NFL Nation: Joe Montana
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Look, I'm not saying he can and I'm not saying he can't. I have nothing but respect for Eli Manning's abilities and the things he can do. He can beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, and if you didn't believe that after the first time, he did it again for good measure. The New York Giants' quarterback is largely underrated and underappreciated, and he's perfectly capable of having a great season even though he's coming off his worst season.
If Manning completes 70 percent of his passes this year in Ben McAdoo's new offense, as quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf said Monday he'd challenged Manning to do, then McAdoo, Langsdorf and anyone else who had a hand in it should have their choice of NFL head-coaching jobs next January. And they can ride unicorns with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to the interviews.
Start with the very short list of quarterbacks who've ever hit that number in a full NFL season. It's basically Drew Brees (twice, in 2009 and 2011), Joe Montana (1989) and Steve Young (1994). Langsdorf said the list he gave Manning also included Sammy Baugh, Ken Anderson and Alex Smith. But Baugh played only eight games in the 1945 season in which he hit the mark (the league played a 10-game season that year). Anderson's 1982 season was only nine games long due to a players strike. And Smith put up his 70.2 mark in 10 games in 2012 before losing his job to Colin Kaepernick.
So if Manning is to hit this goal over a full season, he'll be doing something only three other players -- two of whom are in the Hall of Fame, and one of whom surely will be -- have done. The fact that it's a nearly impossible achievement is the first and best reason to doubt it. Manning's career completion percentage is 58.5, and his career high for a single season is 62.9, set in 2010. He would have had to complete an additional 69 passes in 2013 to get to 70 percent from the dismal 57.5 at which he finished. That's 4.3 more completions per game. Even in 2010, he would have needed 39 more completions, or 2.4 per game. May not sound like a lot, but it is when you think about what it means.
Secondly, as much as we've written about the Giants' new offensive scheme, there are still legitimate concerns about whether they have the personnel to run it effectively. The offensive line isn't set yet. Their wide receiver group is littered with question marks after Victor Cruz. They do not have a reliable pass-catching tight end on the roster. And as much as they want to stress high-percentage plays and completion percentage, it's tough to imagine they'll throw to the running backs all season.
Which kind of leads me to my final point: Eli Manning, risk-taker. Manning's calling card as a quarterback has always been, to me, his fearlessness. He has the confidence to try any throw, no matter how risky, because (a) he believes he can make it, and (b) he has an uncommon ability to put mistakes behind him and not let them affect his performance as the game goes along.
It's inconceivable to think that McAdoo and Langsdorf could change this about Manning even if they wanted to, and it's inconceivable to believe they would want to. Manning's ability to deliver an uncanny throw in a huge spot is one of the few things you can point to right now in this Giants offense that might have a chance to set it apart from others in the league. Their challenge is to install an offense that's more efficient and less turnover-prone while still making use of what Manning does best. So there's still going to be plenty of downfield stuff, and that stuff will come with more risk.
Now, OK. I understand about coaching and motivation. If Langsdorf sets a goal of 70 percent and Manning aims for it but falls 5 percent short, he'd still obliterate his career high and improve on last year by 7.5 percent. The Giants would surely take that. But hearing Langsdorf say this Monday brought home the ideas of (a) how much different this offense is going to be than it has been for the past decade, and (b) how hard it's going to be for the Giants to be proficient in their new offense in its first season.
Date: Jan. 10, 1982
Site: Candlestick Park
The fans got it right picking The Catch.
Was this really a choice?
That is no disrespect to Joe Montana hitting John Taylor to win the Super Bowl in 1989 or to Steve Young and Terrell Owens hooking up with The Catch II to win a 1998 playoff game. Those were the two other finalists in our 49ers most memorable plays feature this week.
Fine, stunning, unforgettable plays. Both of them.
Whether you were alive or not in 1982, you know this play. You can see Dwight Clark jumping into the sky over Everson Walls to snag Montana’s desperate heave right now, can’t you?
It is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history. This play represents so much more than what it simply was at the moment. It didn’t just surge the San Francisco 49ers into their first Super Bowl -- it changed the course of NFL history.
It was the beginning of a dynasty. It was the arrival of Bill Walsh and Montana as NFL legends.
It knocked the Dallas Cowboys off their perch for a bit. It ignited one of sports' greatest rivalries.
Like all things great, The Catch’s impact was great and long lasting. There is no other play like it in 49ers history. It began the history of the 49ers in a lot of ways, and it certainly defined it.
There was no other choice.
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in San Francisco 49ers history. Yesterday, we covered the throw from Joe Montana to John Taylor to win Super Bowl XXIII, and Monday we reviewed "The Catch." Please vote for your choice as the 49ers’ most memorable play.
Score: 49ers 30, Packers 27
Date: Jan. 3, 1999 Site: Candlestick Park
The Catch will always be The Catch.
However, for 49ers fans, there was another catch. Young to Owens. It instantly became The Catch II.
The play itself didn’t have the immediate or future impact as the original catch did. But in its own right, the Catch II remains an iconic moment in the 49ers’ rich history. Other than the 49ers’ five Super Bowl victories and The Catch, it is difficult to imagine a more emotional postseason moment in franchise history.
It involved two wildly different historic figures in team history. There was Steve Young, a beloved Hall of Fame quarterback. Then there was also Terrell Owens. Owens was regarded in San Francisco like he was regarded everywhere in his career -- talented but not worth the trouble.
Yet, the 49ers were happy to have him on this day. It wasn’t a perfect day for Owens, only a perfect ending. He started the day with four drops, including one in the end zone. But when Young needed Owens most, he was there.
The Packers took a 27-23 lead with 1:56 to go. The 49ers had to go 76 yards to win. The drive culminated on a 25-yard pass from Young to Owens. The play was unlikely. Owens was completely unreliable that day. Young went to him while he was tightly covered by two Green Bay defensive backs at the goal line -- with the season on the line.
Yet, Owens found a way to secure the ball, leaving the Packers standing in the end zone in disbelief.
Owens ran to his coach, Steve Mariucci, and collapsed into his arms, sobbing like a newborn. It’s a memory etched in the minds of 49ers fans everywhere -- just like Dwight Clark leaping into the heavens to bring down The Catch.
Is there any doubt that the #NFLN49ersTopPlays are the catch 1, 2 & 3? Maybe Hearst's "greatest run of all time".— Nick Wan (@nickwan) June 6, 2014
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Green Bay Packers history. The others are: Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl and Aaron Rodgers' third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV that helped clinch the game. Please vote for your choice as the Packers' most memorable play.
Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21
Date: Jan. 26, 1997 Site: Louisiana Superdome
Or you can make a case for Antonio Freeman's 81-yard touchdown -- which at the time was the longest touchdown catch in Super Bowl history -- although none of you did.
But the ever-lasting memory from the Packers' third Super Bowl title was quarterback Brett Favre running like a wild-man, sans helmet, after his 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on the Packers’ second play from scrimmage.
Favre, sensing a blitz from the Patriots, changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Rison, who joined the Packers midseason, ran a post route and found himself wide open down the seam.
Favre later revealed the play was rooted in something he had seen from the San Francisco 49ers when he was watching Super Bowl highlights during the week leading up to the game. He saw Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIV on a play the 49ers called "59 Razor." The Packers adopted it and called it "29 Razor." It was an audible to be used against a blitz that called for maximum blocking protection and only two receivers out in patters.
"Lo and behold, second play of the game, I checked to 29 Razor and hit Andre Rison for a touchdown," Favre said years after the game. "So when you see me running with my helmet off, I'm thinking, 'Can you believe I checked to this play?' It was amazing. And it worked, which was even more amazing."
Favre to Rison. #NFLNPackersTopPlays— Alex Tallitsch (@AlexTallitsch) June 5, 2014
I was in my rookie season covering the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star. Other than the big plays, my overwhelming recollection was how loud the Astrodome was that day. It was consistently can't-hear-yourself-think loud.
That, and this, which was no doubt a thought shared by millions of Chiefs fans: Anything seemed possible for the Chiefs in the moments after that victory. I was convinced, and again I was not alone, that the Chiefs would go to Buffalo for the following week's AFC championship game and beat the Bills. I thought the Chiefs would be winning playoff games for years to come.
History has turned out differently for the Chiefs. They lost to the Bills in a blowout the next week and they also lost their seven subsequent playoff games. Some of those games have been lopsided, some could have been won by the Chiefs had any number of close plays gone their way.
As any Chiefs fan can attest, none of those plays have gone Kansas City's way. It's been eight straight losses and 20 seasons since. And though the details of the playoff win over Houston remain vivid, that game really doesn't seem like yesterday, does it?
The only fine in the physical game was given to 49ers guard Adam Snyder, who will pay $7,875 for a striking an opponent late.
In other 49ers notes:
- 49ers left tackle Joe Staley, who suffered a knee injury last Sunday, told San Francisco radio station 95.7 The Game on Friday morning that he expects to play against Seattle. That became evident Thursday when he practiced. More information should be available after Friday's practice, but barring a setback Staley looks good to go.
- Joe Montana told The Game that he may not attend the final game at Candlestick Park because of a scheduling conflict. The team is going to honor "The Catch," the famous pass from Montana to Dwight Clark that beat Dallas and sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 1982.
- Meanwhile, if you want to attend that final game at Candlestick, it is going to cost you.
Joe Montana recently listed Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Eli Manning as his five top active NFL quarterbacks, in no particular order.
No surprises there, although Eli Manning might not automatically qualify with the others if we polled a wider audience, in my view.
Montana withheld from consideration a younger group featuring Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.
"Still too early, but they look great," Montana tweeted.
Montana apologized for leaving off Joe Flacco, but he didn't say which of the other five would leave the list to make room.
Montana's list featured the top four players in Total QBR over the past three seasons, with 1,000 pass attempts as the minimum for consideration. Eli Manning ranked eighth over that span. Kaepernick (76.8), Griffin (71.4), Wilson (69.6) and Luck (65.0) ranked among the NFL's top 11 in QBR last season, with Kaepernick at No. 3.
The chart below shows leaders since 2010. Check out the ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions for Rodgers and Brady. Both were in the 4.5-to-1 range, well above the others. Kaepernick was at 3.3-to-1 last season, compared to 2.6-to-1 for Wilson. Those figures ranked among the NFL's top seven last season.
Here is Flacco's case for why he should get paid more than every quarterback in the league:
- His nine playoff victories are tied with Tom Brady for the most ever by a quarterback in his first five seasons. Flacco also has the same number of postseason victories as Peyton Manning -- which is significant considering Flacco has played nine fewer seasons.
- Flacco has won 63 games, including the regular season and playoffs, since 2008. That's six more than anyone else over that same span, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are the closest to Flacco with 57 victories. Brees is third with 56.
- Flacco enjoyed a postseason for the ages. His 11 touchdowns tied the NFL record for most in a single postseason. Joe Montana is the only other player in NFL history with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in a single postseason.
- His Total QBR of 95.1 was seven points higher than any other Super Bowl performance in the Total QBR era (since 2008). His rating topped those of Brees, Brady, Rodgers and both Manning brothers.
- Flacco completed 40 passes of at least 25 yards in the regular season. Only Brees (47) threw more than Flacco.
- Among quarterbacks with 500 pass attempts in 2012, Flacco had the third-fewest interceptions with 10. That ranks behind Brady and Rodgers, who had eight each. Flacco didn't throw an interception in his last 195 passes, a streak that spans seven games.
- He has never missed a start in his five-year NFL career, a streak of 80 consecutive games. Only Eli Manning (135 games) and Philip Rivers (112) have longer streaks than Flacco.
- Flacco is the first quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. He also has six career road playoff wins, which is the most in NFL postseason history (Eli Manning has five).
- He has 15 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. Four of them have come this season, including the AFC divisional playoff game in Denver. That's one fewer than Ben Roethlisberger over that same span.
NEW ORLEANS -- There always has been a debate whether Baltimore's Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback. This will only heat up after Flacco led the Ravens to the Super Bowl title and won the game's Most Valuable Player award.
What can't be argued is Flacco's numbers in the playoffs. They're elite. When statistics put your name in the same sentence as Joe Montana, there's no question that you're in a different class.
Flacco threw 11 touchdown passes in these playoffs, tying the NFL single-postseason record shared by Montana (postseason after 1989 season) and Kurt Warner (postseason after 2008 season). Flacco and Montana did not throw an interception during those postseasons.
"Joe Montana has been my favorite quarterback," Flacco said. "So to be put anywhere next to him is pretty cool."
His Total QBR of 95.1 was seven points higher than any other Super Bowl performance in the Total QBR era (since 2008), according to ESPN Stats & Information. He was better on the biggest stage than Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or either of the Manning brothers.
Flacco was 7-of-13 for 171 yards and two touchdowns on passes longer than 10 yards downfield in the Super Bowl, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also completed 7 of 10 third-down passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
"I told him [Saturday night that if you want to be elite, you have to win the Super Bowl," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "And he did. Joe Flacco is elite in my book."
After a shaky first half, Colin Kaepernick was spectacular as he rallied the 49ers back into the game. Kaepernick led them to 17 points in a span of 4:10 in the third quarter. Kaepernick also scrambled for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Michael Crabtree finished with five catches for 109 yards and one touchdown. Kaepernick's second-half play was brilliant. But he did throw the first Super Bowl interception in franchise history. Joe Montana never threw one. Steve Young never threw one. Montana and Young have Super Bowl titles. Kaepernick doesn't.
Frank Gore wasn't much of a factor early on as the 49ers fell way behind. But Gore had a few key runs, including a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter and two big runs in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick didn't have any explosive plays off the read option, but his scrambling ability caused major problems for Baltimore's defense. Backup running back LaMichael James lost a second-quarter fumble that helped the Ravens take a 14-3 lead.
Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as San Francisco's secondary struggled and the pass rush was quiet. But, just like everything else, the pass defense improved in the second half. Still, it wasn't good enough.
This wasn't a big problem for the 49ers because the Ravens came out throwing in the first half. But the 49ers held Ray Rice in check when he did run.
Jim Harbaugh did a nice job of getting his team back into the game after the power outage early in the second half. But Harbaugh's team, particularly Kaepernick, seemed uptight in the first half. Harbaugh is known for being extremely intense. I can't help but wonder if his high-pressure style might be why his team started so poorly. Harbaugh's play-calling at the end of game, when the 49ers failed to score on four plays from within seven yards of the end zone, also leaves him open for plenty of criticism.
To me, there is at least one subjective argument Moss could make -- one I think he was implying with his quotes in Sando's latest post on the topic.
In short, Moss might well have changed the game to a greater degree than Rice did. To be clear, the West Coast scheme Rice helped popularize forced fundamental transformations from NFL defenses. But Moss has never been part of a revolutionary scheme. The changes he effected resulted from his unique individual skills. As Moss once joked during his time in Minnesota, the offenses he played in were best called "Moss, Go Deep."
As we discussed in 2011, when he announced a retirement that became a one-year hiatus, Moss forced opponents to develop and enhance new coverages to cover him. At the time, brackets, clouds and regular safeties over the top were exotic defenses rarely seen in the NFL. Moss forced them on a weekly basis.
Moreover, at least one team -- the Green Bay Packers -- changed their draft philosophy in response to Moss' arrival in 1998. The following year, the Packers drafted three cornerbacks. Two of them, Mike McKenzie and Antuan Edwards, were at least six feet tall, a size range the Packers deemed better suited to defend Moss.
Here's how Moss put it Wednesday, via Sando: "… Do you understand what a Cover 2, two-man, 3 Cloud, Tampa 2 is?"
Moss suggested that those defenses made it tougher to put up the kind of numbers that Rice did.
"Well, I think over the course of my career," he said, "it's not very smart for an offense to design a whole offense [around me] knowing that I'm going to be taking two and three and four guys here and there, on each and every play. It's hard for me to be able to put up numbers knowing that I have multiple guys guarding me on plays. But what I've been able to do, I'm happy with it."
I don't think that element alone elevates Moss above Rice, nor does the fact that Rice played most of his career with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young. (Moss said Wednesday, via ESPN's Rick Reilly, that: "Jerry Rice had two hall of fame QBs his whole career. Give me that and see where my numbers are." But this argument isn't as much of a landslide toward Rice as many would suggest.
With eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions, Baltimore Ravens QB Flacco has a shot to tie or break Montana's record for most touchdown passes without throwing an interception in a single postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Montana threw 11 touchdowns without getting picked off in 1989.
It's the type of playoff run that is changing the minds of Flacco's critics and NFL defenders.
"He is one of the elite quarterbacks," Patriots safety Steve Gregory said after the AFC Championship Game. "I know he gets a lot of flack for possibly not being that type of guy. But he is."
There is a trend that suggests Flacco will be getting more than compliments. Every quarterback who has finished a postseason throwing at least eight touchdowns without a pick has not only won the Super Bowl, but also the Super Bowl MVP.
At this point, just getting to the Super Bowl is a surreal moment for Flacco.
"I think it is just one of those things you dream of when you are a little kid," he said. "You watch [Joe] Montana and those guys light them up in the Super Bowl. So, to be here at this point is pretty special."
Now, Flacco has a chance to surpass one of Montana's records. That's pretty surreal as well.
Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information reached into the vault to pull out three memorable games between the teams. The Falcons won two of them, including one on Steve Bartkowski's last-play pass to Billy "White Shoes" Johnson in 1983. I remember living in Northern California at the time and listening to the ending of that game -- or perhaps highlights of the ending, I'm not sure -- on the radio in my dad's old Ford pickup truck.
NFL.com has video from that final play, featuring a prescient announcer's call: "You've got to go to Billy 'White Shoes' and let him do a little dance with the ball and go to the end zone."
The two other games Hawkins singled out included the 49ers' 45-35 victory over the Falcons in 1990. Joe Montana set a career high with six touchdown passes. Jerry Rice caught five of them. Rice finished the game with 13 receptions for 225 yards.
More recently, in the divisional playoffs following the 1998 season, the Falcons scored a 20-18 victory over the 49ers in Dan Reeves' first game back from quadruple-bypass surgery. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to Denver.
The 49ers and Falcons faced one another for the first time in 1966 before becoming division rivals the following year. The 49ers hold a 44-30-1 lead in the all-time series, counting playoffs. That includes 43-26-1 as division rivals. The Falcons have won all four meetings since realignment.
The teams played to a 10-10 tie in 1986 when the 49ers played without Montana, who had undergone back surgery following a Week 1 injury that was considered career-threatening. David Archer's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Sylvester Stamps tied the game for Atlanta. Archer completed 16-of-35 passes for 176 yards and three interceptions. Jeff Kemp completed 13-of-29 passes for 146 yards and two picks for the 49ers.
Relief performances such as that one from Kemp contributed to the 49ers' decision to acquire Steve Young from Tampa Bay in 1987.
New England Patriots quarterback and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady continues to set records. He recently became the NFL's all-time winningest playoff quarterback, as well as the third player to throw at least 40 postseason touchdowns.
All of this confirms Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. But Brady says he has no time to reflect on his legacy.
"To tell you the truth, I don’t really think about any of that," Brady said during his Wednesday’s press conference. "I’m just trying to win a football game this week. I think we’re very short-term focused and playing against a great football team that obviously deserves the right to be here. We know how challenging of a team they are, both schematically and personnel-wise. All of our focus is on this week."
Expect some articles over the next few days about Brady's place in NFL history. That will only increase if Brady qualifies for his sixth Super Bowl.
Is Brady the NFL's greatest quarterback? That's subject to debate. But Brady certainly has the résumé to make a case.
However, don't expect Brady to believe his own hype -- he never has. Brady continues to live in the moment, which involves Sunday's AFC Championship Game against Baltimore.
"I try not to buy into what people say or think," Brady said. "I just live my life and certainly enjoy being the quarterback for this team. There’s nothing more fun than running out onto the field in front of 70,000 people cheering for us. That’s what it will be this weekend."
Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Houston Texans-New England Patriots divisional-round playoff game at Gillette Stadium:
Guarding against overconfidence: The New England Patriots are heavily favored against the Texans. New England trounced Houston 42-14 last month. But that means all the pressure is on New England to win again at home. This game could have shades of the Patriots' 2010 playoffs if New England isn't careful. That year New England drilled the rival New York Jets in the regular season 45-3, only to get overconfident and lose to the Jets in the playoffs. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that lost in the regular season by 28 points or more are 11-11 in rematches in the postseason.
Can Brady pass Montana? New England quarterback Tom Brady has a chance at another record that he would be proud of. With a win over Houston, Brady would pass his childhood hero -- Joe Montana -- for the most postseason wins in NFL history. Brady is 16-6 during the playoffs in his career, although he went 10-0 to start his postseason career.
Talib vs. Johnson: One of the key matchups in this game will be the cornerback-receiver matchup of Aqib Talib of the Patriots versus Andre Johnson of the Texans. They will see a lot of each other Sunday. Talib was acquired in a midseason trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quickly became New England's best cover corner. It has allowed the Patriots to played more man-to-man defense. Johnson had another monster, Pro Bowl year. He caught 112 catches for 1,598 yards this season, with eight catches for 95 yards in the first meeting.
Tailback concerns: The Patriots will enter this game with concerns at tailback. New England second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have minimal combined playoff experience. They will have to earn the trust of New England’s coaching staff. Ridley and Vereen have had some untimely fumbles late in the season. Both lost fumbles in New England’s most recent loss, to the San Francisco 49ers. Ball security will be crucial in the playoffs. As a result, the Patriots may increase the workload for sure-handed veteran tailback Danny Woodhead.
Final Atlanta 24 Jacksonville 14 Final Detroit 23 Buffalo 0 Final Indianapolis 7 Cincinnati 35 Final New York 7 Philadelphia 37 Final St. Louis 13 Miami 14 Final Kansas City 14 Green Bay 34 Final Carolina 10 Pittsburgh 0 Final New England 13 New York 16 Final Washington 24 Tampa Bay 10 Final Baltimore 22 New Orleans 13 Final Chicago 13 Cleveland 33 Final San Francisco 40 Houston 13 Final Minnesota 19 Tennessee 3 Final Denver 27 Dallas 3 Final Arizona 9 San Diego 12 Final Seattle 31 Oakland 41