10 things that defined the 2019 NFL season

By Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk)

Looking back at last season, there were some great games and some awful ones. Amazing throws, catches and runs. Incredible touchdowns. Last-ditch tackles. But that’s the case every year. So what were the events that really defined the campaign? Here’s the @Full10Yards take on what 2019 should be remembered for.


1. Luck finally runs out as Colts’ QB retires


The first headline of the 2019 season was written during Indianapolis’ preseason game with the Chicago Bears, when 29-year-old franchise quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement. Sadly, he was booed off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the news leaked out.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

The reasons cited at an emotional press conference in August centred on the mental and physical toll of the injuries sustained during his career. Referring to the seemingly endless cycle of injury and rehab, he said “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game… and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. It’s the hardest decision of my life but it is the right one.”

Touted as a generational talent, the Stanford QB was selected as the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft as the successor to Peyton Manning. He immediately delivered, leading the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons without missing a start. His best season, 2014, saw him throw an NFL-leading 40 touchdowns as Indy reached the AFC Championship game.

But during his final four years, he missed 26 games and played in pain most of the time. He tore abdominal muscles, rib cartilage and a labrum, lacerated a kidney, suffered concussion and, in what was probably the final straw, endured a mystery ankle issue that was never resolved.

Despite an injury-blighted 2015, he signed a $140m extension to become the highest-paid player in the NFL, but then missed all of 2017. The four-time Pro-Bowler came back with a career-high 4,593 yards in 2018, and finished his career with 23,761 yards (third on the Colts’ all-time list) and 171 touchdowns.


2. Player holdouts become a thing


The 2019 season saw more NFL holdouts than ever before. Skipping training camp seemed to be an increasingly common and effective tactic as players tried following in the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack.

There are several reasons why players hold back their services and demand a trade: it’s usually about money so each franchise needed to weight up whether keeping the player active benefits either party in the long run. And in 2019, the results were mixed.

Take Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon from the LA Chargers. With two years left on his rookie deal, Zeke held out through August and got a six-year, $90m contract extension for his troubles. Gordon didn’t. He was looking to prove his value though his absence but the Chargers dug their heels in and leaned on Austin Ekeler instead. Gordon, in the fifth year of his rookie deal, caved after a few weeks of cat and mouse, and slinked back into the fold in late September when his request fell on deaf ears.

Despite being set to make a paltry $1.1 million in 2019, Saints star wideout Michael Thomas was adamant that he wouldn’t hold out, but he did. But boy, did it pay off. Negotiations led to a $100m, five-year deal – a new record for a receiver.

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The Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney also had a deal below market value so he sat out all of preseason, prompting a trade to the Seahawks days before the start of the campaign, while the Jaguars’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue refused to attend minicamp and preseason workouts until his contract was resolved.

There were also two holdouts not driven by the dollar: Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey demanded a trade after a touchline bust-up with head coach Doug Marrone during their Week 2 game against Houston, and Washington tackle Trent Williams sat out the entire year due to the way he believed the Redskins medical staff handled a health scare. 

To me, saying you won’t play till you get what you want feels like a spoilt child sulking and stamping their feet. Then again, it might be worth a try if you’re gonna get paid $100 million to zip it.


3. Antonio Brown quits the NFL


The former Pittsburgh wide receiver had a difficult 2019 to say the least. Having bounced around three different teams in under a year, he tried to claim back around $40 million in unpaid wages, fines, guarantees and bonuses from the Raiders and the Patriots.

Lynne Sladky/AP

Oakland acquired him from the Steelers but cut him before Week 1, creating a flurry of complaints concerning fines, lost guaranteed money and a $1m signing bonus voided because he was axed prior to playing a regular season game. Picked up by the Patriots just hours later, Brown is also attempting to salvage his unpaid Week 1 salary plus another $9m signing bonus, accusing the franchise of breach of contract. Then there’s the two (unsuccessful) grievances he filed against the NFL while disputing the ban on his preferred style of helmet.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Brown was also accused of sexual assault by his former trainer, Britney Taylor, while another woman accused him of sexual misconduct and sending intimidating text messages. Brown strenuously denies the charges but that final claim tipped the scales for the Pats. He was released after just 11 days and one game.

Soon after, AB84 hit social media saying he wasn’t going to play in the NFL any more, as team owners can obviously cancel whatever deals they liked. He also took pot-shots at Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Steelers teammate Ben Roethlisberger, who had both been linked with scandals in the past without much fall-out.

The investigations rumble on but whatever the eventual outcome, the league has lost a star. The 31-year-old was one of football’s most prolific offensive players with the Steelers, where his 686 catches and 9,145 receiving yards were the highest totals for a receiver over a six-year span. But it has also lost a troubled soul. Let’s hope he gets the support and professional help he needs.


4. Kaepernick holds a weird workout


Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly a divisive figure. At his peak, the quarterback led the 49ers to consecutive NFC championship games but in his last season, the Niners went 2-14. He has been out of the league since 2016 after kneeling during the national anthem – a protest against police brutality on people of colour. Since then, there has been no love lost between the player and the NFL.

Having settled a lawsuit with the NFL in February after claiming teams blanked him in retaliation for his protests, the league organised an out-of-the-blue, take-it-or-leave-it tryout for Kaepernick in mid-November. He was given just two hours to accept. A work-out for 25 teams was scheduled to start at the Atlanta Falcons’ training complex but amid bickering over terms and conditions, Kap pulled out and held his own private workout at a high school in Georgia, 60 miles away. About six representatives made it to the new location in time.

Carmen Mandato, Getty Images

The workout was clearly a PR stunt by the NFL – probably in an attempt to deflect criticism of their treatment of Kaepernick – but it was his only shot to get in front of scouts. As a free agent, he is eligible to sign with any team and at the time, several potential suitors were being mooted.

Regardless of the motivations behind it, one guy did something out of it but it wasn’t Kaepernick. Jordan Veasy, one of the receivers used in the workout, was subsequently signed to the Redskins’ practice squad, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.


5. A new position is invented: the quarterback-up


How many quarterbacks saw game time in 2019? Would you believe 57? Most teams had to rely on at least one stand-in and in a few cases, more than one. Every week or two, it seemed like a franchise QB was replaced by a stand-in for one reason or another, and with varying degrees of success. 

Injuries were obviously the main reason for a swap and for some, there was hardly a blip. 41-years-young Drew Brees lost five weeks but the Saints’ stand-in Teddy Bridgewater held the fort admirably, going a perfect 5-0 in his stead. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes also missed game time when he dislocated his kneecap against Denver, but veteran Matt Moore ably took over.

Alas, it didn’t always work out so well. Jets back-up Trevor Siemian – pressed into action when Sam Darnold contracted mono – didn’t even complete two quarters before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Luke Falk’s two subsequent starts produced 0 TDs, 3 INTs and 14 sacks. Likewise, after Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow surgery, Pittsburgh were forced to call upon Mason Rudolph and then Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges (both underdelivered) while Matthew Stafford’s deputies were Jeff Driskel (0-3) and then David Blough. The undrafted rookie had a blinding first few minutes, throwing TD passes against the Bears on his first two possessions, but the rest of his five-game run was ‘sub-optimal’.

Retirement also played it part, with the Colts forced to start Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck retired, while the Giants hastened the changing of the guards just two weeks into the season, subbing in Daniel Jones at the expense of the outgoing Eli Manning.

USA-TODAY

But for many teams, starting QBs were benched left, right and centre purely due to their performance. After a mediocre stretch in Miami, Ryan Tannehill took the Titans’ starting job from an underwhelming Marcus Mariota in mid-season and promptly went 9-4, including two on-the-road playoff victories at New England and Baltimore. With 22 TDs and 6 INTs, Tannehill went from ‘work in progress’ for the Dolphins to Comeback Player of the Year in Tennessee.

Back in Miami, Josh Rosen floundered for six games, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick to pick up the pieces and win five games (despite the team being in full rebuild mode) while in Washington, journeyman Case Keenum paved the way for young buck Dwayne Haskins, the possible future of the franchise. In contrast, Ryan Finley really isn’t the future in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton was benched with the Bengals at 0-8 but the rookie was beyond terrible. After three more painful losses, Dalton was restored.

Likewise for the Panthers, Cam Newton’s injury gave Kyle Allen his chance. After four wins in four starts, he was sacked seven times by the 49ers (with a painful 28.9 passer rating) in Week 8, and was replaced by Will Grier. But he was even worse in his two starts: amid a flurry of interceptions, fumbles and sacks, Carolina lost both by 32 points.

There was one other guy I deliberately haven’t mentioned, as he deserves an entry of his own, so let’s move on… 


6. Minshew Mania


Having signed a $88m deal to become Jacksonville’s QB1, Nick Foles went down with a shoulder injury in Week 1. The Jaguars needed a new hero. Step forward sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew II.

The rookie put the Jags’ first W on the board in his second start, a Thursday night win over the Titans, and by the end of September, he’d been named Offensive Rookie of the Month, having thrown for 905 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in four games. The Jags were 4-5 when he handed the reins back to Foles but not before “Minshew Mania” had taken hold.

Not all heroes wear capes; some wear helmets and cleats. And on their days off, they wear aviators, headbands and cut-off denim ‘jorts’. Aided by giveaways of fake moustaches at home games, fans dressed themselves and their kids as Minshew. His distinctive look even became the Halloween costume of choice. With plans for his own fashion range, Minshew has since filed trademark applications for several terms, including Minshew Mania.

Somewhat appropriately for our moustachioed maverick, the mania ended in November (see the UK men’s health campaign Movember to see why), when Nick Foles returned. However, Minshew wasn’t quite done, replacing the former Eagle halfway through a 28-11 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 13.

Looking beyond the hype and hysteria, Minshew racked up 3,217 yards, 21 TDs and six INTs in 14 appearances, and oversaw all six of Jacksonville’s wins. Solid enough production to reassure fans, should he be called upon again.


7. Myles Garrett loses his head


As we all know (*cough*), Rule 12, Article 17 of the NFL rulebook states: “A player may not use a helmet … as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent.”

Well, eight seconds from the end of Cleveland’s fractious 21-7 victory over Pittsburgh in November, that’s exactly what occurred. Steelers QB Mason Rudolph had just completed a pass when he was engulfed by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The players shoved each other, then wrestled and grabbed each other’s face masks. The top draft pick from 2017 pulled Rudolph’s helmet off and clobbered him over the head with it.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The ensuing melee led to three immediate ejections, followed by fines for both teams and suspensions for the main protagonists. Garrett’s indefinite ban for his actions – termed “totally unacceptable and inexcusable” by coaches, players and pundits alike – was only rescinded after the season ended. And he had previous: Garrett had already been handed a $50,000 fine for punching a Titans player and two roughing-the-passer penalties against the Jets, one of which ended Trevor Siemian’s season.

At the time, Garret said: “I lost my cool and I regret it. I hurt my whole team.” He later stated: “A win’s a win. I don’t think it’s overshadowed by what happened.” Yeah right, fella – we’re only going to remember the result.

Contrite at the time, Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens added: “I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good. He understands it’s totally unacceptable.” But just a couple of weeks later, Kitchens was pictured wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt, reigniting tensions just 48 hours before the teams’ rematch. Smart.


8. The Patriots play i-spy (again)


There’s a well-known saying: “To get caught spying on your opponents once is unfortunate; to get caught twice is foolish.” OK, there isn’t, but given New England’s track record, there should be.

In early December, the Patriots acknowledged that a video crew working for them filmed the Bengals’ sideline during their game with the Browns, violating league rules in much the same way they did in 2007 during the original Spygate scandal. The Patriots admitted that a crew, making an online series titled “Do Your Job”, inappropriately filmed the field from the press box, and failed to inform the Bengals and the league of their intentions. They did, however, hand over all footage. In a statement, the Patriots accepted full responsibility for the incident (blamed on an error with credentials) but Bill Belichick distanced himself and the team from the shenanigans.

AP Photo/Gary Landers

When confronted by security, the video guy reportedly said he was an employee of Robert Kraft, not the team itself. That’s very interesting, as a key witness 12 years ago told investigators that was exactly what he’d been told to say if caught.

The seized tape apparently showed eight minutes of footage focusing on Bengals coaches signalling during the game. Sounds incriminating enough to me, especially with a game with Cincy coming up. Yet according to the NFL investigation, there was no clear evidence of the Patriots trying to gain a competitive advantage.

Maybe it was just a communication breakdown but with the Pats also at the centre of the 2015 Deflategate scandal, I can’t help thinking “there’s no smoke without fire” – and that is a well-known saying.


9. Tough Mudder comes to the NFL


In October, the Super Bowl-bound 49ers faced the Redskins at FedEx Field, holding them to 154 total yards and zero points in a 9-0 win. The game was played in appalling conditions: driving wind and rain turned the already substandard field into a quagmire, with many players struggling to keep their feet in the pooling surface water.

Not surprisingly, literally nothing of any note happened during the regulation 60 minutes (check out the box score if you like). ‘Skins QB Case Keenum made nine throws for 77 yards and Washington had -7 net yards in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Jimmy G only made 12 of 21 attempts and the game’s only points came courtesy of Robbie Gould’s boot.

That’s why the game will be remembered for what happened after the last play. Nick Bosa sacked Keenum as the clock hit zero and celebrated with a headfirst slide 10 yards across the grass. Fully embracing the conditions and their inner child, several teammates joined in. Before you knew it, a pack of white jerseys (OK, brown) were skimming across the sodden field like body-boarders.

Niners defensive end Deforest Buckner said. “It was a lot of fun. It was definitely worth it. Everybody started sliding around. It was like a bunch of little kids out there. That’s part of the game, having fun. Right now, we’re having a lot of fun.” Cornerback Richard Sherman added: “It takes you back to being a kid: you’re sloshing around and your shoes are full of water and mud. Guys had a lot of fun slipping and sliding out there.”

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

10. A new UK venue earns its spurs


Coming to London for regular season games since 2007, the NFL continues to grow over here. British fans sport flags, foam fingers, face paint and the jerseys of all 32 teams. We hang out like old friends, then scrap like alley cats for the merchandise fired into the crowd by the ‘party patrol’. And then there’s the possibility of a London-based franchise.

In 2019, we got four games for the first time as the all-singing-and-dancing Tottenham Hotspur Stadium joined Wembley as a UK International Series venue. In early October, the Oakland Raiders saw off the Chicago Bears in front of 60,463 people. The Raiders led 17-0 at half-time, the Bears fought back with 21 unanswered points but Oakland eventually triumphed 24-21.

But it wasn’t Josh Jacobs’s late TD or Gareon Conley’s game-ending interception that will stand the test of time. It was the authentic experience created by an arena built to NFL specifications that went down so well with players, coaches and fans. The dual-purpose venue has a grass football pitch (used just five days earlier for Spurs’ 7-2 Champions league defeat to Bayern Munich) that retracts beneath the stand, revealing a synthetic, NFL-ready surface. Then there’s the bespoke, super-sized locker rooms and conference suites for both teams.

Miles Willis Photography

No wonder Raiders QB Derek Carr liked it so much. “Everything is first class, every little detail,” he said afterwards.This is definitely one of, if not the best, stadiums I’ve ever been at. Bears coach Matt Nagy concurred, adding: “It blows you away – it’s absolutely phenomenal.”

Rather than borrowing a ‘soccer’ stadium like Wembley, the NFL may just have found its spiritual home on these shores.


11. And one more for luck…


We started with a story about Luck so for a purr-fect finish, we should end with one too, even if it takes us over our designated 10 items.

During the second quarter of Dallas’ Monday night game at the Giants’ MetLife Stadium on 4 November, play was delayed for a few minutes when a black cat trotted onto the field. Displaying Amari Cooper-esque speed and agility, the elusive feline evaded players, officials, stewards and security with some neat route running and play-action before heading off under one of the stands.

Game caller Kevin Harlan had a ball, providing play-by-play commentary on the moggy’s progress: “Now he’s at the five… he’s walking to the three… he’s hit the two. A state trooper has come on to the field and the cat runs into the end zone! That. Is. A. Touchdown!”

The black cat seemed to give the Giants instant bad karma, as the home side threw away a 9-3 lead to eventually lose 37-18. And for weeks afterwards, superstitious fans clocked the fact that the ‘cat’ teams – the Lions, Panthers, Bengals and Jaguars – couldn’t buy a win for love nor money. In fact, it took almost a month, when Cincy beat the Jets on 1 December, for the hex to be lifted.

F10Y Retro Feature – Tom Rathman – The original #44

by Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro and @NFLFANINENGLAND)

When the San Francisco 49ers scored their first touchdown in Super Bowl 54, it wasn’t mega-stud TE George Kittle, red-hot RB Raheem Mostert or even mid-season acquisition WR Emmanuel Sanders who broke the plane of the end-zone, it was a guy with a name that features two z’s, and we are not talking Buzz Lightyear. 

Photo credit: NBCSports.com

Kyle Juszczyk the premier fullback (FB) in the NFL was the scorer of that TD. Resplendent in a #44 shirt Juszczyk could have gone on to score a second, but even if he had it would not have won the game for his beloved 49ers. 

Exactly 30 years prior to Juszczyk’s heroics the 49ers were in the Super Bowl, their fourth, and coincidentally their fullback wore #44 too. In fact that #44, a Mr Thomas Dean Rathman, went on to eclipse Juszczyk’s feat by scoring not one, but two touchdowns of his own.

The game, Super Bowl XXIV, ended up at the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history as the 49ers destroyed the John Elway led Denver Broncos 55-10. 

Turned out for Tom Rathman that in his 14 career playoff games he never again had two scores, and never topped the 11 bone-shattering carries he was given by Hall of Fame QB Joe Montana on that remarkable day in New Orleans. 

So who exactly was Tom Rathman? 


Photo credit: ksnblocal4.com

Born in 1962 in Grand Islands, Nebraska, a city of under 50,000 residents, Tom went to his local high school, Grand Island Senior High. This was an honour he shared with another boy who went on to become the 10th heaviest recorded human being in history. 

Rathman was an excellent high-jumper, once clearing a distance of 6 feet 7 inches, but he was most at home in high-school running the football for the Islanders, so much so he earned a place at the University of Nebraska.

Rathman joined the Cornhuskers in 1981, but only saw limited action as a freshman, gaining 20 yards on four carries. A power running team, Nebraska’s backfield in the early 80s was led by Roger Craig (more to come later) and Mike Rozier, who went on to play in the USFL and then the NFL for 8 seasons. 

After redshirting in 1982 Rathman benefitted from a fortunate proverbial bounce of the ball a year later when the team’s starting fullback Doug Wilkening quit the team, allowing Tom to avoid the possibility of being converted to a tight-end. 

The 1983 Cornhuskers had a remarkable season, Rathman was lead blocker for Mike Rozier, who as a senior rushed for 2,148 yards and went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Nebraska reached the College National Championship Game, losing 31-30 to ‘The U’ – the Miami Hurricanes. 

Rathman averaged 5.5 a carry that season on his rare handoffs and scored his first college TD (a catch), and like most fullbacks he spent most of the season blocking, in fact in the College Championship he didn’t touch the ball. 

With Rozier gone Rathman entered his junior season in 1984, and again his carries went up, gaining 381 yards on 75 carries with 4 scores, but 0 catches. 

Photo credit: Richard Voges/Nebraska Football

The Cornhuskers lost two games, but won the Sugar Bowl against LSU, running the ball 59 times for 280 yards. Rathman had 2 carries for 8 yards in the victory. 

In his senior season (1985) Rathman’s draft stock shot up, and he was billed as the top fullback in the country after gaining 881 yards, at 7.5 a pop, plus 8 scores. Nebraska lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Michigan to cap off a 9-3 season. Behind the blunt force trauma blocking by Rathman, Nebraska ran for 304 yards in the Bowl game, Tom himself gaining 47 yards in the showcase contest. 

RATHMAN REACHES THE NFL

The 49ers 1986 Draft was one of the best negotiated and choreographed masterpieces of tactical execution in NFL history. 

San Francisco head coach Bill Walsh, who had won Super Bowls following the 1981 and 1984 season was reeling after a 1985 Wild-Card loss to the Giants. 

Walsh wanted to come out of the ’86 draft with an improved secondary, a devastating pass-rusher and blocking fullback, to lead the way for Roger Craig, who was fresh from becoming the first RB in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a regular season. 

Moving around the draft like a chess grandmaster Walsh traded away an acquired first round pick to the Buffalo Bills to pile up picks in the middle rounds, including the first pick of the 3rd round. With that 56th pick the 49ers selected Tom Rathman. 

Despite only watching footage of Rathman once Coach Walsh said:

“I saw Rathman take a screen pass, break two or three tackles physically and run 60 yards. He was an absolutely terrific blocker, and the thing we’d never had was the massive blocking fullback. I knew Rathman could be that player.”

The 49ers draft class of 1986 included DE Charles Hayley (4th Rd) who is now in the Hall of Fame, CBs Tim McKyer (12 season is the NFL) and Don Griffin (11 seasons in the NFL), WR John Taylor, and T Steve Wallace. Between just these six (including Rathman) their careers combined for 18 Super Bowl winners rings. 

As a rookie Rathman suffered from some training camp fumbles, and feared he would be cut, however by the time his nine-year NFL career was concluded he only lost the pigskin 7 times. 

Picture credit: 49ers.com

Now reunited with former college backfield team-mate Roger Craig, Rathman was going to become a significant feature in Bill Walsh’s final three seasons coaching. 

Tom’s first two NFL seasons ended in crushing playoff defeats, firstly a devastating 49-3 loss to the Giants and then in 1987 a huge shock defeat to the visiting Minnesota Vikings. 

In his first two seasons Rathman ran for just under 400 yards, and although big and bruising, it was found he had soft hands, catching 43 passes in a West Coast offense that would not simply carry a blocking back. He missed 4 games in 1987, but would not miss a start over the next four years. 

The 1988 49ers finished the regular season a rather middling 10-6, but went on to win their third Vince Lombard Trophy, a second win over the Bengals. Rathman led the way for Roger Craig to go All Pro with 1,502 rushing yards – Craig’s career best. 

Photo credit: 49ers.pressdemocrat.com

Rathman himself had 427 yards rushing and 42 catches for just under 400 yards in ’88. He touched the ball six times for 39 yards in Super Bowl XXIII, and narrowly missed scoring a second quarter rushing touchdown, a David Fulcher tackle preventing end-zone glory. 

Following the emotional retirement of Coach Walsh, the 1989 49ers, under recently promoted defensive coordinator George Seifert, and offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, gained revenge against the Vikings from 1987, blowing them away in the playoffs en-route to their fourth Super Bowl title, a blow out beatdown of the Denver Broncos.

Rathman led all NFC running backs with 73 catches, but just one TD, adding a second score on the ground alongside 305 rushing yards. Tom had 11 carries in the Super Bowl and turned them into two scores. 

His first came in the second quarter, a 1 yard dive to cap a 14 play drive where he caught three Joe Montana passes for 39 yards, as well as converting a 4th and 1 at the Broncos 3-yard line. 

Photo credit: Focus On Sport, Getty Images

Rathman’s second score in the final period extended the 49ers lead to 36, a three yard dive, in what would turn out to be his final touch of a ball in a Super Bowl. 

An unsung hero, Rathman went on to play a further 55 games for the 49ers, winning a grand total of 7 division titles in 8 seasons. Whilst his trophy cabinet was bulging as a valued team-mate he never gained any individual recognition in his playing days, failing to make a Pro Bowl roster or an All Pro team. 

Rathman played his final season in 1994 for Art Shell and the Los Angeles Raiders, failing to find paydirt for the only time in his 9 seasons in the NFL. 

What happened after Rathman retired? 

Having sacrificed his body for almost a decade Rathman hung up his helmet and immediately went into coaching, spending 1995-96 as an RB coach at high school level and then OC for the Menlo College Oaks in California. 

The 49ers came calling in 1997 and Rathman was reunited with the red and gold colours as RB coach, a role he served until 2002. Rathman coached RB Garrison Hearst to three 1,000+ yard rushing seasons, including a team record 1,570 in 1998, to eclipse Roger Craig’s 1988 team record (where Rathman paved the way). 

Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Following two seasons out of the league due to a potentially career ending medical condition Hearst returned in 2001, and thanks in part to Rathman became the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. 

Rathman accompanied 49ers coach Steve Marriuchi (yes that crazy one on NFL Network) to Michigan and the Detroit Lions in 2003. With minimal talent Rathman helped RB Kevin Jones have his only 1,000 yard season as a rookie in 2004. 

Missing the West Coast Rathman spent 2006-08 with the Raiders, still as RB coach. With an equally inept roster as the Lions Rathman helped Huggy Bear’s (character from the original Starsky and Hutch TV series) son to lead the Raiders in rushing three seasons in a row, including his only 1,000 yard season (2007). 

Rathman then moved up the road and back to the 49ers for a second stint with the 49ers, from 2009-16, surviving four head-coaching moves (Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly). 

In the 2012 season Rathman coached in his first Super Bowl, a 3-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens. This was Frank Gore’s only Super Bowl and Rathman coached Gore to 110 yards rushing and a touchdown to lead all players in the game. 

Photo credit: Matt Kryger/Indy Star

Following the arrival of Kyle Shanahan in 2017 Rathman was cut loose by the Niners, and after a year out he was hired as RB coach by the Indianapolis Colts just under two years ago. Colts RB Marlon Mack had his first 1,000 yard season under Rathman’s tuition in 2019. 

2020 and beyond for Rathman 

Having spent 30 seasons playing and coaching in the NFL, 23 for the 49ers, it’s time for Rathman to move into a more senior coaching role, as a head coach or offensive coordinator at the very least. 

Maybe Rathman has been offered promotions but just loves to coach running backs, somewhat symbolic of the sacrificial role he had on the field, one where his reward was not so much glory, rather executing a pancake block or helping to find a tiny crease for a star half-back to get that crucial first-down. 

Millennial 49ers fans will only recognise Kyle Juszczyk as their favourite #44, but before him, paving the way for his team-mates, putting his body on the line against octopus-armed speed rushers, sledgehammer safeties and missile focused middle linebackers was San Francisco’s original #44 – Tom Rathman. 

Photo credit: 49ers.com

I’ll leave you with a recent intense quote from Coach Rathman, who was inducted to the 49ers Hall of Fame in 2017 (above):

“If you have the ball in your hands, you’re not only carrying yourself and your family, but the whole organization. The entire franchise is in your hands.” 

Follow Lawrence at @F10yRetro on Twitter for more blasts from the NFL past.

Season In Review – San Francisco 49ers

By Lee wakefield (@Wakefield90)

Time to look at this year’s bridesmaids, the San Francisco 49ers. How did Jimmy G and Kyle Shanahan turn it all round? Are they here to stay? Let’s find out…


Entering the season


Coming off a 4-12 season when your starting QB tears his ACL is tough, especially when we’re talking about a QB you traded for and signed him to a 5 year contract (although more of that later), in the hope that he could lead your team to bigger and better things.

What’s more, the NFC West is a very competitive division and a division rival had just been beaten in the Superbowl. The Rams and Sean McVay were the darlings of the NFL in the media, Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury were teaming up in the desert to but Arizona back on the map and Seattle, well, nobody in San Francisco likes Seattle and their Seahawks.

However, it was certainly looking rosier in the Bay Area…

Image result for nick bosa draft
USA Today Sports

The reward for finishing 4-12 was the #2 overall pick which turned into Nick Bosa – Not a bad consolation prize, and the rest of the draft class looked good in the Spring. Bosa was followed by wide receivers, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd on day 2. Day 3 brought punter Mitch Wishnowsky and linebacker Dre Greenlaw from Utah and Arkansas respectively – Neither of these players moved the needle much back in April of last year but both were very solid contributors to the past season.

Drafting well made what looked like a decent draft haul into what is now a great draft haul and for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, that is what makes teams stick around at the top.

Another aspect of team building is, of course, trades and this is another method by which John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan improved the 9ers in the off season; Laken Tomlinson and Shon Coleman looked like solid acquisitions, even if they weren’t groundbreaking by any means, and even if Coleman didn’t play a snap this year after being injured in preseason. However, the point is, the 49ers braintrust was prepared to make moves in order to elevate their group and drag them from the second pick to what became second place.


During the Season


You know how I mentioned that things were looking rosier in the Bay? Well things started off more than rosy, the 49ers began the season on F I R E. Week 1, the 49ers went across the country and smoked the Bucs – The defense, led by Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Richard Sherman, suffocated Tampa, forcing 4 turnovers and put Jameis Winston on his backside another 3 times. This was the kind of performance from the defense that we came to expect week-in, week-out from this unit and they were really the driving force behind the much improved San Francisco squad.

Week 2, for example against the Bengals, the 49ers surrendered a mere 25 yards rushing, sacked the QB 4 times and forced another turnover. Week 6 against the Rams, L.A. were held to a total of 157 yards of offense and 7 points. The Rams, the Sean McVay Rams, the team that every media analyst was salivating a few months before. These are just a few examples of how dominant of a unit the 49ers defense had become – Like I said, it was sort of to be expected. This unit was the 2nd ranked defense by total defense by the end of the year.

Image result for san francisco 49ers defence
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Another thing that we came to expect was Jimmy G just doing enough in the passing game. This offense was powered by Kyle Shanahan’s running game and play-action.

The passing game finished a middle of the road, 13th in yards per game at 237, which usually wouldn’t be enough to power anyone to 13 wins but the running game was absolutely dominant. 144 yards per game was second only to the Ravens frankly insane, 206 per game. No matter how it’s cut, if you’re putting up a shade under 30 points per game, your offense is a problem.

Of course, not everyone has a head coach who is an offensive genius, willing blockers such as Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle and a bevvy of running backs who can all get hot in a hurry but these two guys were certainly the driving force, the heartbeat and the emotional leaders of the offense. They really did personify it. Whereas other tight ends might get uppity about not catching passes, George Kittle loved running people over, laughing as he did it and jogging to the sideline to ask Shanahan to run the ball again.


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What was the result of this?

Well, a whole bunch of blow out wins. The 49ers weren’t just winning most weeks, coming out the right side of one score games – which can sometimes be a sign of a team getting lucky – the 49ers were smoking a lot of teams, and not just being flat track bullies either. San Francisco blew out; the Bucs, the Panthers, the Rams in L.A., the Packers… And when they were asked to win a close one, they were able to get the job done, such as the regular season wins against the Saints, the Seahawks in Seattle and the Rams at home.

The only losses were in overtime at home to Seattle by 3, a 3 point loss in Baltimore and a weird loss at home to the lowly Falcons.

The offseason beckoned and it was much of the same – The Vikings and Packers fell again and truth be told, they were one-sided affairs. The 49ers steamrolled them both, Nick Bosa was on his way to Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl nomination and so were Juszczyk, Kittle and Sherman.

(Fred Warner was robbed y’all).

Kittle, Sherman and DeForest Buckner made All-Pro too, but this team was gunning for the biggest prize of all, not personal accolades.

The Superbowl then… Sorry to 49ers fans who are reading… I tried to hold off talking about it for as long as a could.

Image result for 49ers super bowl LIV
Jose Carlos Fjarado/Bay Area News Group

It was all going so well, wasn’t it? Until it wasn’t. The Chiefs just did what they do and put up points in bunches with their blitzkrieg-esque offense. It was a great game and even if it’s no solace to 49ers fans, the 2019 season was still a great season for this team and I have optimism that the 9ers are here to stay, too. Which leads me on to… 


Offseason Outlook


I think the offseason outlook for the 49ers is pretty good. As I alluded to a moment ago, I feel like this team is set to be good for a while, or at least the next 3 or 4 years.

I’m a massive fan of Kyle Shanahan and keeping him in the building is going to be of paramount importance – Although, why would he want to leave?

Image result for kyle shanahan
Wilfredo Lee/AP

John Lynch has just won NFL Executive of the Year, and seems to do as he’s told by Shanahan in terms of player recruitment and he hasn’t been afraid to put the trigger on a deal. Aside from Garoppolo and the linemen I mentioned earlier, Dee Ford has been brought in, Emmanuel Sanders was acquired later in the season and provided a boost, and not only incomings, before this season, the likes of Daniel Kilgore, Vance McDonald and Trent Brown all left town.

We see far too many teams who stick rather than twist when it comes to roster building, talent acquisition and the acquisition of draft capital, and many of those teams stagnate.

San Francisco, New England and Seattle are teams that I think of that are never afraid to do a deal, whether that be in season of around the draft and that coupling of good coaching and a front office that isn’t scared to deal has meant that in the past 10 Superbowls, since Superbowl XLV in 2011, there has only been two Superbowls that hasn’t featured at least one of those 3 teams.

Food for thought – That’s an elite group of teams in terms of their philosophy and the way they do business.

In terms of the business that the 49ers need to do this offseason, well… there’s actually very little to be done. Which is a great thing! This team is fresh and young in all the right places – Young leaders on defense, such as DeForest Buckner, Fred Warner and of course, Nick Bosa are matched on the other side of the ball by George Kittle, Mike McGlinchley and Deebo Samuel. All these guys and more are young or coming into their primes on relatively cheap contracts.

Buckner is moving into his 5th year option and Kittle is in the final year of his rookie deal and will both need extending and both will get done, I’m sure.

Image result for george kittle
Brett Duke/AP

The 49ers have a decision to make with Arik Armstead, whose contact is up and there may be no room at the inn unfortunately, since the two players above and also Kyle Juszczyk need paying first and the cap situation isn’t the prettiest in the NFL.

The 49ers have $12.8m of space to play with according to Overthecap.com, which isn’t a lot when you have to find money for Buckner and will probably have to make Kittle the best paid tight end in the NFL.

Cuts will have to be made…

Sanders deal is expiring and was worth $11m, so I doubt he’s retained unless he takes a hefty pay cut – That frees up a fair chunk of capital. As will saying goodbye to the likes of Jimmie Ward, Jascon Verrett (and it maybe goodnight on his NFL career) and a bunch of other players who are further down the pecking order such as Ben Garland, Anthony Zettel and Jordan Matthews.

It is also quite handy that other free agents that they may want to keep hold of, players such as, Emmanuel Moseley, Matt Breida, Kendrick Bourne and Jeff Wilson are all exclusive rights free agents or restricted free agents, meaning the 49ers can retain them on the cheap for another year, which I am sure they will.

Ok so, a little bit of careful surgery here and there, a contract extension or two and delaying extending a couple of others means the 49ers can do into next season with a pretty similar squad to last year and just add to it via the draft, but what about next year when new contacts kick in for Kittle and Buckner and you still need to extend Moseley and Bourne?

Well, this is where we come all the way back to the top of the article and look at the contract of one, James Richard Garoppolo.

Image result for jimmy garoppolo
Jose Carlos Fjarado

The 49ers are on the hook for $25.2m for Jimmy G next year, however, due to the way Jimmy’s contract is structured, San Francisco’s dead cap hit drops from $13.7m to just $4.2m after the 2020 season and after that it’s just $2.8m in 2021 when Garoppolo’s deal could cost $25.2m.

That’s a heck of a cap saving. Especially because we’ve got to start considering where the money is going to come from to make Nick Bosa the most highly paid edge defender in football in a few years time.

We know Jimmy G isn’t the greatest QB of all time – The 49ers focused on their run game and making that the strength of the offense in 2019 and relegated Garoppolo to being a facilitator. Which is fine and he did a good job and will probably do a good job in that role again in 2020… But do you know what, you can pay a facilitator QB around $10-15m per year and get similar results.

Unless Garoppolo seriously elevates his game next season, I think it’ll be his last season in the Bay Area, because it simply isn’t a good business decision to give a facilitator QB north of 25 million dollars when you have to pay a young team who are coming into their prime.

So yes, the future for San Francisco football is bright but they just may have a new QB in 12-18 months time.

A final word on the draft before I sign off here…

The 49ers are one of the most intriguing teams in the later portion of the first round this year, in my opinion.

As Superbowl runners-up, they pick 31st in the first round, a prime trade back spot for teams to deal with another team who want to get back into the 1st round and get that 5th year option on a guy they really want.


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Now what do the 49ers do?

Due to their wheeling and dealing in the past, after the 31st pick they don’t pick again until the 5th round and the 159th overall pick – That’s quite a wait.

Do the 9ers trade back and pick up a few more swings? Or do they recognise that they are perhaps one player on defense away from becoming a complete unit?

I believe a deep safety such as LSU’s, Grant Delpit or a physical corner such as Jaylon Johnson of Utah or Trevon Diggs of Alabama could really be that icing on the cake.

In reality, they will probably wait and see how the board falls on the night and see how it matches up with their board and go from there, but it, like the draft as a whole should be absolutely fascinating.

Either way, I’d back this group to do the right thing – I was part of the 49ers Hype Train last year and I think I’ll be signing up again for 2020.

Full10Takeaways – Super Bowl LIV

By Tim Monk @Tim_MonkF10Y

The Super Bowl is done and dusted and the analysis is ongoing for the foreseeable future. Here I take a look at some storylines coming out of the Super Bowl and the 2 teams.


The sizeable difference in talent at the QB position

Patrick Mahomes only needed 1 quarter to obliterate double digit leads held by the 49ers, Titans and Texans in this years playoffs. Mahomes led the Chiefs to 21 unanswered points in the 4th quarter in the biggest game of them all. By doing so, he has put down another bit of tarmac on his path towards Canton.

Image result for jimmy garoppolo patrick mahomes

On the other side, Jimmy Garoppolo went missing in the 4th quarter after doing what he was told for the first 45 minutes. “Jimmy G” seems to split opinion on how good/bad a Quarterback he is; The yay-sayers will point to his winning record as a starter, his TDs and his yards per play. The nay-sayers will point to the scheme, the HC and his supporting cast getting YAC, masking the actual air yards per attempt.

No matter what side of the fence you sit on, there was a gulf in class on the field at the Quarterback position and was essentially what it came down to at Hard Rock on Sunday.

The one big question to be taken from SF though is the state Kyle Shanahan’s belief, trust and allegiance to his handsome Quarterback. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Jimmy G will not be the SF 49ers QB after next season (or maybe even the 2020 season!) if the tendencies of the HC from Sunday’s game are to be any indication of that relationship.

One thing we will learn in 2020 is whether or not Jimmy G can bounce back, whether he’ll thrive under the pressure and the character that the man possesses.


The running back debate

Super Bowl running backs Damien Williams and Raheem Mostert were both undrafted free agents.

One could argue they have ascended into NFL relevance and proved all the critics wrong and are here to stay in the NFL after bouncing around the league trying to find their spot. They recently exchanged jersey’s due to their friendship and appreciation of one another, leading to Mostert actually handing back his exchanged jersey to the Super Bowl winning RB.

@anezbitt on Twitter

Williams was the first player in Super Bowl history to garner 100 rush yards along with a rush and receiving TD. Raheem Mostert was one of the stories if not THE story of the 2nd half of the NFL season culminating in 220 rush yards and 4 TDs in the NFC championship game.

Both these players are on paltry contracts in comparison to the other skills positions on offence and the running back position is undervalued generally by most of the 32 teams in the league.

Despite their efforts in getting their respective teams to the biggest game of them all, they’ll have a tough time persuading each of their front offices for a healthy rise.

Why?

Todd Gurley, LeVeon Bell, Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon and Jerick McKinnon are all running backs that have been paid handsomely over the past few years and it’s fair to say those investments have not returned the required production relative to the rest of the league. Add in Derrick Henry’s recent quotes of wanting to equal Ezekiel Elliott’s money, it’s very hard for running backs to get their due in this league.


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Deebo Samuel could be a star

One of the stars from the losing side in Super Bowl LIV was Deebo Samuel.

Samuel, a 2nd round pick, enjoyed a stellar first season in the NFL totaling over 1,000 scrimmage yards (inc payoffs) and 6 total touchdowns.

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Erza Shaw / Getty

He may have only mustered 159 of those yards in the postseason and may not have found pay dirt in January, but Deebo Samuel put down a marker in his first season and is a perfect fit for the Kyle Shanahan system due to his rushing ability and his versatility to fulfil a variety of roles in this highly creative offence including as a blocker.

Expect more to come from “Deebo” in 2020.


1 curse laid to rest, 1 still to pacify.


In the NFL there are two well known curses. The Madden Curse and the Super Bowl hangover.

The Madden curse for those that don’t know, stems from an American Football computer game. Each year, a different players sports the spotlight and hits the game’s front cover and bestowed upon them, a curse which has thought to be such a thing, that players have declined the opportunity to appear on it.

Image result for madden covers

Go back over the past 10 years and you’ll see some of the greatest names to play the sport and the majority will find their way in to the Hall of Fame. They include Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Odell Beckham and Tom Brady. For each season each superstar graced the Madden cover, a mysterious spell was cast over their following season. All but 1 player (Richard Sherman) saw their PFF grade drop from the previous season and as a rule, you were lucky to play all 16 games and in some instances fell off the face of the earth (insert image of Peyton Hillis on a milk carton).

Step forward Patrick Mahomes. The man who can do no wrong.

Image result for madden covers

The Kansas City QB glowed over the red and yellow background for Madden 20 and has hopefully laid to rest the curse once and for all. But, it was looking dicey for the new prodigy as a dislocated knee injury struck Mahomes down during the regular season. He was able to see the field again fairly quickly and go on to win a Super Bowl win to add to his MVP award last season hopefully allays all the fears from the front cover going forward. Or perhaps we can just continue to keep Mahomes on it forever more and give him the gig full time?

The other curse is a 2-parter: The Super Bowl Curse and the Super Bowl Hangover.

The curse is relating to the team hosting the Super Bowl; No team has ever played the big game in their own back yard. Atlanta and Minnesota, the 2 hosting teams prior to Miami this year were more than equipped to go all the way, only to fail. Minnesota were however, the closest to breaking that curse when they got all the way to the championship game (including the Minneaplois Miracle), eventually losing to Philadelphia.

It’s a 54 year curse that is yet to be broken…on to you Tampa.

Whilst Tampa cannot attribute their poor recent run of form to a Super Bowl appearence, Carolina, Atlanta and most recent sufferers, the LA Rams have all struggled after Super Bowl defeats.

This is known as the Super Bowl hangover.

Image result for jared goff
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Some people point to a shorter offseason due to an extended run from the season prior whilst some point to a change in attitude in the locker room, with many players demanding a more lucrative salary and the coaching staff being poached by other teams wanting to taste the same success.

Only 3 teams have managed a Super Bowl win after a Super Bowl loss and whilst the league is aligned to making it difficult to achieve the feat, it seems unexplainable the struggles some teams suffer after an appearance in the big game.

It’s not something the Patriots have had to worry about however, much to the dismay of the other 15 AFC teams.

Best Bets – Super Bowl LIV

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y) & Adam Walford (@TDTips)

Here we are folks. The final game of the season in Miami. Super Bowl LIV. KC and SF get it on! For some of you this is your once a year flutter, for some of you this is a pure lack of variety and are already looking at divisional accas for next year. Whichever bucket you fall in to, please make sure you gamble responsibly, have fun and enjoy the game! Below is the podcast where we talk about our selections and further below that is our £100 attempts including some of the Full10Yards team efforts!

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best bets


TIM:

12pts staked: P/L +9.12pts

2pts Over 54.5pts (10/11 general) – LOSER

2pts Patrick Mahomes MVP (23/20 Unibet). – WINNER

2pts Damien Williams over 3.5 receptions (10/11 betway) – WINNER

1pt Garoppolo 1 Pass TD, Mostert 1 Rush TD, Bosa 1 Sack 4/1 (Sky request a bet) – WINNER

1pt Mahomes over 350+ pass yards, Chiefs to win 6/1 (SkyBet BOOST)- LOSER

1pt Mecole Hardman anytime TD 7/2 (general) – LOSER ,

1pt Patrick Mahomes anytime TD (4/1 general) – WINNER

1pt Richie James anytime TD 22/1 (PP)- LOSER

1pt Kelce and Mostert to both score a TD (3/1 Skybet) – WINNER


ADAM:

2pt – Opening kick off to be a touchback – 4/6 (general) – LOSER

2pt NAP – Chiefs team total o27.5 points – 9/10 (365)- WINNER

2pt – Shortest TD scored u1.5 yards – 4/6 (365)- WINNER

2pt – Damien Williams o3.5 receptions – 5/6 (365/Sky)- WINNER

2pt – Paddy ‘Homes MVP – 23/20 (888)- WINNER

2pt – Kendrick Bourne anytime TD – 3/1 (888)- LOSER

2pt – Mecole Hardman anytime TD – 7/2 (Sky/WH)- LOSER

1pt – Team scoring first wins – NO – 11/8 (365)- WINNER

1pt – Mecole Hardman first reception o10.5 yards – 20/21 (888)- LOSER

1pt – Richie James anytime TD – 22/1 (888)- LOSER

0.5pt – Hardman MVP – 100/1- LOSER,

0.5pt Deforest Buckner MVP – 300/1 (Both WH)- LOSER


£100 Challenge


F10Y Retro – The 1981 49ers – The season that launched a dynasty

by Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro and @NFLFANINENGLAND)

Sometimes legacies begin with a big bang, sometimes however they start without even a fizzle. 

Back in the Spring of 1977 Eddie De Bartolo Sr bought a present for his 31 year old son of the same name. It wasn’t a car or even a house, it was an NFL franchise – the San Francisco 49ers team in fact. 

From 1977 to 1979 the 49ers won just 9 of 46 games as they went through four different head coaches, finally settling on former Stanford College coach Bill Walsh. 

James Lofton in Canton – Picture credit: Raiders.com

Walsh was given the opportunity with the 49ers in part for his outstanding job nurturing offensive talent at Stanford including future 10-year pro RB Darrin Nelson and future Hall of Famer WR James Lofton, who caught two TD passes for the Cardinals in their 1977 Sun Bowl victory over LSU. 

The 1977 49ers started their season 0-5 and finished 5-9 with QB Jim Plunkett, a 1976 trade acquisition from the New England Patriots. Plunkett would go on to be released by the Niners in the 1978 preseason, before being picked up as a backup by the Oakland Raiders. Plunkett would go on to win not one but two Super Bowl rings as the Raiders starter in the early 1980s. 

San Francisco 49ers Jim Plunkett (16) right, and O. J. Simpson (32) Photo credit: AP

After jettisoning Plunkett, San Francisco made the bold move to sign the 70s biggest named running back, none other than O.J. Simpson, a West Coast native. The Simpson move was a disaster as he only scored one rushing TD in 1978 and he had his career low YPC of 3.7. The team set a then record of 63 turnovers in a season, not surprisingly a record that still stands today. 

In 1979 the 49ers repeated their paltry 2-14 record as they had achieved the season before, but there were good signs, as the team set an NFL record as the only team to lost 12 games in a season where they had the lead. Somehow the incredible patience the 49ers owner Eddie De Bartolo Jr showed, by keeping head coach Bill Walsh with the team, was soon to be rewarded.  

1979 was also the year the 49ers took a QB in the 3rd round of the draft to back up their starter. After trading their 1st round pick to Buffalo for O.J. Simpson, a pick that turned out to be the #1 overall pick, they went with Cowboys 1977 10th round pick Steve DeBerg as their starter, and he ended up leading the league in attempts and completions. Like Plunkett, DeBerg would go on to complete a prolific NFL career, passing for over 34,000 yards, playing his last game aged 44 for the Atlanta Falcons. 

DeBerg (17) and Montana (16) in 1979 – Pic credit: Pinterst

The rookie QB drafted by Walsh in 1979 made one start as a rookie, in a Week 14 loss to the St Louis Cardinals. He would go on to wrestle the seating job away from DeBerg in the middle of his second season in 1980. The QBs name – Joseph Clifford Montana Jr. 

Montana started 7 games in 1980, winning only 2 games, but his cool play, and high completion rate was enough to convince Coach Walsh that he had a future star commanding his teams huddle. A 64.5% completion rate 40 years ago was quite remarkable. 

After improving to 6-10 in 1980 and beginning to play a new breed of short passing possession sustaining football opposing teams got a taste of the next decade but no-one was prepared for what was to happen just one season later. 

Picture credit: Newsmax.com

With Joe Montana installed as the starter from Week 1 the 1981 49ers looked to be reverting to type, losing two of their first three games, including defeats on the road to the Lions and the Falcons. The Niners then tore off a 7 game win streak to enter Week 11 at 8-2. 

A 15-12 Week 11 defeat to the Cleveland Browns, where the 49ers failed to score a touchdown, turned out to be their last defeat of the entire season. 

The 49ers, led by a fresh but impactful rookie secondary of Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Willamson, went on the rampage to finish off the regular season 13-3, forcing a season high 6 turnovers agains the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.

In the divisional playoffs Montana and Co. beat a New York Giants team led by the lesser known QB Scott Brunner, in what turned out to be Brunner’s second and last post-season game of his career. 

A second home playoff game ensued, the NFC Championship against the Dallas Cowboys, made remarkable by the fact it was the the first time in franchise history they hosted two consecutive playoff contests.

The game itself is part of NFL folklore as it featured ‘The Catch’, a Joe Montana touchdown hookup to fellow 1979 draftee WR Dwight Clark to tie up the game in the final period. The Ray Wersching extra point making the ultimate difference in a 28-27 thriller. 

Two weeks later the 49ers met up for a second time with the Cincinnati Bengals, as both teams, playing in their inaugural NFL title game met in Super Bowl XVI in the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. 

Personifying the West Coast ‘1,000 paper cuts’ offense Montana remained patient after leading the Niners to a first quarter 7-0 lead, capped by his 1 yard rushing score. In the second Montana found prolific pass catching full back Earl Mitchell for an 11 yard score. Two more Wersching field goals later and San Francisco had a commanding 20-0 half-time lead. 

The Bengals fought back to 20-14 behind Ken Anderson’s rushing score and 4 yard hookup to TE Dan Ross in the early stages of the fourth quarter, but the 49ers offensive machine went back to work and Wersching kicked his third and fourth field goals, before Anderson found Ross to bring the game within 5, but it was in vain, as the 49ers took the victory and began a dynasty that would dominate the 1980s. 

Picture caption: 49ers.com

Montana won the MVP, courtesy of his 157 passing yards, one rushing score and zero interceptions. Ken Anderson for the Bengals almost doubled Joe’s passing output and threw one more score, but he was picked off twice, once by rookie Eric Wright and once by 4th year safety Dwight Hicks. 

In a strike shortened 1982 season the 49ers went 3-6, but they more than made up for it by the end of the decade, winning a further three Vince Lombardi trophies, all with Joe Montana at QB. 

In an era where teams can transform their fortunes in a 12 month period it was the 49ers who showed that with patience, precision passing and some exquisite drafting anything is possible. 

Fast forward 40 seasons, from when Montana was drafted, and the 49ers are back for their seventh crack at a Super Bowl title. 

Can the 49ers strike gold and join the Steelers and Patriots on Sunday as the only teams to start their Super Bowl ring collection on a second hand? Can’t wait to find out. 

F10Y – NFC and AFC Championships 19-20 Look ahead

by Lawrence Vos (@NFLFANINENGLAND and @F10YRetro)

This will be the 22nd time that the conference championship will be a regular season rematch. The advantage has gone to the home team winning 13 of 21 rematches. The last team to gain revenge for a regular season loss by winning a conference championship was the the 2013 Seahawks who beat the 49ers – a game that featured a touchdown from Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch. 

Now I’m not going to be popular if you like to do the tomahawk or if you support a team with a red helmet, but I am going for a Titans v 49ers Super Bowl. Below I have provided some narrative on the two teams I think are going to make it to the 54th annual festival of football.

AFC Championship – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Photo caption: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com

H2H – Chiefs lead all time series 29-24. Both are 1-1 in Super Bowl playoffs, and one win for the Titans in 1962 in double overtime when they were known as the Dallas Texans. Titans have won last four matchups by a combined 22. 

Titans 2019 record to date – 11-7 

  • Could become the first team in NFL history to beat their same conference division winners in a single season having dispensed the Texans Week 17, then the Patriots and the Ravens. 
  • If we include the Houston Oilers records, along with the Titans then this is the franchises 6th conference championship game – three for the Oilers – one from being in the AFL in 1967, two consecutive between 1978 and 1979, both as Wild Card entries, and both ending in defeats to the eventual Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers. 
  • As the Titans they reached two AFC title games in 1999 and 2002, beating the Jags in 99 and losing to the Raiders in 02. This will be the Titans 3rd AFC Championship in their 21 year existence as the Tennessee Titans.
  • They have of course played in one Super Bowl – 34 suffering one of three of the most heartbreaking losses in the finals history as Mike Jones the St Louis Rams LB tackled WR Keyin Dyson at the one yard line as the Titans looked to tie up the game in the dying seconds. 

Last decade – In the past 10 seasons the Titans haven’t won their division, and including this season are 3-1 in the playoffs. 

Outside of this season the Titans only playoff win in the past 17 seasons was in 2017 against none other than the Kansas City Chiefs. 

So what are the top 5 strengths of the Titans

Photo caption: Cbsnews.com
  • The running game and namely the hottest running back in the NFL Derek Henry. Henry became the first back in NFL history to record three consecutive 180+ rushing games. something that Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and even Jim Brown never managed.
  • Ryan Tannehill’s efficiency. From the point he replaced the ineffective Marcus Mariota this season Tannehill ended the 17 game slate with the highest rating in the league. Tannehill is an accurate passer 62.5% lifetime and 70.3% this season.
  • Jurrell Casey – You gotta love this defensive tackle who has started 137 of 139 games for the Titans. the four time pro bowler has recored 5 or more sacks for the last 7 seasons, and registered his first two playoff QB takedowns against Lamar Jackson last week. Casey has been twice voted the Titans Walter Payton Man of the year and he coaches a women’s flag football team made up of Titans WAGs. 
  • Head coach Mike Vrabel (pictured above) – This might be Vrabel’s first post season as a head coach but he won three rings as a player for the new england patriots in just a four year stretch. He has to be the only NFL player to have caught 12 touchdown passes on 12 career catches. 

Titans weaknesses 

  • Their field goal kicking.The team is 8-18 on field goal attempts
  • Pass rush – No player has more than 9 sacks and 1st round rookie dl Jeffrey Simmons had only two regular season sacks. 
  • Playoff experience – This is Tannehill’s third career playoff game and his only post season in his career. 

Keys for a Titans win 

  • Goes without saying feeding Derek henry the ball often – 25-30 carries and the Titans can dominate time of possesion and keep Mahomes off the field
  • Special teams tackling – The spark the Chiefs had last week was caused by a big Mecole Hardman kick return. If Haardman or Tyreek hill can find creases it means longer drives needed. 
  • Get the ball to the biggest playmaker. AJ Brown electrified as a rookie WR in the regular season, but he has been used as a decoy for two consecutive games to get a safety or corner to stay away from the line of scrimmage. Now is the time to unleash AJ in all his glory. 

NFC Championship – Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

H2H – Packers lead the series 36-31-1. They have met 7 times in the playoffs the 49ers winning 3. The last time the 49ers recorded a shutout against the Packers was in 1954. The teams did meet in the 1997 NFC Championship – the Brett Favre and Reggie White led Packers beating the Steve Young led 49ers 23-10 in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

49ers record to date – 14-3 

  • Back in the NFC Championship for the 16th time – with 6 wins and 10 losses. Made three consecutive NFC Championships 2011-2013 with Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick. They lost Super Bowl 47 in 2013 to the Ravens. Weird fact on this game the last scoring play was a safety by the 49ers – Ravens  punter Sam Koch running out the back of the endzone. The 49ers team then featured Frank Gore who ran for 110 yards on the day. 
  • The Niners are 5-1 in Super bowls, having won 4 with Joe Montana who didn’t throw an interception in any of the three games, Super Bowl 24 in fact remains the biggest blowout game when they beat the Broncos 55-10. 
  • In the past 10 seasons the 49ers have won their division three times and are 6-3 in the playoffs. The last time they won their division before this season they mad it to the Superbowl. 
  • 49ers are the surviving 1 seed and only home team to host two playoff games this season. 

Top 5 strengths of the 49ers

Photo credit: Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports
  • Adaptability to their surroundings – they had a better road record than home record – going 7-1 on their travels. Wins ranged from a 9-0 grinder in a quagmire in Washington to outlasting the Saints 48-46 in the game of the season in New Orleans. 
  • The surprise of the running game. the team finished 2nd in rushing yards per game behind a combo of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and even jeff bison, just don’t ask jimmy Garoppolo to run – his 1.3 yards a carry is Dan Marino Esque. Don’t forget about Kyle Juzchck who is arguably the best FB in football
  • Grab a teabag and put the Kittle on. All Pro TE George Kittle led the team in targets, receptions, and was the only Niners to go over 1000 yards in the air. His 5 tds paced the team. Kittle’s catch against the Saints was easily a top10 highlight of the season. 
  • Pass rush – the 49ers registered 48 regular season sacks and followed up with six lashes of Kirk Cousins last week. The biggest name is rookie Nick Bosa, but the leading regular season sacker was Arik Armstead with 10 and two forced fumbles. in their regular season matchup the 49ers had 5 sacks of Aaron rodgers on his 33 attempts. 
  • The offensive line – Veteran LT Joe staley and mauling 2nd year right tackle Mike McGlinchey (pictured above) are not getting the headlines, neither made the first or second all pro rosters but they are solid bookends and RG Mike Person is one to look out for as a late bloomer. The team averaged 4.6 yards a carry in the regular season and paved the way for 47 rushes last week. 

Weaknesses 

  • Kicking game has become a bit of a risk. Robbie Gould who was injured for three weeks has missed 8 of his 31 attempts after foil 33 of 34 last season. Fortunately for the 49ers Gould has never missed a field goal in 8 post season games. 
  • Penalties by the defense – The team committed the 7th most penalties in the regular season and need to cut down on giving up cheap yardage. 
  • Wide receivers – Its a grab bag of talent with the 49ers ball catchers – no one is a dominant number one. Trade aqusition Emmanuel Sanders has registered 36 catches and 3 tds in red and gold – good but not great. This can be a 49ers advantage as Jimmy G will likely look for Deebo Samuel early and often but there is no guarantee he has a gig receiving game. 

Keys for a 49ers win 

  • Keep bringing the heat all game long. Joey Bosa looked as fresh in the final two minutes against the Vikes as he did in the opening 2. Aaron Rodgers is 36 and uses more of his smarts than he does his feet to move the ball. 
  • Run the ball and wear down the packers defensive line. It might be Mostert or even Breida that gets the lions share of carries whoever carries the ball they need to keep hold of the rock
  • Game planning – Kyle Shanahan lives every day with the numbers 28-3 etched in his mind after taking a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl as the Falcons offensive coordinator before being Bill and Tommed. Lesson learnt Shanahan will take no lead for granted and will want to showcase his play calling in front of a fired up home crowd. 

Enjoy the games tonight, for some this week is better than Super Bowl Sunday. We have a top seed, a bottom seed and two teams that are #2 in their conferences.

Photo credit: Albert Dickson/Sporting News

Sit back, grab your popcorn, and have a blast.

Best Bets – NFL Championship Round

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y) and Adam Walford (@touchdowntips)

So here we are down to 2 games for Championship Weekend. all 4 teams now just one game from the big one in Miami on the 2nd February. This is of course a set of matches that were played out in the regular season.

Tennessee @ kansas city (-7.5) – O/U 53


TIM:

The Titans have the opportunity to beat all 4 AFC divisional winners in a row here and with the way they are playing, it will take a brave person to take KC on the 7.5 spread, especially with the hook going the Titans way. that being said, the Chiefs were the first team to win a game by more than 20 points after trailing by 20 points.

The Chiefs are the explosive, chunk play and most exciting team whilst the Titans have been plucky but effective in executing their gameplans which has seen them knock off Baltimore and New England in their back yards.

How will this game pan out I hear you cry!

Both these teams offences can exploit the opposing defences; Kansas City ranked 26th in the Regular season in terms of rush yards given up per game (128) and gave up 94 against DeShaun Watson and Carlos Hyde last week, so a small improvement if you want to be picky. Ryan Tannehill isnt asked to do much with his legs but can scamper for the first down but if it ain’t broke, dont fix it. Expect a lot of Derrick Henry once more as the Titans will look to sustain drives, score first and chew the clock whilst trying to force a turnover on defence. The KC offensive passing game goes up against a Titans pass D that gives up 255 yards per game on average, which ranked 24th in the regular season. The 2 games in the post season has a higher watermark than that, but don’t forget that the Baltimore yardage and some of the New England yardage through the air was because those teams were trailing. The Titans D has 3 INT in their 2 playoff games, including that pick 6 in Foxborough.

Both these teams are top half in the league when it comes to scoring offence and scoring defence and truly is a fascinating game to see which style comes out on top. It could very well be team with last possession wins the game and for that reason you would have to take the Titans on the handicap if you must bet on that market. The total points line of 53 is a bit high for me to take the over but considering the offences match well against the opposing defences, i wouldn’t want the sweat of backing the under. The Titans will want to keep the score down, keep it close. They wont win in a shootout style game this time around (the regular season game ended up with 67 points).

If you want to get creative, your edge may be in the Ryan Tannehill markets.

Ryan Tannehill’s 2 post season games has seen him muster a measly 160 yards COMBINED through the air! whilst I can see a bit more in the passing game this weekend due KC’s explosiveness and putting up points, causing the Titans to potentially chase, I am certainly flummoxed as to why his line is generally around the 236.5 mark with redzone sticking their neck out with 245.5. If the game plays out how i think it will, there is no chance he gets near that line, so I like Tannehill to throw for under 245.5 passing yards. His pass attempts line 29.5 and his completions line is 17.5. BOTH of those lines would have gone under in the last 4 straight games. Take the under 29.5 pass attempts.

Staying with Ryan Tannehill, his rushing yards line is 19.5 with Redzone, which he has only managed to do once in his last 7 matches. Derrick Henry’s line is around 106.5 for what it’s worth…something which he has surpassed by a fair distance in 6 of his last 8 games. You can even get 99.5 rushing yards as the line on Redzone if you want a bit of overs action. DT for the Chiefs Chris Jones has been absent from practice all week with a calf injury, which could prove pivotal in this game.

I fear that with the Ryan Tannehill lines, it’s a trap and the bookies are begging you to take the unders and that they see the Kansas City Chiefs being too much of a juggernaut that the Titans actually have to throw and take away Henry. I am not going to overthink it and going to trust what I have seen thus far over the last month or so and feel the Titans will stick to their plan and be able to execute just as effectively as they have done to get to where they are now.

Bets: 2pts – Under 245.5 passing yards Ryan Tannehill (20/23 Redzone), 2pts – Ryan Tannehill pass attempts under 29.5 (5/6 B365). 1pt – Under 19.5 rush yards Ryan Tannehill (20/23 Redzone). 1pts – Over 99.5 rush yards Derrick Henry (20/27 Redzone).

ADAM:

Find my full preview for the AFC at http://www.tdtips.com/afcTitle2019

Bets: 2pts stakes – Jonnu Smith o2.5 receptions – 5/4 (365), Ryan Tannehill o1.5 passing TDs – 5/4 (365) 1 pt stakes on Tannehill anytime TD scorer – 6/1 (365), Mecole Hardman anytime TD scorer – 4/1 (WillHill)


Green Bay @ san francisco (-7.5) – o/u 46.5

TIM:

This game is a bit more straight forward.

The Packers lost the previous meeting in the regular season by a whopping 29 points and there is nothing telling me that this game’s result will turnout any differently.

Whilst the 7.5 is not great when taking favourites, I would be surprised if the 49ers don’t cover this. Sticking to my principles of never taking -7.5, therefore that is no bet. If you wish to take the -7/6.5/6 and pay the shorter odds, that’s where I would rather go SF -6 is currently 8/11. There is a tell on the team individual totals too with SF having a line of 27.5 and GB having 18.5, implying there is a 9pt handicap spread.

I don’t mind the unders here either but I think it’ll be close and I’ve already told you how I feel about under sweats.

Getting into the finer details, Raheem Mostert seems to have been given as much as a focused role you are going to get in the 49ers backfield, commanding double digit touches over his past 6 games. It was strange to see Tevin Coleman get the touches he did last week. His rush yards line at Bet365 is 50.5, something which he has also achieved in each of his last 6 games (even if just barely). Take Mostert to make it a 7th consecutive game over 50 rush yards. With George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk (perhaps one of the most underrated guys in the league!) helping set the edge and blocking downfield, it has been a joy to watch Kyle Shanahan deploy this offence.

There are not many outcomes or gamescripts I can find that pave a way to a Packers win but if they did, it will involce quick passes, targeting the other side away from Richard Sherman. Kwon Alexander however, is a big part of the defence at linebacker, cancelling out screens and anything fancy over the middle. The ferocious pass rush plus for the 49ers plus maybe a bit of bootlegging for Aaron Rodgers did make the Over 12.5 rush yards appeal.

Bets: 3pts San Francisco -6pts (8/11 William Hill) 1pt – Over 50.5 rush yards Raheem Mostert (5/6 Bet365) 1pt – Aaron Rodgers over 12.5 rush yards (5/6 Bet365)

ADAM:

Find my NFC preview at http://www.tdtips.com/nfctitle2019

Bets: 2 pt stakes on Kendrick Bourne o20.5 receiving yards – 5/6 (Will Hill), Over 5.5 sacks – 10/11 (365), 1pt stakes on Kendrick Bourne anytime TD – 3/1 (888), Jamaal Williams anytime TD – over 4/1 (Redzone)

Good Luck with whatever you’re on this week and thanks for listening/reading/being you.

Adam and Timothy