Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: San Francisco and Baltimore will meet in Super Bowl XLVII Feb. 3 in New Orleans. The 49ers topped Atlanta 28-24 and Baltimore stopped New England 28-13 to win divisional titles Sunday. What were your thoughts on those games?
-Dorr: I saw just a few minutes of each game and was, like everyone else, surprised that New England lost to Baltimore, although it was nice for Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco to show people, especially those in his own city, that he’s not the dud quarterback many had called him this season. New England’s Tom Brady was 67-0 at home in his career when leading at halftime, an unbelievable stat for anyone, and the Ravens still managed to win. So give Baltimore credit. I thought Atlanta would win when I heard they had the big lead but turnovers, so important in a game between evenly-matched teams, did them in. The worst part about Sunday’s results is that we’ll hear for two weeks about the Harbaugh family, something columnist Sid Hartman is already talking incessantly about.
-Marxhausen: The Harbaugh brothers have outwitted every coach they faced to make it to the Super Bowl. The 49ers scrapping past the Falcons was a very dramatic finish. San Francisco’s strategy was to limit the run as much as possible and make Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan work for his scores. Leading up to halftime, Ryan was finding openings in the 49er secondary, finishing the half with a 10-point lead. After halftime, the 49ers buckled down on defense and limited the opportunities Ryan had to execute, while stopping the run. Colin Kaepernick proved once again that he is not a fluke and that he can play with the likes of any NFL quarterback. Kaepernick didn’t have the explosive game he had against the Green Bay Packers a week earlier, but he took care of the ball and killed the clock when it counted. He is going to have his hands full against Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense. New England did not seem to be able to get into any groove and was completely shut out in the second half like the Falcons. John Harbaugh threw everything he had at Brady to keep him uncomfortable. Pass deflections by the Ravens defense lead to interceptions that in turn lead to scores. Once Joe Flacco had the lead, he looked extremely comfortable and was set to throw on target finishing the game with 240 yards and three passing touchdowns. Ray Lewis has to wait a few more weeks before he can retire playing in the biggest game in all of sports, the Super Bowl.
-Larson: Last week I wrote that when two teams are supposedly evenly-matched, go with the home team. So much for that. Both visiting teams Sunday were the better teams. Both teams were led by their respective quarterback, the surging Colin Kaepernick for San Francisco and the often-criticized Joe Flacco for Baltimore. Note that both teams rushed for well over 100 yards.
•Question: The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team just completed a rugged three-game stretch where it topped Illinois at Illinois, then lost to Indiana at Indiana and Michigan at home. The Gophers are 3-2 in the Big Ten and 15-3 overall, with road games at Northwestern (Wednesday, Jan. 23) and Wisconsin (Saturday, Jan. 26) coming up. Did the Gophers impress you in that recent three-game stretch?
-Dorr: Didn’t see the Michigan game but it sounds as though Michigan deserved to win, the Gophers again getting off to a horrible start and Rodney Williams all but disappearing in that game. Minnesota looked good in beating Illinois but the Illini have lost three games in a row so maybe that win didn’t mean as much as we thought it did at the time. In fact, maybe the Big Ten isn’t as good as some thought, although as I wrote a couple weeks ago, teams will spend the winter knocking each other off and it will be hard to tell if the conference is good or great. The second half against Indiana was very good for the team but you can’t fall 23 points behind a very good team and expect to win. There was absolutely no excuse for letting Indiana get an offensive rebound that kept Minnesota from having a chance to tie in the final seconds. One thought is that the team isn’t as deep as Tubby Smith told us, or that we may have believed. And, as I’ve said in other years, the ridiculous practice of substituting five at a time will not work in a good conference like the Big Ten. We’ve seen Smith’s Gopher teams fail miserably in Big Ten play in previous years and a poor performance this week would indicate that’s where they’re headed again. Two wins would make me think the opposite.
-Marxhausen: The Gophers should not be ashamed to have three losses on their record. It is not that I wasn’t impressed in these losses, but I would have been extremely impressed if they would have finished this stretch 3-0 or 2-1. Minnesota’s three losses include Duke, Michigan and Indiana. All three of those teams have been consistently in the top 10, with once-beaten Duke at No. 1, Michigan at No. 2 and Indiana at No. 7 currently. The Gophers are the highest-ranked team with three losses at No. 12. In the losses to Michigan and Indiana, the Gophers had ample chances to pull out a victory in each game. Both opposing teams were offensively explosive and limited the Gophers at second-chance points. In order to beat the likes of those teams, they have to knock down their first shots. They are doing all the little things right defensively and they rebound hard off the glass, but they are missing too many shots and need to score on the first shot instead of relying on offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities.
-Larson: I wasn’t impressed much by Minnesota’s showing. However, as Luther stated, victories over a good Northwestern team and a very good Wisconsin team could change that perspective. When a team gets outplayed in the first half like Minnesota did against Michigan (10 turnovers that led to 22 Wolverine points) and Indiana, it generally means it wasn’t prepared or it was over-matched. The Gophers looked like both in those games. We found out later from coach Tubby Smith, via Minneapolis StarTribine columnist Sid Hartman, that two key Gopher players, guard Joe Coleman and forward Rodney Williams, were battling injuries against Michigan. I’m guessing that some Michigan players also had some bumps and bruises. Guard Austin Hollins continues to be Minnesota’s best player. Keep an eye on Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren Saturday. The Princeton grad is having another good season for the Badgers.
Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.