1. I think this is what I liked about championship weekend:
a. The gigantic cooked carrot at Bob's Steak and Chop House at Montgomery and California streets in San Francisco.
b. Riding three cable cars. Touristy, I know. But really fun.
c. Nice coverage at the goal line on Wes Welker, Ray Lewis.
d. That being said, didn't it seem the Patriots loved when Lewis was in coverage against Welker or the New England tight ends?
e. The push New England's defensive line got all day.
f. Lardarius Webb's third pick in three halves.
g. Great graphic by CBS: John Harbaugh's the first coach in NFL history to win playoff games in each of his first four coaching seasons.
h. New England corner Sterling Moore, whose rags-to-riches story will be a good one at the Super Bowl.
i. Vernon Davis, for his 10-catch, 292-yard, four-touchdown postseason.
j. Giants punter Steve Weatherford, who was as good as All-Pro punter Andy Lee in a field-position game.
k. Victor Cruz, who demolished Carlos Rogers in an eight-catch first half.
l. Justin Smith. Ray McDonald. NaVorro Bowman. Patrick Willis. They're just too good to be going home. "What a defense,'' Eli Manning told me at his locker. "They create so many problems on every snap.''
m. I love offensive coordinator Greg Roman's brain. He comes up with some weird stuff, confusing stuff, like the monster formation with Justin Smith to run behind.
n. Good to see Peyton Manning at Candlestick to support his little brother.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about championship weekend:
a. The traffic on US 101 at 4:20 p.m. Friday. In rain varying from steady to a heavy mist, it took me 2 hours and 55 minutes to drive 43 miles from the 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara to my hotel in downtown San Francisco. One crazy, maddening ride.
b. Michael Irvin, Kurt Warner in a dunk tank. That's the kind of insightful analysis I want 40 minutes before the start of the AFC Championship, NFL Network.
c. And the James Brown E-trade baby interview on CBS. Grim scene.
d. Pats rookie right tackle Nate Solder will be hearing about the poor pickup of Baltimore defensive end Paul Kruger around the corner on the early Brady sack. And he should.
e. Not a good decision by Brady, trying to wedge one into Julian Edelman with Webb in front of him and Bernard Pollard over the top, supplying more help. Webb's acrobatic pick set up a Baltimore score.
f. As good as Alex Smith was last week late in the divisional round, that's how lacking he was this weekend.
g. San Francisco's inability to replace a punt returner. I mean, how valuable does Ted Ginn Jr., look this morning? Had he played, there's a very good chance a different team is going to Indianapolis next week.
h. I feel for Kyle Williams, but I can't imagine Jim Harbaugh keeping a guy he can't trust next year.
i. The lighting at Candlestick. Strange that the place didn't seem nearly bright enough looking down from the press box. Looked OK on TV, from what I saw, but trust me. Not enough candlepower at Candlestick.
3. I think my friend Andrea Kremer gets my nomination for Journalism of the Week with her story on the pain-killer Toradol on Tuesday's HBO Real Sports show. Toradol is the ultimate pain-killer, a non-addictive substance administered to multiple players in the league -- and it has been for years.
Kremer found a Toradol user, retired 11-year center Jeremy Newberry, who described a scene in the 49er locker room early in his career. A line of players, he said, "all lining up right before pregame to get a shot ... I've seen lines of 20 or 30 of them [players] standing there, waiting for a shot ... Everybody walks in and gets injected and walks out.'' Newberry told Kremer he "felt like a dope fiend, standing, waiting for your fix.''
Kremer interviewed a former team doctor of the Seahawks, Piers Scranton, who claims continued use of Toradol risks ruining their joints and causing liver and kidney failure. And in fact, Kremer reports Newberry, now 35, has been diagnosed with stage three kidney failure. That won't require a kidney transplant -- yet -- but it may in time.
Kremer also got a revealing interview with Brian Urlacher, a regular Toradol user. Even after Kremer tells Urlacher the risks of Toradol use, he says, "Even know, knowing the risks, yeah, I would still take ... the Toradol shot.''
A great job by Kremer shining a light on a dark part of the game that absolutely needs a light shined on it. The NFL absolutely must further educate its doctors and trainers about the regular use of Toradol.
4. I think if I'm a Rams fan, and I'm already skittish and skeptical about my team's long-term future, and not really thrilled about what I just saw in a 2-14 season, how do you think I'm going to react when I hear the best of the eight games on my home schedule in 2012 -- New England and Tom Brady at home, likely the last time in his fabulous career that Brady will ever play in St. Louis -- has been shipped to London?
Let the record show that if the Rams-Pats game is shipped to Wembley, the only Brady game in the Edward Jones Dome will be the 40-22 New England victory in 2004 ... unless Brady becomes the first 43-year-old starting quarterback in the NFL since George Blanda. He'd be 43 the next time New England is slated to play the Rams on the road.
Now, I don't yet buy that the move is a precursor to moving the team to Los Angeles or London; if Jeff Fisher builds a winning team, the fans will come and support it.
One league office source told me a major selling point to the teams playing overseas is if you give up a home game, the league will compensate the team with a payment above and beyond what it made for a regular home game. That payment, I'm told, will be at least $5 million per home game lost. So if the Rams can pocket an extra $15 million to $25 million over the three years of the deal, they shouldn't have any excuses about paying out the kind of guaranteed money that some teams in the bottom quartile of NFL revenue -- which the Rams are in -- have to pay to attract and pay legit free agents.
5. I think the best outside-the-box thinking about football this season comes from noted 93-year-old American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Lynn Zinser of the New York Times found Ferlinghetti in San Francisco, enthused about the 49ers after the tremendously exciting end of the Saints game nine days ago -- but knowing that there still is something about the game he finds too ferocious.
"Seriously, they have to do something to change the basic rules of the game," he told Zinser. "Too many of the players are getting concussions. It's murder out there. A couple of years after they retire it all catches up with them. I prefer European soccer. It's much more interesting than American football. It's like chess when you really pay attention to it. The more you know about it, the more interesting it gets. Football is just not that interesting. Every time they line up, it's going to either be a run or a pass. They stop all the time. In soccer, they never stop."
The powers-that-be can't do anything about the basic structure of the game and all the stops and starts. They can, and are trying, to do something about the brutality of the game that leaves so many players affected for the rest of their lives -- without ruining the game. It is, of course, the ultimate sporting high-wire act.
6. I think the everlasting moral of the San Francisco 49ers over the last 30 years is this: It's not just having a good quarterback on the roster. It's having the quarterback, plus coaching him.
7. I think there's a reason the franchise in this town has been good, and bad, and good again, and it revolves around just that -- teaching the quarterback you have. Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan did it with Montana and Steve Young. Jim Harbaugh and his offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, have done it with Alex Smith, making sure the offense they run is built to his strengths. "I like to think that everything we do on offense has Alex's strengths in mind,'' Roman told me Friday. It shows.
8. After it seemed like he'd be leaving Oregon for the NFL, Chip Kelly had a change of heart about taking the Buccaneers' head coaching job. I'm told part of the reason he turned it down is that the news of Kelly's possible departure leaked, killing his recruiting efforts.
9. I think Sean Payton's pursuit of Steve Spagnuolo was a smart one, during which Payton emphasized three things that were better than his competitors for Spagnuolo's services. One: New Orleans won more -- 41 victories over the last three years, including a Super Bowl. Two: Drew Brees. Three: Total autonomy.
The third wouldn't have been different at the two other suitors, Philadelphia and Indianapolis. But Brees over Mike Vick -- easy call. And the winning part -- easy call. Spagnuolo can now mold the Saints defense in his likeness, which will involve less cover-zero and risky blitzing than the Saints ran under Gregg Williams.
10. I think these are my non-playoff thoughts of the week:
a. Wow. Yu Darvish is one big boy. Bet he throws hard.
b. Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for Clayton Mortensen, a bottom-of-the-rotation candidate. Stupid, stupid, stupid trade. Did GM Ben Cherington watch the end of the Red Sox season, when Scutaro played hurt and played brilliantly -- the best player on the team over the last two weeks (when the team was dying and drinking) other than Jacoby Ellsbury, at a time when too many big-money players stunk up the joint?
All I heard after the deal was the Red Sox were clearing salary space to pick up Roy Oswalt. Oswalt turns 35 this year. He broke down last year, when he went 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA and missed 12 starts. Wait: The Boston Red Sox have to clear salary space? What?
Scutaro's not the centerpiece of a World Series winner, but he's the kind of rub-some-dirt-on-whatever-hurts gamer with good talent. He obviously was undervalued by a team that now seems to value more the guys who drink in the clubhouse in the seventh inning than those scratching and clawing to try to win games.
c. RIP, Sarah Burke. Sounds like the kind of athlete who lived for her sport and who we all should admire.
d. Do not lose your zeal, Shannon Magrane. I'm no American Idol fan, but I did see this the other night, and Magrane is one cool, confident kid -- like her dad, former Cardinals pitcher Joe Magrane. Interesting clip.
e. Happy birthday, Benny from the Bronx. No one loves the NFL more than Benny.
f. Check out this piece by CSN's Matt Maiocco on the kindness of inactive 49er cornerback Shawntae Spencer.
g. Now there's a guy who's showing teammates how to pass it on -- the right way -- the way Bryant Young showed him.
h. Coffeenerdness: Tried a latte at Blue Bottle Coffee in the San Francisco Ferry building Saturday -- and it was worth the 15-minute wait in line. I've been to two of these individual coffee makers in San Francisco now, and the care really shows in the product. This espresso was incredibly smooth, and the barista took 10 to 15 seconds making some sort of tree-like art on the foam. Didn't much care about the artwork, but the coffee was great.
i. Beernerdness: Had a couple of Lagunitas New Dog Town Pale Ales on tap Saturday night. A beautiful caramel-colored ale, easy and delicious to drink, slightly fruity. Now I know why so many of you tell me to drink the Lagunitas beers all the time. I've had this one and the Czech pils, and both were terrific.
j. Wish my father were around to see these Giants. He'd love Coughlin.