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21 Jan 2013

Audibles: Conference Championships

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.

Sunday, January 20

San Francisco 49ers 28 at Atlanta Falcons 24

Rivers McCown: Happy birthday, Danny.

Danny Tuccitto: Thanks, Rivers. Win or lose, it's a great gift to be in Atlanta for this one. (I so don't mean that at all. Niners lose and today sucks.)

Tom Gower: I'm not sure what exactly got him, the fake, the move, or what, but Dashon Goldson really got flat-footed on the Julio Jones touchdown to open the game. Also, three Falcons first downs, three Falcons runs, five total yards on first down.

Rivers McCown: When the 49ers drew up that smoke play to Michael Crabtree on first down, I'm sure they envisioned Asante Samuel sitting him down immediately for one yard.

Mike Kurtz: It is interesting that San Francisco deferred. I think they're hoping the crowd noise at the start of the second half will be easier to deal with than at the opening kickoff.

Tom Gower: Naturally, Atlanta come out throwing on first downs the next series. Breaking tendencies when your tendency is something that's not working is something I can get behind.

Danny Tuccitto: Not a good start for the Niners. One positive for them is that Vernon Davis was basically running alone through the middle of Atlanta's zone on the third-down pass Thomas DeCoud broke up. If they're going to let him do that, he could have a decent day.

Mike, the crowd noise on that first Niners drive was ridiculous. I've been to the Superdome for a 49ers road game -- admittedly, before the Payton/Drew Brees era -- but this is orders of magnitude louder.

Aaron Schatz: Cue the "where was this Atlanta defense in (fill in bad Atlanta game here)" comments. They've got everyone covered, it seems, and Corey Peters just beat Mike Iupati to sack Colin Kaepernick. Also, where's the zone read?

Ben Muth: Looks like San Francisco is going with a silent count even when Kaepernick is under center. That's crazy.

Falcons are doing a nice job of always sending three guys to contain the Smiths. Usually sliding towards them so the center can help, but mixing in a few chips from backs as well. I expect to see the 49ers to start blitzing the offense's right side soon.

Tom Gower: I know, this is Captain Obvious-level, but Jones has been awesome. The move on Goldson for the first touchdown, the ball he basically ripped away from Goldson (I think), and then that second touchdown catch. Heck, he even caught the ball (but didn't get his feet in) on the play he knocked over the security guard. I was with Playmaker Score in doubting him some coming out of Alabama. I was wrong.

Vince Verhei: The original version of Playmaker didn't like Jones because his touchdown total at Alabama was so low, but the new version accounts for Combine performance and receiving yardage, and Jones was excellent in those categories. I did a rush job on that piece for last year's book and didn't have time to look at everyone, but I think I'm going to start on it this year the week after the Super Bowl and try to get everyone in there.

Aaron Schatz: Lots of handchecking on that deep Jones touchdown, but it is hard to out-physical Julio Jones. Explain to me again why Alabama didn't throw to this guy more?

It's time to test that "San Francisco's offense is not built to come back from a big deficit" theory.

Vince Verhei: The real question is why they didn't throw to him in the red zone more. His yards-per-team-pass were excellent.

Danny Tuccitto: I don't know if Tarell Brown can cover any better than that. Also, this conditional phrase from the preview is haunting me right now: "...unless White or Jones has a legendary performance..." I'll go out on a limb, and say that six catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns six seconds into the second quarter qualifies as legendary.

Didn't put this in the preview because it's mostly small sample size theater (especially with Kaepernick), but SF's offense was 25th in DVOA when losing big (-21.3%), while ATL's D was third when winning big (-23.9%).

Mike Kurtz: I think it's way too early to start considering that sort of data. The second quarter just started.

Ben Muth: After running the ball twice in the first quarter, never on first down, San Francisco opens the second quarter with four straight runs, leading to their first two first downs of the game.

Danny Tuccitto: As I was saying ... Davis just ran free across the middle of Atlanta's zone again. This time, DeCoud wasn't close enough to make a play on the ball.

Mike Kurtz: I'd have to look at the play again, but it seems to me that Kroy Biermann was responsible for decking the runner/keeping the option inside, but he was worried about Kaepernick and not his assignment. That hesitation gave up the edge and the play was over.

From what I saw live.

Ben Muth: Feeling pretty good about myself right now, since I called that first 49ers touchdown play (Inverted Power Veer) on Twitter Thursday.

Rivers McCown: Atlanta's plan to not really cover Davis seems to be working out poorly in this quarter.

Wheel route!

Aaron Schatz: Wait, wheel route? Are you sure? Did someone tell Stephen Nicholas? Because he's looking in the backfield for something else, apparently.

There really is no pass rush from San Francisco today. None. Barnwell's sitting next to me here, he thinks we're seeing Justin Smith still injured.

Mike Tanier: Well they did show them fiddling with Smith's brace a lot. Also note how well Jason Snelling and the fullback have blocked in the backfield against pass rushers.

Danny Tuccitto: From my vantage point, they've hurried Matt Ryan a few times. I would say the pass rush is under-performing, but it does at least exist.

Ben Muth: I'd say it's more that Ryan's first read seems to be open every play.

Mike Kurtz: And even if they aren't, they stick the catch.

Vince Verhei: Quick Reads alert! San Francisco gave up 6.1 yards per pass attempt this year. Only Pittsburgh (really!) was better. At halftime, Ryan is at 11.3 yards per pass.

Anyone else notice Atlanta going to a 3-4 when San Francisco uses a pistol?

Aaron Schatz: I think a lot of that is John Abraham standing up, but generally rushing the passer just like he usually does. That's been a big problem for us in game charting this year, as a number of teams that are generally considered 4-3 have used stand-up ends who are really ends and not outside linebackers, but look like outside linebackers.

Tom Gower: Yeah. It also hasn't been just on the pistol plays, as they did it on the drive to open the second half, when Kaepernick was under center, as well.

Ben Muth: Good thing the Falcons got the momentum back with that two-minute drill at the end of the first half. 49ers might have scored two touchdowns on that opening drive if they still had their first-half momentum.

Last week 49ers ran almost all their zone reads towards the weak side. This week they're much more balanced, running it towards the strength of the formation too to keep Atlanta honest.

Benjy Rose: Anyone else notice that the Alex Boone flinches offsides on nearly every offensive play? This is after he taps the center and either during or right after the center's head nod.

Rivers McCown: So we're not going to call obvious pushoffs by Atlanta receivers ... but we are going to drop the personal foul flag when someone grazes Kaepernick's helmet. Makes sense.

Mike Kurtz: He caused his helmet to move. That's going to get called every single time and it really, really shouldn't surprise anyone who writes about football.

Rivers McCown: Oh I'm not surprised. Just think it's a bad precedent.

Mike Kurtz: It's not so much precedent as it is explicitly laid out in the rules. Any contact to the helmet has to be extremely minor (lack any force) to not be a foul.

Ben Muth: Do people still not understand how the Zone Read works? I'm seeing people criticize the 49ers on Twitter for not calling more Kaepernick runs. Don't recall people criticizing Tom Osborne just because Tommy Frazier happened to pitch the ball.

Aaron Schatz: Part of it may be NFL fans who aren't used to the idea of the option.

49ers demonstrate why you go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 without actually doing so. They fumble the ball on the 1, but get the ball back in really good field position, and just score the go-ahead touchdown on the next drive.

Danny Tuccitto: Niners (finally) take the lead with 8:23 left, and I'm showing zen-like self-control so as to not violate the no-cheering rule in the press box. You must have a ton of experience with this, Aaron. How do you deal?

Aaron Schatz: What you need is a calm acceptance that you can't control things on the field, and the ability to just smile wide and quietly. The harder thing to take is if your team blows it late.

Danny Tuccitto: I'll get back to you on that last part in about 20 minutes.

Rivers McCown: My plan is to just root for a team that will always disappoint me. Your mileage may vary.

Ben Muth: Bruce Miller seems to be having a really good game. Seems like he's always locked onto a Falcons linebacker.

Danny Tuccitto: After the Niners take the lead, they start getting even more pressure on Ryan, but he continues to throw dime after dime, and any inch of inaccuracy is made up for on the other end by Roddy White, Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. It's really impressive considering the stats regarding pressure vs. no pressure that I cited in the preview.

Mike, please explain how that Harry Douglas reception wasn't overturned ... FOR MY SANITY.

Mike Kurtz: The ball moved but his hand was under the ball and there's no evidence he used the ground to trap the ball and gain possession.

It's rough, but you can't overturn on that. Sorry Danny.

Aaron Schatz: I'll lean on the side of "not a catch" on Harry Douglas on the sideline but I do understand how it would not be overturned due to not having definite evidence. I thought the ball was jostling there, but I suppose you could say his hands were under it the whole time.

It was nice of the turf monster that attacked Carlos Rogers to also attack Douglas and keep him from scoring an easy touchdown, though.

Vince Verhei: Pereira actually got that one right, I think. There was a lack of conclusive evidence. Remember, the ball can touch the ground as long as he maintains control.

Wait, it's the two-minute warning already?! Man, that fourth quarter flew by.

Mike Kurtz: Atlanta in the red zone seems terrified of giving the ball back to San Francisco's offense. Which is kind of scary on both counts.

That said, they're playing to score a touchdown as time expires, and Atlanta's offense (running offense versus San Francisco's rushing defense) is just not good enough for this to be a good plan.

Aaron Schatz: Atlanta really took its time to try to prevent San Francisco from getting the ball back, but they didn't convert fourth-and-4. San Francisco had everyone covered. NaVorro Bowman was really physical with White in the middle of the field but I don't think that's illegal contact, I think that's safely within five yards.

We're also discussing here whether White might have not gotten the first down even if he had caught it. It looked like he came back a little bit to get the ball, much like Kevin Faulk in the Indianapolis-New England fourth-and-2 game, and a catch might have still ended up a yard short.

Mike Kurtz: The bigger play was immediately before, a sprint right that was very well-executed, but Ahmad Brooks made a great leap to knock the ball out. Outstanding play to force fourth down.

Tom Gower: Falcons receiver Drew Davis was blocking him (lined up in a bunch set) and couldn't keep his hands down.

Ben Muth: How do you take a delay of game after two timeouts?

Aaron Schatz: Well, everyone was waiting for a Kaepernick rookie mistake...

Vince Verhei: As Atlanta calls its last timeout, Joe Buck says Atlanta was forced to use its first timeout earlier when two receivers got confused. No, they CHOSE to use a timeout. They could have (and should have) just taken a delay-of-game penalty.

Tom Gower: Man, what a game. Interesting. The play where Ryan threw a pick, I really wonder why White fell down, whether he slipped, his legs got tangled, or Chris Culliver ran into him. Unless I missed it, FOX never showed a replay. Ryan's bobbled snap was just a bad play. I wonder if Gonzalez was as wide open as he thought he was on the fourth-down play. Why were the voids in Atlanta's zone that Vernon Davis found so big? was it the play-action drawing up the linebackers? One of the things Ryan did a good job of improving on this year was remaining calm and moving in the pocket. In the fourth quarter, it seemed like he was a bit skittish at times, bouncing around some, more like he looked in the past. I'm not sure how big a deal it was on his throws, which were for the most part very good and came out quickly, but it's something I noticed.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, and congrats Danny. It feels good I bet!

Danny Tuccitto: Can't say it didn't get a little dusty in here when the clock hit triple zeros. Niners come back from down 17 to advance to the Super Bowl on my birthday. Doesn't get much better than that.

Vince Verhei: Mike nailed it, I think, that Atlanta's plan was to win with a touchdown on the last play of regulation. I don't think (could be wrong) there was even a pass into the end zone on that last drive. There's two problems with that. First, your offense is not nearly efficient enough to think that you'll be able to pull that off. You've got to at least try for a big play, which was most of what you did right today. Second, if you believe your defense is crappy enough to blow a third fourth-quarter lead in eight days, well, I kind of think you deserve to lose.

Aaron Schatz: We also definitely answered the "Are the 49ers built to come back from a big deficit" question. If that big deficit all comes in the first half and they don't have to go to 100 percent passing, yeah, they can come back fine.

Andy Benoit: Early in the game, Ryan was as sharp as any quarterback could possibly be. The long touchdown strike to Jones was a fascinating play; it was one of the few occasions this season where San Francisco has gone to zone coverage. Goldson clearly wasn’t comfortable with the zone assignment. When the Niners went to their more customary two-man looks, the Falcons manufactured offense with bunch formations. They also incorporated play-action well, which is why they were willing to stick with their (mostly ineffective) run game.

The Niners’ pass-rush was mostly irrelevant thanks to Atlanta’s high volume of three-and five-step timing. When Ryan did go to a seven-step drop, the pressure tended to arrive. It was clear from the get-go that San Francisco could not handle Jones, White or Gonzalez. But the Niners were on the right end of the two turnovers and they got the huge pass deflection from Bowman to seal the game.

The Falcons did a good job eliminating Kaepernick’s runs. Problem was, it left them vulnerable against Frank Gore outside and on widened B-gaps out of the read-options. A clear "tell" in Niners play-calling: virtually every time Kaepernick made an adjustment at the line of scrimmage, it was a run play. That figures; San Francisco mostly tried to keep him with defined reads in the pass game (not a lot of reason to make pre-snap adjustments on pass plays that are defined reads). The Niners did a great job creating favorable one-on-one matchups for Davis. They did it with twin receiver sets opposite closed formations, so as to distort Atlanta’s zones.

Baltimore Ravens 28 at New England Patriots 13

Aaron Schatz: If you said "shades of the Super Bowl" after Wes Welker dove and narrowly missed a deep pass on third-and-2 on the Pats' first drive, you're ... just like pretty much everyone else.

Looks like the Ravens are moving Corey Graham around to cover Welker, but then leaving the outside cornerbacks on the outside no matter what. That's led to situations like Cary Williams covering Aaron Hernandez, or even Chykie Brown covering Michael Hoomanawanui

Ben Muth: Does Phil Simms really not understand what "stay on top" means for defensive backs?

Haloti Ngata has been better in the postseason then he was in the regular season this year. Not sure if he's just finally healthy or his off-and-on motor has just been more on than off in the playoffs. Whatever the reason, he's made a big difference.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots offense looks better than the results have been. They keep just missing plays, especially on third down, by inches. They got lucky on a third-and-2 though when the ball pinballed off the intended receiver and then into the hands of Paul Kruger, who couldn't hang on.

Aqib Talib being out with a hamstring pull (or something similar) is a real problem. They have Kyle Arrington on Torrey Smith now. That can't be good in the long term.

Mike Kurtz: Zoltan Mesko is apparently controlling a chess match. Of field position.

How does this I don't even

Aaron Schatz: Here is a summary of New England's touchdown drive in the second quarter.

Ravens: "Here is our nickel, please do not pass the ball."

Patriots: "OK, for the most part we're cool with that."

Ravens: "Now that you are on the goal line, we take it back, you can't run up the middle."

Patriots: "Alright then, we'll just put Welker and this ball where Graham has no chance to stop it."

Patriots make a mistake at the end of the first half when Tom Brady scrambles for a first down with 15 seconds left. He tries to line up the team instead of calling the final timeout, but it takes so long he has to call it anyway, which means they have to kick the field goal instead of having a shot or two at the end zone before needing to kick the field goal.

Danny Tuccitto: OK, so with less than a minute left in the first half, did I really just see Kruger in man coverage on Hernandez?

Then, a Brady scramble looks like he's trying to break up the double play with a spikes-up slide. If A.J. Pierzynski is watching, bet he just yelled at the TV, "Hey, I was ejected for less than that!"

Ben Muth: Brady's slide was pretty ridiculous. Ndamukong Suh liked it though.

Mike Kurtz: Now is the time to break expectations and throw on first down, guys. ... Guys?

Aaron Schatz: Great catch by Anquan Boldin to twist around and get the ball out of the air for 26 yards. This shows what happens when you are stuck playing your fourth corner. He had Marquice Cole all confused.

Ben Muth: Jim Caldwell saw Cam Cameron get fired for not giving it to Ray Rice and is determined not to go out like that at all costs. He is essentially the guy that sees a mugging and becomes an agoraphobic (had to look that up) so it never happens to him. This makes him a poor offensive coordinator.

Rivers McCown: Changing your offensive coordinator at midseason is the new market inefficiency.

Tom Gower: Coming into today's game, I did not expect the Patriots to punt inside the Baltimore 40 at all, let alone twice.

Aaron Schatz: Well, what do the rest of you feel about Belichick punting twice on fourth-and-long tonight from inside the Ravens' 40? Both times they were going against the wind, which I guess helps explain the decision to not go for the long field goal. And the second time, at least, they had the right play call on third down but Welker dropped it. I tend to get annoyed by punts that close in, but eight or nine yards is a long fourth down.

Here's the good piece that Chase Stuart wrote a few weeks ago about the issue of fourth-and-long in "no man's land"

Tom Gower: Yes, both times it was not short and going into the wind. Neither punt was close to clearly wrong, in my book.

Vince Verhei: Yes. He was damned either way, and they were able to pin Baltimore inside the 20, so it's not like the decisions backfired.

Mike Kurtz: On two plays, Simms has referenced the defenders as having the "perfect defense." Both plays were for 10-plus yards. Does Simms know what defense is? Is he confusing it with the offense?

Rivers McCown: As I did during Week 17's Texans-Colts game and again for this one, I urge you to utilize your SAP button when Phil Simms is involved.

Aaron Schatz: Long Baltimore drive makes it 14-13 in the middle of the third quarter after one of those Patriots punts. The Ravens finally go away from the run. Spread it out on every play, only ran once, I think, which was a draw to Bernard Pierce. Didn't even suggest run on other plays. Just pass, pass, pass. Arrington dropped a would-be Joe Flacco pick early on, but otherwise, pretty good drive for the Ravens.

When you want to take away the deep stuff, you usually have to leave the short middle open, and that's what's happening with the Pats defense in the third quarter.

Stevan Ridley fumble ... I thought he was down. I don't like how everything now gets called a recovery by the defense, and officials just hope that review will overturn their mistakes. I dunno, maybe that's just Pats homerism.

Mike Kurtz: It is, sorry Aaron. The ball hit his leg and he lost control before his posterior planted. Bang-bang play, but a good call.

Tom Gower: I thought he was down live and on the initial look, but a closer look at the replay made it clear to me the ball was out before he was down.

Vince Verhei: And Boldin gets another touchdown to put Baltimore up 28-13. New England, without Talib, can't cover anyone.

Sean McCormick: It's striking how much the no-huddle shotgun approach completely befuddled the New England defense. The rush dropped off, the tight ends were always open, the receivers started winning their match-ups, and the draw was suddenly very much in play. Surprising to see New England unable to adjust even for the second drive.

Aaron Schatz: Part of it is just that the Patriots were decidedly better at defending runs than passes this year. It was a huge gap.

Vince Verhei: You know, Baltimore's defensive game plan here seems remarkably similar to what the Giants used to beat New England in the Super Bowl last year: take away the deep ball, make your tackles on the short passes, and just wait for them to screw themselves with a dropped pass or penalty.

Ben Muth: Welker just ran a gorgeous out and up to beat Graham in the slot. Really pretty route that left Graham in the dust for a big gain.

And as I'm typing, Brady's pass is tipped at the line and intercepted.

Tom Gower: Results off tipped balls are random.

Aaron Schatz: Great play by Pernell McPhee there.

Tom Gower: I just took a gander at the Audibles from last year's conference championship games. Vince Wilfork's name was mentioned a lot. I have not noticed him much today.

Aaron Schatz: I think I can sum things up here with three thoughts. This isn't everything -- I agree that Wilfork didn't have one of his better games -- but I think these are the main issues today.

First, the Pats acquired Talib for a reason. Bringing him in at midseason really helped plug a huge, gaping hole on the defense. Once he went out early in this game, that pushed Arrington outside, where he isn't as good, and put Cole in the game; he's lousy. The Patriots became the Patriots of October, and the Patriots of October were not Super Bowl favorites.

Second, that wouldn't have mattered if the Ravens didn't make it happen. The Ravens made it happen, especially once they realized that the Patriots were much better against the run than the pass and they spread it out. Flacco made the throws. It was one of his better games, but it isn't like Flacco never had good games until the 2012 postseason.

Third, even if the Ravens made mistakes and Talib had not gotten injured, you still have to deal with the fact that the Pats offense made mistakes. Some of them were good defense by Baltimore, but a lot were unforced errors, with bad throws and dropped passes, and then the very unlucky fumble.

Mike Kurtz: The Ravens also did a very good job getting pressure on Brady when he did try to go long, and he was feeling it. Near the end of the game (the play before the interception, I believe) you could see Brady throwing an intermediate route and trying to shield himself as he's throwing it against a defender that was clearly not going to get there. The best way to beat the Patriots has always been to unsettle Brady, and despite the rather unimpressive rush numbers on paper, the Ravens did a great job getting into his head.

Aaron Schatz: I don't think they really did until the end of the game, though. Certainly not in the first half, and not much in the third quarter either.

Danny Tuccitto: Saw a stat from ESPN last night that said Kaepernick led the league in lowest "inaccurate throw" percentage, which I confirmed in the charting for incompletions they gave us. I bring this up because, in answering the question, "How did the best offense in the NFL just score 13 points at home against a mediocre defense?" I can't help but focus on how many inaccurate throws Brady made tonight. I know there were several drops and batted balls, but I can't remember the last time I saw him miss so many open guys. Obviously, the game-ending interception was a glaring underthrow, but there were plenty of others that killed New England (IIRC, Shane Vereen would still be running if Brady didn't throw it behind him on a dumpoff with 11 minutes left).

Vince Verhei: You know who deserves a ton of credit for his team winning today, whose name hasn't been mentioned? Ozzie Newsome. He built the whole team. He's the one who drafted Ray Lewis, and he's been there ever since.

Andy Benoit: We spend so much time focusing on matchups and game-planning and whatnot that we occasionally forget about the impact that just playing fundamentally sound football can have. The Ravens didn’t do anything tricky or crafty, they just lined up and out-physicalled the Patriots. Their linebackers were very good against the underneath game. And the entire defense was as prepared for the hurry-up as they self-assuredly claimed they’d be. All season the Patriots have killed teams in the red zone with the hurry-up. Tonight, they were utterly out-executed in the red zone. Some of that was their own doing (see: Brady’s clock management at the end of the first half).

The game changed when Talib went down. The Patriots still played their man coverages, but the domino effect had them overmatched, particularly inside, where Cole had his hands full against Boldin. It was interesting that the Patriots chose to put Talib on Boldin and commit double-team help on the other side against Smith. Even without Talib, that strategy worked. Two of Baltimore’s ancillary weapons really stood out: Dennis Pitta, who outperformed linebackers and defensive backs alike, and Pierce. Pierce is a very tough runner outside. He has great change-of-direction that comes almost exclusively from his feet (most good runners get their COD from their hips).

The Patriots, you could argue, made this a bit too easy on Flacco. From what I can recall, we didn’t see a single blitz from them until late in the second half. New England’s four-man rush generated nothing. Credit Flacco and his receivers, though. They made the various individual plays that the game plan’s heavy dose of isolation patterns called for.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 21 Jan 2013

180 comments, Last at 01 Feb 2013, 10:34am by bengt


by theslothook :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:19am

I hope Tom Brady's career serves as an important lesson as to why choking/its just wins is the worst sports reasoning ever. I guarantee, had brady had no rings or 1 sb to his name, he'd be labeled as a horrible choker right about now.

The baltimore ravens, like last years giants, are examples of the limitations of dvoa. I imagine stats across the board will heavily favor the 49ers, but honestly, this ravens team isn't at all indicative of their regular season quality. Why that is is mystifying, but it isn't just luck. Defensively, those no name corners have played so much better and paul kruger played really well today. Sometimes people just get better(flacco) and you just start to execute much better than you had all season. Or maybe it is all just bs variance.

by td (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:56am

Brady's team has scored 13,17,21(7 pts in garbage time),14, and 14 points in their eliminating losses since 2007, so, yeah, without the 'Brady is God' preexisting narrative, he'd be under a bit of scrutiny. Hell, a certain quarterback in Denver was charged with being an irredeemable choker just this week despite a ring and another near-miss, so i'm sure you're right

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:49am

Agree. The playoff losses have almost all come with the offense just not operating as it should, and some of that falls on Brady.

I'm beginning to think that an offense based on running the ball, and short passes, while fantastic against mediocre teams, has some issues once you get to the playoffs. The patriots have a lot of trouble in 3rd-and-long (which is something the ravens do well), and a single bad running play, or dropped ball, invariably ends up there.

by horn :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:13pm

I thought it was because Brady hasn't won a championship since Spygate. He hasn't even put up more than 2 TDs in any of their playoff losses since then, iirc.

In fact, he's lost to Eli 2x, Flacco 2x [both at home], and Sanchez! [home]. Not exactly a murderer's row of Favre, Bradshaw, and Montana.

Maybe Belicheating and Cap'n Video were more important to the Pats' success than Brady.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:21pm

Yes, the lack of covert video is what pinned a ball to David Tyree's helmet, and caused Eli Manning to throw a perfect pass 40 yrads downfield to a receiver on the sideline, before the safety could arrive.

Maybe people shoudn't draw strong conclusions about what produced the outcome of a few very tightly contested games.

by Kal :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:51pm

Yeah - I understand that when two teams play against each other they simply let the two QBs duel with swords, truncheons and bull whips in the center of the field. Brady getting whipped (literally) by Sanchez was a really unfortunate thing.

Couldn't have anything to do with the caliber of defenses he's playing against, right? Nope.

by Christopher (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:44pm

disagree...Brady DID win (3 times), so that takes away any sort of choker label x3. Easiest math ever. You basically said (let's assume the presidency was open ended) "well, he was president 3 times, but he keeps losing when he runs now, so he was never really president..."

by johonny (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:57pm

I totally agree. I remember how Tom Landry and Don Shula left the game as "losers" in the eyes of a lot of fans because they no longer could win the big game.I think we went through a sort of spoiled era where people like Jordan, Bradshaw, Aikman and Montana couldn't lose in the big game... people tend to ignore that even the Babe Ruth, Magic Johnson and Johnny Unitas lost big games at times.

I was going to say the Ravens Remind me a lot of the 2006 Cardinals, but now I'm not so sure. The DVOA says this team and last years team pretty close. I guess you could just say that the Ravens have sort of hung around as the AFCs fourth team for a long time now and even though their defense is in its waning years they're still sound enough to finally get through to another SB. In this case perhaps they are more like the 1979-1980 Steelers.

by MehlLageman56 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:57am

I just had to copy Aaron's statement: What you need is a calm acceptance that you can't control things on the field, and the ability to just smile wide and quietly. The harder thing to take is if your team blows it late.

So Zen. I just need to remind myself of this every time the Jets embarrass themselves and their fans. Take a deep breath and count back to ten, maybe you'll be alright.

by Sancho (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:17am

Nothing new, but I like it:


by theslothook :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:41am

Btw, I disagree, I don't think brady played any worse than usual. This time, the ravens tackled the short crosses and actually got some decent pressure on brady on third down. Remember, the pats offense is dink and dunk, so they face a ton of third and shorts. If you stop them, you end drives. In the end, a short passing offense has many many positives- controles tempo, tires out the defense, limits risky throws, gets you nice short yardage downs, but there are a few negatives- like how it requires you have enough time to run these high volume play drives and that you consistently execute your third downs. Deep throws may be far more hit and miss, but they require much less execution overall on your drives.

Btw- I felt really bad for Ryan. I thought he was really great today, just brilliant, but lets face it, there is a significant talent disparity between the falcons and the 49ers. The 49ers are so talented, that even when they play poorly for a half, they can still beat you. They really are that good.

by krugerindustria... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:35am

This may well be the minority opinion, but I was less than impressed with Ryan today. As was stated in the Audibles, his first read seemed open alot of the time and he hit that guy. With the exception of the 2nd Atl TD where Ryan put 2 balls into great spots for catches, it seemed like when he needed to squeeze a pass in there, it was off target.
Thinking about the first drive where roddy white went high for a ball and almost got torn in half. the play where the security guard got blind sided, etc. Only 2 examples I know, but they really seemed indicative of his play in the first half.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:53am

A lot of people are saying that the Pats' offense is "dink and dunk." That's not really true. But what are you going to do on a day when the wind is blowing at 30 MPH? Brady tried long passes and they did not stay on target. Flacco was a little better with the long pass, probably because that's really his specialty.

by MehlLageman56 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:04am

I think one of the keys was the lack of pressure on Flacco. The offensive mistakes matter, but more pressure would prevent the deep passes Flacco hurt them with. There are a bunch of edge rushers in this draft, they need to take a couple to add to Jones.
I also feel bad for Ryan, and Atlanta itself. That town's only got one championship in forever.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:57am

Yes, the lack of pass rush, and specifically the fact that Chandler Jones was standing on the sideline all day, hurt the Pats. Of course more pass rushers would help. Who wouldn't be helped by a better pass rush? But I think the Pats are closer to a solution there (i.e. a healthy Jones) than they are in the secondary, where they really need at least one more guy they can rely on. Arrington just isn't cutting it. Dennard and Talib seem decent, but as we saw, they need depth, too. Talib has already gone down twice in the brief time the Pats have had them. (And don't get me started on Dowling...)

by MehlLageman56 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:49pm

One more pass rusher to go with Jones will cover up the secondary a lot better. The Giants seem to be able to win Super Bowls without any solid players in the secondary. Once they got Talib, the Patriots seemed to be fine in the secondary, until yesterday. The real issue is whether they sign Talib, and if he causes problems once he has a long term contract.

by David :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:20pm

Arrington, went from great to lousy overnight. Bodden, a couple of years earlier, did the same. Is there something in the NE defense that causes this? A reliance on athleticism that can vanish quickly? Just randomness? And more importantly, will it affect Talib next year?

by beargoggles :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:42pm

Denver didn't get any pressure either and they supposedly have 2 elite pass rushers. So I think either the ravens offensive line really gelled or nobody's calling holding
In fact, is anybody getting any pass pressure?

by Kal :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:48pm

According to Ben Muth, there was a lot of holding in the Ravens Broncos game by the Ravens line.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:13am

Was rotinf fir falcons vs ravens super bowl butbwill take this. As long as no Broncos or Pates in there it okay.

D. Tuccitto in press box? Name change to Football Insiders thus yeat maybe?

by Treima :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:45am

As a Pats fan, I don't know what to say about today's game. The team I saw out there was just thoroughly outclassed for 60 minutes. The last time I saw that sort of display was the 2011 game against Pittsburgh where the Steelers physically abused New England in a similar fashion. It doesn't help when the opposing team rips off 10-15 YAC after every reception and your defenders are getting shaken out of their shoes repeatedly.

What I saw out there today, and what I know about the age and pending departure of some of this team's playmakers, doesn't make me very hopeful that that fourth ring will be coming for Tom Brady. He looked hot at the start of the game but eventually settled into a dreadful pattern of inaccurate throws, poor decision-making, and just plain bad luck. This is an event that has started occurring a little too often for my tastes over the course of the 2012 season.

All credit to the Ravens for a fantastic performance, and congratulations to their fans. I didn't think they had it in them after their trials in Denver, but I was completely wrong. John Harbaugh got that team ready to play in a big way. I think I'm going to rent out a nice cave far away from civilization for the next two weeks so I don't have to hear the hype, but again, congrats.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:52am

"As a Pats fan, I don't know what to say about today's game. The team I saw out there was just thoroughly outclassed for 60 minutes."

Including the first half where they pretty much walked up and down the field, and held the Ravens to 100 yards of offense?

I do agree that this sort of game seems all too often for Brady lately.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:00pm

I would say the Pats were clearly the better team for the first 15 minutes, the second 15 were even, and then the Ravens were clearly the better team in the 2nd half.

The Pats had some freakishly weird stuff go wrong in the 2nd half, but they also failed to capitalize early in the game when they were dominant. They should have had at least 20 points in the first half.

The two long (87 and 90 yard) TD drives by the Ravens killed any confidence the defense had.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:31pm

That cave thing works, I can testify. I never even saw the Super Bowl after last year's NFCCG, couldn't bear to, and I was hungry for football again just in time for the new season.

by Lance :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 1:39am

Re As a Pats fan, I don't know what to say about today's game. The team I saw out there was just thoroughly outclassed for 60 minutes, as someone else noted, this really seemed to be a tale of two halves, where Baltimore was lucky to not be down 21-7.

As for the cave thing-- I understand. When Dallas flopped (again) and failed to make the play-offs (again), I didn't check out and sports media for a week. Tough stuff.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 3:31pm

I'd love to know how much of Brady's inaccuracy was wind. He threw a horrible one hopper to Welker at one point that wouldn't have been on target if Welker had been at the LOS.

On the other hand, he also threw one of the best seam routes to Welker I've ever seen. Brady being inconsistent is not something to which we are used.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 3:39pm

His completion percentage this year in games without Gronkowski was under 60%. He had some accuracy issues all year.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 5:37pm

Tom Martinez passed away in February ... Brady used to go visit him every offseason to get his mechanics sorted. I wonder if there's any connection - you'd sort of think that after a decade throwing the ball Tom wouldn't lose it that much but ...

by mbm (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:21am

Anyone else sort of horrified at the sight of Ridley unconscious on the ground after a vicious spear by Pollard and everyone else fighting in a giant pile for the ball he dropped. Something is wrong when THAT is the reaction to a player nearly getting killed. I recall boxing matches on TV in the 60s and 70s when fighters were knocked out and everyone got a good look at the purpose of the sport, putting a fighter on the canvas flailing about and unable to get up. That did nothing good for Boxing. The Pollards of Football are doing similar harm. I was taught to keep my shoulder low and my head up when executing a block or tackle. Otherwise, how could I see what I was trying to hit and maintain control of my actions. Once a player drops his head and leads with the helmet, mayhem replaces control. It sure seems as if the player's sole concern then is delivering a blow. I understand the tactical value of "bringing the pain", which is how Boston.com describes Pollard's play, but it is an unacceptable danger to the players and the sport. Also, no turnover should be allowed when a player is knocked unconscious. When a player is KO'ed in the course of a play, action should cease immediately, if for no other reason than to protect the defenseless player, and any subsequent events should be nullified.

by BJR :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:31am

As I state below, the Ridley concussion was my lasting impression of the night. Injuries happen, but that was truly sickening. I didn't really care about the outcome after that.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:49am

I wrote a similar thing last night during the game in the open discussion thread. What bothered me so much wasn't the initial hit/injury, but that players were piling on a loose ball and knocking into Ridley and the medical staff as they tried to tend to him. If that had been a spinal injury, and they made it worse after the whistle because they were more concerned with the fumble than the life of an injured player, well ...

by acr :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:07pm

I doubt the players realized what happened to Ridley. They play until they hear a whistle or the play is clearly dead. In the AFC championship game I'm sure everyone's focus was on the loose ball and they had no idea Ridley might have been seriously injured.

by pavao13 :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:23am

I wouldn't really put that blow on Pollard. Ridley initiated the contact with his helmet. I was actually surprised that Pollard didn't get knocked out on that one.

by ima_pseudonym (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:39am

I would love to see them start ruling ball carriers who have been knocked unconscious have had their forward progress stopped (even if still on their feet). There is just something sickening about play continuing with an unconscious player on the field.

by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:26am

This would be hard to enforce, no? I could imagine a player pretending to be unconscious after a fumble, then popping right back up after they ruled his progress stopped.

by DL (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:35am

If the player is knocked out unconscious, it most certainly suffered a concussion. By current rules, that player would have to leave the game. I doubt somebody is going to give up the rest of the game to avoid a TO.

by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:37pm

I don't know if I'd trust the officials to determine whether someone is knocked out on a specific play. I think there are different reactions. For instance, Ridley was knocked out, but it didn't appear that was the case until he was on the ground. He was holding onto the ball until it hit his knee, so obviously he had some muscle control after the hit in order not to drop the ball.

If you want officials to determine this, that means you'd have the on-field officials conducting concussion tests to determine whether someone was knocked out and can come back in the game. If not, someone could fake getting knocked out on the field, and then go to the sidelines and pass a concussion test and come back in. If you don't want this, then the officials would literally have to conduct a concussion test after the play to get the results needed to make a decision.

by ima_pseudonym (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:40am

To simulate being KO'd on his feet, a runner would have to go completely slack and slump to the ground. Can't do it after the fact of a fumble to try to cover it up. Anyone who wanted to fake this, would of course, also be stopping their forward progress so it wouldn't really matter.

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:42pm

Rod Tidwell did it.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:19pm

Tidwell, as presented within the movie, actually was injured on the play, and only milked it after coming to.

by Guido Merkens :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:22pm

On the contrary, I think a lot of players would "go unconscious" to avoid a turnover, even if it meant they would miss the rest of the game. Unless you're talking about a guy like Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson, the dropoff from a starter to his backup is almost always going to be less than the value of a turnover in a key situation, particularly late in the game.

A more feasible solution would be to rule an automatic personal foul on any play where the defender leads with his helmet, whether or not the tackle is on a defenseless receiver. This would make irrelevant any fumble on the play, since the offense could just accept the 15 yard penalty from the spot.

by Tino (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:02pm

I don't think this could ever work, but I'm sure it would create some (amusing or irritating, depending on your viewpoint) flops like is seen in the NBA, like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h60uviwKC0

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 3:33pm

Brady already flops like a wet fish like an NBA player, and then pops up looking for an official like a Premier League wing. It's pretty funny if you're watching for it.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:41am

Spearing is leading with the crown. The only player crown-down on the Ridley-Pollard hit was Ridley. Pollard came in, facemask into the numbers, until Ridley ducked his head into the tackle. If anything, Ridley speared Pollard.

\Spearing is notable as being one of the few penalties called because it is primarily dangerous to the deliverer, not the recipient

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:02pm

The NFL really needs to stop thinking that the solution is to have better armor on the head. These helmets are being used as weapons. I have to think that they'd be better off converting to softer helmets.

by MehlLageman56 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:57pm

They would be better off converting to helmets with better padding, like the one Marc Kelso the Buffalo safety wore in the 90s. Gregg Easterbrook has written about helmet improvements a lot, and implored high schools and colleges to switch to them. NFL players are not mandated to wear these new safer helmets, and most prefer the older, more dangerous ones simply because they don't look 'cool'.

by David :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:31pm

Road cyclists never used to wear helmets - partly because of the 'dork' factor. They are now mandatory in most road races (apart from sometimes on the final section if it is an uphill finish), and most riders are so used to them that they won't go out without them. The attitude can change overnight (or within a couple of years), but it usually requires mandating, so that everyone makes the switch at the same time

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:10pm

I never really understood the "It doesn't look cool" argument ... I mean have you seen some of the stuff people wear as fashion ... onesies for instance at the moment. But really I can't see much wrong with Kelso's helmet - it looks like an ever bigger helmet to me, and really some of the facemasks players are wearing these days look a bit suspect.

by bengt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2013 - 10:34am

I see another parallel to the NFL: wearing a helmet, while improving your chances in the event of a collision, actually increases your likelihood to experience a collision in the first place - because car drivers/tacklers take less care of you.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:59pm

Softer helmets aren't a new idea. There are legitimate reasons why pretty much every helmet of note has a hard exterior and a soft interior, and it's not laziness, incompetence, or habit.

by mm(old) (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:27pm

They could add a soft padding on top of the hard exterior.

by dbostedo :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:27pm

There was quite a discussion about this on here a while back. The problem with soft out helmet pieces is that they are unlikely to be slick/slippery during contact, which could lead to awful twists/pulls/compressions of the neck. It could also lead to worse rotational forces on the head, which is a big concussion concern; It's not just straight linear impacts that cause concussions.

by mbm (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:57pm

Yeah, I looked at clip on YouTube and I have to agree that Ridley lowered his head before Pollard dipped his helmet. The first players to go to Ridley were Brandon Lloyd and Logan Mankins. Right after the hit, Ray Lewis was looking down at Ridley while signaling that the Ravens recovered the fumble, and then he walked away. The only Raven to check on Ridley, at least initially, was Michael Oher and then he sort of hung among some Patriot players hovering over Ridley. Oher was the only Raven I saw in the clip who seemed to take much note of how badly Ridley was hurt, so good for him.

by BJR :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:21am

In spite of rooting for Baltimore to win, unfortunately my lasting memory of the Pats Ravens game will be the sickening hit on Ridley that led to the fumble. I'm not implying the hit was dirty, but, man, when you see a guy laid out cold like that....the NFL can be tough to enjoy sometimes.

It also looked suspiciously to me like Wes Welker sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter after another monster hit. He was laid out on the field for a brief while, looked groggy when he got up and a little while after dropped an easy ball that he would normally catch in his sleep.

I reiterate that I am not implying the Ravens were beyond the boundaries in their approach. Hell, on the road, in the playoffs, against the best offence in the league - its almost necessary to try and inflict some physical damage if you want to win. But given what we are learning about the effects of concussions etc. - you question your enjoyment of the game.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:43am

No comments about Mayo going defenseless receiver with no call against Pitta?

by Guido Merkens :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:23pm

Also bad. I was surprised that wasn't called, particularly considering how similar it was to the Lewis/Hernandez hit from earlier in the game.

by nat :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 2:52pm

The keys to doing a hard hit on a defenseless receiver and not getting called for it:

(1) don't lead with the helmet or with one lowered shoulder
(2) go for the chest or below
(3) use good form: hit hard, but wrap up (or at least try to wrap up)

The rule is about changing tackling/hitting technique, not an excuse to give penalties to hurt or help teams we like or dislike.

Refs do get this one wrong or inconsistent. But I think they're reading the form and the location of the hit, not how hard it is or whether the receiver flails.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:02am

Yeah the Pats made mistakes on offense, an the Broncos did too.

But on top of that I also think that this is simply not the regular season Ravens defense. I mean Suggs is healing up and Ray Lewis is back - old or not he seems to have a huge impact. The Ravens are just a very good football team: A great defense(at this point) and a mediocre offense with a QB on a hot-streak.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:04pm

I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a great defense, but it's definitely much better than it was in December. Lewis is back, Suggs and Ngata are playing better, and the secondary is solid even without having Webb.
I also think "mediocre" is not an apt description of the offense. It's good. Don't forget Ray Rice.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:27pm

Yeah, the Ravens are not mediocre on offense at all, in their current form. If Mckinnie plays well enough to allow Oher to be on the right side, with the quality of their running backs, the way their receivers can stretch the field, and having a qb with the arm to get it there, they present difficulties for any defense.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:38pm

Mediocre was a bit harsh. Average, then? (13th in DVOA).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:28pm

Their offensive line did not take it's current form until a couple weeks ago. When Mckinnie is effective at left tackle, and Oher can e moved to the right side, it's an entirely different unit, and the season's DVOA doesn't mean much.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:51pm

Ngata has looked better in the past two games than I've seen him since 2010. Really forceful against the interior lineman of NE.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:21am

The Ridley hit was just sickening. I literally was feeling sick to my stomach. Bizarre to see him on the ground while other players fought for the ball i a pile right beside him.

Noone at fault really; legal hit, and the players are paid to get the fumble.

by DL (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:22am

Legal? It was clearly helmet-to-helmet. Pollard lead with his helmet, towards Ridley's.

by Riceloft :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:02am

It looked to me like Pollard was just bracing for the hit. Ridley lowered his head at the end, otherwise Pollard's helmet would've landed right in his chest. I'll be surprised if Pollard gets a fine or anything for that.

by nathan d (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:21am

To the extent that there's any blame for that hit, it's all on Ridley. Pollard was trying to get in position to make a tackle when he realized that Ridley was about to run him over. He tenses up to take the hit, but it doesn't appear he's even moving towards the running back, much less delivering a big hit. It's Ridley who lowers his helmet and hits Pollard. Blaming him is a lot like running headfirst into a brick wall and then blaming the wall.

by RedDog (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:03am

AFAIK runners are much less protected vs. QBs and Receiver (a receiver who made a catch becomes a runner after he gains posession and "insert mystical control-the-ball-probably-make-a-football-move verb" whatever.

runners can be hit helmet to helmet.

As a Pats fan, was clear cut that the fumble would stay as called ... could have ruled it the other way and - had the Ravens challenged - play would have stood as called also.

That is one of the bad influences of instant replay. The refs on the field might as well have said "well, we are not sure whether it was a fumble or not. If we rule it a fumble, the Patriots will get a free booth review. If we rule it down by contact, the Ravens are forced to burn a challenge of their own. Let's give the teams a free review".

I don't understand how people not understand that this instant replay influences the game far more than the obvious "it sometimes takes five minutes". There are subtle things which influence referees or coaches. Instant replay should be removed completely. It hurts as much as it helps, and it stinks.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:36am

"I don't understand how people not understand that this instant replay influences the game far more than the obvious "it sometimes takes five minutes". There are subtle things which influence referees or coaches. Instant replay should be removed completely. It hurts as much as it helps, and it stinks."

I disagree. Instant replay corrects a lot of misscalls.

Simply allowing the refs to review whatever they want would solve pretty much every problem with it.

by RedDog (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:37pm

"I disagree. Instant replay corrects a lot of misscalls."

How many calls in the playoffs this year were overturned? I remember one, but the vast majority will be confirmed.

I mean, the Harry Douglas catch on Sunday? Stood. If it had been ruled incomplete on the field, it would have stood as well. It's pointless. Because that is what happens in most cases. THEY ONLY WANT TO review the close calls, and for that, the "inconclusive" clause renders this device annoying at best, useless at worst.

by zenbitz :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:18pm

This is the point of reply, to correct egregious miscalls. There should not be a lot of egregious miscalls, so there should not be a lot of calls overturned. I think the system works correctly here.

The automatic replay is probably introducing a bias towards turnovers and scores, because -- assuming a true 50-50 call on the field, the refs will lean towards turnover/score so their will be a replay (let's say 55-45)... but since this calls are (by definition!) close you will end up with like a 53-47 bias on TRUE 50-50- calls.

So the NFL should probably drop either automatic replays OR "incontrovertable evidence".

Probably they should drop challenge flags too and have them booth review everything as they see fit.

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:18am

"So the NFL should probably drop either automatic replays OR "incontrovertable evidence".

I made this same point after the NE/HOU game. IF you are going to mandate certain plays be automatically reviewed, that is going to affect the tendencies of officials to call close plays towards the review-mandated outcome, so that it can be corrected automatically. IF you are going to do that, you shouldn't be able to then say, "Well the evidence isn't conclusive." Impossible to legislate, I know, but I have never liked the automatic review anyways...

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:06pm

...and this is what I say fairly often. The refs on the field will take the turnover, figuring that replay can fix that but it won't fix "lack of turnover". And then if the replay is inconclusive, it's not fixed.

Having said that, I think the refs said in this case that the replay "confirmed" the call on the field.

by Viliphied (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:18pm

They did, and there was really no question. The ball was out before Ridley was down, and it wasn't even that close, as far as instant replay goes.

by Bionicman :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:47pm

First, it was a clear fumble. The statement "could have ruled it the other way" is wrong.

Second, listing all the instances of blatantly wrong calls corrected by replay in this season alone would take pages. I'm not sure how any fan who watches the games regularly wouldn't notice this.

Third, why am I not surprised that on the rare occasions anyone expresses a desire to eliminate replay, it's usually a Patriots fan? The amount of time Pats fans whine about correct decisions has always amazed me.

by RedDog (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 7:38am

I am not saying it was a bad call. Even if I am a Pats fan, I am fine with the loss. They were outplayed and outcoached, everybody saw that.

The point is, had they ruled it down by contact, the call would have stayed as well. Because it wasn't clear cut. When did he lose posession? When the ball starts moving? Well, you can have a ball that moves and still have posession. One handed TD catch by Dallas Clark a couple of seasons ago? Sure catch, but the ref was clueless for an instant before he ruled it TD. It's not black and white, and replay is there to create the impression that the rules are enforced in a consistent manner (because consistency of rules enforcement is really key). But that ain't happen.

I just have a massive issue with replay. I think it should be removed. It's a fast game, the refs are there and paid to make these judgement calls. If it is a wrong call by a slight margin, it is what it is. Replay does really fix that, and replay does have issues by itself.

by RedDog (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 7:39am

"Replay does really fix that, and replay does have issues by itself."
= Replay does NOT really fix that, and replay does have issues by itself.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:03am

Pretty sure the hitt was legal . Can do a hut like that on runner.

by JimZipCode :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:40am

Yes, you are allowed to hit helmet-to-helmet on a runner. Runners are deemed able to protect themselves. It's only the "defenseless" players that you're not allowed to hit that way: punters in the act, QBs in the act, receivers in the act.

Ridley in this case did attempt to protect himself, by lowering his helmet into the hit.

by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:16pm

Red-White-And-Blue glasses cloud your vision on that?

It flat out was NOT an intentional head-to-head hit. If you watch the replay, he braces himself because he sees Ridley isn't going to juke, and leads with his right shoulder. Ridley, unfortunately, lowers his head into the hit, and that's what ends up causing head-to-head contact.

It was a perfectly legal low tackle attempt that, though a fluke, ended up with both players smashing heads.

by DL (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:21am

It's fun looking at the extent of NFL's hypocrisy regarding player safety, when Bernard Pollard's unnecessary roughness penalty against Welker was called (barely dangerous), and his vicious, almost intentional helmet-to-helmet hit against Ridley (which, had it been called, would have reversed the fumble -which was caused by his concussion- and maybe the game wouldn't have played out the same way) wasn't.

Also, there's no rule that prevents a team from losing possession of the ball if a player is concussed and fumbles, so I guess it's fair game? But even grasping a QB's helmet is a 15yd penalty?

No wonder RBs have such short career-spans and end up with such grievous post-career health issues

by anderson721 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:55am

I was quite surprised the hit on Pitta was not flagged. It didn't matter , of course, but he was the posterboy for "defenseless receiver". Simms, of course, says it was a clean hit. Meanwhile, earlier, Hernandez catches a ball, has time to lower his head, and Baltimore gets penalized for helmet to helmet. If you look at that replay, I don't see how one is supposed to tackle him and not get flagged.

by Ryan D. :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:55am

The referees define intent as "The color on your jersey" in games like these. Brady doesn't get called for kicking directly at Ed Reed. Hernandez draws a foul when he lowers his head into the oncoming tackler. Pitta gets clocked helmet to helmet from the side, and there is no call.

by RedDog (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:06am

It's probably not always easy to see (hell, do you get every call right without slow motion?), it is different officials making these calls, and the sample size is way too small to conclude there is a bias.

Stop it.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:42am

Have you ever seen a sliding QB called for anything?

by Ryan D. :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:57am

Have you ever seen a sliding QB aim his cleats 45 degrees upward at a player coming in to make a tackle?

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:10pm

Have you ever seen a sliding QB have his leg sticking out in a weird angle that leads to a whip-like effect that hurts his play for the rest of the season? It happened to RG3.

I think it's a little too easy to say that a player in a slide has every appendage in exactly the position that's intended.

Brady isn't sitting there on the sideline thinking "I hope I have an opportunity to kick Ed Reed in the crotch. So if I'm in a slide, I'll stick one leg at an awkward angle to do that, even if it makes it 10 times more likely that the leg gets injured and knocks me out of the game."

by perly :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:00pm

Except that RG3 wasn't sliding either time he hurt his knee. When Ngata hit him, he was falling over backward after trying to twist past Kruger; when he blew his ACL, he was trying to scoop the ball and his knee gave out.

Rules in soccer and football don't generally have great transfer, but if Brady does that slide in those shoes on a soccer pitch, it's an immediate ejection and a three-match ban. Really one of the more petulant things I've seen in a while.

by Megamanic :: Thu, 01/24/2013 - 5:20am

So Brady gets fined $10,000 for trying to end Ed Reed's game/season/career and Frank Gore gets fined $10,500 for not pulling his socks up.

Glad to see the NFL has it's priorities right.

by JimZipCode :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:33am

Wilfork also clubbed Flacco in the facemask on at least one pass play, without a call.

Re "Stop it": It is pretty clear to fans of every team that plays the Pats semi-regularly, that Tom Brady is the most protected player in the league. A defender gets blocked into the ground next to Brady's foot, and gets flagged for an illegal hit to the knee. Whereas on the other side of the ball, the Pats hit the head as much as any other pass rushers, and they never seem to get flagged for it. It is -- well it used to be infuriating. Now it just seems like another aspect of home field advantage: you anticipate it as just one more thing you have to deal with.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:11pm

I would take this kind of criticism more seriously if Bernard Pollard had even been flagged for the hit that ended Brady's season in the first quarter of 2008.

by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:44pm

But didn't the league prohibit this kind of hit only after the Brady injury?

by Viliphied (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:21pm

Yes, that's why it's known as The Brady Rule.

by nat :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:11pm

No. This is historically incorrect.

It was already the rule. What the league did in the Brady "rule" was to clarify/emphasize that merely being blocked to the ground didn't remove the rule. If a defender is blocked or fouled into the QB, the flag is picked up. But a player blocked (or unblocked) on the ground cannot then legally lunge forcefully at the QB's lower leg.

It remains legal to wrap up a QB below the knees, to grab at an ankle, and the like. It's the intentional forceful hit at or below the knee that is illegal.

The rule had said that before Brady was injured. But the practice was to forgive a defender who has been knocked down or has fallen down the same as one who had been blocked into the QB. Not so after the clarification.

by BJR :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:41pm

Before Brady there was Carson Palmer in 2005. After that incident the rule was changed, deeming it illegal to hit a QB below the knees if the defender was coming off a block, which it previously had not. Then, as you correctly state, the rule was clarified after Brady's incident to include preventing lunging at a QB from a defender already on the ground.

by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:13pm

We can definitely debate intent there - it was a bad idea to go that low, that hard, and not a clean hit. The rest of Pollard's "track record" is pretty silly, though.

by JimZipCode :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:39pm

Mm, maybe I should have said "post-Kneegate". The stuff I'm complaining about didn't really get bad until after Brady returned from the knee: so just the past few years.

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:23am

Since you can't tell the difference between "helmet to helmet", and "shoulder pad to chest", can you tell us which other parts of your post we can ignore?


by Ryan D. :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 9:57am

Really? You're going to link to that .gif and then nitpick that it wasn't solely direct helmet-to-helmet contact? While I would venture to guess that their helmets did in fact touch (which is more than enough for a flag against most other players/teams), even if they didn't touch, that is still the very definition of an unnecessary hit against a defenseless receiver, with shoulderpads going directly to the chin. How that hit doesn't draw a flag, I have absolutely no idea. Thanks for illustrating my point, and your inability to see clearly, all in one simple post.

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Fri, 01/25/2013 - 2:59pm

You said "Pitta gets clocked, helmet to helmet, from the side". Both of your contentions are false. I don't see how my calling you on that illustrates your "point", such as it may be...

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:57am

I disagree with your interpretation. To me, it looked like Pollard did the football equivalent of taking a charge - he established position, braced, and lowered his shoulder to deliver a hit to Ridley's waist.

Ridley did what he was supposed to do, and lowered his own shoulder to try and run through the tackler. Unfortunately, in doing so, he led to the helmet-to-helmet contact. It neither vicious nor dirty - it was just bad luck.

by Silm (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:18pm

Whats funny is how clueless you are on the rules regarding helmet to helmet. Fact: pats lost. Fact: you're mad about it. Fact: thats clouding your mental state to the point you're saying that somehow Pollard did anything abnormal. he put a big hit on a Running back. Thats football bro. take your tears elsewhere.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:55am

re: Pollard/Ridley collision: I was really worried when watching the medical staff get interfered with after the injury, but I don't quite agree with all of the blame for the hit going to Pollard. If you watch a replay, Ridley lowers the crown of his head into Pollard easily as much as Pollard leads with his head. Both guys are using the helmet as a battering ram on the play.

by Steve J. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:19am

Yes, I think this is fair. Pollard is an easy scapegoat because of his history, and he did lead with the helmet, but Ridley lowered his helmet as well.

I think the next step in the "NFL evolution" is to start protecting ballcarriers from helmet-to-helmet contact, but that requires refs to identify either offense or defense--or both--using the crown of the helmet. (Best example I can remember of helmet-to-helmet on a ballcarrier making a difference: Pierre Thomas in last year's Divisional Round game. Thomas got hit in the head close to the goal line, fumbled, and really set the tone for the game.)

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:51am


Ball-carriers are as much to blame as anyone else.

by Ben :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:28am

I'd agree with you on that one. Pollard does launch himself at Ridley head first, but he's aiming pretty low. Ridley ducks into it head first, which is really what led to the helmet-to-helmet contact.

by anderson721 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:57am

Which is exactly what Hernandez did earlier, which led to a penalty.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:30am

I wouldn't shed a tear if someone went all Kermit Washington on Pollard some day, but yes, that play was all on Ridley.

Pollard was very low -- going for Ridley's chest or lower -- and Ridley lowered his head into Pollard's helmet.

That said, there needs to be a rule that when a ballcarrier is knocked out the play is over -- you can't have a player who might have a cranial or cervical injury get jostled or buried by the pile. What if he has a broken neck and people are knocking him around? What if he starts seizing and swallows his tongue and the medics can't get to him because he's at the bottom of the pile?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:48am

That thing which has never happened in 91 years of the NFL?

Keep in mind, one of the defining images of NFL history was a fumble by a concussed RB.

by MehlLageman56 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:03pm

Someone going Kermit Washington on Pollard on the field would lead to a broken hand, if Pollard were wearing his helmet, like you're supposed to on the field. Not judging, just pointing out how that wouldn't work out the way you would want it too.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:12pm

"I wouldn't shed a tear if someone went all Kermit Washington on Pollard some day"

Okay, I know I shouldn't, but I found that line laugh-out-loud funny.

by Led :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:47am

Exactly. It wasn't even close to illegal or dirty. Just a very solid force play by the safety and bad luck. I did think Ridley should have been ruled down, however. I also thought it was ridiculous how the teams scrambled for the ball with Ridley inuured right next to them when the one ref with the best view immediately (and correctly) ruled that Baltimore had recovered it. The refs ought to throw flags for unsportsmanlike conduct when players continue to fight for the ball after the refs make a ruling.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:15pm

If the league cares about player safety, they need to start penalizing offensive players for leading with their helmet just like they penalize defensive players. And it shouldn't be just for "defenseless" players. It doesn't make the situation any better if both players decide that they are bucks and decide to blast into each other, crown to crown.

by Kal :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:03pm

So much this.

Really canny offensive players are already dipping their heads for this precise reason - even if they drop the ball they'll get 15 yards, automatic first down. You're just going to see more of this.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:40am

Nothing in the game indoor surprised me in the least, but that didn't prevent it from being wildly entertaining. The Falcons are like a lot of good dome teams; their crowd really helps their defense, but when it gets right down to it, they are prone to getting outslugged.

The 2nd game was puzzling to me, in that the Patriots front seven didn't really seem to make the Ravens offensive line work very hard. I don't watch the AFC as closely, so I don't know if pre Talib this was typical, but it didn't seem as if the Ravens offensive line was dominatiing, as much as the Patriots defensive front was, I dunno, passive or something. Am I crazy, Pats fans?

by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:12am

No, you're not. The defensive game plans, in my opinion, did not call for enough blitzes on Flacco. And anyone could see that by the late third quarter, the Pats pass rush was either gassed or just no longer trying.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:28am

I watched Mckinnie a lot, because his resurrection the last couple weeks has just surprised/irritated me to no end, and I watched Birk a lot because he's always been one my favorite players. It seems that the Patriots very frequently didn't even challenge Mckinnie, like he was just standing there with no one to block. He did give up one sack on a speed rush, which has been his vulnerability forever, but, like I said, it sure seemed like the Patriots made life easy for him. Birk, too, to some degree. It seemed like the Patriots wanted to make it harder to double Wilfork, but it seemed to take Wilfork out of the game more than anything.

I'm hesitant to make a strong claim without watching the game again, and in more detail, but I tend to think that the Patriots were decisively outschemed yesterday.

by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:06pm

I'd agree with that assessment. I didn't expect much in the way of pass rush, but I did expect much more of an effort. Flacco who has all day to throw is a good-to-great QB, but he's not good at all on blitz identification.

Rice was also dynamite in picking up the few blitzes the Pats sent - deserved reputation as a good passing game back.

by ima_pseudonym (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:38am

They lost Kyle Love early in the game, around the same time they lost Talib. Love is the #2 DT when they need more of a 4-3 look, or want a big package in there. Deaderick is imho a big drop off from Love.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:17pm

And let's not forget Chandler Jones didn't take a single snap. He's their best pass rusher.

The Pats aren't really a blitzing defense. I think that, after Talib was out, blitzes would have put a lot more pressure on a secondary that was barely treading water.

With both Jones and Talib out, there really were no good solutions.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:24pm

Eh, that makes sense. Like I said, I don't watch the AFC nearly as closely. As usual, personnel dictates scheme to a very large degree.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:45am

". I know there were several drops and batted balls, but I can't remember the last time I saw him miss so many open guys"

Tom Brady has a lot of games like this. Accuracy really isn't his forte (its more timing and reads). Its just that in most of the games like that, they're just so much better than the opponent that it doesn't matter.

He seems to have had a lot of these types of games in the playoffs the last couple years.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:44am

I think the wind affected Brady a lot more than it did Flacco. As much as we like to say arm strength is overrated, in terms of important qb attributes, there are instances where having a big arm, and huge hands, are a big advantage. Windy, cold, January days are one of those instances.

by anderson721 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:59am

And for the dozen or so times Simms mentioned the wind affecting Flacco, did he ever mention the wind affecting Brady?

by dbostedo :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:56pm

Early in the telecast, before opening kick-off, they mentioned the wind, and either Nantz or Simms (Nantz I think) mentioned that the wind might not be an issue since they were looking "two of the strongest arms in the game".

I was a bit stunned, having Brady referred to that way. He doesn't have one of the strongest as far as I know. Unless "the game" referred to all levels of football, including high school, pee-wee, etc.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 3:39pm

Well, if you assume that quarterbacks are one of every 18 players, then they're both probably in the top 5%. But I understand and agree with your sentiment. Simms is awful.

by JimZipCode :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:47am

In the first half I thought that the wind was a bigger factor against Flacco than against Brady, because the Ravens throw the deep ball so much more. I thought the deep passes got blown about more / got their trajectory changed more, than Brady's short passes.

I pretty much forgot about that in the 4th Q.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:52am

They also commented that Flacco was much more comfortable throwing into the wind than with it.

by bird jam :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:08am

"Aaron Schatz: Lots of handchecking on that deep Jones touchdown, but it is hard to out-physical Julio Jones. Explain to me again why Alabama didn't throw to this guy more?"

Hard to fault Bama for anything they've been doing the last 5 years or so. Throwing to Julio more would have meant handing it to Ingram/Richardson less.

by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:39am

He caught 78 balls his last season in 13 games in a pro-style offense. Works out to 96 in a 16 game season. Schatz is wrong--Alabama did throw the ball to him.

by bird jam :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:12pm

Also a good point.

by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:24pm

Just the hazards of putting the column together live without any forethought or fact-checking. It's one of the reasons I don't typically find these to be all that great. Part of the comments are like this and obviously not thought out, while other comments look like they were pre-planned and stuck in to try and prove somebody's personal beliefs. Ben's take on Caldwell would be a good example of that in this one.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:34am

"You know, Baltimore's defensive game plan here seems remarkably similar to what the Giants used to beat New England in the Super Bowl last year: take away the deep ball, make your tackles on the short passes, and just wait for them to screw themselves with a dropped pass or penalty."

Baltimore, NYG, SF, and NYJ have all had success doing just that, usually mixed in with a little of "punch the receiver in the mouth when he does catch it".

by markus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:21pm

That's one of the funniest lines in the whole piece. It took him until the second half to catch on to that the Ravens would emulate something that had worked in the past against them? It's that or the one where Ben ridicules the Ravens OC. A few too many beers at the Pats party. Er, blog session.

by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:20pm

Isn't Muth a Ravens fan?

by markus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:36pm

No clue. But he clearly isn't a Caldwell fan. Or maybe he was a Cameron fan.

by 0tarin :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:22pm

Muth is a Cardinals fan.

by Gus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:57am

Sorry, I think I meant Ned Macey

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by markus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:13pm

Ben Muth: ... This makes him a poor offensive coordinator.
Rivers McCown: Changing your offensive coordinator at midseason is the new market inefficiency.

Hey, if a trip to the Super Bowl thanks to a couple of second half comebacks is the outcome, sign me up for some of that "inefficiency."

by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:35pm

A really bizarre time to make that argument in a game that featured TD drives of 90 and 87 yards and a week after the comeback in Denver. At the time I thought firing Cameron was a sign of desperation, but it clearly has worked out for them. Certainly well enough that Caldwell can avoid being judged as being poor.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:41pm

The "new market inefficiency" comment is a riff on Moneyball.

That is, Rivers's statement could say, "Changing your offensive coordinator at midseason is a way to get an advantage over your opponents." He wasn't implying the Ravens' offense was inefficient.

by Hank (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:23pm

This had to have been the play of the day, possibly of the postseason.

by Perfundle :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:43pm

Given that the ref as trying to run out of his way (and was probably the only person on the field slower than Brady yesterday), it would be more accurate to say "Brady makes ref tackle him."

by willisisgod (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:32pm

Is it me or is Kaep a faster bigger stronger Steve Young? Outside of Aaron Rodgers and Steve I don't think I have seen anyone throw a more accurate ball. The scariest part is when he decides to put some heat on it he has the arm strength of Brett Favre. Barring injury we may be seeing the beginning of something we have never seen before. Harbaugh is Dr. Frankenstein and his monster just began his reign of terror. Danny probably agrees it is agreat time to be a 9ers fan

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:50pm

Well, after Young was in San Francisco for several years, he could go through his progressions extremely well. We'll see if Kaepernick gets there. All I know was that I was extremely impressed by how he handled things pre-snap, in an extremely loud environment, with the biggest stakes, in his, what, ninth start? He, quite obviously, has every needed physical tool in excessive quantities, and he seems to be taking coaching very well. If the guy ends being able to regularly go to his third receiver option (and he certainly has the o-line talent to make that possible), well, that will be extremely unpleasant for opposing defensive coordinators.

(edit) Oh, and I think there's a pretty good chance that there will be, given at least two head to head contests a year, an Irrational Kaepernick-Wilson Thread on this site someday. Should be fun. The games, not the thread.

by anderson721 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:10pm

I look forward to the article comparing the late season/playoff improvement of the Ravens defense with the playoff improvement of the 2007 Colts defense.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:34pm

I have to say, the love for Kap is something I find a bit irritating. Its not that I think Kap hasn't played well, he clearly has, but its like people sometimes forget hes on a loaded team. In fact, I'm trying to remember the last sb team that had the kind of talent the 49ers have today. Maybe the 2010 packers? Before that, who? 07 patriots?

To this point, I've noticed the news media have such a hard time finding a true 49er poster boy. In the nbc sunday night previews, one week it was aldon smith, the next week it was frank gore. After the game last night, first person they interviewed was frank gore even though he's not anywhere near their best player. While other teams seem to have a signature defender(or 2) who get all the hype and interviews(clay matthews/woodson, Lewis/Suggs, Harrison for Pitt, maybe now Sherman for seattle), the 49ers don't seem to have that one guy that is particularly media enticing.

by acr :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:26pm

Yeah all he did was finish 3rd behind Brady and Manning in regular season DVOA and then play spectacularly in his first two playoff games. The guy is overhyped.

by acr :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:35pm

Also how about the fact that Kap has shown us that Michael Crabtree is actually really good and just hasn't had a QB that could get him the ball? That's something I don't hear enough about.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:16pm

Kap has played well, I've already admitted as much. The thing is, I'm leery to heap all of the praise onto the qb just because hes the qb of a great team. The reason the elite qbs deserve to be praised is because of their yearly consistency and greatness. It wasn't one great season or one sb run, it was consistent performance every year in the passing game. Obviously, Kap hasn't even been a starter for a full year yet so its not fair to hold him to that standard and I'm not. I'm just trying to remind people not to overlook the obvious when deferring praise to the qb. Like you said, Crabtree has been awesome this year. The o line has been awesome this year too as has their playcalling. The defense we know about but it somehow still doesn't get the hype it deserves.

I keep bringing this up because its just such a beautiful example of how circumstance can totally alter your perceptions. Jay Cutler with denver was looking like he had the makings of all pro. Jay Cutler in chicago has drawn the ire of Will!!!! Context and situations matter greatly.

by markus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:51pm

If his style of play was like Alex Smith's, I'd see your point. But it's entirely different making it easy to contrast the team under him vs. when Smith was the starter. For example, he single-handedly destroyed the Packers in the playoffs. And because of how the read-option works that was 100% him, not the line or anybody else.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:10pm

I seem to be the only person who remembers that Alex Smith can run the read-option as well. Utah ran a version of it.

\Specifically, the orbit read-option.

by dbostedo :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:21am

I've mentioned that to a few people because I'm kind of flummoxed. I feel like Alex Smith has spent the last 5 or 6 years being de-Kaepernick-ed; Just so Kaepernick could come in and take his job with an offensive scheme he used to run. Smith was never quite as fast as Kaepernick, and his rushing stats in college are not quite as good. But I have no idea how much of that is the team and system :

2004 Smith Passing : 214/317, 67.5%, 2952 YDS, 32/4 TD/INT
2004 Smith Rushing : 135 ATT, 631 YDS, 4.7 AVG, 10 TD

2010 Kaepernick Passing : 233/359, 64.9%, 3022 YDS, 21/8 TD/INT
2010 Kaepernick Rushing : 173 ATT, 1206 YDS, 7.0 AVG, 20 TD

by Eddo :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 1:40pm

I think if Alex Smith had been drafted in 2011 or 2012, he would have been at least moderately successful from the start. The league is much more open to a option-based offense now, whereas it wasn't back in 2005, and Smith was turned into a more classic pocket passer.

by beargoggles :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:56pm

This is true, that he has a lot of support with Gore and OL.
Still, some of those throws are very impressive. He does not have the benefit of useful second and third wideouts that some other teams have, and still has a knockout YPA. And even if he does not go through all his progressions, he seems to keep it to about one ill-advised throw per game, and was very patient given an early deficit.

I'll take 2, thanks.

by Sancho (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:10pm

How can anyone not love Kaepernick after this:

by zenbitz :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:56pm

Why were the voids in Atlanta's zone that Vernon Davis found so big? was it the play-action drawing up the linebackers?

So, Davis essentially disappeared after the Bears game (Kapernick's first start). He went from 3.5 catches/game to 1. I really should use "targets" for this but I am a little lazy. Crabtree went from 4.7 to 6.7. And yes, I should normalize for pass attempts, but you know, lazy.

Possibly - Kaepernick wasn't getting to his later reads (as compared with Alex Smith, although this was not really a strength of Smith's either), and defenses were totally bracketing Davis. Also possible, they were leaving him in to block more.

In either case - when the read/option (or I guess "Veer" since the Niners use the man blocking rather than zone blocking version mostly) went into full effect, it soaks up a whole linebacker - one that would be covering Davis underneath.

Either that or the Falcons just suck at covering tight ends - which is sort of the pat DVOA split answer.

by Anger...rising :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:51pm

Pereira actually got that one right, I think. There was a lack of conclusive evidence. Remember, the ball can touch the ground as long as he maintains control.

If we pretend that the ball sliding down his midsection demonstrates control, this is a perfectly valid point.

by mbm (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:24pm

2012 - Ravens, 4th seed with 5th-best conference record (10-6); 2011 - Giants, 4th seed with 6th-best conference record (9-7); 2010 - Packers, 6th seed with 4th-best conference record (10-6); 2009 - Colts and Saints both top seeds; 2008 - Cardinals, 4th seed with 6th best conference record (9-7); 2007 - Giants, 5th seed with 3rd best conference record (10-6). Only once in the last 6 years has the Super Bowl actually included two teams from the top three of each conference, at least by W-L record and division titles (2007 Giants lost their division). Instead, we have a run of teams who are "playing well in January" or "getting hot at the 'right' time" or "playing like champions when champions play" or some other euphemism for not playing all that well for most of the season. (And the mediocre Super Bowl contestant has won three of the last five games.) It sure looks like coasting through some significant portion of the regular season is good preparation for a successful playoff season. In the Sunday night game, the Ravens just overwhelmed the Pats physically. I suspect they were less worn down, less banged-up, more physically capable because they took December off. One thing is clear; the winner of the Super Bowl is no longer reliably the best team in the league, or even one of the better ones, and this seems like a problem.

by Sancho (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:19pm

Why it should be a problem? The goal of the regular season is to define the 12 teams that will play for the championship (the 8 divisional champions, plus 4 wild cards) and their seeding position. Nothing else. After you eliminate 20, it is anyone ballgame again. Playoffs are a different season.

If it is a problem, the only solution would be to get rid of the divisions, make everyone to play the other within the conference once (add one interconference game to make it a 16-game season), and the best regular-season record from each conference play in the SuperBowl. But who would want that?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:16pm

The only oddballs on that list are the 2010 Packers and the 2007 Giants. All the others were division winners.

Considering the short schedule, the NFL does a poor job of normalizing for strength of schedule. The 2007 Pats played in a division where everyone else was 12-36 (the division, even counting the 16-0 Pats, was <.500) whereas the Giants came out of a division where every team was .500 or better -- non-Giants teams were 30-18.

Basically, they each might have been 13-3 teams had they simply switched AFC East for NFC East, and your argument would disappear.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:29pm

To some point this is happening in every sport. The last #1 seed to win the World Series was the 2009 Yankees, since then a #2, #3 and #3 seed (there are only four playoff teams per league). The last #1 see3d to win a NBA Title was the 2010 Lakers. Hockey is incredibly random come playoff time.

It makes sense that the sport with the shortest regular season and the shortest playoff series length (one game) would be quite random in terms of teams that didn't play great in the regular season and play great in the playoffs.

And for every team that makes this run, there is a team that entered the postseason playing badly and then lost early. We remember the flukes, and in teh past five or so years the flukes have occurred with more frequency than in the past. It will be interesting to see if this keeps happening, but teams with 1st round byes still have made the Super Bowl each year, which is a pretty good rate. I would actually think the statistical dominance of #1 and #2 seeds in the old days is more statistically strange that the spate of lesser seeds winning now.

by Rick S (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:00pm

Going back further, I think that the 1980 Raiders and 1997 Broncos would also qualify as teams that despite playoff seeding, got hot at the right time.

by mbm (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:59am

For Sancho, once upon a time the NFL did exactly what you describe, which you probably know, and I have no problem with that format. For Aaron Brooks Go, being division champ hardly makes a team even good, as you nicely demonstrate with your description of the 2007 AFC East. (The 2007 Pats defeated 8 teams with winning records and six who appeared in the 2007 playoffs during the regular season; 2007 Giants played 8 teams with winning records and four 2007 playoff teams, though they did play Dallas and Washington twice. I am guessing strength of schedule was about equal, so I don't see my argument going away.) Got to agree with DMStorm22. I just think becoming more like the NHL is not good for the NFL.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 8:53am

I do think a rules environment which makes qb performance ever more central to team performance may promote teams with a lesser regular season performance having ultimate success, much like a hot goalie does in the NHL. I personally do not see this as a positive development, but I'm sure the suits have reams of data which tells them that qb/stars drives t.v. ratings.

by JIPanick :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 2:05pm

It's a definite problem. Something broke about ten years ago; I don't know what, but I am so sick and so tired of penny-ante champions. My enthusiasm for football is almost nil at this point.

by Rick S (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:38pm

If the Ravens win, does Steve Biscotti also buy Rahim Moore a SuperBowl ring?

by foxlies (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:57pm

Comments re Caldwell hiring as silly as comparing Shulas last ten years of career to Brady. Brady had 2 key passes dropped+ was w/o key tight end Gronkowski.Brady is still a winner + let him hit free agency + u will see those who really know the game will pay him as winner. He has been stuck w/ no wide receiver in same class as Boldin [or even Torrey Smith] for 5 years.Shula was a great coach but game passed him by so much that even with Marino he couldnt win.Football changes + Shula didnt. Caldwell is guiding Flacco into the promised land of qb elite after years of wandering through the Cam Cameron desert;a guy who couldnt even think of a separate first + last name let alone create a game plan..Look at nfl alternative + see most of your points answered in advance.[ravens straight up + falcons + 5]Also read how the black qbs emergence was just matter of time in good ole boy network of nfl[long history of conventional wisdom that black qbs not smart enough]Next big thing will be influx of college coaches who understand read option.And yes I know you are committed to being Switzerland with your editorial political neutrality but no one admires Swiss for neutrality to Hitler.Fox network BUILT their whole empire including their racist news on back of hefty nfl contract.Not saying u r contributing to racism but turning blind eye to how black qbs have been oppressed is a failure of the type of critical thinking that permits average fox news watcher to think that because they dont hate blacks instititutional racism doesnt exist; In fact the type of critical thinking i admire so much about your site.Would appreciate your reading my articles on the conference championships + the one about racism in nfl re/ qbs.[i dont type my site its typed + edited by others so please forgive sloppiness of this note][ thought it might be ok in audibles impromptu column]One more thing.Do u really think that the drafting of 75th choice Russel Wilson[who defies 2 stereotypes being only 5feet ten inches tall + being black] then starting him as a rookie
by Pete Caroll or trading up for 36th round choice Kaepernik by Harbaugh and then starting him not influenced by lots of recent college experience?qb is no longer the exclusive province of those 'wiley 'white field generals'It is now open to the'raw athleticism' of black qbs.P. S. my picks vs spread will beat your dvoa influenced predictions 60 % of the time. [look at the tally sheet of free picks given out at my site all season].I think the reason is, like so many of F.O. crew, i watch a ton of film;the spread is like the stock market;when you try to beat it using math u r playing THEIR game.And yes if its not clear from subtext I am upset I will probably never get a chance to write for you;and yours is the one site I most admire But I cant be 'Swiss' when it comes to fascism or racism.And that of course is bad for business..Which is all that really counts right?Sorry for the vitriol but Id like so much to have a forum in what seems the smartest football community around,Your commenters know much more than most columnists,and thus im exiled to merely having to listen to the combined wisdom of Joe Buck + Troy Aikman;I guess they have no political agenda right?4 to 1 says i can tell u their political preferences + they dont start with a D.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 1:15pm

raiderjoe's war on punctuation becomes a virtue of sorts because he doesn't use "Ulysses" as a template.

by Hurt Bones :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 1:45pm

RJ's pithiness sets him apart. I would have said this post was less "Ulysses" and more part 1 of the "Sound and the Fury".

by Independent George :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 3:37pm

I actually thought this was spam until I read the replies.

Raiderjoe's posts are a model of clarity. True, they're written in a different dialect, but they are readily accessible once you've familiarized yourself with it. This... it's not even worth the effort.

by Eddo :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 5:12pm

I'm pretty sure it IS spam. Look at the link in the username.

by Theo :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 7:20pm

I think they just copy/paste board comments together and form it into some long unreadable comment.

To be honest though, I don't know and don't care.

by Theo :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 7:23pm

Even my new girlfriend who was watching her first football game in her life (you don't see it much where I live) was saying "why didn't that guy just run for the yellow line?"
Regarding to Brady on 4th and 4.

by JimZipCode :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 3:46am

Ngata was tracking him – I don't know who had the better angle on the play, but I bet that was enough to make Brady hesitate. A guy who was a LESS great passer might have run for it and made it, but passing is the better option for Brady 99% of the time, so he hesitated.

That's the way I read it.

by foxlies (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2013 - 9:15am

raider joe completely in line gramatically[a good rb can affford 2 live in a hut like tha]t]+ follows joyces ulysses template all about the hut he inhabited;[his life]on a more serious matter was my post allowable?;also can i cut + paste my naked attempts at self promotion where applicable?p.s. perhaps some mistake poor typing as 'war on punctuation; i havent seen enough of raider joes posts to comment but my prob is typing not grammar. thus i have the great honor of paying someone 2 type + edit my site which has officially passed 18 reader status now

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 01/25/2013 - 6:30pm

I'm a fan of Joyce, but I wouldn't use him as a template for football commentary. Dave Barry, yes -- or maybe Balzac.