Things to consider while congratulating Danny Woodhead both for the game he played and the success of his movie:
*This was the “Apocalypse Now” of Patriots games. Brilliant, bizarre, confusing, frustrating, overly long, a gigantic mess at times and with a terrible ending. But still great. The major difference being I can watch Apocalypse a thousand times. I’d sooner be forced to sit around Lebron James’ barbershop laughing at his awful jokes than have to see this game ever again.
*On the other hand, I’ll never be more receptive to the idea of eliminating kickoffs than I am right now.
*So where do you begin breaking down this incomprehensible horror show of a football game? I’m starting with the mistakes. The lots and lots of mistakes. A slew of boneheaded screw ups at exactly the wrong time that you see all the time watching Dallas or Cincy, say. But are half-a-season’s worth for a team as disciplined as the Pats. Brady throwing a deep pick into coverage. A false start by Logan Mankins. Shane Vereen fumbles. Talib doesn’t turn his head on a pass interference. An offsides by Chandler Jones. Stevan Ridley’s fumble. Sebastian Vollmer rips Ray McDonald’s helmet off and still gives up a sack. The 2nd interception that bounced right off Aaron Hernandez’ arms when Carlos Rogers had him in Missile Lock the play after he’d taken a hit helmet-to-helmet and he kind of flinched. And of course the coverage breakdown on the kickoff.
*But mostly it was the 3 holding calls on punt returns. T-H-R-E-E. Frustrated as I am, I’ll clean it up basic cable style and put it this way: They flipping lost the motherloving game on three bullspit holding calls on freaking punt returns. We heard the call so much I thought “Holding on the Receiving Team 10 Yard Penalty Will Be Enforced From the Spot of the Catch” was part of CBS’ Best Night of Comedy lineup after “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two Broke Girls.”
*I’m all about putting your best punt returner out there regardless of what position he plays because those yards count. But if Welker’s going to be risking his neck out there only to have stupid penalties negate the play, to hell with it. Put Niko Koutovides back there. Or just let it roll to a stop like we tell our 6th graders.
*The game was a botched operation for sure, but it was no “Bay of Pigs.” There are plenty of positives to take away from this one not the least of which is they reduced the best defense in the NFL to rubble. It took awhile to engage the 4-wheel drive, but once they got traction they were practically unstoppable. In 1 ½ quarters they put up four touchdowns on the closest thing the NFL has had to a dominating defense in years. I know you don’t get a win for that. And this game probably cost them a playoff bye. But what team in the AFC, watching the Niners gasping for air in that 4th quarter, wants to play the Pats the rest of the way?
*Seriously, if they can clean up the mistakes, stay healthy, get Gronk back and do to the playoff field what they did to San Fran, Houston and the Jets? The music industry will have to organize a benefit concert to aid their victims.
*On the other side of the ball, not so much. Granted the defense was hurt by some short fields, but there’s no putting a shine on this sneaker. This was a huge step back for a unit that had made ginormous strides. For 5 weeks in a row they’d given up fewer points than they did the week before, only to get exposed by a team that got held to 13 by (more TV-14) the fricking Rams.
*What I don’t know about the Pistol offense could fill a library. But it looked like the Patriots chose to attack it from the edges in. Their base was a loaded middle of big asses: Brandon Deadrick, Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork, with Rob Ninkovich standing up and Dont’a Hightower playing up on the line in that Alabama “Jack” linebacker role. One of the options out of that Pistol “Full House” backfield is the Veer, where they block down on the play side but leave the end unblocked. The QB reads him and either keeps it or pitches it based on whom the end goes for. Therefore you’ve taken him out of the play without using a blocker. It’s exactly that play that sprung Colin Kaepernick for a 50-yard TD against Miami last week. The Pats seemed preoccupied with the idea of taking that option away using Ninko and Hightower as force players to crash from the ends and have the middle backers stay home. It worked more or less in that it contained the Niners running attack, but fat lot of good it did when Kaepernick was shredding the secondary for 4 TD’s.
*Though no one had a worse night than Ed Hochuli. That call on the Ted Ginn muff/ non-muff was the kind of gibberish you expect out of guys snorting bath salts on the Common, not the NFL’s most manly man. Put long sleeves on Hercules and he’s a shadow of himself.
*I’ve thought that one of the keys to the defense’s resurgence has been them using the ILBs, mostly Brandon Spikes but last week it was Jerod Mayo, attacking the LOS. Even when they haven’t gotten a pressure or found the ball carrier, they occupy a blocker and free a DT from a double team and make opponents react. It’s made them more aggressive and less reactionary and changes their whole identity. I was wondering where those crashes were yesterday until they finally dialed up a blitz on the first play after LaMichael James kick return. Kyle Arrington. Michael Crabtree. 1-on-1. Catch. Run. TD. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
*I don’t begrudge Kaepernick his tattoos. (Even though I express my individuality by being the last untatted man left in America.) I just think if you’re going to try to project an image as a leader of men, a competent professional and a certified badass and want to do it in bible quotes, you go with Ezekiel 25:17. That’s a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherlover before you pop a cap in his ass.
*It looks like failed “America’s Got Talent” contestants are taking all the National Anthem business away from all the failed “American Idol” contestants. That operatic tenor was good too. Shame that he lost “AGT” to a guy who juggles chainsaws on a unicycle and a chimp who rollerskates while smoking a cigar.
*This was a giant step backwards for the secondary. Just bad reads and getting looked off of routes by a rookie and communication breakdowns all over the place. You just don’t expect that from a unit that’s been playing together now for about 5 games. That might not sound like a lot of continuity. But the way the Pats go through defensive backs, this group staying intact that long practically makes them U2.
*The worst breakdown was on the long TD to Delanie Walker. Alfonzo Dennard was doing what their corners do: playing with his ass to the sidelines, doing the 3-step shuffle (the Patriots DB’s aren’t taught to use the backpedal) upfield, reading the QB’s eyes and shading the slot guy’s outside shoulder. Walker ran a Go up the sidelines and it appeared everyone in the Pats secondary thought Dennard had outside responsibility except Dennard. There was no safety and even though the ball came out of Kaepernick’s hand like a wet Nerf ball at the beach, Dennard had no chance to recover.
*And Moss’ touchdown was the worst mental error Devin McCourty’s made since he moved to safety. The Niners ran 3-Verticles. McCourty looked to help Steve Gregory alone on Vernon Davis with Moss and Walker blowing past Dennard and Kyle Arrington. No contest.
*I have zero problem with them switching the coverage to the other channel when Obama spoke. But I bet those NBCSports viewer who had football interupt “The Bucks of Tecomate” were PISSED.
*I wish I’d timed it, but between that San Fran drive at the end of the half, the referee conferences, halftime and then the first drive of the 3rd, the Pats offense had to be off the field for close to an hour. Your town school committee members get more people watching them on cable access than Brady had for a while there. And is twice as interesting as watching “The Hochuli Group.”
*Last night’s Brandon Lloyd… beating solo coverage, getting behind corners outside the numbers, fighting for 1st downs… was the Brandon Lloyd of my dreams.
*I’m not saying Woodhead is a 300-carry workhorse. But he can be my lead back any time.
*Ridley has to own that 2nd time he dropped the ball. Because it actually, you know, counted. But if Cris Collinsworth called that first one “a fumble” one more time I was personally driving to Foxboro to shut his mic off. By the time the ball came loose Ridley had been on the ground longer than it takes to get someone to help you at Home Depot.
*This week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “Do you know the emergency phone number for San Francisco General? Well, why don’t you call them right now and have them send down an ambulance. Tell them there’s two sorry-looking assholes here with multiple contusions and various abrasions and broken bones.” – Harry Callahan, “Sudden Impact”
*It’s pretty much a given at this point that the template for beating the Pats is getting pressure with 4-man rushes. Not many teams can pull it off but the 49ers clearly can. The Pats preferred method for defeating it is spreading you out and running the Warp Factor 12 hurry up attack until you’re too exhausted to rush any more, and it worked last night. God willing, it’ll work next time they meet. Should be a hell of a Super Bowl.
*One last note. The day may yet come when the Newtown story doesn’t reduce me to tears. But it wasn’t that moment of silence and watching those flares go up, I promise you that. Well done, NFL. And thanks.