I can’t remember when the playoffs have been so much fun , given us so many memorable games. And I say this as a football fan , not as a New York Giants fan. We’ve had some great games the previous two weekends and yesterday there were two more memorable ones. I had spoken to my son Sunday morning and predicted that , despite the pundits predictions , the Patriots and the Giants would be the winners but I have to admit that my Giant pick was as much hope as prognostication.
But first things first.
If you had told me that Tom Brady would not throw a TD pass and that Joe Flacco would throw two while out-dueling Tom Brady , I would have assumed that the Ravens had won handily. That the Patriots were able to overcome a sub par performance from Tom Brady and somehow put enough points on the board to pip the Ravens is difficult to imagine , and yet that is exactly what they did . Kudos to the Pats running attack , particularly Ben Jarvis Green who ran with guts and rammed the ball through the heart of the Raven defense in scoring a TD. As for Brady , he wasn’t at his best but I would hardly say he sucked (his words). He did move the ball up and down the field and he did it against a ferocious Raven defense led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Baltimore played their hearts out and , though I was rooting for the Pats, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Ravens when Billy Cundiff shanked his 32-yard attempt. The Ravens were also unlucky on the previous play when their WR Lee Evans caught the ball momentarily before it was stripped from his grasp by a no-name Pats DB who had been cut earlier this season by the Raiders. In the space of two plays , the Ravens went from a sure win to a tie to a crushing loss. I couldn’t help but feel for Ray Rice who watched open-mouthed from the sidelines as all his hard running earlier in the game went for naught. A pat on the back for Joe Flacco who answered all his critics with his play yesterday. I saw him as the weak link in the Baltimore offense but yesterday he certainly played well once he’d settled down.I don’t think Ed Reed or anyone else will ever call him out again.
The Giants -49ers tie was a slugfest and no praise can be too high for Eli Manning and his group of wide receivers , particularly Victor Cruz. Eli stood tall , even after being sacked five times and absorbing numerous hits . He delivered time and time again on third down , many of his passes being hauled in by Victor Cruz. While the passes to Cruz, Nicks and Manningham were rifled with pinpoint accuracy, what was most thrilling was the way Eli scrambled out of the pocket and completed passes to his safety valves , Henry Hynosky and Ahmed Bradshaw even as the 49er defense was breathing down his neck. The running game could have been better but I have to give credit to the 49er defense for stuffing the run.
The Giant defense did its part in the win too , harassing Alex Smith all afternoon and holding the 49ers without a third down until almost the end. Except for the two long touchdown passes to Vernon Davis , the 49ers didn’t mount a serious threat all day. Frank Gore had a couple of good runs but that was it . The previous week , Alex Smith looked like Joe Montana but, yesterday, all the old doubts about him re-surfaced . He has a long way to go before he can be considered an élite QB.
JPP , Tuck , Umeniyora and Canty have been playing lights out this past month and this team bears no resemblance to the Giants team that was at one point 7-7 and on the verge of not making it to the playoffs. Looking at them play now I wonder how they could have lost to Seattle and Washington ( twice).
Some thoughts on Vernon Davis and Jim Harbaugh. Davis showed yesterday why his previous coach Mike Singletary lost his cool and sent him home during a game last season . On his two TDs, he showed a combination of speed and strength that was simply awesome . His over-the-top celebration after the first TD I could excuse as being attributable to an excess of adrenaline . What cannot be excused however is his behavior in piling on after a scuffle broke out. It cost the 49ers 15 yards in penalties ( on top of the 15 he had been assessed for his TD celebration earlier ) and it proved that for all his physical talents , the man has a pea-brain.
As for Harbaugh, his actions in declining an interview immediately after the final whistle were a stark contrast with his over exuberant celebrations when the 49ers beat the Lions in a regular season game. The man is a good coach but he has no class. Class was what Giant coach Tom Coughlin showed in his post-game interview where he was generous in his praise of a defeated foe.
I don’t know if the SuperBowl will be another absorbing battle like the one we saw four years ago when the same two teams slugged it out. Certainly, the key players from that struggle are still around.. coaches Belichick and Couglin , Tom Brady , Eli Manning ,… and there are some exciting new ones – Gronkowski, Hernandez , Jason PierrePaul, Nicks , Victor Cruz. No reason why this game too should not be a humdinger. With two QB’s like Tom Brady and Elite Manning , there should be a lot of points put on the board and a fascinating battle of wits between Perry Fewell’s Giant defense and the coaching genius of Bill Belichick.
That would not be the case if yesterday’s games had gone the other way and the FortyNiners were facing off against the Ravens; that would have been a defensive struggle and a prospect too horrible to contemplate .
P.S Wasn’t that a great rendition of the national anthem by Kristine Chenoweth? I’ve seen too many others screw it up by trying to put their own spin on it .Bravo, Kristine.