The King of the Mannings.

Half as Good as Terry Bradshaw.

Well, the food at the party was good.  I can say that without hesitation.  It was a divine spread.   I don’t think I can say the same for the game, though.  Football fans in Philadelphia were put in the most awkward of positions on Sunday.  On one side you had the Patriots going for a fourth Super Bowl title in the last decade.  On the other you had the division rival Giants, a 9-7 team during the regular season, looking for their 2nd Super Bowl in the last five years.  Both of these teams are cruel reminders that there are many different ways to win a Super Bowl.  You hardly have to be a dynasty these days to raise the trophy, but the Eagles are still 0 for 46.  So, while most people probably picked a side for the sake of having a rooting interest, I think most Eagles fans probably just squirmed uncomfortably in their seats and recalled past moments of what might have been.

The game itself was an odd one, a bit of a boring nail-biter.  I imagine there will be a lot of praise for both defenses.  They stepped up.  Much-maligned secondaries rising to the occasion.  Gronkowski=eliminated.  The Patriots once again creating serviceable players from the scrap heap.  I call BS.  This was an ugly, ugly game on offense.  And, even though both QBs would go on long streaks of completions, the game lacked sharpness and rhythm.  If you want to heap praise on the defensive game plans, go right ahead.  I say it was a bit of a stink-fest.

It started with that first Patriots play (who had a safety as the 1st points–monster payday).  I’ve watched a lot of football and I don’t ever remember seeing an intentional grounding play out in that manner.  It was a gutsy call by the officials (the two points would be huge in the end) and set the tone for a strange day for Brady, but one that is becoming more common.  Tommy B seems to be lacking his once signature consistency, and the Super Bowl played out as a little microcosm of that trend.  There were two excellent drives, several nice throws, but the rest wasn’t very inspiring.  And, while no quarterback is perfect is every time out, the bad games for Brady have come in big spots far more frequently in the 2nd half of his career.  Blame Gisele, blame Gronk’s ankle, just don’t blame Tom.

Both defenses were operating in a bit of a bend, but don’t break mode.  For 750 yards of offense to result in only 38 points (2 of which came on defense and 4 more which were essentially conceded), seems unusual to me.  And, is this where I give the shout out to Weatherford?  That guy was in the damn zone.  On fire.  He may have been the true MVP and I say that with only a trace of sarcasm.  The Patriots didn’t have good field position all night and it was mostly thanks to the happiest special teamer since the Grammatica brothers.  Three Patriots drives started inside their own 10, and every single one of them started inside their own 30.  It allowed the Giants defense to surrender some first downs, but still force punts, or force the Pats into an eventual mistake (like Brady’s heaved pick–his new signature move).  The Giants on the other hand, had back-t0-back FG producing drives that started at their own 35 and at the NE 48.  In a game this close, it was all those little things adding up to give them the edge in the end.

It was, as I said last week, a game of legacies.  Predictably, the stories have started coming in about Tom Coughlin’s status as one of the great NFL coaches ever.  I’ll tell you what, the guy has a knack of winning the Super Bowl right about when everyone wants him fired.  And, the Giants in general have a way of maximizing their post-season runs.  In their last 8 trips to the post-season they’ve been one and done on 5 occasions.  But, in the 3 years they’ve won games they have 3 Super Bowl appearances and two trophies.  The Eagles by comparison have only 2 “one and dones” in their last 9 post-season trips, but have only 1 Super Bowl appearance and no victories.  So, I guess if the G-Men win their wild-card game next year–buckle up.

There’s Eli to discuss too, though I think for the most part his brother will be left out of the discussion for now.  No need to poke a Manning while he’s waiting for his neck bones to fuse.  Saying Eli is better than Peyton would be going back on years of Peyton love and nearly as much Eli apathy.  It’s far easier to just say Eli is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and move on.  Peyton is still miles ahead in all the statistical categories, though he’s also the one that has to answer about his questionable post-season record.  I think more than anything, the win probably gives Eli some long-awaited status around the Thanksgiving table.  He’ll likely no longer have to sit in a high-chair in the kitchen.

In the end, the game lacked a bit of something for me, but I suppose there was no way I was going to emerge from a Giants victory feeling stellar.  It was a shame that Ahmad’s Bradshaw’s last second decision to not bypass a Super Bowl TD didn’t create a little more tension.  I thought he was let off the hook by the announcers who said, “he couldn’t stop himself.”  No, I don’t think that was it.  But it wouldn’t matter, because the Giants deflected a crucial pass, Tom Brady took a terrible sack (again), and that was all she wrote.  An NFL season in the books.  New York wins again.  Tough one to swallow.

***

On The Commercials:

It seems to me that every year people are less and less impressed with the commercials.  I think this is partially due to the viral video age we live in.  “Clever,” doesn’t carry that much weight anymore.  You shrug, half-smile, but something is missing.  None of these ads would get millions of hits on YouTube if they just appeared without context.  I thought there were some decent spots.  Doritos did a nice job.  As always, monkeys and dogs are funny.  We covered that.  Coke really dropped the ball on the polar bears.  Unfortunate.  But, what I really remember is all of NBC’s promotion for their own shows.  SMASH!  TONIGHT!  AFTER THE VOICE!

Goodell’s Fantasy Weekend.

Or, The Day of the Goat.

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!