Well, it's depressing to think that we're down to our last meaningful football game of the season. I swear it comes and goes far too fast...but let's not dwell on that now, we have a lot to discuss. (Or, as yanksknicks puts it, my "long winded drivel." A charmer, that one.)
It may not have been by two scores, but the Patriots managed to eek this one out.
The Ravens seemed to do most things right on the day. As predicted, the Pats threw out the kitchen sink to stop the run game and were fairly successful (Rice and Williams avereaged 3.2 and 3.7 YPC respectively.) The Pats dared Flacco to beat them and he very nearly did, outplaying Brady by quite a large margin.
The Ravens won the TOP battle, the turnover battle, and kept their pass/run ratio somewhat reasonable. It wasn't even Flacco or Cam Cameron's fault that they lost, as I predicted.
But as I'll be the first to tell you, the ugliest win is better than the grandest of losses, and the Pats are riding this ugly win into the Superbowl. Brady was off, badly, for most of the game. He, like Aaron Rodgers last week, missed on throws he made all season (see the early missed TD pass to Gronk.)
The Pats run game really helped out though. BGE averaged 4.5 YPC and came up with some crucial runs in key spots. Gronk came up big again even on a bad ankle.
And then there's the defense. Their goal was to shut down the run and make Joe Flacco beat them. They succeeded in this goal, if just barely. Wilfork was a monster and showed why he is a top 3 DT in football. He moves so well for such a big guy that I can't help but watch in amazement at what he does. The secondary was pretty much gashed at every turn, which was to be expected I guess.
But the biggest plays of the day were two of the last ones. Sterling Moore broke up the Lee Evans would-be TD catch at the last possible nanosecond and then Cundiff made one of the worst 3 playoff FG mistakes ever. (Right up there with Norwood and Gary Anderson.) He just badly shanked what I would consider an easily makeable FG.
It was ugly...FUGLY even, but the Pats are going to the Superbowl and the Ravens are not.
This was some classic, awesome defensive football for most of the game. Two teams slugging it out in the elements...beautiful...just beautiful. An overtime game to decide who moves onto the Superbowl? Can you really ask for more as a fan?
I think the Giants even beat the 49ers at their own game a little in this one. The Giants dominated the TOP battle (39 minutes to 29) and controlled the ball well. (90 offensive plays for the Giants vs. 57 for the 49ers.)
Eli was also the better, more perseverant QB on the field. Smith's accuracy was below 50% and at some points, appeared to have McNabb-esque accuracy, throwing passes in the dirt.
The 49ers WRs didn't help Smith much either. Crabtree was the only 49er receiver to catch a ball, and he caught exactly one. The 49ers had no outside passing game to spread out the Giants defense.
The 49ers also got away from the run game a little too much for my liking, as they were averaging 5.4 YPC on the day. (A little of that was Smith scrambling, but they still would have been over 5 even if you don't count that.) On a rainy day where your receivers didn't show up, running the ball should have been your best friend.
Now the Giants head to the Superbowl in a matchup they have to LOVE. Their defense is peaking at the right time and I think it matches up well with the Pats offense. The pass rush should terrorize Brady and having an athletic LB like Boley will lend itself well to keeping the Pats TEs in check.
The Giants offense should also have a field day against the Patriots defensive backfield. If Joe Flacco can pick them apart, Eli throwing to Cruz, Nicks and Manningham should have a great day.
I like the Giants by a TD in the Superbowl.
3.) Treat Overtime like the Start of a New Game
This is something that seems to affect all teams and always bothers me. Typically, in a game that reaches overtime, one or both teams just spent the 4th quarter trying desperately to score and/or killing the clock depending on the situation.
Then, once overtime comes, they stay in that "mode." The 49ers in particular seemed to stick with that same sense of urgency, and on their only OT possession went incomplete pass, run for a loss, pass short of the first down. And they wouldn't touch the ball again.
I think that once a game goes to OT, the coaches need to take a deep breath and treat it as if they're going into a whole new ball game. Wipe away the mindset you were in to end the 4th quarter and get back to the basics. The 49ers still seemed to have a sense of urgency about them and got away from what they did all year that made them such a great team.
4.) Special Teams Really is a Third of the Game
So what is one thing we learned this weekend? We watched two games between evenly matched teams go right down to the wire, or even into OT.
And in both games, the losing team's killer mistake came on special teams.
A lot of people brush off special teams as an afterthought. A lot of teams use their scrubby bench players while settling for fair catches and touchbacks.
But, in just about every game, something happens on special teams that affects the outcome. Sometimes it's not always so drastic as a fumbled punt or missed FG at the end of the game. Sometimes it's simply a good return or a punt that pins a team deep. But it always has an outcome in games.
Even beyond this week's extreme examples, you can look back at the Chargers of last year. First in offense, first in defense...horrible special teams and no playoffs. Before that, for years, the Colts special teams were typically miserable. Vanderjagt cost them games, they allowed big returns and very rarely ever made good returns of their own.
Of course, everyone will point to the Cundiff missed FG and Williams fumbled punt as the causes of the losses in these games, and those were definitely the final daggers. But the rest of the team allowed the game to come down to those situations.
5.) "Lucky" Teams
A lot of people (read: morons) have been spouting off about how the Pats and Giants are soooo "lucky" to get to where they are. They get all of the lucky matchups and lucky bounces and opponents do things against them like miss FGs and fumble punts...
STOP IT. Just ******* shut your god damn mouth.
Now, luck plays a huge part in football. More so than any other major sport because there are just so many more variables. A fumbled ball could bounce a thousand different directions...sometimes it goes to the other team and sometimes it bounces straight back into the gut of the offensive player. It could be a huge momentum swing either way.
But no team, anywhere, EVER, has EVER, played in or won a Superbowl based on luck alone. It has never, ever, ever, ever happened.
No matter how "lucky" one team might get, you absolutely must have the skill to take advantage of it.
Last week, the Texans and Saints both handed their opponents multiple turnovers yet were still in the game until the final possession. The Patriots this week LOST the turnover battle with the Ravens, yet held on to win.
Luck will always play a part in football, and maybe you can even stumble your way into a win here or there with it. But to beat two or three straight opponents of your conference's best teams to get to the Superbowl, you need FAR more than simple luck.
6.) Illegal Contact should NOT be an Automatic First Down
The 49ers got an automatic first down on 3rd and 19 because of illegal contact this week. **** that noise.
Revamp the rule to make it more like an offsides. 5 yards and a free play. We went the first..what...80 years? of NFL history without this rule being a problem and because of Bill ******* Polian, this rule exists.
I hope he dies in horrific fashion and that the rule gets adjusted so it's not so crippling to defenses.
7.) Hairtrigger Whistles on Forward Progress
Speaking of rules, this is another annoying one. Refs are so freaking quick to blow the whistle when they believe forward progress has been stopped.
For whatever reason, it seems like as long as the runner is churning, the refs let the play keep going. UNLESS he fumbles. Then it's immediate whistle and claims that the runner's forward progress was stopped.
I've seen plenty of instances where a runner keeps chugging, breaks the tackle and then runs for some more yardage. Why aren't those blown dead as quickly as they are if the ball is fumbled?
I think it's just more bias towards the offense from the NFL. If you want to make it fair, blow the whistle the moment the runner stops going forward if he's in an opponent's grasp.
8.) Rushing Three NEVER Works
Perhaps second only to the prevent defense in my mind in terms of hatred, is the three man rush by the defense.
My eye starts to twitch and the rage inside me builds whenever I see it...IT NEVER WORKS. It seems like so many teams are guilty of this...the Ravens and Patriots both had plenty of instances on Sunday where they simply allowed the QB to take all the time in the world as they rushed only 3. And the Giants for the first 14 or so weeks of the season seemed to just LOVE rushing three. It's no surprise to me, then, that they've gotten immensely better since adopting a more aggressive style of defense since then.
With the possible exception of Tim Tebow and maybe Blaine Gabbert, if you let ANY QB currently on a roster in the NFL have all the time he wants in the pocket, HE WILL BEAT YOU. I don't care that you've dropped 8 guys into coverage, even an average QB with plenty of time to throw will find an open guy eventually.
It never works, but I know why defensive coordinators call it. If they call for a big blitz and get burned, well that looks bad on them. But if they call a 3 man rush and drop everyone, he can put that blame on his team. He put them in a great position to cover everyone and the players failed.
Regardless, this is the worst tactic in football. In today's game with so many great QBs, you have to pressure them. I don't are if you have 4 clones of Darrelle Revis back there, they are only going to be able to cover for so long if the QB is allowed extended time in the pocket to find a receiver.
That's all I have right this second.