I was wrong: first impressions

Ray Lewis walks into the Miami sunset with his second Super Bowl ring. He deserves it. In my preview, I called him the most inspirational defensive player of the last 20 years. I don’t believe in this Ray Lewis factor hoopla, but I have to say his announcement that he was retiring at the end of the season ranks up there with the “This team is going to the playoffs” announcement from Jim Fassel and any other daredevil prediction in terms of its impact. The Ravens were a different team after that. Still deeply flawed, but playing with a different kind of inspiration.

They crawled their way there, painfully, slowly, but surely. Hardly anyone even remembers the boring, brutal game against the overrated and mediocre Bengals the Ravens won unconvincingly. Then there was the Broncos game, which the Ravens should never have won, but did thanks to the generosity of John Fox and his staff, Rahim Moore’s howler and a bad INT from Peyton Manning. At that time, we recognized the storyline. Every remaining team needed to be scared, and we knew it. The Ravens blew out the Pats and hardly anyone was surprised at that point.

At the risk of looking like I’m desperately trying to look right when I was wrong, because I did pick the 49ers to win… somewhat convincingly, almost everything I said could have gone wrong for the Niners did go wrong. There was still little to no pass rush (at least not when it mattered) as Aldon Smith, completely anonymous once again, is looking increasingly like a pure product of Justin Smith by the minute. Their back eight got exploited by Flacco’s crew. Ed Dickson and Pitta diced the Niners early, which opened the door for Anquan Boldin to kill them on short to intermediate routes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Niners fans!

I’ve said many times that if the opposing quarterback gets time to throw against the Niners, there is success to be had throwing against them. Even with that being said, San Francisco’s secondary had itself a miserable game. Two individuals stood out for the crassness of their performance: Donte Whitner and Chris Culliver. Many people, myself included, were filled with joy at the sight of Culliver’s bed-wetting after those remarkably stupid and ignorant comments he made about gay football players. If I were Culliver, I’d stay away from Twitter for a while. The Twittersphere was going crazy with snarky gay jokes directed at him, some of which were rather clever. My former Concordia teammate Hrag Kechichan beat me to “Chris Culliver struggles with man-to-man coverage.”

However, two things happened that I didn’t expect. Mea culpa time: I probably gave Colin Kaepernick too much credit. In the first half, he looked very much like a second-year player, going slowly through reads and making a few bad throws, including that dreadful interception to Ed Reed, which worked great as an answer to the riddle “What do you get when you combine an overthrow with miscommunication?”. I couldn’t help but think to myself that “somebody has to remind that kid he runs a 4.4 40.” RUUUNNNNN!!! You saw the difference in the second half too. When his first few reads weren’t there, Kap was gone. And the Niners’ O looked like itself again.

Mind you, the second thing that went wrong for the Niners was a much bigger surprise for me. The gameplan by Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman was surprisingly bad in that it failed to maximize Kaepernick’s talents and use him to make the Ravens vulnerable on defence, which they potentially were. Virtually every time San Fran ran the read option, it got interesting results. So why run it so seldom? I would have been calling that baby again and again along with every variant of it I had in the playbook. It was clear Baltimore was not going to allow Kaepernick to run with the football, so let Frank Gore pile up the yards.

Instead, during the first half, we saw the Niners ask Kaepernick to beat the Ravens with precision passes outside the numbers. This is not what Kaepernick does best; he barely does it well, and the strategy should have seemed especially ill-advised given that Tom Brady failed to do exactly that two weeks ago against those same Ravens. Kap can throw OK, but he’s no Tom Brady.

Yet, there he is in the first half dancing in the pocket getting sacked. Kaepernick getting sacked? Are you kidding me? That should happen about as often as Phil Simms stringing together a full sentence without butchering the English language.

The playcalling during the final red zone stand was indeed dubious; again, why is 4.4 QB not running with the football? And I especially hate that sprint play they killed a few of their drives with, including the final one. Never mind the player, the game or the moment, I hate the sprint play. Hate, detest, resent, loathe the sprint play. And in the red zone of all places! Here’s the problem with the sprint: you cut your field in half, and you have to waste a skill player to seal the edge you’re rolling to, otherwise the quarterback can be forced by the playside end or linebacker to set his feet to throw, prompting the backside rusher you’ve left unblocked to send your quarterback on a one-way trip to the ICU. On the killer third down play (after the killer delay-of-game penalty), the player wasted to seal the edge is Frank Gore, leading to Kap having the choice of two receivers amid a three-man zone coverage. Of course, if Kap audibled to it himself, then the blame is on him. But either way, it’s not a good play, especially not in the red zone, and especially not when there’s so little time left that Kap can’t risk trying to run it in himself.

The infamous power outage provided the Niners with a chance to get their act together, and they made a game of it for our viewing pleasure, but they really didn’t deserve to win. The Ravens outclassed the Niners in virtually every aspect of the game, and John Harbaugh, to his credit, really outcoached his brother Jim in terms of how well his team was prepared mentally for this game. (Between you and me, you think John had it up to here from hearing about how great a coach his little brother is? He must’ve been like “hey, I got my team to the Super Bowl too!” What was never said, but was implied on countless occasions during the week, was that Jim gave the 49ers an advantage in coaching over the Ravens and his brother. The media, in their endless praise of Jim, never let John forget it, and you can bet your last dollar he took that to heart.”)

Additional miscellaneous points:

  1. Did the entire world’s male population suddenly discover Beyoncé is hot? Personally, I have to say I’ve known for a while (so has Jay-Z, I might add), and so it wasn’t that thrilling to watch her make a VERY, VERY FINE POINT about the fact that she was NOT LIPSYNCHING. Did I mention she was NOT LIPSYNCHING? Am I insisting too much?
  2. By the way, I watched her lipsynching “travesty” with President Obama, and I must say I expected worse. Fox News had to vent their frustration at someone, I guess. Newsflash: the popstars, they all do it. It’s been a godsend for the whole lot of these talentlss barbies and hunks. Justin Timberlake, everybody’s favourite dancer, wouldn’t have a career without it. Besides, as far as lipsynching-gone-wrong goes, it wasn’t so long ago that Ashlee Simpson set the bar very high… or low, depending on how you look at it.
  3. Since the Super Bowl is about glitz and glamour as much as it is about the game, let me get into the thick of it. Am I the only one who wasn’t fond of the National Anthem by Alicia Keys? When will Super Bowl organizers understand that National Anthems sound best when they’re kept simple, a concept all these R&B singers seem allergic to? I don’t have a problem with Alicia Keys; I even find she’s released a few good songs, but I didn’t like her overly lengthened and excessively elaborate take on the National Anthem. I thought having the Newtown kids singing America the Beautiful was a cute gesture, so what possessed the organizers to bring in Jennifer Hudson (who really needs to understand the difference between a vibrato and a straight-up wobble) and take the performance into Karaoke territory? Needless to say, for my money, the pregame musical numbers struck out on both fronts. Maybe they’ll get it right in my lifetime.
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