The Conference Championships

As most fans know, the Denver Broncos won at home at Mile High Stadium over the New England Patriots 26-16. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning capped one of the best years ever for a quarterback by reaching the Super Bowl at the football Giant’s Stadium in New Jersey on February 2nd.

Payton Manning broke the single season record for most touchdowns and most regular season passing yardage. He also beat his great nemesis Patriot quarterback Tom Brady (whose touchdown record he broke). I felt New England had a shot at winning the game on a very cold, icy day or a snowy day. But, Colorado was sparkling with sunshine and the Broncos sparkled too.

Only Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady could have gotten their lackluster player roster to the AFC Championship game. Belichick looked like the proprietor of the Bates Motel when he got irritated at his team after they screwed up a punt in the driving rain when they played the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Playoff game.

The San Francisco 49ers game against the Seattle Seahawks at Centurylink Stadium in Seattle was a bare knuckle brawl of a football game. The Seahawks ground out a 23-17 win. The fierce defensive struggle went down to the last 15 seconds. 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an end zone pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman (a wide receiver for Stanford in his college career) deflected the pass with his fingertip. Game over.

It is the third consecutive year that the 49ers have reached the NFC title game. Coach Jim Harbaugh is the only coach to have so much success in his first three years in the NFL.

Part of his singular accomplishment is due to a poor decade of football in the ten years before he arrived and the high draft choices the 49ers accumulated who needed some top-notch leadership. A larger part of his success is his excellent coaching ability, plus, his character and his heart. Coach Harbaugh, a “quarterback whisperer,” wanted his own guy who he selected in the second round, Colin Kaepernick, to be his quarterback. But, he was sensitive to the fact that former 49er quarterback Alex Smith helped his team learn his system. I think he made sure when he traded Alex Smith that he would have a soft landing with a competitive Kansas City Chiefs team and a smart, affable coach.

This great team of 2013-2014 will never be together again because Kaepernick is due a huge salary increase. Some players will be traded for salary cap reasons. With a first round pick and two second round picks, the 49ers will have an opportunity to select in the draft a shutdown cornerback and a receiver with real breakaway speed and good hands. Probably like you, I want them to hang on to everybody. But, especially, old-timers like Anquan Boldin are always ready to enter the fray. Defensive tackle Justin Smith at age 34 still has two more fine years. And, don’t let outstanding safety Dante Whitner go.

I hope the offensive coordinator does get a head coaching job. Let this genius be too conservative on some other team. And take his thousands of plays with him.

It was apparent to everyone that Kaepernick had to run often to bring Seahawk defenders towards him to assist his receivers in getting open.

Kaepernick is a high-spirited stallion, a magnificent athlete. But he is yet too raw to be a pocket passer which means going through a progression of reads to find his correct receiver. He can run with the wind and he is strong and tough. So they should use his skills in a championship game for the entire team. They should not let their concern about having a potentially injured quarterback for the Super Bowl make them conservative.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman let his quarterback run free in the first half of the game and they led 10-3.

Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw spoke to Roman at half time about Kaepernick. Bradshaw told Roman not to go too conservative with Kaepernick. Don’t try to milk the clock. Joe Buck, the TV announcer said to color commentator Troy Aikman, “Don’t you think Roman could let the quarterback run a little bit like he did in the first half?” Aikman said, “Like all the other quarterbacks in the league, they want to stay away from Richard Sherman.”

The officiating this season and this game in particular was not good; it was poor. There were two penalties in the second half that were crucial to the 49ers when the team was still clicking and optimistic. Punter Andy Lee was roughed up by a Seahawk because his plant leg was hit. Instead the refs called a five-yard penalty for hitting the kicking leg. It would have been first down with a correct call. It was important because it was so clear what infraction had occurred.

The other blown call was that Navarro Bowman wrestled away the football from a Seahawk’s running back who was still standing and controlled the pigskin to the turf. The refs called it a fumble and the Seahawks still had the ball. Plus 49ers standout Navorro Bowman had his knee blown out on the play and he’ll need knee surgery in the off season.

The first jewel I recognized as the beginning of this new and successful 49er program was Patrick Willis, then Joe Staley and Frank Gore. Receiver Michael Crabtree’s toughness has been a pleasant surprise to me. I hope they can find the drive and the energy next season to keep fighting for the ring. Every coach on the 49er staff should recognize that each and every group of players they have is its own distinct team and not just an extension of a corporation that must be preserved for next season.

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