Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 23, 2012 at 9:49 AM
Network Sweeps Conference Championships for Third Time in Four Years!
Ravens (+7) cover vs. Patriots 20-23, Giants (+2) beat 49'ers outright 20-17!
Miss 'em. Make 'em.
They are the so-called chip-shot field goals that all-too-often define a National Football League team and a season.
On Sunday there were the Baltimore Ravens -the team that simply cannot get over the proverbial hump and get back into another Super Bowl -missing what appeared to be a gimme 32-yard field goal that would have sent their AFC Championship Game into overtime in Foxboro and than who knows what might have happened?
It's the New England Patriots, instead, that survived and advanced their way to a fifth Super Bowl berth in the past 11 years.
Hours later there was a scene we have all witnessed before:
New York Giants PK Lawrence Tynes booting home an overtime game-winning kick in an NFC Championship Game to elevate the New York Giants past San Francisco and into a second Super Bowl trip in the past five years -talk about a really bad day for the Harbaugh Family! -- and all the Yogi Berra "Déjà vu" folks were quickly being quoted on New York City TV/radio shows -bye-bye, SF 49ers and welcome back to football's center stage, NY Giants.
In fact, when Super Bowl XLVI does finally roll around in less than two weeks -see Sunday, February 5th at 6:32 p.m. ET (give or take a minute) -it may seem that the Pats-Giants Super Bowl clash four years ago was just played but -of course -it was not and so let's get the media folks to stop calling this one a rematch:
There's been three Super Bowls played since that ultra-dramatic 17-14 Giants triumph over the then-perfect Patriots back in February 2008 and there's been five different NFL teams that have played in these past three Super Bowls -see Pittsburgh (twice), Green Bay, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Arizona -so if you insist on a "rematch" status here than know it's been a tad delayed.
Hey, the cool thing about getting another Patriots-Giants clash in a Super Bowl is that we'll be seeing highlights of a whole lot of folks who suited up in SB 42 but won't here like Randy Moss and Tedy Bruschi and Michael Strahan and Plaxico Burress -but make no mistake about it the guys who will be owning all the "pub" leading up to this year's Super Bowl include two of the NFL's top five quarterbacks these days in New England's Tom Brady and the NY Giants' Eli Manning plus a couple of defenses who have really come on strong or didn't you realize that the Pats allowed a grand total of 30 points to be scored in playoff wins against Denver and Baltimore while the Giants yielded just 39 total points in three games (plus another eight minutes of overtime against the Niners) and so we've sent out word that the defenses of both Super Bowl-bound teams better get some love!
Just remember that we'll be flooding the Jim Sez column space with lots of Super Bowl goodies these next two weeks but we'll take some time to examine/analyze/dissect the AFC Championship Game win by New England and the NFC Championship Game win by the New York Giants in just a moment here but first this key reminder:
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will get you the Super Bowl XLVI Sides & Totals Winners on game-day plus there's loads of College Basketball and NBA Winners each and every day when you check in with us either here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays... get 'em while they're hot!
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
NEW ENGLAND 23, BALTIMORE 20
So what exactly were the odds that the 7-point home favorite Patriots were gonna get back into the Super Bowl swing of things with Mr. Brady not throwing a single touchdown pass and with that aforementioned/oft-maligned defense making enough big plays prior to that FG miss by Ravens' PK Billy Cundiff?
We know, you might have had a better shot at winning a Mega Million jackpot before you would have put New England into a Super Bowl game off a zero-TD showing by Brady who used some rather colorful words in the post-game interview to describe his shaky play that included two interceptions and some major misfires like the one right in the beginning of the game when he badly overthrew a wide-open TE Rob Gronkowski.
Still, the Patriots -who have won Super Bowls to cap off the 2001, '03 and '04 seasons -did enough good things on offense to avoid the upset bug as RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for an effective 68 yards while N'England piled up some 25 first downs and Brady was sacked only once despite all the middle-of-the-week trash talk that emanated from a Baltimore defense that pretty much played it safe -vanilla, as they say -and did not fall into traps of following the motion men here.
True, Gronkowski didn't post monster numbers (see 5 catches for 87 yards with no TDs) and we didn't see any of that TE Aaron Hernandez look in the backfield that worked so well in the lopsided 45-10 AFC Divisional Playoff win against Denver but New England relied more on an old Bill Belichick strategy and that's don't beat yourself on offense and let the defense make some big plays... say what with this 31st-ranked stop unit?
Still, the keys to New England winning aside from the Cundiff miss with 11 seconds left that will surely get him run out of town is that New England never really let RB Ray Rice (21 carries for 67 yards) get in a real rhythm save for a little second-half sequence when he dashed off a couple of nice 9- and 10-yard runs and even when Baltimore QB Joe Flacco (306 yards passing with two TDs and 11 INTs) got rolling he didn't crack a Patriots secondary that needed a dude named Sterling Moore to strip away what seemed a sure-fire TD strike to Baltimore WR Lee Evans in the game's waning moments.
Should Baltimore have done more with its 33:33-to-26:27 time-of-possession advantage and those four trips inside the red zone (see only one touchdown)?
No doubt. Yet in the NFL's miss-'em or make-'em world you got the feeling that if Cundiff had drilled his FG than Baltimore's gritty/ornery defense would have found a way to win it in overtime... but the Ravens simply don't get over the hump in such games.
As we all learned, the Patriots still do.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
NEW YORK GIANTS 20, SAN FRANCISCO 17 (OT)
If these title tilts insist on having both heroes and goats than the aforementioned Tynes gets to share the starring role with the likes of QB Manning (316 yards passing and two TDs), WR Victor Cruz (10 receptions for 1042 yards) and that born-again Giants defense but, sorry to say, the biggest newsmaker coming from this battle royal was 49ers fill-in return specialist Kyle Williams who botched a pair of punt returns including a key strip in overtime.
And let's start with that snafu: If you check out the replay you must give Giants coverage teams star Jacquian Williams extra credit for whacking the ball out of Kyle Williams' mitts -hey, it could happen to anyone -but it was that almost too-careless ball that bounced and then took a richochet off Williams' knee that set up a Manning-to-WR Mario Manningham 17-yard scoring strike with just 8:34 left in the fourth quarter that should bother first-year Niners boss-man Jim Harbaugh and Company... what was Williams doing there?
Suffice to say, the Niners had some issues come back to bite 'em including the fact that aside from TE Vernon Davis and his 73- and 28-yard scoring grabs from QB Alex Smith and some great smash-mouth runs by Frank Gore (74 yards on 16 carries) there was really no place else for Smith to go for his productivity -like how about one catch all game long by a wide receiver (see WR Michael Crabtree) and that's where the Giants' coaching staff really gets to take bows here because head coach Tom Coughlin never lost faith in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and than Fewell never lost faith in his players who needed to regain their health towards the end of the year.
Make no mistake that the sloppy field at Candlestick Park was surely a detriment to the famous Giants pass rush and yet the three sacks were big and some great at-the-point-of-attack tackles by the likes of Pro Bowl DL Jason Pierre-Paul never allowed Gore to really gallop to daylight. No doubt the 49ers will be haunted all off-season by the biggest negative stat of 'em all here: San Fran went 1-of-13 on third-down plays and save for that Davis catch-and-run play that covered nearly three-quarters of the field you never did see the Niners just plow out a big scoring drive and you got the sense in OT they were merely incapable of doing such.
No, on this night the Giants ruled the roost even though Manning was sacked six times and took more wallops than a punch-drunk fighter and it was that much-ballyhooed 49ers special teams unit that picked the wrong day to play a bad game.
SB XLVI ain't no rematch -but it figures to be a blast.
Maybe a miss 'em or make 'em field goal late gives us the next champion.
FAREWELL TO JOE PATERNO
It's almost eerie that Joe Paterno -winner of 409 college football games in his uber-illustrious career -died just two months after coaching his final college game because that so resembled the end of Bear Bryant's life at Alabama almost 30 years ago -Bryant coached the Crimson Tide in an otherwise meaningless bowl game and, before you knew it he was dead.
Now Paterno's iconic career can be dissected but even his fondest fans -many of whom stood outside in the bitter cold for a candlelight vigil on Sunday night -know that mention of the sordid Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal must tar some of Paterno's name even if it may not seem fair at all in death (and, gee, we all could have done without the Sandusky quote following Paterno's death as nobody really wants to hear from that maggot!)
Paterno won a pair of national championships (and could have been more save for some political nonsense) and coached his club in 37 bowl games... almost hard to believe even though anybody that's been watching college football knows Paterno stalking the sidelines with those tinted eyeglass and those raised-up pant legs -now that was a Saturday afternoon in autumn