Championship Game Observations

Richard Sherman is smarter than you and also better at life.

Seriously, his post-game rant was great to watch and channeled the spirit of one of the most intense and hard-hitting games I'd ever seen. Would anyone really rather he talked about his teammates, the fans and God?

Maybe Sherman was a little mean to Michael Crabtree, but Crabtree's a well-compensated professional athlete in the public eye. In a game where Navorro Bowman gruesomely tore his knee, and players routinely get concussed, the insult to Crabtree's ego was small potatoes. Even Erin Andrews, whose interview was derailed and cut short, had no issue with it per her Twitter feed.

So the talk about how "classless" Sherman was struck me as myopic and dumb. Sure, Peyton Manning would have calmly said all the right things because he plays "the game" the right way. No, I don't mean the NFL game (both Manning and Sherman are excellent at that), but the corporate sponsor, post-NFL career choice of employment game. I'm not sure why anyone cares that an athlete plays that other game well - how is that good for anyone but the player? In fact, it's bad because you get dumb answers and no window into the game in exchange for what? The comforting feeling that as fierce and successful as the guy is on the field, he's still been cowed into expressing himself in a bland and milquetoast way just like everyone else?

Strangely, no one except me and maybe Mike Salfino hold it against Manning that he sells crappy chain pizza to the masses or shills for oreos during a childhood obesity epidemic. Seriously, you have all that money and fame, and the best you can do with it is open a bunch of Papa Johns franchises? Give me Richard Sherman the person over Peyton Manning any day.

Regarding the actual games - as I mentioned - the Seattle-San Francisco one was among the most intense I've ever watched. From Vernon Davis taking a huge pop from Kam Chancellor, Marshawn Lynch smashing his helmet against defensive linemen to Russell Wilson running for his life, it was brutal and 100 mph. The slower, more deliberate, less thrilling AFC game looked like the JV match in comparison.

But for one drive in the fourth quarter where Colin Kaepernick threw a bullet to Anquan Boldin for a long score (and the frenetic final minutes), Seattle's pass defense was stifling, and the 49ers' only offense was Kaepernick's scrambles. This isn't surprising as the Seahawks grade out as a top-five all-time pass defense, thanks to Pete Carroll's refinement of Monte Kiffin's basic scheme and his filling it with nearly ideal personnel.

The Seahawks had trouble with the 49ers defense, too but for an electrifying Marshawn Lynch run and a huge touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse on 4th-and-7 from just outside of field-goal range. It was a courageous decision to go for it, and when the Niners jumped offsides, Wilson, knowing he had a free play, did the smartest thing - he went big - zipping the ball 39-yards into the body of a well-covered Kearse in the end zone for the score. And that play was set up by a 3rd-and-22 screen pass to Zach Miller that went for just enough to make the fourth-down gamble viable.

Even so, the Niners had their chance to win the game before Kaepernick - as Sherman pointed out - foolishly targeted him in the end zone, resulting in the game-ending pick. It was first down at the 18-yard line, there were still 22 seconds left, and the Niners had two timeouts. There was no reason to force the ball.

The referees actually did a passable job in this game, calling a five-yard running-into-the-kicker penalty rather than calling a personal foul and having the 49ers get gifted a first down - though Troy Aikman, Joe Buck and Mike Pereira seemed to prefer the latter so that the game would turn on a garbage technicality. It's funny because when I posted that on Twitter, a few people mocked me, arguing the "technicality" happened to be the rule. Oddly no one seemed to think "hey it's the rule" was a just outcome when Navorro Bowman clearly recovered a fumble/caught an interception, and the ball was awarded to Seattle due to the play being unreviewable. Thankfully, the Seahawks botched a handoff and restored the game back on its rightful course.

The Broncos-Pats game, played in perfect weather and against two poor defenses, was light on fireworks and also came in way under the 55.5-point total. The Broncos dominated in part because of Tom Brady missing open receivers, and they got a lift when Wes Welker took out top corner Aqib Talib. Bill Belichick seemed to think this was deliberate, and it also came after Julian Edelman temporarily took out Denver's top corner, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, making it seem plausible it was done in retaliation. Whatever the case, it seems clear from most commentary that Sherman taunting Crabtree is far more "classless."

In the end, the Patriots run-first attack that worked against a terrible Indy defense was ill-suited to facing a stout Denver front that can't defend the pass, and Brady wasn't up to the task of connecting with the smallish Edelman who got open deep a couple times.

While Denver broke the record for points scored in a regular season, getting 50 in two home playoff games against the Chargers and Pats in good conditions does not bode well for a game in the Meadowlands against the Seahawks in two weeks. The Broncos amassed their points against one of the league's easiest schedules, too - they didn't have to play Seattle, San Francisco, Carolina, Cincinnati or Arizona. The one good defense they played was the Ravens in Week 1, and that was close until Baltimore ran out of gas in the second half in the thin Mile High air. The Broncos even caught the Giants early when their defense was bad and the Chiefs late when they were falling apart en route to yielding the most yards during the season's second half.

The line opened at Seattle +2.5, and I haven't felt this good about a side in the Super Bowl since maybe ever.


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