In professional sports, as New York Jets coach Herm Edwards famously said a decade ago, you play to win the game.
Winning is what matters, not style points. When coaches forget that, they sometimes end up trying to explain why they ran a strange formation and had their young quarterback pitch the football to a wide receiver while running a third-down play in the shadow of his own end zone.
The San Francisco 49ers lost to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday and there was plenty of blame to go around: Kicker David Akers missed a potential game-winning field goal (again), the officials blew a call on a crucial safety and quarterback Colin Kaepernick made some big mistakes, including the aforementioned bad pitch which turned into a game-tying touchdown for St. Louis.
But the real culprit was the play-calling by offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who has done an otherwise spectacular job this year. He’ll likely be a head coach somewhere else next year and his clever use of San Francisco’s various weapons is a major reason the team is a Super Bowl favorite.
But Sunday, he fell victim to Mike Martz Syndrome.
You remember Martz. He was the mad scientist behind the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams about a decade ago and then took his offensive wizardry to San Francisco, Detroit and Chicago. He was brilliant, but you always got the feeling he wanted everyone to talk about how great he was – how he was the smartest coach on the field. He wanted to win, but he really wanted to be a genius.
That’s what Sunday felt like. With the 49ers holding an eight-point lead, the correct – and boring – call on third-and-3 was to run Frank Gore in an attempt to pick up a first down. If it failed, punt it away and let your defense finish off the game.
Instead, Roman went all Madden NFL 13 on us, running the triple option. You almost wonder if Ted Ginn, had he caught the pitch, would have thrown a pass back to Kaepernick, with Kaepernick then tossing the ball to an offensive lineman to get the first down.
Roman forgot the first rule of coaching: You play to win the game.
The 49ers defense would have finished off the Rams, except a ridiculous play call put points on the board for the other team without the defense getting on the field.
Let’s hope Roman – and head coach Jim Harbaugh, who could have vetoed the call – learned their lesson.
On to the topics du jour . . .
• When the San Francisco Giants didn’t offer a contract to Brian Wilson on Friday, there was much hand-wringing – at least on Wilson’s part. But most fans understand.
Wilson may return to what he was in 2010. But maybe not. And when a sports franchise is dealing with a finite payroll (in other words, every baseball team that isn’t the Dodgers), they don’t want to make $8 million mistakes that could cost a chance to sign someone else – such as Angel Pagan (signed Monday) or Buster Posey (negotiations ongoing for a future deal).
The Wilson move was an unfortunate business reality.
• I don’t know who to support in the spat between the San Antonio Spurs and NBA Commissioner David Stern over San Antonio’s decision to send its veteran stars all home before its game with the Miami Heat last week.
Coach Gregg Popovich made the move to rest his players and improve their chance at winning a title, but he deprived fans of a chance to see two of the league’s best teams.
The immediate reaction is to oppose Stern, but isn’t Stern backing the fans in this one? And isn’t Popovich doing what he thinks is best for his team?
• Finally, we’d like to thank Oakland Raiders fans for not buying tickets to Sunday’s game with the Cleveland Browns. Because of them, there was no sellout, which brought a blackout on CBS – meaning we got to watch the Steelers-Ravens games instead.
That was much better than another Raiders’ loss.
Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.