Raiders' emotional rally, 49ers' rout show sun is rising in the West
This is one of those where-to-begin Mondays. I could begin with Al, or with so many of his cockamamie first-round decisions combining in some bit of cosmic grid karma to make grown men cry in Houston. Or with the Raiders' NorCal neighbors beating a 3-1 team by 45 points. Or with Tim Tebow ... he may not be great, but he sure is fun to watch, and he lifted the black cloud from over the Broncos in one zany half of football. Or with the Eagles, who have gone from Dream Team to Keystone Kops in one sorry month. Or with the Packers, who cannot be stopped. Or with a tight end whose story is better than his talent, which is saying something.
Or I could begin with the interesting dichotomy of the teams that employ Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Alex Smith versus those that employ Mike Vick, Peyton Manning and Mark Sanchez.
Cincinnati, Buffalo and San Francisco: 11-4.
Philadelphia, Indianapolis and the Jets: 3-12.
We kick off with the West Coast shall rise again, and other tales from Week 5.
"Al was the football version of George Steinbrenner,'' the owner who was probably closest to Davis in the last few years, Jerry Jones, told me Saturday.
But Davis was more than that. He was part Howard Hughes, part Steve Jobs, part Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He told no one about any of the health problems that made his life come crashing down. "Has anyone heard the cause of death?'' a good friend of his asked Sunday. "He'd never tell me exactly what was wrong with him.''
He once told me the only thing he couldn't dominate was death. No he couldn't. Saturday proved that with a grim finality. The man who signed Lance Alworth, who pushed the NFL toward a merger with a league it despised, who won four professional football titles, who fought Pete Rozelle so hard it sent him careening into retirement, who hired the first black coach of modern times (and rehired Art Shell) and the first Hispanic coach of all-time and the first female chief executive a football team has had, and who drafted the first first-round kicker in 21 years, could not dominate death.
More about the first-round kicker in a bit. But here's the one Al Davis story you didn't read over the weekend. In 1983, rookie Baltimore GM Ernie Accorsi told teams he wanted three first-round picks and two second-rounders for the first pick in the draft. The first pick was going to be John Elway, and Elway had said he wouldn't play for Baltimore. The team that came the closest before the draft was the Raiders.
In truth, Oakland officials never came close to what the Colts wanted, but they called Accorsi several times with offers and pursued the deal the hardest of any team before the draft. How history would have been changed if the Raiders had made the deal.
Accorsi was determined to draft Dan Marino if he couldn't get Elway. The Raiders, not Denver, with Elway. The Colts, not Miami, with Marino. The Colts, presumably, still would have moved to Indianapolis a year later ... and would they have been in position in 1998 to take Peyton Manning? Would Marino have been so broken-down in 1997 and played so poorly to ensure the Colts the first pick in the '98 draft? Probably not. If Davis had pushed a little harder in 1983, who knows how the landscape of the game would have been altered?
Back to the first-round kicker. Sebastian Janikowski came with the 17th overall pick in 2000. Deltha O'Neal and Julian Peterson preceded him; Chad Pennington and Shaun Alexander followed. Only two players from that first round are doing what Janikowski is doing right now -- still playing at a high level: Brian Urlacher (ninth) and John Abraham (13th). And how fitting was it Sunday that Janikowski, and the other first-round Raiders picks that engendered controversy over the years, won the game in Houston 25-20.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh pick in 2009, caught seven balls for 98 yards and a touchdown. Richard Seymour, who cost Davis a 2011 first-round pick in trade with New England, sacked Matt Schaub twice. And Michael Huff, the embattled safety who went from starting to the bench to an $8-million-a-year redemptive contract, intercepted Schaub in the end zone as time ran out.
After the game, as coach Hue Jackson addressed the Raiders in the locker room, he interrupted his comments to say, voice quivering: "That was a hell of a play by you, Michael Huff! I tell you this: Al Davis had his hands on that ball!''
And Janikowski. Field goals of 54, 55, 50 and 42 yards, tying the record for most 50-yard field goals in a game. First time in his career he's had three of them. Now it can be put to rest that this was not a dumb pick, finally. He's been a top-of-the-game kicker for most of his 12 seasons, and he remains the only kicker who can make a 54-yarder look like a 37-yarder. He did it Sunday, booting the 50's through with plenty to spare.
Davis has been an easy mark over the last few years because the Raiders have been losing. But the players who've invited ridicule recently were the ones who won a game on the road against the best team in the AFC South. It's a stupid cliché to say, Somewhere, Al Davis was smiling. Instead, I'll just say, Somewhere Al Davis was shaking his fist and glowering at his critics and saying, "The glory of the Raid-uhs will go on for generations!''
This is what Jackson said to his team as he and the players knelt together after the game:
"Moment of silence ... Moment of silence ... Al, we love you. We know that you're watching over this team. We're going to keep playing like Raiders for you.''
That was plenty good, and plenty nerve-racking, on the first Sunday post-Al.
San Francisco was supposed to be one of those teams that struggled with a new coach, new offensive and defensive systems, new players at new spots ... and no time to adjust with the late resolution of the labor agreement between players and owners. So when new coach Jim Harbaugh saw the early-season schedule (Week 3 at Cincinnati, Week 4 at Philadelphia) he thought: ROAD TRIP!
The Niners beat the Bengals 15 days ago and flew to Northeast Ohio after the game. The team booked a DeBartolo hotel property, a Holiday Inn in Boardman, Ohio, for five nights. On Monday, the offense went to visit sick kids at a children's hospital, the defense to a Boys and Girls Club to interact with kids. They practiced for three days at Youngstown State. They did their walk-through practices in the hotel parking lot. Harbaugh pronounced it an extra week of camp, basically, and told each player to introduce himself to two people he didn't know well every day.
A few of the guys took a hotel van to see
The good feelings continued Sunday at home. San Francisco, in something that not even their biggest fans could have expected, routed the Bucs 48-3. Alex Smith continued the kind of play the franchise saw three head coaches ago; in 2005. with a three-touchdown, no-interception game, and the bruising Frank Gore/Kendall Hunter combo at running back ran 29 times for 190 yards.
Who saw this coming: Alex Smith with a 104 rating, a dominating run game, linebackers (Patrick Willis, NaVarro Bowman) versatile enough to stuff the run and play sideline-to-sideline.
"This is the first time since I've been here that we've looked this good,'' said Gore. "Alex Smith is playing great ball, and defenses don't know what to defend.''
That's the idea.
It's been made painfully clear to Tim Tebow that the football administration that drafted him, run by Josh McDaniels in 2010, does not have a lot in common with the football administration (John Elway/John Fox) that now runs the Broncos, following the dismissal of McDaniels last fall. McDaniels loved Tebow. Elway and Fox wouldn't have drafted Tebow if he had been the last quarterback on earth. That's not to blame Elway or Fox for the current conundrum around Denver; they simply feel that a dropback quarterback with good accuracy is the kind of quarterback they'd like to run the Denver offense. That's not Tebow -- at least not now.
When Tebow came in the game Sunday at halftime against San Diego -- the Broncos trailed 23-10 -- it was to see if he could give the team a spark. But the cynic in anyone who has followed this story could also look at it this way: The season's going down the toilet, and fast, and Kyle Orton is playing poorly, and even though Fox and Elway want Orton to be the quarterback, playing Tebow gives them a chance to show the fans he really isn't the answer long-term.
It's hard to tell a lot about fan and team reaction from watching on TV. But Invesco seemed down and depressed at the end of the first half. The fans are tired of Orton. It's clear. No team in the NFL has been as bad as Denver in the last 31 games -- the Broncos are 7-24 since McDaniels won his first six games as coach in 2009 -- and the locals have seen enough. It's not all Orton's fault, but what sense does it make for the team to keep doing the same thing over and over if it hasn't worked for two years?
When Tebow began warming up and then went in the game, the crowd came alive. And though his first three drives produced nothing, the crowd got revved up in a big way in the fourth quarter. Denver had an old college drive to narrow the score to 26-18 midway through the fourth quarter -- all 51 yards on the ground -- and Tebow flipped a 28-yard scoring pass to Knowshon Moreno three minutes later (the two-point pass failed), and it was 26-24.
When the Broncos got the ball back, they trailed 29-24 with 24 seconds left. Two passes netted Denver 51 yards. One second left. Crowd in a frenzy. From the San Diego 29, Tebow took the shotgun snap, looked, looked, looked, did a 360 trying to make time, looked some more, and fired deep into the end zone into a scrum. Incomplete. But somehow satisfying. The crowd left with some hope.
In one half of football, the Broncos began to win back the city. The Tebow lovers got a taste of their hero. The Orton haters got something, anything, different. I can't imagine any scenario that would have Fox giving the ball to Orton when the Broncos come off the bye in 13 days at Miami.
Afterward, I asked Tebow (4 of 10, 79 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, 101.7 rating) if he thought he'd done enough to win the starting job. Of course he hadn't, and he knew that, but I had to ask.
"Thank God I don't have to make that choice,'' he said. "I just wanted to go out there and play my heart out and show the hard work I've put in can pay off for this team.''
The Eagles are playing in quicksand. They make a little progress, make a couple of plays and then, week after week, do something really stupid to set themselves back. A strip. A penalty. An interception. An idiotic offside call when they can least afford it. Sloppy teams do dumb things like that all the time, and the Eagles right now are both sloppy and dumb.
One play in the 31-24 loss to Buffalo illustrated that perfectly. I had to watch the play over and over in the NBC viewing room, sitting next to Tony Dungy, who was trying to figure it out too.
Down 14-7 midway through the second quarter, the Eagles took over at their 22. On first down, Vick retreated to throw. The Bills blitzed a cornerback (I couldn't read his number) around the Eagles' left end, and sent a rookie linebacker, Kelvin Sheppard, from over the left guard. At the snap of the ball, rookie center Jason Kelce pulled to the left. The Eagles running back on the play took care of the defensive back blitzing to the left of Vick. There was a moment in time -- we froze the image at NBC on the wide-angle view of the field, with all players on the screen -- where Kelce, pulling left, looked as if he'd be head-up on Sheppard and easily neutralize him so Vick would have enough time to find one of the four receivers in the pass-route.
Inexplicably, Kelce sprinted left to double-team a defensive back who was already well blocked.
"I know when he goes back and looks at film of that play, that center will be beating himself up over that one,'' Sheppard told me. "The crazy thing was, everything cleared out, and there was this huge hole to rush through. My eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store. There was nobody between me and Vick.''
Sheppard came unblocked at Vick. "I had a guy coming down my gun barrel and I should have just took the sack,'' said Vick. "I think that was a game-changer. Those things can't happen.''
True: Vick should have taken the sack. His greed to make a play led to throwing the ball right to Nick Barnett, who ran it in 31 yards for a touchdown. This is certainly partially Vick's fault because he has to eat that ball. But Kelce's mistake ... I guess you'd call it a rookie mistake. But it's so incomprehensible.
It was a bizarre play, the kind of mistake that illustrates perfectly why the Eagles are in this predicament. Because of injuries (both in the preseason and during the season), the Eagles started five offensive lineman Sunday, none of whom were the presumed starters at their positions last March. Two rookies (Kelce and guard Danny Watkins), one bargain free agent (guard Evan Mathis), one converted guard at tackle (Todd Herremans), one failed right tackle at left tackle (King Dunlap). Vick only took one sack Sunday, but I'd bet he took 12 good hits or so.
It's not too late for the Eagles to get out of this, with the talent they have. But Washington and confusing defensive coordinator Jim Haslett are up next. Not a good week for rookie centers to figure out which blitzers to pick up. Haslett has to be looking at the video today excited at the change-ups he'll be able to throw at the Eagles.
On Friday, on our NBC SportsTalk pro football preview show on Versus, Jets safety Jim Leonhard was startlingly candid in his assessment of how the Jets would play the leading receiver in the league, Wes Welker, on Sunday. "You have to take away a team's best option, and right now that's Wes Welker,'' Leonhard said. "As much as we possibly can, we're going to make sure [cornerback Darrelle] Revis is on top of him.''
Leonhard was nearly spot-on. This from the inner sanctum of ProFootballFocus.com this morning, following New England's 30-21 victory over the Jets:
The Patriots ran 81 snaps Sunday, including plays nullified due to penalties. Revis and Welker both played 78. The Jets put Revis on Welker on 45 plays -- 26 pass plays, 19 run plays. Of the 26 pass plays, Revis appeared to have man coverage on Welker either 21 or 22 times. On the first play of the third quarter, when Tom Brady hit Welker for 73 yards down the middle, it was unclear who was in primary coverage -- Revis or safety Eric Smith. On the other 21 pass plays, Revis allowed one four-yard completion to Welker and nothing else. Welker's other three catches came with Revis not in coverage on him.
On the plays Revis was not on Welker, he was on Deion Branch 21 times.
On the plus side for Welker, he did have five catches for 124 yards, and his long completion led to a Brady touchdown throw early in the third quarter that gave New England a 10-point lead.
On the plus side for Revis, Brady had thrown to Welker an average of 14.3 times per game before Sunday; on this day, he targeted Welker eight times and completed five. Welker had caught 25 balls for 375 yards in the previous two weeks. So he was clearly diminished in his effectiveness Sunday, but the Patriots scored 30 points, and Revis wasn't an overwhelming presence on the other receivers.
You pick the winner. Seems like more Welker than Revis to me, but very close.
"Every week we go into a game with some things and I keep them in my pocket, so we got the opportunity and I called it. Sure enough, they did a great job and down it goes and it ends up being a huge play in the game. That's what we do. We're always looking for opportunities to make plays."
This one was huge in the outcome. The Raiders' Rock Cartwright ran for 35 yards, setting up Janikowski's fourth field goal of the game and a 25-20 lead. Those final Raider points forced the Texans to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal, and Schaub was intercepted to kill the final drive.
"That's Ripley's to me. Maybe I got hit in the head or something. I don't remember that.''
"We're just focused on being better tomorrow than we were today. That's how we're judging success here.''
"About as miserable a feeling as we've had around here in a long time.''
If you're around 30, and you're reading this, you're probably a big NFL fan. And if you're not a student of history, you might wonder, rightfully, what's with all the hue and cry about Al Davis. I mean, since 1995, when the Raiders moved back to Oakland after spending 12 years in Los Angeles, this is how they compare to another struggling AFC franchise:
The Raiders have had a prolonged period of badness, to be sure. Now the question is: Has Al Davis laid the groundwork for a new generation of Raider greatness? Too early to tell, and I would be surprised if Jason Campbell can be a long-term great quarterback. But they play with a spirit that makes the old Raiders proud. They're fun to watch.
"Do your job'' is a statement Bill Belichick, via multiple NFL Films mikings, has made a part of the vernacular in New England.
"Do your job'' is something Bill Parcells used to say all the time coaching the Giants, with Belichick on the staff. (As in, "Just do your job and shut up,'' and variations of that theme that he'd say to his players.)
"Do your job'' is something Al Davis used to say when Parcells would call him and talk about what was going wrong with whatever team he was coaching at the time. It would be Davis' effort to get Parcells to get everyone on his team to take accountability, including players and coaches.
So the next time you hear Belichick say that statement, know that it had its birth with Al Davis.
It's with heavy hearts that my wife and I leave Boston after 32 very enjoyable months in the city's South End. We're moving to Manhattan. The work's there, and rather than commute back and forth on the train every Friday and Monday for nearly half the year, we just figured it'd be smarter for us to be located where most of my job takes place.
Five things we'll miss: Walking 28 minutes to Fenway Park ... Our neighbors who became good friends in the building at the corner of Shawmut and Waltham ... The South End restaurants (Picco in particular). I remember when we moved there Tom Brady told me, "You'll love the restaurants there. They're incredible.'' He was right ... Running along the Charles River last year with my half-marathonmeister, Roberto Portocarrero ... Walking everywhere in a tremendously walkable city. The one thing we really got used to was going two and three weeks without driving, a culture shock after New Jersey suburban life. Walking, particularly in a tremendous neighborhood like the South End, was a good leisure activity in itself.
Five things we won't miss: Hmmmm. There aren't five. We won't miss the wind (surprisingly strong year-'round) ... We won't miss the litter -- though I have a feeling we'll be heading into a new era of litter in New York ... The fact that April 10 felt like March 3 in the world we were used to ... But I can't think of much else. Boston was a terrific time in our lives. You've got a great place, Mayor Menino.
We'll be back early and often. I'm not giving up the family Red Sox tickets; I just won't go as much. I always wondered what it would be to live in the place that was The Big city when I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, and now, happily, I've found out.
"Thank you Mr. Davis for always being you -- the Brooklyn kid, the maverick ... the guy that DIDN'T want the merger. You were one of a kind."
Wasn't Davis the one who pushed for the merger as American Football League commissioner in 1966? No. The NFL pushed for the merger because of how aggressive the AFL was in trying to poach draft choices -- like Davis did when he stole and signed Lance Alworth for the Chargers in 1962. Davis grew to think the AFL shouldn't merge because it would continue to grow more powerful and be a better TV game because of the exciting brand of football so many of its teams played. In fact, though, the large-market NFL teams at the time (Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and New York) would have been able to get higher rights fees for its games, so how much longer the AFL could have flourished without the merger is unknown.
a. I couldn't have written it better myself, so I won't try. Andrew Brandt of National Football Post with a smart analysis about why Bengals owner Mike Brown
b. Wow. Did you see Maurice Jones-Drew truck Leon Hall on his way to the first points of the game at Jacksonville? Leveled him.
c. Classic shuck-the-blocker-and-tackle by Troy Polamalu early against the Titans, stopping the Titans' Chris Johnson.
d. There isn't a better quarterback in football than Drew Brees at throwing the ball just right to lay it over the linebacker layer and in front of the deep secondary. His touch is perfect.
e. Steve Smith, who elevates like few others.
f. Now I know what the Colts saw in Curtis Painter. When he gets time to throw, he stands in the pocket and delivers a nice ball.
g. Dwayne Bowe, with the catch of the year in the end zone. The catch of many years. Terrific balance and concentration.
h. What a stat by Jim Nantz on CBS: The end-of-half pick by Antonio Cromartie against Tom Brady was his first interception EVER in the red zone at home. That's almost impossible to believe. But Nantz said it's the first time after 91 touchdowns that Brady threw a pick inside the 20- at home.
i. Doug Baldwin of Seattle (eight for 136 and an important touchdown) is a great story for Seattle. You'll read about him in Tuesday's column.
j. Broken record again: Cam Newton was competitively terrific against the Saints, even though he was only 16 of 31.
k. Love what I saw out of Newton post-game. Drew Brees and Sean Payton shook his hand and said things to him, but he had a pained, almost angry expression on his face. Guy looks like he hates to lose.
l. Love Ron Rivera sticking up for his guys, saying a fine might be worth it rather than letting Roman Harper hit Steve Smith with a cheap shot and having it go unretaliated.
m. Aaron Rodgers. What a great downfield thrower.
n. Shaking my head how good the 49ers looked.
a. Me, for not including Denver linebacker Von Miller of the Broncos in my prospective quarter-of-the-season rookie awards. Of course he belongs in the running for the overall best rookie, right behind Cam Newton. My error.
b. Daniel Graham, with two first-quarter penalties for Tennessee.
c. Al would have loved Chaz Schillens running four yards past the deepest Houston Texan. Al would not have loved Jason Campbell throwing it three yards past him.
d. The Eagles need tackling practice. Badly.
e. Bush-league play, Roman Harper. Ridiculously late hit in the end zone on Steve Smith of the Panthers.
f. Hope your sixth-round salary can take a five-figure fine, Danny Batten. That's the second-year Buffalo linebacker from South Dakota State who took two full steps and hit Michael Vick high and will get fined for his hit for sure.
g. Asante Samuel. Tackle somebody!
h. Pink socks on the Giants. Pink gloves, okay. Pink cleats, I guess. But long pink socks with the blue uniform? Yeccccch. What's next? Full pink uniforms?
i. I mean, really. Is someone going to buy Victor Cruz's pink socks at an auction to benefit the battle against breast cancer? I don't want to diminish that effort, but there's got to be some limit. Some of the stuff players have worn the last two weeks looks absurd.
j. Peyton Manning wasn't allowed to wear black high-tops to celebrate the life of Johnny Unitas after Johnny U died, yet NFL players can dress without regard to the NFL's uniform code, some wearing pink socks, some wearing other pink items, and some not? I don't get it.
k. The Jags. Dead team walking.
a. Gotta love The Onion. This from their faux obit on the one and only Steve Jobs: "Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Computers -- and the only American in the country who had any clue what he was doing -- died Wednesday at the age of 56.''
b. The story is too perfect about Michael Oher not knowing Steve Jobs, and Tweeting on his iPhone a query to his followers to find out who this guy was.
c. I guess my tribute to Jobs would be that I don't know how I'd do my job without my MacBook Pro. Friday night, on a train with no power outlets, I fired up the MacBook, took out my Verizon modem, turned it on and Tweeted and wrote a couple of emails for a project I'm working on. The guy sitting next to me was emailing on his iPhone while listening (too loudly) to songs on his iPod. It's a Steve Jobs world.
d. The death of Al Davis prevented me from getting to Jeff Pearlman's book about Walter Payton. This is a bad week for me coming up work-wise, but I promise to have my thoughts out no later than the column of Oct. 24.
e. I've still missed every episode of "The Office'' this year. DVR, don't fail me now.
f. Darn it! Missed Elvis Costello the other night in Montclair.
g. Coffeenerdness: Seattle, you should know that the baristas at the 51st and Madison Starbucks are superb, particularly the store-openers at 5:30 on Sunday and Monday mornings.
h. Beernerdness: Taking your pumpkin recommendations. Been beerless for a few days, but I'll be trying a few pumpkin varietals in the coming days.
i. Quiz answer: The Lions' quarterback in their last Monday night game 10 years ago this weekend was Ty Detmer, who went an efficient but unproductive 15 of 18 before being replaced at the start of the third quarter by Charlie Batch.