Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 21, 2013 at 11:36 AM
So, are you ready to hear all the Ray Lewis "sermons" for the next couple of weeks?
How about getting to know everything you can about Baltimore boss-man John Harbaugh and his little bro' Jim who has now taken San Francisco back to the gridiron promised land for the first time in nearly two decades (okay, so the 1994 season, to be exact)?
And what are we all gonna do without all those great Bill Belichick quotes these next two weeks?
Aw, shucks, so you knew something would bother America at large without the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl mix!
In case you were wondering, back in early September -in fact, the day before the NFL 2012 season ever kicked off -the know-it-all Las Vegas oddsmakers listed the San Francisco 49ers as 18-to-1 wagering odds to win it all this season while the Baltimore Ravens were priced at a more modest 8-to-1.
And so no wonder Niners fans who are holding "laundry tickets" at that bloated price are all jacked up today considering SF's the early-bird betting favorite for the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 3rd (it was 4 or 4 ½ points as of early Monday morning, depending on your specific locale) but -than again -the Ravens have just disposed of 9 ½-point favorite Denver and 8-point fav New England the past two weekends and so is there any reason for 49ers' fans to be really/truly confident?
What needs to be addressed before we get fully imbibed by Super Bowl hype -and, boy, there's be plenty of it the next two weeks -is that the Niners roared back from a 17-0 deficit to beat host Atlanta 28-24 in the NFC Championship Game this past Sunday while the Ravens bolted back from a 13-7 halftime deficit to win in New England 28-13.
Yes, both road teams won on NFL Championship Game Sunday for the first time since the 1997 season -when Green Bay won in San Francisco and Denver won in Pittsburgh, remember? -and both the 49ers and Ravens shut out their opponents in the second half of this year's respective title tilts as it was Harbaugh Bros. 35, Opponents 0 after intermission in the two Sunday games.
But -unlike all the jibber-jabber you likely heard on all the CBS, Fox, ESPN and NFL Network highlight shows on Sunday night (and what a lot of hot air that said mostly nothing on those channels!) we shall clue you in on just what pointed the Niners and Ravens to the all-important winner's circles but first this key reminder:
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will be there to bang out the Super Bowl XLVIII Side & Totals winners on game-day morning come Sunday, February 3rd plus get all the NBA and NCAA Basketball Winners each and every day too with America's #1 Handicapper scorching-hot on the hard courts these days. So don't get bummed out by the fact we'll soon be putting this 2012 Football Season to bed -- get all the hoop winners this wintertime as the round ball fun is just heatin' up! Check in with us on Game Days either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winners and note the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. And remember there's lots of hot matinee hoops on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ... and so check with us right now!
THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP RE-CAP
SAN FRANCISCO 28, ATLANTA 24 -Is it us or were the TV "analysts" on Sunday night just about ready to crown 49ers' QB Colin Kaepernick the king of the world following this SF win inside the Georgia Dome?
Don't get us wrong: Kaepernick was something special while throwing for 233 yards with one touchdown (and no interceptions) and adding 21 rushing yards while bringing the 49ers back from a 17-0 second-quarter hole but this game really turned on two plays that the "other" quarterback messed up.
Atlanta slinger Matt Ryan -who wound up with 396 yards passing and three TDs along with a pair of 100-yard receivers (WR Julio Jones registered 11 catches for 182 yards and a pair of scores and WR Roddy White finished with 7 receptions for 100 yards) -made two critical second-half mistakes including a poorly-thrown interception snagged by San Fran's Chris Culliver and than there was that damaging botched snap from center when Ryan took his eyes off the shotgun hike and lost a fumble on the Niners' 37-yard line.
Maybe it's tough to criticize someone who was darn near perfect in the game's first 30 minutes when Ryan completed 18-of-24 aerials for 271 yards and three TDs but Atlanta had zero margin for his errors after the break when the Niners showed a mental toughness seen in recent weeks -or basically since Kaepernick took over the starting role.
If Ryan -now 1-4 SU (straight-up) in his pro playoff career -has a sidekick in the blame department than it's a Falcons defense that surrendered 49ers touchdown drives that covered 75, 76 and 82 yards in all before a RB Frank Gore 9-yard go-ahead-for-good touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter capped a 6-play, 38-yard drive that actually started with a key 20-yard punt return by San Fran's Ted Ginn, Jr.
Funny, we don't think we heard once TV voice mention the Ginn play at all and yet it set up Kaepernick and the 49ers' offense inside the Falcons' 40-uyard line and than five rushes and one pass to WR Michael Crabtree paved the way for the game-winning score.
Hey, about the only thing special in special teams play for Atlanta was the fact that still-struggling 49ers PK David Akers doinked a 38-yard field goal try off the tippy-top of the left upright.
In all, the Niners rose to the challenge and did so by including oft-forgotten TE Vernon Davis in their game plan (see 5 catches for 106 yards and one TD), getting a big if albeit-unnoticed game from Pro Bowl P Andy Lee (he averaged 50.3 on his three punts -we told you so!) and silencing a Falcons ground game hurt by the ankle injury to RB Michael Turner who -by the way -is never gonna win any courage awards!
Now, here's a look at the last 10 NFC Championship Games and remember the home teams are listed in CAPS:
THE LAST 10 NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
|2012||San Francisco||- 4||ATLANTA||28-24|
|2011||New York Giants||+ 2||SAN FRANCISCO||20-17 (ot)|
|2010||Green Bay||- 3.5||CHICAGO||21-14|
|2009||NEW ORLEANS||- 4||Minnesota||31-28 (ot)|
|2007||New York Giants||+ 8||GREEN BAY||23-20 (ot)|
|2006||CHICAGO||- 2.5||New Orleans||39-14|
THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME RE-CAP
BALTIMORE 28, NEW ENGLAND 13 -Go ahead and raise your hand if you thought the Ravens were gonna outscore the Patriots 21-zip in the second half after eyeballing a rather putrid offensive performance in the first 30 minutes.
True, Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell -no doubt with some halftime "advice/encouragement" from Mr. Harbaugh himself -decided to put this AFC title tilt in the most capable hands of fifth-year QB Joe Flacco and the former Delaware star delivered big time.
Flacco -who finished this game with 240 yards passing and 3 TDs/0 INTs -led the Ravens on three gut-check scoring drives after intermission including a 10-play, 87-yard march capped by a five-yard scoring dart to TE Dennis Pitta plus an ensuing 10-play, 63-yard scoring romp capped by a three-yard toss to sure-handed WR Anquan Boldin.
Toss in an 11-yard TD grab by Boldin with 11-plus minutes left in the game and the Patriots had been officially left in the dust.
No doubt that New England had enough first-half opportunities to score more in those red-zone visits but the fact of the matter is the aforementioned Belichick will be haunted for months by his major time management gaffes late in the first half when a simple time out with under 15 seconds remaining would have allowed the Pats a shot or two into the end zone. Instead, New England let the clock tick down and settled for a chip-shot 25-yard PK Stephen Gostkowski field goal and you could almost sense the air had been sucked out of Gillette Stadium at that very moment.
We trust that Pats owner Robert Kraft knew his brainy head coach had blown it!
It was 13-7 Pats at the break and could easily have been 21-7 and so those blown opportunities figured to be looming over Belichick and mega-star QB Tom Brady come the second half but that's when a tattered and physically beaten-up New England defense caved in -ESPN's Trent Dilfer was right on saying that Flacco and Company exposed the center of the field and really turned loose Pitta, Boldin, WR Torrey Smith and friends -- but why did the Patriots offense simply go south after the break?
One logical reason is the Patriots botched a slew of third-down plays whether it be a key drop by WR Wes Welker (who had a couple of major drops in this game -likely his finale on this team) or a key holding penalty on OT Nate Solder on a third-and-two completion (ouch!) or simply an errant Brady throw to TE Aaron Hernandez.
Maybe injured TE Rob Gronkowski was missed more than the Pats could have imagined here but let's face it -New England began to get intimated by long-time nemesis DB Bernard Pollard and mates as a withering bunch of tackles/hard hits turned New England RBs/WRs/TEs soft and Brady didn't help matter by having passes batted down or batted away.
Not his finest hour despite the 29 completions and 320 yards passing.
This time it didn't come down to a field goal try for Baltimore: This time there wasn't any dropped pass in the end zone late. No, this wasn't the AFC Championship Game of a year ago.
The Ravens -the more mature and the more hardened team here -made all the plays and won the turnover battle in resounding fashion: Three turnovers by the Pats; 0 turnovers by the Ravens. 'Nuff said.
And guess what ... no special teams mess-ups that could have allowed any kick or punt returns for scores. How novel after that messy special teams showing in Denver last week!
Now, let's inch closer to the "Harbaugh Bowl" or, "Harbaughmania" or "The Brotherly Love Bowl".
Whatever you decide to call it, know this: The 49ers and Ravens showed major "onions" on NFL Championship Game Sunday -now they want to add shiny hardware stuff to their team trophy case.
Just wait ... we'll get there soon enough.
THE LAST 10 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
|2012||Baltimore||+ 8||NEW ENGLAND||28-13|
|2011||NEW ENGLAND||- 7||Baltimore||23-20|
|2010||PITTSBURGH||- 4||New York Jets||24-19|
|2009||INDIANAPOLIS||- 8||New York Jets||30-17|
|2007||NEW ENGLAND||- 14||San Diego||21-12|
|2006||INDIANAPOLIS||- 3||New England||38-34|
|2004||New England||- 3||PITTSBURGH||41-27|
|2003||NEW ENGLAND||- 3||Indianapolis||24-14|
NOTE: More Super Bowl 47 coverage plus NCAA and NBA notes/previews too all this week right here in Jim Sez!