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2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Saints vs. 49ers

The 49ers and Saints kicked off the Divisional round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs with a wild one in ‘Frisco. Here are some quick-hit reactions from the Niners’ 36-32 upset over the Saints.

San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith runs across the goal line for a fourth quarter TD against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park in the NFC divisional playoffs in San Francisco on January 14, 2012. The 49ers defeated the Saints 36-32 in a thriller. UPI/Terry Schmitt

- That was easily one of the wildest finishes I’ve seen in any game, nevertheless a postseason contest. Four touchdowns in the final four minutes? There’s nothing that beats the NFL playoffs. NOTHING I TELL YOU!

- Gregg Williams is an aggressive defensive play-caller. He has always been an aggressive defensive play-caller and will always be an aggressive defensive play-caller. He’s won a Super Bowl by being aggressive so by no means should he change his spots. That said, the Niners had 67 yards to cover with 40 seconds remaining in the game. Did Williams actually think that sending six defenders and leaving Vernon Davis in one-on-one coverage was the best play-call in that situation? Davis beat Malcolm Jenkins on the play and went 47 yards to the New Orleans’ 20-yard-line. Three plays later Alex Smith drilled a bullet to Davis for the eventual game-winning touchdown. Again, Gregg Williams needs to be aggressive or he’s not Gregg Williams. But you can still be aggressive and not leave the man who had torched you all game in one-on-one coverage while you rush over half your defense. That’s a play-call that may haunt him for the next eight months.

- Back in the day I used to write profiles for the top NFL draft prospects each year. In 2006 I absolutely fell in love with tight end Vernon Davis. I would tell everyone who would listen (which included about four people, including my own mother) that Davis was going to be a monster at the next level. He was the perfect prospect: Built like a tight end but with the speed and athleticism of a wide receiver. I used to clamor about how big of a mismatch he would be either on or off the line. Then the dude stunk for three years and those four people (including my own mother) would constantly mock me. “The perfect prospect huh? Guy looks pretty average.” Davis still hasn’t had the career I expected him to have back in ’06 but he reminded me today of why I was so high on him coming out of Maryland. The Saints couldn’t stop him, especially on the Niners’ game-wining drive. He beat a cornerback in Jenkins on that long completion that put San Francisco in scoring range and then he beat a safety in Roman Harper for the game-winning score. (A play in which Davis took an absolute shot from Harper and still hung on to the ball.) When he’s involved in the offense and playing with confidence, he’s such a weapon in the middle of the field. And now he owns the single-game playoff record for tight end yards, surpassing Kellen Winslow’s mark of 166 yards in that legendary performance against the Dolphins back in 1981.

- After his outstanding performance today (24-for-42, 299 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs), I can’t help but chuckle about all of the Alex Smith critics that have emerged over the years. “He’ll never lead a team to the playoffs!” “He’ll never win a playoff game if he’s lucky enough to get there!” “He’s not a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback!” “He isn’t contributing to his retirement fund!” Smith has been one of the most polarizing quarterbacks over the past five years and finally, after all of those different coordinators and coaches, lack of talent and confidence issues, he won his first postseason game by outperforming Drew Brees. It’s amazing when you think about it. He’ll still have plenty of doubters if he stinks up the joint next week in the NFC Championship Game, and he still has plenty of doubters now, I’m sure. But at least he’ll sleep well tonight. The guy deserves it after the show he put on today.

- Speaking of Smith, that 14-yard designed run he had was a freaking great play call. And the blocks that were executed on that play were outstanding as well. I thought that was going to be one sweet game-winning play-call but who knew that 15 more points were going to be scored?

- It’s amazing to watch Justin Smith play now compared to earlier in his career with Cincinnati. It’s like watching a completely different player. It’s not as if he was bad with the Bengals but now he’s a disruptive force and easily one of the best defensive linemen in the game. He and his ‘Frisco teammates did something that so many teams tried and failed to do this season: Bring the heat against Drew Brees. The Saints’ offense still wound up scoring a ton of points in the end but the scoreboard isn’t a true representation of how well Smith and Co. played today.

- Granted, they scored 32 points and Brees did attempt 63 passes so it’s not like Sean Payton was conservative with his offense. But the Saints don’t play with the same swagger or confidence on the road as they do at home, especially on defense. When they’re inside the Superdome, the Saints are unbeatable and unstoppable. The defense flies to the football, plays with physicality and aggression, and forces turnovers. Today, the New Orleans defense allowed 36 points and nearly 300 passing yards to a team that averaged just 183.1 yards through the air during the regular season. I said it all week: The Saints are just a different team on the road than they are at home.

- Of course, when you turn the ball over five times and spot your opponent a 17-point lead on the road, you’re not going to win most games. I don’t care how explosive the Saints’ offense is: They can’t win if they kill potential scoring drives with turnovers and sloppy play.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Daily Six-Pack: NFL Preseason Friday

NFL preseason action continues tonight with four games on the schedule. Below are six quick-hit thoughts and things to watch for during tonight’s slate of games.

1. Are the reports true about Palmer?
All indications from Bengals camp is that Carson Palmer is in the best shape of his career after missing virtually the entire 2008 season with a right elbow injury. Palmer is expected to get 12-15 snaps tonight when the Bengals travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Just as the Patriots were hoping for a strong showing from Tom Brady last night (he threw for 100 yards and 2 TDs, by the way), Cincinnati is hoping that Palmer flashes the arm strength that once made him the top overall pick. Another thing to keep an eye on is how the young Cincinnati offensive line looks in protecting Palmer. The Bengals have a physical unit in Andrew Whitworth, Anthony Collins, Kyle Cook, Nate Livings and Bobbie Williams, but they’re an inexperienced unit on a whole and Cincy would love to see some cohesion from the group tonight.

2. The starting quarterback battle for the Vikings begins tonight.
Head coach Brad Childress reported that Sage Rosenfels will get the start Friday night against the Colts, which isn’t a huge surprise considering Tarvaris Jackson missed some time in camp with a sprained knee. Still, Rosenfels getting the starting nod tonight may be an indication that he’s pulled ahead in the race for the Vikes’ starting quarterback job. Rosenfels doesn’t have a high ceiling in terms of potential, but he’s steady and could be a good game manager for a Minnesota team that is expected to keep the ball on the ground a lot with Adrian Peterson. While Jackson will certainly get his opportunity to start in preseason, a strong first impression tonight would go a long way for Rosenfels.

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65 Observations about the 2009 NFL Draft

I’m going to channel my inner Peter King and dole out a crap load of quick-hit thoughts on last weekend’s NFL draft, which by the way, was one of the more unpredictable drafts I have ever witnessed.

Below are 65 observations from the 2009 NFL Draft. Why 65? I don’t know – don’t worry about it. Originally I came up with 62, but I know that some people freak out when things aren’t in round numbers, so I added three more. But the number 65 means nothing, so don’t waste time searching for its meaning.

Obviously these are all my opinions and feel free to debate them. But before you do, I already know that it supposedly takes three seasons to fully grade a draft and that no prospect is a sure thing. Again, I’m projecting here – so lighten up and let’s strike up some good debates.

1. Outside of the fact that he’s now a millionaire and could buy a small country, I kind of feel bad for Matthew Stafford. You know some halfwit fan or media member can’t wait to utter the comment, “For $72 million, he should have made that pass.” I hate the fact that money plays such a huge role in sports because when you get down to it, completing a pass, making a catch or kicking a field goal has nothing to do with how many zeros are on your paycheck.

2. I know I’m not saying anything new here, but the rookie salary structure is a joke. When teams don’t even want a top 5 pick anymore because of the financial burden that comes with it, there’s a huge problem.

3. The kid could turn out to be the next Ryan Leaf on the field, but Lion fans have to at least take comfort in the fact that Matthew Stafford is saying all the right things at this point. He did an interview with the NFL Network on Sunday and he talked about how he wants to be a starter right away, but also wants to learn and be patient in his development. From all accounts, he looks like he has a great head on his shoulders.

4. If Tyson Jackson turns out to be the next Richard Seymour like Chiefs’ GM Scott Pioli believes, then nobody is going to remember (or care) that he was taken with the third overall pick in a weak draft class.

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Official 2009 NFL Draft Post & Rumor Mill

As the NFL draft rolls on over the next two days, I’ll post picks, thoughts and stay on top of any rumors that I hear and post them here. Enjoy.

2:55PM ET: Mike Mayock of the NFL Network claims that his “cell phone is blowing up” with reports that the Jets are trying to trade up to No. 2 for USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.

3:19PM ET: According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Dolphins will select Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler at No. 25.

3:22PM ET: The Rams could trade back into the first round for middle linebacker Rey Maualuga according to NFL Network’s Steve Wyche.

3:38PM ET: I’m shocked the Chiefs passed on Aaron Curry, but all the pre-draft rumors that said Tyson Jackson would be their pick were obviously dead on. Jackson is the best 3-4 end in the draft and obvious was a commodity.

3:40PM ET: The Browns got exactly what they wanted with this trade. They weren’t in love with anyone at No.5 and managed to trade out. Great move – I wonder what kind of ransom the Browns got.

3:42PM ET: Mike Mayock just made a great point about the Jets trading up to No. 5. What team did they want to get ahead of to go all the way up to No. 5?

3:45PM ET: DE Kenyon Coleman, QB Brett Ratliff, S Abram Elam No. 17 and No. 57. A sleeper in this deal is Elam, who is one of the more promising safeties in the draft.

3:52PM ET: The Bengals select OT Andre Smith – another low character guy for their low-character roster. He is a tremendous talent, but he comes with a ton of baggage.

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Seahawks to take Crabtree at No. 4?

Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News seems to believe that the Seahawks will take either USC quarterback Mark Sanchez or Texas Tech wideout Michael Crabtree with the No. 4 pick in this weekend’s draft.

Vacchiano also had some other interesting tidbits in his “draft hints” article.

• LSU DE Tyson Jackson will go in the Top 5. Not might. Will. This qualified as the biggest shocker, to me, since almost every mock draft I looked at pegged Jackson to be a mid- to late first-rounder at best. I thought the Top 5 was pretty locked in, too. But, of course, I shouldn’t have doubted Mr. Brandt. I asked around after the show to see if I could confirm it, and sure enough one NFL source I know did tell me he’s heard the Kansas City Chiefs might take Jackson at No. 3, or trade down and take him a few picks later.

• The Seattle Seahawks, at No. 4, will likely select either Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree or USC QB Mark Sanchez.

• The Saints, at No. 14, are looking for a big cornerback, and Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins is a good bet to be their guy.

• The New England Patriots, at No. 23 will take a linebacker.

• Oklahoma T Phil Loadholt (6-7, 332) will go in the first round of the draft. His teammate, G Duke Robinson (6-5, 330, and the top-rated guard on most boards), will not.

These are some interesting thoughts and while I don’t disagree with any of Vacchiano’s tidbits, a lot of these seem to be a stretch. Tyson Jackson will definitely go in the top 5? Phil Loadholt will be a first rounder?

The most noteworthy item in Vacchiano’s article is that the Seahawks will take either Sanchez or Crabtree at No. 4. Taking Sanchez makes sense for Seattle because Matt Hasselbeck is aging and is coming off an injury-plagued season. Crabtree makes sense because even though the Hawks signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a huge contract this offseason, Housh is 31 and would benefit from having another playmaker on the opposite side of him. (Crabtree would also arguably be the best player available at that spot.)

But does Seattle really want to sink that much money into one position? Generally speaking, NFL teams don’t like to do that – especially at the wide receiver position. I’m sticking to my guns in saying that Seattle takes offensive lineman Eugene Monroe at that pick, but I’m not shooting down anything Vacchiano wrote.

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