The previous weekend ,with the Denver Broncos ambushing the Pittsburgh Steelers , was great but it was nothing compared to the one just past. First, the San Francisco 49ers nipped the New Orleans Saints in one of the most fantastic finishes ever and then the Giants defeated the reigning champions , the 15-1 Green Bay Packers in the wintry confines of Lambeau Field.The Ravens-Texans game wasn’t bad either. Even the Patriots-Broncos game was notable for the clinical manner in which the Pats dispatched the Broncos.
As a Giant fan , I enjoyed the Packers-Giants game the most but , as a football fan , I have to say that the 49ers win over the Saints was impossible to top. The football pundits had expressed doubts about how the Saints would fare away from home and so it proved in the early going. The Saints played well but were a little less than their best. When they play at home , they look well-nigh unbeatable; at Candlestick , the 49ers stifled the Saints offense early on and jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead. Still, Drew Brees is one of the best QB’s in the game today and he made it look easy as the Saints came roaring back with two quick TD’s. Even after San Francisco kicked a field foal , the score was only 23-17 with 7:36 to go in the fourth. When Darren Sproles hauled in a 44 yard pass for a TD to put the Saints ahead 24-23, I frankly thought that the Saints would win ; the 49er offense had been stymied in the second half and it didn’t look like they would be able to score again. What happened next is still hard to believe as the lead changed three more times in the last 4 minutes, culminating in an amazing catch by Vernon Davis right at the goal line .
Going into the game , the biggest question had been whether Alex Smith and the 49er offense could score enough points to outscore the Saints. Alex Smith answered all doubts Saturday as he was simply magnificent. Whether throwing a 47 yard sideline pass to Vernon Davis or taking off on a 28 yard run or rifling that final goal line pass to Davis ( who else ?) ,he looked a worthy successor to Montana and Steve Young. For this one game , he was their equal as he played with poise and heart and made things happen.Why he was not successful earlier in his career will always be a mystery.
The Saints have nothing to be ashamed about as they came oh so close to pulling out a win. Brees passed for 4 TDs and 462 yards and completed almost 64% of his passes . Three of his receivers had over 100 receiving yards each and the defense performed creditably. And all this was done without benefit of a credible rushing threat as Pierre Thomas was knocked out of the game early. No , the Saints don’t need to hang their heads ; they will be back next year as one of the favorites.
So will the Packers.
I had hoped that the Giants might be able to pull off another upset but I hadn’t expected it. In one poll the previous week , the Packers were given a 32% chance of winning the Super Bowl, the Giants only 2%. Green Bay’s glittering 15-1 regular season was daunting as was the fact that the Packers were playing at home .What gave me hope was how well the Giant defense had been playing recently and the maturity of Eli Manning. The Giants managed to keep it close throughout the first half as Green Bay receivers kept dropping passes . The commentators kept saying that the Giant defense was unable to mount any pressure on Rodgers but they must have been doing something right as Rodgers was unable to hit anything long. The Giants were clinging to a slim lead just before halftime when Simms threw a Hail Mary pass and Hakeem Nicks came down with the ball in the end zone. Lucky ? Yes. Great catch? Yes. Whatever you want to call it , it put the Giants up by 10 and thoroughly deflated the Packers, They were not the same team in the second half . In spite of two atrocious calls that went against the Giants , they were able to pull away and win handily, 37-20. No nail-biting finish but that’s okay with this Giant fan .
The Giant defense was terrific , though not as dominant as it had been in the previous game against Atlanta and Eli and the passing game were magnificent. The one blot on the offense was the running game which was mediocre. The Giants gained only 95 yards on the ground and 38 of those came on two rushes ( one each by Ahmed Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs) , late in the game. Jacobs , in particular, was disappointing as he was indecisive in hitting the line and seemed to run east-west more than he ran north-south. I hope that he and Bradshaw have their A-game next week in San Francisco because the Giants will definitely need it.
Giant fans are still steamed about the two second-half calls that went against the Giants . In one the replays clearly showed that it was a GB fumble ; in the other, Osi Umeniyora was called for a phantom roughing – the passer – penalty that gave the Packers a first down and eventually led to a TD that made the game close. While the calls were terrible , I think we can forget about them now since they did not affect the outcome . Had they resulted in a Packer win it would have been a rank injustice. Be glad that it didn’t happen. I don’t hold with those who say that the calls were deliberately done to let the Packers win.
I was surprised by the shellacking from Green Bay fans that Aaron Rodgers came in for after the game .( More about that in my next post). I thought he played well though perhaps a tad below his best. He looked dangerous every time in the first half when Green Bay had the ball but he was victimized six or seven times by his receivers dropping passes that they would normally have hung on to.If the Packers didn’t put more points on the board , I would rather credit the Giant defense than lay the blame on Rodgers.Most Green Bay fans are true sports fans .I feel these critics and those who booed their team when it went into the locker room trailing 20-10 are fair weather fans who can’t seem to understand that sometimes your team will lose because the other team played better.
One of the New York newspapers has ignited a mini-tempest in a teapot with claims that announcers Troy Aikman and Joe Buck are anti – New York. I hadn’t noticed any such bias and paid careful attention to the commentary this time . I thought that Buck and Aikman were fair in their comments as they unequivocally criticized the refs for the bad calls.It seems to me that fans always complain about the announcers and how they don’t add anything to the descriptions of the game ; that they utter only platitudes and offer no insights . I think this is unfair . Surely, all the announcers cannot be bad . In some cases , I the fans are mad because their teams are being criticized but mostly I think it is because many of them are know-it-alls.It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
Next Saturday’s championship games should be good and close. In Foxboro, the Bill Belichick coached Patriots take on the defense-minded Baltimore Ravens. I feel the Ravens chances depend entirely on how well QB Joe Flacco does.You know that the Ravens will play stingy defense and that it will be a low scoring game . The question is ” Can Flacco generate enough offense to overcome Brady’s heroics?” Flacco is a better, much better, QB than Tebow but you can rely on Belichick to come up with some new defensive schemes. Whether you like Belichick or not , you have to admit the man is a defensive genius.
I’m not going to jinx the Giants by making any predictions but , if they play like they did last Sunday , I like their chances. I just hope they are healthy ( Chris Canty being assisted off the field was a scary sight) and that Brandon Jacobs re-discovers his aggressiveness.It should be another good weekend !!