Thursday, October 24, 2013

Altered Universe: NFL announces schedule cancellations for several teams

New York, NY -- As part of its newly-instituted Viewer Safety Campaign, the National Football League has announced the cancellation of all remaining games for a handful of team in the 2013 season. In order to spare football fans further torture after the inept Monday night showing between the previously-winless New York Giants and 1-and-4 Minnesota Vikings, the NFL announced the forfeiture of remaining 2013 season games featuring the Vikings, as well as the winless Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the St. Louis Rams.

"The NFL has decided to take this proactive measure to protect our consumers from the mentally-abusive standard of football these teams would have otherwise produced in the coming weeks, in order to prevent the spike in depression, domestic violence incidents, and attempted suicides that is expected as a direct result of their play", league commissioner Roger Goodell said in a prepared statement.

The Vikings elicited the dubious honour of a season-ending vacation in light of repeated questionable decisions, such as the of calling 53-pass plays for newly-signed QB Josh Freeman in Monday night's game -- allowing last-year's NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson only 13 touches -- and general lackluster play this season. Minnesota's in-season hiring of several coaches from the local Twins baseball team appears to have negatively affected a number of team strategies -- such as the changing of starting quarterbacks after every game, and having one player on offense attempt to score by himself while the remaining players sit and watch -- which stand in stark contrast to all accepted concepts of American football. Prior to today's announcement, the Vikings had announced that Freeman had developed concussion symptoms as a result of trying to cram the entire playbook into his head in mere days using a repeated-blow friction-osmosis method, forcing him to the bench and continuing their quarterback rotation carousel. Freeman holds the distinction of being the only player to have personally ended the 2013 campaigns of two teams, having recently been exiled from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his disatrous play.

Arguably the league's most dysfunctional team, the Buccaneers will be free to put an immediate end the tumultuous Greg Schiano era, as is widely expected. Sources indicate that the team has hired additional security, mental health professionals, and hostage negotiators in anticipation of a possible psychotic episode from the coach upon announcement of his firing, but team officials would neither confirm nor deny the reports. Although the Buccaneers numerous big-name free agent signings this past offseason have worked to bolster their defense, it proved far from enough to offset the ironclad sinking anchor that their league-worst offense has become.

The similarly offensively-challenged Jacksonville Jaguars and their 0-7 record will now have extra time to figure out their rebuilding plans. "Given their inability over the past 10 years to steer the franchise in a remotely-positive direction, we felt it prudent to give Jacksonville the additional 3 months of offseason to work on improving their team" Goodell said. This also puts to rest the ongoing attempts by a contingent of fans in Jacksonville to force the team to sign Tim Tebow from off of the NFL scrap heap. "I want to thank the Jaguars for being gracious enough in their terrible inepitude to allow me the lengthy hope and opportunity to be signed," said Tebow from his Christian missionary indoctrination space camp in the Phillipines. "I will continue working towards my lifelong dream of completing 40% of awkward wobbly side-winder floating-duckling passes for an NFL team."

In London, the San Francisco 49ers were dismayed by the announcement that they will not get the opportunity to challenge all sorts of long-standing NFL records by pitting their imposing defense against the hilariously-punchless Jags. "We're enjoying our vacation and all the activities here" said 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, "but we were really looking forward to becoming the first [team] in NFL history to hold an opponent to a negative point total. We really felt we had a legitimate shot."

As for the St. Louis Rams, although they have 3 wins on the season, including 2 in a row just prior to this weekend's shelacking at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, the league decided to axe the rest of the Rams' season in anticipation of the steaming pile of cow dung into which Sunday's season-ending injury to QB Sam Bradford will undoubtedly sink the team. "We felt it in the best interest of the city of St. Louis to not be distracted and dismayed by the unholy heaping mess that would be taking place less than a mile away as their beloved Cardinals take the field in an important World Series swing game." First pitch for Game 5 of the World Series is scheduled for 8:07PM EST, just 23 minutes prior to the previously-scheduled start of the Rams home game versus the Seattle Seahawks. Ticket-holders for that game will be treated to a big-screen viewing of the Cardinals contest in the Edward Jones Dome, the NFL also announced. "In addition to protecting fans from the rotting corpse of a product they would undoubtedly endure, we also felt it prudent in the interest of the safety of the players, who would undoubtedly spend more time focusing on the Red Sox-Cardinals score than on the one-sided thrashing in which they were involved."

A number of other teams, such as the New York Giants and Houston Texans, were reportedly also being considered for season-ending forfeiture, but apparently made enough of a showing in recent weeks to convince the league that they were at least remotely watchable.

Fans holding tickets to the cancelled contests will not be left out in the lurch. "We are in the process of finalizing a number of events to replace the forfeited games, including one or two dates for open tryouts for identified inept roster spots, a big-top circus, and replays of Madden 25 contests involving the home team," Goodell said. "We feel these events will give home fans the best opportunity to have an enjoyable experience, and allow them to feel what it would be like to see their team perform in a remotely capable fashion."

Disclaimer: "Altered Universe" is a working name for satirical news articles featured in the "Sports From Mars" blog. Facts and events that mirror real life are included merely to support the satire; other facts and events are, again, satire.

What Will Woodson's Rotation Be?

As the 2013 NBA regular season draws near, a standing conversation is becoming louder by the moment: just who will New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson trot onto the court as his starters? And what will his rotation in general look like?

Early in the preseason, the talk was about whether reigning sixth man of the year J.R.Smith will be thrust into the starting lineup, effectively switching places with Iman Shumpert. That debate seemed rather academic to me, seeing as how 1) there's no overwhelming need for a coach to define starting roles all the way back in training camp, and 2) Smith will be starting the season wearing a suit on the sidelines recovering from knee surgery -- and then be sitting at home for an additional 5-game suspension -- anyway. We may not see the guy on the court until after Thanksgiving. Worry about that bridge when you cross it.

However, the conversation over just who the 5 starters overall will be is starting to surface. Coaches typically throw together all sorts of motley lineups early in the preseason schedule, and then, for the last two or so preseason games, start playing a reasonable facsimile of their intended regular-season rotation.

The Knicks last night played their penultimate preseason game, and for the second or third straight game, the starting frontcourt consisted of Tyson Chandler flanked by Carmelo Anthony and...Andrea Bargnani. That immediately raises the question: does Coach Woodson really intend to start Bargnani?

Though I caught his comments in passing, it seems that Woodson wasn't very happy with the Knicks defense last night. That makes the possible insertion of Bargnani, a known defensive sieve and sub-par rebounder, a scary proposition.

The starting guards last night were Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert, as Raymond Felton sat to rest, I believe, a knee, merely as precaution. It's a foregone conclusion that Felton, along with Anthony and Chandler, will be on the floor at tip-off for regular-season games. So, who question then it: who sits?

Will it be Prigioni? The guy who immediately elevated the Knicks offensive efficiency to league-best numbers upon being inserted into the starting lineup last year? Please say no. Please.

Or will it be Bargnani or Shumpert? Deciding between those two effectively comes down to a decision of offense over defense, the veil of size over the reality of actually playing to your team's strengths.

It stands to reason, given the Knicks success last year, that a Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Anthony-Chandler starting five is the best the Knicks have to offer come game time. In light of the way a panicky Woodson over-tinkered with his starting 5 during the series with the Pacers this past playoffs, I'm tending not to hold my breath. We'll see.

* Haven't paid much attention to some of the fringe teams in the NBA, so it was quite a shock to see some of the names on the Milwaukee Bucks roster last night. Caron Butler? O.J. Mayo? Luke Ridnour? Gary Neal? Zaza Pachulia? (To go along with defensive ace Larry Sanders of course) When did all of that happen? Was I writing about A-Rod that day? On paper, that's an interesting-sounding lineup. A far cry from the Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis shoot-till-you-drop team. No, I'm not crazy enough to think this team has championship aspirations, but, apart from that, I have no idea where their ceiling -- or their floor -- is. Intriguing.

Just a few thoughts. Back to the NFL we go...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

NFL Week 6: Ravenous Fanbase Devours Quarterback: 2013 Edition

This is slowly becoming a yearly ritual: A beleagured quarterback, underperforming in the opinions -- sometimes valid, oftentimes invalid, or at least exaggerated -- of fans. A fanbase runs out of patience, and barks wildly for a change -- regardless if the backup QB is by any measure of common sense a worse option. A tenable hate-hate relationship that has been brewing for months finally boils over, and a multitude fans get to show their (lack of cl)ass. Last year it was Matt Cassell in Kansas City, cheered after being felled by an injury in his own home stadium. This year -- at basically the identical point in the season no less -- it is Houston and Matt Schaub.

Now, Sunday's performance by the Texans, at home, against the until-then pushover St. Louis Rams, was certainly a debacle of immense proportions. The Texans gained twice as many yards as the Rams, yet the Rams were able to score 3 times as many points, thanks to multiple penalties and 3 deep-in-opposing-territory turnovers -- none of which were attributed to Schaub. In the midst of a statistically-good, interception-free game, Shaub's leg and ankle get pinned under him while taking a sack. As Schaub limps off the field, many -- enough to be easily heard at least -- in Houston's now ravenous, vulture-like fanbase began to cheer. When backup QB T.J. Yates jogged in to replace him, the cheers doubled in volume and intensity.

Is this where we've devolved to as a society? Easy answer: yes. It was but 2 or so weeks ago that some Texan fan showed up at Schaub's private home, and, by some reports, chewed and/or cursed him out, by others, simply took pictures. You'll forgive us on Mars if we tend to believe the more numerous reports of the former. How long until one of these confrontations turn violent? How long until some fan finally makes good on a Twitter threat? I think that day is coming. These things can't keep happening without eventually spilling over. I hope and pray that I am completely wrong here.

However, the sad took a turn for the comically-fateful when Yates, merely a few plays later, threw a 98-yard pick-6 (something Schaub had finally avoided for the first time in 5 games). And then, a few minutes later, threw another costly interception. Sweet justice, if even you have to shed a tear for Yates' golden opportunity gone sour. Schaub, like many of the other unreasonably-beleagured QBs, is a good, quality signal-caller, one going thru a bad stretch. For him (4 straight games with a pick-6), a horrifically-bad stretch even. But there's no reason to act petulantly and throw out the baby with the bathwater. There is no sensible measure that says the Texans are a better team with T.J. Yates under center than Schaub. The job is only Schaub's to lose -- if he can't right whatever mental blocks he's going thru -- not Yates to win. Give the guy a chance to come thru the other side of the fire.

Of course, we're seeing the ignorant, there-is-a-reason-why-you-don't-make-personnel-decisions fan all over the place. In San Francisco, *some* so-called fans are calling for the end of Kaepernick, judging him for having the audacity to not throw to receivers who can't get open. In New York, some fans are actually calling for the end of 2-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. Take a moment to digest that. Meanwhile, others are saying to dump high-draft rookie Geno Smith in favour of undrafted rookie Matt Simms, because the former has the gall to make rookie mistakes now and again.

Earth would be a much, much better sportsworld if the only occasion that saw fans uttering the names of professional ballplayers would be when discussing potential trades on their pointless fantasy teams.

- Hater Alert #1:
New Orleans Saints inability to move the ball in the 4th quarter, giving an inconsistent Tom Brady and his New Englanders multiple chances to win. *rolls eyes*

- Hater Alert #2:
Detroit Tigers inability to protect a 4-run 8th inning lead against a team being no-hit in 15 of the 16 innings so far, letting the Boston Red Sox jog around the bases and right back into the ALCS. *rolls eyes*

Would you teams please kill the monster when you have the chance? (It's a New York/Boston rivalry thing. If you don't know, under which rock should we mail you your personalized sports almanac?)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sportswriting Moro, uh, Jerk Of The Year

Where do I begin? Sigh. In this blog, I have made it a frequent point to lambaste examples of poor sportswriting; the misguided subjective diatribes masquerading as informed opinions, the lazy and non-existent fact-checking, the histrionics and short-sighted analysis of teams and players. I have pointed to well-known analysts and obscure just-for-fun bloggers like myself.

At no time, however, can I recall any of those nominations going to ESPN's Rick Reilly, a journalist with a pretty lengthy career and respectable resume. Even when he recently penned a long article in defense of the (in the minds of many, offensive) team name of the Washington NFL franchise, I didn't feel remotely compelled to take him to task. I did however send him an email, specifically pointing out the silliness of his equating a slur based on a physical characteristic (skin colour) with that of more grammatically (though certainly not historically) benign nicknames like "Chiefs" and "Braves".

Beyond that though, his article, while certainly one-sided and agenda-driven, did include enough objective evidence (in terms of opinions and quotes of people involved; ironic though: can subjective opinions really be considered objective evidence? In this case it seems so.) to make it a supportable article. So much so I began my email to him by commending his usual penchant to construct well-thought out articles.

Sadly, a startling new revelation has brought that measure of respect to an end. In a nutshell, Reilly apparently completely twisted words of his own father-in-law before including them to support his article's viewpoint. Then, to make matters worse, he refused to retract his out-of-context, opinion-negating quoting, forcing said wife's father to pen an article to clarify his words and clear his name.

Seriously. How low does one have to sink to completely use their own father in law like this? This is utterly despicable. He had dozens of quotes from people within the Native American community from which to draw. However, pull at our heartstrings to make it personal, he dragged his wife's father into his web, sullied the man's name, and then refused to apologize for it.

Let's grant for a moment that he misheard his 2nd dad, and really did believe the alleged misquote. The insult to injury comes with not believing AN ELDER at their word when they clarify their position. When the child refuses to respect the elder...well, is there any greater microcosm into what is wrong with this country?

Tragically, can there possibly a better illustration of the crux of the debate over the franchises name than this episode, than Reilly's cretinous behaviour? The use of Native American imagery as a minstrel show, the insensitivity, the twisting of accounts to fit an agenda, the total unapologetic lack of respect?

This episode is so egregious, you almost begin to wonder if it's a completely-intentional allegory to the name-debate. Perfection doesn't come along this clearly very often.

There's so much more I could say about this, but I'll leave Reilly's actions to speak for themselves. In fact, I end by linking to the father-in-law's statement of self-defense, as I respectful yield to an elder's any warm-blooded human ought to do.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

September Champions

In a recent blog post, I mentioned that an acquaintance of mine has all but written a blood oath declaration that the Denver Broncos will win the Super Bowl and take home the Lombardi Trophy this coming February. That he made said declaration after the first Thursday night game (between the Broncos and Ravens) -- before the other 30 teams had even played a down -- made it all the more histrionic; but, to his credit -- I suppose -- and to my chagrin, he has kept up the missive in full force thru the 4 weeks of NFL action since.

I've yet to see him since this past weekend's arena football match between the Broncos and Dallas Cowboys, but something tells me he'll continue the verbal charge, even in the light of the damning evidence the game may have uncovered on the Bronco defense (500+ passing yards, 48 points surrendered).

In light of 5-0 Denver's upcoming scrimmage with the NFL's practice squad -- otherwise known as the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars -- the ESPN "Did You Know?" fairy saw fit to grant me a little nugget of NFL statistical history when I visited their homepage this morning:
*quote*Did you know? During the Super Bowl era, 53 teams have started 6-0; 49 made playoffs, 24 made Super Bowl and 13 have won the Super Bowl.*quote*

Oh my. For those of you that need to see the percentages (and my recent saddening discovery that someone actually saw the need to write a webpage where one can enter two numbers and have percentages calculated <i>for them</i> -- as opposed to, say, using the division button included on the calculator of every phone made in the past decade -- says some of you will), that's an iron-clad 92% success rate of making the playoffs, dropping of to a less-than-every-other 45% success rate of making it to the big game, and a 24% rate of actually winning the whole thing. In short, less than 1 out of every 4 teams that have started 6-0 have gone on to win the Super Bowl.

Granted, past failures are no guarantee of future ones, and I am certainly not one to focus solely on historical trends while ignoring individual cases. However, the trends do point to some salient points. The NFL season, while short on the calendar, is rather long in every other sports measure, and teams are all but certain to run into difficulties as the season progresses. The past two NFL champs (Giants of 2012 and Ravens of 2013) illustrate that point to a tee. So, if your team doesn't encounter those stumbling blocks early, rest assured, they are in all likelihood laying in wait for you. It's very, very hard, and very, very rare, to go thru an entire season unscathed. Those 18-1 New England Patriots can tell you a thing or two about that.

For the moment, however, do let us look at the specific case of the 2013 Denver Broncos. Specifically, let's look at their opening schedule to date: vs. Ravens, at Giants, vs. Raiders, vs. Eagles, at Cowboys. Hmm. After the now 3-2 defending champs, with their wholly-remanufactured defense featuring a bevy of rookies (that were only ranked 17th in yards against last year to begin with), come a gaggle of 2-3 teams and a winless doormat. The Ravens defense is currently ranked 15th in yards against; the Raiders are 20th, the Giants are 28th, the Cowboys 30th, and the Eagles dead-last at 32nd. We're supposed to be floored, shocked and awed that Manning has feasted on these defenses? Awed at the numbers, certainly, but surprised? Come on.

It certainly doesn't bode any better for the Broncos that they slot right in between those no-hope-for-help defenses at a shoddy 31st.

As far as pass defense specifically, just ahead of Denver's bottom-of-the-barrell secondary rank the Cowboys and Raiders, with the Giants and Eagles clocking in at 25th and 24th, and Baltimore at a more-palatable 18th. So, Manning and the flying horses have chewed up yards like a field of hay against teams that coincidentally give up passing yards to everyone. Let's take another pause to feign surprise. What's really damning, again, on the flip side of that is that the Broncos pass defense has earned their league-worst 32nd ranking by out-yielding the rest of the league by a full 100 yards. Ouch.

Ironically, the Jaguars defense has given up roughly the 10th-fewest passing yards in the league; it's their 32nd-rated run defense that is giving them problems. Something in the air tells us that they'll find a way to hemorrhage points to Denver, even at home, regardless. After that, Denver hosts the Indianapolis Colts, ranked somewhere around 6th in passing yards. Could we see a slowing of the Pony Pass Express over the next couple of weekends? I wouldn't necessarily hold my breath or bet the house, but it wouldn't be all that surprising either, given the level of competition -- if you can call it that -- that their pass offense has faced so far.

Either way, the annals of NFL history are littered with the carcasses of teams that looked like world-beaters in September. If you don't mind, can we hold off on etching names into trophies until the calendar turns over at least? Thanks. We're all well aware of Peyton Manning's less than stellar record when gametime temperatures dip below 40 degrees. (Why did he choose Denver over, say, the Dolphins anyways? There is something to be said for ignoring past history, sure. There's also something to be said for needlessly fighting against it.) Need we mention that the high-flying pass-happy Broncos play in a state best known as a snow-skiing paradise? That this year's Super Bowl is being held in New Jersey? Outdoors? In February?

I'm just saying.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Week 6: Smashmouth Returns, While Wacky Pass-Happiness Still All The Rage

Ahh, theeeere's the San Francisco 49ers team we all (well, ok, some of us) know and love. Running the football, hardnosed defense, protecting the football, ball-control, field-position...all that equals a total domination effort, in primetime no less. More on them in another blogpost.

- Wacky pass-happiness still rules the airwaves
Another weekend, another bout of excitement over the exploits of the Manning Flying Horses. After the first Thursday-night game, a friend of mine ridiculously penned them in for the Lombardi trophy. That's: penned, not penciled. And: first game, not even the first weekend of games. And has touted them as invincible every weekend since. I've yet to talk to him after Sunday's 7-on-7 drill game, up 500 yards to anyone is mayyybe just a bit of a reason for concern. Having fun throwing the ball all over the field? Your soon-to-be increasing-in-quality opponents might be getting in on the fun if your defense doesn't shape up, and fast. Should we remind everyone how and why Denver's 2013 playoff run ended?

Now, while everyone gets excited by yet another early-regular-season high-flying offense (haven't we gone thru this each and EVERY year for like the past 5-6 years? Patriots? Packers? Saints? Broncos?), I've just been going around reminding people where this season's Super Bowl is being held. In New Jersey. Outdoors. In February. Having fun throwing the ball all over the field? Yea, good luck with that come Christmas-time.

Right now, to me, the real team to be fearful of just might be the New Orleans Saints. Why? Simple: 18. That's the most points a team has scored against them thru the first 5 games. It's still early, and their opponents haven't all offensive juggernauts, but the possibility that that continues to hold up, coupled with an offense with the ability to be wacky-pass-happy, is nevertheless Halloween-scary.

- Advice for the Cowboys
Get a closer. You know, like in baseball? Where you only expect to get 80-90% of the game from even your best pitcher? Yea, like that. Look, we've seen plenty of people bash Tony Romo over the years. And plenty of people using silly things like facts and reality to point out that he's been really, really good over the course of his career. But c'mon. 10 game-changing turnovers can't be all wrong. I'm not saying dump the guy. I'm not saying he sucks. Run him out there for your games. Run him out there even in the 4th quarter. Let him get you that late-game lead. But when that lead needs protecting? Go to your bullpen. It's crazy, it's radical, I know. But so is the penchant of a QB to be so impressively good, yet manage to make throwing a game-deciding INT about as surprising as this morning's sunrise.

- New York Jets, the Sitcom, Season 2 continues
My enjoyment following the Jets has taken a surprising turn. Who would've thought they could be just as comically-enthralling by actually being goo...okay, well, competent? They're like the plucky little engine that could at this point. First there was the Geno-Sanchez duel, ended not-so-ironically by another Rex Ryan misstep. Then there was the can-he can't-he Geno growing pain weeks. And now? A game-winning drive against a defending conference-game participant? (So what if the Falcons a complete shell of themselves)

Given the way Atlanta was yielding to the Geno-led offense, I am proud to say that, after Atlanta's good-ahead TD, I proclaimed declaratively: "they left too much time on the clock for Geno!" (100 seconds or so were left in the game). I have the facebook post to prove it. And sure enough: pass, pass, pass, run, and the Jets were lining up for a game-winning FG with 3 seconds left. I cheered with the Jets fanbase when it sailed thru. How can you not enjoy the glass-is-getting-fuller growing optimism? Actually, for the sake of accuracy, every bit of the optimistic feeling surrounding the Jets early-season success is made possible by how completely horrid the Giants have been to this point. In being bad -- historically bad to date, the Giants have somehow made the Jets' decent-ness just as comical to me as their former struggles. I can't explain it really. It

- Meanwhile, down in the city of Atlanta...
Wow, what a weekend for the Peach State. First, on Saturday, Georgia Tech lost 45-30, and Georgia State was mauled 45-3. Then, Sunday, the Atlanta Dream were down by as many as 30 points on the way to losing game 1 of the WNBA Finals by 25. Fast forward another 24 hours, and the beloved Braves took a 1-run lead into the 8th inning before being eliminated from the playoffs with 2-out, 2-run HR. Minutes later, the Falcons were dropped to 1-4 by the Jets' come-from-behind FG as time expired. And just for good measure, the new-look Hawks whittled a 22-point lead down to 2 before losing their preseason opener earlier in the evening.

With so many sports in so many cities around the country, I'm sure the stars mis-align now and again for a city here and there, but...ouch. That is what you call thorough; did I miss any sports? Is the MLS still playing? I can't think of a single place an Atlanta sports fan could've gone to sooth their wounds last weekend. Is it piling on if I mention that the Winnipeg Jets -- who until 2 years ago called Atlanta their home -- also lost? Ok ok, I'll stop.

Incidentally, speaking of shattered Dreams, Atlanta's WNBA franchise has made it to the Finals 3 times in the last 4 years (2010, 2011). To date, they've yet to win even 0-7 after Sunday night's thrashing. If they get swept again? Time to add them to Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Pau-Gasol-Memphis-Grizzlies playoff lore (yes, I know, "no one" cares about WNBA...except the thousands and thousands of people that *do* care. It's still sports. No need to be a chauvinistic asshole about it.)

- Ravens 16th and 17th last year. Who knew?
As I began looking up the numbers to "prove" that only teams with good defenses make it to the big game, I immediately ran smack into last year's Ravens squad, who for the regular season was ranked 17th in total yards allowed (and 16th in yards gained offense incidentally). Coupled with the Giants of a couple years ago ranking near the bottom of the league (though mostly because of injury) before going on to win the big one, there went the iron-cladness of that theory. However, it should be noted, as implied, that the Giants played much, much better defense once health was on their side in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl. The Ravens, they were able to do, well, just enough to eek out wins in a stereotypical Cinderella, preordained-win season. Other than that? I suppose those are the exceptions to prove the rule.

We'll see if a middling-defense, pass-happy team can finally turn 50 years of Super Bowl history on its ear. Because surely that day is coming, right? Right?


The Long View on the Bay

After the San Francisco 49ers' convincing Sunday night win over the Texans, I saw quite a few 49er fans taking the overly-pessimistic view of the game and season so far, particularly with respect to the struggles of the passing game. It was rather annoying to see, what with so much positive to take and build from this game. Yes, Kaepernick is not putting up big stats at the moment. Yes, as one ridiculous writer quipped in his Week 6 rankings, 6-15 looks like Tim Tebow numbers. But let's try for a second to not be all doom and gloom here.

The Texans coming into the game had the number one rated defense in terms of yards against. They've made everyone look pedestrian this year. Kaep did have a couple of miscues, including a missed rather-open hookup with Vernon Davis. But is it a shock to see a QB-receiver tandem take a little time to get their timing back after the latter being out for basically 3 weeks? Not really, especially considering their perfectly-in-stride TD hookup later in the game. And, even though it ended up as a completion, one couldn't be thrilled with the pass completed to Bouldin that went right thru a well-covering DB's hands -- credit Anquan though with great concentration there. But I was buoyed by Kaep's sideline-incomplete connection with Jon Baldwin, and another pass to Boldin that he couldn't quite come up with. Both passes were to well-covered receivers that Kaep however put precisely where only the 49er could make a play on the ball. There was another sideline pass to Davis that fits that description now that I recall. Overall, Kaep made some good throws. It's not all doom and gloom. The complete shutdown of the passing game for the two losses was certainly a result of Davis' injury reducing the receiving core to Boldin, Boldin, Boldin, Boldin and Boldin.

Beyond that, the running game is slowly coming to life, with the O-line playing better to create those opportunities. There's room for more improvement, but they're starting to create those holes for the backs.

As for the defense, what can you say? They're working their way through the early season injuries, with the guys filling in getting more comfortable, and better, with every rep. That a defense missing Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith can pitch a near shutout against a quality (not great, but quality) offense is saying something. Navarro Bowman is making noise...lots of noise. And, while it's early and I don't wanna jump to conclusions, the DBs are looking formidable right now. My resident 49er-hater loves to question our secondary based on the Asomugha signing...but now, he may not have that analytic luxury any more. Tramaine Brock has certainly staked his claim to the starting lineup while Asomugha's been out, and Harbaugh has indicated every bit as much in his remarks since Sunday's game. Eric Reid is quickly closing 49er-fan exit wounds left by Dashan Goldson. Personally, Reid is looking like a bonafide, team's-first-pick-of-a-draft-worthy stud. Overall, the defensive backfield, which oftentimes last year looked like the one weak link on an otherwise great defense, is looking formidable.

The next positive is one I've seen discussed by absolutely no one, which, given its importance, is a crime: the penalties. We had 3 all game long against Houston. Three? Three?!? Incredible! -- for us that is. (And really, I didn't agree with the one pass-interference call that was made at all, so in my mind, that was only two legitimate penalties the team earned.) That is by far the cleanest game, penalty-wise, this team has played in I-don't-know-how long. Penalties have long been the unmentioned elephant(s) in the room with this team, constantly breathing life into opponents' killed drives, repeatedly driving stakes into offensive momentum, and I was relieved to the point of yelling "finally!" when Harbaugh spoke about it publicly for the first time a couple weeks ago. For the issue to resolve itself, if only for a week, so resoundingly, is promising to say the least.

As I said, there were a lot of positives to carry forward from Sunday night's game. I don't get why there was so much glass-half-empty, short-sighted commentary among the fan base in its wake.

Ironically, a day later, when Coach Harbaugh gave his optimistic opinion that recovering WR Michael Crabtree might be ready to return by the end of November, 49er fans en masse surprised me by posting comments to the tune of "take your time", "no need to rush back, we got this", "just get healthy". A conservative, longterm view from fans? Unheard of. The Derrick Rose fanbase would be mystified.

Go figure.

The season's got a long way to go, but the view is slowly starting to take a turn for the positive on the 49er side of the Bay.