Welcome to the Four Down Journey where we pick up the shattered pieces of Cam Newton’s heart, where we wonder what happened to Jimmy Graham’s manhood against Seattle, where we wonder if anyone will stop to hit this Blount, & most importantly, where we quickly break down the AFC and NFC championship games coming Sunday night.
Before we get into the Downs, we have to double back and discuss what exactly happened to New Orleans TE Jimmy Graham. Graham — he of the 16 TDs, the All-Pro accolades, the goal post dunking, & the general beasting of defences everywhere this season — went missing vs. Seattle last Saturday night. About two hours before the game, he had to be separated from Seahawks players for trash talking & messing with his pregame routine. I’m sure every Saints fan saw this & said, “Yup, Graham’s gonna kill ’em! Let’s go right now! F*** Da Seahawks!!!” Most footballs fans watching this clip assumed it was on & we were going to get a great back & forth game……but then the Saints went out & scored zero points in the first half. Graham ended the game with one catch for 8 yards total (which he only got on the last drive).
Beyond the stats though, it was the way he got manhandled throughout that was disappointing. He was getting bumped off of routes, guys were popping him right off the line of scrimmage, & what’s worse, he wasn’t fighting for his space. The only thing he did with any consistency was complain to the refs. It was like watching your friend challenge the bully to an after school fight, only to see him get crammed into his locker afterwards by said bully. Unfortunately this actually happened to a friend of mine in high school. His only response after getting stuffed in his locker was to say he’s gonna work out through the summer & come back with his “football friends” to take him on again. It reminded me of those “When I grow up” milk commercials from back in the day. Yeah, still makes me sad when I think about it. Anyway, let’s get into it….
FIRST DOWN: Old School vs New School
These two conference championship games feature the best four teams in the league this year & more importantly, the four teams that everyone wanted to see. Also as important, these next few weeks could possibly determine going forward what the future of the QB position might look like in the NFL. In the AFC, we have the classic pocket QBs in Patriots Tom Brady & Broncos Peyton Manning whose style has proven over and over again to be successful. Both Brady & Manning have set numerous records, collected every accolade and award imaginable between them, & they have won Super Bowls. In the NFC, 49er QB Colin Kaepernick & Seahawk QB Russell Wilson best represent what was long supposed to be a threat to the standard QB style, but never was. Both of these players though have shown that they can command the pocket, make every throw accurately from there, while still making elite-level plays with their legs. They are everything that we wanted Michael Vick to be. Whoever comes out of this game in Seattle will be representing the future at the Super Bowl.
As Deion Sanders mentioned last Sunday on the NFL Network, this might affect the way NFL GM approach this year’s draft when looking for a QB. In pro sports, championship teams create copycats, and football is no different. If by chance, Kaepernick or Wilson is holding up the Lombardi trophy in a few weeks, GMs may start targeting the Johnny Manziels of these upcoming drafts to develop because they will see that you can win the big game with this style. NFL QBs can barely be touched now, so imagine accurate running QBs & the damage they can really do. Steve Young came the closest as a duel threat QB in terms of winning the big games, & Aaron Rodgers has the legs to move out of the pocket to make plays himself in today’s game, but none of these guys have the wheels Kaepernick & Wilson have. Looking at the youth on both Seattle & San Fran’s rosters, they won’t be going away anytime soon. It will be very intriguing to see if these two QBs — as well as Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton — can change the QB standards for the long haul.
SECOND DOWN: The Greatness of Bellicheck
Bill Bellichek has won 3 Super Bowls and is considered to be one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. When he goes into the Hall of Fame someday, they need to mention this season on his plaque. No one thought this team would be one game away from the Super Bowl halfway through the season. Think about it. Their best WR they had in the last 6 years will be catching passes across the field from them today. One of their two elite TEs (Rob Gronkowski) will be rehabbing from yet another season-ending injury, while the other TE (Aaron Hernandez) is too busy doing P90X workouts in his 8×6 cell. They also lost Vince Wilfork and Jerrod Mayo to season-ending injuries, Danny Amendola missed his usual chunk of games due to injuries (which at this point might be written up in his contract to do so), Shane Vereen missed about 9 games, & then the fumbling issues of their leading rusher Stevan Ridley regressed to the point that it’s rumored that the Pats made him hold a football at all times like Omar Epps had to in The Program. It’s understood that they play in a horrible division where they racked up easy wins, but they only went 4-2 against the AFC East. How the hell did this team go 12-4 with a 1st round bye???
Bellichek made the term, “Next Man Up” ring loudly in New England. They have replaced the weapons they lost by turning Julian Edleman into a 100-catch receiver, plugged in players like WRs Aaron Dobson and rookie Kembrell Thompkins wherever he could, Shane Vereen became their main RB catching passes out of the backfield, he’s tightened up the defense immensely, but one of the biggest weapons he help create is turn LaGarrette Blount loose. Blount, who was almost cut by this team at the beginning of the season has been on fire the last few weeks. In his last two games he’s run for 345 yards & 6 TDs. He looks slimmer than he did in his Tampa bay days, but still carried the same power. He has taken the torch from Ridley at this point of the reason to lead this new Patriot power rushing attack who destroyed the Colts D last week for 234 yards & 6 TDs. Why is it that good teams can turn players who were washed up into diamonds on their roster? Is it the foundation of professionalism? The winning mentality? Being within 6 degrees of separation from Gisele Bundchen? Whatever it is, the fact that Bellichek always finds a way to get the very best out of his players was never more true this season, and if they get past the Broncos on Sunday, it will be the most unlikely Super Bowl appearance since the 2001 season when they beat the St. Louis Rams.
THIRD DOWN: The New Rivalry
Let’s get this out of the way right now. The Niners – Seahawks rivalry has officially bumped out the Ravens – Steelers as the best rivalry in the NFL. Forgot about the players for a second, not even the coaches like each other very much, & this is going back to their USC-Stanford days. When Pete Carroll’s USC teams was tearing up the college ranks, it was Jim Harbaugh who came with his Stanford team & wasn’t afraid to punch USC back in the mouth to help end their dominant run of the Pac-10 Conference. It eventually led to the whole “What’s your deal?” beef in the postgame handshake after Stanford blew out USC in a 2009 game. After that season, Carroll left for Seattle. The year after that Harbaugh joins the 49ers & just like that, they’re both in the same division again. So you can see right from then that it would only be a matter of time until the Seahawks & Niners were going to take on that animosity too.
Ironically enough, both teams are built similarly. Both are built around smash-mouth run games, devastating defenses, young dual-threat QBs, & all overseen by head coaches that their players will die for. Since both of these teams have been in the NFC West together in 2011, San Fran leads the series 4-2. However, the home team has won each game in the last two years. Since last year’s Super Bowl, they been making moves & trades with each other in mind. They both knew they were going to be the best teams in the NFC, so they both began loading up on weapons highlighted by the Percy Harvin & Alquan Boldin moves within days of each other. The way those teams play each other is like chaos. Players get pummeled across the middle, guys getting carried off the field, & these are only the regular season games. With the Super Bowl at stake, they may want to clear our a wing at Tacoma General Hospital just in case. Which reminds me….
FOURTH DOWN: Who is heading to Super Bowl 48 in New York City?
AFC – New England vs. Denver
The way this season has been laid out for Peyton Manning, it has all the markings of a destiny-type run. He has a record breaking season for offense both individually and as a team. The team finished with homefield advantage again & this time will use that advantage in the conference title game. He’ll more than likely wrap up his 5th MVP in two weeks & has been by far the best player in the NFL all season. With his age & the fact that he’s had those four neck surgeries, he’s probably seeing that the end is near. Shit, he even said so himself. He can even get the chance to play the Super Bowl where his brother Eli calls home, & win one in his building like Eli did to him two years ago. The main obstacle outside of Brady & Bellichek of course is his own defence. They’ve been able to hide under the explosive offence this year, but they haven’t been the same to me since they lost Elvis Dumervil during the free agency faxing fiasco. Now they’ve lost their top CB Chris Harris on top of losing Von Miller a few weeks ago, I wonder if that will be too much rope for the Patriots to grab onto. With that said, I think the Broncos will barely survive & hop on that flight to New York in two weeks.
Final Score: Broncos 34, Patriots 32
NFC – San Francisco vs Seattle
Wow, this one is hard to decide. I should be thinking the Niners will have this one in the bag, but even I can’t completely dismiss the ass kickings the Seahawks put down on them during their last two visits to Seattle. As much as it pains me to say it……..I love Seattle’s defense, I honestly do. I’ve long been a fan of their secondary led by Richard Sherman because the size they possess is abnormal from what you would normally see from the average NFL corner or safety. Also, the Niners have had a hard time during the last three years controlling MarShawn Lynch in Seattle. He has been a problem for San Fran, he’s had either a TD or 100 yards rushing in the last 5 games vs. the 49ers according to Jamey Eisenberg from CBSsports.com. Needless to say he’s the weapon that has to be neutralized. Unlike the last two times in Seattle, I think they can and they will. The Niners are the hottest team in football right now, they have all their weapons back on both sides of the ball, & are clicking on all cylinders. It’s the most anticipated game of the year, we all know how much both teams despise each other. In fact, I’m going by my friend Julian’s house (the die-hard Seahawks fan I mention a few weeks ago) to watch tonight’s game, & I’m seriously considering sneaking a tire iron in my winter jacket lining just in case things get a little too rowdy for my liking (you never know what may happen in enemy territory). Everything’s lining up to be the best game of the year, but in the end, I think San Fran’s winning streak continues. Barely.
Final Score: 49ers 30, Seattle 26
I see the Cleveland Browns have yet to sign a head coach, with potential candidates having backed out of interviews. Yup, sounds about right. After they let go of a coach after one season in what was supposed to be a rebuilding period, would you trust them??….. After last night, I’m not 100% sure that I can watch Greg Oden play much live games right now. I can’t believe he’s 25 years old because he runs like he’s 55. Looking at him running around last night, I kept cringing every time he jumped in the air, hoping he wouldn’t shatter his bones from the waist down. It’s like I was the parent who watched their 2 year old running around the house with a vase in their hands. Every step they take is potentially devastating. I’m not 100% sure this is going to end well with the Heat, but I seriously hope I’m wrong…… Paul George’s dunk last night was sweet, but still doesn’t hold a candle to Vince Carter’s dunk from back in the day…… speaking of the Pacers, I never thought I’d see the day that I would be saying that Lance Stephenson is an All Star, but here we are. It’s not even because he’s in the East either. He’s been playing extremely well all season, his confidence is through the roof, & his swagger is hovering at the maximum RPMs. If this was the 90s, he would have gotten elbowed in the face by now. It’s true and you know it. BUT he deserves to be and will be in New Orleans during the all star break….. Finally, this may sound weird coming from a Sports Blog, but I’ve always have and will continue to dislike the amount of NBA games they have on Martin Luther King holiday. It should be a time for celebration to honour the one of the greatest men to walk the planet, and in a lot of ways, we do. But when you have ten games starting from the top of the afternoon all the way to the end of the night, it can kind of distract you from paying true homage to Mr. King. It would be nice if they would cut down on the games and have them at night only, but I know the NBA would never do that. I’m not sure where this tradition started, but it should be reduced.
Cal Cee // South Shore Ave