Sunday, January 26, 2014

NFL '13 Dread News - Week 20

On January 30, 1994, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 30-13 at the Georgia Dome in Super Bowl 28. "And just what does this have to do with dreads?" .... you ask. Nothing, of course. But I'm mentioning this because it was the last time a team played in the Super Bowl after having lost in the previous season's Super Bowl, as the Bills had also lost in Super Bowl 27, to Dallas 52-17. Ever since then, the team losing the Super Bowl seems to always be under some sort of jinx the following season. Coming into the 2013 season, of the last 19 teams to lose the Super Bowl, only one had so much as gotten to the conference championship game the next year. That was last year, when New England - losers to the N.Y. Giants in Super Bowl 46 - was denied a return trip to the Super Bowl by Baltimore. Before that, nine Super Bowl losers didn't even make the playoffs the following year, and the other nine lost in either the 1st or 2nd round of the playoffs.

Enter the 2013 San Francisco 49ers, losers of last year's Super Bowl to the Ravens in that 34-31 thriller. Having already won on the road at Green Bay and Carolina the last two weeks, the 49ers were poised to snap the streak of futility by Super Bowl losers as they took on the Seahawks last Sunday. But instead, they found out just how powerful this jinx is.
Beset by injuries to key players, several bad calls by the game officials, and ultimately too many mistakes of their own doing, the 49ers became the 20th straight Super Bowl loser to fail to get back the next year. Much to their dismay, it was Richard Sherman and the Seahawks raising the George Halas Trophy (photo above), claiming the NFC championship after dealing the 49ers a crushing and heartbreaking 23-17 defeat at Seattle.

If you had been watching the game with me, you would have heard me predict the Seahawks would give the ball to RB Marshawn Lynch on the game's first play from scrimmage. Seconds after the words came out of my mouth, QB Russell Wilson dropped back to pass on the first play from scrimmage - and was promptly sacked and stripped of the ball by LB Aldon Smith (photo below), with Smith also recovering the fumble at the 15-yard line. But the 49ers wasted the excellent field position, quickly going three-and-out on their first possession and settling for a FG. Not getting a TD off that turnover was the first hint that maybe it wasn't going to be the 49ers' day. 
The 49ers' did get a TD early in the 2nd quarter to up their lead to 10-0, and they had Sherman - the Pro Bowl CB - to thank for it. Starting at their own 14-yard line following a punt, it looked like it was going to be another three-and-out for the 49ers' offense. But on 3rd and 9 Sherman was called for a holding penalty while covering WR Michael Crabtree on a route short of the 1st down marker. The thing there is that there was no need to hold the receiver on that play. Just let him catch the ball and then make the tackle, and it's 4th down.
Instead the drive stayed alive, and 7 plays later RB Anthony Dixon took it to the house, diving over the top on 4th and goal (photo above). I figured a running back with dreads would score the game's 1st TD; but I would have bet on Lynch rather than Dixon.

Lynch would score a TD too - on the Seahawks' first possession of the 2nd half, breaking through the line after taking the handoff on 3rd and 1 and taking it 40 yards to the house (photos above) to tie the game at 10. As Fox showed the replay of the TD, I got a bit excited because it was OT Alvin Bailey who made a key block on the play. You might remember (but probably not) that Bailey was one of the rookies included when I did dread gallery 146 back at the start of training camp. But when I checked after the game, I found out that the beginner dreads he had at the Combine last February are gone now.

The 40-yard TD was the longest run allowed by the 49ers not just this season, but in the three seasons that Coach Harbaugh has been in charge in San Francisco. Lynch (photo below) won his duel with 49ers RB Frank Gore in this game. Although the 49ers actually outrushed the Seahawks 161-115, most of the 49ers' damage was done by QB Colin Kaepernick, who gained 130 yards on 11 carries. But the Seahawks shut down Gore (who rushed for 1,100+ yards during the regular season), holding him to 14 yards on 11 carries, while Lynch made the dread stars list with 109 yards on 22 carries.
The 49ers struck right back following Lynch's TD with a quick 6-play, 83-yard TD drive to regain the lead. But Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards to the SF 33-yard line, setting up a FG that made the score 17-13. Baldwin, a teammate of Sherman at Stanford before they both joined the Seahawks in 2011, had a huge game, catching 6 passes for 106 yards in addition to that kickoff return.

The 49ers went three-and-out on their next drive but could have kept the ball when P Andy Lee got knocked down after punting on 4th and 10. But the ref called a 5-yard penalty for running into the kicker instead of a 15-yarder for roughing - one of several calls that had Harbaugh and all of Niners Nation seething throughout the game - so Seattle got the ball.

And the Seahawks prompty scored on their third consecutive possession, driving 62 yards in 8 plays , scoring the TD on a 35-yard reception by WR Jermaine Kearse on 4th and 7. CB Carlos Rogers seemed to have tight coverage on Kearse (photos below) on the play but somehow, someway simply failed to break up the pass (can you say jinx?). Trailing for the first time all game at 20-17 early in the 4th quarter, the 49ers had plenty of time to regain the lead, but they turned the ball over on all three of their drives in the 4th.

The first of the three was a fumble by Kaepernick as he was sacked. The Seahawks scooped it up and took it down to the 6-yard line. But they didn't cash it in, as Wilson and Lynch fumbled the handoff on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line, with the ball being knocked around and eventually ending up back at the 15. The 49ers took possession, but not for long. Two plays later Kaepernick threw a bad interception - right to S Kam Chancellor at the SF 40. The Seahawks did get points off the turnover this time, barely, advancing just 11 yards in 7 plays but far enough to get into range for a FG that made it 23-17 with 3:37 remaining in the game.

Then on their next and final drive of the season the 49ers drove from their 22-yard line to the Seattle 18, converting both on 4th and 2 and 3rd and 2 along the way. But then on 1st down and with 30 seconds remaining, Kaepernick decided to challenge Sherman for the first time since Sherman was flagged for holding back in the 1st half. Much to the 49ers' dismay, Sherman made him pay for that decision. The pass intended for Crabtree along the right sideline in the end zone was on target, but Sherman had good coverage and was able to deflect the pass (photo below) right into the hands of LB Malcolm Smith for the game-clinching INT.
If you read the Yahoo! Sports article on Sherman that I included with my "U MAD BRO?" post late last season, you already know that Richard plays with a chip on his shoulder. And after the game ended, we all found out he talks with a chip on his shoulder too:

One thing I'd like to have seen - but will never see - is how that interview, with Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews, would have gone if he had been covering any receiver other than Crabtree on that play. Sherman apparently has had a dislike for Crabtree dating back to something that happened between them during the offseason prior to this season, and Richard let the world know exactly how strong that dislike is. I didn't have a problem with anything he said in the interview; but to say the least I wasn't impressed with his actions before the interview, right after he made his big play.

He was celebrating with teammates but then all of a sudden went out of his way to go after Crabtree - and to do what? Offer a handshake? Richard, please. You knew that Crabtree wasn't going to be in any kind of mood to shake hands. Maybe, after the game was over, he might have shook hands. But to go right up to him immediately after the play, all that was was an attempt to make Crabtree look bad. And that's so unnecessary and so childish. If Sherman had tried that with Panthers hothead WR Steve Smith, Smith would have slugged him. Fortunately Crabtree was mild mannered enough to just shove him in the face (left photo below). And then after that, before walking to the sideline Sherman gave the choke sign to the 49ers bench (right photo below). The NFL wasn't particularly thrilled with Sherman's actions either, deservedly slapping him with a nearly $8,000 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Unless you were asleep all last week, you might have noticed that Sherman's 20-second interview with Andrews unleashed a torrent of reaction and overreaction by just about everybody who saw it. Two of the best teams in the league had just played a tense and exciting game, and all anybody wanted to talk about was Sherman. No doubt there were plenty of people who took one look at those dreads and saw him ranting and bragging like that, and it just brought out a bunch of hatred. And there was a lot of positive reaction too, with one comment I noticed stating that "Richard Sherman is my new favorite player." But I mean, whatever happened to the old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." That especially applies to someone with the background of Sherman. I just thought there was way too much judging done after such a brief interview.

Anyway, ever since he came into the NFL Sherman has been trying to make himself more well known. And he hit the jackpot this time. For sure you'll be seeing a lot more advertising with him in it than just the two spots that I saw (for the first time) that ran during this game. You could probably spend the next month reading all the articles about Sherman along with the hundreds of reader comments that have sprung up in the last 7 days. By now you may, like me, already be all Richard Sherman-ed out. But in case you're not and you want more, I encourage you to click on the three links below - two from and the other from - for some stuff on Richard I thought was interesting.

Before Sherman created all the ruckus, there was another conference championship game last Sunday. And as a result of the Denver Broncos' fairly easy 26-16 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC title game, my crystal ball's preseason pick to win the the Super Bowl still has a chance to be correct. (But despite that pick, let's make one thing clear - I'll be cheering very hard for the Seahawks to win next Sunday.) Not that is was very surprising that the Broncos were so dominant. The Patriots may have gone 12-4 during the regular season, but they were 4-4 on the road, including an 0-2 road
record against teams that finished with a winning record. Well, you can make that 0-3 against winning teams. The Broncos had a huge 507-320 advantage in total yards and had 0 turnovers. After they took a 3-0 lead on their second possession of the game, they led for the rest of the game.

Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower helped kill the Broncos' opening drive, tackling RB Knowshon Moreno for a 5-yard loss near midfield on 2nd and 4. After an incomplete pass on 3rd and 9, the Broncos punted. Little did we know that it would be their only punt of the day. Led by QB Peyton Manning's 400 yards passing, the Broncos proceeded to score the next 6 times they had the ball (2 TD, 4 FG). And on their only other possession after that, they kept the ball for the final 3:07 of the game to run out the clock, giving them their first AFC crown in 15 years.

Coach Belichick was angry after the game because his best CB, Aqib Talib, was injured early in the game on a questionable block thrown by former Patriots WR Wes Welker. But I think that was just a lot of frustration, because without Talib - who also was injured early in last season's AFC title game - the Patriots' defensive game plan to have him cover WR Demaryius Thomas one-on-one and shut him down went down the drain. Working mostly against Talib's replacement, CB Alfonzo Dennard, Thomas had a field day, catching 7 passes for 134 yards and 1 TD.

But the main  reason the Patriots lost was that their offense just didn't have a good game. Yes, Denver's defense was to blame for that; however, that defense had nothing to do with the Patriots missing a couple of golden opportunities to score in the 1st half, as the great Tom Brady twice overthrew receivers that were open deep downfield. Brady first missed wide open WR Julian Edelman for what should have been a 56-yard TD late in the 1st quarter. That would have given New England a 7-3 lead. Then in the closing seconds before halftime WR Austin Collie got open up the right sideline, but Brady missed him too. That would have moved the ball into FG range. Instead the Broncos maintained their 13-3 lead.
A big factor in the Patriots' previous two games, RB LeGarrette Blount (photo above) was no factor in this one. He carried just 5 times for a not so grand total of 6 yards. And after the Broncos drove 80 yards for a TD on their opening drive of the 2nd half to make it 20-3, I don't think Blount played at all, as the Patriots decided to go with RBs who catch the ball better than him.
LB Danny Trevathan, whose dreads you could barely see because he had them reduced, led the Broncos with 8 tackles (8-0). DE Robert Ayers, whose dreads you can't see because he just began growing them in the past year and they're still short, had a key sack on 3rd down (photo below) for his only tackle of the game, forcing the Patriots to settle for a FG to cut the Broncos' lead to 10-3 in the 2nd quarter. Actually you can see Ayers' dreads - in the two photos at the beginning of this section, as he celebrates with teammates after the game. As for the players whose dreads you don't have any trouble seeing, LB Nate Irving finished with 2 tackles (2-0), S David Bruton had 1 tackle (1-0), and CB Omar Bolden didn't have any.
The Patriots' offense moved the ball better in the 2nd half. But their first drive ended when Brady was sacked on 4th and 3. Down 20-3 at the half, I wondered out loud while Belichick didn't kick the FG there. The Patriots' followed that with back-to-back 80-yard TD drives; but after the second of those touchdowns, they failed on the 2-point conversion attempt, leaving the score at 26-16 instead of 26-18 with 3:07 to play. That forced the Patriots to try an onside kickoff; and when Denver recovered that, it was all over.

Due to the NFL's unfortunate decision to have this year's Super Bowl in an outdoor stadium in New York, all eyes are now on the weather forecast. For all 47 previous Super Bowls, you knew ahead of time that the weather conditions were not likely to affect the game. But this year, the weather very possibly could turn the game into a mockery. For all of you with tickets to the game, hope you have fun spending all those hours out in the cold.


There's certainly no shortage of dreads in the AFC South, and that even includes the Texans too. While the four teams in NFC East barely have a total 9 players with dreads combined, 9 AFC South players with dreads scored touchdowns in 2013.


Best player with dreads: Chris Johnson (TEN)
Player with the best dreads: Ricardo Mathews (IND)


Not that long ago, you had to look hard to find any dreads on the Texans' sideline; but not anymore. Unfortunately, and not coincidently, as the number of dreads increased, so did the number of L's in their record. I mean, 2-14? How can a team with so much talent win only 2 games? As expected, rookies DeAndre Hopkins and D.J. Swearinger played a lot, if not always well (Hopkins finished with 2 TD, Swearinger had only 1 INT). Not as expected, undrafted rookie Justin Tuggle made the team and contributed on special teams. Keshawn Martin (#82 in left photo below, on bench next to Hopkins in Week 13) went up from 1 TD as a rookie in 2012 to 3 TD this season, but also had a pass bounce off his hands late in 4th quarter in Week 12, resulting in an INT that sealed Texans' home loss to Jaguars and prompting WR Andre Johnson's famous "We suck" quote after the game. Greg Jones signed as a free agent during offseason but only had star RB Arian Foster to block for for 8 games before Foster missed the 2nd half of the season due to injury. There were so many injuries to Texans RBs that Deji Karim (right photo below) was signed and actually played a couple of games, leading team in rushing in Week 16 loss to Broncos, before he too finished season on IR list. Sick dreads on the O-line with Derek Newton but unfortunately not with rookie Brennan Williams, who spent entire season on IR. Sick dreads on the practice squad too with Rico Richardson. LB Tim Dobbins released from team at midseason.

ACTIVE                            INACTIVE
WR DeAndre Hopkins       RB Deji Karim (IR)
FB Greg Jones                   WR Rico Richardson (PS)
WR Keshawn Martin         OT Brennan Williams (IR)
OT Derek Newton
S D.J. Swearinger
LB Justin Tuggle
CB Josh Victorian  

GRADE: A- ..... (LY: C-)

With dropoff by Packers this season, it's now undisputed that Colts have the best dreads in the league. Of the 12 players with dreads who played this season, only T.Y. Hilton and rookie Montari Hughes have dreads too short to see. Almost everybody else is sick. Hilton turning into a big star, had at least 2 catches in every game and 82 in all, including 5 TD. All throughout his career, in college at FIU (when he had braids) and in his first two NFL seasons, Hilton's hair has never gotten long enough to start coming outside his helmet. Hopefully it will next season (but I won't believe it until I see it). Free agents Ricky Jean Francois and Erik Walden signed during offseason and played a lot on defense, and Greg Toler would have if he had not been slowed by a groin injury (he missed 7 games). You add Kelvin Sheppard, Ricardo Mathews (top photo), Josh Gordy and Sergio Brown (both bottom photo,  celebrating during Week 7 victory over Colts, Gordy is #27), and Mario Harvey, and Colts could have 8 players with dreads on the field on defense at the same time.
Surprise, surprise, Trent Richardson acquired early in season in a trade with Browns; but then he didn't play as much as you'd think he would, considering they spent next year's 1st round draft pick to get him. After rushing for close to 1,000 yards as a rookie in 2012, had just 563 yards rushing this year. I know the team likes to throw the ball a lot; but come on Trent, you're going to have to do a lot better next season. Finally, after playoffs began, 34-year old Deion Branch was signed - for what reason, I don't know. His dreads are very long now, and hopefully they'll still be around when next season's training camp starts in July. DT Drake Nevis and rookie DBs Ashante Williams and Dax Swanson cut at end of training camp. Rookie TE Justice Cunningham on practice squad until signing with Rams in November.

ACTIVE                                    INACTIVE
WR Deion Branch                      LB Mario Harvey (IR)
S Sergio Brown                          DT Montari Hughes (IR)
CB Josh Gordy                          CB Greg Toler (IR)
WR T.Y. Hilton
DT Ricky Jean Francois
DT Ricardo Mathews
OT Xavier Nixon
RB Trent Richardson
LB Kelvin Sheppard
LB Erik Walden

GRADE: A ..... (LY: B+)

We go from the best dreads in the league to the most dreads in the league.
It just was not right watching Jaguars games this season and seeing the player wearing jersey #27 not having those extra long dreads hanging down his back we've gotten used to seeing. But after 10 seasons with the team, CB Rashean Mathis was not re-signed, and they gave his #27 jersey to rookie CB Dwayne Gratz. But even in the absence of Mathis, there still were plenty of dreads in the Jaguars' secondary - and at all the other positions too, everywhere except QB. In his three seasons at South Carolina I don't remember seeing Ace Sanders ever having his dreads reduced. So it was tremendously disappointing to see him on the field with reduced dreads for the season opener. But for most of the season he had them at full blast. The same holds true for just about everybody else. There were a bit too many reduced dreads for my liking - including Sen'Derrick Marks, whose dreads are on their way to becoming reduced permanently - throughout the whole season, but not enough to lower the team grade. With Sanders (celebrating his 1st NFL TD with Mike Brown and Denard Robinson in Week 16 in left photo below), Brown, Uche Nwaneri, and Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars often had 4 offensive players with dreads on the field at the same time. Sadly Jones-Drew cut off his dreads just before Christmas. Rookie Johnathan Cyprien (1st round draft pick) started 15 games, finishing with 104 tackles.

Team hit double figures in players with dreads when Stephen Burton, J.T. Thomas, and Winston Guy (right photo above, celebrating with Cyprien during win over Texans in Week 12) were added just before start of season, after they were released by other teams. Guy's dreads returned to awesome status after they were a bit shorter last season with Seahawks (what did he do, re-attach those blond tips?). Then Jaguars kept adding on, signing Jamell Fleming (in Week 3, after he was released by Cardinals), Danny Noble (off of Tampa Bay's practice squad in November), and Drake Nevis (just before end of season, after he was released by Cowboys). Noble one of 4 players with dreads to take one to the house; and it would have been 5 if Robinson hadn't fumbled at the 1-yard line (photo below) in Week 15 loss to Bills. Denard didn't get many touches on offense, seeing most of his action on special teams as the gunner covering punts. He finished with 66 yards rushing and 2 tackles. CB Lionel Smith, WR Isaiah Stanback, and rookies WR Jamal Miles and DE Paul Hazel cut at end of training camp (Miles, btw, I noticed had a huge performance one week in a game late in the season in the CFL). Veteran S Dwight Lowery released during middle of season.  

WR Mike Brown
S Johnathan Cyprien
CB Jamell Fleming
S Winston Guy
DT Sen'Derrick Marks
CB Demetrius McCray
DT Drake Nevis
TE Danny Noble
G Uche Nwaneri
RB/WR Denard Robinson
WR Ace Sanders                        INACTIVE
LB J.T. Thomas                          WR Stephen Burton (IR)

GRADE: A ..... (LY: A-)

A respectable number of players with dreads here, but seemingly meager when compared to other three teams in the division. Michael Griffin (bottom photo, tackling QB Colin Kaepernick in Week 7 loss to 49ers) and Chris Johnson still fixtures on the team for one more (final?) season (Griffin was Titans' 1st round pick in 2007, Johnson in 2008). CJ has rushed for 1,000+ yards in all 6 seasons with team. Grade improved very late in season when Quinn Johnson (top photo) re-signed (after not being re-signed during the offseason). I welcomed Ropati Pitoitua to the house this year, even though I'm not 100% sure he has dreads and not braids.
DT Sen'Derrick Marks not re-signed during offseason (now with Jaguars), but drafted Lavar Edwards and Daimion Stafford. LB Gary Guyton and rookie DE Nigel Nicholas cut at end of training camp.

DE Lavar Edwards
S Michael Griffin
RB Chris Johnson
FB Quinn Johnson              
DE Ropati Pitoitua            
S Daimion Stafford     

DT Chigo Anunoby (PS)
CB George Baker (PS)

GRADE: B- ..... (LY: C)


I have to apologize for this week's dread gallery. I did the best I could, but there just aren't a lot of players with sick dreads on the four teams that played last Sunday; so even though there are a lot of photos, there aren't many good action shots. 

1. Injured star LB Von Miller wishes 5th year S David Bruton good luck during pre-game warmups before he plays the most important game of his career, as Broncos host Patriots in AFC title game at Denver.


2. DE Robert Ayers is greeted by Coach Fox during pre-game warmups. Ayers' dreads are less than a year old, so this is the only angle from which you can see them when he has his helmet on. 


3. The Patriots' 4-man RB by committee huddles before the game, left to right it's LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley. 


4. Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower gets a hold of TE Julius Thomas to make the tackle at the DEN 25-yard line after a 5-yard reception on the game's 1st play from scrimmage.


5. LeGarrette Blount is tackled by LB Danny Trevathan after a short gain during 2nd quarter. Blount carried twice, for gains of 3 and 2 yards, with Trevathan tackling him both times, on a drive that ended with a FG. They were the two longest runs of the day for Blount, who had a disappointing day, finishing with only 6 yards rushing on 5 carries. 


6. WR Julian Edelman goes airborne but can't clear Danny Trevathan, who brings him down at the DEN 18-yard line for a gain of 2 after a catch on 2nd and 10 with about 4:20 remaining in 2nd quarter. The drive ended with a sack by Ayers on the next play, and Patriots settled for a FG on 4th down to cut Broncos' lead to 10-3.


7. Dont'a Hightower takes down RB Knowshon Moreno during 1st half. This looks like Hightower's tackle of Moreno for a 5-yard loss during 1st quarter, but I can't say that for sure because he tackled Moreno three other times in the game. Dont'a finished the afternoon with 8 tackles (7-1), including the 1 TFL.


8. After Broncos were done dominating Patriots, David Bruton celebrates with Julius Thomas. Bruton finished with 1 tackle (1-0). Thomas had 8 catches for 85 yards.


9. Danny Trevathan, with his dreads reduced, raises the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the game, presented annually to the AFC champion. Trevathan, a candidate for this season's dreaded dozen, finished the game with a team-leading 8 tackles (8-0).


10. Broncos players, including David Bruton, Danny Trevathan, and Omar Bolden (wearing T-shirt), take a victory lap around Sports Authority Field at Mile High to celebrate with their fans. It 's on to Super Bowl 48, as Broncos clinch their first AFC championship in 15 years, whipping New England 26-16.


In Seattle .....
11. 49ers star LB Patrick Willis fires up his teammates, including RB Anthony Dixon (#24), before taking on the Seahawks for the NFC crown. But they don't look very fired up in this shot, do they?


12. Three plays after keeping 49ers drive alive with a holding penalty on 3rd and 9 early in 2nd quarter, CB Richard Sherman makes a futile attempt to stop QB Colin Kaepernick on a scramble at the SEA 40-yard line, and Kaepernick runs another 30 yards before being tackled at the 10-yard line after a 58-yard run. 


13. Two plays later, on 2nd and goal from the 8, Richard Sherman and S Kam Chancellor stop RB Frank Gore, but not until he takes it down to the 1-yard line. And two plays after that .....


14. ..... Anthony Dixon flies over the pile and into the end zone for the 1st TD of the game, a 1-yard run on 4th and goal to increase 49ers' lead to 10-0. 


15. Dixon celebrates his TD alone (right photo) and with Kaepernick (on left). As you can see, Dixon's dreads are just about ready to start spilling out of his helmet. This was Anthony's one shining moment in the game. He had no more carries the rest of the game.


16. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is tackled by DE Ray McDonald, one of 5 times this happened during the game. In the NFC title game two seasons ago nobody had any trouble seeing McDonald's dreads, but they've been getting shorter, not growing longer, since then; and in these shots you can't see them at all. McDonald finished the game with 6 tackles (2-4).


17. After taking the handoff on 3rd and 1 early in 3rd quarter and weaving his way through the line, Marshawn Lynch breaks into the clear, leaving Patrick Willis (#52), DE Justin Smith (#94), and teammate James Carpenter behind .....


18. ..... Willis continues chasing Lynch but is still two full steps behind and can only hope that a teammate will slow Lynch down .....


19. ..... S Eric Reid (#35) and CB Tarell Brown are also in pursuit near the 20-yard line, but they're not going to get him either .....


20. ..... Brown finally does get a hand on Lynch, but it's too late, as Marshawn is already across the goal line .....


21. ..... Lynch rolls over as he goes down to punctuate his 40-yard TD run, the longest run the 49ers' defense has allowed in the 3 years that Jim Harbaugh has been their head coach  .....


22. ..... Marshawn is congratulated by teammates, including G James Carpenter, after scoring his 3rd TD of the playoffs and tying the game 10-10. 


23. WR Anquan Boldin does the air bump with Anthony Dixon to celebrate his 26-yard TD catch on 2nd and 8, putting 49ers back into the lead 17-10 with 6:29 remaining in 3rd quarter.


24. With Seahawks now in the lead 20-17 midway through 4th quarter, they fail to increase the lead, as on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line, Marshawn Lynch, after missing the connection on the handoff from QB Russell Wilson, tries to get a handle of the ball at the 3-yard line but can't, as he is hit by LB Aldon Smith. The ball deflected and bounced around and ended up 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Seahawks recovered, but since it was 4th down, 49ers got the ball. Wilson, not Lynch, was charged with the fumble.


25. After Seahawks regained possession on an INT, Marshawn Lynch is hit in the backfield on 1st and 10 but shoves Aldon Smith in the head to break the tackle and ends up turning a potential 6-yard loss into a 2-yard gain to the SF 26-yard line. Four plays later Seahawks added a FG to lead 23-17. Lynch finished with 109 yards rushing on 22 carries, the first time all season that the 49ers' defense allowed a RB to rush for over 100 yards.


And here it is, the play that ended the 49ers' hopes and put the Seahawks on the plane to New York for the Super Bowl.
26. On 1st down from the SEA 18-yard line with :30 on the clock, WR Michael Crabtree thinks he's going to make the game-winning TD catch along the right sideline in the end zone, but CB Richard Sherman is not having it, reaching up and getting a hand on the ball .....


27. ..... deflecting it away from Crabtree and back toward the field, further inbounds .....


28. ..... where LB Malcolm Smith is waiting, for what looks like should be an easy INT .....


29. ..... And it is (!), as Sherman looks back to see the ball safely in Smith's hands, ending the 49ers' drive and clinching the victory for Seattle with :22 to go.

30. Anthony Dixon and the 49ers' sideline is in stunned disbelief after the play, their bid for a return trip to the Super Bowl gone on a pass that was too risky to throw on a 1st down play, especially with Sherman in coverage.


31. Meanwhile back in the end zone, Sherman is celebrating his big play with Smith and S Earl Thomas - but only for a couple of seconds ......


32. ..... "Sorry, fellas, I'll celebrate with you later. I got to go - can't let Crabtree get away" ......


33. ..... Sherman offers to shake hands, but Crabtree says "get away from me." Richard knew Crabtree wasn't going to shake his hand but went over to him anyway just to rub it in.


34. "Did you see that, ref? He shoved me right in the face. Throw the flag." ...... "No, Richard, the penalty is on you, 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct."


35. After the game was over and he had stopped acting like an ass, Sherman spends a little time with the fans, celebrating a hard-fought 23-17 victory over the hated 49ers. It's the Seahawks first NFC championship in  8 years.
Up next for Sherman: Super Bowl media day. Man, will that ever be a circus. And up next for the Seahawks - Super Bowl 48 - against the Broncos next Sunday night.


In my next report, we'll consult Mega Doppler 20,000 for the precise weather forecast for Super Bowl Sunday, to find out if it will be too windy or too cold (or both) for Peyton Manning to throw the ball or too slippery for anyone to be able to stay on their feet. (Here in Wisconsin, we're about to plunge into our 2nd ridiculously cold spell in the last 3 weeks, with temperatures expected to bottom out near -20 degrees. I'm so against the decision to have the Super Bowl outdoors in New York that I would actually pay to have this cold air mass settle over New York for next weekend.) We'll also focus on the dreads in the Super Bowl, taking a look at the AFC West and NFC West. And I'll have a word or two on the Pro Bowl - maybe.

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