Complaining about the officiating
Stop it. Enough already. The non-call on San Francisco's last offensive play, when it was 4th-and-goal from Baltimore's five, absolutely did not decide the game.
Did it look like Jimmy Smith was holding Michael Crabtree? Yes. But it also looked like Crabtree was pushing on Smith, which is just as flaggable as the hold. Not throwing a flag was the right thing to do, just like not throwing one would have been the right thing for Terry Porter to do in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
Even if the contact between Smith and Crabtree was one-way and the complainers were unambiguously right to say defensive holding should have been called, it still would not matter in the final analysis...because those complainers (along with every television and radio pundit I have listened to over the last two days) have conveniently forgotten a first quarter play in which a San Francisco defender clearly interfered with a Baltimore receiver but was not called for the infraction. Baltimore's drive ended because of that non-call, but had the flag been thrown, the Ravens would have probably scored a TD and therefore been ahead by twelve points instead of five when the Smith-Crabtree incident ultimately occurred.
I was not taking notes so I do not remember who the receiver and defensive back were, but I am pretty sure they were Jacoby Jones and Chris Culliver. In any event, the receiver ran a deep fly pattern and was pushed off-course by the defender way more than five yards past the line of scrimmage. And even with that interference, he recovered so well that he was only inches from making the catch. If not for the interference he would have caught the ball in stride within sniffing distance of the goal line, making it only a question of whether he scored on that play or got pulled down so close that his team scored a play or two later.
It is one thing for fans to complain about the officiating and selectively forget some incidents while remembering others. But it looks very petty for the losing team's head coach to do it, especially after being badly outcoached.
Speaking of which
I love Jim Harbaugh as a coach and admire his no-nonsense approach to competing, but on Sunday he clearly was not as good a coach as his brother John. He visibly lost his cool at multiple points in the game while John did not. In more than one instance, his play-calling looked frightened both inside his own twenty and inside the opponent's, while John's was consistently bold.
On the Niners' final drive they had first-and-goal from the seven and Jim did not call for a single play to be run from the pistol formation -- even though they were averaging eight yards per play from that formation. Not once did Jim call a play for Frank Gore after they achieved first-and-goal, and all three passing plays were to the same receiver even though the defense was keying on him.
Not really much else to say on this topic. There is no doubt that John was the better Harbaugh Sunday night.
Elite? Hell, yes
Joe Flacco has won more road playoff games than any other QB in the history of the NFL...He throws deep balls like Dan Marino and completes intermediate throws with needle-threading accuracy...He reads defenses better than anyone currently playing, and distributes his passes throughout his full receiving corps better than anyone else...While having played nine fewer seasons than the media's beloved Peyton Manning, Flacco has won just as many postseason games and just as many Super Bowls...Flacco has reached the playoffs every year of his career, and won at least one playoff game in every of those years...He just finished this postseason's four rounds without throwing a single interception...Yes, he is a pocket passer, but no, he is not confined to the pocket. In fact, he is more mobile than most of the QBs in the Hall of Fame, and he frequently makes defenses pay when he scrambles outside of the tackle box...In my opinion, those who argue that Flacco is not elite are either hopelessly oblivious to evidence, or hopelessly engaged in an internal struggle to never admit they were wrong.
Best job by an announcer
Phil Simms's explanataion of the rationale behind Jacoby Jones returning the second half kickoff from eight yards deep in the end zone. Like most Americans, I initially wondered what Jones could possibly be thinking. And after he crossed the goal line on the opposite side of the field, I found myself thinking he was lucky that his great run during the return would allow him to escape being remembered for the terrible decision to attempt it in the first place.
Then came Simms to explain that Jones's decision was, in reality, very smart. After pointingout that the kick was coming in low, and reminding viewers that John Harbaugh started out as a special teams coach, he went on to cite Harbaugh's own explanation of how his players are trained to decide whether to return kicks from inside the end zone. Specifically, they are to make the decision based not on the oncoming attackers but on the trajectory of the kick, for if the trajectory is not sufficiently high it means the kick is arriving too soon for the attackers to get where they need to be. In other words, Jones played it smart and just like his coach wanted.
The Star-Spangled Banner
I, for one, liked Alicia Keys's rendition. I am usually not a fan of artists "personalizing" songs like our (or any country's) national anthem, i.e., songs whose initial composition is not only classic but purposeful, and reflective of the nation's identity. But Keys's rendition gave true reverence to the spirit of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and her soulful delivery echoed musical traditions that were born specifically in America. Hers was not my favorite version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," but I disagree with most of the criticisms I have heard people hurl her way.
The Hall of Fame
I was happy to see offensive linemen get their due with the inclusion of Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen, even though neither of them were on my own list of the five people I would have voted through this year. However, I was not happy to see Andre Reed passed over yet again while Cris Carter got in.
For a few years, conventional wisdom has held that none of the three eligible receivers (Reed, Carter, and Tim Brown) were being inducted because they were stealing votes from each other. For most of those years, Reed was coming in ahead of Carter in the vote counts with Brown running third. Saturday, Brown remained in his customary third while Carter leapfrogged Reed to make it into the Hall.
To be sure, all three of those players had stellar careers and Carter does belong in the Hall of Fame. But Reed was the best of the bunch and it is not right for Carter to reach the Hall ahead of him, especially when Reed has been retired longer and has less time remaining before his eligibility runs out....Carter did have great hands and did score many TDs, but he was basically a possession receiver with prolific numbers. Reed, on the other hand, was a game-changer who struck fear in the hearts of opponents and forced opposing coaches to alter game plans...Reed made it to four Super Bowls while Carter made it to none...Can you imagine Bradshaw in the Hall without Stallworth, or Montana without Rice? If not, then how is it that Jim Kelly's bust is sitting in Canton without Reed's?
Hall of Fame injustices are nothing new, and it can be argued that this one pales in comparison to others since I just admitted that Carter belongs in the Hall. Still, I can't help but write about it because two things really stick in my craw. One is the feeling that Reed is being penalized for not winning a Super Bowl, even though Carter never even made it to one, and even though Reed would have won one if Scott Norwood hadn't missed that field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV. The other thing I can't shake is the feeling that Carter leapfrogged Reed because he is now a media personality and his media friends have been loudly shilling for him for years...while no one outside of Buffalo publicly mentions, much less stands up for, the man who played his college ball for little Kutztown University before moving on to the pros.
My thoughts about him -- and more specifically, my thoughts about his critics -- will be the sole topic of my next post. Until then, watch hockey for your sports fix!