Mike Nolan went into Saturday’s game with a lot of detractors and a lot of supporters. Both sides emerged claiming victory. The Nolanites could argue that, as was the case a year ago, the coach had his team prepared late in the season. Nolan preaches a never-say-die attitude and his players obviously on board. The Nolanphobes, on the other hand, can point to yet another oddball fourth-down call from the coach. And they can also argue that Shaun Hill should have been inserted into the lineup back when the leaves were still green.
I must say the decision to opt against a 42-yard field goal was bewildering. When the 49ers lined up to go for it, I thought I had missed something. Was there a penalty and this was still third down? Or did Joe Nedney pull a groin muscle? No, it was yet another puzzler from Nolan, and wouldn’t you know it, Larry Allen was somehow involved. Nolan said it was Allen, who wanted to go for an earlier fourth-down conversion, who convinced him to go for it. If you’ll recall, Nolan also called timeouts before critical – and ultimately failed – and-one situations the last two seasons because he noticed Allen was dragging on the previous play.
It was a huge decision, and if Chad Johnson had come down with the ball in the end zone – it was in his hands, after all – you’d be reading stories today about that call instead of about Shaun Hill.
Speaking of Hill … that was exactly the type of quarterback performance the 49ers were hoping for all season. Nothing flashy, mind you, but efficient and creative when called for. However, we need to see how he performs against a decent defense that’s still in the playoff hunt. Tampa Bay will be a nice test.
I have a new favorite referee – Terry McAulay. His crew called four – FOUR!! – penalties all game and the contest was over in 2:38. And it’s not as if the Bengals are a grind-it-out, chew-up-the-clock kind of team. The game wasn’t choppy and disjointed like too many NFL games are these days. It must have been a fun game to watch on TV. That is, if Bryant Gumbel hadn't been calling it …
What’s with the television out here? I was looking forward to a rare all-day Sunday date with my sofa in which I would allow football to wash over me like a drug and maybe write a few Christmas cards. So I turn on the tube at 10 a.m. and there’s only one game – Packers at Rams, which turns out to be one-sided. Fox is teasing me with Eagles at Cowboys throughout that telecast, but when 1 p.m. rolls around, freakin’ “America’s Funniest Videos” is on instead. (Near-paralyzing neck injuries are hil-AR-ious!). So now I’m stuck watching the Raiders and Colts. Thanks, NFL …
-- Matt Barrows