Tag Archives: NFC Championship

Carrying the Ball and Their Own Baggage: Marshawn Lynch and LeGarrette Blount

29 Jan

Super Bowl XLIX Will Be A Matchup of Two Complex Running Backs  Who Have Issues with Authority 
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When Marshawn Lynch has the ball, he can do a lot of damage. He hopes to do that against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Photo by Webster Ridddick.

When Marshawn Lynch has the ball, he can do a lot of damage. He hopes to do that against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Photo by Webster Ridddick.

If you’ve had enough of the hot air surrounding the “Deflate-Gate scandal, but still have a taste for the quirky and bizarre of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale,look no further than Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and his fellow ball carrier LeGarrette Blount of the New England Patriots.

While Lynch and Blount will be key components in the game plans of their respective teams on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, a lot of focus has been placed not on their ability to carry the ball, but on the baggage—Lynch’s refusal to talk to the media and Blount’s unceremonious kick to the curb from the Pittsburgh Steelers– they drag with them as they do it.

Not since Dallas Cowboys running Duane Thomas’ gave his famous “What time is it” line to reporters in the buildup to Super Bowl VI in 1972 has a running back’s words made the kind of headlines that Lynch’s “I’m here so I won’t get fined” did.

During the Seahawks Media Day session on Tuesday, Lynch kept repeating that line over and over again during a strange, yet amusing three and a half-minute confab with more than 200 reporters.

According to the NFL Network, Lynch chanted the sentence 29 times. Lynch’s aversion to press availabilities and how it manifests itself has become the stuff of legend.

From the one-liners he delivered during the regular season that cost him $50,000 in fines to the complaints filed by the Pro Football Writers Association for his refusal to talk to reporters during last year’s Super Bowl Media Day, Lynch has figuratively grabbed his crotch when it comes to the League’s mandated press conferences.

And speaking of crotch grabs, the NFL has warned the Seahawks that if Lynch decides to do that after scoring a touchdown, the former Cal star’s antics would cost them 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct each time. It’s already cost Lynch a grand total of $31,050 ($20,000 for doing it during the NFC title game and $11,050 for a regular season game in December.)

Lynch’s Seahawks teammates say that Lynch should be able to handle his media duties his own way, but several prominent members of the media have chided Lynch for not following the league rules and not promoting the game that pays him. That’s a good point.

Oddly enough, Lynch’s Media Day Theatre of the Absurd might have done more to promote the game, something that the NFL probably doesn’t want to admit. No one wants to admit that anti-heroes and knuckleheads make the game as intriguing as the game’s superstars, especially in a year where the League has endured a lot of bad press.

For all his public misbehavior, Lynch’s teammates and coaches benefit from the damage he does on the field when he’s in “Beast Mode.”

During the regular season, he gained 1,306 yards with 13 touchdowns. He also gained 157 yards on 25 carries in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers and scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the four quarter. He’s also a leader in the locker room.

“Obviously, he’s a little different with us than he is out in public, but he’s a great guy,” said Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. “He works hard in the meeting room in the meeting room with those guys (running backs) to help prepare them.” ​​

LeGarrette Blount came up huge for the Patriots in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.  He scored three touchdowns.

LeGarrette Blount came up huge for the Patriots in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. He scored three touchdowns.

But while Lynch’s shenanigans tend to anger Seahawks beat writers, Blount’s angered Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Blount expected to be a bigger part of the Steelers offense, but with the emergence of Le’Veon Bell, his playing time was reduced. Blount had just 266 yards rushing in 11 games.

A few minutes before the end of the Steelers win over the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 17, Blount decided he had enough of being Bell’s backup and walked off the field before the game was over. By the time the rest of the team got to the locker room, Blount was headed for the team bus.

Twelve hours later, the Steelers gave Blount his walking papers.
Head coach Bill Belichick, remembering how well Blount played for the team in 2013, took him back immediately after he cleared waivers.

While most coaches might have shied away from him because of how his time in Pittsburgh ended, it didn’t matter to him, he said.

“Yeah, I don’t know anything about Pittsburgh, you’d have to ask Pittsburgh about Pittsburgh,” Belichick said. “I think he’s been a good addition to our team, very popular guy in the locker room. He’s good for our team and he’s a good player, so it worked out well.”

Blount has paid dividends. In five games for the Pats in 2014, he gained 281 yards. In the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, Blount gained 148 yards on 30 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Blount’s return to the Patriots energized his teammates.

“I felt like it was almost like he never left once we got going,” said Patriot running back Shane Vereen.

And in the end, leaving the Steelers was a good thing for him, Blount said.

“Things didn’t work out as planned, so we had to part ways and I ended up here,” he said. “And now I’m about to play in the Super Bowl.”

Belichick has a knack for finding talented players with baggage and Blount is no exception. He was suspended much of his senior year at Oregon for punching a Boise State player after his Ducks lost their 2009 season-opener. In his first training camp with the Steelers, he and, ironically enough, Bell, were arrested on possession of marijuana charges. Blount will be in a Pittsburgh courtroom on Feb. 4, hoping to have those charges dismissed.

Lynch and Blount may have their share of personal issues with authority, but they help their teams win. During Media Day, Blount said Lynch shouldn’t change a thing about himself.

“Whatever he’s doing, I recommend him to keep doing it because he’s been successful in this league at it,” Blount said.

Wilson Overcomes Early Struggles With Fantastic Finish!

19 Jan

“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too. … If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and which is more, You’ll be a man, my son.“-Rudyard Kipling.

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Russell Wilson launching his game-winning overtime touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse to send the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Photo courtesy of the StarTribune.com

Russell Wilson launching his game-winning overtime touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse to send the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Photo courtesy of the StarTribune.com

As the confetti flew all over Seattle’s Century Link Stadium, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had tears of joy streaming down his eyes as his teammates gathered around him. His touchdown pass in overtime had just put his team in the Super Bowl.

Thanks to his game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass to teammate Jermaine Kearse, Wilson pulled off the improbable mother of all comebacks in the NFC Championship with a 28-22 overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers.

“(Wilson) did a remarkable job with the finish of this game,” said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. “It took so long for the good stuff to happen. It was a long, hard day for him. We were throwing for nothing. I think 10 yards at halftime. It was a crazy game. But with the game on the line, this is what (Wilson) has totally believed would happen and he never thought that it wouldn’t.”

Seattle will head to Super Bowl XLIX take on the New England Patriots at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Pats punched their ticket to the Super Bowl with an easy 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.

Wilson’s happy tears were perilously close to being somber and sad ones. He had been sacked five times, threw four interceptions including what looked to be a game-clinching pick for the Packers with 5:13 left. But out of the ashes of what was a terrible game for him, Wilson found a way to win.

“It was just staying the course, trusting the protection, trusting the routes, trusting the timing, trusting the preparation, trusting the film study…That’s where I went to, going back to the fundamentals of the game,” Wilson said. “The ball didn’t bounce our way the whole game but it bounced our way at the right time.”

Wilson fought through his mistakes and was great he needed to be, especially in the last 3:52 of regulation and in overtime. What was most impressive was the fearlessness Wilson displayed down the stretch. He wasn’t afraid to make a mistake after four picks and he kept firing until he got it right.

“If we’re going to down, I’m going to go down swinging, that’s for sure,” Wilson said.

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin said Wilson’s performance reflected the heart and resilience of the team.

“Indicative of this team,” Baldwin said. “He never counted himself out. We never counted him out. We always believe in the guy in the next to us no matter what the situation is, no matter what he’s going through. He had a rough first half, we all did.

“But when you make a throw like that in the fourth quarter and when Jermaine (Kearse) comes through, I think he had two drops in the first half and I told him don’t worry about that, you’re going to have your opportunity and he comes and makes that crucial touchdown catch. That’s what this team is made of.”

Not only did Wilson believe in himself, he still had faith in his teammates, especially Kearse. Two of Wilson’s interceptions came off catchable balls that caromed off Kearse’s hands. Wilson never wavered in his belief that Kearse would come through with a big catch.

“Because I’ve seen him make so many plays before,” Wilson said. “That’s the first thing I told Kearse after that last interception. We’re going to win this game and I’m going to keep coming back to you, we’re going to find a way to win the game. …When I found a chance to hit Jermaine one-on-one on that deep post, we went for it and we hit it.”

During those times that Wilson and the offense struggled, it was the defense that kept the Packers from turning the game into a rout in the first half. Green Bay had the ball inside the red zone four times in the first quarter and came away with just one touchdown and three field goals to take a 16-0 lead.

The special teams came up with a pair of huge big plays for the Seahawks and put them in position to win the game. Seattle got their first score of the game in the third quarter on a fake field goal. Punter Jon Ryan threw a 19-yard to pass to tight end turned offensive tackle Garry Gilliam.

After a Wilson touchdown one-yard brought the Seahawks to within 19-14, reserve wide receiver Chris Matthews recovered Steve Hauschka’s onside kick that led to a spectacular 24-yard run by Marshawn Lynch that gave Seattle its first lead of the game.

Speaking of “Beast Mode,” Lynch gained 157 yards on 25 carries and that spectacular run for his touchdown.

After Lynch’s score, Wilson made another improbable play on the two-point conversion when he sprinted to his right and floated a ball up for grabs to his left that was miraculously caught by tight end Luke Willson to give Seattle a 22-19 lead.

That play was important because Green Bay would tie the game and send it into overtime on a 48-yard field by Mason Crosby.

Once the Seahawks won the coin toss, Wilson knew he had the Packers right where he wanted them.

“I told (offensive coordinator) Darrell Bevell on the sideline after that coin toss, I’m going to hit Kearse with a touchdown on a check,” Wilson said.

NFC Championship: 49ers Receivers Will Be The Difference

19 Jan

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With a healthy Michael Crabtree along with tight end Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, 49ers might have it what it takes to win against a tough Seattle squad.  Photo by the Bleacherreport.com.

With a healthy Michael Crabtree along with tight end Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, 49ers might have it what it takes to win against a tough Seattle squad. Photo by the Bleacherreport.com.

When you look at the raw numbers for Sunday’s NFC Championship game, everything seems to come up roses for the Seattle Seahawks chances to get to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Over the last two years, the Seahawks are 16-1 at Century Link Field including two wins over the San Francisco 49ers—their opponents in Sunday’s NFC title tilt. They have the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL overall — No. 1 in scoring defense and against the pass. On offense, they have quarterback Russell Wilson and a force at running back in Marshawn Lynch.

But I wouldn’t completely count the Niners out of this one.

I think the 49ers have a good shot of going up there and beating the Seahawks, even in that noisy cauldron of a stadium. It won’t be easy, but I think they can pull it off because of their weapons on offense and how they have been playing coming into this game.

The Niners three main receivers are better than any of Seattle’s wideouts. Since Michael Crabtree joined tight end Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin back in week 11, quarterback Colin Kaepernick has completed 64 percent of his passes.

In the Niners win over the Green Bay Packers, it was Crabtree who came up huge with eight receptions for 127 yards.  In the win over the Carolina Panthers, Boldin caught eight passes for 136 yards.  Davis had a touchdown pass that put the 49ers ahead to stay late in the first half.

“It’s Boldin and [WR Michael Crabtree] Crab both. They’re doing a great job getting open. [Quinton’s [Patton] making plays, Vernon’s making plays, there is a lot of people getting open on our team,” Kaepernick said earlier this week.

 If the 49ers can get running back Frank Gore going, it could be a long day for the Seahawks. The last time San Francisco and Seattle met on the Niners’ homefield, Gore gained 104 yards rushing on 17 carries including a big 51-yard run.

“I think the hardest part is because since he’s a smaller guy he gets real low, and he’s downhill. He runs downhill and behind his big tackles and guards,” said Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor.

 “It’s just a matter of being gap sound because as a defense if you’re not gap sound good running backs like Frank Gore will find that hole. So we just have to be gap sound on defense and learn from the mistakes that we’ve had in the past.”

Perhaps the biggest reason that I can give the 49ers a chance to win is the struggles of the Seattle offense, especially the passing game.  Over the last five games, the Seahawks have averaged just 144 yards in the passing game.

In last Sunday’s win over the New Orleans Saints, Wilson was 9-of-18 for just 103 yards. But the Seahawks say they’re not all that worried about their issues in the passing game.

“I’ve said numerous times that we’ve played some terrific teams,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “They’ve done a nice job on us and we haven’t been able to take advantage of some of the opportunities that we have. But all in all, when we take care of the football and we run the ball really well and manage the game like we have been, that gives us a great chance to win.”

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing game has struggle over the last five weeks. Photo by USAToday.com.

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing game has struggle over the last five weeks. Photo by USAToday.com.

Meanwhile, Wilson said there’s nothing overly complicated other than he just has to put the ball in his receiver’s hands.

“I think the biggest thing is to  be more accurate on a couple throws I normally make,” Wilson said. “That’s what it comes down to. It’s nothing I need to search deep down for or go study a whole bunch for. It’s just put the ball on the money right where you need to be.”

When you have Lynch in your backfield, Wilson may not need to do as much in the passing game. Lynch gained 140 yards on 28 carries in the win over the Saints including a game-clinching 31-yard touchdown run.

This game will no doubt be a physical game because both defenses are capable shutting the other team down. Seattle opened the playoffs last week by keeping the explosive Saints offense off the scoreboard until late in the game despite allowing over 400 yards of total offense. The Seahawks held highly-touted Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to just one catch.

In their battles against the 49ers in Seattle, the Seahawks defense have shutdown Kaepernick and the Niners’ offense.  The last time San Francisco played at Century Link Field, the Seahawks intercepted the former Nevada star three times and sacked him three times.

“Just playing ourselves, playing discipline, sound football. If you’re playing man-to-man, you’ve got your man,” said outspoken Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. “Guys just playing discipline, sound football and not allowing them to scramble. That’s on our front four and front seven. Scheming it up, making sure he stays in the pocket.”

Meanwhile, the 49ers had two interceptions of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and sacked him five times while shutting down the Carolina running game.

 The last time San Francisco saw Lynch they held him to under 100 yards on the ground. Niners linebacker Patrick Willis said his team has to focus on shutting down the Seattle offense whether it’s Lynch on the ground or Wilson running to buy time in the passing game.

“[Lynch] is just a tough guy to bring down. There’s no question about that,” Willis said. “Russell Wilson, he’s able to scramble and able to throw the ball as well. So, we just have to play a complete game.”

It’s hard to pick against the Seahawks in their house with that defense and Lynch on offense, but I think the 49ers receivers will be the difference in this one. Look for the Niners to spring the upset, 27-23.