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Pi Network

Draft King Analysis
January 15, 2012
Lou Pickney,

Reader feedback is always welcomed here on Draft King. Sound off with your thoughts on Twitter (@LouPickney) or via email at

Multitasking is a strength of mine. It's part ADD, part training from my television news producer days, part analyzing and evaluating, and part maximizing time. But, even for me, it was tough to keep track of everything happening around 8 p.m. CST last night.

The post I made on Twitter around that time sums it up succinctly, albeit only because Twitter limits you to 140 characters per post. The longer version: the fourth quarter of the Saints/49ers NFL playoff game was going down to the wire, a game that had been 17-0 San Francisco in the second quarter before New Orleans finally began to get their act together and stop turning the ball over on seemingly every possession.

As I tend to do while watching sports on TV, I monitored my Twitter feed via my Motorola Droid to keep up with the rest of the world. The people I follow kept me up to speed on everything from the Nashville Predators NHL game to the UFC 142 prelim fights in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But my attention was mostly locked in on the Saints/49ers game, which was going down to the wire.

Meanwhile, I knew that the much-hyped Broncos/Patriots game was billed as having an 8 p.m. CST start time, though I've worked in sports broadcasting long enough to know that 8:00 can often mean 8:05 or 8:10. Taking advantage of modern technology, I hit the Guide button on the remote and set the DirecTV DVR to record the Broncos/Patriots game, which aired on my local CBS affiliate (WTVF NewsChannel 5 in Nashville). With that set, I knew that, even if the Saints/49ers game went to overtime, I'd be able to watch the late game in its entirety.

My ADD kicked back in, so I pulled up Twitter on my phone. Two back-to-back posts left me confused; both referenced Oregon QB Darron Thomas leaving for the NFL. That made no sense to me, since there had been no rumblings (at least any that I had heard) about him bolting from Eugene. So I put my researcher hat on and attempted to find out more information.

After briefly trying unsuccessfully to look it up on my girlfriend's iPad, which defaults to the sub-par Safari browser, I went into my office during the next 49ers/Saints commercial break and did a Google search on my computer. And... nothing. I tried a Google News search, then I tried a regular Google search, but neither one provided any info about Thomas leaving Oregon.

With the commercial break about to end, I went back into the living room and did a Twitter search on my phone. By that point word was spreading -- we live in the information age, after all. Soon thereafter, I found this post by Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times that linked to a press release on announcing Thomas' plans to jump to the NFL.

Darron Thomas
Darron Thomas won the Rose Bowl in his final game with the Oregon Ducks. (Icon SMI)
It didn't make sense to me -- why would Thomas not only leave Oregon, but wait until the eleventh hour to do so? I wanted to search the internet for answers, for thoughts from those closer to the situation, but my attention was distracted by what was building up to be an unbelievable finish to the Saints/49ers game. Plus I was curious about pregame conditions in Foxboro, but part of the art of multitasking is knowing how to prioritize quickly, so that went on the backburner.

Right around this time, the Saints/49ers tilt went into crazy mode. New Orleans took their first lead of the game on a Darren Sproles receiving TD, putting New Orleans up 24-23 with just over four minutes to go. Then the 49ers drove down the field, scoring on a 28-yard Alex Smith rushing TD on 3rd and seven, just shy of the two minute warning. Reaction to Darron Thomas' decision to go pro took a backseat at that point, with my Twitter timeline going bonkers.

San Francisco went for two and didn't get it, which was a relief to me since a five-point differential seemed to all but eliminate the possibility of overtime and the likely reality of having to watch the Broncos/Patriots game on DVR delay. The irony there is that such a move would have forced me to go into an information blackout: no Twitter, no looking at texts, not even answering the phone.

Some people I follow on Twitter semi-jokingly suggested that Alex Smith should have taken a knee at the one rather than leave too much time on the clock for Drew Brees. At least one person compared it to the time Brian Westbrook took a knee at the one-yard line in a December 2007 game at Dallas. That might have been comparable if the 49ers had been winning (which they weren't) and if the Saints were out of timeouts (they had one left), but whatever -- I didn't have time to write a snarky response.

But those who were concerned about time being left on the clock for Brees were soon justified, as the Saints quickly drove down the field and regained the lead on a 66 yard touchdown pass by Brees to superstar tight end Jimmy Graham. That put the Saints back up, 30-29. New Orleans went for two and converted on a Brees pass to Darren Sproles, giving the Saints a 32-29 lead with 1:37 to go. Suddenly overtime, incredibly, was back in play as a possibility.

Alex Smith, the former #1 overall pick in 2005, faced a daunting task in his first-ever NFL playoff game, needing to drive his team down the field to get into at least field goal range. But Smith, who had gone from being on the short list of all-time #1 overall pick busts to being a successful quarterback under new head 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011, was undaunted. A long pass to Vernon Davis (a superstar tight end in his own right) moved San Francisco down the field and into the red zone, but it seemed to me at that point that the most likely turn of events would be 49ers kicker attempting a potential game-tying field goal to force overtime.

Alex Smith & Joe Staley
Alex Smith (#11) ran in a 28-yard TD with Joe Staley (#74) leading the way. (Icon SMI)

But that's not what happened. Smith, who threw only five interceptions in the 2011 regular season (bringing up memories of his 32 TD/4 interception season at Utah in 2004, which is in part why he ended up as the #1 overall pick in the 2005 draft), clearly has had it drilled into his head by Harbaugh to not force any passes, particularly in the red zone. If no one is open, throw it away. But on third and seven, Smith threw a bullet to Davis. Saints strong safety Roman Harper played it about as well as you could hope, colliding with Davis just as the ball arrived.

But Vernon Davis would not be denied, and in a play that will go down as "The Grab" in 49ers post-season lore (along with The Catch and The Catch II), Davis snagged the pass and held on as he and Harper both fell to the turf just inside the end zone. Touchdown. The Saints weren't able to do anything in the scant remaining seconds, and the ball game ended. San Francisco won, New Orleans remained winless all-time on the road in the playoffs, and the game finished just in time for fans across the world to flip over to the Denver/New England game... which turned out to be a rout that was realistically over by halftime, with the Patriots beating up on the Broncos like Thor did to Beavis & Butt-head a few times several years ago.

Something to keep in mind as you watch today's action: if the Packers beat the Giants, you can expect to hear plenty of talk in the upcoming week about the 2005 NFL Draft, which actually had a loaded first round when you look back on it, particularly if you ignore all the wide receivers not named Roddy White. There was lengthy debate seven years ago about who San Francisco should take at #1 overall: Alex Smith or Aaron Rodgers. Smith got the nod, Rodgers free-fell down the board to Green Bay at #24, and now they will be facing off in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay next weekend... again, provided that the Packers beat the Giants later today.


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