Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about wild-card weekend:
a. Alex Smith’s mobility. A 15-yard scramble out of trouble in the backfield and then through traffic to keep the first drive of the game alive … it’s a totally underrated part of his game.
b. Andy Reid and Doug Pederson, calling a wishbone/option run to Knile Davis on the first play of Davis’ playoff life.
c. John Dorsey, Chiefs GM, using the 95th pick in the draft on Knile Davis, a hugely important element despite the loss.
d. T.Y. Hilton. Everything about him.
e. The hustle of Antoine Bethea (I love this guy) in stopping Dwayne Bowe from getting to the end zone on the long first-half throw from Luck … a play that paid off very large in a one-point victory.
f. Andrew Luck’s second half.
g. Our Greg A. Bedard’s story on the Bears-Packers Week 17, talking about how vital the block fullback John Kuhn threw was. Bedard makes a great case that the block of Kuhn’s life won the division for Green Bay.
h. The class and dripping disappointment of Mike Munchak, who played 12 Hall-of-Fame seasons as a guard for the Oilers from 1982 to ’93 and was coach for the Oilers/Titans since 1994, in his statement upon leaving the Titans Saturday: “This is a day I hoped would never come, but there is a reason for everything. Words cannot express the sadness for leaving this organization that I have been a part of for over 30 years.”
i. The Cris Carter feature with Jordy Nelson on ESPN, with the secret to catching sideline balls and getting both feet inbounds. “Your body just has to go limp,” Carter said. Really interesting inside football.
j. Drew Brees finding Kenny Stills on the third-quarter snap when Cary Williams had to sit because of injury. Very smart by a vet quarterback, and he got a first down out of it.
k. Chris Mortensen’s information that Mike Munchak turned down an extension with Tennessee that would have paid him “almost double” his current $3 milion annual salary. Good information. And absolutely mind-boggling. Munchak was head coach for three playoff-less seasons, was 7-9 in a mediocre (at best) division, and spent massively to build a running game this year that was just average. Wow. That was a stunner to me. And to pay him that money while insisting he change half the coaches on his staff? Hey, right hand: Have any idea what the left hand is doing?
l. Donald Butler’s instinctive play at inside linebacker for San Diego. Much more effective Sunday than running mate Manti Te’o.
m. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer sending seven rushers on the first big third-down snap for the Chargers. Philip Rivers got smothered. Punt.
n. John Pagano. Everything the Chargers defensive coordinator did seemed to work against Cincinnati.
o. Love smart players. Did you see Eric Weddle in the fourth quarter tackling the Bengals receiver near the sideline, not letting him get out of bounds so Cincinnati could stop the clock?
p. Kudos, GM Tom Telesco of the Chargers … for many things. The biggest I can think of this morning is signing Danny Woodhead for two years and $3.5 million. Woodhead is worth three times that.
q. Colin Kaepernick knowing when to run and when to wait, wait, wait and throw it. Only quibble I have is passing on a wide-open Vernon Davis to make his 42-yard first-half scramble.
r. Just give me Jordy Nelson, Anquan Boldin and a competent quarterback, and I’ll give you any two receivers in football, and I’ll take my chances against you.
s. John Kuhn on that lead fullback dive. Now that’s a dangerous play. And an effective one.
t. Davon House with a huge pass-deflection on a bomb for Vernon Davis … two plays before he was caught interfering.
u. CBS, for giving Dan Dierdorf a monster game for his finale: Indianapolis at New England, Saturday night, Foxboro.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about wild-card weekend:
a. Jamaal Charles going down in the first five minutes of the game. Love watching him play. Amazing this game produced 89 points without him.
b. Greg Toler being in the game at all. Awful in coverage, or non-coverage. Too hurt from his groin injury coming in.
c. Bad non-call on clear pass interference by Kansas City’s Marcus Cooper in the second quarter—on a very big play.
d. Colts: 14 turnovers in the regular season; four Saturday.
e. Those who would say Alex Smith made a critical mistake by taking an intentional grounding call on the Chiefs’ last possession, helping knock them out of field-goal range for a kick that could have won the game. Kansas City had the ball at the Colts’ 39, 2nd-and-7 with 2:30 to play. Smith set up a screen to his left, ideally to throw to Dexter McCluster. Before the play could even remotely develop, Smith was swarmed by the unblocked Erik Walden and Cory Redding and at the last millisecond threw the ball away to his right, far from any of his receivers. What were his options here? Throw it away, which he did. Or get sacked with the ball at the 47 and have it be 3rd-and-15. I watched the play three times on NFL Game Rewind, and there was nothing else Smith could do, except eat it. If he did, it would have been 3rd-and-15 instead of 3rd-and-17. Big deal.
f. As an inside linebacker Sunday, Manti Te’o too often made a good bystander.
g. CBS’ Tracy Wolfson, late in the first half at Cincinnati, after a graphic showed a temperature of 41, with Wolfson wearing a knit hat and gloves: “It feels like San Diego weather.” As she spoke, it was 73 and mostly sunny in San Diego.
h. Awful clock management near the end of the first half by the Packers. With one timeout left, they let the clock bleed down from 22 to eight seconds before snapping it and throwing an incompletion, causing them to go for a field goal one play before they had to. What a waste.
i. Call pass-interference somewhat close in the postseason to the way you do it in the regular season, zebras.
j. The clock management this weekend was amateurish. (See Goat of the Week, above.) The Niners spent two timeouts in the first half of the first quarter and two in the first half of the third quarter. That is just nonsensical.
k. James Jones has had better games.
l. If Micah Hyde makes that pick with four minutes to go, there’s a very good chance the course of 2013 NFC playoff history would be a lot different.
m. Same old Bengals.
3. I think I don’t care one bit who Aaron Rodgers—or any player, coach, fan or writer—has sex with. Nor should anyone. If a player chooses to discuss, it’s his business. If not, leave it alone, world.
4. I think I saw enough evidence in three hours of one game at Indy Saturday, with four possibly concussed players and another with two possible major knee injuries, to know the NFL can never have an 18-game regular season. You’re not serious about player safety and player health if you want 18 games … unless you say each player’s max games per regular season is 16. That, of course, would necessitate Brock Osweiler starting two games for Denver, for example, because Peyton Manning would have to sit twice. That’s the only way I’d support an 18-game schedule.
5. I think if this doesn’t illustrate the way the game is going today, nothing does: The Chiefs started eight defensive backs on the first snap at Indianapolis Saturday.
6. I think as redemptive as this season was for Riley Cooper, his third-quarter drop on a wide-open crossing route on third down was the biggest negative play of the game for Philadelphia. The Eagles trailed 13-7 when it happened—Cooper could have raced for at least 20 yards on the play—and the Saints, on the change of possession, drove for a touchdown to make it 20-7. Though the Eagles came back, that was one possession, in retrospect, where Philadelphia gave away points.
7. I think, as I said on NBC’s Football Night in America pregame show Saturday, there is no momentum in league circles to re-seed the playoffs the way the league should, which is to base the seeds on the regular-season record. But too many owners think winning a division title should not only be a pass into the playoffs, but should also carry with it the right to host a playoff game. There is, however, momentum to add a seventh playoff team to each conference. My guess is the added playoff team happens by 2015 or ’16. I hate it. But no one asked me. Had it happened this year, here are the two extra games we’d have seen over the weeks, or perhaps tonight: Arizona at Carolina and Pittsburgh at New England.
8. I think I’ll have a mini-MMQB on Tuesday this week, because of the voluminous news week. Coming: a Saints item, interviews with Bill O’Brien and Lovie Smith, and your email.
9. I think the tough decision Dolphins owner Stephen Ross faces is this: What if he keeps Joe Philbin and Jeff Ireland, as he appears to be leaning toward doing, then finds out something ugly from the Ted Wells report? It’ll be pretty awkward to fire your coach or GM on Feb. 10.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I never met Jerry Coleman, the legendary ex-Yankee and San Diego Padres broadcaster. I wish I had. Coleman died Sunday and leaves a tremendous void in the San Diego sports scene.
b. My old buddy Mark Purdy might be the only person alive who attended the Freezer Bowl in Cincinnati 32 years ago (he wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer then) and the Niners-Packers game Sunday (he writes for the San Jose Mercury News now). We spoke Sunday. We were on the same staff in Cincinnati; I was in Indianapolis that day, preparing to cover the Xavier-Butler basketball game at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where Xavier coach Bob Staak would be so cold in the 45-degree fridge of a building that he wore his overcoat on the bench that day. Anyway, Mark said it was significantly colder in Cincinnati for the 1982 game. “You walked outside and took your first breath and everything inside your nostrils froze,” he said. “This is really cold, but not like that.”
c. One of the cool things about working at NBC over the last eight years has been the chance to work in and around the Saturday Night Live set at Rockefeller Center. The first few years our set was the old Jeopardy studio, which was fun to me because that was my favorite game show as a kid (the Art Fleming version). Once, in my dressing room prepping for a Saturday Notre Dame halftime segment, I stepped on a Taylor Swift red dress and got a big footprint on it. I don’t believe I was supposed to do that. I was aghast. Guess that’s why they have quickie dry cleaners. This year, that studio was under construction, and so we moved over to the SNL studio for a year, a crack carpentry crew transitioning the set many weekends from Justin Timberlake to Dan Patrick in a matter of hours. Wild-card Saturday was Football Night in America‘s last day on the SNL set, and—I don’t get this way too often—I had to take a few photos to commemorate the occasion. I often wrote a few chunks of this column on an applebox under a Miley Cyrus photo.
d. My sincere thanks to Dave Goren of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, and all the NSSA voters, who voted me sportswriter of the year for 2013. I’m humbled and so appreciative. Thank you.
e. Baseball writers have a tough job with this Hall of Fame voting, tougher than we have it in football. Do not envy them one bit, trying to decide if Bonds and Clemens belong.
f. Coffeenerdness: No Tom Curran/coconut coffee tales for you this week, unfortunately, but I am looking for help in this regard for coffeephiles: I need a recommendation on how to clean a veteran Krups coffeemaker that hasn’t been cleaned in over a year. Baking powder and hot water, run through a normal cycle?
g. Beernerdness: Lucky enough to try Alaskan Brewing Company’s ESB—Extra Special Bitter—on New Year’s Eve, and it was terrific. I like a hoppy, bitter beer, and this was a perfect one. Will be on the lookout for it on future Seattle trips.
h. Found out how to make Rodney Harrison and Mike Florio laugh uproariously Saturday.
The Adieu Haiku
Harbaugh kissed writers.
Gadzooks. I doubt Tom Coughlin
ever kissed Vito.