Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about the playoff weekend:
a. Jim Zorn raising the 12th Man flag. Excellent choice.
b. The Saints’ defensive front coming to play early. Very strong play by Cameron Jordan and Brodrick Bunkley, and a great stop of Marshawn Lynch by linebacker David Hawthorne too.
c. Khiry Robinson. The guy’s a revelation. The undrafted quick back from West Texas A&M got the ball in the open field and was face-to-face with 2012 first-round rush linebacker Bruce Irvin. Robinson deked Irvin, made him miss and added eight yards to the play.
d. Perfect defensive play by safety Earl Thomas, hitting Jimmy Graham at precisely the right moment, dislodging a potential first-down conversion pass from Graham with seven minutes left in the game.
e. Sounds crazy to praise a field goal as a smart play, but Steven Hauschka’s 48-yarder late in the first quarter was just that. Knowing a high kick would have a better chance to float off-course (being in the wind longer), Hauschka line-drived the ball low, right down the middle.
f. Best defensive play of the first game of the weekend: Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner fighting through Saints guard Ben Grubbs on what appeared to be a perfectly orchestrated screen to Darren Sproles and destroying it.
g. Saints corner Keenan Lewis with a perfectly timed pass deflection, something the Saints are getting used to with this excellent free-agent signing.
h. The Saints need to teach a class in the art of the onside kick.
i. Tremendous stat by Pro Football Focus’ Peter Damilatis: Marshawn Lynch forced 13 missed tackles against the Saints Saturday. Ray Rice forced nine all season.
j. Take a bow, New England personnel czar Nick Caserio and scouts. The Jamie Collins picked finally paid off in the biggest game of the year, with the second-round rookie linebacker the best player on the defensive side for the Pats Saturday night.
k. Adam Schefter’s nugget about Washington naming Jay Gruden head coach—and never telling 49ers coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, who were preparing to interview with Washington GM Bruce Allen for the job, that the interviews were cancelled.
l. NFL scheduling dudes: Washington at San Francisco next fall. Let’s say the Niners have the game in hand in the fourth quarter. Bet you five bucks Fangio is blitzing until the last snap, and Roman has Colin Kaepernick throwing deep to Michael Crabtree in the final minutes.
m. Luke Kuechly’s instincts. Seemed to get a quarter-step quick start on his first-quarter sack of Colin Kaepernick.
n. Beautiful touchdown throw from Cam Newton to Steve Smith. You can’t make a better throw than that.
o. Last three games for Anquan Boldin: 20 catches, 323 yards. This is his time of year.
p. Malik Jackson and Shaun Phillips, for their three sacks and four pressures of Philip Rivers.
q. The two late third-down conversions by Peyton Manning.
r. The Arizona Cardinals placing an ad in Dan Dierdorf’s adopted hometown newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, congratulating Dierdorf on his 43-year NFL career as he retired Saturday. “Thanks for always holding the line, Dan,” the ad said, with a nice photo of Dierdorf in pass-pro in front of Jim Hart. The Cards, of course, moved to Arizona from St. Louis, where Dierdorf built a Hall of Fame playing career. Dierdorf’s final CBS telecast was Saturday in Foxboro.
s. Indy coach Chuck Pagano admitting he was wrong to punt on 4th-and-1, down 21, in the fourth quarter at New England.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about the playoff weekend:
a. Indy coach Chuck Pagano punting on 4th-and-1, down 21, in the fourth quarter at New England.
b. Saints safety Rafael Bush smashing a defenseless Percy Harvin high on the third play of the game in Seattle—and the third play of Harvin’s return. That’s going to cost Bush a lot of money.
c. You’ve got to make that interception, Kam Chancellor.
d. You’ve got to catch that onside kick, Golden Tate. That’s why it’s called the “hands team.”
f. The junk on Twitter ripping the living tar out of Marques Colston. Real brave. Criticize him for a dumb play, fine. The stuff after that … just not right.
g. The first-quarter unnecessary roughness flag thrown by back judge Steve Freeman in Carolina. No helmet contact there. Mike Mitchell didn’t deserve it.
h. All the yapping in Carolina. Lord, it looked so bush league.
i. Quintin Mikell dropping the pick-6 deep in 49ers territory. That’s the kind of play that haunts a team in the offseason.
j. One thing about officiating crews I really dislike is their inability to cut the chippiness out of big games. The Carolina-Niners game was a perfect example. Waaaay too much taunting and a missed obvious head-butting from an emotional Anquan Boldin. Those things have to be called.
k. And Jim Harbaugh. A meltdown at a crucial time of a road playoff game, costing your team 15 yards? And not knowing the rules that the play you’re tantruming about is going to be reviewed anyway?
l. But see, I blame the officials partly for Harbaugh’s freakathon. If they’d have kept control of the game, there’s a chance that idiocy wouldn’t have happened.
3. I think it’s too early to get too excited about the 2014 opener, but say Seattle wins it all. My vote for Sept. 4 at CenturyLink Field: Denver (with Chris Mortensen confirming that Peyton Manning, assuming he passes his March physical, which is as sure as the Rockies being beautiful, is going to play next season) at Seattle.
4. I think if the NFL does decide to go to a seventh playoff team per conference (the league will look hard this offseason at two things—the cutdown of preseason games from four to three or two per team, and then the playoff makeover), I could see a Monday night game being considered for Wild Card weekend. Wait, you say: That’s unfair, because the winner would have a short week before the divisional round. Well, the Broncos in the 2011 postseason played a Wild Card game on Sunday and a divisional game the next Saturday. Same thing with Baltimore last year, traveling on a short week to play the divisional game at Denver. Didn’t seem to hogtie Baltimore, which went on to win the Super Bowl. I could see two Wild Card games on Saturday, three on Sunday (with a Sunday night game), and then the Monday nighter. It’s all speculation for now, of course. But if the league can find a way to ensure that the Monday winning team wouldn’t play until the following Sunday, I could see a Monday night game gaining steam.
5. I think the Browns are going to find a coach, someday. But a year after Chip Kelly said no, it’s clear that this is the job that’s scaring away the most candidates. And it’s clear the Browns want an offensive coach to develop the quarterback of the future. Thus the Josh McDaniels/Adam Gase/Ben McAdoo fascination.
6. I think GM Mickey Loomis has had a terrific run, overall, for the Saints, ably assisted by underrated director of college scouting Rick Reiprish. But the Mark Ingram pick in 2011 is the pick that keeps on betraying the franchise. New Orleans traded a second-round pick in 2011 and a first-rounder in 2012 to acquire the 28th overall pick from New England in ’11 and take Ingram. And Saturday it was clear for all to see that an undrafted rookie from West Texas A&M, Khiry Robinson, is a better option for the Saints—and more sure-handed. The Saints surrendered the 56th pick in 2011 (New England used it on Shane Vereen) and the 27th pick in 2012 (the Pats traded that pick to Cincinnati, which used it on guard Kevin Zeitler) for Ingram.
7. I think I am so pleased to see Mike Zimmer, finally, being a serious candidate for two coaching jobs, and being interviewed a second time in Minnesota.
8. I think I don’t view Dan Le Batard the way some in the public do—as the freedom-fighting Edward Snowden of sports media for surrendering his baseball Hall of Fame vote to Deadspin. I don’t like what he did. When you become a Hall of Fame voter, you agree to abide by the rules of the game. If you don’t like the rules, whatever they are, don’t vote. But to assign the vote to whomever you choose is wrong. And how exactly does it help the process, which everyone decries as broken? In turning over his vote to Deadspin, which then had a fan vote to determine who would be included on his ballot, Le Batard protested the process of voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Did it change anyone’s mind about how the process should proceed in the future? The fact is, baseball writers have a far more difficult job that the voters for any other Hall of Fame, because they have to factor in how to treat players from the Steroid Era, and I don’t know how you do that. As for the vitriol sent their way over the past few days, I’ve found this over the years about being a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter: Very few people are going to say, “You guys did a great job.” Most often, the Denver fan is going to say, “You’re an idiot for not putting Terrell Davis in the Hall of Fame,” and the Packers fan is going to scream about Jerry Kramer. It grinds on you after a while; it certainly has on me. But it’s a privilege to try to do the best you can under the circumstances and the rules of the vote to try to put the right people in the Hall of Fame, and that’s what I try to remember as I go through the winnowing process each year.
9. I think, and I have been wrong on this before (like, most years, as one of the 46 voters), that this would be my best guess as to the five finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame most likely to be elected Feb. 1: Walter Jones, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Charles Haley, Michael Strahan. And I would list these three as the closest contenders to them: Will Shields, Tony Dungy, Aeneas Williams. Now, I didn’t say those first five would be my picks. I don’t know my picks yet, and won’t until we get inside the room.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. For those who think Chris Christie cannot win the presidency now, I chuckle. It’s 34 months until election day, people. Lots of scandals can, and will, happen between now and then.
b. Such a loyal guy, that Robert Gates.
c. … he said, dripping with sarcasm.
d. The best color on any uniform in all of sports: Toronto Maple Leafs blue.
e. Aren’t we done with A-Rod yet? Can we be? Please? Can he just please go away?
f. Americans will look back on life on the planet in the 25 years from 1990 to 2015 years after I am gone and (I hope) wonder: “Why did people pay so much attention to that idiot Dennis Rodman?”
g. A kids’ literacy group I support, Write on Sports, is auctioning off a lunch for four with me on Wednesday of Super Bowl week. You can bid (or laugh at me) on Charity Buzz. And you can read about the good work of Write on Sports.
h. Coffeenerdness: So I ventured into the original Starbucks, the one by Pike Place Market, and had a macchiato on Friday. Absolutely delicious espresso. Perfect. And the barista told me, “We’re one of the few Starbucks that pulls our own shots manually, and some people say they can taste the difference.” Count me as one. I noticed—she twisted the handle on the espresso pod, dumped the used espresso, rinsed it, then manually added the espresso. Takes longer, but the taste is richer … Thanks for your advice last week about how to clean a coffeemaker. Turns out a couple cups of white vinegar and water, cycled through the process with a pause in the middle to let the vinegar mix work, and then two cycles of water running through the machine, did the trick just as you said. (You too, Nancy Gay.) So thanks for the good old virtual community advice.
i. Beernerdness: You know why I made the trip to the Pacific Northwest, right? Okay, yes, my daughter Mary Beth is up here, so that’s always a good reason. But Manny’s Pale Ale, from the little but influential Georgetown Brewing Company here, is my go-to ale up here, and it didn’t disappoint. Hoppy and smooth and slightly less carbonated than the usual pale ale, at least to my taste. Nice place, the 520 Grill in Old Bellevue, to sample the Manny’s too.
j. Tina Fey is ridiculously funny.
The Adieu Haiku
There are no new angles. So …
Can they play today?