I have given the Keys to Victory for the Baltimore Ravens.
I have given the Keys to Victory for the San Francisco 49ers.
Now, it’s prediction time.
It’s no secret to anyone that I don’t like Ray Lewis and I would like nothing more than for his Hall of Fame career to end with a bitter Super Bowl loss. In fact, I would be ecstatic if, between now and game-time Sunday he was suspended. Earlier this week, according to Sports Illustrated Lewis used a banned substance to repair his torn triceps.
Despite all the attention Lewis is receiving, the game depends on the two quarterbacks. After setting a postseason record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game with 181 against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick had just two rushes for 21 yards against the Falcons in the NFC championship.
More of the same will come Sunday. If one actually expects Kaepernick to be successful running the ball against Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and Lewis, you’re either crazy or an extremely devoted 49ers fan.
As for Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, this will be his best chance to silence his critics. Flacco got the rematch with New England in the AFC championship that he wanted and he didn’t waste that opportunity, winning in Foxboro. He won’t waste this one either.
It is going to be a low scoring game; that’s a fact. Yes, statistically the Ravens had the 13th worst passing defense and the 10th worst rushing defense in the regular season, but they are finally healthy.
With that said though, the 49ers’ defense still has the edge. San Francisco had six defensive players named to the Pro Bowl, including three of their four starting linebackers (the lone exception being Ahmad Brooks).
San Francisco has more talent on their roster. They have a better quarterback, better wide receivers, a better tight end, and a better defense. But Denver and New England also had more talent than the Ravens and Baltimore won.
But football isn’t played on paper. The Ravens are on a mission to have Lewis go out on top. If they can beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, they can beat Kaepernick.
The x-factor will be 49ers kicker, David Akers. Akers was superb in the 2011-12 season making 84.6 percent of his kicks. This year though, Akers made just 69 percent.
In a low scoring game, field goals will make the difference. San Francisco has zero confidence in Akers and will have to be aggressive on third downs unless they wamt Akers to trout out onto the field and miss.
The aggressiveness on third down by the 49ers will play right into Baltimore’s hands. Despite Kaepernick continually saying that he doesn’t feel pressure and “pressure comes from lack of preparation” will ultimately catch up with him. That being said, Kaepernick will have plenty of more chances, but it appears to be the Ravens time.
I have a feeling Kaepernick will turn the ball over late in the game and the Ravens will drive down the field, and will pull a Santonio Holmes by catching the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes. (Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but you get the idea)
When the two teams leave New Orleans, Ravens head coach John Harbuagh will have ultimate bragging rights over brother, Jim, head coach of the 49ers.
As much as I would like Ray Lewis to not another ring, he’ll get one as the Ravens will win 20-14 with Boldin as Super Bowl MVP.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens have had two weeks to get ready for one another. Two whole weeks. That is plenty of time for these coaches to come up with their keys to victory. The problem with having two weeks, however, is some coaches can over think the game itself. While the media stays wrapped up in the narratives, the staffs on each of these teams are continuing to break down tape to find an edge. Here are what I believe the Ravens have to do in order to have the best chance of hoisting the Lombardi trophy on Sunday night in New Orleans.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
Joe Flacco must extend the field - With Flacco taking so many shots deep downfield, the Ravens can win many games whether he connects or not. Just the pressure of pushing the defense vertically creates running lanes for Ray Rice and other opportunities in the passing attack. Joe does have one of the best deep balls in the game. Without at least one long touchdown, there isn’t much hope against a staunch 49ers defense that was top five against both the run and the pass this season. An overthrow here, a dropped pass there, and all of a sudden, the Ravens will find themselves behind the eight ball.
Photo by MATT SLOCUM/AP
Establish the run with Ray Rice - The Ravens will undoubtedly need to establish the run. Ray Rice won’t have to run wild against a tough SF front seven, but he will have to make that front respect Baltimore’s ability to move the chains on the ground. If the Ravens can find even a little success running the football, they’ll be able to do what they seem to love; throw the ball deep and put points on the board. The run will effectively set up play-action and enable Joe Flacco to find one-on-one matchups, which will allow him to hit some of his favorite targets. So far this postseason, the Ravens have done a fantastic job opening up holes despite being run-blitzed and should be able to allow Rice to find creases. I don’t expect Rice to have a huge game, but if he can chalk up 3-4 yards per carry, that will open up the rest of Baltimore’s game and give the Ravens a good chance to win.
Al Bello/Getty Images North America)
Contain Kaepernick - With mobile quarterbacks like Kaepernick, it is more often about execution rather than planning. You know the overarching battle plan, but you have to deal with new wrinkles as they come. Seattle showednear the end of the regular season, that the Kaepernick can be tamed in their blowiout win. Kaepernick is the type of player who will get his yards, but the key word here is contain. If the Ravens can simply negate the big plays and keep him in check, then they’ve got a great chance at winning and with the talent they have on the defensive side of the ball and with Ray Lewis playing inspired in his last NFL game, you better believe the Ravens will bring it on Sunday. Eventually, it all boils down to the defensive line winning battles at the line of scrimmage and the linebackers flowing from sideline to sideline, shutting down the quarterback runs. A bi key for them is CONTAINING Kaepernick.
Photo by: Nick Wass / Associated Press
John must out-coach little brother Jim - In a game where both teams have so long to prepare and think about, coaching will be paramount and of course, for John Harbaugh, you don’t want to lose to your little brother on sports’ biggest stage. The two brothers know each other better than anyone and their relationship should create one of the most interesting match-ups on the entire field. John will have to be mistake-free in his decision making and not let emotions get in the way of what needs to be done. Both coaches are fiery and have plenty of will, but John needs to be smarter and more disciplined than Jim to win the day.
Ravens wide receivers Jacoby Jones, right, and Torrey Smith celebrate after Jones scored on a 70-yard touchdown to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. Kicker Justin Tucker won the game in the second quarter of overtime with a 47-yard field goal, giving the Ravens a 38-35 victory. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)
One year later, here we are getting ready for the AFC Championship in New England. One year later, the Patriots and Ravens are each 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl. One year later, I’m still asking the same exact questions about the Baltimore Ravens.
Will the Ravens magic carpet ride continue? The answer to that question lies in the answer to the same exact question I asked almost exactly one year ago - Can Joe Flacco do enough to propel the Ravens past the Patriots?
Truth is, I don’t know. I’ve never been completely sold on Flacco but he’s played like the elite quarterback he says he is in the playoffs. After throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first three postseasons, Flacco has nine touchdowns and one interception in the playoffs over the past two seasons.
That’s pretty damn good.
However, Flacco is 0-2 in AFC championships, losing in 2008 and 2011. According to ESPN Stats & Informationose their first three conference championship starts, the only quarterbacks to l are Donovan McNabb (2001-03), Ken Stabler (1973-75), Bernie Kosar (1986-87, 1989) and Danny White (1980-82).
Flacco’s seven playoff wins are the most by a quarterback who has never made a Super Bowl appearance. It’s also two more playoff victories than any other quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have never reached the Super Bowl.
Flacco’s head coach John Harbaugh is 0-2 in his career in AFC title games. He could become the fifth coach to lose his first three conference championship game appearances.
The others: John Madden, Chuck Knox, Marty Schottenheimer and Andy Reid.
So again, one year later we’re asking the same questions
Peyton Manning’s bid to reach the Super Bowl in his comeback season ended miserably with a game-costing interception as the Denver Broncos quarterback handed victory to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday.
The 36-year-old four-time NFL Most Valuable Player was left to wonder what could have been after Baltimore secured a 38-35 double overtime win that ended Manning’s season on his home field.
Manning was cut by the Indianapolis Colts after missing the 2011 season due to various neck surgeries and began the season with many wondering whether he was still capable of being a top caliber quarterback. By the end of a regular season where he threw for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and led the Broncos to the top playoff seed in the AFC, pundits were wondering if he could add to his 2007 Super Bowl win with the Colts.
But that ambition ended in dramatic fashion.
“We had plans for playing next week, guys were excited and to get beat in overtime by a field goal is really disappointing… We made a lot of strides and accomplished a lot this season but it definitely stings ending in a loss like this.”
Arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, a man in the running for MVP, played his worst game at the worst possible time.
Peyton Manning isn’t the only reason why the Broncos lost 38-35 to the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, a host of blunders sealed their fate, but Manning’s mistakes were possibly the most costly.
When Manning and the Denver offense first got the ball, with the game tied 7-7, he threw the pigskin to Eric Decker, which was tipped and picked off by Corey Graham, returned 39 yards to the house for a touchdown and the 14-7 lead. The veteran quarterback asked for a pass interference penalty, and after reviewing the replay it look as if the defender pulled down Decker’s arm just before the ball arrived. Still, no penalty was called and the play stood.
In the third quarter, with the pocket collapsing around him, Manning was hit from both sides and had the ball stripped from his hands. He fumbled on Denver’s 37, which set the Ravens up with fantastic field position that they capitalized on with a Ray Rice one-yard TD run to tie the game at 28-all.
But the real head-scratcher came in the epic contest’s second overtime, when Manning threw an interception that sealed the fate of his team and their season. Manning, feeling pressure from his left, rolled to the right and when no one was open, tried to force a pass into Brandon Stokley by throwing across his body and tossing another pick to Graham.
The first rule of quarterbacking is not to ever throw back across your body and across the field, because the momentum will sap all the strength, though he broke that rule and paid mightily. Interestingly, Manning did the same thing earlier in the season, that time, connecting with Stokley for a touchdown.
When the Ravens took over at Denver’s 45, it was all but certain they would win the game. Ray Rice’s first down run set up the 47-yard kick that Justin Tucker nailed to end the game and end the Broncos season in sadness.
Maybe most heartbreaking part for Denver fans is the fact that Manning – the man that made all the difference all season long – was the one that cost the team the game and ended the season with his poor play.
He finished 28-43 for 290 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions and one fumble – one of his lowest-rated games of the season.
And with the loss, he’s now 0-4 all-time in playoff games with kickoff temperatures under 40 degrees, leaving everyone wondering if Manning will ever win a cold game in the postseason.
I’m not a huge believer in that stat but the facts are the facts and It’s something he’ll have to do if he wants to win another Super Bowl while playing in the Mile High City.
Peyton Manning quote provided by Chicago Tribune
NFL playoff action resumes Saturday (Jan. 12) with the Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers. It’s time for the divisional round in both conferences and by the end of the weekend fans will know which teams are playing for the AFC and NFC championships.
The first game is Baltimore at Denver, with the start time at just after 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS. It’s taking place at Mile High, which means the game is going to be mighty cold. The winner of this game will advance to play the winner of the Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots game on Sunday.
The Texans at Patriots game is at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS and it all takes place at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady will be looking to take his team back to another AFC Championship Game while Houston is looking for its first.
On the side of the bracket, the Packers at 49ers game is the one that takes place on Saturday following the conclusion of Baltimore at Denver. Kickoff is scheduled for slightly at 8 p.m. ET on FOX, with the game being played at Candlestick Park. Look for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to come out of the gate hot in this one.
The other game on Sunday is the Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons. That game takes place at 1 p.m. ET on FOX and pits the No. 1 seeded Falcons against the wild card Seahawks. On paper, the 13-3 Falcons seem to be the favorite, but the team hasn’t proven much in the postseason over recent years.
Which game on the docket are you most excited to see? Any predictions on which team will advance to the Super Bowl out of the AFC and NFC Playoffs?
Photo courtesy of Mitch Stringer, US Presswire
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon and likely will miss the 2012 season, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Thursday. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and founder of “Ball So Hard University” is believed to have suffered the injury playing basketball. Schefter’s sources say surgery is scheduled for early next week.
Last season Suggs had 70 tackles, including 14 sacks, and was a threat all over the field from his hybrid linebacker-end position. He also forced seven fumbles and had two interceptions. Those accomplishments led to Suggs winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Suggs’ loss will be a significant setback to a veteran team clearly in win-now mode with so many aging stars on the roster. As for a plan following the injury to Suggs, veteran Paul Kruger was deemed ready to take over for the departed Jarrett Johnson before scooping up free falling Courtney Upshaw in the second round of the draft.
Still, the Ravens and their fan base are ready to panic and rightfully so.
We are finally only hours away from finding out who will represent the AFC and who will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI. The “experts” have had their say as to who will win, but now yours truly is putting on the prognostication hat to pick the winners of the AFC and NFC Championship games. Both games promise to be great TV viewing, as the New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC and the San Francisco 49ers host the New York Giants in the NFC.
Let’s get to the picks!
The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will meet in the postseason for the second time in three years, though this time a Super Bowl berth is at stake. (Winslow Townson, AP)
At first glance last week I thought the Baltimore Ravens didn’t stand a chance in this game after being thoroughly outplayed by a depleted Houston Texans squad. I really believe had the Texans had adequate quarterback play, they would be playing the Patriots this week for the AFC Championship. In fact, I believe the Texans are a healthy quarterback away from winning their own Super Bowl. In my mind, Houston was on a direct path to being the number one seed in the AFC if it weren’t for the injuries to the quarterback position. However, the Baltimore Ravens have lived to fight another day and will be ready to play the Patriots. As I wrote earlier this week, the Ravens have got to play better in all phases of the game in order to win. Especially offensively where we all know it begins and ends at the quarterback position. The quarterback position has always been a topic of conversation for the Ravens and to some extent, it still is. The biggest question, for me, is whether or not Joe Flacco can do enough to propel the Ravens to victory. Listen, do I think the Ravens can win? Yes, absolutely. However, it’s not about Ray Rice or Ray Lewis or Ed Reed. It’s about Joe Flacco. I believe it’s going to be up to him to make a play that lifts the Ravens over the hump.
Brady and Lewis will match wits in the AFC Championship Game. (Getty Images)
On the other side, the Patriots defense has been atrocious all year and a lot of the defensive short-comings have been covered up by the Patriots explosive offense. That said, the Ravens defense presents the toughest challenge the Patriots offense has faced this year. The Ravens defense will have to capitalize on the opportunities given to them. Last week, despite intercepting T.J. Yates 3 times, the Ravens dropped quite a few balls that could – and should have been – intercepted. If those types of opportunities present themselves today, the Ravens have got to take advantage in a big way. They will have to get a score from their defensive unit in this game to assist in offsetting their offensive short-comings. While we know how explosive the Ravens can be, not sacking Yates one time last week is a frightening thought; due to the fact that the only way to slow the Pats down is by pressuring Brady. Baltimore hasn’t given up 100 or more receiving yards to opposing TEs in a while, but when was the last time there was a combo like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez? Also, there’s been a lot of focus on Ed Reed leading up to this one. Reed is one of the best safeties in the game, but the Patriots offense will minimize his impact on the game. New England throws more short passes and screens than they do long passes. Therefore, Reed will most likely be helping with coverage on one of the TEs, leaving the middle of the field open.
I know Terrell Suggs told us not to doubt “his boy” because there aren’t many quarterbacks you could compare to “his boy.” Well, Suggs, you are right. We can’t compare Joe Flacco to Tom Brady because that would be flat out idiotic. Your boy may have a 5-3 career playoff record , but New England’s golden boy trounces those numbers, and he has the rings to prove it.
If there’s one advantage the Ravens do have it is on offense. If the Pats allow Rice to be a factor in both the passing and running game, this will end up like their 2009-10 playoff matchup. And as has been the case all season, the Patriots secondary is their weak-spot. New England has to hit and pressure Flacco, or else he will have a field day throwing down field to Boldin and Torrey Smith.
The key for New England in this one will be to stretch out drives and wear down Baltimore’s defense. Let Tom Brady not only control the game, but let him take over. We know he doesn’t like to lose, and this is the perfect game for some revenge. In some cases defense does win championships, but as aforementioned, New England has never lost an AFC Championship game at home. Numbers never lie.
Prediction: Patriots in a dog fight that will end closer than you may think.
I’ve been basically picking against both of these teams for the majority of the season and look where they are now. What makes it even worse is that this might be the best matchup in the NFC this year besides the Packers and Saints in Week 1. So now what?
Eli Manning of the New York Giants drops back to pass against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. (Nov. 13, 2011) || Photo Credit: Getty Images||
Both teams are coming off huge victories and are simply playing smash-mouth football. Their defenses are amongst the best in the league, which could make for a low scoring game. Yet, this game will feature two first-round draft picks, which could make for a high scoring game.
Unlike in the AFC matchup, defense will be the factor to winning this game. Alex Smith showed a lot of adversity and dedication last week, leading a game-winning drive with just nine seconds on the clock. Smith made accurate passes and great plays all game which contributed to their victory. On the other side, Eli Manning did the same exact thing, using his tandem of receivers en route to triumph against the defending champs.
Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora have emerged this post-season and possess the ability to control the tempo. San Fran has some play-makers too, but New York is playing like a team that just can’t be stopped. They won their week 13 rematch against Green Bay last week, and I think they’ve got a great chance to win their week ten rematch against the 49ers this week.
And just remember, you can’t spell “elite” without Eli!
Prediction: Once again, my rooting interest prevents me from giving an honest and un-bias opinion so I’ll just sit back, relax, enjoy the show while rooting hard for Big Blue.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco endures one of five sacks in Sunday's divisional playoff win vs. Houston. (By: Eileen Blass, USA TODAY)
Can the Baltimore Ravens offense keep up with New England’s explosive offense? More importantly, can Joe Flacco do enough to keep up with Tom Brady? I’m not the only one asking these questions, Flacco’s teammate Ed Reed took time to voice his opinion on his quarterback earlier this week.
“I think a couple of times he needed to get rid of the ball. It just didn’t look like he had a hold on the offense… He can’t play like [he did against the Texans].”
Joe Flacco has given the Ravens organization and their fans something they haven’t had – security and consistency to the quarterback position. Think about it. You have to realize, the likes of Trent Dilfer, despite winning the Ravens a Super Bowl, only started a grand total of eight regular season games for them? Look at how dire this list is. Before Flacco, the Ravens cycled through fifteen different starting QBs in a span of 12 years. I looked at that list and literally could not remember Randall Cunningham ever playing for this team. The turnover in Baltimore was so fast, you barely had time to notice. Remember Anthony Wright?
Ravens fans – most of them anyway – are incredibly loyal to Flacco because because he was able to bring some semblance of order to a chaotic situation. The problem is that may be ALL he brings. He’s like a pitcher who gives you lots of innings without ever having an ERA below 4.00. Flacco has taken the Ravens to the playoffs his first four seasons. No other QB has done that, but let’s be honest: It’s not as if Flacco has been solely responsible for those playoff runs, not when the Ravens consistently feature a good defense and a healthy running game.
For all the criticism that Mark Sanchez has had to deal with from Jets fans and through the media, statistically speaking – Sanchez has more road playoff victories than any other quarterback ever. You don’t see that little stat keeping Jets fans from wanting him booted out the door. And with good reason, because Sanchez is a thoroughly average, maybe even a below average quarterback.
Flacco may be better than Sanchez, but you’d be shocked at how close of a contest it is. Flacco’s numbers over his career have remained almost exactly the same. He always throws ten to twelve picks. He always throws 20-25 touchdowns. And he always passes for 3,600 yards (three years in a row). There’s been no indication that he’s actually improving. Keep in mind, this is with the Ravens handing him more and more weapons each year to work with (Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, etc.). In fact, Flacco’s completion percentage this season (58%) was the worst of his career. At this point, he may be as good as he’ll ever be. There’s no reason to think he’ll suddenly make a leap and start playing like Aaron Rodgers.
That’s a real problem, because the Ravens need Flacco to play at a higher level if they want to start winning Super Bowls with him at the helm. Sunday is the biggest game of Flacco’s life. If he can somehow pull out a 250-300 yard game with 5 touchdowns, then maybe all of us, even Ed Reed, got Joe Flacco wrong.
Saints at 49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter. (Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP Photo)
Given the choice of all eight starting quarterbacks this weekend, not many would have picked Alex Smith as the guy they’d want to lead them down the field for a touchdown at the end of a game. Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers? Yes please. Tim Tebow? Last gasp heroics are his stock in trade. Eli Manning? Hey, he’s done it in bigger games before. Of the two remaining, Joe Flacco, too, might have been a more popular selection than Smith – the former first overall draft pick whose previous six years in the league had been a study in mediocrity and whose confirmation as the starter in preseason drew grumbles from the San Francisco faithful. Since then Smith had a solid year, but the sense around the league was still that he was nothing more than a game manager, someone who could just about be trusted not to ruin the good work done elsewhere. And yet at Candlestick Park on Saturday, Smith engineered not one, but two touchdowns in the final three and a half minutes of the game – closing the show with an 85-yard drive capped by a laser beam to Vernon Davis (whose 180 receiving yards represented a new playoff record for tight ends) that had Bay Area sportswriters evoking both The Catch by Dwight Clark and Terrell Owens’s 1999 sequel. This was a play and a game that will go down in 49ers folklore, one that may well appear in future rundowns of the league’s greatest playoff encounters. Even before the final flurry that brought four touchdowns, and four lead changes, in four minutes, it had been compelling fare – San Francisco’s defense assaulting Drew Brees and the Saints’ ballcarriers with a ferocity that for three and two-thirds quarters was enough to blow the league’s most explosive offense off-course. A defense such as this might well be what wins championships. But the 49ers are no longer solely reliant on Frank Gore to win the games along the way.
Broncos at Patriots
All of the "Tebowing" in the world couldn't of saved Tebow and the Broncos from Tom Brady and company
“Say your prayers, Timmy,” boomed the front page of the weekend’s Boston Metro, merrily casting the hometown Patriots with a picture of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady set against a backdrop of angry flame. And a suitably hellish visit it turned out to be for the Broncos, their defense ripped to shreds by Brady while their New England counterparts pummelled Tebow – sacking him five times while allowing just nine completions for 136 yards. Is this the end of TebowMania? Of course not. Everyone is well aware of his pulling power and with CBS already hoping to have him on as a studio analyst next weekit seems certain that we will be seeing plenty more of him in the coming weeks and months. What will also be fascinating is to discover whether the Broncos look to give themselves another option at QB between now and the 2012 season. The lack of public pronouncements supporting Tebow from John Elway has widely been interpreted as a lack of faith that he is the man to take this franchise forward. But for now we can turn our attentions back to the Patriots – with Brady reminding us all why he used to be the guy dominating the news agenda. He added yet another NFL record to his collection by becoming the first quarterback ever to throw for five first-half touchdowns in a playoff game – three of them to tight end Rob Gronkowski. But Brady has enough of those already. What he and Belichick would both really like, is another ring.
Texans at Ravens
Courtesy of Getty Images
New England can hardly have been quaking in their boots at the prospect of a visit from Baltimore either, after the Ravens required a lot of breaks to get past the Houston Texans. The tone was set just minutes into the first quarter when Jacoby Jones inexplicably attempted to field a punt which had already bounced with two opponents close at hand, duly fumbling at the three-yard line then watching as the Ravens punched it in for the touchdown. From there it would be a story of turnovers and missed opportunities for the Texans, who coughed up possession on three further occasions while failing to recover any of three fumbles by Baltimore. Yet despite a -4 turnover margin and the fact that their third-string, rookie quarterback TJ Yates was struggling badly in a hostile environment, they still only lost by seven points. That will be hard to take for Houston, who must surely wonder how things might have panned out had Jones simply got out of the way. But for Baltimore such numbers ought to be cause for real concern. New England will not be so forgiving in Foxboro.
Giants at Packers
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning reacts in front of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, right, after throwing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
There was no bigger divisional weekend surprise than the ease with which the Giants saw off the Packers. Well, perhaps Alex Smith’s TD run, but that aside, there was no bigger surprise. But should it have been such a shock? A month ago it would certainly have been a huge upset, with the Packers chasing a perfect season and the Giants losing at home to the Redskins. That week the Packers lost too, for the first time this season, but it was against a briefly reinvigorated Kansas City and we all figured that it was probably best for Green Bay to get a defeat out of the way before chasing the prize. But between then and now much happened that maybe wasn’t properly appreciated: that Redskins defeat left the Giants in a state of permanent knock-out football – and they rose to the challenge. NY blue beat NY green convincingly on Christmas Eve before the Giants again beat the Cowboys, again convincingly, on New Year’s Day. And into the playoffs they strode to, again by several scores, snuff out the Falcons. Each game a must-win, each won with comfort (at least in the end).
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers lays on the field during the second half. Giants won 37-20. (Jeffrey Phelps / AP)
Aaron Rodgers meanwhile had only played once during that period. He sat out the last game of the regular season and saw his understudy step up – although the Packers’ defense caused a brief flurry of concern that day. He sat out the bye week. And then he – and the Packers – looked out-of-sorts at Lambeau Field when the big test came. But, to be fair to the Giants, this result wasn’t just about the Packers underperforming. It was about the Giants offense getting smoother by the week. It was about the Giants secondary clicking. It was about a Giants defensive line featuring some big beasts. But, most of all, it was about the Giants once again getting results when it matters. It’s a good thing the 2004 mega deal wasn’t a reality for the Giants. Key figures involved in the proposed trade were the reason why the Giants were able to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field, again. Hey, the Giants might wanna paint that stadium in blue because they own that place!