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Extra Points: Kluwe burns his NFL bridge
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Forget speak softly, and carry a big stick.
In today's world of activism, the loudest voice wins -- minority or majority, right or wrong.
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe had an ax to grind with his old boss, special teams coach Mike Priefer, and he used his support of gay marriage to do it.
That's no defense of Priefer, a man I've met on two occasions and know little about, save for the fact he's a well-regarded assistant coach who some thought had a chance to make the jump and become a John Harbaugh-like success story as the rare special teams guy to get a chance at the captain's seat.
That scenario, a long shot at best to begin with, was blown to smithereens by Kluwe on Deadspin.com when he accused his former boss of being a homophobic bigot after learning of Kluwe's support of gay rights.
"Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible," Kluwe wrote with the caveat "he said all this in a semi-joking tone."
Kluwe also blasted former Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman, calling them cowards for not protecting Kluwe from being persecuted for exercising his First Amendment rights.
"It's my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn't agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter," Kluwe wrote.
Priefer denied the allegations in a statement released to The Associated Press:
"I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals," Priefer said. "I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member.
"The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.
"The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children."
The classic he said, he said.
Let's examine Kluwe's accusations.
First off, the Vikings were unquestionably uncomfortable with his well-earned reputation for speaking his mind but it had nothing to do with any actual issues. The team, like most organizations that earn a profit by selling something to the public, is invested in trying to avoid controversy at all costs.
Someone airing the opposite view to Kluwe in a public forum -- say the views Kluwe attached to Priefer -- would have taken the same heat, arguably more because Kluwe is on the right side of the prevailing moral belief among media types these days.
The second part is Kluwe's downright irrational insistence in calling himself the best punter in franchise history, an insult to current Vikings' sideline reporter Greg Coleman and an oversimplification, using the bloated gross punting numbers of today's players.
Kluwe was released because he was an average punter set to make $1.45 million in 2013. The Vikings eventually drafted a cheaper option, another UCLA product in Jeff Locke, who wasn't all that good in his rookie season but every bit as good as Kluwe had been.
Spielman actually flashed his thought process in replacing Kluwe the season before when he jettisoned Kluwe's friend, Ryan Longwell, in favor of Blair Walsh. And understand Longwell was regarded as a model citizen and locker room leader.
Under Frazier Minnesota was one of the few teams in football which still played a ball control-based game in a passing league, so field position was key for the Vikings and Longwell had outlived his usefulness as a kickoff guy. Walsh, meanwhile, turned out to be home run as a sixth-round draft pick out of Georgia in 2012, being named All-Pro after setting an NFL rookie record by making all 10 of his field goal attempts outside 50 yards and tilting the field with his booming kickoffs.
Unlike Longwell, Kluwe still had a pretty big leg when he left Minneapolis, but the Vikings had given up a ton of returns since he became the team's punter. Some of them have due to Kluwe's struggles in directional kicking and his frustrating habit of outkicking his coverage down the middle of the field, giving big-time return men multiple options.
Few who follow the Vikings will forget their visit to New Orleans in 2008 when Reggie Bush returned two punts for touchdowns and nearly had a third before tripping himself in the open field. Yeah, the coverage units for Minny were awful that season but it seemed like Brad Childress' head was going to explode if Kluwe kicked it right down Broadway one more time.
To be fair, Kluwe did average a career-high 39.7 net yards per punt in 2012, but that was only good for 17th in the NFL, and he struggled to pin opponents deep. His 18 punts inside the 20-yard line were a dismal 31st in the league. Fast forward to 2013 and Locke, who again was a disappointment, averaged 39.2 yards net in his first try at the NFL level and trumped Kluwe with 23 downed inside the 20.
That's not a significant upgrade but certainly a positive development considering the fact Locke comes cheaper and figures to improve moving forward.
Finally the most obvious flaw in Kluwe's thesis is the coward tag he placed on Spielman and Frazier. There is plenty of ammunition that points to both of them being bad at their respective jobs but why would they be afraid to stand- up against Priefer, their underling in the organization?
Hindsight reveals both sides were at fault here.
It's never a good idea to ignore your boss especially if you want to keep your job. On the other hand, Priefer, a former military man big on raising his voice, isn't much of a coach if he can't handle different types of personalities.
Kluwe is a bright and well-spoken man yet in the end he couldn't help but reveal the underlying animus in his Deadspin manifesto.
"If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story," Kluwe wrote, "it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level."
This is just an old story with a modern-day twist, a guy who hated his boss and wanted revenge.
Call a career suicide bombing. Kluwe burned his NFL bridge but may have taken down Priefer while doing it.
NFL POSTSEASON POWER POLL
The Sports Network's updated NFL Playoff Power Poll can be found here. http://tinyurl.com/2cjp9l8
THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - Wild Card Weekend
Kansas City (11-5) at Indianapolis (11-5), Saturday, 4:35 p.m.
LINE: Colts by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: In today's NFL, heating up in December generally means things go pretty well in January.
The Kansas City Chiefs are hoping to turn that kind of thinking on its head by doing something they have never done before, beat the Indianapolis Colts in the postseason.
The AFC South champion Colts come in hot, having won three straight in which they allowed a total of 20 points, a span that included an impressive 23-7 triumph at Kansas City back on Dec. 22.
"I think if you check the last six Super Bowl winners, they got hot at the right time," Indianapolis defensive end Robert Mathis, a serious Defensive Player of the Year candidate, said. "That's what it's all about, getting hot at the right time."
The Chiefs, on the other hand, have limped into the postseason by losing two in a row and stumbling to a 2-5 finish after their impressive 9-0 start. Kansas City, though, completed the regular season with an 11-5 record a year after compiling a dismal 2-14 mark, the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history thanks in large part to a new head coach and quarterback combo, Andy Reid and Alex Smith.
"It's the start of a new season. That's how the playoffs work," Reid said. "You're in the dance, as they say. It's another phase of the season. You've worked very hard as a team to get into this position. Now it's important that you make sure you get it right."
Kansas City has faced Indianapolis on three prior occasions in the playoffs (1996, 2004 and 2007) with the Colts coming out on top each time. Indy also topped the Chiefs, 23-7, in KC back on Dec. 22.
PREDICTION: Chiefs 21, Colts 20
New Orleans (11-5) at Philadelphia (10-6), Saturday, 8:10 p.m.
LINE: Eagles by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Saints clinched a playoff berth with a 42-17 win over Tampa Bay in Week 17 when Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns in the win and surpassed the 5,000-yard mark (5,162) for the fourth time in his career. Star tight end Jimmy Graham finished the season with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns, becoming the first tight end in NFL history to record at least 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in two different seasons.
"We are good enough to do whatever we set out to do," said Brees when asked about the team's playoff chances. "We took a great step in the right direction with this game to get ready for this playoff run."
Playing a win-and-in game for the NFC East title in Week 17, the Eagles defeated Dallas 24-22 to clinch the division. Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy won the rushing title (1,607 yards) and quarterback Nick Foles was the passing leader (119.2 passer rating). Wide receiver DeSean Jackson had 1,332 receiving yards this season and the Eagles became the first team ever to have a quarterback with a 100-plus rating, a 1,500-yard rusher and a 1,300-yard receiver.
"It's a great feeling," said Jackson about returning to the playoffs. "Our fans are going to go wild. It's a great opportunity to bring the playoffs to Philadelphia on Saturday. We just need to have a great week of practice and get ready for a good team coming in here."
PREDICTION: Eagles 27, Saints 21
San Diego (9-7) at Cincinnati (11-5), Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 7
THE SKINNY: Call it a sequel 32 years in the making. For the first time since the famous "Freezer Bowl," the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals will square off in the NFL playoffs on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Early forecasts for Sunday's game have the temperature reaching into the low 40s, certainly a positive development for the Southern California-based Chargers and a stark contrast from the last time San Diego visited the Queen City for a postseason game. In NFL lore, the "Freezer Bowl" was the AFC Championship Game between the Chargers and the Bengals on Jan. 10, 1982. The Bengals won that one going way, 27-7, in what was the coldest temperature in NFL history in terms of wind chill. Air temperature was minus-9 on that day with the wind chill dipping down to minus-37 due to sustained 27 mph winds.
No one in their right mind wants to play in that kind of weather again but the Bengals probably wouldn't mind taking another 10 or 15 degrees off the current forecast.
Either way, though, Cincinnati, which will be shooting for its first playoff win in 23 years, doesn't figure to be a hospitable place for any opponent because the AFC North champion Bengals finished the regular season a perfect 8-0 record on their home field.
"They have to come here to "The Jungle" and deal with our weather and our fans," Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "We'll see if we get the best out of them."
The Chargers, led by Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, won their final four games and earned a playoff berth in Week 17 with a 27-24 overtime win over Kansas City coupled with losses by Miami and Baltimore. Rivers finished the season ranked second in the AFC with a 105.5 passer rating and led the league with a 69.5 completion percentage.
"It feels like this season is meant to be special," said Chargers safety Eric Weddle. "We're in the playoffs and no one really thought that could happen."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis led his team to the playoffs for the third consecutive season and earned its first division title since 2009.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. "For us to have a home playoff game, it'll be a great environment. We're ready for the playoffs to start."
PREDICTION: Bengals 30, Chargers 20
San Francisco (12-4) at Green Bay (8-7-1), Sunday, 4:40 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: Temperatures are expected to be in the single digits and drop from there when the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers kick off Sunday afternoon for the fourth time since the start of the 2012 season.
San Francisco has won the three previous meetings, including last year's Divisional Playoff (45-31) when quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards with two touchdowns and passed for 263 yards with two more TDs. The 49ers enter the playoffs having won six games in a row and sporting a talent- laden roster, featuring a league-high eight Pro Bowl selections.
"At this point, you don't care who you play," said 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who won a Super Bowl last season with Baltimore. "You're happy to be in the playoffs. You look forward to whoever you have to play. At this point, all teams are good. If not, they wouldn't be in the playoffs."
The Packers advanced to the postseason by defeating Chicago 33-28 in Week 17 to claim the NFC North division title. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected with wide receiver Randall Cobb on the game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass on a 4th-and-eight play with just 38 seconds remaining. Rodgers enters the playoffs with a career 103.6 postseason passer rating, the third-best mark in NFL history.
"We're in the playoffs," said Rodgers. "That's the important thing. I think the NFC is wide open."
PREDICTION: 49ers 21, Packers 17
01/03 14:05:38 ET