Monday, January 23, 2012

Giants/Patriots: Super Bowl XLII Rematch

The National Football League's championship game has been set, and it will feature a heavyweight rematch between Bill Belichick/Tom Brady and Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning for the second time in the last five Super Bowls.

The two will face off in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on February 5, just four years after Manning led his underdog Giants to a 17-14 victory over the then-undefeated Brady-led New England Patriots.

Brady is looking to join legends Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls throughout their respective careers. Brady already tied Montana by winning his 16th career postseason game, and he now has a better postseason record than Montana did (16-5).

Eli, on the other hand, is vying for his second Super Bowl title, which would allow him to surpass his older brother Peyton when it comes to rings. I would already crown Eli with the title of better postseason quarterback, to be honest. Throughout Peyton's playoff career he has put up a 9-10 overall record, winning one Super Bowl and going one-and-done on seven different occasions.

Eli's G-men have been road warriors, going 2-0 on the road in the postseason this year (1-0 at home) and going 5-1 on the road under the Coughlin/Manning duo–overall postseason record for Manning is 7-3. He looks to have finally gotten over his inconsistencies on his way to a grand postseason performance this season–76/123, 62%, 307.6 passing yards/game, 8 TDs, 1 INT.
I ran across some interesting facts on Trey Wingo's twitter page about the postseason history that was made in yesterday's pair of championship games:

*The Giants are 5-0 in NFC Championship games.
*First time since NFL/AFL merger that both games were decided by three points or less.
*In the Brady era NE only has three game losing streaks to two teams, the Colts and Broncos. But the Giants, if they win in two weeks, would have won three straight against New England as well.
*Yesterday was only the third time in the last 17 years that two teams with at least 12 wins both lost in the Championship.
(Special thanks to the NFL Live host for providing me with some interesting content for today's article/recap).

AFC Championship: Patriots 23, Ravens 20

Baltimore's quarterback Joe Flacco (5-4 in postseason in four pro seasons), after being called out by teammate and free safety Ed Reed for inconsistent play against the Texans last weekend, stepped up his game and out-passed future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Miraculously, enough.

And though Baltimore's highly-touted defense got little to no pressure on Tom Brady, sacking him just once, they were still able to force two Brady INT's. But miscues in a couple of different dimensions led to Baltimore's eventual downfall. They were given a couple of chances to stay in the game with a couple of forced turnovers on defense and a late three-and-out from NE's offense.

The final drive, however, featured a dropped pass in the end zone by veteran Lee Evans, which would have given Baltimore the lead with under a minute to play, and then a missed 32-yard field goal by the league's highest-paid kicker Billy Cundiff. The kick would have tied the game and likely sent it in to overtime, but instead he shanked it to the left and gave the ball back to Brady & Co.
Cundiff, one of the two scapegoats in the AFC Championship game, wasn't the only player who had a bad day (there's a guy in San Francisco who feels similarly). I, personally, feel really badly for him and Evans both. Both are solid players who happened to make mistakes on one of the biggest stages in football. The only thing that would have been worse is to have that happen in the Super Bowl.

The 23-20 New England victory was the second consecutive 23-20 victory over Baltimore, as they defeated them by that score (in overtime) in their Week 6 matchup last season on Sunday October 17, 2010. Belichick and Brady will be going to their fifth Super Bowl together as a team and hope to join Montana and Bradshaw atop the Super Bowl victory category by the end of the night.

NFC Championship: Giants 20, 49ers 17 (OT)

I got this pick wrong, dropping me to 1-1 on the round and 7-3 in the postseason. I thought to myself that I'd love to see Manning win yet another game on the road, but didn't think the Giants could stay hot for another game. I was wrong.

Both teams struggled early in the game on the offensive side of the ball, having trouble moving down the field. But New York was able to control the clock for nearly 40 minutes despite just 85 rushing yards on 26 carries (3.3 YPC avg.). Manning attempted a career-high 58 passes, completed over half of those attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He had a couple of errant, inaccurate passes but played one of the best games of his postseason career in the wet conditions of Candlestick Park.

Those rainy conditions, of course, were supposed to dampen the passing games of both teams, but that did not stop head coach Tom Coughlin from putting the ball in Manning's hands and letting him do what he's done all season, on his way to his second career Pro Bowl selection. He wont play in the game, of course, because he'll be too busy preparing himself for the Patriots. But it's still nice to see him get the recognition he deserves.

The young Victor Cruz, who I saw play two preseasons ago and knew he would eventually break out in to a receiver to be reckoned with, had the game of his life despite his zero touchdown catches. He caught 10 passes for 142 yards and was Eli's go-to guy on third downs, coming up with big catch after big catch to keep New York alive.

Though it was San Francisco's second-year wideout Kyle Williams who was the cause of two San Francisco miscues–allowing a punt to hit him on the knee and bounce in to NY's hands, and then fumbling a punt deep inside SF territory to give New York the ball back in overtime–the Niners didn't have a game they would like to remember.
Quarterback Alex Smith threw for nearly 200 yards, two TDs and ran for 42 yards while Gore added 74 on the ground, but the offense went just 1 for 13 on third downs. That's not acceptable for a team that expects to contend for the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately the young Williams received a couple of death threats via twitter, but there's no way he should shoulder the blame for the San Francisco loss. If people, or "fans," are sending death threats to, not only players, but the players' families then they should not consider themselves fans. It's ridiculous what some fans do when their team loses a game, and it's making everyone else look terrible.

I sympathize with Williams, Cundiff and Evans and wish them the best in the rest of their professional careers.

But for now, it's on to the Super Bowl! In my preseason predictions I had the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl (against the Eagles, so I only got part of my prediction correct so far). I feel pretty knowledgable in calling that, but with Manning going up against Brady again, anything can happen. Manning, by the way, is 2-1 in his career against the Patriots. He beat them earlier this season, in SBXLII, and the one loss came on December 29, 2007 (38-35) during the Patriots' 16-0 regular season.

Photo credit
Brady/Manning: Associated Press
Cundiff vs. Pats: Elsa/Getty Images
Kyle Williams: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

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