Here are 10 thoughts about Championship Sunday and the 2008 Super Bowl rematch between the Giants and Patriots.
1. On Friday morning, on my drive to work, I happened to catch Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio as he was discussing how valuable returner Ted Ginn, Jr. is to the 49ers and how his absence could affect the NFC championship game. I’m sure other commentators made similar statements, but Cowherd looked prescient Sunday night. Two game-altering plays involving his replacement, Kyle Williams — a muff in the fourth quarter and a fumble in overtime — are sure to earn Ginn a few extra dollars when he’s negotiating his next contract.
2. Also due for a few extra dollars in his next negotiation: Eli Manning. It’s a cliche to refer to a quarterback’s performance as “gutsy” or “inspired,” but what better words could you use to describe Manning’s game on Sunday? At one point in the game, as he picked himself off the turf once again in his muddied jersey, he looked strikingly like the iconic photograph of Giant great Y.A. Tittle as he knelt exhausted on the field.
3. Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens game was reassuring in that it reminded everyone that Tom Brady isn’t perfect. The shots of Brady on the Patriots bench as Joe Flacco was driving Baltimore to what at first looked like a game-winning touchdown, then to what looked like a certain overtime-ensuring field goal, suggested that Brady knew the Patriots season was over and knew his play hadn’t helped. His self-critical post-game comments ought to concern the Giants and their fans. Brady knew he was outplayed. What are the odds of him letting that happen two games in a row?
4. Everyone jumping off the Patriots bandwagon because Brady had a bad game needs to calm down. A week earlier, he tossed six touchdown passes, remember? Brady will be fine. Better than fine. But there may be other reasons to consider jumping off that bandwagon. For instance, did you happen to notice who was assigned to cover Anquan Boldin Sunday? Julian Edelman. If Edelman spends any time covering Hakeem Nicks, that could get ugly.
5. To all my friends in Baltimore, where I lived for 10 years and will someday return to die, that was a tough loss. Yes, Lee Evans should have hung onto what should have been a game-winning touchdown pass. And, yes, Billy Cundiff should have knocked that 32-yarder through the uprights to tie the game. But team leader Ray Lewis had it right when he said that the loss wasn’t the fault of one or two players. The Ravens outplayed the Patriots on Sunday. It never should have come down to a play or two.
6. Much credit should go to Sterling Moore, who single-handedly saved the Patriots season — literally. That play was a lesson for young defensive backs — and for young receivers. And I’m still not sure that Evans didn’t have the ball long enough for it to be a touchdown.
7. Unless I missed something — and it’s certainly possible I did — the Harbaugh brothers each said the right things after their teams’ respective losses on Sunday. No one was surprised that John did so. But it was nice to see notorious hothead Jim do the same. Maybe he saw his brother’s press conference from a couple hours earlier and took a pointer or two.
8. Why does Rex Ryan get more attention in New York than Tom Coughlin? It’s a rhetorical question. We all know the answer. But at some point in time doesn’t the guy who actually wins championships deserve a little more respect and notoriety than the guy who merely predicts he will win championships?
9. Every once in a while, you have to wonder if anyone really knows anything about football. Countless millions of dollars are spent each year evaluating players for the draft, yet players like Arian Foster still seem to slip through and outperform highly drafted players. (Not to mention players like Brady whose late round pick only seems all the more bizarre now if you go back and look at the other quarterbacks drafted before him that year.) It was hard not to think of that on Sunday, as non-draftee Victor Cruz racked up another brilliant 100+ yard game for the Giants, while first-round pick Michael Crabtree caught one ball for three yards. There are probably better examples of the imperfections of college scouting, but that’s the most recent.
10. Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times had a nice column on Sunday. Plaschke, for those who don’t know, is inexplicably the whipping boy for Times readers, whose weekly letters to the editor would make a man with thinner skin quit. This week, Plaschke wrote that championship Sunday — the day that the AFC and NFC championships are both played — is a bigger and better day for football than Super Bowl Sunday, and he’s absolutely right. Sunday, we got to watch two nail-biters that left the winners and their fans ecstatic, and the losers and their fans despondent or worse. Super Bowl Sunday can’t match it. Extravagant parties, glitzy halftime shows and multi-million-dollar commercials don’t make for better football. To paraphrase Plaschke, there doesn’t seem to be as much at stake in the Super Bowl because both teams already have the feeling that they won just by getting there. A loss isn’t as devastating as a loss in the championship game. Get to the Super Bowl, and you’ll always be remembered as having done so. Lose in the championship game, and you’re lucky to be remembered for having gotten that far. And Plaschke’s right. I’ve seen grown men cry when their teams lose the conference championship game. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone cry over a Super Bowl loss ... at least not since Scott Norwood’s field goal attempt sailed wide. And that was a long time ago.
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