Warner, Cards in driver's seat for MVP, playoffs; should Big Ben sit?
San Francisco hurt itself with botched time management against Cards
Explaining how the logistics of an NFL team in London might look
Did I do the right thing or wrong thing by talking politics on Monday?
I'll get to the 49ers' clock management in a moment -- wow ... it was almost a fireable offense, blowing 22 vital seconds in the final minute figuring out which subs to have on the field -- but three quick points to make first on Monday night's spellbinding, weird, all-but-division-clinching 29-24 Arizona win over San Francisco:
Were the officials over-officious jerks, or just doing their jobs last night? Remember when Marv Levy called an officiating crew "over-officious jerks?'' Classic NFL Films deal there. There were 20 accepted penalties in the game. But that's not outrageously rare. This is: In the final 20 minutes of the three-hour, 26-minute marathon, officials threw 18 flags. Two flags were picked up, one penalty was declined, and two were offsetting. Thirteen were marked off, including four false starts, three offsides and one encroachment.
Here's what Someone Who Knows told me this morning: Only two of the calls, upon further review, were ticky-tack -- an offensive pass-interference and an offensive holding. The other 14 (not including the two picked-up flags) were legit. I don't think this will be one of those days where commissioner Roger Goodell sees officiating czar Mike Pereira in the NFL cafeteria and says, "Can you please tell Tony Corrente's crew to keep the flags in their pocket a little more?''
Unless Matt Hasselbeck gets the Seahawks on a seven-game winning streak, the NFC West is over and Arizona can print playoff tickets. The Cards (6-3) have a four-game division lead with seven to play. No other team in the West is competent. Think of it: Seattle would have to go 7-0 and Arizona 3-4 or worse for the Cards to lose the division. (Or Seattle could go 6-1, with two wins over Arizona, and the Cards 2-5 or worse.)
Bottom line: Pick a wild-card team in the NFC. Atlanta? Philly? Washington? Tampa Bay? Dallas, if Tony Romo gets broiling hot? One of those will have to travel to Phoenix on the night of Jan. 3 for the second game of the NBC wild-card doubleheader. The Cards with a home playoff game. Unless you're on Social Security, you've never seen that.
The MVP is now Kurt Warner's to lose. Not to say he can't, because the Cardinals didn't win that game last night so much as the 49ers lost it, and I still don't buy the Cards as a serious Super Bowl contender. But Warner's been a 73-percent passer in Arizona's 4-1 run, they'd be nowhere without him, and the Cards are going to make the playoffs. That's MVP material.
Now, in the last seven weeks, lots can happen. If Peyton Manning continues to pull rabbits out of his helmet or Kerry Collins quarterbacks the Titans to 16-0 or Adrian Peterson runs the Vikings to the playoffs, Warner might not win his third MVP, tying Brett Favre for the most all time. But he's in the driver's seat now.
Anyone know what the Keystone Cops were doing on the field last night? With the clock running and 46 seconds left in the game, San Francisco wideout Jason Hill was tackled at the Arizona one. It was now first-and-goal from the one, with the clock running. The Niners had no timeouts left. Clearly what should have happened here is the offense on the field should have run to the line and spiked the ball. That would have given San Francisco second-and-one with the clock stopped and about 37 seconds left.
Then the logical call would have been Frank Gore wide on second down, and if that failed, hustling spread-scheme personnel on the field so, with 15 seconds left, there'd have been time to take two shots in the end zone with the field spread. In that scenario, Shaun "Tazmanian Devil'' Hill could have either thrown or found a crease to dive in for the winning points.
But the Niners took about 24 seconds off the clock figuring out the right personnel to put on the field, and by the time they did, there were only 21 seconds left. Gore ran once, losing a yard, and then Hill had to spike it again to save time. Still they could have called for a spread look, but they tried to power Michael Robinson up the middle, and he was stoned four feet shy of the goal line. What a terrible series.
Mike Singletary has to call in Mike Martz today and get some clarity there. Singletary's in a tough position. He has no idea what Martz is doing on offense, so it's not a case of taking over the play-calling or having it run through him. The best he can do is to tell Martz if this ever happens again, he's got to spike it first, then use three downs to try to punch it in. It's ludicrous the Niners got two real plays off in the final 46 seconds. It's also apparent now that if Singletary gets this job full-time -- which I doubt he will -- he'll want an offense he can have some say in.
Now onto your e-mail.
VERY GOOD QUESTION. From Brian Toombs, of Louisville, Ky.: "Players, coaches, fans, reporters talk all the time about the difficulties of tough travel schedules ... traveling from the east coast to San Diego, Seattle, etc. and vice versa. So if it really is hard on a team, explain to me how you could convince a team to travel overseas [London] for an entire season?''
First, a team in London is not going to happen for the next 10 years, minimum; it may never happen. But for practice purposes, you are asking, I imagine, how you could put a team in London and ask it to travel six hours, minimum, for every road game. The wisecrack answer is, You give 32 owners $2 billion to split for a franchise fee in London, and they'll stop complaining about travel problems pretty fast.
The real answer is closer to this: A London team would probably have two three-game road trips to the U.S., staying in -- for example -- suburban Philly and working out at the Eagles' complex on a trip to face New England, the Jets and Washington. That would eliminate the wear-and-tear on the British franchise.
Now, for travel over there, I'm sure the league would give a bye either before or after most games in London to the opposing team. Aside from that, there's not much else the league could do to eliminate travel problems. Other than, of course, for teams to quit complaining and play.