Jan 132013
 

The Denver Broncos vs Baltimore Ravens AFC Divisional playoff game.Saturday was a great day to be a football fan. It was also a pretty good day to be a Harbaugh brother.

The early game, and we use the term “early” loosely, turned out to be a classic as the Baltimore Ravens edged the Denver Broncos 38-35 in double overtime in the fourth longest playoff game in NFL history. And while that game was wrapping up, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers were engaged in their own slugfest, which the 49ers eventually took control of as they went on to a 45-31 victory. Here are quick recaps for the two games.

Baltmore Ravens 38 Denver Broncos 35 (2OT)

Justin Tucker kicked a 47 yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime to give Head Coach John Harbaugh’s Ravens a shocking 38-35 win over the host Broncos.

Ray Rice ran for 131 and a score on 30 carries, and Joe Flacco lit up the Broncos’ secondary for 331 yards and three scores, including an inexcusable 70 yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with only 41 seconds remaining to allow the Ravens to force overtime. Torrey Smith also burned Champ Bailey for two big touchdown receptions as the Ravens generated 479 yards of offense.

The Denver loss spoiled an amazing performance by Trindon Holliday, who ran back a first half punt 90 yards for a touchdown and then brought the opening kickoff of the second half back for a 104 yard score.

Peyton Manning struggled for consistency, having a solid first half, but seemingly melting under pressure in the second half and in overtime. Manning was 28/43 for 290 yards and three scored, but threw two costly interceptions, one which was returned for a touchdown in the first quarter by Corey Graham, and another that was picked off by Graham near the end of the first overtime that set up the game winning field goal.

While Broncos’ fans will no doubt point to some suspect officiating as costing them some opportunities, there are too many internal causes for the defeat. At the end of the first half the Broncos got the ball back with 36 seconds left on the clock and time-outs in hand, but chose to instead run out the clock. The Broncos similarly had a chance to end the game on a third down play late in the fourth quarter and chose to run the ball on third and seven rather than let Manning try to pass for the first down. But the biggest reason for the Broncos loss was the pitiful play of the secondary, including Champ Bailey getting beat deep twice and Rahim Moore giving up the late bomb to Jones. After the game, Moore said, “It is my fault, plain and simple.” But really the fault rests with a secondary that helped make Joe Flacco looked more like Peyton Manning than Manning did.

Baltimore will now travel to face the winner of the New England Patriots – Houston Texans match-up in the AFC Championship.

San Francisco 49ers 45 Green Bay Packers 31

Four plays into the game, Colin Kaepernick threw an interception that Sam Shields returned 52 yards for a Green Bay touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. But after that, Kaepernick was unflappable, as he threw for 263 yards and two scores, and ran for another 181 yards and two scores as the 49ers dominated the Packers 45-31  at Candlestick Park.

The two teams fought a back and forth battle throughout the first half, with the 49ers taking a 24-21 lead on a David Akers field goal to end the half. After an Green Bay field goal almost midway through the third quarter, San Francisco took control of the game. Kaepernick exploded for a 56 yard touchdown run to put the Niners in front, and then Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon each scored on two yard runs as San Francisco closed the door and advanced to next week’s NFC championship, where they will face the winner of the Atlanta Falcons – Seattle Seahawks contest.

Michael Crabtree had a huge game for San Francisco, catching nine passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, while Gore ran for 119 yards and one score. James Jones caught four passes for 87 yards and a score for the Packers, while Greg Jennings added six catches for 54 yards and one touchdown.

The Green Bay offensive line did a good job of limiting the San Francisco pass rush, limiting the 49ers to one sack and three quarterback hits. But Aaron Rodgers never seemed to get into synch in the contest, and Kaepernick was simply too much for the Packers’ defense. The young quarterback is making Head Coach Jim Harbaugh look like a genius for choosing to start him over veteran Alex Smith. “It feels good. We’re one step closer to where we want to be,” Kaepernick said. “I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team.”

Jan 102013
 

Packers - 49ersIn a span of five playoff appearances between 1995 and 2001, the Green Bay Packers stood in the San Francisco 49ers path to a sixth Super Bowl Championship. On four of five occasions Green Bay emerged victorious and have had good luck in Candlestick Park where they have emerged victorious twice in three chances. Fast forward to 2013 where the 49ers, still chasing the elusive sixth world championship, are set to renew their playoff rivalry with Green Bay. This will be a rematch of Week One when San Francisco drew first blood, limiting the anemic Green Bay running game to 45 yards, and offensively received stellar performances by QB Alex Smith (20-26, 211 yards, 2 TDs) and RB Frank Gore (112 Yards, 1 TD). Much has changed since the 30-22 San Francisco victory that was never in question despite what the score may indicate. While the Niners have continued their winning ways throughout the season, Colin Kaepernick—a Wisconsin born Packer fan– has replaced Alex Smith and will be making his first playoff start. Meanwhile, the loss to the 49ers was the first loss of three that would occur in the first five weeks for Green Bay. The Packers would recover in stellar fashion behind the MVP caliber play of QB Aaron Rodgers (ironically, a Niner fan growing up) by winning 9 of their last 11 en route divisional crown and a 4th consecutive playoff appearance.

Keys for Green Bay
Despite the constant threat of being torched through the air by Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay rushing attack—and attack is a term used lightly here—is not likely to foster any type of impactful effort against the league’s number four ranked defense against the run. DuJaun Harris was superb in his 100 yard effort against the Vikings and FB John Kuhn picked up a score on the ground as well. However, there are vast differences. The X-Factor for Green Bay will be the ability for Don Barclay and the Packer offensive line to give Rodgers the time needed to work effectively against a pass defense that has been as effective against the pass as it has against the run. Given time to executive, Rodgers should enjoy some level of effectiveness to finally healthy targets Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings. Rodgers, looking to up his playoff record to 6-2, was able to pick up 279 yards through the air in the week one contest. It should be noted that Rodgers has never come back against a team above .500 in the fourth quarter in 18 tries; the Packers will need to build an early lead for Rodgers to avoid such a predicament in his first ever trip to Candlestick.

The Packers defense will need to build off their successful performance against Adrian Peterson in the Wild Card round. Peterson, who averaged over 200 yards per game against Green Bay in 2012 in two regular season games, and torched them for 199 yards in Minnesota’s playoff clinching week 17 victory, was held to 99 yards in the Packers 24-10 victory a week ago. They were also successful in limiting QB Joe Webb on the ground. While nowhere near the level of Kaepernick it was suspected that the main asset Webb could utilize was the speed element of his game—which Green Bay had no time to game plan for due to the Vikings late QB change. In Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick (5 rushing TDs in 2012), San Francisco boasts an RB that has had recent success against the Packers combined with a QB with elite speed. Additionally, LaMichael James is a handful when spelling Gore in relief. Ultimately, Green Bay will need to mirror last weeks’ effort if their 17th ranked defense is to contain the Niners 4th ranked rushing attack. To do so B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson must be effective in dealing with the physical multiple tight end and goal line type sets that San Francisco’s used in Week 1. If the Packers can limit the San Francisco running game they could find themselves trending toward their performance in their Super Bowl winning run a couple of seasons ago which was buoyed by a strong run defense throughout the playoffs. Charles Woodson and the Green Bay secondary remains the strong suit of the Packer defense, but stopping the run will go a long way toward stacking the odds against an inexperienced QB by forcing their opponents to move away from the balanced attack the 49ers favor.

Green Bay passed the test against the number 2 rushing attack in the league last week and also where able to get a look at an option style quarterback—albeit one less talented than Kaepernick—in Webb. Kaepernick, in his 5-2 run as a starter, threw 10 touchdowns against only three picks to go with his 5 rushing scored and his 7.2 yards per carry clip. The Packers struggled with Alex Smith in Week 1 and Kaepernick’s speed element makes him profoundly more difficult to game plan for. Nonetheless, if there is a weakness in Kaepernick’s game to compliment his lack of post season experience it is his propensity to put the ball on the ground. He fumbled seven times in seven starts but lost only one—the Packers will need to capitalize if Kaepernick puts the ball on the ground. Furthermore, the Packers remain solid in the secondary and will hope to benefit from mistakes that can be forced if the Packer front seven can pressure Kaepernick.

Keys for San Francisco
Whether it’s John Harbaugh firing his offensive coordinator with a month to go in the season or brother Jim replacing Alex Smith in-season despite a 21-6-1 run as a starting including last season’s post season run, no one will ever accuse the Harbaughs of following conventional wisdom. Last week, John was successful in Baltimore’s first effort of the season with the Ravens defeated the Colts 24-9. This week it is Jim’s turn to throw egg on the critics of his bold move—though his risk to a much higher degree. How Colin Kaepernick performs in his first season start will not only determine whether or not the 49ers earn a shot at an NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance it was also validate or invalidate Harbaugh’s risky switch. So far, in the regular season, Harbaugh has been rewarded; however, with a quarterback who has been successful and won recently in the playoffs sitting idle the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Pro Bowler’s Joe Staley and Mike Iaputi will need their usual effectiveness in protection. Additionally, Gore and James will need to continue on their recent run of success on the ground. If the Niners are successful in those two key areas it will go a long way to mitigating any nerves and the overall inexperience of Kaepernick. Furthermore, Kaepernick will then be able to target Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree and pick apart the Green Bay secondary.

If you hold up the starting lineup for last year’s 49ers team and the 2012 unit you will note minimal change to the defense on paper. However, the Justin Smith that lined up on the defensive line in 2011 was perhaps the top defensive player in the league last year—making 1st Team All-Pro and 2nd Team All-Pro simultaneously. This year he enters the game after missing two weeks with a triceps injury—emotional impact only goes so far and it will only be known as the game unfolds how much of a physical impact his return will have. Smith went down against New England and the defense quickly unraveled and matters got bad as they gave up 28 unanswered points. Bad turned to ugly the following week when the Seattle scored 42 points in Smith’s absence. How effective Justin Smith is on Saturday with also impact the other Smith—Alden—whose 19.5 sacks this season were a strong derivative of the double teams faced by his namesake at on the defensive line. The Niners will need Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, NT Isaac Sopoaga, and LE Ray McDonald to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers and what will likely be a one dimensional Packer attack

With Pro Bowl Safeties Donte Whitner and FS Dashon Goldson, in addition to CB’s Tarell Brown and Carlos Rodgers (who experienced a career year in 2012), the Niners fourth ranked passing defense is healthy and matches up well with Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb. Jennings has been catching his stride lately with 3 TDs in as many games and Cobb is healthy; however, the Niners will need to keep the Packer deep threats in front of them. With the front seven likely to limit the Packer ground game, the San Francisco secondary will need to limit buy not completely ground the league’s top quarterback.

The Outcome
This is the most interesting of the three games this weekend that feature rematches of regular season lop-sided affairs. The unknown that is Kaepernick in this situation makes this game a virtual pick ‘em in the eyes of many. Questions surrounding Justin Smith’s healthy only further muddy the picture of what the outcome could be. If Smith is healthy and Kaepernick is not caught in the moment it would be hard to pick against the 49ers in a game at home against a team that is 4-4 on the road. The Packers offense will likely be rendered one dimensional against San Francisco—however, that one dimension happens to be the best player in the league. The Packers were workmanlike in taking apart the Vikings last weekend; meanwhile, the Niners have been prone to embarrassing performances on defense in the absence of Smith. Nonetheless, I am counting on Smith to return in grand fashion and Kaepernick to seize the moment. Rodgers will have a strong day but in the end will move to 0-19 when attempting to comeback against better than .500 opponents. This could be one for the ages.

San Francisco 28 Green Bay 27

Jan 022013
 

15cgvike1203.jpgMinnesota Head Coach Leslie Frazier has given a high appraisal of backup quarterback Joe Webb’s ability, making it no secret that he feels Webb can be an NFL starter. So it was faith in Christian Ponder, rather than the sense he lacked depth at the QB position, that prompted Frazier to stick with Ponder through his mid-season struggles. Ponder rewarded his coach with a 234 yard 3 td performance in Week 17 at home that capped a 4-game winning streak, in which Ponder was picked off only once, and launched Minnesota into this week’s re-match at Lambeau. Ponder’s ability to relocate his early season efficiency in conjunction with Frazier’s guile and Adrian Peterson’s historic comeback season have turned around a franchise that bottomed out at 3-13 just a season ago.

For Green Bay, 2012 was more of the same from a franchise that has taken on a level of consistency and success in the McCarthy-Rodgers era. Aaron Rodgers overcame the lack of a marquee running attack and injuries to both Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb to post MVP caliber numbers. Green Bay overcame a 2-3 start, albeit a controversial loss to Seattle thrown into that mix, to win 11 of their final 13 games. Saturday brings round three of the Vikings-Packer series back to Lambeau where the Packers overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit against Minnesota on Dec. 2 and have not lost since opening day.

The Keys for Minnesota
It was Ponder’s 2 interceptions thrown to Morgan Burnett that sunk the Vikings on Dec 2nd and rendered Adrian Peterson’s 210 yard performance for naught. Fast forward to Week 17 when Peterson rushed for 199 yards but Ponder avoided turnovers and passed for three scores in the wild card clinching victory. Ponder will need to be equally as efficient if Minnesota is to win the rubber match. Additionally—it almost goes without saying—Peterson needs to continue his dominance against the Packer defense.

If Minnesota did one thing right on the other side of the ball in Week 17 it was in the pass rush where they were able to register 5 sacks. Unfortunately, the back end of the defense did not fare as well—giving up 365 yards and 34 points. Greg Jennings seems to be returning to form while Randall Cobb is likely to be available for Rodgers this week. Minnesota will need to slow down Green Bay in the secondary if they are to move on.

The Keys for the Packers
The Green Bay defense proved more than proficient at getting to the quarterback this season—ranking inside the top 5 in sacks. However, they have not fared well against the Vikings pass protections schemes and have sacked Ponder once in two games this season. Green Bay will need to put more pressure on Ponder in the second year quarterbacks playoff debut. The Packers can withstand another big performance by the NFL rushing champion as long as they make the Vikings offense one dimensional.

On the offensive side of the ball Aaron Rodgers will need to produce like Aaron Rodgers typically does. The Vikings defensive line has been able to find Rodgers, who has been able to overcome 7 sacks in the two meetings to produce stellar numbers. One has to wonder if Rodgers overcome back-to-back 5 sack performances? The Packers would be served best not to find out and would likely benefit from better pass protection and a better performance by the running game. They rushed for 72 yards in the week 17 loss versus 137 in their victory on Dec. 2nd. DuJuan Harris will likely get the chance to lead the Packers rushing attack.

Outcome
It can be argued that Minnesota has outplayed Green Bay in 6 of the 8 quarters the teams have played. Two things have held true through the two meetings: Green Bay cannot stop Peterson and Aaron Rodgers has been able to overcome Minnesota’s pressure to exploit the Vikings’ secondary. The “Wild Card” here is Ponder and whether or not he has the ability to build the performance of last week when he not only took care of the ball but he made big plays when needed. Similarly to the Colts and the Redskins, Minnesota getting to this point marks a dramatic resurrection from where they were a year ago. Win or lose, the Vikings are headed in the right direction. However, this week that direction is a return flight to Minneapolis where they can begin an off-season with designs on building on the success of 2012. Green Bay 35 – Minnesota 21

Oct 082012
 

For those of you who have somehow managed to avoid watching the Green Bay Packers this season consider yourselves fortunate. The television commercials starring individual Packer players are much more fun to watch, and they are also much more indicative of what this 2012 Packer team is all about. I am sure you have seen some of these commercials, right?

This Packer team is a team of individual stars both on and off the field. Gone is the unified team that took the National Football League by storm in January and February 2011. There seems to be no hunger, desire, togetherness, or accountability on this outfit. This is in stark contrast to the 2010 team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Dallas.
I pointed out two weeks ago that the Packers, and not the officials, were responsible for the loss in Seattle. Yet, you still saw starters from an offensive line unit that was manhandled throughout much of the game in Seattle jump on their Twitter accounts and point the finger at the replacement officials as opposed to looking in the mirror. You heard no references made, as good teams would have done, that the Seattle game was not lost by virtue of the replacement officials. The good teams would have, as opposed to blaming the officiating, stated that they have to go back to work and make improvements so that games of this nature in the future can be won going away as opposed to losing on the last play of the game.

The million dollar question, though, is, do the Packers even care? Some of them seem to be happy by virtue of receiving the individual accolades. The Packers held a 21-3 lead at halftime yesterday. Good enough, right? Well apparently some in the Packer locker room must have felt this way? The offense had performed well in the first half, and the defense had held the Colts to three points. It certainly appeared that some of the Packers must have thought that they had put in a good days work at that juncture of the game.

In stark contrast to the 2012 Packers are the 2012 Indianapolis Colts. The second half turned out to be a wonderful, beautiful story of perseverance, character and teamwork as the less talented Colts won one for their ailing coach by outscoring the Packers 27-6 in the second half.

I was listening to the Colts radio crew broadcast the game yesterday. Right before halftime, the crew was discussing how you do not have to be mean in order to succeed in football, just tough. The Colts radio crew pointed out that this is what Andrew Luck is all about, that he is one of the nicest, yet the toughest players in the game. Apparently, Luck is also a team player because this “toughness” was embodied by the Colts during that second half.

I discussed back in August that football is won with both a solid defense and running game. I cautioned everyone that the Packers had neither of these essential qualities in 2012. Compounding this problem is apparently the lack of a team concept, accountability, and an overall toughness. The Colts wanted it much more than the Packers did yesterday. Besides beating their arch rivals back in Week 2, have the Packers wanted anything this year besides individual accomplishments? If this does not change soon the Packers are going to find themselves in last place of the North Division come early January.

Sep 252012
 

…maybe the replacements got it right, after all.

If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.

Go watch the video, and tell me you can see whether the defender caught the ball first, or if the ball was caught by both players at the same time. Even the announcers called it “simultaneous”.

But it was reviewed, you say?

Irrelevant.

A ruling of simultaneous possession is a judgement call — i.e., one that cannot be overturned on review. Replays can only be used to determine if a pass was complete or incomplete. So, the only way the referee could have overturned the score is if the video clearly showed the ball hit the ground. Since it didn’t, they had no choice but to award the touchdown — and the game — to Seattle.

EDIT: In light of the NFL’s statement, I stand corrected on this. Simultaneous possession is reviewable in the end zone. This changes my thinking somewhat, but my larger point still stands (read on).

In other words, the replacement referees made a split-second call (and anyone who says they saw an obvious interception at full speed is lying), a call the rules expressly prohibited them from changing upon review.

Blame the referees for making horrible calls all night, if you must. Seattle wouldn’t have been in the position to score if not for a very questionable pass interference flag a few players earlier. On the other hand, Green Bay’s only touchdown drive was saved by another, just as (if not more) questionable, penalty.

I’m not suggesting the replacement referees have been good. However, I don’t for a second buy the argument that it’s inevitable a “real” crew would have called the play correctly. I’d say the odds are 50/50 at best. If you remember, there’s a reason we have replay in the first place; the game is so fast that even those who have officiated games every week for years still get it wrong sometimes.

EDIT: This is where I stand by my thesis. If you honestly think every “real” referee would have overturned the call upon review, you haven’t been watching the same league I have. In light of the NFL’s clarification (above), I’d increase the odds to 60/40 or even 70/30 that the locked-out officials would have made the correct call, either initially or upon review, but no more than that.

The game last night was a godsend for the locked-out officials, in that one play has provided a focal point for all of the boiling anger and resentment by players, coaches, and fans alike. The NFL is all but certain to settle within weeks, if not days. That’s good news for everybody.

The better news for the officials and the league (and the bad news for fans) is the “real” guys weren’t on the field last night. That gives cover for what is an unacceptable state of affairs — namely, that in the age of dozens of camera angles and high-tech replay booths, the rules still prevent officials from correcting many of their “mistakes”. This is the most obvious place where a rules change is needed (aside from the forever-damned “Tuck Rule”).

I put “mistakes” in scare quotes because I have argued for years the mere existence of replay creates an unrealistic expectation of perfection. Referees, umpires, and back judges are human, after all — and while the past couple weeks have proven they are the best at what they do, they still can’t see what fans at home can see with their 90″ HDTVs and super-slo-mo. Frankly, I would be happier if replay was done away with completely, but I realize it’s here to stay. So, here are my humble suggestions:

1) Require reviews to be made at full speed, or at most, slightly slowed. If a call isn’t obviously wrong at 50% normal speed, then live with it.

2) Do away with limitations on what can and cannot be reviewed. I’m not sure where those limits come from, but if the referee can overturn himself, or a member of his crew, on a question of whether a player stepped out of bounds, it seems reasonable he can also overturn judgement calls like whether a cornerback made contact with a receiver too early.

3) Get rid of (or at least refine) the challenge system. If you want to get it right, get it right. Whether or not the opposing head coach wants to wager a timeout should have no bearing on the matter.

4) Finally, adopt the system in place in Canada, and have all replays reviewed centrally. This will ensure consistency (and remove any subconscious reluctance on the part of referees to overturn their crew members’ decisions).

In the end, I have to say no: the replacements didn’t get it right. That much is obvious. But the list of who got it “wrong” is much longer than the poor guys in the end zone last night:

  • An offense that scored 35 points a game last year could only manage a single touchdown, with the assistance of a phantom interference call.
  • The top takeaway defense in the league couldn’t manage a single turnover against a rookie quarterback.
  • The officials aren’t even in a position to make the call if M. D. Jennings takes Tom Jackson’s perennial advice in Hail Mary situations: “KNOCK IT DOWN!”
  • While it didn’t affect the outcome of the game, Mike McCarthy’s professionalism took a major hit when he and his team left the field before the game was officially over. Not a classy move, Mike.

I join my fellow Rats in imploring the league to get this mess over with as quickly as possible.

Sadly, I doubt the griping over the officials will end, one way or the other.

Sep 252012
 

“I am sick to my stomach” were the words used by Jon Gruden at the end of the Packers vs. Seahawks game last night. I could not agree with him more. The integrity of the game has been lost by the situation with the replacement referees. They are not getting it done. They cannot manage the game, make correct calls, or control coaches. Roger Goddell must rectify the situation with officials immediately. I cannot stand to see games decided in this manner. If I were a Packers fan or this happened to my beloved Browns, I would have lost my mind last night. I hope this is the tipping point and the real officials are back soon. To all the NFL fans, good luck with your teams this year, as we have no idea what we are going to get each game. 

Sep 252012
 

I grew up watching a variety of sporting events. One of the things I always appreciated was listening to the post game radio interview after a basketball game, and hearing a basketball coach refuse to blame the loss on an official’s call, or a missed free throw, shot or lay-up that had occurred at the end of the game. The coach on these occasions would point out that the failure to make plays at key moments throughout the game was the cause of the loss as opposed to an official’s call, a missed free throw, or a missed shot at the end of the game. Thus, potentially one of the most frustrating and disappointing things to come out of last night’s game is the opinion that this game was stolen from the Packers. I disagree with this popular sentiment.

The Seattle Seahawks are a gritty, tough, team, and they are a lot of fun to watch. The Seahawks are a play or two away from being 3-0. Who was not impressed by the inspired play of the Seahawk defense, and their plucky quarterback, rookie Russell Wilson? In addition, Marshawn Lynch and Golden Tate were nearly equally as impressive. Consequently, the Seahawks collectively won this game, and let’s give credit where it is due.

In contrast, can the same thing be said about the play of the Green Bay Packers? Giving up eight sacks in one half of play is inexcusable. Yes, Mike McCarthy and his staff made some much needed adjustments at halftime. Further, the much maligned Packer defense has suddenly become a bright spot for the team. The Packers played winning defense, and Aaron Rodgers rendered the type of second half performance that we are used to seeing from him.

However, where was the Packer offensive line in the first half? The tackles were consistently abused and exposed throughout the first half, and the offensive line as a unit delivered a miserable performance. The unit improved its play in the second half, but was the damage already done? In the aftermath of the game, though, rather than some of the Packer linemen acknowledging that they could have played better, these players opted to blame the replacement officials and the NFL for the loss.

I will acknowledge that I am highly critical of Roger Goodell’s handling of this matter. It is my opinion that there has been a lack of leadership on his part in addressing and ultimately resolving this matter. The game and its reputation are being damaged given that it is apparent to all that the lack of quality officiating is damaging the brand of football that we have grown accustomed to watching.
This point is reinforced by what happened last night. Rather than acknowledging the fact that the best team last night won the game, we are blaming the officiating for the Packer loss. Based upon what I witnessed, the Seahawks were the better team and they won the game by virtue of being the better team last night. When it comes down to it, the Packers have no one to blame but themselves for the loss. If the Packers had made more plays throughout the game, the Packers would have won that game going away.

Yes, the failure of the officials union and the NFL to reach an agreement is ruining the game we love. This issue needs to be resolved today. As opposed to discussing what was a great football game last night, played by two pretty good to potentially really good teams, we are blaming the officials for a loss. This is not fair to the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers and football fans as a whole.

Sep 252012
 

If the Baltimore win over New England was influenced by sub-par officiating, then the Seattle win over Green Bay was downright decided by it.

A replacement referee ruled that Golden Tate maintained simultaneous control of a last second 24-yard Hail Mary by Russell Wilson with Packers defender MD Jennings and ruled the play a touchdown, lifting the Seahawks to a thrilling 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers Monday night.

The only trouble with the call? There was never simultaneous control. Rather, it was clear on replay that Jennings first had possession of the ball and that Tate then fought to gain joint possession of the ball. A second official properly ruled the play an interception but was overruled on the field.

According to the NFL Rulebook,

If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.

Unless you are a Seahawks fan, this video can only show that Jennings secured control of the ball and even turned away from Tate before Tate was able to anchor an arm on the ball to establish mutual possession (not control).

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy refused to discuss the officiating, limiting his comments to, “I was told M.D. Jennings had the ball. I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years in football.” Quarterback Aaron Rodgers took the subject on right away. “”It was awful. Just look at the replay. And then the fact that it was reviewed, it was awful,” Rodgers said. “That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

There was some dispute after the game as to whether or not the ruling was subject to review, though one would suspect that because all scoring plays are reviewed, the call could and should have been made to rule the play an interception. That was not done however, and it took the teams a full ten minutes to return to the field to complete the required extra point in order to end the game.

The play ruined what was otherwise an extraordinary football game that, while it suffered from some abysmal calls, was a fair and hard fought battle dominated by the Seahawks defense until the Packers struck late to take the lead. The Seahawks were able to pin the Packers deep in their own territory and force a punt, setting up the Seahawks in Packers territory to start the final drive. The Hail Mary occurred on fourth down, and Golden Tate got away with an incredibly obvious offensive pass interference in the end zone that also should have negated the play. While offensive pass interference is rarely called in such situations, this play was obvious to a blind chipmunk living in Maine watching the game on the radio. Unfortunately for the Packers, the chipmunk was not officiating the game.

The game’s bizarre ending had the ESPN analysts going off again, a scant one week after Steve Young’s justified tirade against the league. Tonight both Young and Trent Dilfer spoke eloquently about the harm that the league is doing to the game, and the insult that the league is paying to the fans, players, and former players. As Young noted, the league is destroying the esteemed place that the NFL holds in professional sports, all for the sake of beating the union and controlling the officials. In the interest of saving money and asserting dictatorial control, the league seems willing to demean its own product and render the games meaningless.

Sixteen hours of talks took place over the weekend with the involvement of both Commissioner Goodell and a federal mediator, but the talks broke down. Word is that the NFL is now trying to re-ignite talks, likely in the wake of a disastrous weekend for the replacement officials. But the NFL sent a memo to its clubs updating teams on the progress of the talks, which unfortunately read like a press release justifying the stance of the league, according to Pro Football Talk. Coupled with the revelation that the league has resisted the desire of players to have concussion experts on the sidelines, it is clear that Goodell’s proclamations about the importance and value of player safety are hollow, and the NFL is willing to sacrifice both the integrity of the game and the safety of the players on the field to maximize its own profits.

While I hope that the situation can be resolved with a positive outcome in the near future, all games played with replacement officials are a continued disgrace to the league. These officials are not going to get better, and the evidence suggests that the situation is getting worse by the game. Roger Goodell’s legacy is quickly being reduced to a monumental joke and one must begin to wonder that if this situation does not get resolved soon, if it is time not only for players, coaches and fans to call for a resolution to the lockout, but also call for the resignation of Roger Goodell.

And I imagine that nearly the entire state of Wisconsin is ready to sign the petition. I’m pretty sure they already have one circulating in Louisiana.

Aug 132012
 

Yes, it’s the first game of the pre-season, but…

…I did not realize how much I missed football until I tuned into ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown this past Thursday and felt myself not only hanging on every word that was uttered by Boomer, Ditka, Keyshawn, Cris Carter and Tom Jackson, but almost wishing I could kiss each one of the lips of the guys uttering those words. Then, an hour later the game started and I had a completely different reaction to the team that many think may be one of the best, if not the best, teams in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers.

During Countdown I listened to Aaron Rodgers talk about how this year’s version of the Packers will prepare themselves better for the task at hand, and how the team, given that there is not quite as much hoopla surrounding them this year, prefers to be more of the “hunter” as opposed to the “hunted”.  This may indeed be correct.  However, what became immediately apparent to me on Thursday night was that this will only go as far as a defense and a running game, or lack thereof, will take them.

The Packers trotted out James Starks at running back. James Starks is not the type of running back that a team aspiring to win the Division, the Halas Trophy and ultimately the Lombardi Trophy starts at this crucial position. Yes, he has shown flashes of solid play at times. However, Starks is not the every- down/big-play type of back that is going to strike terror in hearts of opposing defenses and their coordinators.

Yes, but the Packers have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and a bevy of big-time receiving targets for him. Who needs a star running back when you have this feature in your offense? To answer this question one needs to only go back eight or so months ago to a cold day in Kansas City when Romeo Crennell showed everyone how tight coverage, a solid pass rush, and limiting the amount of possessions the Packers have in a game can serve to slow down an offense that lacks a premier player at running back.

There has been discussion of second-year running back out of the University of Hawaii, Alex Green, filling some of the void at this position. However, Green has been limited by injuries thus far, and is it enough to pin the hopes of a rushing attack on a second-year player who has yet to play significant minutes in his brief NFL career?

I still have similar concerns with the defense. Yes, I liked the play of Nick Perry. His first sack was especially encouraging. The penalty administered in the aftermath of the play attests to the fact that Roger Goodell needs to immediately resolve the ongoing dispute with the NFL officials, but I digress.

Desmond Bishop got hurt early in the game. This is especially concerning for a team that will try to compensate for the loss of Nick Collins by starting an aging Charles Woodson at safety. Woodson was on the sideline dressed in civilian attire, and with Bishop out of the game early it seemed like I was watching the 2011 Packer defense make an appearance in the first preseason game of 2012.

Although, Nick Perry may provide some needed pass rush, I see a defense that will again struggle stopping the run and ultimately getting off the field in the aftermath of third down. Yes, it was the first game of the preseason, yet the glaring weaknesses of the 2011 defense were on display throughout the game.

A few weeks ago I picked the Packers to win a heated divisional battle over the Bears and advance to the NFC Championship. However, based upon what I witnessed on Thursday evening, I believe that this is going to be a third place team in the NFC North that will struggle mightily to win 10 games and earn the Wildcard.

Football is still a simple game. Winning football is played by teams with a strong defense and a running game. It looks like the Packers will have neither one of these essential qualities in 2012. Consequently, it could be a disappointing year for the Pack.

Cleat-Gate

 Posted by
Jun 052012
 

Just saw the video of “cleat-gate”.

Seriously?

That’s what all the fuss is about?

Packers WR for life Donald Driver throws the cleat towards the woman in the green shirt. The kid reaches over and swipes it from in front of her. She promptly takes it back.

That’s it.

From the discussion on talk radio around here, you’d think Driver had walked into the stands and handed the cleat to the kid, along with notarized proof of ownership, only to have said cleat ripped from his grasp once Driver made his way into the locker room. Clearly, whoever this woman is, she must be the spawn of Satan. Or at least his half-sister.

This reminds me of the flap a couple months back over the foul ball in Texas. Why the hell are kids any more entitled to stuff thrown into the stands than are those of us who have been attending games for more than 30 years, yet have nothing to show for it?

Stupid kids.

Supposedly, Driver intended to toss the cleat to the kid. Considering his aim, it’s a good thing the Packers have Aaron Rogers on the roster.

Question: if the woman had not been able to secure her hold on the cleat, would Driver have “done the right thing” and arranged to present her with autographed swag?

If he had, I suspect the story would have taken on some seriously weird overtones…