NFC West: Paul Kruger
NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII:
What it means: The 49ers came excruciatingly close to a sixth Super Bowl title, but they couldn't draw up or execute the winning plays with four shots from the Baltimore 5-yard line. Overall, they made too many mistakes to win the game. The 49ers' total collapse early in the game raises questions about their readiness for the Super Bowl after a week filled with the usual distractions, plus the one cornerback Chris Culliver created with his derogatory comments during the week.
What I liked: The 49ers again showed an ability to weather a rough start against a playoff team.
Tight end Vernon Davis repeatedly exploited a speed advantage against Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defense early in the game. Davis even got in Lewis' face to rub it in at one point early in the second quarter.
Patrick Willis and Darcel McBath saved the 49ers late in the second quarter when they chased down Ravens kicker Justin Tucker short of a first down on a fake field-goal try. The 49ers trailed 14-3 at the time, so the stop was important for them.
Michael Crabtree capped his most impressive season with another mostly impressive performance. He made a tough catch on a high pass early in the game. Crabtree also knocked down Ravens defensive backs Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard on his way to a 31-yard touchdown reception to pull San Francisco within 28-13 midway through the third quarter.
Davis, who topped 100 yards receiving, wasn't the only tight end making an impact in this game. Second tight end Delanie Walker blasted Ravens safety Ed Reed to help free Frank Gore for a touchdown run. Walker also planted Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones as the momentum was turning late in the third quarter.
What I didn't like: The 49ers were sloppy early in the game. A formation penalty wiped out a 20-yard gain on their first play. The 49ers appeared to have a mixup in the backfield later in the drive. That was no way to start the game on offense after having two weeks to prepare. It got worse.
The bad start gave the Ravens good field position on their first possession. And when the defense held on third-and-9, an offsides penalty against Ahmad Brooks gave Baltimore another chance, setting up a touchdown pass on third-and-4.
The 49ers blew it again early in the second quarter when LaMichael James lost a fumble, allowing the Ravens to recover at their own 25-yard line. That led to another Ravens touchdown, and San Francisco gave the ball right back to the Ravens when Colin Kaepernick overthrew Randy Moss, finding Reed instead.
Allowing a 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half nearly killed the 49ers' chances for a comeback. They suddenly trailed by a 28-6 margin.
The 49ers let seven of the final 11 seconds run off while the Ravens ran around the end zone with the football before taking a safety. That left only four seconds on the clock when Baltimore executed a free kick. Having a few additional seconds might have given the 49ers a chance to return the ball into field-goal range, or run a play before attempting a field goal.
Early trend continues: The Ravens scored first. They became the fifth consecutive 49ers opponent to score first, joining Atlanta, Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle. San Francisco came back to beat the Falcons, Packers and Cardinals heading into Super Bowl XLVII.
Costly sack: 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis struggled against the Ravens during a 2011 game between the teams. In this game, Davis gave up a third-down sack in the red zone on the 49ers' second possession. Paul Kruger beat him decisively to take down Kaepernick before the quarterback had a chance to throw. The 49ers' pass protection was generally excellent, but not on this critical play.
First-half domination: The 49ers gave up three first-half touchdown passes for the second game in a row. Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards, three scores and a 135.8 NFL passer rating in the first half Sunday. Two weeks earlier, Atlanta's Matt Ryan completed 18 of 24 first-half passes for 271 yards, three scores and a 151.2 rating against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. Flacco and Ryan combined to complete 70.5 pecent of their first-half passes for 463 yards and a 144.2 rating against the 49ers in those two first halves.
What's next: The 49ers head toward the 2013 NFL draft with the 31st overall choice. The Ravens will pick 32nd overall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers would draft Michael Crabtree with the 10th overall choice, if available. He says the 49ers would draft Knowshon Moreno over Chris Wells in the unlikely event they decided to draft a running back early. The team would be happy to draft Andre Smith at No. 10, but taking Michael Oher in that spot might not be a slam dunk. LSU's Tyson Jackson could be the preferred defensive lineman, over B.J. Raji. The team probably wouldn't take Malcolm Jenkins at No. 10. Brian Orakpo? Probably not. And it's unlikely the team would take Aaron Maybin or Everette Brown that early, either. Rey Maualuga or Brian Cushing could be higher priorities than Maybin or Brown.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee forecasts which players he thinks the 49ers will select with each of their picks. The list: Oher, running back Shonn Greene, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, quarterback Stephen McGee, inside linebacker Scott McKillop, receiver Brandon Gibson, outside linebacker Pierre Walters, receiver/quarterback Julian Edelman and tight end Bear Pascoe.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says there's value in the later rounds. He points to Pat White, Brian Hoyer, Chase Patton, Austin Collie, Ramses Barden, Kory Sheets and Ian Johnson as later-round prospects to watch.
Gary Plummer of 49ers.com says NFL teams can't measure a player's heart. Plummer: "I was never even invited to the Combine and I was never drafted, but I went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL. With those experiences, I've always rooted for guys who don't get drafted."
Niners scout Todd Brunner says the team has spent recent days making sure it has discussed every draft-eligible player.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' public-relations department shielded coach Mike Singletary from reporters in the days leading to the draft. Crumpacker: "It's just as well. General manager Scot McCloughan put the 49ers' draft board together and will be making the call for the club."
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle made me chuckle with this description of the NFL draft: "Today is the worst day of the entire NFL draft process, because it is the day that all the speculation ends and your favorite team is stuck with the choice it made rather than awash in the dozens it could have."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic previews the Cardinals' draft in general terms. Forget about getting specifics from Rod Graves or Ken Whisenhunt.
Also from Somers: It appears receiver Anquan Boldin will remain with the Cardinals through the draft. Trades are often contingent on a player passing a physical. The acquiring team also needs time, in many cases, to work out a new contract with the player. Somers: "The Cardinals are surprised there hasn't been more interest from teams, who apparently think the cost is too high, considering they would also have to come to terms with Boldin on a contract that would pay him an average of $8 million to $10 million a year."
More from Somers: The Cardinals would have no interest in Titans running backs LenDale White or Chris Henry if Tennessee offered either player as part of a trade for Boldin.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com previews the Seahawks' draft options. Johns: "As much as teams talk of drafting the best player available regardless of position, there is an impetus to pick athletes who will be in line to earn starting roles before long in order to justify their draft position and salary slot."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' first-round picks haven't panned out all that well under general manager Tim Ruskell, who has one year remaining on a five-year contract. Yes, this draft is important for him and the organization.
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com takes a peek inside the Seahawks' draft room at their new facility. It's 1,600 square feet, twice the size of the old one. The rapport between Ruskell and vice president Ruston Webster transcends location. Webster: "You know what's sad? When we say something at the same time. That scares me. But it really is good. I know how he thinks. And I think for him, it's important to have somebody who understands that. And he knows how I think. For the most part, we were kind of brought up in this business the same way, so our philosophy is the same."
Tyler Dunne of Scout.com says the Seahawks would draft Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn in the third round if available.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams are putting an emphasis on character in this draft. Wagoner: "Fortunately for the Rams, most of the players they are considering in this year's draft are about as well rounded and mature as any crop of recent potential draft picks. Offensive tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe, linebacker Aaron Curry and USC quarterback Mark Sanchez have received rave reviews for their personality and attitude at every stop they've made along the way. Taking Curry as an example, he has invited 12-year-old Bryson Merriweather, a leukemia survivor from Madison, Ala., to be his special guest at the draft in New York City."
VanRam of Turf Show Times warns against dismissing talk that the Rams could draft Sanchez with the second overall choice.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he would draft Curry from Wake Forest with the second overall choice if he were making the decision for the Rams. However, all signs point to the team selecting an offensive tackle.
Also from Thomas: The Rams' need at tackle appears too great to ignore early in the draft. Thomas: "Michael Crabtree, the wide receiver from Texas Tech, basically eliminated himself from consideration with what Rams Park sources said was a diva attitude during his pre-draft trip here. Apparently, his rock star mentality was a big turnoff to coaches and front office personnel. Couple that with his foot injury, and the feeling in Earth City was that he wasn't worth the trouble. As for Sanchez, what first looked like pure smokescreen seemed to turn into downright infatuation. To some at Rams Park, Sanchez possesses the leadership qualities -- the 'it' factor -- that may be lacking in Marc Bulger. But at the end of the day, the Rams appear committed to Bulger for at least one more season."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says Steve Spagnuolo is anxious for the Rams' to open their first minicamp under his leadership. They'll get going at 6:30 a.m. Thursday. Spagnuolo: "I was telling somebody the other day that when you finally get to this point, you finally feel like this is what you got hired to do. We're coaches, that's what we do, that's what we enjoy so now we get a chance to get out there and do exactly what we enjoy doing."
Adam Caplan of ScoutNFLNetwork.com says the Seahawks and Rams are among the teams expected to meet with Utah pass rusher Paul Kruger before the draft.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's report about Gus Frerotte's expected deal with the Rams drew a couple of wisecracks in the comments section. The first: "Great, when will Jamie Martin report for camp?" The second: "Re-sign Jeff Smoker too." Not bad, but in reality, who were the Rams supposed to sign as a reasonably priced backup?
Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune says the Bears want to make Orlando Pace their starting left tackle. He also says the Bears' interest in former Panthers and Seahawks cornerback Ken Lucas is only "lukewarm" at this point. Don't be surprised if Lucas re-signs with Seattle.
Sonja Haller of the Arizona Republic provides details from Kurt Warner's appearance at Muhammad Ali's annual charity event. Ali's wife, Lonnie, honored Warner with a sports leadership award. Lonnie Ali on Warner: "If there ever was an athlete that I think epitomizes everything that this man sitting next to me [Ali] is, he's sitting right there."
Nakia Hogan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune says Phoenix, New Orleans and Miami have submitted bids to land the 2013 Super Bowl. Owners plan to make a decision during their May meetings.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals invited a limited number of college prospects to their headquarters before the draft. The team didn't value such visits when Dennis Green was the head coach and it's tough to argue with some of the results. Ohio State running back Chris Wells is expected to visit soon.
Also from Somers: Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and general manager Rod Graves attended USC's pro day. Coach Ken Whisenhunt and owner Bill Bidwill did not.
CBSSports.com quotes Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin as saying he wants to re-sign with the Cardinals. Boldin: "Hopefully, something gets done. We'll see what happens. At this point I'm leaving it up to everyone else and just trying to enjoy life."
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for a look at how the Seahawks might approach the draft. Rang says he would be surprised if the Seahawks passed on Aaron Curry if given a chance to draft the Wake Forest linebacker. Rang on Michael Crabtree: "He's a spectacular talent. I really think he's an Anquan Boldin type of player. He doesn't have that elite speed, but you know, for me the fact that he wasn't able to run for scouts matters very little. Even the [foot] surgery matters very little, because Jonathan Stewart had the same surgery and he was every bit the player his rookie season that I thought he would be. Michael Crabtree will be as well."
Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts looks at the Seahawks' offensive linemen and tight ends heading toward the draft. The team did not draft an offensive lineman in 2008. Expect that to change this year.
Aaron Weinberg of nextseasonsports.com looks at the six players Seattle has drafted among the top five overall picks. Steve Niehaus, Kenny Easley, Curt Warner, Cortez Kennedy, Rick Mirer and Shawn Springs were the players chosen.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists USC's Mark Sanchez among the college prospects expected to visit with the 49ers before the draft. Barrows: "The 49ers are wise to show interest. In Sanchez does fall to 10 on April 25, there will be plenty of teams clamoring to grab him, creating an opportunity to trade down. Who knows, maybe the Broncos will still be stuck with unhappy Jay Cutler on draft day and will be willing to make a deal."
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider thinks the 49ers might have their best group of receivers since Terrell Owens departed. Lynch: "After a rocky start to the offseason, the 49ers have seemingly recovered. In the last week, they've signed a possible replacement to the departing Jonas Jennings at right tackle in Marvel Smith and now have an assurance [Isaac] Bruce will come back."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout has updated his 2009 projections. He sends Baylor tackle Jason Smith to the Rams, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry to the Seahawks, Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin to the 49ers and California center Alex Mack to the Cardinals. Rang: "Detroit's trade for veteran outside linebacker Julian Peterson essentially eliminated Wake Forest's Aaron Curry as a candidate to be the first pick of the 2009 draft. Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford may be able to seal up the top spot with an impressive performance at his March 19 pro day. His only remaining competition is with offensive tackles Jason Smith (Baylor) and Eugene Monroe (Virginia)." Rang thinks Stafford will go first because he doesn't think the Lions can bank on getting one of the other quarterbacks with the 20th overall selection.
Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog analyzes Rang's latest mock projection for Seattle. Rang changed his projection to Aaron Curry. Rang: "Trading OLB Julian Peterson creates a gaping hole at the strong-side position in Seattle's defense. The Seahawks could plug Curry in immediately and, considering they'd be getting the player many believe is the draft's top talent at the fourth pick, the team would be getting optimum value." Staton: "Whether or not the Seahawks would draft Curry is more likely down to whether he'll still be on the board, with almost certain interest from both St Louis and Kansas City."
Also from Staton: Forget about Seattle drafting B.J. Raji.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Peterson trade wasn't made in response to any refusal to accept a pay cut. He says the deal got done because Cory Redding agreed to adjust his contract. In my view, Redding's willingness to rework his deal reflects an eagerness to leave the Lions. In the aftermath of the trade, sources have provided conflicting information as to whether Seattle asked Peterson to take a pay cut at all. Not that it matters at this point. The Seahawks won't have to carry his $8.8 million cap number for 2009.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation would be surprised if the 49ers drafted a quarterback in the first round this year. Fucillo: "So my question is this: Are the folks that are projecting Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford to the 49ers lazy, misinformed, some combination of that, or maybe something else? I realize it's not easy to research all 32 teams. However, when it comes to a first round pick, particularly a top 10 pick, a little knowledge is important."
3K of Turf Show Times unveils a two-round mock draft. Baylor's Smith and Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler go to the Rams. Curry and Missouri safety William Moore go to Seattle. Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin and South Carolina tackle Jamon Meredith go to the 49ers. Connecticut running back Donald Brown and Utah defensive end Paul Kruger go to Arizona. Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree goes to the Bengals in this mock.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind looks at the Cardinals' previous first-round draft choices, providing a terrific photo of Andre Wadsworth squeezing the air from a football. Hawkwind: "He was taken after Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, who both received hefty rookie contracts. As a result, he ended up holding out the entire training camp before the Cardinals signed him to a 6-year, $42 million contract, the day before the season opener. Wadsworth played all 16 games and recorded 5 sacks with 57 tackles that year. He followed up his rookie season with an injury-riddled next two years. He required 3 knee surgeries in that span and 4 in his career. He only managed 3 more sacks and played in only 22 games as well."
USA Today runs an interview transcript after speaking with Larry Fitzgerald about his offseason travel plans. He has a home in Cabo, but Fitzgerald says Buenos Aires is the best place he has visited. Fitzgerald: "I enjoyed the culture. The nightlife was a lot of fun, the food was great and the history was awesome. It really reminded me of Europe. The architecture reminded me of France but the nightlife and culture had an Italian feel. It's a great place. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I didn't learn how to tango. I was born with two left feet so dancing is not really my cup of tea."