If you’re an Eagles fan, conference championship Sunday has a special sting. For a pretty good stretch it was one of the worst sports days of the year. Perhaps it is those bad memories, or perhaps it is the city’s singular obsession with the Birds, but in Philly last week these football games had all the hype of the Cotton Bowl. No one cared other than to grumble some occasional ill-will toward the Giants. Even I wasn’t too interested in the events. I certainly was rooting against NY–as I am geographically predisposed to do, but the games were going to be more of an excuse to eat some pizza and shoot the horsebleep with some friends. Then the crazy stuff started happening….
1. The first strange thing I noticed was Tom Brady was a bit off. He had a deflected pick overturned by a somewhat suspect PI call and missed an array of open receivers in the 1st half. As a devoted Brady fantasy owner, I’ve seen my share of Tommy B this year and there were a handful of games where he showed this slight deviation from perfection. With the Pats moving the ball, Brady’s hiccups kept the score reasonable and kept the Ravens in the game. I’m sure Brady’s shoulder will be discussed to the point of exhaustion for the next two weeks in New England.
2. Flacco to Torrey Smith I. Never has a worse throw done so much for a team. At the start of the game, the Ravens looked like they were going to average about 1.2 yards per play. It was pitiful. The Pats defense was gaining confidence. Then, Torrey Smith broke wide open. Any reasonable QB would have hit Smith for an easy score. Flacco underthrew him by about 15 yards and almost blew the play, but the big gain that could have been bigger at least let Baltimore believe they could move the ball.
3. New England biggest defensive stand came after Danny Woodhead fumbled a kickoff return (foreshadowing for the afternoon game) with the Pats trailing 17-16. A 24-16 deficit there instead of 20-16 would have been huge. The Ravens offense just couldn’t get everything going in the right direction and settled for three points (or attempted FGs) too often.
4. Joe Flacco’s pick in the 4th quarter was one of his worst throws of the day at a terrible time. Baltimore would get another chance, but Flacco nearly sunk him with his ill-advised toss down the middle into coverage. Flacco remained put upon and fatalistic after the game, but he brings it on himself with these hot & cold performances.
5. The Lee Evans TD catch/drop/pass breakup got a little lost in the shuffle a few moments later, but the Ravens probably were a few tenths of a second away from winning the game in regulation. The, to borrow a baseball term, bang-bang play probably deserved at least a courtesy review, but there was none and it set the stage for…
6. The worst clutch kick of all-time. Maybe Gary Anderson for the Vikings? That was in a dome. After a full half day of wracking my brain that’s about all I can come up with. Cundiff’s miss made Scott Norwood look like Adam Vinatieri in the snow. That kick wouldn’t have been good from 15 yards. He duck-hook, double-crossed himself into oblivion. It was such a bad kick and such a horrific way to lose the game that it wasn’t even funny (except to Pats fans), and missed kicks are ALWAYS funny.
The only person that had any compassion for Billy Cundiff, the only guy who cared one bit about his well-being was San Francisco kick returner, Kyle Williams. Williams guaranteed that Cundiff would only share top-billing with a duo of mistakes that probably secured his passage to the Arena League. It was the kind of game that was going to turn on a mistake. Without the fumbled punt return, the SF and NY offenses might still be out there piling up 3 and outs. It was a supreme display of defensive football from both teams.
If Kyle Williams wants to get off the hook he should point a finger at Alex Smith. Aside from leaning on Vernon Davis for a few plays, Smith was terrible. Every time he rolled out under pressure you knew he was going to rifle a low line drive off the hash marks, and that’s what he did. Over and over. The Giants had him on the run.
Eli was also under fire the whole game. The Giants pass protection was a mess. Eli got hit 20 times, which is slightly inflated by his 1.2 million pass attempts, but still, he was constantly on the ground. A week after fading late against the Saints the 49ers defense was back and clicking.
The 49ers defensive backs colliding into each other may have cost them the game. On two occasions Eli threw what looked to be sure picks only to have the SF players collide and keep each other from getting the interception. The first collision resulted in an injury. The 2nd, in overtime, kept SF from really taking momentum. Gotta call those fly balls, boys.
When the Giants kicked the winning field goal it set off a wild celebration that featured the happiest punter I’ve ever seen. Steve Weatherford(?) sprinted across the field like he had just nailed a jumper over Craig Ehlo. I guess it was a real nice hold, but know your role a little bit. You don’t have to become the NFL version of Thomas Hill.
That’s about all I’ve got for now. It was an incredibly strange day of football. You had two teams that deserved to win their games, but were also kind of handed the victories by historical gaffes from the opposition. It doesn’t matter how we got there, though, we’ve now got the Pats/Giants rematch and two straight weeks of David Tyree highlights. Good news is, all those Niners defensive players can now make the Pro Bowl–don’t miss it!