It's hard to pick against New England. And then I'm almost surprised when they stumble. When they do lose, they're usually right there in the end. Not today. Baltimore pulled away, stopping all of Tom Brady's usual fine engineering. No matter what's going on, we can't tell by looking at Patriot coach Bill Belichick.
***Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons played true to form, in the end. I'm not one of the Matt Ryan doubters. But as a whole, the Falcons are like Tiger Woods in his prime. They simply play better when they are blowing people out.
When things get tight or go wrong, more often than not Atlanta will freeze up. Unfortunately, that is the character of this talented team. They escaped against Seattle a week ago. Could see the relief in Ryan's face postgame. NFC champ San Francisco had a little more comeback gas in the tank today.
A few years ago, coach Jon Gruden got put in split-screens with Chucky the killer doll. He keeps getting asked to climb out of the TV booth and coach again, but won't. The NFL has its new Chucky--the super-intense, throw his venti Starbucks against the wall because it's too sweet, slap an opposing coach's behind like he's beating a rug type.
We're talking about 49er coach Jim Harbaugh. I'm sure he's not really an unbalanced lunatic control freak; he just plays one on TV.
***Why no outcry about offensive players ducking their heads and causing some of these head collisions?
During the New England-Baltimore game, Stevan Ridley clearly lowered his helmet before losing the football on contact. Players like Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead did it during that game, too--hunching forward to meet the tackler. They should have to adjust, same as the defenders.
Michael Wilbon has a phrase that puts it best (paraphrase): The NFL has legislated defense out of football. That is partly responsible for the recent rash of broken offensive records and rookie quarterbacks who play like five-year vets. But there seems to be a movement by most sports media: Ignore the decade-long cumulative effect of rule changes, bent on (1) making the game "safer", and (2) making the game offense-packed and fan-friendly.
The result of this is a weird spirit of seeing the defense as a sort of bad guy, guilty until proven innocent at all times. The number of defensive penalties in the game the last few season has changed the whole feel of pro football games.
Ridley put himself in a life-threatening position, and no one has batted an eye about it (except me). If Ridley had been laid out for more than a moment, hushing all of the spectators, there would be more fake outrage over safety. But violence will not be legislated out of this game.
2012 season, Week 13.
2012 season, Week 5.
Replacement referees, replaced.