1a. “Jimmy has fear? A thousand times no.”
That’s a line from Jimmy James: Macho Business Donkey Wrestler, a book that becomes a plot point in one of the best episodes of one of the best sitcoms of all time, News Radio. But it just as easily could appear in Jimmy Garoppolo’s autobiography. If there ever is a Jimmy Garoppolo autobiography. And especially if he’s a big News Radio fan. (But considering his previously stated and unfortunate affinity for Entourage, he probably isn’t.)
For the first half of the season, we wondered if Garoppolo would ultimately be the reason the 49ers fall short in January. The defense has been dominant, the run game outstanding, but Garoppolo was too often erratic early on, spraying throws high and wide in what threatened to become an upsetting trend.
It might have had something to do with his return from a torn ACL, as he started to settle in around the Rams win in Week 6 (throw out the muck game in Washington that immediately followed). But it wasn’t until two weeks ago, Monday night against Seattle, that he had to bring the 49ers back. And in that game, he had to do it without George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders, his top two targets. And he did it. It wasn’t beautiful, but after DeForest Bucker’s fourth-quarter fumble recovery TD cut the Seahawks' lead to five, Garoppolo converted the two-point conversion. He then led two field-goal drives in the final 10 minutes to force overtime. It might have been more in regulation if not for a dreadful, drop-filled night from a receiving corps that had been scotch-taped together. And if not for an unfriendly spot and a rookie kicker crumbling under pressure, they would have won that game.
Last week against the Cardinals, Garoppolo assembled two fourth-quarter touchdown drives—again, without Kittle—to bring the 49ers back twice. They won that it despite playing on a short week after a 70-minute game.
Between the Rams situation, Brady and the punchless Patriots, Philly with Wentz and the Molasses Five (who are available to play weddings and bar mitzvahs), there are a lot of playoff-caliber teams you look at and wonder if they can play from behind. It doesn’t seem like the 49ers—thanks to Garoppolo and the always impeccably designed offense of Kyle Shanahan—belong anywhere near the same conversation as those other struggling units. The defense has stolen the show for this team in 2019, but the last two weeks provided something of a reminder that it was once thought Garoppolo would be carrying them to the next level. On Sunday night, with Aaron Rodgers on the other sideline, he has a chance for a true signature win.
1b. Here’s the whole News Radio clip, by the way. Stephen Root is an absolute treasure.
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2a. Whether or not pass interference review is going to be brought back in 2020 (it’s not), the issue with officiating in the NFL is the refusal to utilize modern technology. Whether you call it Sky Judge or something else, or whether it’s a single official or a panel of officials watching on monitors, or whether that person is in the stadium buzzing down or in New York frantically texting the referee “Humphrey literally wrapped his arms around Hopkins’ neck and lifted both feet off the ground like an overeager child aiming for a piggyback ride, throw the flag you melvins!” there’s no reason, in a sport that has a built-in 15- to 40-second delay between every down, that every play can’t immediately be reviewed and corrected. The fundamental issue with NFL officiating in 2019 is that anyone watching from their couch is getting better views than the seven officials on the field.
2b. Nothing against Al Riveron, but those NFL Officiating Twitter explainers have to go away. If you haven’t seen them, every week Riveron shows one of the most mundane plays of the week and then, for instance, reads the first three sentences of the Wikipedia page for “forward pass,” and moves on.
As we all know, for the majority of Sunday those monitors at the Park Avenue replay center are devoted to airing the video for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” (I hear Riveron is obsessed with “Sledgehammer”), but if you’re not going to show and explain the mind-bendingly ridiculous calls, don’t bother explaining any of them.
2c. While we’re at it, might as well have Twitter go away too.
2d. At what point are the Microsoft Surface folks going to check in with the league and say, Don’t use our stuff on these dopey reviews no more. Their products are prominently linked to a series of abject failures every week. That can’t be the product placement they were aiming for.
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3. I don’t have a take on Cowboys-Patriots. It will be fascinating to see how far the Cowboys offense has come against a great Belichick defense, on the road, on what’s forecast to be a crummy weather day in Foxboro. Belichick defenses have typically had issues against quarterbacks who can make a lot of second-reaction plays, which Prescott certainly can. A lot of Prescott’s improvement this season has come via his command and comfort of Kellen Moore’s revamped system.
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4. My biggest problem with the Seahawks is the fact that they refuse to go back to the silver helmets even though they were so much cooler than what they wear now. My second-biggest problem is that, despite the magnificence of Russell Wilson, it’s tough to match this team’s performance with its 8-2 record. Right now, they’re sitting at a point differential of +21 (+12 if you exclude overtime, but let’s not get into that now), which ranks 12th in the NFL.
Of course, point differential isn't a definitive statistical measure. However, I’ve written about the randomness of red-zone performance before and I’m not about to repeat myself, and the Seahawks rank third in what I call red-zone point differential above expectation, measuring expected vs. actual red-zone performance on both sides of the ball (+2.72 per game). If you even out the red-zone performance (to what they’d be with an expected red-zone performance—again, red-zone performance from year-to-year for each team is quite volatile) the Seahawks would be at -6 for point differential, 17th in the NFL.
And, finally, there’s the fact that they rank fourth in the NFL in takeaways (19) despite a lackluster pass rush, which is typically the best way to consistently force turnovers. That takeaway total has been inflated by 11 fumble takeaways. That probably isn’t sustainable.
You could argue—as Russell Wilson did to the MNF production crew before the showdown with the 49ers two weeks ago—that the Seahawks are better equipped to win close games. And there is likely some truth to that, but they’ve won two games on opposing kicker chokes (vs. Rams, at 49ers). And in overtime in Santa Clara, Wilson’s downright Trubiskish performance nearly cost them the game.
Coming off their bye week, they have to fly across the country to face an Eagles team that’s getting right defensively but doing nothing of the sort offensively. It’s a tough scenario for Seattle but a good matchup, as Philly doesn’t have any ability to stretch the field and take advantage of a susceptible Seahawks secondary. But I can't help but wonder if they're a bounce or two away from collapse.
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5. If I were an NFL owner, I’d volunteer to give up a home game any season to play in Mexico City, as long as it was that year's matchup with the Ravens. And then I’d laugh maniacally as Lamar Jackson slides and scuffs like one of the Slipnutz over the mixture of loose sand, banana peels and green skittles they’re trying to convince folks is a suitable NFL playing surface at Azteca.
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6. They already had a pretty solid lineup in the works for the “Save Dan Quinn” benefit concert next month. (I heard Kenny Loggins’s nephew’s Journey cover band, two of the guys from Styx but not Dennis DeYoung, a really good Peter Gabriel impersonator, and a pre-recorded montage of Michael McDonald’s MCI commercials from the early aughts among others.) But now it all seems unnecessary.
There was a lot of nice talk coming out of the bye week in Atlanta—players taking responsibility for the crushing disappointment of the Falcons’ first half of the season, a coaching-staff shuffle that was supposed to fix things. And, then, it worked. At least so far.
Since coming back from the bye, Atlanta has utterly dominated two division opponents on the road. The dormant pass-rush is making noise. The horrific communications issues they were having in the secondary seem to have subsided (perhaps due to the move of assistant head coach Raheem Morris back to that side of the ball.) Regardless, if the rest of the season goes anything like the last two weeks did, Quinn is going to be staying around.
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7. With the Cardinals having lost two more fumbles last week—giving them three lost fumbles on the season—history has eluded Arizona, at least for one more season. But the 2002 Chiefs and 2014 Vikings, who share the all-time record for fewest lost fumbles in a season (two), aren’t safe yet, as the Saints are still sitting on just one lost fumble on the season.
But if you history seekers really want to have some fun, here’s what you need to be tracking: Due to Adam Gase’s love of the third-and-long draw play (rather than throwing downfield and hoping for a random pass interference flag which is what everyone should be doing considering the current state of officiating), the 2019 Jets have gone 3-for-53 converting third-and-10-or-longer. That’s 5.7%. Going back to 1995, which most historicians agree is essentially the beginning of time and is also the first year that Stats Inc. tracked these things, no team has ever converted third-and-10-plus at a lower rate than the 2001 Bears (5.5%, 3-for-55). Thus, on Sunday, make sure you have a fresh tape in the VCR so you can fire it up every time the Jets face a third-and-12.
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8. Did you spot how many Peter Gabriel references there were in this week's column? If you think you know the answer, write the number on a 5x7 postcard and mail it to:
“Peter Gabriel is a Football Thing”
P.O. Box 6
New York, NY 10101
Children under 18 wishing to enter must also send a miscrocassette recording of their parents’ permission to:
“Peter Gabriel is a Football Thing Parental Permission Recording”
P.O. Box 7
New York, NY 10101
Every week, one winner will receive a live CD of “Andy Benoit Wonders Who Peter Gabriel Is,” 45 minutes of NFL media’s best analyst asking who Peter Gabriel is, featuring tracks like, “What’s His Most Famous Song?”, “What Does 'Shock the Monkey' Go Like?”, and “Wait, Who Is Phil Collins?”
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9. Ladies and gentlemen . . . R.E.M.!
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