Conventional wisdom says the San Francisco 49ers need to score touchdowns, not field goals, to defeat the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs Saturday.
But if the 49ers play the game their way, on their terms, they'll win with David Akers hitting at least a couple field goals — perhaps even the game-winner. After all, Akers set a 49ers franchise record for scoring on his way to the Pro Bowl this season.
ESPN's Rick Reilly explains why that would be a fitting scenario after all the Akers family has been through over the last year. Just one year ago, doctors discovered that Akers' 6-year-old daughter had a cancerous tumor. Akers himself had lost most of his career earnings to a fraudulent investor. He missed two field-goal attempts during the Eagles' 21-16 playoff defeat and soon found himself out of work. Reilly: "So there it was, the trifecta — nearly broke, a sick kid at home and silently dumped by the team he'd given 12 terrific years. Akers is a guy who's insecure about his footing in the NFL anyway. He'd been a waiter at a Longhorn Steakhouse in Atlanta, a substitute teacher and a kicker for NFL Europe in Berlin, where he nearly died during a one-month hospital stay for salmonella. The man who saved him from that life was then-Philadelphia special teams coach John Harbaugh, who called him up for a tryout in 1998. Akers stuck. And he's been terribly fond of Harbaughs ever since."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News goes back in time with 49ers legends as they reminisce on the 30th anniversary of Dwight Clark's winning catch from Joe Montana in the NFC title game against Dallas.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Clark sees parallels between that 1981 team and the current one. Clark: "It's way similar. We shocked everybody that year and this team has shocked everybody. I see similarities between Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh. Bill was a genius. Harbaugh comes up with some schematic thing on the field and I shake my head and say, 'Where the hell did he come up with that?' They have a similar way of creating plays."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' search for a coach and general manager. Tennessee's Lake Dawson interviewed for the GM job, Atlanta's Les Snead was on his way to do so and Arizona's Steve Keim was also expected to interview. Thomas: "Meanwhile, the Rams expressed interest in Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, but Gruden quickly let it be known that he's staying put with the Bengals and would not interview for any head-coaching jobs." Noted: Keim would fit best if the Rams hired Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton as head coach. Dawson would fit best if the Rams hired Jeff Fisher.
Also from Thomas: a chat transcript with a different take on how much money the Rams will save now that Josh McDaniels is working for New England. Thomas: "As I wrote about today, McDaniels will receive $1.5 million from the Rams next season. But whatever the Patriots are paying him gets subtracted from that total. Say the Patriots are paying him $1 million, then the Rams are on the hook for only $500,000 and they get $1 million freed up to hire the new coaching staff. Also, whatever McDaniels gets paid for the rest of this season with New England gets subtracted from McDaniels' $1.5 million he earned from the Rams this season." Noted: I thought that would have been the case if the Rams fired McDaniels, and that the Patriots would assume the full salary given that St. Louis never did fire him. I'll follow up on this.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should hire an offensive-minded head coach if they fail to land Fisher. Miklasz: "If the Rams hire a defensive coordinator, what kind of staff would he be able to put together on offense? Again, it's imperative for the Rams to expedite Bradford's progress, ratchet up this offense, and join the NFL's modern age. An offense-oriented HC would have the necessary acumen to supervise the development of the QB and the offense. He would have a better feel (and a better chance) for putting together a quality staff on offense. NFL people will tell you that it's easier to find a defensive coordinator than an offensive coordinator."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team knows it must improve on offense. Urban: "The Cardinals’ first drive of the season went for a touchdown, starting at the Cards’ own 46-yard line and ending with Beanie Wells’ seven-yard run for a score. The next week, a first-quarter interception set up a short (37 yards) drive for another early touchdown. But the Cardinals didn’t score a first-quarter touchdown after than until the final game of the season against Seattle, far too long a drought. The Cards only scored 36 first-quarter points all season, putting them in a near constant hole. The flip side, of course, was the often strong finishes, especially once the defense became stout. In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Cards outscored opponents by 54 points. The big plays would pop up — 22 total on the season of more than 40 yards — and the Cards did gain 4.2 yards per rush attempt, but it didn’t happen enough. During the Cards’ 7-2 closing kick to the season, the most points they scored in a game was 23."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says NFL analyst and former quarterback Rich Gannon does not expect improvement from Tarvaris Jackson. Gannon: "I think what you see is what you get. I don't know if it's going to get a whole lot better with Tarvaris Jackson, and that's really my concern. Is he a good player? Certainly. Is he ever going to be a dominant player at his position? Is he ever going to be one of the elite players? Is he going to be a Pro Bowl player? I don't think so." Noted: Gannon might be right. That was the sort of thing people thought about Gannon years ago. Gannon went from Chiefs backup and sometimes starter to league MVP with Oakland. That path is obviously unlikely for Jackson, but it seemed unlikely for Gannon as well.