On Friday, Greg Jennings accepted an offer from the Minnesota Vikings that could pay him as much as $47.5 million over the next five years, with $18 million in guaranteed money. As a Packers fan, I feel 20 percent sad and 80 percent indifferent about this. I’ll always remember Greg Jennings as the best receiver of Aaron Rodgers’s early years. He was to no. 12 what Sterling Sharpe was to Brett Favre — or (for you non-Packers fans) what David Caruso was to NYPD Blue or Paul Di’Anno was to Iron Maiden. In seven seasons, Jennings caught 425 passes for 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns. The bulk of that production occurred from 2007 to 2010, the period when the Packers transitioned from Favre to Rodgers and ended up winning their fourth Super Bowl. Jennings was a pivotal player in that process; as Ted Thompson put it over the weekend with typical samurai terseness, Jennings was a “Good man. Good player.”
Alas, I come not to praise the Packer Greg Jennings was but to bury the Viking he is now. He was arguably the fourth-best guy in a stacked receiving squad last season, behind Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and the ascendant Randall Cobb. He hasn’t been healthy lately, missing 11 out of his past 22 games. And it was widely assumed that he’d been leaving anyway; Rodgers was already reminiscing back in September about the favorite deep balls thrown to his onetime go-to big-play threat. The most important contribution Jennings made to the Packers lately was not re-signing before the 2012 season, when he could’ve reportedly made $11 million per year, and instead milking the desperate Vikings, the league’s second-worst passing team (just ahead of the Chiefs) last year. Jennings freed up cap space for the Packers and forced a hated divisional opponent to overpay. What a generous parting gift!
When the rumor was circulating on Friday morning that the Packers were going to release Charles Woodson, I got more than one text message with the same question: “HOFer?” What makes Woodson’s time in Green Bay so notable isn’t my answer to that question — it’s how emphatically I gave it. I have no doubt that Woodson will give a speech in Canton one day, but the certainty in that assessment tends to make me forget about the uncertainty that came with Woodson signing in Green Bay.
In case you were busy making a fool of yourself mixing up the accomplishments of Franklin Pierce and James K. Polk, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The NBA All-Star Game pitted the best players in the game against each other in Houston this weekend, with the West coming out on top, 143-138. L.A. Clippers guard Chris Paul, who was named the game's MVP after getting 20 points and 15 assists, said, "I'm just so excited to help secure home court in the Finals for the West, because this time it counts!" When told that the game in no way counted, Paul went on to say, "Really? Is that why no one else was passing or playing defense until the end? Damn, I could have scored so many more points if I had known that."
Toronto Raptors rookie Terrence Ross won this year's NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest with his throwback tribute to former Raptor Vince Carter. First, he amazed the crowd with a display of world-class dunks. Then he limped off the court, petulantly burning bridges with his teammates and the people of Toronto. He plans on returning to next year's competition to complete his performance by not competing at all. "I can't believe it," said runner-up Jeremy Evans, who dunked over a painting of himself dunking over a painting of himself. "How the hell did I got out-meta-ed?"
With the rest of this off week between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl, I'll be taking a look back at the playoffs (today) and the season at large (Thursday and Friday) before diving back into Super Bowl coverage next Monday. Today, I want to take a step back and look at how the reputation and perception of playoff participants have changed over the course of these past three weeks. That's right: It's time for a Playoff Stock Watch. Let's start with the players who have seen their stock skyrocket during January and work our way down to the players who've crashed and burned.
Kevin Greene walked through the tunnel, hands in pockets, eyes fixed on his feet. As some players jogged and some players sulked, the coach of the Packers’ outside linebackers — a group tormented by Colin Kaepernick all night — kicked at the ground in front of him. He was halfway to the locker room when he finally looked up, took a breath, and exhaled.
The thought when Kaepernick became San Francisco’s starting quarterback was that where Alex Smith’s Niners were a safe team reliant on defense and error-free football, Kaepernick’s version was capable of delivering such a 45-31 bludgeoning. As the Packers left the field Saturday night, they looked like a team that had seen the business end of Jim Harbaugh’s vindication.
In case you were busy trying to concoct a homemade flu vaccine out of common household spices, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The San Francisco 49ers, led by second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick beat the Green Bay Packers, 45-31, in San Francisco to advance to the NFC Championship game. Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore combined for 300 yards rushing against an overwhelmed Packers defense. When told this stat after the game, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, "That's what it was! Run defense! I knew I was forgetting something. It was on my to-do list. I swear." McCarthy then pulled out a Palm Pilot, poked at it with a stylus for a couple of minutes, and then showed it to the gathered reporters. "Look, right here: 'Go over run defense.' It's always one thing you forget to do, am I right?"
The Seattle Seahawks rallied from 20 points down in the fourth quarter to dramatically cover the spread against the Atlanta Falcons, 28-30. Russell Wilson threw for 385 yards and ran for 60 more, accounting for three touchdowns in the cover. After the game, when asked about his team's success, Wilson fought back tears, saying, "We fought so hard; we left it all there. I'm just so proud of my whole team. It's hard to put into words what happened tonight. But I still aim to come out even stronger next time we play." The Seahawks will again go for the cover next September against an opponent yet to be determined.
This Saturday night, I plan on sitting in front of my television set for three-plus hours and praying that the Packers' pass protection is better than the 49ers' pass rush. Of all the variables that might possibly affect the outcome of the Packers-49ers playoff game, this by far seems the most important. And I’m sure that the pregame coverage, as well as the play-by-play announcers, will spend a lot of time analyzing it. But I also expect to hear about another story line that’s become standard for Packers games. It stars Aaron Rodgers, and it co-stars The Chip On Aaron Rodgers’s Shoulder.
If you watch the Packers every week like I do, you’ve come to regard The Chip On Aaron Rodgers’s Shoulder as an overly familiar chestnut of wisdom utilized by analysts to supposedly reveal deep truths about the reigning NFL MVP’s psyche. It is now officially the no. 1 talking point among football pundits for deconstructing Aaron Rodgers’s play and persona. What “he looks like a kid out there!” was to Brett Favre, “he sure takes things to heart!” is to Rodgers. If Favre was “the gunslinger,” Rodgers is the grudge-slinger.
In case you were busy coming up with a fun portmanteau to describe your post-holiday diet, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Seattle Seahawks came back from an early 14-0 deficit with 24 unanswered points to eliminate the Washington Redskins, 24-14, at FedEx Field. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was his typical subdued self in the postgame press conference, shouting, "YEEEEEEHAWWWWWW WOOOO WOOO WOOO PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL!" before running around the room until he tired himself out and took a nap under the podium.
In what could have been Ray Lewis's last game, the Baltimore Ravens used a strong second half to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 24-9. The turning point came at halftime when Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh decided to stop "sucking for Luck" when he learned that strategy had been a tactic teams used to jockey for draft position last season, and not a way to exploit Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck's tendency to feel bad and take it easy on inferior opponents.
The Houston Texans topped the Cincinnati Bengals, 19-13, and will advance to face the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional round. Tom Brady appeared to provide some bulletin board material for the Texans, saying he was pleased with the matchup, but went on to explain he was only happy to avoid a matchup with the Bengals, who bring with them the smell of Cincinnati, a mix of bad chili and stagnant river water, that clings to his puffier garments for weeks.
In case you were out picking up smoking as an excuse to avoid your relatives, here's what you missed in sports during the holiday season.
December 22 UCF crushed Ball State 38-17 in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, and I'm not going to start my first About Last Night with a joke about how, after hearing about the game, Andy Reid started looking for college coaching opportunities so that, one day, he could maybe get a Beef 'O' Brady's bowl of his own. I'm not going to start it out like that, people. Not after everything Andy Reid went through these past couple of weeks. Instead I'm going to highlight Blake Bortles and his four touchdowns. And not make an easy joke about Andy Reid. Deep breaths. OK … Moving on …
December 23: The Seattle Seahawks were the standout team in the NFL's pivotal Week 16, delivering a 42-13 thrashing to the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick blamed the loss on being unprepared for the Seahawks' "12th Man" home field advantage, which he had assumed would be one really loud guy yelling at him and not an entire stadium full of football fans.
In part 1 of 2, Cousin Sal and Chad Millman join Bill to review the Week 17 action and look forward to the matchups on wild-card weekend. In part 2, Mike Lombardi offers his analysis of the NFL playoff matchups, and Joe House celebrates the Redskins' big win over the Cowboys.
To listen to this podcast, you can download it on iTunes here or go to the ESPN.com PodCenter for part 1 and part 2.
Have you ever seen a more desperate run than Adrian Peterson’s last run of the 2012 football season? Not just in the NFL, but anywhere — like to the bus stop or across the lawn or down the stretch at the track? With 24 seconds left on the clock, on Green Bay’s 37-yard line in a tie game, AD needed 35 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s record. He grabs the handoff and follows his fullback. He diverges from his lead as soon as said fullback pops a linebacker and instantly drives 12 yards downfield. At the 26-yard line he weaves 30 degrees inside for five yards, and then it all gets a little Butch Cassidy and the Stanford Marching Band. He looks like he’s being chased by the entire Green Bay 53-man roster. He bends his shoulders back toward the sideline right before two Packers jump on his back at the 17 and he carries the two of them in a sort of crescent-shaped path to the 11 before he falls over and the Vikings call timeout.
There is chaos. Everybody in the Metrodome — whether wearing purple or green and gold — seems bewildered. Did he get it? Wait, he didn’t get it? He has to wait along with everybody else for a 5-foot-2 person to kick a chip-shot field goal. Afterwards, he is hoisted on somebody’s shoulders.
The modern NFL is a game of matchups. Since the salary cap and the spread of strategic concepts throughout the league prevent a team from dominating the way that the 1980s Niners or the early-'90s Cowboys did, just about every team in football has one or two weaknesses that can be exploited by a well-timed opponent. That doesn't necessarily mean that the team in question will lose to that otherwise-inferior opposition because the matchup is poor, just as a team with a weakness being exploited by the opponent can still win by pressing its advantage in other areas. But a team that's a bad fit for a specific superior opposition can have a higher chance of causing an upset if they find some weakness ready to be manipulated and attacked.
That is precisely where it pays to look at this year's upcoming playoffs. With three teams assured of at least one home playoff game in the AFC, and three teams guaranteed a playoff berth (with two guaranteed a likely home playoff game) in the NFC, it's useful to look ahead and identify the possible bad matchups for those teams. Obviously, a great team is always going to be the toughest matchup for another dominant squad, but I'm thinking more about the still-competing playoff contenders and whether there's a team that each member of the league's royalty would prefer were sitting out this January.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
When I Paint My Masterpiece
This is a video of Adrian Peterson highlights, with play-by-play by Gus Johnson, because of course Gus Johnson was calling this game.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Tom Brady led New England on a stirring comeback, but the Patriots' 24 fourth-quarter points weren't enough to beat the 49ers, who prevailed, 41-34, and secured a playoff spot. After the final whistle, Jim Harbaugh and Bill Belichick stared at each other from across the field and simultaneously shouted, "It's probably better if we don't do this!"