A GRIP ON SPORTS • Where were we? Oh, yeah. Wondering if the Seahawks could hang with the undefeated 49ers in Santa Clara? Well, we know the answer to that, don’t we?
• I have one other question. When are we? Taking Monday off sure threw a wrench in my schedule. No chance to catch up on the Sounders winning the MLS Cup – I’m thinking many of them are still celebrating – or pass along coverage of the Gonzaga women’s win over Cal State Bakersfield. (We’ll try to rectify some of that today, but old news and all that.)
Luckily, however, the Seahawks had Sunday off. And played quite possibly the best, and wackiest, Monday night football game of the year. Or should I type “Monday Night Football,” because it is still a big deal, right?
Honestly, no. But it was last night and ESPN took full advantage of having an 8-0 team hosting a 7-2 team. The league’s best defense versus the best quarterback. The West Coast’s best rivalry. Outside of the records, everything else is debatable, but that’s never bothered the Worldwide Leader. The network is going to overhype its game no matter what. Funny, this one didn’t need it.
“That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Russell Wilson said and he may not have been overcome by post-game hyperbole.
He was not perfect – what was he thinking in overtime? – but he ended up being MVP-worthy. The 49er defense was as advertised, except when it needed to get a final stop. But then again, having Kyle Shanahan – 2019’s offensive genius du jour – call three inept, and incomplete, pass plays near the end of overtime sure didn’t help his defense.
Who wants to play for a tie? Maybe the guy coaching the undefeated team with less than half the season left and the opponent desperate to catch up in the standings.
But we digress. The game’s the thing, as Willie Shakespeare might have said.
And what a game. There were a bunch of fumbles, and not all of them were from the players. The officials chipped in as well. (Honestly, do the officials hate Wilson? Rarely does he get a call when he slides and a guy, or three, hits him. And how about that late spot when San Francisco had the ball? At least it was within a yard of being right.) There were spectacular plays. There were boneheaded ones.
A walk-on kicker was perfect until he needed to be. An expensive kicker rewarded his coach’s faith after an awful week before and nailed the game winner. And the Levi Stadium’s turf held up, which may have been the biggest upset of all.
Thanks to Jason Myer’s 42-yard field goal, the Hawks wake up today 8-2, a half-game behind the 49ers in the NFC West heading into Seattle’s week off. If the game had gone the other way, the divisional race would be all but over. Now San Francisco hosts Arizona – let’s call that a win and a one-game lead in the standings over Seattle – and then have five consecutive tough games.
The Packers at home, in Baltimore, in New Orleans, home versus the resurgent Falcons, home against the Rams.
The Hawks schedule over that period isn’t easy either, what with games at Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Carolina broken up with visits from the Vikings and Cardinals.
By the time the 49ers and Seahawks take the CenturyLink Field on Dec. 29, the NFC West race will probably be tied. And if there are any more games like last night, the cliche, "fit to be tied," will apply to the team’s fans as well.
• While watching the Cougars play California on Saturday, we were surprised by one penalty call. (OK, to be honest, more than one, but we’re not going to get snippy here, there is no need.)
It came on a kickoff and, because of the illegal hands to the face call, the Cougars were pinned at their 8-yard line.
As is our M.O., we ran the play back on the DVR, trying to find WSU’s No. 15, the guy the referee cited for the penalty. We couldn’t, even though we took two tries. Oh well, it must have been off screen, though we did see WSU’s No. 51 make a clean block. Did the referee get the number wrong? It’s happened before. And, oh, Cal’s No. 15, Ben Moos, son of WSU’s former athletic director, was involved in a shoving match that was barely visible. Nothing on the replay justified a flag as far as we could see, though the contact between Cal's No. 15 and the Cougar blocking him was questionable, but our attention was on trying to find WSU's No. 15, who actually wasn't on the field. So where was the penalty?
There was one, however, and it turned out to be crucial.
You all know the rest, the penalty was on the Cal player, it was marked off against Washington State and the Pac-12 is still wiping the egg of its face.
"What a significant foul," is how the Pac-12 Network's Ted Robinson termed it and he was right. It impacted the rest of the game.
At this point I just have one question. OK, a whole bunch of questions. Why is only one official, in this case referee Matt Richards, able to make this call without some sort of backup plan in place? In other words, who watches the watchers? The other officials are supposed to jump in, right, and make sure there are no mistakes? If another official had made the call, Richards would have served as the fail-safe, asking questions, making sure everything was on the up-and-up. When he throws his flag, the umpire or center judge should take his backup role. The replay shows he spoke with the line judge, the back judge and the umpire before making the penalty announcement.
The conference has suspended Richards for a game. Fine. He’s in charge, he’s the one who called the penalty incorrectly (as far as I can tell from the TV replay), marked it off the wrong way and he has to pay the price.
The funny thing is the conference says, in its announcement of the mistake: "After the next play was run, the Referee informed Washington State that there was an error in application of the penalty. The penalty was on the kicking team number 15, not the receiving team, and the penalty should have been assessed on California at the end of the play with the ball spotted at California’s 35-yard line.”
Who told Richards there was a mistake and when? If it was one of his on-field crew, why didn't they step forward before the next play?
So many questions unanswered. There needs to be more of a clarification on what happened after Richards identified the wrong player. What is the procedure? How are the other officials involved? Does someone have the right to question the call? What is the role of the replay booth? When WSU pointed out – and the Cougar sideline must have – that it didn't have a No. 15 on the field, what was discussed, if anything? (Jon Wilner also went over many of these items in a San Jose Mercury News column yesterday and the Oregonian's John Canzano has his thoughts as well.) All of these questions, and more, need to be answered so that it never happens again.
If they aren't, the door is open for misunderstanding, for misinterpretation, for the same mistake to occur. And that's unacceptable.
WSU: Mike Leach wanted the media to analyze the call, according to Theo Lawson’s story today. We just added our two cents. Now let’s move on. Wait, before we do, can we just shake our head and wonder how this seems to happen in Pac-12 games more often than other conferences? OK, we’re done. … This week the Cougars, needing two wins to make a bowl game, host Stanford. Theo has his first look at the must-win (our term, not his). … Next week the Cougars and Oregon State will kick at 6 p.m. Not the worst time for honoring the senior class, not the best. Theo has that story as well. … There will also be an emotional element to that game not usually seen at Senior Night events. Washington State will recognize Tyler Hilinski, who would have been a senior. It’s the right thing to do. Theo has more here. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, it's time for power rankings. … Oregon State probably has to win its next two games if it wants to make a bowl. An Arizona State injury could help. … Oregon is No. 6 in the AP poll, Utah is eighth. … UCLA should offer more of a challenge for Utah than it looked like a couple weeks ago. … California may have its starting quarterback back. … Arizona is still trying to decide who will start at that position. … In basketball, the conference's hot start has helped in the rankings. … Oregon matches up with Memphis and controversial freshman James Wideman. … Washington has a bit of a breather coming up. It doesn't need it. … So does USC. … Colorado is back in the top 25. … Arizona is too and there is a main reason.
Gonzaga: The Zags return to McCarthey tonight for the final game in a three-game warmup for a tough nonconference stretch ahead. North Dakota visits. Jim Meehan has a preview and an update on Killian Tillie’s condition. … Gonzaga stayed in the eighth spot of the Associated Press poll. Jim has that story as well. … Larry Weir and Jim talked yesterday for the latest Press Box pod. … Our other Jim, Jim Allen, looks back at the women’s win over Cal State University Bakersfield. It happened Sunday. And it continued a mini-trend. … Around the WCC, BYU is disappointed with its loss to San Diego State.
• We will be back tonight for the Gonzaga TV Take of the North Dakota game. It won’t be on this site as quickly as usual, however, as we have a CPR class in the late afternoon – you may thank me someday – and we’ll be getting back home a little while after the game has started. We’ll have to catch up on the DVR, which isn’t an unusual occurrence for fans, right? I’m torn between listening to Tom Hudson and Adam Morrison on the way home or trying to avoid any spoilers. There are arguments for and against both. Decisions, decisions. Until later …
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