NFL Run & Shootaround: Louder Than Bombs
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
Legion of Boom
Andrew Sharp: The best games give you an adrenaline rush while you sit on the couch. That was Sunday in Seattle. After that game, I didn’t want to sit down and write, or think, or do anything but go outside my apartment and start shouting at helpless bystanders in the streets. Thankfully, Richard Sherman did that for me so I could live through him.
Really, though. That game. Everything. Almost every time someone on the Niners got hit, there was an audible pop from the field. The Legion of Boom lived up to its name.
The Niners did the same thing, though. That’s what took it all to another level. There were no breaks from the brutality. I’m just glad we made it through without anyone dying at the hands of Donte Whitner or Kam Chancellor.
There may be one day when it’s taboo to love football and all the violence that comes with it — it seems like we get a little closer every year — but whenever that happens, it’ll be games like this that I miss the most. Those games where the violence and attitude were so spectacular you couldn’t help but disregard better judgment and love every second of it. After a week of everyone talking about what a war this would be, the game lived up to it on every front, with two teams that couldn’t stop reminding you why they were the best in football.
Credit the Niners for delivering over and over again. Colin Kaepernick was better than anyone could’ve imagined and probably scared Seattle more than any player has all year. His jump-pass TD off one foot might be the most ridiculous thing we’ve seen these entire playoffs.
But in the end, it came down to the Seahawks’ defense, which was pretty perfect. One drive and one stop for the Super Bowl, and the most kick-ass collection of talent in the NFL did it again. Sherman tipped it to Malcolm Smith, just like they practice, and that was it.
After everything he did Sunday, Kaepernick’s last three possessions ended in a fumble and two interceptions. The 49ers were great this year, but the Seahawks’ defense was always the best. Now who wants to see them play the most dominant offense ever?
Matt Borcas: Richard Sherman ended the 49ers’ season by tipping a pass to linebacker Malcolm Smith for the game-sealing pick, which is apparently something Seattle’s cornerbacks practice on the reg. Well, you know what they say: Practice makes perfect, and Richard Sherman is definitely perfect, at least according to the world’s most credible source on all things Richard Sherman: Richard Sherman, Stanford graduate, upholder of Valentine’s Day traditions, and ELITE LIFE-LIVER. (Realization: Richard Sherman is the Bob Benson of pro football.)
For good measure, he offered Michael Crabtree the most passive-aggressive handshake of all time and mocked Colin Kaepernick with a choke sign. Good times! Suffice it to say that it was a very eventful final minute for Sherman, and that was BEFORE Erin Andrews pulled him aside for the above interview.
Say what you will about Sherman, but you can’t argue with his math:
BEST CORNER IN THE GAME + SORRY RECEIVER (LIKE CRABTREE) = INTERCEPTION. That’s the result you gon’ get. It’s irrefutable.
While we’re at it, kudos to Andrews for her delightfully deadpan follow-up question (“Who was talking about you?”), although I’m gonna need an explanation from someone at Fox as to why the interview was cut short by about 90 or so minutes. I could’ve watched another hour or two of that thing, as well as a lengthy rebuttal from Crabtree, overdubbed with director’s commentary from Andrews, Mike Pereira, and Teddy Atlas. Then Ken Burns could’ve commemorated the incident with a seven-part documentary, thereby making the world a much better place than it is today. Alas, all we’re left with is a couple of tweets, which I must admit is still a pretty sweet consolation prize.
Pack of Wolves
“Did the Beast Mode Score?”
Spike Friedman: Third-and-1, edge of field goal range, third quarter, the Seahawks hanging on in a game they by all rights could have been knocked out of. Marshawn Lynch takes a handoff, counters between his left tackle and tight end, bounces off a pack in the second level, high-steps, cuts right, and breaks with daylight toward the end zone. Beast Mode activates.
I think everyone in Seattle jumped up on this play. I’m not sure; I was in a living room with two of the few friends I have who are capable of putting up with me while watching a Seahawks game. The team’s first-half offensive effort had been halting, and the mood in the room was gray. It wasn’t that anyone had conceded anything. More that the energy was nervous.
So when Lynch bounced clear to the outside, the jolt was enough to make us all hop to our feet, yelling and fist-pumping as Lynch closed in on the pylon. But then one of my friends said, “Nope! I’m going down,” and as he spoke, Lynch started stumbling, and my friend’s eyes rolled back a little in his skull, and he lay himself on the floor just before he briefly lost consciousness, right as Lynch fell into the end zone. Then when Lynch got up to shake hands with his teammates, so, too, did my friend. And his first words were, “Whoa, I can’t believe that happened. Did the Beast Mode score?”
Now, a skeptic might say it was the dehydration that did my friend in, or the long workday that had ended after kickoff, or the lack of food combined with a non-lack of beer. Obviously they would be wrong. It was the Beast Mode. That my friend is a Chargers fan didn’t matter. In the face of the Beast Mode, trivialities like hometowns and team allegiance are irrelevant. Thus is the power of the Beast Mode. We’ve all felt it. Some just got to experience it at a deeper level on Sunday.
Stop Freakin’, Call Beacon
Sharp: Eternal thanks to Spencer Hall for bringing this to our attention and enhancing the legend just a little bit more.
Manning the Meticulous
Jason Bailey: Peyton Manning would not be rushed. Not before the snap, with his typical flurry of directions (and, Omahas be damned, misdirections). Not after the snap, with a Patriots defense unwilling to blitz and unable to apply four-man pressure. And certainly not in such well-deserved celebration.
Most athletes would gleefully grab a hat designating himself a conference champion and spike it onto his head. But Manning is different. He paused in the scrum of cameras, rested his towel beneath his right arm, and deliberately peeled off three adhesive holograms — coincidentally, one for each of his Super Bowl appearances — before snapping the hat to attention. Manning has no need for authentication. He creates reality and dispels illusion.
There is nothing to say about Manning that yet another 400-yard game can’t say better. His AFC Championship Game performance was as immaculate as his jersey, no stains upon either after an injury-ravaged defense recorded pressure on only three of his 43 dropbacks. His best play was audibling to an inside run on third-and-10 — defenders vacating the space to cover his myriad receiving weapons — that picked up 28 yards on Denver’s first touchdown drive. That laser rocket arm is siloed; it is now a scepter of screens and pick plays and crossing patterns.
It’s well known that Manning wants everything in its place, which apparently means no stickers on his snapbacks. But those pre-snap gesticulations are not merely ceremonial. They each have a specific purpose — identifying the middle linebacker, changing protection schemes, adjusting routes — and we will continue to wait for Manning because we don’t rush greatness.
Almost two years ago, the most unexpected free agent in NFL history held the fates of several franchises in his hands, his decision-making process hidden behind closed doors. There is no doubt that Arizona would have become a Super Bowl contender with that swarming defense and a soon-to-be five-time MVP throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. But in due time he chose the Broncos, and now — in Year 2, not Year 1 — they have one final opponent to pillage.
This is the kingdom of Manning the Meticulous. We are not worthy.
Chris Ryan: I know that comparing the atmosphere in Denver to that in Seattle is kind of like comparing Philomena to The Raid; the games were so different, they hardly looked like the same sport. But the one thing the NFC and AFC champions have in common is a home-field advantage. In the thin Colorado air, Matt Prater kicked a 54-yard field goal like he was taking extra-point practice, and Tom Brady’s passes sailed over the heads of his receivers. Meanwhile, in Seattle, it was basically SPAAAAARTAAAAAAAA. If I were the owner of an NFL franchise, I’d be up all night trying to think of what I could realistically do to make my stadium the most difficult place possible for opposing teams to visit. Screw having a franchise quarterback, or a solid draft; LOOK INTO HUMIDITY. You want to play in Tampa? OK, cool, it’s going to feel like you are stuck in an escape boat with Captain Phillips. Or what about some kind of structural flourish? Has anyone thought about a moat? Seriously, this is a market inefficiency. Seattle can have noise, and Denver can have thin air; why doesn’t Jacksonville have boggy, still water patrolled by gators encircling the field? If Chicago is truly the Windy City, why don’t the Bears get some T. Boone Pickens action going at Soldier Field?
REAL LIVE GUSTS, MAN. Stop being a bunch of babies, NFL owners. Truly embrace the crumbling environmental state of the planet and take advantage of your local weather conditions.
I’d Rather Be in Omaha
I’ve Seen This Movie Before
Chris Brown: Sixteen, 14, 21, 17, 13, 14. Those are the point totals scored by the New England Patriots in their last six playoff losses, including yesterday’s 26-16 defeat by the Denver Broncos. These low outputs came in seasons when the Patriots had scoring offenses ranked nos. 1, 6, 1, 3, 1, and 3, respectively. Anytime you lose a playoff game there is never just one thing that goes wrong — the inability to get Peyton Manning off the field was a major issue Sunday — but New England has developed a rather disturbing pattern of its offense disappearing at the worst possible times, and yesterday was no different.
The root cause — among many contributing factors — was a significant and sudden breakdown along the offensive line, despite sturdy play throughout the season. On offense, at least, each of New England’s two postseason losses to the Giants and Ravens, its loss to the Jets, and its loss to the Broncos were like reruns of the same movie: Daylight for the running backs evaporated while Tom Brady, used to having time to deliver strikes on rhythm, was suddenly subject to constant torment in the pocket.
Just a week after New England’s line garnered all manner of praise for a 234-yard rushing performance against the Colts, led by LeGarrette Blount’s 166 yards and four touchdowns, the Patriots managed a grand total of 64 yards on the ground, including Blount’s final line of five carries for six yards with no touchdowns. (Brady actually managed to outrush Blount by one yard on three fewer carries.) Denver’s defensive line put pressure on Brady at critical times, including one of the game’s biggest plays, Terrance Knighton’s sack on fourth-and-3 late in the third quarter.
That’s second-team All-Pro guard Logan Mankins whom Knighton tosses aside on that play. Sacks and tackles for loss happen, but New England’s all seem to happen at once — and in the playoffs, no less. And as good as Brady is, it’s no surprise he looks mortal when there’s a 330-pounder in his face on every play. As the always entertaining Buddy Ryan used to write in his players’ playbooks, “A quarterback has never completed a pass when he was flat on his back.” Brady agrees.
On Welker vs. Talib
Bryan Curtis: Look, I’m intruding here. Welker vs. Talib is the kind of Boston sports vengeance moment that’s destined to become the subject of a Sports Guy column and a couple of podcasts. Maybe even a special edition of Grantland Quarterly. Consider this the preface.
Before we get to the play, it’s worth tracing just how the participants got here. Aqib Talib, the cornerback, is the guy who allowed the Patriots to have a semi-functional secondary. The Pats got him because of his “troubles” in Tampa Bay, which included Talib allegedly fighting a teammate at the NFL’s rookie symposium — the symposium designed to teach rookies not to fight with their teammates. On Sunday, Talib would be expected to lock down the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas.
Wes Welker, the receiver, was a hyper-productive Patriot until the team let him go to the Broncos in the offseason. That was puzzling, since Welker’s new contract (two years, $12 million) was relatively cheap. Welker told Sports Illustrated that Bill Belichick appeared as a devilish apparition that sat on his shoulder. “When I’m answering questions from the Denver media, I’m not worried about what the Broncos’ people are going to think,” Welker said. “I’m worried about what Belichick will think. Isn’t that crazy?” Yes, Wes, it is.
On Sunday: In the second quarter, Welker and Thomas ran crossing routes. It was your classic pick, or “rub,” play. Talib, who was covering Thomas, didn’t want to step around Welker and lose track of his man. So he took an inside angle, and Welker, with arms tight to his body in prepare-for-impact mode, ran straight into him.
Welker’s vengeance was threefold. One, Talib was reduced to standing on the sideline without his helmet. Two, Thomas had 134 yards and a touchdown. Three, as TheMMQB’s Greg A. Bedard noted last week, both teams are very, very good at pick plays. Welker was essentially doing to New England what his old team had taught him to do.
Welker said of Talib: “I hope he’s OK — he’s a great player and a big part of their defense.”
Belichick said: “I’ll have to take a look at it on the film.”
There aren’t many times I wish I were embedded in the press scrums after a football game. The opportunity to see the expressions of those three men makes this one of those times.
On Monday morning, Belichick said: “That’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”
Sal Iacono: It doesn’t happen a lot to degenerate gamblers. Maybe not at all. But with me, once in a while, a crucial play will go my way that I feel so bad about, I wish it hadn’t happened at all. I’ll explain. I had a good amount of loot on the Seahawks yesterday (mostly because 78 percent of the public didn’t, and so, without an opinion on the game myself, I decided to employ my “the masses are asses” theory). About midway through the fourth quarter, Jermaine Kearse caught a Russell Wilson pass. Or at least it appeared that way. Kearse got tackled on San Francisco’s 3-yard line. Before the tackle, the ball came loose, a scrum ensued, and the referee held up a fist to signify Seattle recovered the fumble, bringing up fourth down.
And now the part where I feel terrible about having money on the Seahawks. The replay clearly showed 49ers stud linebacker NaVorro Bowman falling on the ball and gathering it up with ease — lying alone with it corralled in his gut for a good three-Mississippi count, until the inevitable pileup ensued. Or perhaps I felt bad after viewing the gruesome image of Bowman’s leg snapped in half. A few weeks ago there was Anderson Silva. This was Anderson Platinum. It was such a horrific replay that my friend Jake, who is two years into med school, just about vomited on the community nachos.
Word comes down that, since the referees said it was recovered by the Seahawks, the play is non-reviewable. The good news is the competition committee is looking into making this kind of play reversible, which would’ve done the 49ers a lot of good THIS YEAR, if this had actually ended up mattering. But it didn’t. The Seahawks went for it on fourth-and-goal, only to see Marshawn Lynch fumble the ball backward. San Francisco took over.
You know the rest. Colin Kaepernick got picked again, after a tipped pass in the end zone. Seahawks and Sal win and cover.
And you might think this is crazy, but had I not been glad that the Seahawks didn’t benefit off that horrible goal-line call, the gambling gods wouldn’t have had rewarded me (and Seattle) with the eventual win. I can’t prove this, but I know for a fact that it’s true. So, congratulations, Seahawks. You owe me.
I know. I need help.
Cheering for Kap
Shea Serrano: Yesterday, when Colin Kaepernick opened up the second quarter sprinting through Seattle’s terrifying defense for a career-long 58-yard run, his elongated gait and extend-o body making it look every bit like an ostrich running through a field of swinging anvils, he looked 18 feet tall. In the third quarter, when he threw what I feel silly even calling a “pass” because it was so much more unbelievable and poetic than that into the sure hands of Anquan Boldin with an alarming velocity, he looked bigger still.
But when he fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter and when he threw that first interception, and when the 49ers just weren’t moving anywhere for all but the last three minutes of the fourth quarter, oh man. Man. He just looked/seemed/felt so tiny — helpless, almost.
I fell fully for Kaepernick last year. He was just this ideal guy to root for; a racially ambiguous superhuman with a squinty-eyed insta-smile brighter than Rigel and a backstory — his being adopted, I mean — that, despite his body looking like it’s been carved out of the side of the Matterhorn with a sledgehammer by Ares, made him seem just vulnerable enough. From this side of the television anyway, he’s always appeared to be the opposite of those already established as the NFL’s ruling class; Peyton and Brady and Aaron and Brees are all likable-enough guys, but never anybody in whom I could see myself or my sons. Really, at least in ethos and accessibility, he’s even appeared to be the opposite of the mysterious, dead-eyed Russell Wilson, who I’m not so sure is really even human. There’s just not anybody at quarterback in the NFL like Kaepernick. Not Luck (his greatness appears fated), not RG3 (who has, to me, never appeared genuine), not Schaub (HAHAHA GTFOH), not anybody. And so I’ve cheered for him.
When they lost in the Super Bowl last year, it made sense. “Jesus is a Ray Lewis fan,” is what Ray Lewis told us all; for all his might, it felt like there was no way Kaepernick was going to stop that religious revival.
When they lost yesterday, I guess it made sense, too, though for different reasons.
I don’t know. I just want to hug him and tell him he did a good job. Colin Kaepernick is perfect.
A Virtuous Allegiance
Hua Hsu: We all have legitimate but more or less relativistic reasons for our allegiances and, because I don’t like talking about myself, I’ll just say that I am a fan of the 49ers for a variety of reasons pertaining to childhood, upbringing, family, friendships, and all-of-the-above nostalgia and leave it at that. If I’m real with myself, I loathe the Seahawks in part because of their intense resemblance to my squad: young, somewhat unpredictable quarterback; tough, stalwart running back; fearsome, arrogant defense; a brash coach (though I’d take an obvious asshole over someone who’s unethical on the low); ridiculous regional stereotypes involving technology, coffee, and ambient smugness. It’s not exactly the clash of civilizations, though this is the point where I confess that the Bay Area has yet to produce a talent commensurate to Macklemore.
Whatever. The Seahawks make me wonder about the thin line separating love and hate, that singular affection one develops for an overfamiliar rival. All of which makes this one tougher to accept than the last two. This is the third year in a row the Niners have lost the proverbial big game, and I’ve spent the remaining night reliving it by writing about it here. An hour after Colin Kaepernick did the insane thing — as all the dumb, racist shit anonymous people are tweeting about Richard Sherman is getting aggregated elsewhere on Twitter (to prove, what, that racism exists?) — I’m watching a documentary about public education in California and staring at my notes, which basically consist of puns, a list of omens and superstitions, and the quarter-by-quarter chronicles of a severely spinning room. “Delay of game?” I wrote down in the seconds right before Kaepernick’s first delay of game penalty (he does that a lot, so I don’t think it was my fault). “Gore/Davis” — an ongoing absence, sadly, rather than prophecy. “The fuck is Yukon?” “Sweezy,” who broke Ian Williams’s ankle months ago. Power ranking of guys named Baldwin. “Commercial breaks making me realize (1) HOW LOUD THE TV IS (2) level of inebriation.” Unhinged, manic scribbles — all that could be written about NaVorro Bowman’s tragic knee injury–slash–fumble recovery and its non-reviewable aftermath.
As Kaepernick drove the Niners down the field in the game’s dying minutes, I wanted them to win in an irrational, bodily way. It would have rationalized all the broken legs, torn ACLs, and shortened life spans, the excessive amounts of pizza, bourbon, and swearing. I could have finally verified my theory about the socks I wore today. Some private notion of justice involving Merton Hanks and E-40 would have been achieved. But it wasn’t meant to be. Why do we care so much, a friend from back home texted me just now? I’ve thought about this a lot — too much. I’ve read and written around this question, I’ve taught a class about the subject, I’ve tried to answer my dad each times he poses a version of this question and I have no idea. We try to make our allegiances into something virtuous or pure when it’s all self-serving, random, and ultimately pretty meaningless. Maybe it’s a kind of wonder that carries over from childhood: At a certain point you know if she’ll say yes or if you’ve done enough for the promotion — meanwhile, every third down is ever more mysterious and baffling. Maybe it’s some sublimated feelings of patriotism. An immigrant dad shaving away his accent by repeating the word “Yastrzemski” or the time you saw the offensive coordinator at McDonald’s. A good friend’s life lost right before a cosmically unlikely playoff run. It is all these things and none of these things. It’s merely a way of understanding how arbitrary your sense of the world can be, as a guy in stripes places the ball here rather than there, noticing this but never ever that.