I never would have thought we would be talking about a non-call in the Super Bowl again. At least not so soon.
But in a season that began with replacement referees and ended on 4th and 5 hold — and yes, it was a hold — one has to seriously be concerned with the state of officiating.
The San Francisco 49ers fanbase was sent into a tail spin after the impediment of Michael Crabtree’s possible game-winning touchdown went uncalled. It was one in a series of bad no-calls in Super Bowl XLVII.
There’s this whole thing about the genie in the bottle when it comes to losses after the fact, but there is also a cold, hard truth here: The 49ers didn’t deserve to win. The Baltimore Ravens, finishing on top 34-31, took the game from San Francisco in the first quarter and were on the verge of giving the ball game up before getting a little help. But make no mistake about it, the Ravens played for 60 minutes, something the 49ers failed to do. And when the game was on the line, and the comeback was in its full throes, the Ravens got one in a series of bad calls to go their way. It doesn’t make the call right, but it was equally distributed between the two teams.
Just plays earlier, 49ers left guard Mike Iupati had gotten away with a holding call. Tis the way of the world it seems.
In Super Bowl XLIII (2008 season), the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 with a little help from the officials, too. Here’s what I wrote up about the calls in that game:
Exhibit A – there was a clear and obvious block in the back on James Harrison’s length-of-the-field touchdown return. There’s seven points off the board.
Exhibit B – an awful roughing the passer call that gave the Steelers a first down and eventually led to a field goal. That would’ve been a bad call in a regular season game, but was truly terrible in the Super Bowl.
Exhibit C – same drive, roughing the field goal holder??? I’m not quite sure when that became a penalty. It sounds vaguely familiar, but that can’t be in keeping with the spirit of the rule, can it? He hardly roughed him up.
Exhibit D – the first Kurt Warner fumble that was overturned after a review. They got the call right, but it was so obvious that the Cardinals shouldn’t have had to waste a challenge on it.
Every one of those bother me, but I’m able to look past them. However, to not review a questionable fumble call, with seconds remaining in the game — the game being the freaking Super Bowl — is inexcusable. Initially I thought it was a fumble, and I understood the call. But the replay looked different. I thought the ball may have still been in his hand and that there was a real good chance that the call could be overturned. Needless to say, I was pretty surprised when they didn’t bother to look at it.
In Super Bowl XLVII, we’ll be talking about Jimmy Smith’s hold/non-hold on that 4th-and-goal, Chris Culliver’s pass interference, the no-call pass interference on Corey Graham on 2nd-and-goal with the ball game on the line, and the no-call offensive pass interference on Torrey Smith that could have resulted in a Culliver interception.
That’s a lot of plays to consider that are questionable. It’s magnified when more than 100 million people are watching. And outside of Baltimore, fans of the game continue to have their faith shaken that the league will not do the right thing when it comes to perceived injustices. The last thing the NFL wants to discuss is its poor officiating.
But when I awoke up this morning, after having digested the game and re-watched the pivotal highlights (again and again), I find myself equally disgusted with the 49ers’ lack of urgency in the first half. On 3rd and 15, their first offensive series, they elect to run a draw with Frank Gore for 3 yards. That was conservative play-calling at its worst. In the second quarter, facing a 3rd-and-10 at their own 6-yard line, the 49ers went back to gore for a 6-yard run. Again, conservative play-calling at its worst. No need to remind the Red and Gold that this is the Super Bowl. Mr. Hindsight is a great teacher.
Add in two pivotal turnovers by rookie running back LaMichael James and second-year QB Colin Kaepernick (his 10th start) and then throw in a special teams touchdown by the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones, a 108-yard kickoff return, and you have the recipe for a super loss already.
But even then, after coming back from a 28-6 deficit, the 49ers found themselves with a possible game-winning drive on their hands, 1st-and-goal at the Ravens’ 7-yard line. They proceed to give James the ball (he should’ve been benched), and throw three straight passes to Crabtree at the right pylons that made no sense whatsoever.
No read option. No quarterback scramble. No targets for Vernon Davis. No touches for Gore. No sense of balance in play-calling.
It was atrocious coaching, punctuated by a gut-wrenching fourth down play that had slim hope for success. There was no pickup on the blitz, no 49ers receiver working the middle of the field, and no separation for the target.
The non-call didn’t give the Ravens the victory. It was just the final dagger. It sours the loss, sure, but it was the Ravens’ game to lose. No reason to be mad because they got help on one play. The 49ers gave Baltimore plenty of help on their own.
The universe became a little more screwy when little brother Harbaugh opened up as a favorite. It’s like we all have been transported into the Gronkowski household.
Jim Harbaugh, little brother to John Harbaugh, leads the San Francisco 49ers into Super Bowl XLVII as 4-point favorites against big brother John’s Baltimore Ravens. We all get to witness the Brothers Harbaugh out grimace each other on the sideline as the 49ers and Ravens play out a title game that will be 10 times more about each team’s defense than about the guy who is under center. Or wearing a headset.
It’s the smash mouth defense of the twenty-teens, versus the old(er) smash mouth defense of the two thousands. It’ll be peachy.
I’m 8-2 in the playoffs against the line and straight up. But neither of my Super Bowl picks are still playing. Sadly, the Patriots and Seahawks have more time to enjoy Mardi Gras and warm weather than prepare for a championship. So with one more pick to make, a year in which I went 169-83-1 during the regular season and picked the 49ers to win in 17 of their 18 contests, I have to go with little brother Jim and his 49ers once again.
Why? Simply put, the 49ers are loaded. From a deep and dependable offensive line, a secondary that is arguably tops in the NFL (despite a porous playoff stretch), and a linebacker corps that is second to none. Then add in an offense that is hitting its stride at the right time, quarterbacked by the speedy and hard-throwing Colin Kaepernick, and position players that are top notch throughout. The Ravens don’t compare in that regard.
This is the 11th ranked offense versus the 16th ranked offense. The 3rd ranked defense versus the 17th ranked defense. The 4th best rushing team versus the 11th best rushing team. Only in the passing game do the Ravens take an edge. And even there, the pendulum could swing in the 49ers’ favor with Kaepernick at quarterback. We don’t know what kind of performance we’ll get.
The X-factor here is whether or not the 49ers will show the same inconsistency they’ve shown in the past month. In Week 15, they went on a tear to beat the New England Patriots. The next week, they were in the dumps after getting blown out by the Seattle Seahawks. In each of their two playoff games, they allowed early leads against the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, the latter of which went up 17-0 before they woke up.
That’s where this game is dangerous, where expectations and numbers and matchups don’t relate to the stun of the bright lights and the inspiration as well as emotive draw that takes place with more than 100 million people watching. That’s a place where the Ravens thrive, both as underdogs and as veterans of big games that have a new-found rallying cry in the soon-to-be retirement of Ray Lewis.
This is going to be close, but I don’t think it’s going to be as close as Baltimore (and maybe Patriots fans) want it to be.
The key matchup will be how the 49ers handle the Ravens’ passing game, orchestrated by the deft Joe Flacco. Torrey Smith is a deep threat and combined with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have a layered passing attack that requires attention up and down the field. Nickel corner Carlos Rodgers has to be solid against Boldin while he’s in the slot and you’ll likely see 49ers LB Patrick Willis bodied up against Pitta at times while he keeps an eye on fullback Vonta Leach coming out of the backfield. Who wins in these one-on-one matchups should very well determine the dynamic and outcome of the game. I happen to think the 49ers are favored here.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 35, Ravens 27
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots were beaten handily by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, losing, 28-13, in the AFC Championship game. But one could still argue that the game would have turned out dramatically different had the home team capitalized on some key plays and executed better down the stretch.
There were numerous plays left on the field. There’s no going back now, but let’s highlight a few things that went wrong in this week’s takeaways.
1. Time management was an issue — Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did their best to deflect the issue, but they had a problem toward the end of the first half managing the clock and burned all three timeouts at the end of the game, much too soon for any comeback effort. But the events at the end of the first half were particularly troubling. The Patriots were driving down the field, only 10 yards away from the end zone, with 26 seconds left. Brady couldn’t find a receiver, so he scrambled for 3 yards and then tried to gather his teammates to attempt another play before realizing too much time had passed. He had to use the Patriots’ final timeout of the half with only four seconds on the clock. Either Belichick or Brady should have immediately called a timeout after the play to preserve an opportunity to take a shot at the end zone. With only four seconds on the clock, they were forced to take the field goal. A touchdown would’ve changed the dynamic of the game and given the Patriots more confidence going into the second half.
2. Wes Welker’s drop deflated a perfectly good drive — The second half wasn’t kind to the Patriots. They were outscored, 21-0, a remarkable display given the team’s standing as the top offense in the league. Drive after drive, the Patriots were stumped by their own ineptitude. In the third quarter, they had a particularly good stretch that was mucked up by an all-too familiar episode of Welker’s dropsies. (Forgive him, he was getting knocked around pretty good out there.) The Patriots had drove 57 yards to the Baltimore 34 and were facing third and 8 when Brady threw a pass that hit Welker in the hands and face mask. It would’ve given the Patriots a first down and possibly the opportunity to extend their lead. Instead, because of the fourth down and the windy conditions, they elected to punt. Which brings me to my next takeaway.
To see all of my takeaways, view the original post on Boston.com’s Extra Points.
Last week was bittersweet for me. I went a sterling 4-0 against the spread, but my Super Bowl pick, the Seattle Seahawks, lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the team’s NFC divisional bout.
It was a stellar game with the Falcons edging the Seahawks 30-28 on an inspiring game-winning drive by former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan certainly lived up to his nickname, Matty Ice, completing two passes with 31 seconds left in the game to get his Falcons down to the Seattle 31-yard line, setting up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. Bryant was clutch, nailing the 49-yard attempt after getting a practice kick courtesy of Pete Carroll.
Atlanta won the game, Seattle covered the spread. It was a small victory and a huge loss that has me re-thinking the whole Super Bowl dynamic now that the final four is set to kick off on Sunday. I’ve been fairly good at picking games. I’m 7-1 against the spread and 7-1 picking straight up winners during the postseason, but this week feels different. There’s a lot of talent in Atlanta that I underestimated, namely the next-level worldly play of Ryan that the entire south has come to expect. But I have my doubts.
Meanwhile, we have two spreads that are virtually unbelievable. And that makes for this week’s picks to be a little more hairy than usual.
49ers (-5) at Falcons (+5) — When Jim Harbaugh installed Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, it was with the understanding that the second-year pro’s performance would come with high risks and high rewards. Kaepernick proved as much against the Green Bay Packers, throwing a first quarter interception before literally running away with the game. His playoff-record 181 yards rushing (in addition to the 263 yards passing) buried the Packers in a 45-31 win at Candlestick Park. The onus is on Harbaugh and Kaepernick to replicate the effort at the Georgia Dome, proving the option is viable in the NFL once again. The Falcons got a taste of the option last week, clamping down on the Seahawks’ powerful running game before eking out the win thanks to Ryan’s heroics. One key I noticed in the Falcons’ matchup with the Seahawks, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson failed to keep Atlanta on its toes by taking the option. He kept feeding Marshawn Lynch (16 carries, 46 yards) to no avail. I doubt the 49ers’ young quarterback, who has seemingly grown up overnight on the football field, would be so hesitant to take advantage of the opportunities a leaky Atlanta defense will provide. The Falcons surrendered 491 yards against the Seahawks and were the No. 24 total defense during the regular season. Ryan will be facing a 49ers team that has a significantly better defensive line with Justin Smith leading the way. It won’t be easy, but with the possibility of another breakout game from Kaepernick and an already shaky defense in Atlanta, I see this breaking for the 49ers. Matty Ice can only do so much.
Straight up winner: 49ers
By the line: Falcons
Ravens (+9.5) at Patriots (-9.5) — Joe Flacco is a much better quarterback when the pressure is on the line. But what’s more, he has enough moxie about him to throw the deep pass with regularity. And lucky for him, he has the talent to come up with the passes in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Add in a steady dose of Ray Rice, who ran for 131 yards on 30 carries in the AFC divisional round, and the Ravens are the most balanced team the Patriots have faced this season. Also taking into consideration the Ravens’ Week 3 win against the Patriots, a game in which Flacco completed eight passes of 20 yards or more, and fans in Baltimore are probably hyped at the possibility of taking down the Patriots again. The Ravens did it on the back of Rice in 2010 and by Flacco’s arm in September. But I don’t see that happening this time around. The Patriots have made the necessary adjustments on defense, particularly in tightening up the secondary, to fend off another upset. Devin McCourty has yet to take the bad angles we saw from Patrick Chung in Week 3 at safety. And Aqib Talib is a quality corner that can battle one-on-one with bigger receivers like Anquan Boldin. I fully expect to see McCourty playing over the top of Smith looking for those deep passes Flacco favors, and the game to be won in the trenches. The Patriots’ run defense (No. 9 overall in the regular season) is my small cause for comfort. But I do expect this one to be close.
Straight up winner: Patriots
By the line: Ravens
BALTIMORE — Somewhere between penalty No. 1 and penalty No. 3, there was an ominous sign that Sunday night’s game was going to be New England’s personal case against replacement officials. The game was marked by 24 penalties totaling 218 yards. It got so far out of control that Patriots coach Bill Belichick tried to chase down umpire Ali Shetula after the game, wildly bumping into him as Shetula tried to get off the field with the rest of his crew.
It will be something the team will remember for a long time. But if there is any small comfort in the performance of the officials Sunday night, it’s that their poor calls overwhelmingly affected the Baltimore Ravens.
1) The Ravens, as do the Patriots, have a legitimate beef with the league over the officials Sunday night — Lardarius Webb’s illegal contact on Wes Welker (that didn’t happen) and the subsequent interception it negated, followed by the unsportsmanlike conduct on the Ravens bench for arguing the call, was just a baffling display of officialdom. Add to that the bungling of a penalty on a punt by the Ravens that almost led to the penalty being tacked on improperly after the kick; Courtney Upshaw’s phantom personal foul on Tom Brady; Julian Edelman’s offensive pass interference; And the numerous holding calls that left your head scratching. This was a tough one for all three sides. There’s no way the league, despite Belichick’s bump and Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s pestering, can excuse away the performance of the scabs. It was an atrocity for a national television audience to stomach.
2) The secondary is not where it wants to be right now — For all the talk about improvement after last season, including having a healthy crew with Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling this season, there was no escaping the unit’s dismal performance Sunday night. Joe Flacco carved them up for 382 yards and three touchdowns, doing most of his damage down the field and toward the sideline. Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith both averaged more than 20 yards per catch. Sure, Steve Gregory came away with an interception. Devin McCourty let two interceptions slip through his hands and Kyle Arrington could have had another on the last drive. Those missed opportunities, and the inability to matchup well one-on-one with speedy receivers, is cause for concern going forward.
For the rest of this entry, visit the Extra Points blog on Boston.com.
After Sunday night’s Patriots-Ravens game, I talked with Brian Clark of CineSport via Skype to discuss some of the key issues.
Editor’s note: This originally appeared on Boston.com.
The Patriots last playoff matchup with the Baltimore Ravens provided a stinging reality in New England. Despite the team’s success that season (10-6), home field advantage, and the not-so meager hopes behind one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr., there was a bit of humble pie to be dished out by the more physical and more defensively gifted Ravens. Not this year. The inequality that once existed between the Ravens and Patriots no longer exists. The talent gap has closed on the defensive side of the ball. And with it, the Patriots’ physicality has progressed. This will be a junkyard fight. And despite having a troublesome year with the team’s secondary, the Patriots are peaking right now. It’s with these thoughts in mind that we lay down our predictions for Sunday’s matchup in the AFC Championship.
Joe Flacco, Tom Brady matchup is the elephant in the room
There is no one player that will have a larger impact on the AFC Championship than Tom Brady. Joe Flacco, while in the driver’s seat as the opposing team’s quarterback, is clearly second fiddle to the Ravens’ success behind running back Ray Rice, who should be aptly considered the engine of their offense. But because of Brady’s legendary skills, his temperament in big games, and his extraordinarily competitive nature — not to forget an aversion to punishing teams that have beaten him in big games — the Patriots will likely force a shootout, with the Ravens’ Flacco thrust into the hero’s chair. In that scenario, he’s either the hero or the goat. We know how Brady will react. How will Flacco respond?
The tendency breakers are still coming
In the Patriots’ win over the Broncos, Aaron Hernandez carried the ball five times for 61 yards, including a 43-yard jaunt in the first quarter that caught Denver by surprise. It’s called a tendency breaker. Coach Bill Belichick said afterward he wanted to keep the Broncos honest. Expect more flare this week. The Ravens showed one of their tendency breakers in the first quarter against the Houston Texans. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw a 1-yard touchdown to backup tight end Kris Wilson. It was Wilson’s first catch of the season.
Special teams will be a determining factor
If the Ravens defense is to be feared, even slightly, there will be greater emphasis on special teams play, both in terms of playmaking and ball security. With a plethora of veteran returners at coach Bill Belichick’s disposal (Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk), the Patriots are in a position to be conservative and play mistake free. But expect the Ravens to come in and aggressively strip at the ball to win the turnover battle. That aggressiveness will provide opportunities for some big plays by the Patriots. They have to take advantage.
The Patriots will abandon the running game
Worried about Stevan Ridley’s ball security? Don’t be. After fumbling twice in the past two games, losing one against the Denver Broncos, his playing time will likely be slashed in favor of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, essentially giving coach Bill Belichick reason to abandon the running game entirely. A back like Green-Ellis, who finds his way through holes the mean and ugly way, can be boring for the Patriots’ high flying offense. And unfortunately for Green-Ellis, that style of offense favors Baltimore, something the Patriots can’t afford. Expect Tom Brady to toss 45 plus.
Ed Reed will be avoided
Against the Denver Broncos, Tom Brady threw in Champ Bailey’s direction only once, according to Globe teammate Greg Bedard. You can expect the same of Brady when it comes to the versatile safety. Reed has the hands of a wide receiver and the range of Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. His dangerousness cannot be overstated. Just ask T.J. Yates. This game will be another great opportunity for third, fourth and fifth option receivers to explode on the Ravens. Just not when Reed is sitting above them in coverage.
There will be Gronking
“Gronking” – The act of spiking a football with extreme ferociousness after scoring a touchdown. Despite the increased attention, the double coverage, and the physicality he’ll likely face in the trenches, the Patriots all-pro tight end will continue his Gronking ways. With his build, his speed, and his hands, there is no stopping the talent named Rob Gronkowski. Not even against a defense as vaunted as the Baltimore Ravens. Expect two more scores from the big fella.
Surprise, surprise: Brandon Deaderick’s turn
In Week 17, it was Mark Anderson who recorded a sack and tackle for a loss. Against the Denver Broncos, it was Shaun Ellis who recorded one sack and a bone crushing hit on Tim Tebow. This week, it looks like Brandon Deadrick is in a position – much like last week against the Broncos – to get in on the sack party. He had two assisted tackles against the Broncos and was in the thick of the Patriots dominant defensive effort. With increased playing time since Andre Carter was placed on injured reserve, it’s only a matter of time until he registers his big sack. Sunday is looking ripe for his name to be called.
Whether the opponent is the San Francisco 49ers or the New York Giants, the Patriots will be on a plane to Indianapolis after this Sunday’s game. The deal breaker is Joe Flacco. If the Patriots can harass the quarterback sufficiently while allowing its front seven to continue its aggressive ways, they’ll be headed to their fifth Super Bowl in the last 10 years.
Are you shocked already? You should be. I’m going on a limb here, both because of a rookie quarterback, some new faith in Alex Smith and the New York Giants.
Make no mistake about it, this is a weekend in which a lot of faith is necessary. The 49ers will not have an easy go of it against the New Orleans Saints. There’s no team hotter in the NFL right now. What Drew Brees can do with a football makes my eyes light up like a little kid. But the same can be said of the 49ers’ defense. There’s no team like it in the NFL, and also in that sense, there’s no team like the 49ers that changes the offensive strategy of an opponent. Opposing teams literally have to give up their running game. With an eye on defense, and the unbelievable possibility that Alex Smith will surprise, I see the one of three big upsets occurring in the divisional playoffs. Yup, I went there.
Saints at 49ers — See above.
My pick: 49ers
Broncos at Patriots — I happen to think that the Patriots are a better team than the Steelers offensively in every fashion. So much better than the Steelers, and Broncos, that I believe Denver’s defense will find itself on its backside by midway through the second quarter. The onus will be on Tim Tebow to save his team by helping the Broncos put up more than 30 points, something they haven’t done since early December. The Patriots average 32.1 points per game, almost two touchdowns more than the Broncos (19.3). In the last go round, everything came down to turnovers. This time, everything will be much more offensively oriented. At least that’s my prediction. (Depending on how you look at it, that could mean defensively oriented.) The Patriots win that battle.
My pick: Patriots
Texans at Ravens — On the road against a rested and feisty Baltimore Ravens team, I envision the T.J. Yates led Texans beating the Ravens. Not because of the rookie though, but because of its phenomenal defense (amazing effort against the Bengals) and the lack of a passing game that has come to characterize the Ravens’s offense (No. 19 in the NFL) in the final weeks of the season. I don’t believe a weekend away from the gridiron can correct their problems. On the other hand, there’s game film on these two from Week 6, a 29-14 win for the Ravens, when Joe Flacco was still pitching like a top-flight quarterback and Matt Schaub was healthy. The difference now, it seems to me, is that one team is hot and the other is not. Any team that struggles with the Cleveland Browns and falls to the San Diego Chargers isn’t deserving of going forward from this point. But then I also said any team that loses three in a row to end the season is bound for a plane ticket home too.
My pick: Texans
Giants at Packers — It is my humble opinion that when an awesome defense faces an awesome offense, and a very good offense faces a mediocre-to-poor defense, the team with the awesome defense will win. What we saw in wild-card weekend was an awesome defense, fiery and dominant in every respect. The Packers are an amazing team, but even in their 38-35 win over the Giants in Week 13, they allowed an alarming amount of points. Imagine if the Giants can wipe at least one touchdown off the board? Don’t imagine it. It’s going to happen.
My pick: Giants
Last week: 2-2
Regular season: 135-83 (61.9 percent)