Mark Gray was born in England, grew up in Northern California and now lives in Seattle. He is one of the hardcore 49ers fans that I put up with on a daily basis. We exchange emails any time the Packers and 49ers play in a big game. Here is our exchange 5 days ahead of the divisional playoff matchup in San Francisco.
Happy New Year and Worst of luck for this week to you! I do believe that me wishing you those two things doesn’t make me hypocritical. It is not incongruent to wish you a happy 2013 while wishing for a flailing pathetic performance on Saturday by that football team you root for at that unsafe dump of a stadium your team calls home.
Last year we both liked our respective teams a lot going into divisional playoffs weekend and did this in anticipation of a conference championship matchup. My beloved Packers didn’t keep up their end of the bargain then while Alex Smith turned in to Superman for one Saturday to take you closer to the Superbowl than you had been in ages. Since our over 10,000 word conversation last year (for a mythical matchup that never even materialized) attracted over 500 unique readers, I thought we should do it again. Especially when they are actually playing each other……
To my eyes, the Packers have looked a very fun and good but flawed team all year. Their offensive performance has been eerily similar to 2011 except they had a harder schedule this season. Four of their losses were to playoff teams and a fifth loss was to the Giants who were a good team coming off a bye. The defense and special teams have been a lot better and more consistent giving me hope that they are a more well-rounded team than last year. The thing that strikes me most about this team week-to-week is their consistency and predictability. Week after week I know that they will struggle to run the ball and will also struggle to protect Rodgers over four quarters. Most weeks this won’t matter. Week after week I also know that Rodgers and an insanely gifted group of pass catchers will make beautiful music keeping the team afloat and usually winning. The defense will bend but not break and Mason Crosby (the worst kicker (21/33 attempts) in the league by far) will somehow magically stay on the team in spite of a million screwups. He’s got to have some sleazy Mccarthy pictures. There’s no other reason plausible…
In Vegas’ eyes your guys are favored by 3 which I think is underselling your team a bit. Home field advantage is worth three points in the bookmakers’ eyes and I think this 49ers team is better than just a marginal home favorite. I’d have guessed the line to be 4 or 4.5 even. It’s because I have the utmost respect (and hatred) for Jim Harbaugh. Earlier in the season I wrote this piece calling him the Steve Jobs of the league. Since then I have watched a half-dozen 49ers games and my respect for him has only grown. His playcalling is innovative and functional. His use of timeouts and challenges is enviable and optimal. He does enough to get under the opposition’s nerves while also inspiring his roster to perform to their fullest. He has coddled and handled a Randy Moss incredibly well while demoting and demeaning a sulking Brandon Jacobs. On top of all this he has lucked into starting a playmaker quarterback thus eliminating the one factor that may have been beyond Harbaugh-ization in the playoffs – Alex Smith!
I respect Mccarthy and Rodgers a lot and am glad I root for an organization that employs them. But I just don’t think even they on their best days can keep up with Jim Harbaugh at home on two weeks’ rest. That’s my early week first thought. I so hope I am wrong.
How do you feel? How do you sleep at night knowing you’re rooting for evil and how many good defensive backs does your team have?
Go Pack, Go
It’s not as much fun to pick apart your Rodgers-love-blinded-words if you don’t actually send me the emails, but I’ll do my best.
I have to go back one year, of course, to the matchup that never was. Shyam was cocksure and thought the Packers were invincible, looking ahead to the NFC championship matchup with the 49ers in Lambeau. Oh, the smack talk. Funny thing was that Rodgers and co. didn’t live up to Shyam’s perception. The Giants got in the way, beating the Packers and 49ers on their way to another Superbowl.
On the other hand, I was confident in Harbaugh’s boys as they matched up against the Saints (in SF) and looked forward to that matchup in Green Bay. But again, those pesky Giants. After they took down the Packers, I was worried. It’s so rare for two teams to match up twice in the same season and for there to be a sweep – not with the level of parity and the week-to-week variation that makes football so difficult to analyze objectively. (Did anyone mention the turf in FedEx field as a major factor in the Hawks-Skins game?) I would probably have been happier if the Niners lost to the Giants earlier in the season, but alas my team bobbled that golden opportunity for another Superbowl after such a long and painful drought. (And if Alex Smith won a Superbowl, would Harbs really have courted Peyton and had such an itchy trigger finger for Kaep?)
Although I wasn’t surprise the Niners lost that game, I was sure bummed about it. Especially it went down, with only one or two plays making such a huge difference (not to mention Roman’s election to go into Extreme Offensive Conservativeness when aggression was sorely needed). I will forever think that last postseason was Harb’s best chance to win it all….
So let’s fast-forward to this year, with a disgusted feeling after watching the Sea-thugs beat up the Redskins. [I remember now why I don’t like the Hawks: they always strike me as a bunch of thugs. Yeah, the NFL is a sport for thugs, but at least most of them respect each other Suh. Plus, I’m deep in Seahawks territory, and I’m no turncoat no matter how many times my wife insists that our kids and I should support the Seahawks because we live in WA. (She just doesn’t get it.)] Anyway, after that first quarter, I’m thinking something like #LOLseahawks, but the rest of the game was #LOLme for thinking the Redskins had a chance at home. (Because I’m now trained to think in hashtags.) So the Hawks are going to Atlanta, and does anyone have the Falcons winning that game? #LOLfalcons
With that reflection aside, we can get back to what really matters. That Thing we discussed this time last year is finally coming to pass. Well, not really. That thing actually happened in September, and it didn’t turn out so well for the Shyam’s beloved. Reviewing that game’s box score and recap, it sure looked like a great performance by Alex Smith and the 49ers in a hostile environment, with the D dominating until the 4th quarter (I wish the “prevent” defense was removed from their playbook – Brady abused it the same way a couple of weeks ago to turn another dominating performance into a nail-biter and almost a historic upset). Here we are almost eighteen weeks later, and we’re about to dance again. The venue is different, and the stakes are much higher (who wants to face the Sea-thugs for the NFC title?), but not too much else has changed. Okay, yes, a lot has changed as Rodgers best buddy, Mr. Manager (first name, Game) is now #2 and Kaeptain Excitement is now QB for the San Francisco 49ers. Only, funny thing: Kaep’s stats aren’t really that much different from Alex Smith’s. So, I dunno, it seems like a wash.
What really worries me these days, besides David Akers’ crotch, is that the 49ers seem to be down to Crabs and a few old barnacles as a WR group – just like last year. Although last year around this time was VD’s coming-out party – as if Roman purposely ignored Vernon all season to set him up for that game against the Saints, maybe he’s doing the same again this year. Davis’ stats sure seem to back that up. Much like the Packers, the 49ers seem a lot like they did last year, only a little bit worse. And not quite as lucky with the turnovers, as one would expect. I haven’t been hugely confident in this year’s team because they haven’t really dominated like they did last year. Sure, they had a tougher schedule and they surprised no one this year, but something makes me hesitant about this 49ers team. Something just doesn’t seem right, starting with their lack of a real winning streak….
I’m definitely not (over) confident to the extent of my own dance partner in this discussion, but maybe that’s still the bad taste of sucking for seven years weighing on my mind. This Saturday’s game will be a good one, better than all of these wildcard games combined, I suspect. Maybe a game to match Saints-49ers last year…?
P.S. Congrats to the Packers for putting the Vikes in their place. They didn’t let AP break one out, and their second-string QB had no chance to make the Packers D pay for stacking the box. Well executed, and now the real fun begins.
P.P.S. Thanks for the bye! Justin Smith will personally thank you on Saturday! Special delivery by way of Aldon Smith.