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.
Betting is a huge part of sporting events and there’s nothing like it when it comes to the Super Bowl.
For Super Bowl XLVII, there are numerous proposition bets, also known as prop bets, that can spice up the betting climate with wagers that have little to do with the play on the field, draw upon historical games, and cross sport and pop culture barriers.
See the top 10 prop bets I found on Boston.com.
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
INDIANAPOLIS — This time, like last time, the New York Giants owned the New England Patriots in the stretch. But unlike last time, there was just too much funny business for Tom Brady and the gang to pull it out. And it showed in key plays as the Patriots lost 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium.
For starters, Ahmad Bradshaw’s 6-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left in the game was bizarre. Given the Giants’ lengthy drive, and the amount of timeouts the Patriots had remaining, Bill Belichick decided that it was time to play some situational football. What does that mean? That means that Bradshaw got an open lane for a touchdown on 2nd-and-goal at the Patriots’ 6-yard line. The Patriots’ defensive line just stood up while its linebackers watched as Bradshaw hunkered at the 1-yard line, unsure if he was supposed to take the easy touchdown. Turns out, Eli Manning was yelling at him to not score. Manning, also thinking situational football, wanted to kill some more clock before letting Brady have at the Giants defense.
The question is simple: Do you hold for the field goal or lay down and put the game on your offense? Belichick says there’s a 90 percent chance of making a field goal at that range. That would put the Patriots down 18-17 with as little as 10 seconds remaining.
As much as it seems logical to allow a touchdown, everything about it feels wrong. And that proved true as Bradshaw’s touchdown became the game-winning score.
Maybe it’s my junior football mind speaking, but I want that 10 percent chance for something to go wrong. I want the opportunity to load up and go for the block and win the game rather than allow the loss.
These are the kind of decisions that keep you up at night.
Outside of the allowed touchdown, Wes Welker’s drop was every bit as critical as the wide receiver proclaimed it to be in his emotional postgame press conference. It’s tough because Welker’s usually sure hands would normally make that catch, a deep throw that was a little bit behind but still in a spot for him to get his hands on the ball. A reception there would have put the Patriots in Giants territory with a little more than 4 minutes remaining. Surely the Patriots would’ve finished the drive with at least a field goal. Instead, another incomplete pass to Deion Branch forced a Patriots punt that led to the Giants’ game-winning drive.
It was uncharacteristic of the Patriots. Much like Brady’s safety on New England’s first possession, there were too many mental errors for the team to recover. And then there was too little time.
For the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, with the way they played, they needed some help. And unlike the AFC championship, they were the ones making mistakes. For a team known to be smart, that distinction is unfortunately up in the air.
I have a shot glass from every city I’ve ever been to. So naturally, I have two from Indianapolis now.
INDIANAPOLIS — I did a radio interview with ESPN Radio 1230/1450 in North Carolina. They were kind enough to send the interview snippet as an .MP3. We talk Indianapolis and the Super Bowl. And, of course, Rob Gronkowski’s ankle. Enjoy.
INDIANAPOLIS — I feel like I’m playing linebacker on a football field, just keeping my head on a swivel. But instead of looking for blockers and opposing offensive players, I’m looking out for celebrities, hookers and NFL players.
Not necessarily in that order.
Super Bowl week has been a drain on my energy but I’m glad to say it’s coming to an end and we’ll all be game oriented by tomorrow morning. The visual distractions of people — both en masse and celebrity — can be a bit overwhelming. And right now, on this Saturday, the relentless stream of gawkers outside the media hotel are relentless. It’s getting to that uncomfortably weird stage in which everybody, celebrities included, want the game to just get here.
And while normally I would have my picks and predictions up on Thursday or Friday, I’m just getting to it now because of the relative quiet today surrounding the New England Patriots and New York Giants. There is no coach or player availability to the media.
So who do I got? I’ve been asked that quite a bit the past few days. More times actually than I have all season. I guess that’s what happens when people see you sitting at the Boston Globe booth. Admittedly though, I’ve been waffling on who I like. The Giants beat a strong 49ers team after a couple of special teams miscues, and the Patriots sort of backed into the big game after Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal with seconds remaining in the AFC Championship. Neither won outright, and that may be more of a reason why there’s such parity in the NFL than not. No one team has a lock on talent. But I do know one thing, the Patriots have a lock on discipline. And despite Brandon Spikes getting away with slugging a guy, the team is poised to play error free, much the way they’ve done the entire season.
The big question everyone wants to have answered is whether Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is going to be good to go. He was listed as questionable for the game on Friday’s injury report. He practiced the final two practices, giving some assurance to Patriots fans that he’ll be available. I expect him to play and to play well. I think that bolsters the Patriots’ chances of winning this game tremendously. There’s no stopping him, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker.
The revenge factor here, which I think is blown out of proportion for some, is right on the money for Tom Brady. This is a game he doesn’t want to lose, not just because he hates losing and this is the Super Bowl, but because it was the Giants who last beat him and it was the Giants who last took away his glory in Super Bowl XLII. If vengeance has any bearing on any one player in this game, it’s the most dangerous player on the field in Tom Brady.
Again, I like the Giants. I like the fact that they only need four pass rushers to cause trouble. I love their receiving corps. I love how Eli Manning has been running this team. I’m not so much a fan of their running game, which I would have considered inconsistent up until about a month ago. I think their weakness is their offensive line, which lets Manning get banged up too much. But they’re a solid team and they play hard nosed. I just don’t think they have the gusto to make enough stops against this Patriots offense. Can you tell I’m hedging? Because I’m hedging. Who knows how this thing is going to turn out. After XLII, we all thought 19-0 was inevitable. But you remember what happened. I just think that the Patriots are better overall and more consistent in what they do. And what they do is almost entirely unstoppable.
Giants vs. Patriots
My pick: Patriots
Last week (conference championships): 1-1
Regular season: 135-83 (61.9 percent)
I’ve only been here for a day and a half and I can already say that I’m enjoying Indianapolis. With the Super Bowl hanging over its head, and the throngs of media descending on its streets, there is quite a bit of Hoosier Hospitality on display.
Let’s see how this week plays out though before delivering judgment.
Back to grind mode.
Before I get too busy, I wanted to stop and share some thoughts with those that frequent this site. I’m here in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI, the rematch game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Who knew when I wrote on this very site five months ago that I was going to be taking a greater role in Patriots coverage that I would be here, that the Patriots would be here, and that I would have this opportunity. It really is a blessing.
Since I’ve come to the Globe, Boston sports teams have done extremely well. I took part in our coverage of the NBA Finals in 2010 as the Celtics and Lakers went toe to toe. I was on the ground in Vancouver when the Bruins throttled the Canucks in Game 7, and then Vancouverites throttled their city. And now I’m here in Indy as the Patriots try to cap a really serendipitous season.
In the words of Kevin Garnett, “Anything is possible.”
I didn’t get to say this last year, or even the year before (didn’t pick a winner then), but it’s good to be right about my Super Bowl selection.
Read the full article »