1. I think this is what I liked about Week 12:
a. Shane Lechler's 80-yard punt.
b. The diving catch to keep the Broncos alive on third-and-11 by that Minnesota Golden Gopher, Eric Decker ... and the correct replay review by Jeff Triplette: There wasn't enough evidence to overturn a catch ruled good.
c. You saved the Jets' season with that sideline catch on third-and-11, down three, inside of two minutes to go against the Bills, Plaxico Burress.
d. James Brown's piece (with Deb Gelman producing) on the struggle of Tom Brady's personal throwing coach, Tom Martinez, to live after being diagnosed with kidney disease that will require a transplant. Beautifully told, with the proper emotion and education about both Martinez's fight and why he's been so important to Brady. As Brady's dad said in the piece, Tom Brady wouldn't be the Patriots' quarterback today were it not for Martinez's attention to throwing-mechanical detail in his formative years.
e. Sam Bradford's gorgeous throw to the back of the end zone, hitting Brandon Lloyd in stride.
f. Charles Woodson, who is not getting older. He's getting better.
g. Brandon Saine, who might be this year's James Starks for the Packers. Not Starks in a tailback kind of way, but Starks in a contributing-down-the-stretch way when the Pack needs him. I love how Ted Thompson finds these backs who have some scars on them from college (Saine's senior year at Ohio State: 70 carries, 337 yards) and Green Bay signs them and gives them roles and they just fit.
h. Matt Moore. Good backups have 15-year careers, and Moore is at least that -- and on a day when he and Mike Pouncey couldn't get the exchange right, I thought he was still a major plus.
i. The catch by Brandon Marshall while getting mugged.
j. Jason Witten, the best security blanket Tony Romo will ever have.
k. Not your fault, Joe Staley. You were a rock at left tackle for the Niners in defeat.
l. Good for Mike Mayock to give Jarret Johnson props. Rex Ryan used to call him the most underrated guy on his D. He still is, for some reason.
m. Ray Lewis' sideline quote to Terrell Suggs, captured by NFL Films: "Hunt. Hunt. Hunt. Don't stop huntin' 'til you got 'em on your wall!!!''
n. Tackle of the weekend (and it wasn't even close for first place): San Francisco safety C.J. Spillman, on Ray Rice near the Niner goal line in the second quarter. The Ravens had second-and-goal at the one-yard line and the Niners were in danger of seeing their 10-game streak of games not allowing a rushing touchdown broken. Baltimore brought in an extra tackle on their goal-line scheme, and Rice tried to run right, wide and cut into the end zone. Spillman broke through the traffic and nailed Rice with a form tackle for a four-yard loss.
o. Everybody keeps giving up on Bernard Pollard. Everybody then watches Bernard Pollard keep making plays -- now starting for the Ravens next to Ed Reed.
p. Shannon Sharpe's interview with Tim Tebow. Impressive. "Can I say something honestly? This offense is stunting your growth,'' Sharpe said to Tebow.
q. Ever hear of Tommie Campbell? Seventh-round pick of the Titans this year, 251st pick overall, a corner from California (Pa.). Took a handoff on a first-half kickoff against Tampa Bay and took it for an 84-yard touchdown.
r. Ever hear of Kaluka Maiava? Backup linebacker for the Browns. Fourth-round pick out of USC in 2009. He, along with Chris Gocong and D'Qwell Jackson, goal-line-stopped Cedric Benson on the Bengals' opening drive of the game.
s. Ever hear of Ryan Mahaffey? Fullback for the Colts, plucked off the Ravens' practice squad in the Colts' bye week. Cleared a big hole for Donald Brown on Indy's first rushing touchdown
t. And then the one-handed pluck-out-of-the-air reception by Mahaffey.
u. Heck of a play by Dwight Freeney, spinning off Jordan Gross to sack Cam Newton.
v. Best throw of Christian Ponder's season, the TD bomb to Percy Harvin in the end zone at Atlanta.
w. Brooks Reed, fifth straight game with a sack. What a pick by Houston GM Rick Smith.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 12:
a. The pass-protection of Niner right tackle Anthony Davis, who allowed three sacks and two quarterback pressures (according to ProFoootballFocus.com) against the Ravens. By game's end, the Niners on some plays had two extra blockers to help Davis, who played with very slow reaction time Thursday night.
b. Alex Smith missing a wide-open Delaney Walker on the first 49er offensive play of the game. Big, big error.
c. Matthew Stafford's accuracy. Don't tell me his throwing hand's not going to be a problem down the stretch.
d. The Lions' composure.
e. Winning's the only stat that matters, but Dallas isn't going to win in January without more offensive production.
f. Frank Gore touching it 15 times on 54 offensive snaps for the Niners in a very physical game. Just not enough.
g. Two words for you on the goal line, Jay Gruden: play action.
h. I like Colt McCoy, but he made a dumb play attempting to run for a first down in the opening quarter. Having to get to his 11-yard line, he ran out of bounds at the 10, clearly seeing that the marker was a yard ahead. Very strange. He could have swan-dived and made it easily.
i. Blaine Gabbert, rightfully pulled.
j. Tyler Palko, who would have been pulled if Todd Haley had a good option behind him.
k. So much for the fourth-quarter magic, Josh Freeman.
3. I think whoever hires Tony Sparano when he gets fired after the season is going to get a heck of a football coach. And whoever gets the Dolphins coaching job is going to get a good base of talent. Steven Ross' preliminary search list should include Jon Gruden and a slew of defensive coordinators: Mike Zimmer (Bengals), Chuck Pagano (Ravens), Perry Fewell (Giants), Rob Ryan (Cowboys) and Mike Pettine (Jets).
4. If think you think I'm overdoing it about a 3-8 team, Miami. I'm not. Last six games: Miami 137, Foes 78. On Thursday, the Dolphins were one dumb botched center snap from beating the NFC East leaders at their place.
5. I think I found even more reason to hate the existing pass-interference rule. In the second quarter of the San Francisco-Baltimore game, Joe Flacco threw a rainbow deep downfield for speedy Torrey Smith, covered closely by cornerback Tarell Brown. They jousted for the ball before Brown intercepted it. But Brown was called for pass interference -- a close call, but justified. The interception was nullified and the ball placed 50 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage, at the Niners' 15.
I've said for years the NFL needs to adopt the college system for pass interference -- 15 yards from the line of scrimmage on defensive pass interference -- instead of the spot-foul it uses. (I actually think 10 yards would be better, but I'd settle for 15.) Brown's foul was relatively ticky-tack, and this was a game that was going to be a defensive struggle all the way, and this foul gave the Ravens 50 yards. Huge.
For those of you who think the 10- or 15-yard penalty would cause corners to tackle wideouts when corners felt they were beat, that's foolish. How often do you see that happen in college football? Ever?
6. I think if you want to get a good view into a very fertile football mind, you should read Bruce Feldman's book on Mike Leach, Swing Your Sword. Hard to imagine many football coaches channeling "Seinfeld'' and Howard Stern to help them learn how to communicate with or motivate players, but Leach does.
I keep waiting for an NFL team to talk to Leach, who is to the left of Mike Martz, about its coaching job. Is he difficult to get along with? He might be. Very smart coaches often are. Read the 10 pages of his game-calling and planning to beat Texas in 2008 and you think: I'd like to hear more from this guy.
One other thing from the book, about his former wideout Wes Welker. Leach liked Welker's approach to life and football so much that he had this quote from Welker posted all over his football facility: "I just try to concentrate on what I can control, and that is me going out and believing in myself.'' Good work by Feldman.
7. 1. I think these are my thoughts on the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2012 semifinalist list, which the Hall issued last week and which will be cut down from 26 to 15 in early January and become the finalists for the next class:
a. No Art Modell, Ray Guy, Joe Klecko. Modell's hurt by his move to Baltimore and I believe in the thought that though he was important to the TV explosion it likely would have happened anyway. Guy's hurt by the fact that his gross average is 74th all-time -- and possibly by the fact that a Raider heir, Shane Lechler (who had the longest punt of his illustrious career Sunday, an 80-yarder), is the all-time leader with an average of 5.1 yards-per-punt higher. Klecko? The man who made the Pro Bowl at three positions can't get traction among the voters, and I'm surprised.
b. Steve Tasker made it, which is good. I've said this before about him: His long-time special teams coach in Buffalo, Bruce DeHaven, once gave me a tape of 10 plays Tasker made on special teams that he figures won games for the Bills in their glory years. I back the man I consider the best special teams player ever, and I think he did enough to get in. But I'd be surprised if he made the final 15.
c. There are 26 semifinalists, not 25, because there was a tie for 25th. By the bylaws, a tie for the last position means all those tied make the next cut.
d. Sunday was the 20th anniversary of the Packers hiring Ron Wolf as GM. Good to see him make the list of 25 (or 26) for the first time. And fitting because the Packers that he set the architectural stage for are unbeaten.
e. Now a word about Jerry Kramer. The former Packer guard seems to be the player in the last year or so who has the most ardent group of supporters behind him via email, on the Internet and in the Twitterverse. A few things about the Kramer candidacy. He retired from the Packers after a stellar 11-year career in 1968. He was elected All-Pro five times, and to the Pro Bowl three times (an odd juxtaposition, seeing that there were three Pro Bowl guards and just two on the All-Pro team), and to the NFL's 50th anniversary team in 1970.
He was a modern-era candidate from 1974 through 1988. He was a finalist nine times and not elected. After his 15 years on the modern-era list, he was eligible as a Seniors Committee candidate. For the last 24 years, he's been on the Seniors list, and came up again in front of the full selection committee in 1997. He didn't get the required 80 percent of the votes to make it. That Seniors Committee could recommend him again any year, and may in the coming years, to have his case heard by the committee, which has many new members since 1997.
(The Seniors Committee is a group of nine Hall voters who meet every year to determine which two long-retired players will have their cases heard by the 44-member group of Hall selectors. If Kramer had been a hot candidate, he'd have been in the room to be considered by now.
It seems to me a couple of things are at play here. He had some competition on his own team at guard, and overall. Gale Gillingham and Fuzzy Thurston (but Gillingham especially) were very good players too, and players in that era are split on who is most deserving, particularly between Kramer and Gillingham, who played with Kramer for three years and then took over for him at right guard when Kramer retired. The fact that there are 10 Packers from that era's team in the Hall can't help -- the same way it doesn't help L.C. Greenwood that there are so many Steelers in. But because Kramer was selected to the NFL's 50-year team, it seems dumb that he's not in.
OK, now you know the history. The way I view it is this: The vast majority of voters who watched Kramer and the Packers live are no longer on the committee -- including the writers who covered the great Green Bay era, with the exception of Sid Hartman from Minneapolis. The rest, veteran scribes like Art Daley from Wisconsin, Cooper Rollow from Chicago, Chuck Heaton from Cleveland, Jerry Green from Detroit, are gone from the committee. In their place are young writers and voters.
We are being asked, basically, to overrule those who watched Kramer's entire career. They had 15 chances to enshrine Kramer after watching the Packers win five titles in the '60s. They had years to nominate and push his case as a senior candidate. And the media people who saw him the most and knew the Packers the best didn't think he was worthy.
Many of the senior candidates are those who never had their cases heard before the entire body of voters, either because they played an invisible position or played for a mediocre team, or both. That's the case with this year's two candidates, guard Dick Stanfel and defensive back Jack Butler. Kramer was on TV a lot, and with the best team of his era. So it's a pretty tough thing to ask, first, the Seniors Committee to nominate him again, and second, the 44 voters to say the media who watched him year in and year out made a mistake. Not impossible. Just difficult.
8. I think this was an embarrassing lead-up to the Grey Cup, which was played Sunday in Vancouver (British Columbia 34, Winnipeg 23). Remember Joe Kapp? He was the scrambling, gambling quarterback brought to the Minnesota Vikings in the late '60s from the Canadian Football League. Kapp led the '69 Vikings to the Super Bowl, which they lost to Kansas City.
Well, Kapp punched out a guy at a Canadian Football League luncheon in Vancouver Friday. Seems that Kapp held a 48-year grudge against Angelo Mosca stemming from the 1963 Grey Cup. Kapp quarterbacked the B.C. Lions in '63, and Mosca was a defensive lineman for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. During the game, Mosca slammed into B.C. running back Willie Fleming after he was clearly down, injuring him and creating years (decades, really) of ill will between the Lions and the Ti-Cats. Kapp never forgot.
Both men are 73 now. Mosca walks with the aid of a cane. At a luncheon to benefit indigent retired CFL players Friday, with both men on a stage, Kapp waved a flower in Mosca's face, apparently following some unkind words from Mosca. Mosca swung his cane and hit Kapp in the head. Kapp took a step toward Mosca and punched him off the back of the stage.
9. I think that was the softest, weirdest, most unimpressive four-touchdown game that Mark Sanchez played Sunday that I'd seen in a while.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Great to hear from Army First Sgt. Mike McGuire on Thanksgiving. He'd planned to retire from the Army after his third tour in Iraq and Afghanistan commanding troops disarming improvised explosive devices; that tour is due to end in 2012. But he says he's been offered a post in Hawaii and has decided to accept it, so he'll postpone leaving the Army. "Who can pass that up?'' emailed McGuire the night before Thanksgiving. "I will do a few more years, at least another deployment, and then retire.''
b. Take A Breath Dept.: Far be it from me to critique an obit in the great New York Times, but the Tom Wicker piece after he died Friday in Vermont could have used a few more periods. In the first seven paragraphs of the piece were 49-, 65-, 69-, 58-, 58- and 62-word sentences.
c. That right there is a Paul Zimmerman kind of note.
d. Wicker was a great questioning-authority and participatory-journalism beacon for J-school students in the '70s. His reporting from inside Attica during the New York prison's uprising was riveting.
e. Spent Thanksgiving with my family in San Francisco. Fun, relaxing, at times slothful. Very enjoyable, including the football-watching. What I found most interesting was the interest in the games.
The gathering included three men and six women. Five of the women watched the football on a scale between interested and rabid. Before the third game, Niners-Ravens, one of my daughter Laura's friends said, "God, I love Thursday night football.'' Another friend talked my ear off about her team, the Redskins. Five of the six women play fantasy football. I left there thinking what a racket the NFL has going. Amazing.
f. Coffeenerdness: Had a very different coffee experience in San Francisco at Philz, which has several brewed-to-order coffee shops in the Bay Area. No lattes or cappuccinos there, only brewed coffee. You order your cup -- mine was French Roast -- and the gal takes a stainless-steel cup and dips it into the container of beans and gets enough for the cup, and grinds it in a regular coffee-grinder. Then she takes the ground coffee, puts it into an individual filter suspended over your cup, pours the hot water in the filter, stirs the brew while it drips into the cup. Had a little cream in mine. Delicious. No bitterness. So fresh. Next time, I'll go even darker than the French Roast.
g. Beernerdness: Two interesting beer experiences over Thanksgiving. One of the guys brought a growler with a red ale, Ramble Tamble, of Elevation 66 Brewery in El Cerrito, Calif., for dinner. Satisfyingly bitter, creamy on the head, not overwhelming in any way, with a good bite and taste. Then Friday night, I tried a lager from Tahiti, Hinano, brewed in Papeete. Interesting and different, more bitter than a normal lager; but not much taste to it.
h. Even in twilight, Marty Brodeur still makes some incredible saves, as he did Saturday against the Isles.
i. Lord, Notre Dame looked pathetic Saturday night until that frosh quarterback from Cincinnati Moeller came in. How in the world has the Irish won eight games?
j. Belated thanks to young reporter Adam Bond, who works for the student newspaper The Rabbit at the University of Essex in Colchester, England -- and who, covering a soccer game involving a local team, supplied the Tim Tebow anecdote from the fans at the game last week. Great story, Adam.
Saints 30, Giants 17. Look on the bright side, Eli: At least your parents only have to get on a streetcar to commute to this game. I don't trust the Giants to be able to stop Jimmy Graham -- or Drew Brees.
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