Wednesday, February 01, 2012

So I went to the NFC championship game

There are few more insipid arguments frequently advanced in discussions about sports than when someone says at the start of the season you would have been thrilled to take losing the NFC championship game. While it is true, the fact that a team was better than expected half a year ago in no way changes the fact they should have won the game in question.

The Forty-Niners were the flat better team. If they played a series they would have beaten the Giants. The fact that they were not expected to be there in no way lessens the frustration that they blew a game they should have won. Admittedly it always seemed improbable that Alex Smith would win a Super Bowl (which helped prevent the loss from ruining the trip), but the defense was good enough to pull it off (they only allowed one real drive). It is a tough way to win it all, with so little margin for error, but it is possible.

It is rare that an individual player can singlehandedly lose a football game, but that is what Kyle Williams managed to do. The muff was an absolutely terrible play – two boneheaded decisions in one. 1) once it is bouncing just stay away from it – he actually was running *towards* the ball when it hit him (and was really in poor position with it hit the ground in the first place) 2) If it hits you, dive for it!! The fumble in overtime was less egregious, he was holding the ball loosely and was blindsided. Most of the time doing that does not kill you because a player can tense up when they see the hit coming. What a player should do is control the points of the ball no matter where the defenders are – engage in best practices at all times and you don’t have to worry (for those who know me professionally this is why I harp on emails.)

You can further question the wisdom of continuing to put Williams out there (he also made an insane, not in the good way, diving catch for punt earlier in the game). I never though any team could miss Ted Ginn as much as we did. And it was not just for his return skills, San Francisco is way too thin at WR. When Josh Morgan went down no one was there to step into his place. Michael Crabtree is a legitimate starter, but not a #1 and certainly not a weapon upon which other teams focus. The only big play weapon is Vernon Davis (who shockingly the Giants allowed to scorch them twice).

While Williams lost the game, the offense could have done some things differently to potentially win it. The play calling was atrocious late in regulation. First and foremost they simply should have run the ball more, Gore averaged 4.6 yards a carry. I know the Giants might have stacked up to stop the run, but even getting three yards for a second and seven would have been an improvement. Instead they had Smith constantly role out to his right and pick between a handful of targets in a small window, which failed again and again and again. I know he was successful passing on first down against New Orleans, but at some point you have to adjust. Despite how Harbaugh carries on, the truth is that Alex is a game manager, he is not the guy who carries a team. And why was our third string RB Anthony Dixon, who had 29 carries ALL SEASON (3.0 yard average too) running the ball on a crucial third down? (I do in fact know why – they didn’t want the Giants to make substitutions on defense. I just don’t like it, although there is a rational for doing that.)

The next day as I was visiting the city on sportstalk I heard many debates about keeping Alex Smith. I think after six seasons we more or less know what he is, which is someone you can bring back for okay money while you search for a long term answer.

Also the refs did indeed screw us on the Bradshaw fumble. The whistle was too quick (actually on replay you can hear it not start blowing until after the ball was out), but I know the NFL is trying to protect players (or really themselves from lawsuits). That turnover probably would have been just enough to get us to Indy.

As for the reports after the game that the Giants were targeting Kyle Williams for another concussion, that is more notable for the Giants publicly admitting it rather than the fact they shot for knocking someone out.

As for the biggest debate coming out of the game: I can live with calling Eli Manning an elite QB. Taking Big Brother Manning out of the equation the top tier of QBs in the league right now is four deep (in no particular order): Brady, Roethlisberger, Brees, and Rodgers. The second tier is three deep: Rivers, Stafford, and our boy Eli. And you can make a very very legitimate argument he is the best of those three, which would make him top 5. Even if not, he’s top 7 at least. Is a guy in the top 22% of QBs in the league “Elite?” You tell me. I’m hedging towards no because he is not an all-time great, nor a legitimate candidate in a best QB in the league discussion, but there is an argument to be heard.

I have one other comment. I’m not a fan of using public moneys to build palatial stadiums for privately owned teams, but that does not change the fact that The ‘Stick is really a shitbox. I not sure I have ever been in a worse stadium for a major game. The ‘Stick is over half a century old and you can tell when you compare it to a modern stadium. The concourses are very narrow, so you can’t go against the main flow of traffic, nor can you circle it at ground level once you get in the gate. There is a gap in possible seating next to the visitors sideline bleachers where the old baseball wall pulls back for the outfield. There isn’t much sideline space and the field (and whole place) just feel old. On the other hand, there is a certain charm to it because of the great history and I like some weather for my football games, which it certainly provides. Chances are the new stadium will be sterile, the NFL has not quite figured out a way to give modern stadiums much personality (Jerry World is the most, University of Phoenix, Gillette...and maybe Qwest? The most unique attempt was Lucas Oil, which failed and just resembles an old factory). For a start they should put it on the same spot and think about naming it Walsh Field.

[You have to love how I always stay on point and am so concise in my game writeups].

Also, whomever thought to have cops dressed up as Giants fans was a genius. Great move – I would like to be able to go to visiting stadiums.

So in final analysis do I regret flying down and spending the money to get a ticket? No. I would not have gone had I know they were going to lose, but if you never lost it would not be sports. More importantly I saw a defensive effort for the ages. In an era where the NFL has totally tipped the scales to favor the offense and scoring to attract more casual fans and their cash, they were damn amazing. The pressure was on them the whole game with the offense sputtering (converted a whopping ZERO third downs). New York seemed to have the ball the whole game (checking afterward showed they had it for about two-thirds of the time as San Fran barely had over twenty minutes of possession). You kept waiting for the D to get tired or make a killer mistake with your heart in your throat. The whole fourth quarter whenever the Giants got the ball a feeling of “this is it” swept through the stands, but they never faltered. It really is a sporting shame such a marvelous effort will be forgotten because we lost. And of course I am sure next year free agency will break up this defense (free agency is a thousand times more fair for players, but it has meant fans identify with their team less).


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