Friday, January 27, 2012

UCLA welcomes Utah in beatdown fashion

Took my parents and my boys to our first game vs one of the two new additions to the Pac conference, Utah.  They were horrible.  We outscored them 36-21 in the 1st half and 40-28 in the 2nd.  It was a balanced attack.  Josh Smith was our leading scorer with 14 points while 3 others (David, Jerime, Tyler) were in double-digits.  Four of our players hit 2 three-pointers each - David, Jerime, Tyler and Norman.  We shot nearly 58.7% on the night and 56.3% from 3.  And nobody took more than 7 attempts.  Stover played just 11 minutes but finished with a team-high 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

2014 Brazil WC Roster Prediction - 1st Klinsmann Edition Jan 2012

This is usually such a futile exercise anyway, but with Klinsmann just half a year into his tenure, even the most devoted US fans really have no idea what his squad will look like in 2.5 years.  Bradley was so much more predictable (aside from the Brian Ching pre-WC cut).  But it'll make for an interesting read come May 2014.  This is my 1st 23 man roster prediction since Klinsmann's hire.

Tim Howard, Bill Hamid, Brad Guzan

Hamid is the keeper in waiting and while Klinsmann may opt for another young gun in waiting in Johnson, he could decide that an experienced backup is more necessary.  Hopefully Guzan's recent solid play for Aston Villa will springboard him into a consistent starting role in the EPL or somewhere in Europe over the next 2 years.
In the mix: Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando

Oguchi Onyewu, Tim Ream, Geoff Cameron, Zak Whitbread

This is probably the most difficult group to predict.  If Bocanegra ages well and maintains his level of play, he will be a first choice starter and team captain.  If he slows down by age 35 as I would expect, and younger, more technical players have developed as hoped for, then it's a complete crapshoot as to who makes it.  I say Gooch will be our veteran stalwart while Tim Ream lives up to the potential that Bolton is paying for.  Zak Whitbread hasn't even gotten a call-up yet, but I'm banking on EPL success to change that soon.  Of the 3 2011 MLSers that everyone has been clamoring for - Gonzalez, John and Cameron - I'll roll the dice on Cameron, seeing his solid performances in the January games.  Clarence Goodson actually seems like a logical candidate to start next to Gooch by 2014 as well, but I'll cut him for now.
In the mix: Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, George John, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Parkhurst, Gale Agbossoumonde

Outside Backs:
Timothy Chandler, Eric Lichaj, Alfredo Morales, Steve Cherundolo

Tim Chandler will start at one of the outside back spots.  Lichaj, injured during the 1st half year of Klinsmann's tenure, will prove himself worthy of the other side.  I'm gambling that old man Cherundolo will be the veteran presence while useful enough to come off the bench.  Bundesliga youngster Morales will round out the four.  I'm not too high on any of the MLS options currently although if I had to take one, I'll go with Loyd.
In the mix: Zach Loyd, Heath Pearce, Perry Kitchen

Defensive Mids:
Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones

Beckerman is a Klinsmann favorite but I'm hoping JK comes to his senses in two years time.  How many defensive mids will go depends on the formation he's settled on by then.  I know Klinsmann might even try Bradley or Edu in front of the defensive mid but until roles are decided, I'm leaving them back there, where I think they belong.
In the mix: Kyle Beckerman, Ricardo Clark, Jeff Larentowicz

Attacking Mids:
Landon Donovan, Brek Shea, Stuart Holden, Fabian Johnson, Jose Francisco Torres, Joshua Gatt

This category is so full of talent players whose skill sets are so versatile, that it is very difficult to par down the list.  I thought about splitting between Attacking and Wide midfielders, but again, formations are not settled.  Landon may be a forward by 2014.  Brek should be a shoe-in at left mid - probably the only midfield position on the field into which we can feel confident about slotting a particular player.  Fingers crossed that Holden will be injury free for the next 2 years.  JFT has the vision and technical skills that Klinsmann loves.  Fabian Johnson beats out Danny Williams, who is more defensive anyway, as the talented wide player from the Bundesliga to make it.  Lastly, I'm taking a big chance on young speedster, Joshua Gatt, over Mikkel Diskerud, to be that offensive spark off the bench (perhaps like Donovan was in 2002).
In the mix: Danny Williams, Mikkel Diskerud, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Freddy Adu, Robbie Rogers, Joe Gyau, Sebastian Lletget 

Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd

Dempsey's currently got a career high 15 goals halfway through his season, so he gets the honor of moving up to forward.  In two years time, he might still be one of our top 2 scoring options.  Otherwise no one is even close to displacing Jozy yet.  Still, US fans are hoping a scoring force emerges in the next two years.  It could be German youngster, Terrence Boyd, who has the size, speed and strength to be the next hope.  Controversially, I left Agudelo and other MLSers off the list until somebody shows me something.  I only listed 3 forwards since midfielder such as Donovan and Shea could easily be deployed as a wide forward depending on formations.
In the mix: Juan Agudelo, Edson Buddle, CJ Sapong, Teal Bunbury

Starting Lineup:

-----------Dempsey- Jozy----------
Shea ------- Donovan ------Holden
Chandler - Ream - Gooch - Lichaj

Monday, January 23, 2012

49ers lose the NFC Championship

I was pretty convinced that we were going to win yesterday.  Defensively, the game played out even better than I thought it would.  (Patrick Willis, exulting over a sack above, and the D deserve the picture honor today).  I didn't think Manning was going to air it out and run up the score on us.  But, I figured with a turnover or two and an adequate offense, we would prevail 23-20.  Turns out the game's only 2 turnovers went their way and our inept offense would seal our fate, 20-17.  It hurts to lose this extremely winnable game.


Our defense was just awesome yesterday, only allowing 2 Giants scoring drives of more than 30 yards.  It consisted of their 1st quarter 69 yard TD drive and a 51 yd drive resulting in a FG to end the 1st half.  Of NY's 10 2nd half possessions, they punted 9 times!  Their one score in the 2nd half came from that punt which bounced off the 49ers' Kyle Williams' knee and gave the Giants the ball at the 49ers 20 yard line.  If you include William's OT punt return fumble, then 10 of NY's 20 points came only on a short field via a muffed or fumbled punt.

So for the entire game, the 49ers defense forced Eli Manning and the Giants offense to punt (and turn over on downs once) 12 times, including twice in the critical OT period.  Two of those punts easily could have been interceptions but our safety collided with our cornerback knocking the ball loose both times.  Also, late in the game, Ahmad Bradshaw clearly fumbled but the refs inexplicably blew the whistle while he was still being tackled.  That would have put us in FG territory immediately.

The two turnovers on punts and mistake on Bradshaw's fumble equal to a 13 point swing right there.

Even though Carlos Rogers was having trouble with Victor Cruz early on, Rogers and the 49ers secondary kept the high-powered Giants offense at bay in the 2nd half.  Considering Manning attempted 58 passes for the game, achieving a tie game in regulation was brilliant.

It was painfully disappointing because our defense had put our team into a great position to win.  A simple FG drive on any of our last 3 possessions would have won the game.


Our offense punted 10 times the whole game, including 5 of our last 6 possessions (not including the 19 second possession before end of regulation).  Of those 5 wasted possessions, we went three and out 4 times, including in our last 3 possessions.  Even our mid 4th quarter FG was a disappointing result since that drive began on the 50 yard line and could have put us ahead by 4 points.

Vernon Davis was our only downfield receiving threat.  Our entire receiver core combined for 1 catch.  Crabtree needs to be the Dez Bryant-like talent that we thought we were stealing with the 10th pick back in 2009.  Perhaps we can pickup another play-making receiver in the offseason, but something there needs to happen.

I also thought we abandoned the run far too easily.  Gore and Hunter only combined for 20 rushes while Alex Smith attempted 26 passes.  Gore/Hunter was averaging 5.25 yards per carry.  We should have pounded the defense into submission.  At the very least, use it to bite of chunks of yardage so that Alex Smith wasn't facing 3rd and long so much.

Speaking of 3rd down, we were a pathetically aggravating 1 for 13 yesterday.  Alex Smith just was not accurate.  There were several passes in crunchtime that landed at receivers' feet.  I wasn't expecting Aaron Rodgers, but to not even get the FG on any of our last 3 possessions in the 4th quarter and OT was just sad.

After looking at all our offensive woes, we still did enough to win, but mistakes by our backup punt returner and a blown ref call cost us badly.  Our defense deserved better than that.


It was certainly one of the most disappointing games I've ever seen as a 49ers fan but probably the least painful of our NFC Championship losses.  The 1997 NFC Championship loss to the Packers was harder to take, as were the 1992 and 1993 eliminations at the hands of the Cowboys and the '90 defeat to the Giants.

At least our expectations before this year were so low that every regular season win was a cause for celebration, much less a playoff berth, a freaking 1st round bye and an amazing come from behind (twice) win over the favored Saints team.  I can't forget that we had 6 wins last year.  If you told me preseason that we'd lose in the 3rd round of the playoffs, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic.  What an amazing coaching job by Harbaugh.  We can only hope this is the beginning of a new era.  But still, all I want is one SB championship.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dempsey's Historic EPL Hat Trick

In Fulham's league match vs Newcastle today, Clint Dempsey scored 3 goals to record the first hat trick by an American in the English Premier League.  It was actually his 2nd hat trick of the season, as he first set that mark vs Charlton in the FA Cup just 14 days ago.  As of today, he's scored an astounding 15 goals across all competitions (9 EPL goals), a career record.  He also crossed the 50 goal milestone today for Fulham, now with 52 (42 EPL goals).

Dempsey was also awarded the US Soccer Federation's Player of the Year.  He last won it in 2007.

Friday, January 20, 2012

49ers v Giants in Playoff History

With the 8th playoff meeting between SF and NYG coming up on Sunday, I've decided to dig into their playoff rivalry. 

1981 Divisional Round
January 3, 1982, Candlestick Park
SF 38 - NY 24

1984 Divisional Round
December 29, 1984, Candlestick Park
SF 21 - NY 10

1985 Wildcard Round
December 29, 1985, Giants Stadium
NY 17 - SF 3

1986 Divisional Round
January 4, 1987, Giants Stadium
NY 49 - SF 3

1990 NFC Championship
January 20, 1991, Candlestick Park
NY 15 - SF 13

1993 Divisional Round
January 15, 1994, Candlestick Park
SF 44 - NY 3

2002 Wildcard Round
January 5, 2003, Candlestick Park
SF 39 - NY 38

2011 NFC Championship
January 22, 2012, Candlestick Park

- They've met 7 times starting in 1981 through 2002, including 3 times in 3 consecutive years ('84-'86).

- No teams will have met more each other more times in the playoffs than the 49ers and the Giants.  The 49ers' 2nd most frequent opponent in playoff history will be of course the Dallas Cowboys (7 times).  However, it surprised me to find that 3 of those times were before 1973.  That's simply because tensions are escalated when 6 of those times were in the NFC championship game.  We played the Vikings and Packers 5 times each and the Bears and Redskins 4 times each.  We haven't faced another NFC team more than once.  Of course, we beat the AFC Bengals twice in the Superbowl.

- Including Sunday, 6 of these games will have been contested at Candlestick.

- 4 times the winner of this rivalry game went on to win the Superbowl (SF '81, '84; NY '86, '90)

- The 49ers currently have the advantage, 4 wins to 3 losses.

- This Sunday will only be the 2nd Conference Championship game between the two.  They've met the most in the Divisional round (4 times) and twice in the Wildcard.

- Obviously the 1990 loss in the NFC Championship was the most painful for 49er fans.  It not only ended the chances for a 3 peat, but it essentially ended Montana's tenure in San Francisco.

As for Sunday's game, most experts and pundits seem to be picking the Giants to win.  I think it must be difficult for the media to pick against a hot NY team because of their East Coast bias.  NY's formidable pass rush and explosive aerial game reminds them too much of NY's 2007 playoff run.  They point to the 49ers needing 5 turnovers and still barely winning.  They thumb their noses at the 49ers defense, who allowed Brees 2 TDs in the last 4 minutes.  Also, they'd much rather a big name QB like Eli Manning (and Tom Brady) be in the SB than a "game-manager" like Alex Smith (or Flacco).  In essence, everyone is rooting for the Giants.

That is absolutely fine.  I love that Harbaugh can tell his team that they are the disrespected underdogs in their own house.  I love that it will be dumping rain from today through gametime.  We can play our style of physical football, at home, with nothing to lose.  I hope we ride Gore all day to the promised land.  I hope our specials teams pins them deep and Akers is accurate.  I hope our run defense lives up to its reputation and forces Manning to throw.  And I hope he's throwing in a freakin' monsoon.

Prediction: 49ers 23 - Giants 20

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

49ers: The Catch I, II, III

After Alex Smith and Vernon Davis connected for that clutch game-winning TD in the closing seconds of Saturday's divisional playoff game, I immediately thought of TO's emotional and cathartic grab 13 years ago vs the Packers.  I know Vernon tried to coin his catch as "The Grab", but I like "The Catch III" much better.  I decided to dig into the details of each of these catches, for heck of it.

Each of the moments happened at home, in Candlestick Park.  Interestingly, each happened on 3rd down and 3 yards to go (to a first down).  All 3 were in different rounds of the playoffs: Montana's was in the conference championship, while Young's was in the Wildcard round and Smith's was in the Divisional round.

While TO and Vernon's catches happened with mere seconds on the clock, Clark's catch was actually at the 58 second mark.  TO and Vernon caught the ball near the goalline and absorbed contact, while Clark snatched it at the back of the endzone, free from harassing defenders.  Montana actually had to deal with more defenders than Clark did.

The Catch
Date: January 10, 1982
Game: 1981 NFC Championship
Final Score: SF 49ers 28 - Dallas Cowboys 27
QB-Receiver: Joe Montana to Dwight Clark
Game situation: Dal 27 - SF 21.  3rd and 3 from the 6 yd line.  58 seconds left.
Drive info: 13 plays, 90 yards, 4:03 (started at 4:54 left)

The Catch II
Date: January 3, 1999
Game: 1998 Wildcard Round
Final score: SF 49ers 30 - Green Bay Packers 27
QB-Receiver: Steve Young to Terrell Owens
Game situation: GB 27 - SF 23.  3rd and 3 from the 25 yard line.  8 seconds left.
Drive info: 9 plays, 76 yards, 1:43 (started at 1:47)

The Catch III
Date: January 14, 2012
Game: 2011 Divisional Round
Final score: SF 49ers 36 - New Orleans Saints 32
QB-Receiver: Alex Smith to Vernon Davis
Game situation: NO 32 - SF 29.  3rd and 3 from the 14 yard line.  14 seconds left.
Drive info: 7 plays, 85 yards, 1:28 (started at 1:37)

So I guess the inevitable question would be, which Catch was the best?  Looking at the play itself, Clark's catch might have been the most beautiful, but I'd say TO's catch was the most impressive.  Young slipped in his drop back, but regained his balance and fired a 25 yard pass to TO, who was immediately and viciously hammered (sandwiched) by 2 defenders, but still hung on.  Don't forget, there was only 8 seconds left, and they had no timeouts.  Young had to go to the endzone, and the Packers knew it.  Montana had nearly a minute left, was already at the 6 yard line and actually could have gained another 1st down.

As for its significance in the moment, Montana's throw symbolized the transformation of the 9ers from a losing franchise into winners.  TO's catch was important because of the catharsis that it provided since the Packers had eliminated the 49ers the 3 previous seasons.  So Smith's throw has a chance to have the significance of Montana's.  Ultimately, Montana-Dwight was in the NFC title game and led to a SB championship, while Young-TO flamed out the following week in the 2nd round.

The Smith-Davis play had the least degree of difficulty since it was in essence a simple post pattern.  In fact, it was really the culmination (and the easiest) of 4 great plays through 2 separate comeback TD drives in the last 3 minutes.  However, after 8 years of being deprived of the playoffs, that throw launched us into the NFC championship game and instantly became the greatest moment since the Catch II.  Where it finally finds a home in 49er lore depends on whether Smith and Davis are hoisting the trophy come Feb 5th.

In the big picture, Montana to Dwight throw jump-started the 49er dynasty in 1981 while Young's throw in the last playoff win of his career was essentially the end of that dynasty.  Might Smith's throw be the first of a new 49er age? 

But even if it is, nothing will ever compare to the original Catch.  Nothing, except for a comeback in the Superbowl, that is.

For my money, Montana to John Taylor in the 1988 SB was the greatest 49ers play (and drive) in history.  (Game situation: Cin 16 - SF 13.  2nd and 2, 10 yard line, 39 seconds left.  Drive info: 14 plays, 92 yards, 2:36)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The night Derek Fisher got me 2 tacos

Took my dad to his first Lakers game last night.  As I've said before, the Lakers sure know how to put on a show, even before the tip-off.  What was memorable?

- Lamar Odom getting a standing O from the crowd when he was subbed in 1st quarter.

- Seeing Barnes and Kapono play again was a nice throwback to the days when I camped out for the right to stand in the courtside student section.  I'm happy they've carved out nice careers for themselves, even if its for the hated Lakers.  Barnes is a clear scrappy upgrade to Artest and I was shocked to see Kapono out there late 4th quarter.

- Vince Carter looks like a shell of his prime self.  The Mavs have a lot of big name talent - Dirk, Kidd, Terry, Carter, Odom & Marion.  Delonte West looks the most energetic, however.  Clearly, they miss Chandler and JJ Barea though.

- Halftime auction: A Bynum signed ball auctioning for over $400.  A Lamar Odom signed, game-worn Finals jersey auctioning for $1025.  A Kobe and 4 other Lakers signed frame picture going for $2,025.

- The Lakers only having 46 points at the end of 3 quarters, scoring 7 in the 3rd.  But, the Mavs only had 51.

- Kobe not making many shots until a few big ones in the 4th.  Andrew Bynum was clearly the best player on the team on this night, though I think he could improve by not waiting so long to make his post moves.  The offense becomes extremely stagnant.

- If I was the Mavs, I'd rather single-cover Kobe with Marion, instead of doubling him early and leaving Fisher with an open jumper.

- The Staples crowd was quiet all game (besides pleading Artest to pass) until Fisher's game-winner.  The Lakers badly need a real point guard.  The rookie can't hang yet and old man Fisher should only play in the last 7 minutes.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Best non-SB 49ers game ever. SF 36 - NO 32 Divisional Playoffs

That was the best non-SB 49ers game I've ever seen.  I don't know what else to say.

Every single one of the 13 regular season wins was extremely important because it secured the 1st round bye and home field advantage vs the Saints.  Entering Week 11 after that huge win over the Giants, I thought the 49ers essentially had to turn their focus to maintaining the 2nd seed in the NFC.  At that point, the 8-1 49ers had a 1.5 game lead on the 7-3 Saints.  The Saints didn't lose another game en route to becoming the most potent offensive force while SF succumbed on the road to Baltimore and let down at Arizona.  The late December game in which we rallied twice vs the Seahawks became that much more important.  Not only did we want to beat cheatey petey on his turf, but the narrow 2 point win was the difference between hosting the Saints or trying to beat them at the Superdome's fast track.  Think the track is worth at least 4 points?  Umm, yeah.

Without home field advantage at Candlestick, we probably would not have opened with a 17-0 lead.  We probably wouldn't have held them to just 2 touchdowns through the first 56 minutes.  (We'll get to the last 4 minutes later.)  We probably wouldn't have been in position to win the game.  I say "probably", because who knows what a Harbaugh team would have done.

Again, let's put aside the last 4 minutes.  That part seems like a whole 'nuther conversation.  Leading up to the game, the Saints and that mercurial offense were actually favored.  The weather was in the 60s and sunny, so a muddied, slow field was out of the question.  Brees was an experienced elite QB, just 2 years removed from his championship and 1 week removed from topping the history books with the most passing yards ever in a season.  I was just hoping the 49ers would not get too far behind.

- The 9ers came out looking to hit somebody.  Just when it seemed like our worst fears were nearly realized with a typically efficient Brees 80 yard drive for the easy opening TD, Pierre Thomas was knocked out at the SF 2 yard line while still on his feet by Donte Whitner - fumble recovered by Patrick Willis.

- The Saints' 2nd drive was stymied by Aldon Smith's 3rd down sack for a loss of 11.

- The 49ers first TD came as a complete shock.  Alex Smith connected with Vernon Davis on just the 2nd play of their 2nd drive for a relatively easy TD.  Davis' defenders fell and he jogged into the end zone, reminding me of his TD vs the Giants in Week 10 when their coverage broke down.

- The Saints' 3rd drive was a disaster as SF safety Dashon Goldson read Drew Brees' eyes and returned the interception 41 yards to the NO 4 yard line.  Alex Smith hit Crabtree on a 3rd down slant for a 2 TD lead.  At this point, I'm thinking that now have a chance.  New Orleans will eventually start scoring, but at least we have a 14 point pad to work with.

- On the ensuing kickoff, the Saints returner actually muffs the catch, picks it up and fumbles in the dogpile.  This is really getting to be too much.  Good things never happen in waves like this to my teams.  My boys, aged 3 and 1, are even into it since they've been getting high-fives and thrown into the air every few minutes.  (Repetition is key for youngsters, by the way).  Niners have the ball at the 13.  We must score a TD.  Surely the Saints can't come back from down 21, can they?

- 9ers are held to a FG as Crabtree can't hold onto 3rd down TD pass.  I am not happy about a 17 point lead.  We have to strike while momentum is on our side.  We can't keep NO down forever.  If they score here, they'd only be down 10 points.

- Sure enough, Brees drives down and finds Jimmy Graham for a TD.  I actually thought Graham looked concussed on a play from their first drive and might've hit his head again on this play.  I wish he was.  Not permanently.  You know, just for the day.  If he was out, I figured we had the game in the bag.

- After a 49er 3 and out, I figured we had to stop the Saints to regain our mojo.  What happens?  Brees drives down, and lofts the perfect pass over Colston into his hands, who then kicks the pylon.  What should have been a 21-0 lead is now just a 3 point lead.  Its not even halftime.  The teams finish the quarter taking turns going 3 and out as well as turning the ball over to each other.

So at halftime, its clear that the Saints will in all likelihood score a few more touchdowns in the 2nd half.  The 49ers however, never really pieced together a solid, "matriculatin' down the field" kind of drive, but only capitalized on that one big Smith-Davis play and 2 Saints turnovers which resulted in extremely short fields.  I was happy we weren't facing a 2 TD deficit, but I wasn't sure if we could hold on.  Heck, 4 turnovers with only a 3 point lead to show for it?!?!?  Surely we have used up our quota of takeaways.

- After our opening drive and punt, of course the Saints' Sproles is stripped on the ensuing return and we get the ball on their 26 yard line.  And of course, we end up with just a FG for a 6 point lead.

- There is no more scoring in the 3rd as Justin Smith sacks Brees to stop on drive, while SF continues to flounder on offense.  Absurdly, we are flagged for two straight illegal basketball pick-like plays, we fail miserably on a trick play and Crabtree drops a pass or two.  At this point, I'm texting like crazy to all my 9er fans:  "Why are we not running Gore to death?";  "Why the heck is Brees getting so much time to throw?";  "We can't stop him forever!"; "5 turnovers and we're only up 6!"

- Saints manage a FG early 4th quarter to pull within 3 points.  Do we finally have a TD drive in us to balance out the one that they will probably put together?  More texts: "Why is it that Alex Smith can't handle a freakin blitz!".

- Well, some of my texts are answered.  We finally get to Brees a couple times, including Justin Smith's memorably ridiculous bullrush after which he yanks Brees down with one hand while still grappling with the LT.  Then Gore finally rips off a 42 yard run.  Another: ""We ain't gonna win if we don't score (a TD) right now!".  We don't.  FG pushes our lead only back to 6.

- So. 7:36 left.  Saints need a TD to win.  Its up to our defense, who has not allowed a Brees TD outside of the 2nd quarter.  Its the way it has to be.  De-Fense!  De-Fense!

- 7 Brees passes and 3 minutes later, the Saints have a 24-23 lead.  Sproles takes a short Brees pass, finds room in the middle of the field and scampers in on a 44 yd play, standing up.  After all that defensive effort, we are trailing the most explosive offense in the NFL with 4 min to play.  Disheartening stuff.  But hey, a FG wins the game.

This is where everything turns upside down.  Now I'm thinking that Akers, a feel-good story in itself, is in prime position to win it.  We just need one of those typical grind-it-out, physical, eat-the-clock drives that the 49er are so capable of.  We'll "matriculate" to FG position with little time left and Akers will do the rest.

But instead, Alex Smith throws an inch-perfect bomb off his back foot on the 3rd play of the drive to Vernon Davis near the left sideline for a 37 yard gain.  We're already in FG position. Two short running plays and a false start later, we're faced with 3rd and 7.  If we can just get another 1st down, NO will be forced to use its last timeout and we can run out much of the clock.

Then: the play call of the year.  The most shocking, unpredictable, risky, gutsy, mojo-inducing decision I can ever recall.  An Alex Smith rush to the left?  As he started that way, I thought it was just so he would move away from the blitz - but I was confused as to why they would send him to his weak side.  After a few steps, it was clear that he wasn't pulling up to throw and when he was able to turn the corner with ease, he clearly had the 1st down.  Next thing I see is fast movin' Joe Staley absolutely blocking the crap out of the pesky Saint defender, clearing the sideline path for a sprinting Smith to get to the endzone.

Did we score too quickly?  Yeah, but were the Saints really going to score TDs on back to back possessions after not scoring the entire quarter?  Nah, this one was in the bag.  Even after Smith's poor decision to audible to a failed run on the 2pt try, I felt cautiously comfortable that we had pulled it off.

Brees' TD to Jimmy Graham was the most upsetting thing I've ever seen.  It was like Horry's 3 ptr vs the Kings.  It was like Joakim Noah's gator chomp.  It was like Dos Santos' chip over Howard.  Okay, maybe not as bad as those, but Graham's posturing was planting the seeds of my sports hate for him.

How did our safety completely whiff on him?  Hit him!  Keep the Saints in front of you!  Don't go for the ball!  In just 3 passes and about 30 seconds, Brees has just laid waste to the glorious return of 49er football.  Of course we didn't even bother covering Sproles on the 2pt conversion.  Now a FG would only tie.

And a FG is really just about the best we could hope for.  After all, this is Alex Smith we're talking about.  We don't have Peyton or Brees or Rodgers.  We don't have a Stafford or even the explosiveness of a Newton.  That's not how we've won 13 games.  No, we have a QB who spent 6 years being a bust and 1 year being a game-manager.  Could he possibly score 2 TDs on back to back possessions in the 2 minute drill?  Nope, we're playing for overtime.

1:37 left.  Alex completes a couple of short passes to Gore.  Then an incomplete bomb down the right to Swain which gave off more than just a hint of desperation.  The next play left me in a frenzy.  A 27 yard frozen rope bullet to Vernon Davis, who gallops for another 20 yards.  We are again already in FG territory.  The pass was perfect - lasered, not lofted, into Davis' arms in full stride, just out of reach of the trailing Saint even though the defender had inside position on the route.

After a short pass to Gore and a spike, Smith had one chance on 3rd down from the 14 yard line to win the game.  Otherwise, we would settle for the FG and go to OT.  This is where legends are born, even if they are 7 years into the league and even if they've spent their entire career as an underachieving bust living in the shadow of a fellow draftees MVP and championship success.

In what will go down in 49er history as one of the best moments ever, Smith anticipated Davis on a post and fired it into his chest without regard to the defenders around him.  Davis immediately took a big Roman Harper hit and fell into the endzone.  In Alex Smith's 1st ever playoff game, he led 2 come-from-behind TDs in the last 3 minutes.  It was the first time in playoff history where any QB has done that.  He finished the game with 299 yards, 3 passing TDs, 1 rushing TD, no interceptions and a better passer rating than Brees (103.2 to 93.5).

In Vernon Davis' first playoff game, just a few years after Singletary's excoriating, "can't win with him, can't do it!" presser rant, he finished with 7 big catches for 180 yards and 2 TDs.  The game-winner immediately reminded all 9er fans of  Terrell Owen's emotional TD to finally overcome the Packers in Jan of 1999.  Davis' embrace with Harbaugh will probably be the most enduring image from that game.

But I think the real story is still the new Alex Smith that we never thought we'd ever see.  With one of the greatest come from behind playoff victories in history, he is closer to placing his name beside Montana and Young in the Niner lore.  True, he will need two more W's to do that, but no matter what, he will always have this moment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2011 49ers' 13-3, a Historical Look

The 49ers finished the 2011 season with a 13-3 regular season record.  I was curious as to how many times the 49ers had finished with 13 wins or better and how they fared in the playoffs subsequently.

1997 - 13-3 - Div champs, NFC #1 seed, lost in Conf round
1994 - 13-3 - Div champs, NFC #1 seed, Superbowl Champs
1992 - 14-2 - Div champs, NFC #1 seed, lost in Conf round
1990 - 14-2 - Div champs, NFC #1 seed, lost in Conf round
1989 - 14-2 - Div champs, NFC #1 seed, Superbowl Champs
1987 - 13-2 - Div champs, NFC #1 seed, lost in Div round
1984 - 15-1 - Div champs, NFC #1 seed, Superbowl Champs
1981 - 13-3 - Div champs, NFC #1 seed, Superbowl Champs

SF finished with 13 wins or better eight other seasons.  Interestingly, they were always the top seed in the conference and managed to win 4 of their 5 Superbowls from the top spot (only the 1988 championship was won from the #2 seed).  Of the 4 years they didn't win it all, they made it to the NFC Championship round 3 times and only lost in the divisional round once, in 1987.

Of course, this year, the 49ers are the NFC #2nd seed.  They've only been the 2nd seed 4 other times with only the aforementioned 1988 championship to show for it.

1995 - 11-5 - Div champs, lost in Div round
1993 - 10-6 - Div champs, lost in Conf round
1988 - 10-6 - Div champs, Superbowl Champs
1983 - 10-6 - Div champs, lost in Conf round

Now, it is an unbelievable achievement for the 49ers just to make the playoffs this year.  Actually its quite an achievement for the 49ers just to reach 10 wins, much less 13.  Since the NFL went to a 16 game season in 1978, the 49ers have reached the postseason every time they've reached the 10 win regular season mark, except for the 10-6 Seifert team in 1991.  (Also since '78, we've never made the playoffs without at least 10 wins).  Our last 10+ win season was 2002, eight long years ago.  Amazingly, from 1981 (Walsh's 3rd season and Montana's 1st as full-time starter) to 2002, the 49ers made the playoffs 18 of 22 seasons!  And they had at least 10 win seasons 19 times, including a 16 year consecutive stretch from '83-'98.

So, the 49ers have made the playoffs 23 times in history before this year and won the NFC West 17 previous times.  Since, all 5 Superbowls have come after we've won our division, we are in prime position.  Plus, 2 of our championships were won by teams that finished with 13 wins, and at least one of our #2 seeded teams has gone all the way.

At minimum, beating the Saints to reach the conference championship is a must to avoid becoming only the 2nd 13 win 49er team or the 2nd NFC #2 seed 49er team to lose in the divisional round.  Therefore my prediction:

49ers 26 - Saints 17.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tebow beats Steelers in Playoff OT

Tebow has been the most counter-intuitive success story we've seen in sports for a long time.  In a season where the single season passing record was surpassed twice, and 5 of the top 6 single season passing yard mark in history was set this year, a statistically inferior running quarterback has lead his team to a playoff victory over the reigning AFC champion.

Starting the season 1-4 and entering their bye week, the Broncos decided to make a change to Tebow because the new management wanted to see what they had in their 2010 first round pick before the next draft.  It was a sensible decision, since the season was lost anyway.  Plus, they would make the pro-Tebow fans happy while selling a few more seats and unloading a few more #15 jerseys.  However, they did trade away the Broncos' best receiver, Brandon Lloyd, knowing the volatile receiver would be a distraction during a challenging year.  It was clear from the beginning that John Elway and Coach Fox weren't the biggest Tebow fans, nor did they prefer to run the system in which Tebow would thrive.  But they had to know what giving the reigns over to him would look like.

In his first start on 10/23 at Miami, Tebow rallied the Broncos with 2 TD passes in the last 2:44 of the 4th quarter, including drives of 80 yards and 56 yards, to force OT in which Denver won on Prater's 53 yd FG.  (Tebow added to the building mania as he dropped to a knee to pray during the ensuing celebration - causing the national and cultural craze known as: Tebowing.)

But in the 2nd game vs the playoff bound Lions, the Broncos were embarrassed 45-10.  While pundits and haters universally drove the nails into Tebow's career coffin, Coach Fox quietly rebooted the Denver offense into a run option, which subsequently bulldozed the Raiders the following week to the tune of 299 rushing yards, 118 of which from Tebow (a 9.1 average).  He also threw for 124 yards, 2 TDs and no turnovers.

Including that win over Oakland, the Broncos reeled off 6 straight wins to grab control of the division.  Highlights:

- 11/13 at Kansas City, Tebow only completed 2 of 8 passes, I repeat: TWO!, but one was a 56 yard TD to Decker in the 4th quarter to seal the W.

- 11/17 vs NY Jets, down 3 points with only 6 min left, Tebow led a 95 yard TD drive, capped off by his 20 yd scamper into the endzone with 58 seconds left for the win.  It was Denver's only offensive TD on the day.

- 11/27 @ San Diego, Tebow led a 68 yard drive for the game-tying FG and setup game-winning FG in OT.

- 12/4 @ Minnesota, Tebow reached the 200 yd mark for the first time all season, completing 10-15 for 2 TDs, 202 yards.  Amazingly, he only had 13 rushing yards.  Denver needed 3 scores in the 4th quarter to win.

- 12/11 vs Chicago - In the game most characteristic of Tebow's tenure, the Broncos were unable to score until late 4th quarter.  Down 10-0 with 4:34 left to play, Tebow led a clutch 7 play, 63 yard TD drive.  Chicago RB, Marion Barber, inexplicably then runs out of bounds to stop the clock, and Tebow uses the last 50 seconds to engineer the game-tying FG drive.  In OT, Barber inexplicably fumbles on 3rd down though they are already in field position, and nobody in the world doubts that Tebow will drive down for the game-winning FG.  He does.

Again, the Broncos were 1-4 when Tebow became the starter and he was 7-1 at that point.  With each win, the national furor over Tebow intensified to what would normally be suffocating levels.  His unquestionable passion for God and therefore life, absolute sincerity in thought and speech, and inspiring intensity in leadership and play (especially in crunch time), had made Tebow into a national icon, a household name, a religious symbol as well as a subject for endless debate.

He was a walking conundrum in so many ways.  On the field, his inaccuracy wouldn't win him the scouting team job for any NFL team, but his habit of clutch wins was undeniable.  His popularity due to the sheer force of his personality (as a result of his beliefs) was at soaring heights, but his beliefs also made him the target of ridicule and attack (Bill Maher, an atheist, is also one mean dude).  You either rooted for him blindly or hoped he would fail miserably.  Just like Tebow himself, there wasn't room for compromise, no settling for middle ground.

After 3 straight disheartening losses to end the season, including Tebow's 6-22 outing vs Kansas City, the questions about Tebow's starting status began to rise again.  Had Tebow lost the confidence to throw into tight windows?  Was Brady Quinn getting half of the 1st team reps?  Was this playoff game Tebow's last NFL start of any kind?  Had defenses finally wised up to Denver's Tebow-centric offense?

Going into Denver's wildcard matchup vs Pittsburgh, I was just hoping that Tebow would do enough to secure a starting job next season.  I didn't want to see another embarrassing performance.  I wanted him to prove that he hadn't lost his mojo - that he belonged.  But never did I believe that he could win.

On Sunday, Tebow threw for 316 yards, 2 TDs and ran for another.  His passer rating was 125.6.  He had 5 passes of 30 yards or more, though the Steelers had only allowed 7 of such passes all season (easily the fewest in the NFL).  The last of these passes, was of course the 80 yarder to fellow 2010 1st round pick, Demaryius Thomas, on the first play of OT.  Game-planned to stop the run, the Steelers dared Tebow to throw vertically to win.  In what was the most memorable game of the NFL season, Tebow did.

There are a million things to say about Tebow - his faith, his intensity, his stats, or his throwing motion, etc - but we must all agree on one thing: he's a winner.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

UCLA, Josh Smith, dominates ASU at Honda Center

After a full day of family activity - kid bday party, seeing old friends in the OC - we finally made it to the Honda Ponda in time for the 2nd half.  It was the correct half to attend, as we outscored ASU 42-28 to pull away.  We brought my best friend, a Cal alumnus as well as an Arizona fan (- go figure that one out), and his new lady friend.  Our seats were awesome - midcourt near the back of the 1st section.

Having been to a handful of games at the LA Sports Arena this season, all I know is that we had to travel 50 miles to find the Pauley Pavilion atmosphere that we've needed.  Perhaps its the OC Bruin alumni coming out for their last hurrah there in Anaheim, or perhaps its because the Pac-12 season has finally started, but I'd rather make the trip out to the Pond for our home games if the crowd is going to give our team a lift the way they did on Saturday.  There seemed to be 3 times as many people and our student section was 3 times as big (and loud).  I don't quite understand why we're hosting usc at the Sports Arena on 2/15 when the Honda Center is available - I checked the Pond schedule.  This should have been a no-brainer.

Back to the game.  This could be Josh Smith's watershed moment of the season.  As an offensive force, honestly he's been pretty pathetic all season.  Whether its foul trouble (lack of discipline), conditioning (also lack of discipline), passivity (lack of aggression) or a lack of explosiveness (as a result of lack of conditioning), Josh just hasn't been the dominant big man he was expected to be.  Though he's scored 18 points before, it was against an undermanned and undersized UC Davis squad.  Against ASU and its two 7+ footers, Josh asserted himself the way we've expected from him.  His 8 buckets off 12 attempts were both season highs.  If he can consistently come to play with the same mindset in every game, we will be contenders for the conference crown.  Josh needs to develop the maturity to motivate himself to play this way all the time, instead of needing to be lifted by the crowd.  He also only had 4 rebounds this game.  In fact, he's only reached double digits once in 15 games.  But hey, one stat at a time.

It seems that the Wears are settling into Pac-12 play fairly well.  After a shaky start in the disappointing losses to the Bay area schools (although Dave showed up vs Cal), they were dominant in the game vs Arizona without Josh and again pivotal vs ASU.  Travis seems to be the better scorer while David grabs more rebounds.  Can you imagine our team had the Wears not made the transfer to us?  They are making up for the disaster that the Howland frontcourt would have been minus Nelson, Gordon, Morgan, etc.  On this night, Travis dropped in 16 points on 5-7 shooting and grabbed 7 boards.  From here on out, I'd like to see the Wears collectively contribute a minimum of 26 points and 16 boards a night.

Zeek Jones had 10 assists on the night, even though Howland had planned to deploy him off the ball.  Regardless of where he plays, I'd like to see him score about 15 points a game and get his assist average to about 6.5.  Though we are starting 3 guards, with only Norman Powell off the bench, once Parker comes back, we will have a comfortable 9 man rotation (Smith, Wears, Stover, Jones, Anderson, Lamb, Powell, Parker).  It seems that David Wear at the 3 will no longer be a necessary option.

The next 3 road games will essentially determine whether we can become Pac-12 contenders or not.  But with a week off to prepare for the sc game on Sunday, there is no excuse.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 NFL Season Review, Postseason Predictions

Week 17 Record: 11-5

Season Record: 179-79

So the 12 team playoffs are set.  How did my preseason playoff picks go?

AFC East
My pick: Patriots
Div champ: Patriots 13-3 (AFC #1 seed)
This pick was easy, but who knew that Belicheat's defense would become this porous?  Had it not been for Drew Brees, we'd be heralding Brady's record-breaking single-season yardage performance.  Thank goodness for Drew.  But most shocking is TE Rob Gronkowksi's historic elite-WR-like numbers: 1,327 yards (6th most in the league, most for TEs ever), 90 catches (5th most in league), and a league-leading 17 TD receptions (all-time TE record).  That said, the Saints' Jimmy Graham finished with 1,310 yards, so do with that what you will.  The Jets, Bills and Dolphins all could not even manage a winning record.  NY was a massive disappointment while the Bills and Dolphins were good only for brief spurts (Buffalo at the beginning, Miami at the end).

AFC North
My pick: Steelers
Div champ: Ravens 12-4 (AFC #2 seed)
Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in both head to head matchups, thereby earning the tie-breaker for the divisional crown.  Riding the 2nd best RB in rushing yards this year (behind Mojo Drew) in Ray Rice, the Ravens certainly earned my respect after a physical smash-mouth victory over my 49ers.  However, had the 12-4 Steelers been a little more healthy, they probably could have stolen the division.  More on the surprising Bengals later.  The Browns started promisingly, but reverted.  3 playoff berths from one division is awesome.

AFC South
My pick: Titans
Div champ: Texans 10-6 (AFC #3 seed)
With Peyton out, Garrard cut, and the Titans essentially starting over, Houston was the reasonable pick.  But I figured they would screw it up again.  Injuries to all their best skills players nearly got 'em but they held on.  Still they will have to prove to everyone that they can overcome missing Schaub when it counts.  The biggest offseason story will of course be whether the 2 win(!) Colts cut Peyton before his $28 million kick in sometime in February.  If you don't want him, the 49ers will take him.

AFC West
My pick: Chargers
Div champ: Broncos 8-8 (AFC #4 seed)
Utterly unpredictable that a Rivers-led team isn't easily the class of the division, especially with the Raiders and Chiefs having to replace their QBs because of injury and the Broncos' initial starter in Orton getting Tebow'ed.  But given a choice between trojan Palmer, trojan Cassel or Tebow, I couldn't be happier about who came out on top.  Headline of the season, Tebow, led his 1-4 team to a 7-4 record, good enough for a playoff berth.  The previously 4-win Broncos are this season's team to go from last place to the first place playoff team.  Never fails.

AFC Wildcards
My picks: Jets, Chiefs
Actual: Steelers 12-4, Bengals 9-7
The Jets' failure was a pleasant surprise.  But I was shocked to look and find that I had picked the Chiefs.  I'm an idiot.  The Bengals, shunned by trojan Palmer, replaced him with a rookie QB and made the playoffs for only the second time since 1991, edging out the trojan Palmer led Raidas on the way.  Awesome.

NFC East
My pick: Eagles
Div champ: Giants 9-7 (NFC #4 seed)
Philly tips San Diego as the major disappointment of the year since they've seemingly been out of the playoff race 10 weeks ago.  The preseason hype surrounded Michael Vick and his dream team, but they turned out to be but a forgotten daydream.  Meanwhile, the Giants emerged from the league's toughest schedule, finishing with 3 tough wins in the last 4 weeks to take it.  Eli Manning's preseason bravado that he belonged in the group of elite passers was validated since he set the mark for 6th most single season passing yards in history this year.  The Giants are no longer a running team with a game managing QB.  They'd rather give you full doses of Nicks and Cruz all day.  Over in Jerrysworld, Jones is again the owner (and GM) of a failing team and only Lakers and Yankees fans feel bad for him.  At least he isn't Snyder, who somehow thinks that Grossman is the answer.

NFC North
My pick: Packers
Div champ: Packers 15-1 (NFC #1 seed)
See previous post as to why Rodgers is clear-cut league MVP.  Their defense may be their achilles heel come playoff time.  We'll get to the Lions later, but the Cutler-less Bears couldn't hold on and the Favre-less Vikings were as bad as they were with him last year.

NFC South
My pick: Saints
Div champ: Saints 13-3 (NFC #3 seed)
I had the Saints as my preseason Superbowl champion, and I can't figure out how they even lost 3 games.  Brees, with the emergence of TE Graham and addition of RB Sproles, now runs the most prolific and balanced offense in history to smoke anybody.  The Falcons were about as good as expected while Cam Newton was waaaay better than anybody expected, even though he only finished with 6 wins.  TB stunk.

NFC West
My pick: Rams
Div champ: 49ers 13-3 (NFC #2 seed)
This is what I wrote before this season: "(Before 2010) I predicted that the Rams would be the worst team in the league.  That's how quickly you can turn it around in the NFL.  With a solid draft, a solid coach and solid personnel moves, you can be relevant within a couple years."  Mmm-hmm, yeah I was wrong.  The Rams were supposed to be terrible last year and wasn't.  They were supposed to be a playoff team this year and almost won the Luck sweepstakes.  The 49ers didn't just become relevant, they blew the doors off the joint and sowed up a 1st round bye.  It didn't take a couple years, it took Harbaugh the month of August.  Alex Smith went from sure bust to a clutch, ball-protecting machine (5 picks).  And the 49ers were 5 bad quarters away from being 16-0.

NFC Wildcards
My picks: Falcons, Cowboys
Actual: Falcons 10-6, Lions 10-6
Detroit's potent offense, led by a healthy Matt Stafford and an unwordly Megatron, clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 1999 even though they have two hot-heads in (dirty) Suh and Jim Schwartz.

Playoff Predictions:

Bengals at Texans - Okay, its true that the Texans have a solid defense and a great running game in Arian Foster, but there's something about Andy Dalton and this tough Cincy D.  A mini-upset.

Steelers at Broncos - I hope for Tebow's sake that he shocks the world with an upset.  But I ain't predicting it, even if Big Ben and company are banged up.

Giants host Falcons - I like the Giants at home, with thei fired up defensive line and more explosive offense.

Saints host Lions - Detroit aims to be what the Saints already are.  Mainly mature and experienced.

AFC Divisional:
Patriots host Bengals - They might not have a D, but they've got quite an O.

Ravens host Steelers - Yes, I'm predicting that the Ravens will beat their rival for a 3rd straight time this year.  Crazy.

NFC Divisional:
Packers host Giants - Comfortable win for Rodgers and company.

Saints at 49ers - I hate predicting this.  But we're just unlucky to face Brees right now.  I hope I am dead wrong.

AFC Conference:
Ravens at Patriots - Baltimore has the running game and deep threat to gash the Patriots.  Their defense will need to get to Brady though.

NFC Conference:
Saints at Packers - Everyone loves New Orleans so much right now that I want to go the other way.  But since I picked the Saints preseason, I'll stick with it now.

Saints over Ravens - Brees deservedly cements his Hall of Fame legacy with a 2nd title.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Aaron Rodgers should be 2011 NFL MVP

If Aaron Rodgers doesn't win the MVP this year, you could blame it on Matt Flynn.  Flynn set Packer records for yards (480) and touchdowns (6) in a single game in Week 17.  It seems that without Rodgers, in a game that meant so much for the Lions, Green Bay didn't skip a beat offensively.  Meanwhile, of course Drew Brees was demolishing the single season passing record as well as throwing for the most touchdowns this season.  So who should win the MVP?  Let's take a look at the numbers.

In Brees' favor, he finished with 5,476 yards (Marino's record was 5,084), 46 touchdowns and a 71.2% completion percentage.  Rodgers had merely 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns (2nd most) and 68.3% completion rate (2nd highest ).  However, his QB rate was a league-high 122.5 to Brees' 110.6 and he edged Brees in Total QBR, 85.2 to 84.0.  But most importantly, he threw only 6 interceptions to Brees' 14.  In fact, out of the top 16 QBs in terms of both these two separate categories: a) most TDs thrown this year and b) most passes completed, only Rodgers was in the single digits in INTs.  Only one other QB (Romo) was even under 12 picks (for those not so good at math, that's twice what Aaron threw).

Sure, Brees may have far surpassed Rodgers in terms of passing yards, but you must consider these 3 factors.  First, Brees played in one more game than Rodgers.  Had Rodgers played in Week 17 and finished with Flynn's Week 17 stats (a probability if you ask me), he would've had 5,123 passing yards, also surpassing Marino's mark.  (With Flynn's 6 TDs, Rodgers would have finished with 51, setting the all-time single season record).  Secondly, Brees' single season passing yards mark is less impressive when you consider that Tom Brady also bested Marino this year.  In fact, of the top 6 all-time single season passing yard marks, FOUR were set this year (Brady 5,235, Stafford 5,038, Eli Manning 4,933).  We are in the golden age of passing and Drew Brees' record may not last even through next season, much less the 27 years that Marino's record did.  Thirdly, Brees attempted 657 passes, far overshadowing Rodgers' 503.  Of course he would have more yards.  The real question is how he only finished with one more TD than Rodgers.  (It must also be noted that Rodgers led the league in yards per pass at 9.2 while Brees was 6th at 8.3.)

Lastly, we cannot forget the whole reason Rodgers was sitting out in Week 17 while Brees was racking up 389 yards and 5 TDs.  Rodgers had led his team to a 14-1 record, by far the league's best record, thereby rendering the last regular season game completely moot.  Brees, finished with 1 less win in 16 starts, and didn't even secure a 1st round conference playoff bye for his team.  Winning games might be the most important stat of all.

Who's the MVP?  I say its the QB who won 1 more game with 1 less start, threw a vastly superior touchdown to interception rate (Rodgers 45-6, Brees 46-14) which is the best evaluation of effective QB play, and did it with an obviously inferior defense (GB allowed a league worst 411.6 yards per game).  That's the definition of most valuable to me.