The cream is rising to the top of the NFL, and the 49ers are sifting to the bottom. Their offensive line looks weakened, as if by osteoporosis, and the offensive play-calling has, well, curdled.
49er Game: Minnesota 35, San Francisco 7
Terrell Owens Surliness Update:
From ESPN's game summary
Owens, who criticized the play-calling and pass protection in a post-game rant last week, stormed off the field after Kevan Barlow was stuffed for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 31 late in the third.
Owens flung his helmet on the sideline and continued to scream. He was still frustrated afterward in the locker room -- lamenting the Vikings' ability to involve their star receiver, Moss, while his team continued to struggle getting him the ball.
"Why wouldn't I want the ball?" Owens said. "Is that being selfish?"
After the game, Owens also said that the 49ers had no heart, and hinted that the team would be better off with backup Tim Rattay at quarterback, rather than Jeff Garcia.
While Owens is probably still correct about the direction of the offense, and the inability of the starting QB to throw the ball further than 15 yards, one wonders what he's trying to accomplish, beyond lowering his potential signing bonus from whatever team he signs with in the offseason. He might be frustrated at his lack of passes, but the team lost by 28 freakin' points. Was a more involved Owens going to cut the margin of victory to 21? 18?
The team seems to be on the brink of panic, but they're still only 1-3. They still get to play the Arizona Cardinals twice. Many injured offensive lineman are going to return, as is injured defensive back Jason Webster. There's a lot of season remaining. In a way, this extended tantrum from Owens might prove helpful, as attention is going towards the potential locker room strife, and away from the piss-poor on-field performance. Of course, if they lose to Detroit at home next week, the season is over for the 49ers.
Daunte Culpepper was injured, so Minnesota started journeyman Gus Frerotte at quarterback. Frerotte has played for five different teams in his career, amassing a quarterback rating of 75.9 for his career, which is just slightly below average. Last year, he lost his starting job for the NFL's worst team, the Cincinnati Bengals, and only played in four games. Frerotte is probably best-known not for his skills as a passer, but for suffering the stupidest football injury of all time, just barely nosing out kicker Bill Gramatica tearing his ACL celebrating a routine field goal.
On a third-and-goal play from the 1, he had rolled out of the pocket looking for a receiver. When he saw a clear path in front of him, Frerotte dashed toward the goal line and just managed to get into the right front pylon of the south end zone ahead of two Giants defenders.
Frerotte kept running toward the corner of the stadium. First he spiked the football against the wall, then he stopped momentarily and continued celebrating his team's first score by butting the top of his helmeted head into a padded wall. He clearly recoiled after the impact.
As Frerotte trotted back toward the bench area, he winced as he tried to get his helmet off.
The 49ers defense made this no-talent ass clown look like a Hall of Famer on Sunday. True, throwing the ball to Randy Moss has made mediocrities like Jeff George and (late-career) Randall Cunningham look like superstars, but Frerotte was stil lfantastic. Four touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a final quarterback rating of 157.25, just slightly below the maximum possible score of 158.33 (yes, the QB rating scale makes no sense at all). More importantly, he didn't head butt, kick, jump off of, or run into anything. Every dog has his day, and on Sunday, mighty Gus Frerotte was that dog.
NFL Commentator of the Week:
Rush Limbaugh resigned from his job on the Sunday NFL Countdown show after saying that Donovan McNabb was overrated by the media because he was black. ESPN received a deluge of protests in the last few days, although no one challenged Limbaugh's assertion on the television program itself, and Rush quit under pressure. While reporters will no doubt debate the appropriateness and validity of his claims ad nauseum for the next few days, the larger question is, What the hell was Rush Limbaugh doing on the Sunday NFL Countdown in the first place?
Dennis Miller was a bad idea, too, but at least Dennis Miller used to be funny. The only thing Limbaugh brings to the table, besides a healthy appetite, is the ability to make controversial statements exactly like the one he was just fired for making. Does Rush Limbaugh look like he'd ever played football? Does he have any football credentials at all? This "story" is no surprise at all.
The hiring and firing of Limbaugh represents a disturbing trend in ESPN broadcasts of making the reporting of sports more of a story than the actual sports themselves. ESPN's baseball announcers routinely refer to stellar defensive plays as "Web Gems", after a promotional feature on their own site. ESPN has gradually replaced broadcasts of sporting events with programs featuring ESPN personalities and sportswriters arguing with one another. Broadcasts of this year's baseball playoffs often returned late from mid-inning breaks so that a studio host could interview "expert" Bobby Valentine about game strategy, even though there were already four announcers working the game in question. ESPN even premiered an hour-long show about the making of Sportscenter.
This is likely a result of Disney's purchase of ESPN and ABC. The new corporate overlords clearly want more "branding" of the ESPN name. This was especially evident tonight, when, after a day with three baseball playoff games, including a 12-inning war between Boston and Oakland that was punctuated by a two-out, bases-loaded bunt single by the catcher, the lead story on Sportscenter was... the resignation of an ESPN employee, Rush Limbaugh, accompanied by commentary from other ESPN employees about what this meant for Rush and for ESPN.
Dom Capers, Hero:
In the final seconds of the Houston-Jacksonville game, Houston had the ball on the Jacksonville goal line, trailing by three points. A field goal sends the game to overtime. Houston coach Dom Capers keeps the offense in, and they win on a quarterback sneak.
Too often, it seems like coaches make decisions to cover their asses, rather than to win football games, even when the odds are in favor of the unconventional move. It's as if reaching overtime is considered a moral victory, even if the team later loses in the extra period. Houston had about a 50% chance of winning in OT, slightly less because of the chance their field goal could be blocked. Pushing in a score from less than a yard away was clearly a much better gamble, but I'm sure that if it had failed, Capers would have been criticized for months.
My dad mentioned this after watching the 49ers lose to the Rams in overtime, after rallying for a game-tying touchdown at the end of the game. "Why not go for the two-point conversion and try to win right then?" he complained, and I'm inclined to agree. An NFL team generally succeeds on about 40% of their two-point conversion tries. For an above-average offensive team like the 49ers, the odds are probably in the 40-45% range. On the road, against a great offensive team like St. Louis, the 49ers' chances were not great in OT. But they kicked the tying extra point, and then promptly lost when St. Louis scored on their first possession.
Coach Dennis Erickson would have been railed if the two-point try had failed and the team had lost. But, they lost anyway. Regulation losses and overtime losses count exactly the same in the standings. Risky decisions are interesting. Watching a Gramatica brother jog on to the field to decide the game's fate is really lame. This is why Houston coach Dom Capers, is an NFL Hero.
Chicago opened up a new stadium on Monday night, while Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers opened up a can of whoopass. Chicago lost 38-23, bringing their record to 0-3. They have lost their three games by a combined score of 111-43. They are the worst team in football. I asked Bill Swerski's Super Fans for their take on the team.
Bob Swerski: I'm Bob Swerski, filling in for my brother Bill, who had a heart attack following a suicide attempt during halftime of the Packers game. We're here to talk about the sorriest NFL franchise there is, Da Bears.
Superfans: DA BEARS!
Bob Swerski: First of all, let's look ahead to next week's game, where Da Bears are hosting the defending AFC champion Oakland Raiders. Predictions?
Carl Wollarski: Raiders, 84. Bears, 10.
Todd O'Connor: Raiders, 108. Bears, 3.
Pat Arnold: Raiders, 61. Bears, 0. Game called at halftime due to Bears' forfeit.
Swerski: Some optimism for Da Bears this week, I see. Alright, now what if Da Bears were facing Mount Carmel high school's junior varsity team this week instead?
O'Connor: Is Kordell Stewart the quarterback?
O'Connor: Mount Carmel, 31. Bears, 24.
Swerski: OK, how about if Da Bears played the Washington Generals?
Arnold: In football, not basketball?
Swerski: Yeah, football.
Arnold: Generals, 43. Bears, 2.
Wollarski: Generals, 24. Bears, 0.
O'Connor: Is Dick Jauron still coaching Da Bears? (Swerski nods.) Generals, 56. Bears, 13. Man, what will it take to get that guy fired?
Arnold: Firing's too good for him. They ought to give him Da Chair.
Super Fans: DA CHAIR!