After a week in New Orleans, I returned back home to my apartment in New York City with a notebook full of goodies. I spoke with several players, coaches, front office personnel and drunk football fans on Bourbon Street. These — most important, the drunk football fans — are my sources.
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Let’s empty the notebook. Here are 10 thoughts for you to ponder over our first weekend without football since August.
1. 49ers fans have a right to be upset with the officiating in Super Bowl XLVII
After a day of recovering from the ol’ “File a column from the press box at 1 a.m., catch a cab to New Orleans hotel, catch a cab from New Oleans hotel to airport, sleep for two hours at gate, then board a 6:00 a.m. flight back home” move, I watched Super Bowl XLVII on the NFL’s All-22 film and couldn’t get over an atrocious no-call in the game.
I actually had no problem with the officials not throwing a flag on the final fourth-and-goal pass play to Michael Crabtree. Jerome Boger’s crew hadn’t thrown flags on plays like that the entire game, and to do so there, would have been uncharacteristic to the way the past 58 minutes had been called. The refs were bad. But at least they were consistently bad. To throw a flag on that particular pass would have made all the non-flags on other plays (including Dennis Pitta being grabbed on a third-and-goal play earlier in the half) the rest of the game.
The play that got me was the Jacoby Jones kick return touchdown to start the second half. Go back and watch the footage and keep an eye on 49ers fullback Bruce Miller, No. 49. Two Ravens — Brendon Ayanbadejo (No. 51) being one of them — not only hold Miller, but they do things that’d be illegal on the street in 50 states.
This was the most egregious no-call than any of the passing plays Jim Harbaugh, Michael Crabtree and the rest of the 49ers players and coaches were screaming about on the sideline all game. In the end, there were many, many, many no-calls that benefited both teams. The refs let the players play, which is probably better than a Super Bowl painted in yellow flags. But that kick return … wow, Bruce Miller’s still feeling violated for what the Ravens did to him.
2. Jeff Fisher’s latest reclamation project
Titus Young was released by the Lions earlier this week, a result of two maddening seasons in Detroit where a supreme talent was wasted. The second round pick from Boise State was an enigma and a headache and in the end — just wasn’t deemed worth having around.
We’ve heard of diva wide receivers before, but I’m told from some very good sources in Detroit that Young’s case was unlike one we’ve ever seen before. Diva wouldn’t be accurate. He’s not a diva. He’s delusional. Young truly believed he was the same caliber of wide receiver as teammate Calvin Johnson. From what I’m told, he hemmed and hawed through the 2012 season, complaining about a lack of touches and targets. When Nate Burleson went down with an injury and Young was thrust into the starting lineup, he bellyached even more over the amount of looks Megatron was receiving. When he intentionally did not run the right routes — for reasons still unknown — in a game against the Packers, the writing was on the wall for Young.
The Rams were the only team to put a waiver wire claim on Young this week. He’ll be in Rams camp, where he’ll work with Jeff Fisher’s staff to get back on track. Fisher, of course, selected Adam “Pac-Man” Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2005 Draft after a collegiate career filled with off-the-field issues. He drafted Janoris Jenkins out of North Alabama in the second round a season ago, despite multiple red flags for off-the-field reasons. Fisher clearly loves taking gambles on high-risk, high-reward guys. Young’s case could be more extreme than Jones and Jenkins’ cases, though. His label of being an utterly selfish player is viewed a lot worse in the locker room than a label of having character red flags for off-the-field incidents.
If Fisher can get Young to fulfill his full potential and be the player the Lions once hoped he would be when they drafted him in the second round a year ago, I’m convinced he’s Mother Theresa.
3. Gregg Williams returns. Will his players respect him?
Gregg Williams was reinstated by the league on Thursday and will join the Tennessee Titans coaching staff as a senior assistant on defense, effective immediately.
Williams is a great X’s and O’s coach and was responsible for building a game plan with the Saints when they defeated Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV. But X’s and O’s and a decorated coaching resume might not be enough to gain the Titans players trust and respect. From multiple sources, there’s still a widely held belief around the league that Williams “snitched” on Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma by signing a document claiming that Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game. After chatting with several current and ex-players at the Super Bowl, that belief still rings true.
We’ll see how long that “snitch” label will hang over Williams’ name, but don’t be shocked if the Titans defenders don’t take to him immediately.
Then again, if he’s their coach — and they want a job — they oughta put all that aside and just play some football. Gregg Williams is not going anywhere. And based on the Titans’ defensive performance a season ago, no one’s job is particularly safe on that unit.
4. The team to beat in 2013? The Seattle Seahawks
I was surprised to hear so many trusted voices tell me that Seattle — not San Francisco or Baltimore — is considered the team to beat heading into 2013.
Around the league, the feeling is that the Seahawks are beyond loaded with talent, and scarily, were just starting to scratch the surface when they were eliminated by the Atlanta Falcons in this year’s NFC Divisional Round. Look at the youth on the roster and then look at their contracts, and there’s plenty reason to be scared about. Seattle has everybody coming back and a second-year quarterback that just spent a week in Hawaii tagging along to Eli Manning and Drew Brees.
From my sources in San Francisco, the 49ers were a lot happier to face the Falcons in Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game than they would have been hosting the Seahawks. I rolled my eyes and scratched my head when the Seahawks took Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson with their first three draft picks in 2012. The lesson as always? Never question Seahawks GM John Schneider.
He’s a lot smarter than me. He’s a lot smarter than you. He’s a lot smarter than all of us.
5. Need a quarterback? Good luck
I can count eight to nine teams that are in desperate need of a quarterback this offseason. Well, good luck finding one worth anything.
Joe Flacco, the big name free agent QB, will be either given the franchise tag or re-signed to an enormous contract extension. Other than Flacco, there really isn’t much out there. The next best free agent QB is probably Brian Hoyer. Brian Hoyer! And don’t be mistaken — Alex Smith, whether a free agent or on the trading block — isn’t the “hot stock” some other writers are pumping him up as. Teams want game-changers and difference makers, guys who’ll be taking them into road stadiums and winning playoff games. Alex Smith hasn’t proven he’s that guy in seven years as an NFL quarterback. Teams aren’t exactly doing flips to bring in Alex Smith. The same goes for Matt Flynn, who was so impressive last summer, that he wasn’t able to crack the starting lineup over a third round draft pick in Seattle.
As for this year’s draft class — it’s even slimmer pickings than the free agent crop. Tyler Wilson and E.J. Manuel, are the top prospects, with wild cards Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib getting some first round buzz. None of those five are considered to be even in the same stratosphere as Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.
6. It’s a cruel business
Michael Boley and Chris Canty were two of the most beloved players in the Giants locker room. The guys on the team loved them, they were extremely coachable and they both played integral roles in the team’s Super Bowl XLVI victory over the Patriots. A year later, they’re both on the street, released by the Giants as salary cap casualties. Add Ahmad Bradshaw to the list, and the Giants have taken an ax to three of their most recognizable faces in the past few days. Guess what? That’s the NFL. There are several other big name players — Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson, James Harrison, included — who could be let go in the coming weeks. With the hard salary cap, such transactions will become more and more common in the coming years. Boley, Canty and Bradshaw will end up on other teams’ rosters next season. To make room for them, some other veteran’s likely going to lose his job. That’s the biz.
7. The Pro Bowl is likely here to stay … for at least another year
Roger Goodell wanted the Pro Bowl to be competitive this year. It wasn’t. The NFC blew out the AFC and it didn’t exactly seem like we were watching a rematch of Super Bowl XXV. But that’s okay. Ratings were still high, the players still had a great time, and it set the tone for the start of a wonderful Super Bowl week in New Orleans. Though not official, I’m told this year’s Pro Bowl was good enough — and the viewership high enough — for another go at it. Everyone went bonkers over the fact only 40,000 people appeared to attend the game. What was lost in that number was the over 100,000 fans who enjoyed the Fan Fest outside the stadium. The players love the Pro Bowl. Hawaii loves the Pro Bowl. Hell, I love the Pro Bowl. Barring a surprise turn of events, it’ll be back next year.
8. Super Bowl XLVIII Halftime Show Thoughts.
There was a bit of chatter earlier this week hinting that the NFL would be canning a Super Bowl halftime show next year. Too costly. Too much of a pain in the butt. Too damn cold in New York.
The NFL quickly put a stop to any such talk when PR man Brian McCarthy tweeted (emphatically), “Re: erroneous reports #SB48 halftime show next year. Chill out. pregame & halftime shows in-stadium.”
So, who should get the nod? The Jersey guy in me is obviously partial to Bruce Springsteen, but the Boss already did the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay a few years back. And MetLife isn’t exactly the Stone Pony, anyway.
Who’s next? Well, I’m not a Bon Jovi guy. I’m sorry. I’m just not. If you want Bon Jovi, you might as well toss Journey and Foreigner up there on stage, too. They’re all the same band to me.
My pick? I’m completely fine with a mix of rock, hip hop, and country. How about a The Killers/Jay-Z/Rihanna/(Country Band of Choice) joint performance?
Bring ‘em all out. Would they share the stage? Why not?
And yes, “Country Band of Choice” is my favorite Country band in the world.
(I told you — I’m from New Jersey.)
9. Haloti’s knee
Before spraining his knee in the second half of Sunday’s Super Bowl, Haloti Ngata was having a fantastic game. It was arguably his best performance in two years. Ngata went down and the 49ers, magically, got going. I’ve asked around and am told Ngata’s injury is “nothing serious” and he’ll be fine to participate in all offseason activities at full strength.
10. Randy being Randy
A lot of 49ers fans were grumbling over Randy Moss’s apparent lack of effort on Colin Kaepernick’s intercepted pass in the first half of Super Bowl XLVII. Kaepernick came out Tuesday and said he took full responsibility for the pick and that he overthrew Moss.
Moss was a treat to cover last week. I mean it. He was fantastic. Open. Honest. Weird. Funny. Sincere. My favorite Moss quote, which pretty much sums up his entire career, came after I asked him to name two players he admired.
“One would be Walter Payton. The other would be … myself.”