. It's just like the '91 NFC Championship game against the Giants that I briefly talked about. One of my best friend's dad still hates Roger Craig for that fumble despite his prolific career as a Niners' runningback who won three titles with them. However, I would say that the defense still had the chance to stop New York from getting down the field in time for a game winning field goal. And yesterday, it was a team loss that could have gone differently if any number of players had made a better play, not just Williams.

And that's exactly how Patrick Willis put it last night when consoling his teammate. If Dashon Goldson doesn't collide with Carlos Rogers and comes up with the interception in overtime, Williams wouldn't have even been in that position to field a punt. Or if Goldson hadn't have taken out his teammate Tarrell Brown on the other near interception, then Tramaine Brock isn't in the game, and maybe the Niners don't give up that touchdown on 3rd and 15 after the muffed punt. Or if the referee doesn't blow a quick whistle for forward progress, then Brock's strip of Ahmad Bradshaw would have given the Niners the ball deep in Giants territory. Or if the Niners don't run a shotgun run for Frank Gore that loses yardage, then maybe Alex Smith's pass to Vernon Davis for 11 yards would have been a third down conversion instead of just short. Or if the offensive line gives Smith better protection on any of those final plays in the fourth quarter, maybe he could make a play down the field.

You could go on and on. You can't just say "If Williams would have actually taken care of the ball on the punt return, then the Niners wouldn't have lost" because it's a slippery slope from there. The kick still would have been a 42 yarder if the defense wouldn't have given up any yards after the fumble, and that is certainly no gimme. Just ask Billy Cundiff (another unfortunate scapegoat) after he missed his "easy" 32 yarder that would have tied the game against the Patriots. It happens. I may have lost sleep over it, but life goes on. It was still a hell of a first season under Jim Harbaugh.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Is it Championship Sunday yet?

The teams in the NFC and AFC Championship games have some history together. I touched on it briefly early in the week for the NFC side, but let's take it a step further with a look at the possible Super Bowl matchups. The big game is in Indianapolis this year, so the most compelling story lines might be a meeting between the Ravens and Giants. Not only would it be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV, but it would mean that Eli Manning would have the chance to win his second title on the home turf of big brother Peyton (who only has one), AND it would be a sweet victory for Baltimore if they won in the city that stole their Colts away. If it's the Patriots and Giants, it would obviously be a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, and the Pats would be able to get revenge for the fluke loss that ended their perfect season. A Ravens and Niners "Harbowl" would of course be the ultimate test for the Harbaugh family with the head coaching brothers facing each other for the Lompardi trophy.

My hope, however, is a Patriots and Niners Super Bowl because it would match Tom Brady against his hometown team who passed on him in the draft (for Giovanni Carmazzi!!!), and it would also match Jim Harbaugh, who coached a team to the championship out of no where, against Bill Belichick, who coached his team to a championship out of no where exactly a decade ago. If these two teams win in their respective Championship games, it would match one of the best defenses in the league against one of the best offenses. Speaking of Championship games, this is going to be the 30th anniversary of The Catch, which is really the defining moment of the start of the 49er dynasty. You know who was in the opposite end zone at that game? A young Tom Brady.

On to the picks!
Could there be even more drama in SF this week?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why you need to watch the NFC Championship Game

For my Public Speaking class, I had to write a one minute speech to convince people to feel or do something. It was an open topic, so I chose to talk about the upcoming NFC Championship game after watching this. Enjoy. (And yes, I think I'm going to have to talk very quickly to keep all of this under one minute...)
            If there is one thing you do this weekend, make sure it is watching the NFC Championship game on Sunday between the Giants and 49ers. It is going to be exciting. It is going to be dramatic. You might even cry by the end of it.
These are two of the best franchises in football history, and they have met in the playoffs seven times, including some dramatic finishes in Candlestick. For example, in the 2002 playoffs, Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens led a furious comeback of 25 straight points. It came down to a botched field goal attempt by the Giants when the holder had to scramble and heaved it downfield to a lineman that actually drew pass interference, but the Giants were called for an illegal man downfield and the game ended.
            Furthermore, in the 1990 NFC Championship game, the two time defending Super Bowl champion 49ers held onto a slim lead at home until Joe Montana, the greatest quarterback of all time, got knocked out of the game just like in ‘86. With an inexperienced Steve Young in, the Niners got conservative trying to run out the clock, and Roger Craig fumbled to set up a Giants game winning field goal. 15-13. Giants go on to the Super Bowl.
            When the Giants visited San Francisco in the regular season this year, the game came down to a final defensive stop by the Niners on fourth down. This is going to be a good game. Trust me, you want to see it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

NFL Divisional Round

Last week, I tweeted my picks while on a road trip and went 2-2. An explanation for those picks: I had faith in the Texans defense at home against a rookie QB; I thought the Lions offense could keep up with the Saints, which they did for 3 quarters; I knew the Giants defensive line would kill the Falcons' offensive line, but I thought the game would be a lot closer; and I thought the veteran Steeler defense would play the ball better in the air-- I should have remembered how many times I've uttered the phrase "Ike Taylor is a great corner who is always in good position but has terrible ball skills" over the years.

It was just the third time since the new playoff format in 1990 that all four home teams won in the Wild Card Round, and it would be the first time ever that home teams would go 8-0, but that's how I'm picking them.
Crabtree had a big day in a classic on MNF last year.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Talking Thunder Point Guards

Could Sam Presti have struck gold again?
I have already gone on record saying that the reported chemistry issues between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have been far overblown, but let's take a look at the Thunder's point guard situation overall.  Barring a trade for someone like Dwight Howard, I don't want to see Westbrook traded because he is an All NBA caliber performer and one of my favorite players despite the fact that his decision making infuriates me sometimes. He is even more important to the Thunder now that backup point guard Eric Maynor has unfortunately torn his ACL and rookie Reggie Jackson will have to be pressed into a key role.

Monday, January 9, 2012

LSU. Alabama. Who to Watch For

The National Championship game is tonight, and I am shocked that #1 LSU is the underdog. I've always had a soft spot for the Tigers, and I'll also be rooting for them because of the ruckus that would ensue if Alabama wins and gains the title of "National Champions" despite the fact that both teams will have defeated each other once. Nonetheless, 'Bama IS a loaded team that is very much LSU's equal, and this game will feature a bundle of pro prospects to watch for. I'm picking LSU because they always seem to weather the storm before coming back even stronger with a counter punch because they have so much depth and playmaking ability, headed by sophomore defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger takes what it wants, and Mathieu always finds a way to make an impact in games whether it be an interception, forced fumble, punt return, or a simple pass break up. He's not draft eligible yet, but he is definitely a player you want to watch tonight.
Will Randle be able to break loose tonight?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Injuries Hitting Big in the West

Well, now it's official: both Manu Ginobli of the Spurs and Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies are out 6-8 weeks with a broken hand and torn MCL, respectively. These losses severely hurt two of the teams I picked to be in the top six in the West as both players are arguably their teams' best scorers, and they will be out for a significant chunk of this compressed season. This could open the door for lower teams in the West to rise above them: the new, up-tempo Blazers could now land a top seed, or a highly competitive Rockets squad could sneak into the playoffs. For the Spurs, in particular, it hurts them with their upcoming "rodeo trip" and the sheer amount of games they have to play in January. They will likely have to lean on their younger players such as James Anderson, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green to play more minutes and give Richard Jefferson a larger role in the offense. If Gary Neal is fully recovered from a December appendectomy, then he will obviously provide a much needed boost, as well.
Replacing Z-Bo is a tall task.