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.
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.
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 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.
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 CNN.com and the other from NFL.com - 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Seattle .....
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).
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.
27. ..... deflecting it away from Crabtree and back toward the field, further inbounds .....
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.