Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
17 Dec 2012
compiled by Rivers McCown
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a 49ers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Andy Benoit: Chicago opened the game with five straight runs. Evan Rodriguez stood out as a lead-blocker early.
Aaron Rodgers looked a bit flustered on the first two series. The Bears are swarming and getting good coverage. Corey Wootton and Julius Peppers both got pressure off the edges for a sack on third down on the second series. It was a four-man rush, and may have been an inverted Cover 2, as Chris Conte dropped and then went into the flat. Peppers bull-rushed Marshall Newhouse and won easily.
Mike Kurtz: The Bears are just eating Green Bay's offensive line up. They're not just getting consistent pressure, they're getting consistent overall pressure. Usually its from the bookends, but the defensive tackles are also pushing interior linemen back into Rodgers' face. If this keeps up and Matt Forte can keep the running game going, this is a very winnable game for the Bears.
Bears called for 12 men in the first quarter. Packers called for 12 men in the second quarter. Apparently, neither team is capable of counting.
Andy Benoit: Randall Cobb came up with some big incompletions early in the game, both somewhat tough catches, but plays that have to be made. Rodgers' ball placement was not great on the second one -- it was a slight overthrow.
Mike Kurtz: I disagree on the second Cobb play you reference, Andy. Even though it looked close, with the speed that ball had, Cobb would've had to make an incredible catch to reel it in.
With 11:22 left in the first quarter, Mason Crosby unveils the worst field goal attempt in the history of modern kicking. Holy cow.
Aaron Schatz: That kick was WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDE right. With 13 "I"s.
Andy Benoit: Brandon Marshall is showing tremendous power after the catch. He stiff armed Casey Hayward to the ground on his touchdown reception, and he's just generally been breaking tackles and falling forward all game.
The Bears have blitzed on third down at least three times today -- that's an nusual approach for them, especially when facing the Packers. Rodgers beat them for it on the last play, though the blitz wasn’t the reason why. Rodgers was tremendous on the series that led to his first touchdown. Several perfect downfield throws towards the right sideline, including the touchdown pass itself, where James Jones got a step on Kelvin Hayden.
D.J. Moore had a tough first half. He was beaten several times by Cobb, and also got beat for a short area touchdown by Jones. Moore's eyes were in the backfield for too long, and Jones too easily crossed his face. Moore was a healthy scratch earlier this year, and he's shown why so far today.
Ben Muth: Moore looked absolutely clueless on that play.
Andy Benoit: We get the rare "useful sideline reporter halftime update," courtesy of Pam Oliver, who reported that Bears coaches told her the Jay Cutler interception had nothing to do with Devin Hester. It was just a bad throw.
Packers won’t even attempt a 44-yard field goal up 14-7. They went for it on fourth-and-6 instead, and were successful. Crosby will be unemployed on Monday.
Aaron Schatz: How many times has "Crosby will be unemployed on Monday" appeared in Audibles this year? That has to be the fourth or fifth.
Mike Kurtz: Rodgers misses high again on a beautifully-designed slant and go. That was another pass that was only a bit high, but had a ton of velocity, making it difficult for the receiver to adjust.
Andy Benoit: The Packers are once again using double-team concepts on Marshall, with Tramon Williams involved.
Charles Tillman garners his 10th forced fumble of the season, Ryan Grant was the victim on this one.
Ben Muth: Tillman is ridiculously accurate when he punches at the ball. Are we sure he isn't a Marquez brother?
Aaron Schatz: Remind me -- and Rivers, mark this down because you are doing the chapter -- to include in the book a study on how consistent fumbles forced numbers are for defenders from season to season. (More than fumble recoveries, for sure.)
Andy Benoit: Chicago took back-to-back shot plays to Alshon Jeffery following the fumble recovery. Those earned two penalties on the Packers defense, and the second one was all sorts of lucky because of an underthrown ball. Morgan Burnett was mixed up in his positioning and bailed them out with some very poor technique.
Questionable play-calling by Mike Tice at the goal line late in third. He knew it was four-down territory, ran inside three straight times, and they were all stuffed. (Forte is not very explosive on those plays, that’s not his game.) Then on fourth down, he dialed up an empty-set throw, where Jeffery was called for offensive pass interference. If you know you’re going for it on fourth, why run it on first three downs like that?
Mike Kurtz: It's worth mentioning that on the second- and third-down plays, Forte had all sorts of real estate outside and failed to bounce either out. I'm not just mentioning that because I need a good game out of Forte to get to my league's championship. Really.
Andy Benoit: Rodgers is throwing with great zip, and reading the field with confidence. This is one of his more impressive games of the season.
Mike Kurtz: Crosby just outdid himself, his kick hit the pylon and bounced back onto the field.
The Packers just tried a lateral on a punt return for absolutely no reason whatsoever. A flag was thrown for forward pass, but it was backwards. Bad mechanics by the back judge. There's holding, but it's neither here nor there, because Chicago recovers the awful dropped lateral.
Andy Benoit: Inside their own 20 with less than eight minutes to play. Against a Bears team that has less than 70 yards in offense since the first quarter. What the hell?
Rob Weintraub: It's such a fine line between stupid and clever...
Andy Benoit: Sam Shields has had a pretty solid game in downfield coverage. For that matter, Brad Jones has done a very solid job covering Forte. The Bears clearly want Jeffery to be their downfield weapon, but he has a lot to learn in the way of technique at this point.
Andy Benoit: Vontae Davis is shaken up again early. The Colts defense is a different unit with him. The Texans have over 110 yards of offense so far, the Colts just five. Texans always seem to start fast, and the Colts have a tendency to start slow.
Tom Gower: Apparently, because Indy is 9-4 they have a good defense and we must therefore treat it like it is wonderful, even though they force turnovers about as often as a defense made up of FO staffers would. I heard it on Playbook this week (yes, I still watch it), and Dan Fouts was just talking about it. If they were 4-9, other people might be talking about them like they were the 30th-best defense in the league, which is where DVOA had them coming into the week. Extrinsic narrative-driven nonsense.
Matt Schaub finds Andre Johnson to finish off the Texans second drive and put Houston up 10-0. The Texans are dominating total yardage, as Andy noted, but needed six points there. The damage has mostly been done through the air, with Arian Foster once again struggling to find consistent running room.
Vince Verhei: OK, I admit it, Mrs. Claus' naughty video cell phone commercial made me laugh.
Tom Gower: Scheme note: the Colts are doing a nice job at staying at home and pressuring Schaub on bootlegs after a big pass to Johnson on one set up the opening score.
Ben Muth: The Colts get a three-and-out and march it right back into Texans territory. They get a touchdown on third-and-goal on a great catch by Reggie Wayne, but it's called back due to offsetting penalties and Indy has to settle for three.
Watt is absolutely destroying the Colts tackles in the first half. It's bordering on assault.
Andy Benoit: Texans special team ace Bryan Braman gets his first career touchdown. He deserves to go to the Pro Bowl this year.
Rivers McCown: The Texans deserve a special teams Pro Bowler? I think you might get less traction from me on that than your Bernard Pollard mid season Pro Bowl pick.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure I get the idea of a Texans guy as the AFC Pro Bowl special teamer. Texans special teams are horrible this year, next-to-last in our ratings. Am I missing something?
Tom Gower: I started thinking about finding a different game for the second half, then T.Y. Hilton got open deep for a 61-yard score to make things a little more interesting. Shayne Graham had a chance to extend the lead at the end of the half, but missed badly from 50. Considering they're about 27th in FG/XP value and last in kickoff distance (even without returns), is it too late in the season for the Texans to seriously consider available kickers?
Rivers McCown: I have more confidence in my ability to finish Audibles tonight (after attending this game and downing about eight beers) than I do in Shayne Graham.
Ben Muth: The Colts have been been blitzing guys from very wide against the Texans to slow down the outside zone play and the boot/play-action game. Houston's protection doesn't account for guys coming from that far away on those types of plays, and Indy has gotten a couple sacks off of it.
Rivers McCown: Great hustle from A.Q. Shipley at the end of the game, obviously diving to get an injury timeout on Indy's garbage time drive.
Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt are good at football. Like Tom said, it was really noticeable that Indy was keyed in to the play-action game. Really surprising that Wayne was a complete non-factor. The Texans did not do much special in terms of coverage on him. Even left Brandon Harris on him in the slot a few times. In single coverage.
Houston's run defense was really problematic in this game. Vick Ballard was able to get the edge about four or five times, most of which I'd chalk up to Whitney Mercilus being a pin-your-ears-back rusher at this stage of his career. If the Texans miss Brooks Reed anywhere, it's in the run game.
Tom Gower: The Vikings go for it on fourth-and-1 in the red zone and convert on a Christian Ponder run, he then finishes the drive with a scoring scramble on third-and-goal. From what I saw, Adrian Peterson was finding Rams ready to tackle him in the backfield with regularity.
Vince Verhei: Peterson's carries today, in chronological order, by yardage: 4, -2, -2, -2, -1, -3, 8, 82.
Andy Benoit: Everson Griffen showed unbelievable athleticism on his pick-six of Sam Bradford. Just snagging the catch alone was impressive, he showed great burst and some change of direction on his return as well.
Rivers McCown: Griffen has just needed consistent playing time. If Brian Robison is out for the next couple of games, it could be a chance to see what Griffen can really do up front.
Rob Weintraub: Danny Amendola scores, spikes the ball hard, and it bounces up into the face of an usher, breaking his glasses. Amendola just walks away.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, I doubt he even realized that was happening. What he's supposed to be looking at the ushers for?
Rob Weintraub: Amendola catches a two-point conversion, then proves he did indeed notice his spike from earlier as he hands the ball to an usher in recompense. Snag was, it was the wrong dude.
Actually, I'm calling them ushers as a catch-all for "stadium employees."
Matt Waldman: Love what I'm seeing from David Wilson the past two weeks -- much more security-conscious with the ball. He's also running hard and willing to bounce a run back to the inside and get his head down to gain positive yardage. He had two nice gains outside on the Giants' second drive, but the offense fails to capitalize partially due to Eli Manning overthrowing some receivers. Lawrence Tynes misses a medium-range field goal that would have made it 7-3.
Nice little slant-and-go to Harry Douglas up the left sideline, accented by Julio Jones as the outside receiver carrying out the appearance of a wideout screen on this twin alignment to bait the Giants defense. Douglas gets an easy catch and takes it to the Giants 12. Two plays later, Tony Gonzalez runs an out through three zone defenders on a well-timed throw for the touchdown. The Douglas play looked easy, the Gonzalez play looked difficult. Both were performed to perfection.
Aaron Schatz: We should point out that the rookie Jayron Hosley was the cornerback on Douglas there, starting in place of Prince Amukamara, and he's known for being overaggressive. Just got killed on that play.
Matt Waldman: We should add further that he got hurt on the play.
Nice to see Hakeem Nicks run past Asante Samuel on a deep post despite the cornerback playing 10 yards off the line. Manning overthrew the ball, but that's a good sign that Nicks is feeling a little better. I wouldn't be surprised if Samuel didn't anticipate Nicks being this healthy and underestimated the receiver. However, Samuel never recovered and was about 20 yards from doing so.
Manning throws his second interception, this time a great, diving catch on an undercut by free safety Thomas DeCoud in the middle zone near the right hash. The target was Nicks and the ball was placed to Nicks' body rather than leading the receiver.
Aaron Schatz: Let the record state that I think that Tom Coughlin made the right decision on both fourth-down attempts in the second quarter. Again: Process, not outcome. They both failed, but that doesn't mean these attempts would fail 100 percent of the time, any more than Mike Smith's decisions and the Falcons' failures in last year's Giants-Falcons playoff game mean that the Falcons would fail 100 percent of the time. I don't even have too much of a problem with the playcalls, although I think Manning -- yes, even Eli Manning -- could have tucked the ball and gotten enough yards for the first down instead of throwing to a covered Victor Cruz on the second attempt.
If this game comes down to three points, the announcers will talk about the three points the Giants didn't get, but they won't talk about how the Falcons would be forced to try to come back if the Giants had gotten seven.
Moose Johnston noted this already, but I should also say that the Falcons' secondary looks remarkably prepared for this game. They're around the ball constantly, they seem to have a great idea of how the Giants receivers will react to certain coverages and where Manning will be throwing the ball.
This doesn't change anything our numbers have said about the Falcons up to this point, but kudos to them, this may be the best game they've played all season, even better than the game where they picked off Peyton Manning a thousand times in the first half.
Andy Benoit: Jones ran right by Hosley for a long touchdown early in the second half. Jones might be the best-looking straight-line runner in the NFL. Absolutely no wasted motion.
Rob Weintraub: John Abraham just punched the ball out of Kregg Lumpkin's hand about 25 yards downfield, which may set a distance record to match Peanut Tillman's accuracy record in that particular discipline.
Rivers McCown: Kregg Lumpkin always makes me think of General Tragg. Also, the Giants would need an influx from Dimension X to win this game now.
Aaron Schatz: I was thinking about this game on the way down and what went wrong for the Giants. Manning had a bad game, definitely, but also it seemed like the Giants pass rush was absent all day. Sure enough, I just checked, Matt Ryan only sacked once.
Aaron Schatz: The Ravens are all over Peyton Manning early, despite the injuries, and the pressure is making him surprisingly inaccurate.
Andy Benoit: The Ravens offense doesn’t appear to have much rhythm early on. Some hints of boo birds in Baltimore. Coming soon: Fire Jim Caldwell chants!
Aaron Schatz: Four drives, no first downs, but we should give some of that credit to the Denver defense. For example, they stripped Joe Flacco early. On the last drive, the Ravens ran a bootleg where Vonta Leach blocked and then leaked out for a pass, and two Denver defenders read it perfectly and were right on top of Leach when he caught the ball.
Vince Verhei: Yes, that Moreno run was amazing. The game as a whole, less so. First quarter saw seven punts and a field goal which was set up when Flacco fumbled on a sneak on third-and-1. Manning, as noted, has played surprisingly poorly. The Ravens have no first downs and have spent most of the first quarter throwing dumpoffs to guys who are surrounded by Broncos. Common sense would tell you that there must be opportunities downfield, but Flacco has yet to try anything deep.
Ravens finally get some offense, thanks largely to a 40-plus-yard deep ball to Jacoby Jones. They hit the red zone and it looks like they're going to score and make a game of this, but Chris Harris picks Flacco off and runs it back for the slowest 98-yard pick-six ever. Flacco nearly ran him down from behind. It's 17-0 and the game feels over at halftime. That 17-point lead may as well be 70 the way the Ravens offense is playing.
Andy Benoit: Flacco held the ball too long on the play. The Ravens are booed off the field at halftime.
On Baltimore's next possession, they lose yards on a three-and-out. Is Cam Cameron the offensive equivalent of Juan Castillo?
Matt Waldman: I will add that Decker had a nice stutter move just after his release that froze Williams, which is why he got free.
Andy Benoit: It might be too little too late, but Dennis Pitta’s second touchdown was a tremendous exhibition of tackle-breaking. He shed three different defenders near the sideline.
Tom Gower: Pitta's second touchdown cuts the margin to 34-16. The Ravens kick the extra point with about four minutes to play, because of course they do.
Danny Tuccitto: Greetings from Sun Life Stadium, where it's a predictable 3-3 after one quarter. Biggest play of the game so far was a 38-yard catch and run by Justin Blackmon -- on a shallow cross. Love seeing Jacksonville try to get him the ball in space by running him across the middle.
Incidentally, the section directly in front of me has more jerseys of former Dolphins than current ones. Here's a sampling:
And my personal favorite...
7) Nat Moore
Tom Gower: I'm sorry, but you'll have to do a lot to top the Kevan Barlow 49ers jersey somebody was wearing at the Titans-Packers preseason game I went to a couple years ago.
Danny Tuccitto: Weird sequence at the start of the second quarter. Blackmon catches a touchdown over R.J. Stanford on a wheel route, but it gets called back because of a procedural penalty on Guy Whimper. Two plays later he catches another pass at the first-down marker, but is barely out of bounds. After a Chad Henne scramble, Mularkey goes for it on fourth-and-1 at the 11-yard line. Quarterback sneak doesn't get there (and was so short the refs didn't even bother measuring).
Guy Whimper penalty extravaganza continues. Jaguars in the middle of putting a nice little two-minute drive together. They get all the way to the Miami 38-yard line with over a minute left in the half. Holding on Whimper, and they end up having to punt.
We have progress in Miami! First "Reggie Bush screws up stretch play" doesn't happen until the beginning of the third quarter.
Rob Weintraub: The worst fake field goal ever was just attempted in Miami, where the punter stood up and tossed one about 20 yards out of bounds.
Danny Tuccitto: Up 13-3 near the end of the third quarter, Miami has fourth-and-1 from the Jaguars 13-yard line. Dolphins fans smell blood in the water. Philbin doesn't, and kicks the uber-meaningless field goal. Crowd boos him mercilessly.
A few minutes later, now it's Jacksonville's turn. "Mad" Mike Mularkey goes for it on fourth-and-1 at the Miami 15. Fails again, which makes the Jaguars 0-for-2 on the day. (Leaguewide conversion rate is 71.8 percent.)
No idea if there's a backstory I don't know about, but when there's a penalty on the opponent, the Miami PA plays the little guitar intro from "Jackass." Are they basically calling the offending player a jackass?
Tom Gower: Mike "I took less money to play close to my family, but feel free to call it a revenge game anyway" Tolbert has two early scores for the Panthers, who take a quick 14-0 lead. The first came after Cam Newton converted fourth-and-1 from the 2, and the second after the ball slipped out of Philip Rivers' hand when he cocked his arm. There was an audible cheer when the refs signaled that the Panthers had recovered the fumble. The game's being played in San Diego. Yup, that kind of season.
Andy Benoit: The Chargers are down 20-0 just like that. They’d be hearing it from the home crowd, except there is no home crowd.
Ben Muth: The Lions muff a punt and it's Cardinals ball on the Detroit 5. Arizona could get their first touchdown in 11 quarters.
Beanie Wells punches it in on first down for the touchdown. (He may have fumbled, but inconclusive evidence isn't enough to overturn the call on the field.)
Patrick Peterson picks off Matthew Stanford throwing from his own end zone. That's Peterson's fourth consecutive game with a pick. He returned it to the two and Wells scored two plays later.
Arizona's two touchdown drives have combined for seven yards.
Andy Benoit: Peterson physically dominated Calvin Johnson on that pick, technique-wise, anyway.
Ben Muth: Stafford throws the ball right to Rashad Johnson who takes it back for a touchdown. For those wondering what it would take for the Cardinals to score 21 points in a half, we have our answer.
Stafford has looked awful. He's been hit hard, and as a result, he's been inaccurate. Plus, he's tried to force a lot of balls to Megatron.
Speaking of Johnson, I like what Arizona has done on him so far. They've lined up Peterson on him when he's aligned outside and given safety help over the top. When Johnson is in the slot, the Cardinals have bracketed him right off the snap. Great job of forcing someone else beat you.
Peterson left the game with cramps, but returned a series later. His first play back, Johnson beat him on a fade for a 30-yard gain. That's Megatron's seventh straight game with 100 yards receiving, which ties an NFL record.
Stafford takes a delay of game that nullifies a touchdown pass. The very next play, he throws another pick-six. He has now thrown as many touchodwns to Cardinals players this season as John Skelton and Ryan Lindley combined. Tim Ryan is theorizing he may have a concussion. It has been a bad day for Stafford.
Tom Gower: The Cardinals' four touchdowns have eight yards of offense associated with them: five-yard drive, three-yard drive, and a pair of pick-sixes.
Aaron Schatz: He's not playing today, but since we haven't had much chance to say his name this year with the rest of his team sucking, I'll add that Muhammad Wilkerson might be fourth.
Mike Kurtz: Dallas's offensive line is just mauling Pittsburgh's defense. Aside from one missed blitz pick-up, the Steelers haven't been doing anything in the pass rush or against the run.
Andy Benoit: James Harrison is dropping into coverage in the flats a lot. Some of it is part of the zone-blitz design, but it happened about four times in first quarter.
Tight end James Hanna is a fairly integral part of the offense early on. There's a lot of versatility to him, and he moves pretty well. This is a good time to use him because they’re splitting him into the slot and commanding, via formation and personnel, that Harrison follow him there, getting him isolated in coverage. Hanna could become an Aaron Hernandez-type for the Cowboys. It’s too early to say, obviously, but intriguing skill set.
Steelers brought in fringe defensive back Robert Golden at safety in red zone, Tony Romo immediately went after him with play-action against his zone, he was frozen. Touchdown Jason Witten. Good play call based on the Steelers formation.
Matt Waldman: Hanna is interesting, but from what I studied of him I don't think he has near the same agility around the ball or after the catch. Hernandez-type is a good descriptor though. He's in the town, just not necessarily in the neighborhood.
Mike Kurtz: Ben Roethlisberger keeps short-arming short throws to the running back, resulting in worm-burners. It's uncharacteristic and very bad, it's cost them at least one first down thus far.
Of course, more ineffective running up the middle with your late-round running back behind your replacement-level offensive line doesn't set you up well for success.
Andy Benoit: Mike Wallace showed good route execution on his 60-yard catch in the third quarter. He drew quarters coverage and executed his break near the border of Danny McCray’s zone, while also running directly at him. He distorted the coverage a bit, and caused McCray to get flat-footed.
The Steelers running game has had most of their success running draws out of shotgun. Mostly ineffective on normal runs. With the Cowboys not blitzing much, the Steelers offense has expanded vertically. Roethlisberger had four straight completions of 20 or more yards in the second half.
Mike Kurtz: Lewis is now injured. Steelers are down to defensive back number nine.
Andy Benoit: Sean Lissemore's huge sack came on one of the few Cowboys blitzes. It was a cross blitz inside, Lissemore got through the B-gap. On the following play, Anthony Spencer and Lissemore got in for a sack with a weak-side twist. Two rushers beat three blockers; extremely well-executed.
Ben Muth: The first sack was a complete clusterf*ck up front for Pittsburgh. Hard to tell who messed up but my guess is David DeCastro in his first start. The second sack was due to dumb play calling. Why run play-action in that situation? Puts your offensive line in a horrible position to pass off any games, like the end/tackle twist the Cowboys ran.
Aaron Schatz: Third-and-26, Antonio Brown catches the ball for 11 yards just to gain field position for the punt, then goes out of bounds, thus saving Dallas a timeout. Not good thinking.
That ends up not mattering because the Cowboys can't convert after a great long punt return, and they choose to punt instead of kick a 61-yard field goal or go for it on fourth-and-4 at the Steelers' 43. Probably the right call.
Brandon Carr justifies his signing with one play! And, um, Mike Wallace, why didn't you try to touch him when he was on the ground after the interception? You didn't even dive to try to tackle him when you were chasing him down the field after you finally realized, gee, this guy seems to be returning this thing.
Andy Benoit: Apparently the Bills couldn't get their defense through customs.
Russell Wilson becomes the first Seahawks quarterback to rush for three touchdowns in a game. The third one came off read-option.
Ben Muth: Pete Carroll is faking punts when he's up 30. I don't mind a team running up the score, in fact, I enjoy it. But, if I were Chan Gailey, I might be wondering what Carroll's deal is.
Aaron Schatz: At halftime, the Chiefs have 17 total yards. Brady Quinn is 8-for-12 for 35 yards. That is some serious Captain Checkdown action right there. They have minus-2 rushing yards. Did somebody kidnap Jamaal Charles?
Tom Gower: With the help of defenseless receiver and pass interference calls, the Chiefs get to goal-to-go. Then, on fourth-and-goal from the 4, they pick up a delay of game call. On fourth-and-goal from the 9, Romeo Crennel still elects to go for it with 2:30 to play in the third, but the Raiders get pressure and Matt Cassel dumps it off to a not-uncovered Charles at the 9.
The Chiefs punt on fourth-and-15 from the Raiders 42. Darren McFadden fumbles a reception on the next play and the Chiefs take over at the 18. Offensive pass interference, eight-yard completion on a dumpoff, underthrown (maybe killed) swing pass roughly five yards downfield, pass to receiver 15 yards downfield that ends up five yards short under pressure, and incomplete to a not-open Jon Baldwin on end zone thrown under pressure. I'm pretty sure I'd take Matt Leinart over Quinn.
Aaron Schatz: Pats do very little on their first two drives. Lots of pressure on Tom Brady. Only five pass blockers isn't going to cut it with these San Francisco end-tackle stunts. Too much room for confusion, like on the Aldon Smith hit that caused Brady's incomplete on third down of the second drive, two guys blocking one defender with another going free.
Danny Tuccitto: Given the elements and the "trying to keep New England's offense off the field" idea, the Niners first drive was way more pass-heavy than I would have thought. Can't argue with the results, though.
Ben Muth: The last few weeks, Nate Solder's punch has almost completely disappeared.
Justin Smith gets away with a massive hold on a tackle/end stunt on the second drive of the game.
Tom Gower: We're not halfway into the first quarter, and already this has been a more eventful game than almost all of the non-Dallas-Pittsburgh games combined, what with the Brady fumble that wasn't, the Randy Moss touchdown, Carlos Rogers's pick and Brady's tackle, and now Delanie Walker's fumble.
Mike Kurtz: Considering that horrible loss for the Steelers(in a very good game), all I can wish for is that New England shuts down Michael Crabtree to get me into my fantasy championship.
Aaron Schatz: Around the second Colin Kaepernick dropped snap, I realized that this game may be decided by fumble luck.
Great fake punt call by San Francisco. Kyle Arrington was moving backwards at the snap, and the 49ers upback ran right into that space.
Lots of pointing by the Patriots before each 49ers offensive snap. I wonder if that means they are a bit confused by San Francisco's constantly-shifting formations.
David Akers honks a field goal. Feels like this should be 21-0, somehow it is just 7-0.
Danny Tuccitto: Perhaps Harbaugh shouldn't be running a draw on third-and-7.
Rivers McCown: We have a tremendous class of young quarterbacks, Brady and Manning are having superb seasons, Peterson could break the rushing record, Megatron could break Jerry Rice's receiving record, three sophomore defensive players are in a crazy battle for Defensive Player of the Year that probably ends with Michael Strahan's sack record going down.
So why does it feel like field-goal kicking is worse than ever? I can think of at least three contenders we've discussed (GB, HOU, and SF) that could be way more competent there.
Aaron Schatz: Not only do I think it would be the proper strategy for Harbaugh to go for it on fourth-and-inches to start the second quarter, I think this might be a good time for an early dagger shot. You know your guys can beat the Pats defensive backs, they'll be heavy up on the line, maybe this is the time to go play-action and try to get up top and get the touchdown.
Danny Tuccitto: San Francisco's touchdown to go up 14-3 came on a wheel route, which provides a perfect opportunity to link to Andy's write-up back in October. The second screencap is the exact same route combination by Vernon Davis (seam) and Walker (wheel) from a two-tight-end right formation.
Tom Gower: Apparently Jim Harbaugh saw the same thing somebody (Ben? Somebody on Twitter?) pointed out earlier about LaMichael James' lack of decisiveness on these runs, as I believe we're getting a lot more Frank Gore of late. (I write this in the mid-second quarter right after that entirely-too-complicated non-touched punt officiating adventure).
Aaron Schatz: First, to explain for anyone still confused about the muffed/not muffed punt: The main reason for confusion was that the refs announced the penalty as being on 57 of the kicking team, which would be the Patriots, except they don't have a 57. Therefore they not only had to review whether or not the ball hit the punt returner's leg, they also had to figure out who the holding penalty was on.
Once they realized the penalty was on the 49ers, not the Patriots, they have two options:
1) punt muffed by 49ers: Patriots get ball at spot of recovery, decline penalty.
2) punt did not touch 49ers player: 49ers get ball where Patriots first touched it, then go backwards 10 yards due to penalty.
The review showed the punt did not touch him, therefore option two.
Pats look really bad. Brady's shaky and it isn't just the pressure. Even when the pressure is light, he seems off. Receivers have also dropped a couple of balls. Pats got lucky when Moss decided to commit offensive pass interference, because I was expecting a Kaepernick bootleg run from the 4 and that run made it 10 yards from the 14, so it probably would have scored from the 4. This thing is still a ballgame at 21-7, but it doesn't feel like it should be.
Danny Tuccitto: As a frequent critic of Rogers' coverage in the slot, I have to say I'm shocked -- shocked! -- that Wes Welker went catchless in the first half.
Ben Muth: Seems like this Pats-Niners game is another disappointing blowout in a week full of them. This is probably the most shocking one too.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah. Patriots are getting outplayed and getting bad bounces. Bad play + bad luck = blowout.
Last week I had to explain to Patriots fans on Twitter that one big win over Houston didn't guarantee the Pats a Super Bowl championship. This week I have to explain to Patriots haters on Twitter that one big loss to San Francisco doesn't prove the Patriots are "frauds." You know, because teams that lose in the regular season never win the Super Bowl.
Danny Tuccitto: Am I the only one who thought the quarterback sneak was a dead giveaway when New England spread it out on fourth-and-goal with Brady under center -- and San Francisco's linebackers lined up four yards deep in the end zone?
Ben Muth: Patriots with the center circle back protection I diagrammed two weeks ago. Welker blocked for a bit before releasing to the flat where he was wide open for a first down.
Aaron Schatz: Pats ran this play against Houston for a big gain too, except that one was a pass to the single wide receiver deep, not to the tight end (which in this case was Welker, not a guy rostered as a tight end) leaking out.
Wow. Now 31-17, fourth quarter, Patriots driving. This has become a game again. Wait, no. Patriots 31-24 because I was interrupted in mid-e-mail by a couple of strange defensive pass interference calls. First there was not a DPI called on a pass I thought was definitely a DPI, but was ruled uncatchable. Then the Patriots did draw a DPI because the defender tripped up Brandon Lloyd on a pass I thought was more uncatchable than the other one. I've been complaining all year about officials throwing a DPI flag when the pass was uncatchable and now I'm just confused.
I'm not quite sure how the Patriots have gotten back into this thing. I mean, we knew their offense could score quickly, but where did the 49ers defense go? I wonder if the injury that Justin Smith suffered earlier in this game is part of the issue?
Ben Muth: Guess I spoke too soon with the blowout talk.
Aaron Schatz: Even though I'm a Pats fan, I'm kind of worried about how Rivers and Tom would have to console Danny if the Pats actually complete this comeback. Actually, Rivers is probably too young to even remember what that felt like.
Aaron Hernandez has the yips tonight. When I said something about a bad bounce after the Brady interception that went off Hernandez's hands, people on Twitter said they thought it was alligator arms instead. I don't know about that, but he must have at least three drops, plus that play.
Rivers McCown: Actually, the day that game happened, I was at a friend's house and could not understand why all the adults were angry. Also, I think I was playing SimCity.
Danny, the Patriots are an unstoppable soul-crushing machine and there is no way they won't complete this comeback.
Tom Gower: Biggest regular season comeback is 28 points, by a young Joe Montana. This would match that.
I'll spare you the family travails related to my not viewing of almost all of the first half of that game.
Aaron Schatz: It is now 31-31. The Patriots even hit the long bomb to Brandon Lloyd that they've been waiting pretty much the whole season for. Why are the 49ers not getting pressure anymore? This can't all be Justin Smith, right? Where are the T-E stunts? Can't the backup run a tackle-end stunt with Aldon Smith?
Tom Gower: I don't know what to say about this comeback. Even when it was 31-3, though, it wasn't boring in the same way that, say, Carolina-San Diego got boring quickly, and we've seen a lot of what New England can do. Of course, as I'm typing this, Kaepernick finds Crabtree for a long touchdown to retake the lead. This game is nuts.
Aaron Schatz: The Pats blitz and -- I think, I may be wrong -- get caught in zero-coverage, and Crabtree twists around Kyle Arrington and goes 38 yards untouched.
Danny Tuccitto: Just have to say, Vic Fangio should forfeit his paycheck this week. The last quarter-and-a-half has been the most vanilla defense I've seen since Tom Olivadotti was "preventing" wins left and right in Miami.
Aaron Schatz: The James kickoff return and Crabtree touchdown catch are great examples of how the concept of in-game momentum is total nonsense.
Danny Tuccitto: Obviously, I agree with you, but I'm guessing you might get a counterargument that goes something like, "What about that 28-0 run?"
Rob Weintraub: A wee bit conservative, there, no, given that Akers is your kicker?
Aaron Schatz: Great game. Obviously I would have preferred my team won, but it feels better that they weren't slaughtered. I think this game showed that the 49ers are very good, the Patriots are also very good but weren't quite as good tonight, and that there will be a lot of mistakes and mishandled balls when the weather is a cold, drizzly mess.
Tom Gower: And with tonight's win, I believe the NFC clinches a winning record in interconference play for the second consecutive season. First time that's happened since 1994 and 1995.
192 comments, Last at 21 Dec 2012, 6:44pm by dbostedo