49ers beat Patriots at their own game

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49ers beat Patriots at their own game

So here, ultimately, what we learned about the 49ers after this week’s BIGGIDY-BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR, and right before this coming week's BIGGIDY-BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR:

1.      They can, as they did a year ago against New Orleans, beat the best at the other guys’ game, even when they can’t do it with their own.
2.      Colin Kaepernick is exactly what you thought he was – a player who can do spectacular things, for both teams.
3.      Say what you want about any other player on this well-constructed roster – Justin Smith is unquestionably first among equals, and the team’s most important player.

In beating New England, 41-34, the 49ers are again the nation’s darlings. Overcoming a mountain of statistical trends and the ethereal T. E. P. Brady, they are now the “team to beat” in the January sweepstakes.

[REWIND: 49ers out-slug Patriots 41-34]

Indeed, despite the hoop-de-blah to come about Seattle this weekend, the 49ers are essentially a lock to win the NFC West because they close the season out with Arizona. The only reason they actually need to win Sunday is to keep Green Bay (playing Tennessee and at Minnesota) in third, and hope that somehow Atlanta loses at Detroit and against Tampa Bay.

But we’ve known they were playing for January for awhile now, and Sunday night’s game was a fascinating study in a number of thiungs we should have already known. 

For instance, how Kaepernick can take errors of his own making and survive them (I mean, the 49ers fumbled six times and lost one), and in doing so make himself a folk hero.

This is now a rekindling of the Alex Smith debate. That ship has long sailed, and Smith is now a very distant memory, in that Steve DeBerg way.

But we knew Kaepernick would do wondrous things and make skull-smacking errors because that’s what rookies with physical gifts do. Normally a game with eight fumbles has a more even distribution pattern than seven for you and one for the other guy, and is therefore rejected as a game plan plus.

On a larger scale, though, the 49ers came to Foxborough unlikely to win a shootout, and did. New England got its 34 points, but the 49ers got more than twice as many as you’d have figured them to get, especially without a single legitimate rushing touchdown. Kaepernick threw two to Michael Crtabtree, the undisputed go-to receiver, one each to Randy Moss and Delanie Walker, and amazingly still can’t find Vernon Davis with a pack of bloodhounds.

And the fifth? An inadvertent fumblerooskie by Frank Gore. Hey, it’s better to be lucky than good, and best yet to be both.

But this was a rout in the making until Justin Smith went out with an elbow injury, and suddenly the 49er defense was at sixes and sevens trying to harass Brady or the Patriot offense as a whole. It is clearer now than ever that his work on the defensive line makes all other things possible, and if he misses any appreciable time with the injury (and he is likely to punch the doctor in the face if told he will), the 49ers stop being the team to beat.

That’s how important he is. On a unit that has essentially no outs in the lineup, he is the one that changes the way the other 10 are allowed to play. Even the secondary, which gave up 443 yards but forced Brady to beat them with Brandon Lloyd rather than Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, was far more effective while Smith was disrupting with Logan Mankins than not.

In sum, we had some evidence that the 49ers could run and with the Patriots, though we doubted they could do it in Massachusetts in December in crap weather. We were largely wrong there. We knew that Colin Kaepernick could do many good and bad things, and remains the damp dynamite of the 49er roster; we were spot-on there.

And we all knew about Justin Smith, though the difference between 10 points with him in the game and 24 when he wasn’t merely illustrates it more starkly. His health is in many ways San Francisco’s.

In all, this was a worthwhile expenditure of their time. They mostly re-established self-evident truths, but since those truths are flattering, self-evident is mostly a good thing. Now they just have to dance in one more graveyard – Seattle – before they arrive home safe and dry when the real season starts in three weeks.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

O.J. Simpson is free. The system as it is defined by those who run it in the case of the Nevada Parole Board, worked.

But the issue that lingers is whether we can free ourselves of him. That system is far more amorphous, arbitrarty and essentially unfair. And in its own revolting way, it works too.

The O.J. market has always been bullish. The old cliché that people can’t get enough no matter how much you shovel at them is more true for him than for any other sports figure of the last 50 years. More than Tiger Woods. More than LeBron James. More than Michael Jordan. More than all of them.

And now his parole hearing, televised and streamed by every outlet except Home & Garden Television, proved it again. He will never not be O.J.

But he is also 70. He is also planning to go to Florida and be with his family, based on what he told the parole board Thursday. He has assiduously avoided the media in his nine years in Lovelock, and if his family is providing the support it pledges, it will do its utmost to keep him from our prying eyes as he enters his dotage.

There is nothing we have that can do him any good. We have eaten all the forms of O.J. there are, culminating in the Emmy-award winning documentary on him, and finally, his release from prison. If he is wise as well as smart, here’s nothing left of his life but re-airs.

So the question becomes not so much whether he can leave fame alone, or whether fame can leave him alone. Our national appetite is poor on the topic of leaving people be, let alone deciding enough is enough. The fame we make for people gorges, purges and gorges again, in a hideous cycle that demeans all involved.

In sum, O.J. Simpson can, if he is paying attention to the value of normalcy, end his addiction to fame. I have far more serious doubts about fame and its addiction to him.

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

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Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

Some time not that very long ago, someone in sports management who will almost certainly spend all of eternity bobbing for razor-studded apples in a pool of lava saw an opportunity in the phrase, “The quietest time in sports.” And decided to fill it with filth.
 
It is believed to begin right after the end of the NBA Finals, although that artificial start date has been extended through free agency now that the NBA’s principal entertainment vehicle is the burning of money. It used to be right after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though now it has been extended backward. And it ends roughly at the beginning of NFL and/or college training camps, depending on where you live and which of those two beasts you profess your God to be.
 
But let’s get back to the management succubus who has set us on the path that has led inexcusably to the current point. The idea that baseball no longer holds the interest or attention spans of the young, cool and inadequately trained in the value of money is now accepted as fact, and as any marketing nitwit will tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.
 
So here’s what we’ve got. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in what is very simply a lazy-stereotype-laden comedy tour that isn’t funny let alone even mildly convincing. They have both been on the stage too long, with a month still to go before the final shame-off August 26, where they simply enter the arena, stand with their backs to each other at the ring rope and spend 45 minutes trying to target-spit into the eyes of the high-rollers. Why the promoters didn’t just muzzle Mayweather and McGregor and use actual professionals like Key and Peele and Aisling Bea and Ed Byrne to work the crowds for a million per is simply a lack of imagination at work.
 
Here’s what else we have. Our idiotic fascination for Lonzo Ball’s two best Summer League games being achieved wearing shoes other than those promoted by his father/huckster as though his skills and intelligence are all in his feet.
 
What this actually is, of course, is people using Lonzo’s momentary and mostly microscopic achievement to call LaVar a tedious swine without ever using his name or his product catalog because he, like McGregor and Mayweather, beats down crowds and calls it entertainment, and people have signed on in a weird backdoor way – by finding reasons to like the son as a weapon against the father.
 
Thus, Lonzo Ball gets to learn how to be a professional athlete of note while carrying the load of his father’s impression upon the nation as well as the loads of those who believe that sins of the father must revert to the son. Popularity’s dominant property is its corrosion, and Ball will have to have very fast feet and well-constructed shoes indeed to dance away from the rising tide of a bored fan base with an ax to grind.
 
It isn’t as instantly gratifying a train wreck as Mayweather-McGregor, but it is a triumph of the new marketing strategy of wholesale idiocy that diminishes the watcher as well as the watched.
 
Neither of these events are in and of themselves interesting. Mayweather-McGregor is simply a kangaroo boxing a bear because circus entertainment no longer has circuses as venues, and Ball’s summer bears almost no relationship to the true test of his career – how to be the best player on a terrible team and then make the adjustment to being the third best player on a rebuilding team.
 
Ball has a longer shelf life because of that single useful component, but it is made less rather than more interesting by the presence of his father, who is now indelibly part of the tale at a time when most parents leave their children to find their fortunes by the virtues of their skills and wits.
 
McGregor-Mayweather has the sole benefit of being cringeworthy both before, during and after the event, a month-long smear of degradation that reduces all involved, including those who buy the fight, into penitents, into rolling apologies. It is an event in which nobody gets out with any shred of dignity, with the single revolting example of the grisly accountant-beasts who will take the Internal Revenue’s cut immediately after the fight.
 
And if that isn’t Satan winning, then you don’t know how to score a game in which Satan plays on all the teams at once and sees to it that the game is scheduled in the middle of July because some client of his told him it was the best time of year for personal and professional disgrace with a scoreboard on the end of it.