Raiders' emotional rally, 49ers' rout show sun is rising in the West
Some of Al Davis' criticized draft picks vindicated themselves in Houston
Are the 49ers for real? Will Tim Tebow start? Can Eagles rebound?
Players of the Week, Stat of the Week, Ten Things I Think I Think
This is one of those where-to-begin Mondays. I could begin with Al, or with so many of his cockamamie first-round decisions combining in some bit of cosmic grid karma to make grown men cry in Houston. Or with the Raiders' NorCal neighbors beating a 3-1 team by 45 points. Or with Tim Tebow ... he may not be great, but he sure is fun to watch, and he lifted the black cloud from over the Broncos in one zany half of football. Or with the Eagles, who have gone from Dream Team to Keystone Kops in one sorry month. Or with the Packers, who cannot be stopped. Or with a tight end whose story is better than his talent, which is saying something.
Or I could begin with the interesting dichotomy of the teams that employ Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Alex Smith versus those that employ Mike Vick, Peyton Manning and Mark Sanchez.
Cincinnati, Buffalo and San Francisco: 11-4.
Philadelphia, Indianapolis and the Jets: 3-12.
We kick off with the West Coast shall rise again, and other tales from Week 5.
The Raiders have had some momentous weekends in their 52 seasons, but none like this one. I wrote about the death of 82-year-old Al Davis on Saturday. I would bet it's the only Davis remembrance piece of the weekend that began with a story about women's basketball.
"Al was the football version of George Steinbrenner,'' the owner who was probably closest to Davis in the last few years, Jerry Jones, told me Saturday.
But Davis was more than that. He was part Howard Hughes, part Steve Jobs, part Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He told no one about any of the health problems that made his life come crashing down. "Has anyone heard the cause of death?'' a good friend of his asked Sunday. "He'd never tell me exactly what was wrong with him.''
He once told me the only thing he couldn't dominate was death. No he couldn't. Saturday proved that with a grim finality. The man who signed Lance Alworth, who pushed the NFL toward a merger with a league it despised, who won four professional football titles, who fought Pete Rozelle so hard it sent him careening into retirement, who hired the first black coach of modern times (and rehired Art Shell) and the first Hispanic coach of all-time and the first female chief executive a football team has had, and who drafted the first first-round kicker in 21 years, could not dominate death.
More about the first-round kicker in a bit. But here's the one Al Davis story you didn't read over the weekend. In 1983, rookie Baltimore GM Ernie Accorsi told teams he wanted three first-round picks and two second-rounders for the first pick in the draft. The first pick was going to be John Elway, and Elway had said he wouldn't play for Baltimore. The team that came the closest before the draft was the Raiders.
In truth, Oakland officials never came close to what the Colts wanted, but they called Accorsi several times with offers and pursued the deal the hardest of any team before the draft. How history would have been changed if the Raiders had made the deal.
Accorsi was determined to draft Dan Marino if he couldn't get Elway. The Raiders, not Denver, with Elway. The Colts, not Miami, with Marino. The Colts, presumably, still would have moved to Indianapolis a year later ... and would they have been in position in 1998 to take Peyton Manning? Would Marino have been so broken-down in 1997 and played so poorly to ensure the Colts the first pick in the '98 draft? Probably not. If Davis had pushed a little harder in 1983, who knows how the landscape of the game would have been altered?
Back to the first-round kicker. Sebastian Janikowski came with the 17th overall pick in 2000. Deltha O'Neal and Julian Peterson preceded him; Chad Pennington and Shaun Alexander followed. Only two players from that first round are doing what Janikowski is doing right now -- still playing at a high level: Brian Urlacher (ninth) and John Abraham (13th). And how fitting was it Sunday that Janikowski, and the other first-round Raiders picks that engendered controversy over the years, won the game in Houston 25-20.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh pick in 2009, caught seven balls for 98 yards and a touchdown. Richard Seymour, who cost Davis a 2011 first-round pick in trade with New England, sacked Matt Schaub twice. And Michael Huff, the embattled safety who went from starting to the bench to an $8-million-a-year redemptive contract, intercepted Schaub in the end zone as time ran out.
After the game, as coach Hue Jackson addressed the Raiders in the locker room, he interrupted his comments to say, voice quivering: "That was a hell of a play by you, Michael Huff! I tell you this: Al Davis had his hands on that ball!''
And Janikowski. Field goals of 54, 55, 50 and 42 yards, tying the record for most 50-yard field goals in a game. First time in his career he's had three of them. Now it can be put to rest that this was not a dumb pick, finally. He's been a top-of-the-game kicker for most of his 12 seasons, and he remains the only kicker who can make a 54-yarder look like a 37-yarder. He did it Sunday, booting the 50's through with plenty to spare.
Davis has been an easy mark over the last few years because the Raiders have been losing. But the players who've invited ridicule recently were the ones who won a game on the road against the best team in the AFC South. It's a stupid cliché to say, Somewhere, Al Davis was smiling. Instead, I'll just say, Somewhere Al Davis was shaking his fist and glowering at his critics and saying, "The glory of the Raid-uhs will go on for generations!''
This is what Jackson said to his team as he and the players knelt together after the game:
"Moment of silence ... Moment of silence ... Al, we love you. We know that you're watching over this team. We're going to keep playing like Raiders for you.''
That was plenty good, and plenty nerve-racking, on the first Sunday post-Al.
The Niners are kids again.
San Francisco was supposed to be one of those teams that struggled with a new coach, new offensive and defensive systems, new players at new spots ... and no time to adjust with the late resolution of the labor agreement between players and owners. So when new coach Jim Harbaugh saw the early-season schedule (Week 3 at Cincinnati, Week 4 at Philadelphia) he thought: ROAD TRIP!
The Niners beat the Bengals 15 days ago and flew to Northeast Ohio after the game. The team booked a DeBartolo hotel property, a Holiday Inn in Boardman, Ohio, for five nights. On Monday, the offense went to visit sick kids at a children's hospital, the defense to a Boys and Girls Club to interact with kids. They practiced for three days at Youngstown State. They did their walk-through practices in the hotel parking lot. Harbaugh pronounced it an extra week of camp, basically, and told each player to introduce himself to two people he didn't know well every day.
A few of the guys took a hotel van to see The Lion King in 3D. "Not a whole lot to do,'' said defensive lineman Justin Smith. "We were able to focus on the task at hand pretty well.'' Some of the defensive players watched extra film of the Eagles, the next foe, and saw how loosely players carried the balls while running. Sure enough, it was Smith's strip of wideout Jeremy Maclin that clinched the 49ers' 24-23 victory.
The good feelings continued Sunday at home. San Francisco, in something that not even their biggest fans could have expected, routed the Bucs 48-3. Alex Smith continued the kind of play the franchise saw three head coaches ago; in 2005. with a three-touchdown, no-interception game, and the bruising Frank Gore/Kendall Hunter combo at running back ran 29 times for 190 yards.
Who saw this coming: Alex Smith with a 104 rating, a dominating run game, linebackers (Patrick Willis, NaVarro Bowman) versatile enough to stuff the run and play sideline-to-sideline.
"This is the first time since I've been here that we've looked this good,'' said Gore. "Alex Smith is playing great ball, and defenses don't know what to defend.''
That's the idea.