A Kick to Rule Them All

24 01 2012

In both the NFC and AFC Conference Championship games, a field goal attempt determined which teams needed to pack their bags for Indianapolis. One made. One missed. A Kyle Williams fumble on a punt return has also inundated the media world. Even though all of these situations provide an easy way to focus on just a few minutes of each game, it can’t be forgotten that NFL football lasts for 60 minutes. Here are some key plays and factors from each game that haven’t been given their rightful attention.

 

AFC Championship

  • Stephen Gostkowski made three field goals where Billy Cundiff couldn’t. He connected on 29, 35, and 24 yard field goal, missing none of his attempts. Even though these didn’t come in crunch time, without these 9 points, the game would have been in an entirely different place by the end of the game.
  • The Patriots defensive line came to play this past Sunday. That line and the rest of the Patriots’ defense held Ray Rice to 78 total yards – only 12 yards short of his season low. This forced Flacco to throw the ball much more than he is used to, translating to some poor throws in the fourth quarter.
  • Instead of wrapping the ball up tight, Lee Evans began to turn around after catching a potential touchdown pass from Flacco. As he began to rotate, the ball was easily knocked out of his hands by Sterling Moore, setting up the missed field goal from Cundiff two plays later. Why turn? I understand momentum plays a factor, but once you have clearly crossed the goal-line, gather yourself, and hold on to that football.
  • After Baltimore just recently had a playoff game without a single penalty, the Patriots decided to take a page from the Ravens’ book by playing an efficient football game. Other than an illegal contact penalty early on in the second quarter, the Patriots successfully had a penalty-free afternoon.
    • Even though the Ravens only had 6 penalties for a total of 33 yards, one of them had a major impact on the game. Facing a 2nd and 6 at the Baltimore 16, BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for one yard, potentially putting the Patriots in a tough third-down situation with the score still tied. However, Dannell Ellerbe had an obvious face mask, leading to an automatic first down. A touchdown was scored on the very next play.
  • No team led by more than a touchdown throughout the entire game. By the time the fourth quarter came around, only 4 points separated the two teams. This closeness helped Tom Brady, who finds ways to get the job done when the game is on the line. His fourth quarter touchdown drive made up the only points of the quarter.

 

NFC Championship

  • Alex Smith’s fourth quarter and overtime inefficiency made it difficult for the 49ers to establish any sort of offensive rhythm. Discounting the last play of the fourth quarter where the Patriots backed off to avoid the hail mary and gave up about a 20-yard play, here is Smith’s final five drives.

    C/ATT YDS
    4th 2/3 8
    0/1 0
    0/3 0
    1/1 3
    OT 1/2 11

    The 7-year Niner connected with receivers not named Vernon Davis one time the entire game. He has been playing wonderful football this year, but his play in crunch time of the AFC Championship reminded me of the Alex Smith I’ve seen from the previous six years.

  • *Eli Manning did it again, elevating his gameplay to another level during a playoff game. Manning completed 32 of 58 passes – franchise post-season records for both attempts and completions – for 316 yards and two touchdowns, proving his toughness. Just as basketball coaches tell their shooters to keep shooting no matter their percentage for a particular game, I felt as though Manning had a similar mentality. He kept slinging that ball around the field and didn’t care how many came up incomplete.
  • With all the attention on Vernon Davis, it can’t go unnoticed that ex-Raider Michael Crabtree all but disappeared in the biggest game of his life. One catch. Three yards. That is the makeup of Crabtree’s line for the NFC Championship game. It seemed on some plays that Crabtree didn’t even have a desire to have the ball thrown his way. When was the last time Crabtree could only muster up one catch for an entire football game? November 13th against the New York Giants.
  • The Giants effectively kept the 49ers and their offense off the field. Eli finished off plays by connecting on 17 third down conversions through the air. This also frustrates the opposing defense since they work so hard for two straight plays only to be beat on the third time. Ending up with 11 more minutes of possession and not turning the ball over, New York handled the ball very well and avoided any game-changing interceptions or fumbles.

 

*Even though Eli Manning has proven his greatness yet again this year, I think much more will need to be done on his part before he should be proclaimed better than his brother. If entire career’s are compared at this point in time, Peyton has to be the better quarterback.

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