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NFL Conference Championship Round Review: 49ers, Ravens, Giants, Patriots

Everyone loves the flash and skill that NFL players demonstrate on a weekly basis. Whether it be a running back bolting away from the defense for a touchdown or a quarterback showing off his arm with a 60 yard heave into the end zone.

Winning football games, however, comes down to fundamentals and yesterday’s Giants/49ers game was a perfect example. Eli Manning threw the ball 58 times and endured six sacks in wet, windy weather yet he didn’t turn the ball over once. Victor Cruz knew ball security was of the utmost importance on each of his 10 catches which is why he fell to the ground several times to avoid oncoming tacklers even though it meant giving up yards.

The 49ers also protected the ball well all game with one major exception. Kyle Williams carelessly fumbled twice on punts in 49ers territory, once in the 4th quarter and once in overtime, because he was more concerned about making a play than protecting the football. With his limited experience returning punts (he had only five punt returns in his two year NFL career coming into the game) Williams’ first order of business should have been making sure he handed the ball to his offense after each and every punt.

This is especially true in overtime where a lost fumble in your own territory gives the other team a chip shot field goal to win the game. Instead he tried to be a hero and will now go down in infamy along with Roger Craig as the biggest goats in 49er playoff history.

Unlike last week in Green Bay I thought the officiating in this game was tremendous. Ed Hochuli and his crew let the players play and got every key call right. It’s nice to get through a great game without any controversy from the zebras. Hopefully we will get another strong effort from the refs in Super Bowl XLVI.

Joe Flacco answered his critics and shut up Ed Reed in the process with a tremendous effort yesterday. Despite solid pressure from the Patriots front four Flacco hung in and made some exceptional throws especially on out patterns to his wide receivers. Even his one mistake, a fourth quarter interception that set up the Patriots at midfield, didn’t come back to bite him because Tom Brady returned the favor with an interception of his own on the very next play.

Speaking of that interception, it was Brady’s worst play in what was a subpar performance for the future Hall of Famer. Why he would throw into double coverage to a guy in Matthew Slater who had one catch all season is beyond me. Furthermore, throwing deep there at all is the wrong move. The Patriots had been successful all day by cranking out long sustained drives (they had five drives of 10 plays or more in the game). Taking a shot on first down to a no name receiver made no sense in that situation.

I wonder if Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff sat in a separate section of the plane on the flight back to Baltimore. I would not want to be anywhere near Ed Reed and Ray Lewis after being directly responsible for not getting my team into the Super Bowl.

I will have a complete preview of the Super Bowl next week along with my pick for the game. You may want to pay close attention to who I choose to cover the spread since I am 8-2 in the postseason after going 1-1 yesterday.


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