As the clock slowly ticked down in overtime late Sunday night, time seemed to slow down. The Giants, who had just recovered a costly fumble inside the San Francisco 30-yard-line, were lining up for a chip-shot field goal and putting their hopes to win the NFC Championship on the leg of one man.
Sitting at home, wide eyed with dozens of possible scenarios playing through my mind, the memories of a similar kick just four hours earlier immediately came to the forefront, as Lawrence Tynes set up for the game winner.
In a weekend filled with drama and razor thin margins for error, Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff made possibly the biggest blunder of them all, missing a 32-yard field goal in the waning seconds and blowing the Ravens hopes at a Super Bowl.
The missed kick established Cundiff as the sure-handed winner of the weekly goat award (horns included) -- San Francisco wide receiver, Kyle Williams, surely gave him a run for his money -- as well as the superlative title of "most likely to be left at the airport following a loss."
But, where Cundiff failed, Tynes was able to capitalize.
The 33-year-old Scotland native drilled the 31-yard Championship clincher, sending the Giants to their second super bowl in four years.
Even as a lifelong Patriots’ fan, it’s pretty sad for the fairly reliable Cundiff to bear such a brunt of the burden -- just think of all the hatemail and death threats he’s going to get – especially when the Ravens offense was unable to punch in some golden opportunities on the afternoon.
It’s almost humorous to think about the complete contradiction between the feelings of diehard fans for Cundiff and Tynes, right now. Where one is lauded and raised on high for his accomplishment, the other is humiliated and scorned for his failure.
The emotions, aside from blissful gratification of course, may not be running through my body but having dealt with such crushing defeat before – I thought I was going to end up in prison after Super Bowl XLII – it is a harsh reality to accept.
But I digress. So, why don’t we put all the "foot" talk aside – sorry, Rex – and concentrate on the rest of the action that went down this weekend.
Flacco Soars, Brady "Sucks" In Pats Win
In such a frenzied week of media coverage leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship, the hot topic up for debate was the play of Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco. The 27-year-old signal caller has a history of playoff success -- a postseason win in each of his first four NFL seasons -- but even amidst the victories there has been constant doubt surrounding his recent level of play.
On Sunday it wasn’t Flacco who showed signs of weakness, but rather the almost untouchable boy wonder Tom Brady was the one in need of some fixing.
Brady had quite possibly his worst playoff performance against a stingy Baltimore defense; completing just 22-of-36 for 239 yards and no touchdown passes. The Patriots’ cleft-chin QB also tossed two interceptions on the afternoon -- which in fact would have been four, if not for a pair of defensive penalties.
Just across the sidelines, a quite focused Flacco appeared surprisingly composed for much of the day, utilizing the bootleg rollouts and a few streaking go-routes to take advantage of a haphazard New England secondary. Flacco mirrored Brady’s completion totals, connecting on just 22-of-36 passes, but he was also threw for a career playoff-high 306-yards and two touchdown strikes to keep the Ravens close.
Needless to say, Sunday was pretty ugly for Brady and in a fairly admirable move the perennial MVP flat out admitted it.
"Well, I sucked pretty bad today," a visibly humbled Brady said to Jim Nance on national television after the 23-20 win. The line certainly caught most fans off guard, as the winning QB stood restless yet relieved atop the winners’ podium.
In a Championship weekend full of shockers, the weekend’s biggest surprise -- overtime, untimely turnovers and missed kicks aside even – was that on one of the biggest stages in all of sports Joe Flacco outplayed arguably (and I use that term quite liberally) the best quarterback of all-time.
He definitely wouldn’t trade the win in for anything, but Sunday was one of Brady’s scarce moments of weakness, a rare performance that he’d surely like to have back.
The highly competitive Brady has made it very clear over the years that he sincerely hates to lose. I suppose any professional doesn’t enjoy losing, but for Brady it has always seemed like much more of a personal vendetta. It’s like Brady vs. the world at all junctures, and God save you if you get between Tom and that trophy.
As everyone’s favorite stickup boy, Omar, famously says in The Wire, "If you gonna come at the king, you best not miss."
On Sunday, the Ravens – or more appropriately Billy Cundiff – certainly missed their shot.
Piss poor performance or not, the Patriots pulled out the win on Sunday and you can bet that a very different Brady is going to show up in Indianapolis two weeks from now.
49ers Kick Away A Win
Sunday’s Championship nightcap was plenty exciting on its own. A defensive struggle was predicted heading into the weekend and the Giants visit to the Bay Area didn’t disappoint.
Both teams plotted and postured all night, trying to force the ball down one another’s throat at every turn but finding no room to run in the face of such staunch defensive fronts.
Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul brought the heat for the Giants, combining for 10 tackles and two sacks, as Big Blue put a stop to Alex Smith’s week-long reign as NFL sweetheart.
Along the other front, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis joined forces for 15 tackles and a pair of sacks between them, while defensive tackle Ray McDonald reeled in 2.5 sacks of his own.
The defensive grind was impressive from both teams. But, as the game wound down and each side continued to match the other’s intensity and dominance in most aspects of the game, it became increasingly apparent that the outcome would be decided by one team’s misstep.
The footing wasn’t solid for much of the afternoon, as both teams had to deal with the inclement weather and soggy conditions, but it was a simple late game fumble that ultimately turned the tides.
49ers’ return man, Kyle Williams, had already muffed a punt earlier in the game before heading back to take the ball with just over 10 minutes left in the sudden-death extra frame. The second-year player took the booming punt and turned up field with some real estate to work with, but the wet ball came loose on the return and what was initially viewed as new life for the Niners quickly became a costly error.
New York special-teamer Devin Thomas recovered his second fumble on the night and got up pumping his fist in the air, as he could almost smell the aroma of sweet victory.
Just minutes later, Tynes kick went through the uprights for the 20-17 win and Big Blue was headed for Indy and a Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots.
Rematch And Revenge
The entire Northeast was in an uproar on Sunday night, with Super Bowl celebrations running rampant throughout Boston and New York.
While Giants fans celebrated a return to their epic moment of glory just four years ago, New Englanders were amped up for more than just a return. They’re out for revenge.
The drive home from Boston on Sunday night was filled with passionate, enthusiastic and spiteful fans, looking for blood.
One caller was so enthralled with the chance at some recompense, for the Giants historic stripping of the Patriots’ undefeated season, that he literally went on a shouting rampage for close to three minutes while the talkshow hosts sat in genuine uncontrollable laughter.
The Super Bowl is always hyped, even when it offers an unattractive matchup or pits two lesser franchises in the big game. The Super Bowl always draws huge ratings and has even become a long-lasting American tradition.
But, this year means even more. At least to Patriots’ fans it does.
The rematch is a chance for Tom Brady and the Pats to rectify their 2008 letdown and shut up all of the 18-1 ignorantees out there – and yes, making up words is my specialty.
This year’s game is primed to be a rematch of epic proportions and could have lasting impacts on both franchises, not just because of the championship but because of what it could mean for the legacy of each.
Brady has a chance to win his fourth ring, surpassing Montana as possibly the greatest quarterback ever to live. Belichick can cement himself in stone atop the all-time coaching pyramid, as quite possibly the greatest coach ever to live.
Meanwhile on the other sidelines, Eli has a chance to emerge as not just an elite quarterback but to supplant Peyton as the more worthy of the brothers with his second championship. As for Tom Coughlin, the league’s oldest head coach is staring down some history and could forever cool the hot-seat chatter that continually swirls around the Giants Stadium.
Super Bowl XLII revisited, it’s to be seen whether it is just a rematch or if the Patriots take it personally and are truly out for revenge.
Player of the Week: Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
The Giants were held in check for much of the game on Sunday, unable to put together a consistent attack all night. Luckily for Eli Manning and crew, the Sultan of Salsa was on his A-game.
Cruz, largely a non-factor in the previous two playoff games, broke out of his slump on Sunday in a big way and almost single-handedly drove the Giants passing attack.
The New Jersey native made his home state proud Sunday, reeling in a game-high 10 receptions for 142-yards including a few circus catches that have continually made him famous this season.
Manning and coach Tom Coughlin must be thanking their lucky stars that the former undrafted free agent was on his side this weekend, because without Cruz the Giants would have been done for against the 49ers D.
Performance(s) To Forget: Billy Cundiff, K, Baltimore + Kyle Williams, WR, San Francisco
At this point, both Cundiff and Williams surely have seen plenty of fire and pitchforks for one weekend – especially in this column. So, why don’t we all acknowledge their untimely mistakes and move on to a lighter, less heart wrenching subject?
Overlooked Performance of the Week: Vince Wilfork, DL, New England Patriots
No. 75 was a force up the middle for the Patrioits this weekend. Wilfork was pushing the Ravens’ offensive line around all day and seemed to be in Flacco’s grill more than his mouth guard.
Big Vince put together a stellar day on the field, but the 6-2, 325-pound beast also nicely filled out the stat sheet. Wilfork notched six tackles and a sack on the afternoon, including three tackles-for-loss and plenty of QB pressure.
At the end of the day, the underappreciated superstar stood at midfield with his helmet in hand and arms spread wide, screaming at the top of his lungs with the excitement of another trip to the big game.
Just for Fun: Bro Flacco Is The
Best Worst Ad Spokesman Ever
I’ve seen some bad ads in my time and the fair share of quality athletes that deliver subpar performances on the acting circuit. But, while the likes of Dwight Howard, Alex Ovechkin and even UGG posterchild Tom Brady would be best to stick with their day job, Flacco may just take the cake.
Don’t believe me? Please, take an uncomfortably hilarious look for yourself…
"Oh, look he caught it!"… (unibrow shimmy)